Update: Friends, it appears as if your sweet prince has sustained serious injuries. As of July 26, 2018, TJP Blitz was hit by not one, but two powerful nerfs, when the cost of Levitate and Accelerated Evolution were increased . It is unclear at this time if Blitz will survive, but it is certain that it will never be the same again. So young, and so full of promise. Please read this article in the manner as it was intended - an essay to a deck I loved, but knew was too pure for us.
It has been a while since I have done a traditional “deck tech” article. As most of you know, I focus my content production work on more abstract topics. Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with the standard deck tech articles, but rarely do I feel I have enough to say that other people haven’t said already. It takes something exceptional to convince me to actually sit down and write a deck tech, as opposed to working on something more abstract.
TJP Blitz is something exceptional.
(Aside: I want to touch briefly on the name. There have been a number of nicknames thrown around, and I think they all suck. And that is coming from one of the bozos that helped popularize the term “diesel”. Obviously everyone is free to call the deck what they like, but “Blitz” is a simple name and captures the feel of the deck, though it is not being particularly descriptive.)
Blitz is an aggro-combo deck, which is my favorite archetype to play. Many who follow my content might think that I love nothing but midrange, since I have said that the meta is best when Sandstorm Titan is playable. While I can understand this conclusion, it would not be accurate. I love combo. Many of my favorite decks of all time have been combo decks. “Party Hour” is my favorite Eternal deck of all time. My second favorite would probably be Scream Reanimator. One of my favorite Magic decks of all time is Infect, a powerful aggro-combo deck (pre-Gitaxian Probe ban). My favorite Hearthstone deck? Miracle Rogue. You are probably picking up a pattern. Powerful combo decks can warp the metagame, but as I player I’m just happy to dunk on fools. I have fallen head-over-heels for Blitz, so I felt I should write a deck tech…. Neon style.
(“Neon style” means “3x longer than it should be”)
First, I am going to dissect the deck. This will discuss the core of the deck, the “flex” cards, the Market and finally the powerbase. Second, I am going to talk about how to play the deck, as this is certainly harder to play then most Eternal decks. Next, I want to offer some suggestions on how to play against this deck, since the methods to counter the deck may be unintuitive. Finally, I want to offer some “big picture” reflections on how the combo macro-archetype fits into Eternal, and my thoughts on the balance of Blitz. I am going to do my best to write each section as a stand-alone piece, so if you are not interested in nuances of how to build the deck, feel free to skip down to later sections. With that out of the way, let’s dive in!
TJP Blitz is an aggro-combo deck, defined by a core of these 43 cards. As you probably know, the gameplan is to deploy cheap threats that have the ability to scale over the course of the game, often enjoying some spell-synergy. These are then paired with buff effects to set up explosive kills. Blitz typically plays the bare minimum of removal since it typically prefers to snowball threats than actually interact with the opponent. Most versions of the deck that I have seen play these 43 cards as the backbone. While I don’t think the community has yet discovered the optimal build of TJP Blitz, I think these 43 are correct, and if you were looking to improve on the deck, I wouldn’t mess with these.
There are a few things to note about this collection of “core” cards. First, you honestly don’t have many threats. Of these cards, only 20 are units, and 4 of those are Jennev Merchant who is included for its utility rather than its combat prowess. Yes, I know that Merchants are technically a threat, and I have won plenty of games where a Merchant finished the job, but you really can’t expect them to do the heavy lifting. That leaves you 16 real threats, which is not a lot given how much work these guys have to do. Typically the “flex” slots and the Market contain an additional threat, but the point stands that every attacker needs to pull a lot of weight. Avoid trading units in combat. Try to sequence your cards to minimize exposure to sweepers. Treat them with love and care, since even a very small team can totally swing the game seemingly out of nowhere.
Of the non-units in this set of core cards, the balance is largely made up buff effects. Finest Hour and Stand Together need no introduction. Levitate is pretty obvious as a tool to both grant evasion and trigger “spells matter” bonuses without costing a card. Accelerated Evolution may be a surprising inclusion at first glance, but the card is dynamite in a deck that is looking for evasion, loves getting double spell triggers, and relies on its Merchants. Gift of Battle is an extremely important piece of the puzzle, as it can lead to absolutely disgusting swing turns seemingly out of nowhere. Gift of Battle is often a 6-12 damage burn spell for the cost of 1P. Obviously it takes a bit of work to set up, but when it lands you often win on the spot. The only reason you play 3 Gift of Battle and 3 Accelerated Evolution is because there is typically 1 of each in the Market.
The last 7 slots of out 43 “core” cards are 4 Seek power and 3 Equivocate. I will touch on this later, but this deck has some serious powerbase problems, making Seek Power a great inclusion given the synergy with its units. Some decks shave 1-2 copies of Seek Power, which is tempting given the lean curve, but could be irresponsible. Equivocate is exceptional in this deck. Fast speed interaction is great in a deck that plays a bunch of “spells matter” guys, and there are very few units you actually care about. Once again, the 4th copy is typically in the Market. 3 measly copies of Equivocate is obviously sad as a removal suite, which means you rely on pump spells as pseudo-removal spells, as well as your Market and the flex slots to fill this gap. On that note, let’s move on to talk about those flex slots.
While almost everyone agrees on the first 43 cards in the deck, few agree on the last 7. I’m going to review the different roles you are looking to fill in these last couple of slots, and then look at a few specific decks and discuss how they round out the list.
The most important role you want to fill with these last cards is some additional threats. As I mentioned above, your threat count is really only 16 cards, which is very low for a deck that plans to win with its units. If you include a threat in your Market you can push the number of threats up to a virtual 20, but that is still low. Most decks I have seen try to push up to 22-24 (virtual) threats. The problem is the threat quality drops off a cliff after the first 16. Everything is either too difficult to cast, too low impact, too situational, or too off-brand. Many have devised acceptable solutions, but none are perfect.
Removal is another obvious hole of the deck. As I discussed above, 3 copies of Equivocate is insufficient, even for a deck looking to interact as little as possible. Many lists play at least a couple of copies of Vanquish or Xenan Initiation, and at least one plays Unstable Form.
Some decks try to sneak in an extra couple of pump spells, such as copies of Stand Together, or Sharpened Reflexes. It is hard to fit more than 2-3 extra buff effects into the deck since you are so tight for space, but remember that buff spells act as virtual removal at times. That isn’t a totally fair assessment, given that using a pump spell won’t clear out a blocker to set up a kill, but you get the idea.
With those broad considerations mapped out, let’s look at how some individual lists met these challenges. I should note that some of these decks shaved some of the cards mentioned in the “core” section in order to make some additional space, and I will point that out as we progress.
Couple of quick disclaimers: I don’t think there is clear “right answer” here, since every build has its own strengths and weaknesses. I will be offering my own approach to these problems, but this is a hard deck to tune, so I’m under no illusions that my build is definitely the best. Also, I will be critiquing these decks, which may make it seem like I don’t like them, or that I am dissing the authors. I wouldn’t include these decks if I didn’t like some of what they were doing. Even when I say something harsh like I think a given choice is “wrong”, that isn’t meant as an insult to the deckbuilder’s intelligence or ability. In fact, I would love it if any of these deckbuilders respond to my comments in the Reddit thread, so we can continue the conversation about a fascinating deck.
-2 Seek Power
While there were rumblings about TJP Blitz before Mouche took it to the ETS on July 14th, there is no question that his win in the tournament solidified Blitz as the deck-to-beat. It should be noted that the Diplomatic Seal is a stand in the 26th power Mouche plays in the deck. This gives a slightly improved chance of curving out smoothly, but at the cost of missing the spell bonus from Seek Power. Crownwatch Press-Gang is a threat that gives you extra threats, but I honestly haven’t been impressed. Alessi is just so much better on turn 1-3 rather than turn 5. I tried to mix in some other utility 1-drops like Minotaur Oathkeeper, but it did not impress me. I suppose Powderglider could fit that role too, but this seems like a lot of work to make a medium 4-drop into a medium plus 4-drop. I personally like 1 or 2 copies of Sharpened Reflexes, as the ceiling on this card is so high, especially when your opponent isn’t playing around it. Copies beyond the second tend to fall off in value. Mouche has also decided to include the 4th Gift of Battle in the main deck rather than the Market, which I feel is a mistake (see the Market section).
-1 Seek Power
There are a few things here that I like more, and a few things that I like less. First off, after messing around with various lists for a while I think Geomar is the best extra threat. He is clunky, fragile, high variance, and awkward, but at least he is on plan. I personally would like to fit in an additional threat, and while AromaNova is responsible enough to play 3 Seek Power, I personally want 4. My biggest issue is the 4 Sharpened Reflexes. This card is just not impactful enough to play 4 copies, especially when you are playing them over something like Vanquish. There are so many games where drawing a second Sharpened Reflex is almost useless, and when you play 4 copies of a card you are essentially saying “I want to draw this as much as possible”. This issue of limited removal is compounded by including the 4th Equivocate in the main deck rather than the Market. It could be argued that the 4th Equivocate in the main deck makes it better against blockers since they do not suffer the tempo loss of going through the market, but I don’t buy that in a deck that is also playing Geomar. The 3rd Stand Together is pretty easy to justify, and I generally prefer it in most builds. Overall, I think AromaNova’s best draws are going to be more likely to pop off, but they will have a harder time handling resistance like Sandstorm Titans or piles of removal.
I should quickly shout out to Ahorn, as he was one of the earliest champions of Blitz decks, and he essentially nailed the core in his initial build. He has now progressed to an anti-Mirror configuration, which makes a lot of sense given what I have been seeing on ladder. While Xenan Initiation is not as effective at clearing out blockers like Sandstorm Titan or Tavrod, it is great against Kosul Battlemage and Stand Together. It should be noted that Xenan Initiation is extremely risky to use in the Blitz mirror match when they have power open, but if you can find a good window, it can help generate tempo, which is incredibly important if you are on the draw. While I like the technology, I feel like this build is a bit threat light. I particularly dislike 4 Stand Together in this list given the low threat density. Ahorn does explain that this build emphasizes the combo aspect of the deck, which is probably accurate, but I’m not convinced that solves more problems then it creates.
-3 Equivocate, -2 Stand Together
(Link – you need to find the name in the list)
Camat0’s build for the most recent ETS event is… exotic shall we say? Unstable Form is quite the spicy addition. I can see the appeal – pseudo removal, good at popping Aegis, OK at buffing a late Awakened Student, effective at neutralizing threats in the mirror, another Echo card to trade to the Merchant, etc. All that is nice, but I still don’t feel Unstable Form is impactful enough to be worth a slot. The variance here is also difficult to swallow, as every time you play Unstable Form you are rolling the dice that it does what you want. I am especially suspicious of cutting Equivocate, a genuinely great removal spell, for a “removal spell” that is so much worse so often. I will admit that the Mirror Image + Xenan Initiation is saucy, but I have generally not be satisfied with Mirror Image as my additional threats. It feels like a “win more” card, as it relies on a powerful threat to already be in play, but if you get to power up with a strong threat in play you are usually winning anyway. Camat0 is playing Svetya in his Market, which is a cute combo with Mirror Image against control decks. This plan isn’t super consistent, but at least it is an alternative angle for the deck. I believe Camat0 has transitioned to a build that looks similar to Ahorn for ladder play, but I wanted to point this deck out since it was so interesting.
-1 Seek Power
(Link – you need to find the name in the list)
This week’s ETS featured a single copy of TJP Blitz that was able to crack the top 8, despite being the most represented deck, in this case piloted by TheRocke. I wanted to point out this build specifically as we see 3 copies of Valkyrie Enforcer, a card most other decks are skipping. While he isn’t exactly a premium threat in this style of deck, the utility is hard to deny, helping against Sandstorm Titan and opposing Blitz decks. If you feel the meta is moving to become pure Blitz decks versus anti-Blitz decks this may be a good pick adjustment. The Copperhall Elite is interesting I suppose, but it is not where I would want to be personally, given how clunky it will play.
My personal take is something of an amalgam of the other decks. I like Sharpened Reflexes as a 1 of to catch people off guard, but finding room for 2 is hard. As I said above, I like Geomar as the last threat. Well, “like” is the wrong word, but I don’t have a word for “I hate him, but he is the best option of the bad options that are available”. I have been very happy with 3 Stand Together. While some others are moving away from Vanquish, I just can’t quit it yes, so I am playing 2. Right now I’m playing 1 copy of Xenan Initiation, though I am not convinced this is correct.
Unseen Commando: an insane Justice 3-drop that is nowhere to be seen. The deck doesn’t naturally play any units with 2 battle skills, but Accelerated Evolution and Gift of Battle are good at getting you there. Maybe this is too slow?
Shelterwing Rider: Blitz has the influence requirements of TJJP, and pushing it up to TJJPP for an off-theme 4-drop seems loose. Still, this is a 5/5 flyer for 4, and obviously combos marvellously with Stand Together, so it might be worth the effort.
Powderglider: I really need to try this one honestly. Obviously a 1/2 for 1 that gets temporary buffs is a lot worse than a 1/1 for 1 that gets permanent buffs, but not everything can be Alessi. The combo of Levitate/Accelerated Evolution + the summon ability is also nifty.
Hooru Pacifier: Armory and Icaria Blue variants have been picking up in popularity as a counter to Blitz, making Pacifier a great counter-counter. The combination of Flying and Overwhelm makes it a great target for buffs, even it there are no “spells matter” synergies.
Svetya: this card is so match-up dependant. Sometimes she can lock your opponent out of a key turn to set up a clutch Stand Together. Sometimes she is a 4/4 for 4 with no text. If Teacher of Humility/Sandstorm Titan decks are popular be sure to skip her in the main deck, but I can respect playing Svetya into a lot of other metagames.
Permafrost: I remember when I first saw this card I thought it was insane. Now it doesn’t even fit into a deck that seems a prefect fit. What a world. Permafrost has a lot of problems in a meta where Accelerated Evolution is popular, but I could imagine it as an acceptable 1-of depending on the direction things head.
These are the cards that make the most sense to me, and I’m sure I have missed more. Be sure to share your thoughts of other possible combinations in the Reddit thread, as the optimal mix is very difficult to solve.
Blitz may use the Market better than any other deck currently seeing play. As I have mentioned several times, Blitz is an aggro-combo deck, meaning that you can store your combo pieces in the Market for easy access. This will have a similar structure to the above section, where I first discuss the most common Market inclusions, and then riff on the points of variation you see between lists.
Permafrost: almost every Market plays a copy, and it is not hard to figure out why. In the right match up or the right board state Permafrost can be the best card in the entire game, shutting down an intimidating attacker or pesky blocker for the low price of 1.
Equivocate: most problems that Permafrost doesn’t solve can be addressed by Equivocate. Titan can be a stands out as an annoying blocker, but Equivocate can handle him while buffing up your “spells matters” homies. It honestly might be possible to cut Permafrost and only play Equivocate, but I have not had a chance to test that yet.
Accelerated Evolution: you know what is better than interacting with your opponent? Just killing them. It is honestly incredibly how much damage Accelerated Evolution can generate in this deck, between the double “spells matters” triggers, and sending two threats into the air. If I don’t really know what to get from my Market, Accelerated Evolution is a great default.
Gift of Battle: this is going to be a bit of a rant, so buckle up. While virtually every build of Blitz plays Permafrost, Equivocate, and Accelerated Evolution, not everyone plays Gift of Battle. I am convinced that it is best to play Gift of Battle in the Market. In fact, I am so convinced and so passionate about this minor point about deckbuilding that this is like half the reason I am writing this article. I know I keep repeating this, but Blitz is an aggro-combo deck, and Gift of Battle is the best card to turn on the “combo” game plan. Playing a Gift of Battle in your Market maximizes your chance of drawing 1 copy when you want it, while limiting the chance of drawing 2 when you would rather have a threat. Let’s quickly run through some of the qualities that make a card a good Market inclusion. Situationally powerful, but bad in multiples? Check. Important combo/synergy card? Yup. Cheap, allowing you to set up Merchant + X turns? Doesn’t get much cheaper than 1. Certain match ups/situations where it is a really bad? Absolutely. I know Market slots are under a lot of pressure, but the freedom to grab Gift of Battle when the occasion is right is so powerful. It seems like the perfect. Market card. Progress in deckbuilding is often a mix of theory and gameplay experience. Theory is useful because it distils out the idiosyncrasies of circumstance, but sometimes losing sight of the actual results. Gameplay experience is grounded in reality, though it is sometimes too circumstantial to draw definitive conclusions. In this specific case I think the theoretical argument is so overwhelming that I am putting my foot down: not playing Gift of Battle in your Market is wrong. I am planning to write a whole article on building and playing with Markets at some point in the future which will stretch this reasoning out further, but for now just play Gift in your Market.
Mirror Image: most Markets want to play a threat, and I suppose Mirror Image is a solution to that. I mentioned above that I’m not crazy about Mirror Image as a threat card, and I more-or-less feel the same here. If I have a threat light draw I want to find a real threat, rather than just copying a 3/2 Aegis and hoping that is good enough.
Svetya: she falls into a similar camp as Geomar in the main deck - inconsistent, situational, clunky, but still better than everything else that is available. While Svetya is not overly intimidating by herself, and she does not scale the way Alessi or Kosul Battlemage do, she is fine, especially against controlling decks.
Substitute: there are a few people who play this, and I really think it is more cute than good. Sure, it “deals” with any tunit that you like, but they are still left with a blocker, and that really matters. Equivocate and Permafrost let you “go off” with Finest Hour + Gift of Battle, while Substitute does not, and I think this differences is extremely important. If you are dead set on consolidating Equivocate and Permafrost into one Market slot, I think you are sacrificing too much in card quality overall.
Backlash/Savage Denial: if Markets were 6 cards I think negate effects would make it into the Market most of the time. In a 5 card Market, I really think there is just not enough space. If you buy my logic that Permafrost, Equivocate, Accelerated Evolution, and Gift of Battle should all be included in the Market, you are only left with one additional slot, meaning including Backlash leaves out any threats. I’m personally not willing to give that up. Now, there is no question that Backlash/Savage Denial are insane in some situations, I just feel those situations are a touch too narrow. One could argue that these are like threats, in that they protect a threat, but I don’t feel that adequately gives credit to the downside of threat light draws.
Bring Down/Crystallize/Other Situational Spells: not into it. There are a lot of situational and powerful spells TJP has access to, but your Market is too loaded with other more important tools that I don’t want to screw up the Feng shui. TJP midrange? Sure! Crystallize seems great! Blitz decks are too demanding for your Market slots to mess about with that nonsense.
Power: essentially no one is playing power in the Market. I am typically quite bullish on Banners in the Market. Not here. Blitz is a deck that functions best on 4-5 power, and while there are certainly some games where I would kill for an Elysian Banner this does not come up often enough to matter.
Speaking of that, let’s move on to the last topic specific to deckbuilding: the powerbase.
I’m going to tell you a little story to set the table here. I was chatting in Discord about Hooru Berserk and how much fun I was having with the deck when AhornDelfin basically said “yeah, that deck is good, but it is just worse than the TJP version”. This was before Blitz had really become popular, so I had not yet played the deck, and also had not played against good players on good versions of the deck. What followed was a very interesting back and forth on the merits of both decks, but my main suspicion about the powerbase of TJP, while Ahorn felt it was worth the cost. After playing a lot of TJP, I think we were both right, but Ahorn was more right than I. It may seem weird to be super concerned about the powerbase of a deck that is just TJJP influence, so let me explain.
Blitz is a deck the really needs to get on board as fast as possible. In order to curve out properly you consistently need TJ influence on turn 2 with an undepleted power, as well as TJJP on turn 3 with another undepleted power. That is actually a really big ask. Specifically, Diplomatic Seal is something of a deal the devil. Sometimes it fixes your influence perfectly giving a silky smooth curve. Sometimes it is a total blank for a hand desperate for Time influence. It should also be mentioned that the deck can really struggle to function without some of the influence. Icaria Blue and Tavrod Armory are FFFJJJXX influence decks, but it is not like they need all that until the late game. Other 3 faction decks have the luxury of spending the first few turns Culling the Deck, Strategizing, or Quarrying to fix their hand, knowing that their high-impact plays later in the game will catch them up. TJP Blitz doesn’t have that option. They want to end the game by the “mid game’!
I also want to dwell briefly on the impact of having bad influence, as I think many people underrate this problem, or think about it the wrong way. There was one specific game I played way back in closed beta that taught me a lot about this subject. I was playing Elysian midrange back when Storm Lynx was a common inclusion. I meant to play the Lynx at the end of my opponent’s second turn, but for whatever reason I just spaced out and forgot to play it. At first I was peeved, but then I had a thought - this situation is a lot like having a depleted power on turn 2. Let’s continue playing the game and keep track of how much this mistake costs me. On turn 3 I played a Dawnwalker and turn 4 I played a Titan, so my Lynx was delayed 3 full turns! Not only that, but I missed out about 6 damage, and I had to invest 2 power on turn 5. A mistake that costs me 6 damage and 2 power is obviously a big deal, but when someone skips their second turn due to a depleted power sometimes people treat it as a minor inconvenience. Yes, sometimes it is minor cost, but even minor costs like missing 2 damage can make the difference between winning in losing!
So, to be clear, the costs of a bad power base are beyond just “I never drew Time influence so I was stuck with all my Awakened Students in hand”. It is also “I drew my Time influence late, so I had to play off-curve, and my Students were smaller than they should be” and “I had to play a depeleted power on turn 2, so my Students came a turn late, so now I am behind on tempo”. Most 3 faction decks with awkward influence rely on raw power to make up for these loses, but TJP Blitz is the exact type of deck that can’t afford these setbacks.
It should also be mentioned that bad influence means you have less room for fun stuff like Waystones, Monuments, or Standards. This deck would love to play Crownwatch Standard, but the cost of the depleted power that doesn’t even give 2 influence is too high in my opinion. At least Seek Power is good at fixing influence while synergizing with your deck.
I am not going to go very deep into the exercise of evaluating different powerbases, since this has the potential to be tedious and nit-picky. I will really think 3-4 copies of Seek Power is important. Most of the power of the deck comes from those 16 core threats, so it is more important to play them on curve rather than squeeze in an extra mediocre combat trick. 4 Diplomatic Seal is a must, though you need to be prepared that they will betray you at times. Most decks play 8 or 9 Sigils, which seems right, but I feel many lists play too many Justice Sigils. I think 4 Crests is the sweet spot. Don’t ever play Waystones. Crownwatch Standard is really risky, but I can honestly respect the upside. Almost every version I have looked at play 4 Seat of Progress, and that is probably correct. The mix of Seats and Banners that make up the remainder of the deck are really hard to perfect, and you should be suspicious of anyone who claims the “solved” the problem. Some builds play 10 Seats, and I think that is too much. Hooru Banner is definitely the best Banner for the deck since your cheap threats require Time and your spells are Primal.
TJP Blitz is a hard deck to play. The sequencing, the interactions, and the math are all asking a lot of players. One of the general features of good aggro-combo decks is that the core power of the deck is usually enough score free wins for mediocre players, but the true masters know how to squeeze that last couple percent out of the deck. Let’s start by talking about what it means to be an aggro-combo deck, since I keep on returning to this notion.
Over this article I have constantly returned to the idea that Blitz is an aggro-combo deck, but I have yet to really spelled out what this means. The most iconic of all time is certainly MTG’s “Infect” deck, which explains why some people use “Infect” as a name for Blitz. If you have read through Patrick Chapin’s “Next Level Deckbuilding” you will see that there is no chapter dedicated to “aggro-combo”, and there is exactly one reference to “combo-beatdown”, when describing Infect. He classifies this archetype as a subset of “linear aggro”. A linear aggro deck is any beatdown deck that focuses on a specific theme to supercharge its threats. Given this heading, I would divide it into two sub-categories: tribal beatdown decks, and aggro-combo decks. Tribal beatdown decks use the synergy that comes from the critical mass of a certain type of card. Strangers Aggro would be tribal beatdown, if it were competitive. Each unit in the deck makes every other unit in the deck better. It should be noted that “tribal” does not strictly refer to a unit type. You could easily imagine “flyer tribal” being a deck if there were one or two pay-offs. On the other hand, aggro-combo deck does not rely on “A+A+A…” synergies, but rather “A+B” synergies. Typically, this means combining threats of type A with buff effects of type B. Blitz clearly falls into this category.
While the nomenclature of “linear aggro” might be limited, I think it does help us understand these decks. One of the commonalities mentioned by Chapin is the bare minimum of interaction. While it is nice to include cards with multiple functions, generically good cards like removal can be pushed out. Second, some of the cards may seem horrid. If you were to stick Alessi or Kosul Battlemage in an average Combrei deck they wouldn’t be great. Playing Sharpened Reflexes over Valkyrie Enforcer would seem like heresy two years ago. Third, these decks have the plan B of being a mediocre beatdown deck. Unlike a pure combo deck, the “mediocre beaters” plan can get the job done. Finally, the pay offs need to be worth it. Novice deckbuilders are often attracted to tribal decks as they can search for cards of the given tribe, pack them all into a deck. Intermediate deckbuilders might see some small synergy and build an entire aggro-combo deck around it. These decks are much better at making the deckbuilder feel clever than winning games. It’s not that experienced deckbuilders didn’t see these synergies, they just realized they weren’t powerful enough to be competitive.
While there is significant overlap, I think the there is one important difference that is worth considering. Tribal decks are typically packed with redundancy, which also means they are very threat dense. Losing one “lord” is typically not a disaster. Aggro-combo decks are much less threat dense, and instead focus their efforts on a few specific threats that the deck is built around. You know how many threats are found in a typical Modern Infect deck? 12-14, which includes the man-lands. Now, Magic does use a minimum deck size of 60, but that number is incredibly low given the that this is a deck looking to win the game on the back of these creatures! This has some pretty serious implications on how the games play out, so let’s talk about trading.
Time midrange mirrors are in some ways similar to a standard game of chess. Assuming that both players have functional draws, the game is defined by trading resources effectively. Your Teacher of Humility trades with mine, my Sandstorm Titans double blocks your Heart of the Vault has the same structure as exchanging pawns, or sacrificing a bishop to capture a knight. Sometimes a queen or a Mystic Ascendant will makes its presence felt on the board, but there are tools to handle them before they take over the game. Whoever manages this game of trades and resource management most effectively will try to leverage this into a game win. We are taught this method of gameplay again and again in the course of playing card games, and it serves us well all the way from draft queues all the way to the top of Master. Unfortunately, this is a trap for aggro-combo decks.
Instead of a standard chessboard, lets imagine a game where your opponent had a normal squad, but your army was just 3 queens. I’m not sure which team has the advantage here, but there is no question the game will play out totally differently. Will you trade with your opponent? GOD NO! Your team is turbo-charged with power, but it is also can’t afford any loses. Obviously you will trade if you are forced, but there better be a really good reason.
A common mistake I see new players make when piloting Blitz is taking trades unnecessarily. Yes, the trade may look ok if you are playing for value, but that is not what the game is about. Your opponent’s units are much less valuable than your own, even if the stats on the table are similar. In fact, they usually trying to trade with you, so don’t accept their offer.
Things get a bit more complicated if talking about combat tricks. Trading with Sharpened Reflexes is obviously great, so do that whenever you can. Finest Hour is a split card that can kill a blocker, protect a threat, or deal 8 damage to the opponent. In some respects this is the normal tension with pump spells, just turned up to 11. While I’m not going to break down exactly when it is best to use it in which mode, but it is perhaps best to think about it explicitly as a split card. Is my opponent playing a deck with a lot of annoying blockers? Probably a “removal spell” game. Is my draw threat-light? I likely need to a protection spell. Am I in a racing-heavy matchup, or is my hand particularly explosive? Finest Hour is now a 1 cost Obliterate.
This should also be a hint on how to counter Blitz. Offer trades. Force trades. Do what you can to get their premium threats off the table. Also, since trading is so bad for Blitz, they avoid blocking whenever possible. Feel free to attack into them when their power is down, even with bluff attacks. Unless they are about to die, they typically can’t risk their premium threats, so they will almost never block. Obviously don’t go overboard, but it helps orient your role in the matchup.
Now let’s turn to everyone’s favorite part of card games – math!
One of the great challenges of playing Blitz is just figuring out if you can kill your opponent. Let’s take a simple example. You have 2 Kosul Battlemages in play against a team of ground blockers, and you draw Accelerated Evolution. How much damage do you have? This may sound like an SAT question involving trains travelling from Detroit, but in this case answering the question quickly is way more important!
Finding lethal is obviously important in all aggro decks, but it is doubly important in Blitz. Multiple units interact with spells, some interact in different ways, making the calculations extra difficult. A player who is spending half their time doing arithmetic and half their time contemplating strategy is going to have worse results than a player spending 10% on math and 90% on strategy (assuming the math is correct). Second, maximizing damage is hard, especially if planning over multiple turns. If you have played a good deal of Blitz I guarantee that you have missed on-board lethal, probably multiple times. The math gets especially stupid when you are racing, and you need to factor in Alessi’s armory gain into the calculations.
Here are a few tips to do your math a faster:
#1 Memorize some key numbers. It helps to simplify the math if you have a few reoccurring values stuck in your head. Let’s go over some of them.
Rilgon’s Disciple + a spell = 4
Rilgon’s Disciple + 1x Accelerated Evolution = 6
Rilgon’s Disciple + 2x Accelerated Evolution = 8
Rilgon’s Disciple + Gift of Battle = 8
Rilgon’s Disciple + Finest Hour = 10
Rilgon’s Disciple + Finest Hour + Gift of Battle = 20
Alessi/Battlemage + Finest Hour = +4 damage
2x Alessi/Battlemage + Finest Hour = +5 damage
Alessi/Battlemage + 2x Accelerated Evolution = +4 damage
2x Alessi/Battlemage + 2x Accelerated Evolution = +6 damage
Battlemage + Finest Hour = 7/7 (meaning it can eat a Sandstorm Titan, Tavrod, or Worldbearer Behemoth)
These are some that I have memorized. I have found it very helpful to simplify my calculations by quickly pulling out these numbers when I need them.
#2 Start doing math early. Blitz is not a deck that rewards alt-tabbing to Facebook or Discord. Spend your opponent’s turn figuring out how much damage you have, or how much damage you would have if your draw different pump spells. It is a lot easier to keep a running tally and constantly update it rather then do the math from scratch at the start of each turn.
#3 Have a full formula in mind. Develop an accurate mental algorithm for solving total damage. You are obviously free to develop your own solution, but I will share my own approach for those who want a head start. If you are math-phobic you may want to cover your eyes.
Unblocked Damage = Base Stats of Units + Stat Bonuses of Pump Spells + (Number of Spells Cast)*(Number of unblocked Alessi+Battlemages) + Gift of Battle Damage + Rilgon Disciple Damage.
This probably looks intimidating, but it is actually quite simple to solve if you approach it stepwise. Let’s use the example of the example of the two Battlemages discussed up top, where you draw a copy of Accelerated Evolution.
Base stats = 6
Total stats from buffs = 2 (8 total)
Number of spells cast * number of Battlemages = 2x2 = 4 (12 total)
When doing the math myself I honest just start by solving the first two steps, then figure out the number of Alessi/Battlemages and “count by X” for each spell. Let say I have 3 Alessi in play and I have calculated the damage from the first two steps as being 10 and I am casting 3 spells. I will go full grade school and count out the spells with my mouse like “13, 16, 19”. Who am I trying to impress? I would rather win then “feel clever”. Similar, there is no shame is keeping a calculator handy when playing the deck is your mental math is weak.
Figuring out which units will be blocked/unblocked can sometimes be a challenge, but usually it is pretty straightforward. Most opponents will block to minimize damage, so you can figure out which units will be the biggest (and blockable) and just remove them from the math. If they make a strange block you will deal more damage, meaning your lethal counts will still be accurate.
Gift of Battle damage and Rilgon Disciple damage should be solved separately. Gift damage is fairly easy – figure out how large you unit is after the smoke has cleared, then add that figure to the total damage. This is honestly easier than it sounds, since a decently sized attack that gets to hit twice will typically end the game. Does it really matter if you deal 18 or 20 damage when they are at 12? Rilgon’s Disciple has a similar dimension, but sub-lethal attacks are more common with him. After you have solved the main problem figure out the stats on an unblocked Rilgon’s Disciple, and then double its attack and add that to the total figure. Just remember to not include Disciple’s attack in the “base stats” number.
These tips are great for finding lethal as quickly as possible, but what about when you don’t quite have enough? You can get them to 2, but not quite 0? Let’s talk about the “sub-lethal all-in”.
Ever been in a spot where you have almost enough damage, but not quite enough? You can get your opponent down to 2, but not 0, even after you triple check the math? It happens to all of us, but this leads to an important decision: do you move in knowing you cannot finish the game off this turn, or do you poke a bit of damage in and set up for next turn? One of the first lessons I learned while playing Infect was the importance of the “Sub-Lethal All-in”, which is an important move at times. When should you move in like this? Let’s take a look at full examples.
They are powered down: if your opponent is playing a deck with a lot of fast speed removal you might want to drop the hammer while they can’t fight back. This is especially true when you are going wide, as it is much harder for your opponent to use a single piece of removal to save themselves the following turn.
You are tight on power: Blitz can easily win a game on 3-4 power, but it would much rather have about 5. If you do have a power light draw you may be forced to break up your lethal over multiple turns, even though you have the kill in hand. You can win power light games, but you need to every power you do have as efficiently as possible.
Stand Together: this card is honestly expensive in this deck. 3 is a lot for a deck that likes to max at 4-5 power. Against control decks you often want to hold up Stand as long as possible, but in other match ups I would rather just get out of my hand. Your opponent needs to play double sweepers or play multiple spells to punish you. Just move in. I have always thought people “Stand Together for value” less often than they should, and that is extra true in this deck.
When you generate other favourable blocks: once you are done your math to figure out what damage you are dealing take a moment to process what your opponent’s blocks look like. Are they forced to double chump block? Is your Kosul Battlemage Eating a Standstorm Titan in combat? Forcing these bad trades are obviously great, but they are not always obvious if you are not paying attention.
Your last chance/set up lethal: lets say you are playing against a Justice based control deck. You the played a Winchest Merchant on turn 3, but took turn 4 to Rise to the Challenge. Your board is 2 Rilgon’s disciple and a Jennev Merchant, and your hand is 2 copies of Gift of Battle, with no additional threats. In this situation, or ones like it, there is a very good chance the opponent has a Harsh Rule. You probably don’t get another chance to connect with these Disciples, and those pump spells will be much less glamorous next turn. More generally, you should specifically look for 2-turn-lethal through Harsh Rule, and that often involved moving on with threats that will not survive Rolant’s reign.
It is hilarious to that a card which has been available since closed beta is suddenly seeing tons of play. Obviously Blitz is a deck tailor made to maximize the spell, and I think many of us knew Accelerated Evolution had potential to break through, but I still think it is so funny. While there are obvious applications of the card – giving two units flying and hitting your opponent in the face – the more subtle applications are worth mentioning.
Accelerated Evolution and the Market: from the moment that the Market mechanic was spoiled I know most of us picked up that Merchants gain a lot from Echo or other “card generation” effects. You should obviously be using this synergy. One minor interaction that I like is trading my Accelerated Evolution in hand for my Accelerated Evolution in the Market, since I get an extra copy! This seems like a terrible trade for the Merchant, but I guess they can run their business how they like.
Double Rilgon’s Disciple Triggers: your Battlemages and Alessis get essentially flat benefits from spells, meaning you get the same impact whether you play them out now or latter. This is not the case with Rilgon’s Disciple, as he strongly benefits from one spell each turn. When trying to maximize damage over a couple turns be sure to spread out Accelerated Evolution charges.
Popping Aegis: yeah you don’t get the +1/+1 and ability, but popping Aegis is important! You still get all your spells matter bonuses, so the lose of +1/+1 is way less important than clearing out a pesky blocker. Similarly, you can buff your opponent’s unit to put it into Vanquish range! Let’s say your opponent is playing a Valkyrie Enforcer that is blocking your lethal attack – Accelerated Evolution + Vanquish does the job!
Less-than-Permafrost: this should be obvious to most people, but I have seen some of my opponents miss it, so I will mention it: Accelerated Evolution’s “Endurance” mode removes Permafrost from your units. This should also be a caution to those playing against Blitz: if your opponent has an Accelerated Evolution in hand maybe you should slow roll Permafrost until they have spent both halves.
Sharpened Reflexes is a less important than Accelerated Evolution given the relative popularity, but I want to point out a couple combos. First, the end-of-turn Sharpened Reflex is situationally useful. Kosul Battlemage is the only unit in the deck that benefits from the number of spells cast in a single turn, so if he is not involved in combat you lose no damage by firing off a Sharpened Reflexes for value. Also, remember to play Sharpened Reflexes before Levitate to maximize your chance of drawing the cards you want. Finally, aggressively bluffing Reflexes, especially in the mirror, is a great power move. It is such a blow out when it lands and your opponent can’t risk the downside.
My final tip for playing Blitz is to remember this is part aggro deck. Every point of damage matters. If you are going all-in on turn 5 it is a lot easier to find 16 points of damage than 20 points of damage. Unlike traditional Fire aggro decks you don’t have burn to end the game, so you can't throw away units to just push damage, but softening up your opponent is still important. Traditional combo like Modern Storm, Quest Mage from Hearthstone, or “OTK Nightmare” which has been seeing a bit of play in Eternal don’t really care about their opponent’s life total. This is not the case here, and this should make a big difference in playing out your early game. For those who aren’t familiar with the Infect deck from MTG, it is a mechanic that deals “poison” damage, and if your opponent gets to 10 poison they lose. I was continually shocked how important the first 2 points of poison damage were, as deal 8 was often way easier than 10. This is equally true of Blitz.
I recorded a podcast last night with SirRhino where we review the results of the ETS this past weekend. Since Blitz is the current “it” deck (and I have been obsessed with it) we basically spent half the time talking about all the decks in the context of beating Blitz. This was honestly one of my favorite episodes we have done, so I highly recommend it. Since that covered countering Blitz, this section will be a little shorter, focusing on some of the most effective tools for beating Blitz, and why they work. It should also be mentioned that no deck has an insane Blitz match up. One of the advantages of combo decks is that even against tough opponents they can draw up the “oops, I win” hand, and the game just ends. With that said, let’s talk about counters.
Aggro, plus a little disruption: a well-tuned Fire aggro list with a few key pieces of interaction can pretty effectively race Blitz. As I mentioned above, Blitz hates blocking, so forcing them on the back foot can really pinch their resources. There removal is also horrible at handling swarms of 1-drops. Blitz’s powerbase is also clunky, meaning facing a turn 1 Onion can quite problematic. A good example is RNG’s Stonescar aggro deck he wrote about recently.
Wasps: there are some games that Blitz literally can’t beat a 1/3 flying deadly on turn 2 or a well timed Scorpion Wasp. Blitz limited removal since they typically prefer using pump spells as pseudo-removal. This plan is not great against Blistersting Wasps. There are a few Xenan variants floating around, but I would point to lv13david’s build that did well this last weekend as a potential starting point. It should also be noted that Xenan Initiation is another great tool to combat the deck, but you should be cautious to play around your opponent’s many pump spells.
LOTS of removal: it is possible to handle all of Blitz’s threats, but you need to really mean it. You need to kill everything. This isn’t like playing against a Rakano aggro deck where you can leave up an Outlaw for a couple of turns, as you your opponent is often one draw away from punking you out of the game. Drolicheck’s Icaria Blue list is a good example of this approach. They have cut everything cute and midrangy, and is just a pile of removal, card draw, plus a few Angels to actually finish the game.
Swarm + Sandstorm Scarf: I really go off about this in the podcast, but I think Robotdinosaur’s 2nd place Praxis Tokens deck has a few truly spectacular touches that give it a great match up against Blitz. This same logic could probably work for a range of Time decks.
Now that I have dissected almost every feature of this deck within an inch of its life, let’s take a moment to step back. Where does this deck fit into Eternal? Is this healthy? Should Blitz be nerfed, and if so what do we hit? Let’s talk first about combo decks more broadly.
Combo decks can be something of a balance nightmare. Balanced combo decks can be a healthy part of the metagame, ranging from meme/fringe to competitive. Meme/fringe decks are obviously fine, and help satiate the combo fanatics, even when the decks are inconsistent. Unbalanced combo decks are completely meta warping, and are extremely unfun to play against as the “nut draws” are virtually unbeatable. The problem is the line between meme-tier to busted is a lot thinner for combo compared to other archetypes. If you over-stat a unit by a little it can really only be so bad. It will still die to removal, or get double blocked. It should also be noted that these are methods of interaction that every deck plays. Can you name a competitive Eternal deck that plays neither blockers nor removal? This isn’t to say that units can’t be overpowered, but the margins are a lot thicker, especially if it is not surrounded by a bunch of other overpowered units (I’m looking at you Tavrod). For combo decks, even a slight under-costing, an extra copy of a key combo piece, or an additional tutor can switch a deck from meme tier to overpowered. It should also be mentioned that combo decks may not play units at all, meaning that entire decks may be invalidated. This is perhaps most clearly exemplified in MTG’s legacy format, where spell-centric combo decks such as Reanimator, Sneak and Show and Storm are common. If you are not playing something extremely proactive, you better have some serious disruption in the form of cheap discard, flexible counterspells, land destruction, and/or taxing effects. Fair “good stuff” decks without one or more of these functions are just not viable. It should also be noted that a lot of people who prefer to play fair don’t really enjoy losing to cheap discard, flexible counterspells, power disruption, and taxing effects, so overloading the game with a critical mass of these cards would have other potential harmful effects on the “fair” parts of the meta.
With that said, this only partly applies to unit based combo decks. If you can break up the combo with slight adjustment of your removal suite, you are not really asking people to warp their deck to combat the strategy. I should note that there is a difference between decks that happen to use units as their win condition versus units that are truly unit based. A good example would be the peak of Reanimator back in the winter. Vara was kind of a unit, but was also kind of not a unit, since she was also a virtual copy of Grasping at Shadows attached to a 6/6 Deadly body that generated more copies of Grasping at Shadows. Breaking up this deck with traditional removal spells was a joke. There are a variety of Magic decks built around cheating Emrakul, the Aeons Torn into play. This card is technically a creature, but it really just says “I win” 99% of the time.
This is why aggro-combo decks are inherently less toxic than other combo variants. While they do their best to ignore removal and blockers, they are still vulnerable to them. Ask an Infect player what it is like to play against Fatal Push or Lingering Souls. You can beat these cards, but you would rather play against almost anything else.
So we have found that aggro-control as a macro archetype is less inherently problematic than spell based combo, but this ignores the power level of this specific deck. This is much more complicated. I recently did a video on balance, and how win rates can be deceptive when talking about the warping effect overpowered decks can have on the meta. One of the topics that I specifically discuss is how high skill cap decks are very difficult to balance, as the overall win rates are suppressed by inexperienced players, but the best players can go on a rampage. Blitz seems like the perfect deck to exploit this niche. The sheer power of the deck can allow to have a respectable showing at any MMR, but when it is functioning at maximum efficiency it is terrifying. Unfortunately, I don’t have the stats to really assess the balance of this deck. The team at Dire Wolf are the only ones with access to sufficient data to evaluate the need for a nerf. I’m sure they are watching Blitz very closely.
While this discussion helps describe the nuances of balance from the perspective of deck building and power level it ignores the player experience. When Excavate was nerfed to stop the Echo-Excavate lock decks, the argument for making this change had nothing to do with power level, or even popularity. It was just miserable to play against, especially as a new player who didn’t “get” what was happening. Blitz can feel like a glass cannon/high roll deck, which is not exactly fun to lose against. In fact, I got my first “hate add” in a long time after playing the deck. I think this characterization of the Blitz is misplaced. Yes, it can draw the wrong half of its deck, floundering with nothing buyt a hand full of targetless pump spells, but this honestly doesn’t happen too often unless my opponent has put in the work. Yes, the “I win” hands are real, and they do not feel good to lose to, but they don’t come up with that high of a frequency. Blitz also has the benefit of winning quickly. There is no long turn of “comboing off”, no infinite loop, or lock. You just take 25 damage out of nowhere, sit in shock for half a moment, then queue up for the next match.
I’m not convinced that Blitz needs a rebalance, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it takes a hit in the near future. Here are a couple potential nerfs I have been thinking about: limit Alessi to one buff per turn or turn her into a 0/1, make Rilgon’s Disciple a 2/2 or double J influence, increase the cost of Gift of Battle to 2, increase Kosul Battlemage to a 4JJ 3/4, nerf Accelerated Evolution to 3TP or 2TPP/TTP, or make Stand Together 3TTJ. There are a lot of small tweaks that could make a huge difference to the deck. This is precisely the style of deck where a seemingly minor nerf take a big bit out of its win rate, especially at lower skill levels. This is probably the kind of deck that DWD wants to keep as part of the game, so I doubt they will nuke it from orbit.
You have probably figured this out, but I’m a big fan of Blitz. It is fun, different, exciting to play, and difficult to master. In fact, I want to emphasize that even if this does end up eating a major nerf, I am very happy DWD pushed these cards. This is exactly the kind of deck that is worth taking a risk on. It is new, and forces the playerbase to rethink assumptions about the game. Ancient technology like Scorpion Wasp is being paired with new tools like Markets to counter the deck. It is a joy. Maybe this entire article is irrelevant in two weeks, but I wanted to write this as a love letter to an instant classic. Hopefully this let’s all of you share some of my enthusiasm for Blitz.
PS I recently updated my Start Guide article, and am looking for feedback. If you have a chance take a look and let me know if there is anything you think that is missing.
PPS one key rule that is exceptionally important for the mirror, which you should always remember and never violate: be on the play.