Hi everyone! For my next series of articles, I wanted to go more in depth and talk about the different faction identities in draft, as well as highlighting two specific faction pairings in each article so that we cover all 10 faction pairings over the 5 faction articles. To kick things off, I'll start off with my "favorite" faction, Fire.
Without a doubt, Fire is the weakest faction in Set 4 packs, with only 3 commons rated 3.0 or higher (Welding Torch, Hotblood Barbarian and Ruination Sledge) and a ton of mediocre to unplayable cards (Overheat, Trickshot and Rambot, to name a few). This problem is further exacerbated because Welding Torch is often a decent splash, and hence much less likely to be passed. Looking at the uncommons, good Fire cards are still far and few in between, with Shugo Standard and Refracted Sentinel being the only premium cards that would pull me towards Fire in Pack 1.
The curated packs are a whole other story, with Fire being one of the strongest factions. With access to busted commons such as Torch and Oni Ronin and backed up by numerous other good commons (Gun Down, Granite Acolyte, Grenadin Drone, Ornate Katana, etc), it can often come together to form a pretty nutty aggressive deck that can easily run opponents over.
However, because of this imbalance of power between Set 4 and curated packs, Fire becomes a very difficult faction to move into. The heavy reliance on curated packs means that you will rarely get enough good Fire in pack 1 to incentivize moving into the faction, and even if you do, you run the risk of not getting a good hook-up from packs 2 and 3. I've had drafts where I managed to get 3 Refracted Sentinels and a Welding Torch in pack 1, and still did not end up in Fire simply because it wasn't flowing in packs 2 and 3.
That said, because of the raw power level of Fire in the curated packs, it is something that you should be actively looking to move into for Pack 2 even if it wasn't really flowing in Pack 1. This highlights one of the most important aspects of draft: it is often important to stay open so that you can end up in a faction pairing that is open in both directions. However, if you do end up moving into Fire in Pack 2, it is important to move in fast enough so that you can get enough playables from packs 2 and 3 since Pack 4 fire is likely to be disappointing again.
Fire's Role in Draft
Fire has always been associated with aggression, and this remains a defining characteristic of Fire as a faction. Most of Fire's units are aggressively slanted (more attack than health), which gives them the ability to run over opponents aggressively. Moreover, with pseudo-charge in the form of weapons and powerful combat tricks, there is definitely the potential for simply bursting down opponents who thought they were safe.
While aggression is definitely one facet of Fire, 2 of the 3 best Fire commons in Set 4 are weapons. This allows Fire to sometimes play a supporting role in draft where you look to Fire for powerful weapons and strong tricks, while looking at the other faction to provide the bodies to hold the weapons and to attack with. Even in aggressive Fire decks, weapons are still one of the main contributions that Fire brings to the mix.
Rakano decks generally fall into the former category, being one of the most aggressive faction pairings in this format due to both Fire and Justice being very aggressive factions in their own right. This synergy in their game plan also means that the two factions mesh very well together. Similar to Set 1 constructed, Rakano in draft often boils down to a combination of aggressive units and weapons to build large Voltron units. Moreover, Justice provides multiple powerful and cheap tricks that makes blocking tricky for your opponent as well.
Rakano has some of the most powerful 1 to 3 drops in the format. Oni Ronin and Grenadin Drone are powerful aggressive drops, while Minotaur Oathkeeper really synergizes with the Voltron strategy of Rakano, making it even harder for your opponent to trade efficiently.
Rakano Outlaw and Workshop Tinker are great 2 drops, and are great Master buff targets due to Quickdraw and Endurance respectively allowing them to abuse the buffs. Hotblood Barbarian becomes significantly more powerful in Rakano, since Berserk allows it to abuse buffs, weapons and tricks very well. Curving Minotaur Oathkeeper into Hotblood Barbarian and into Master-at-Arms is probably one of the scariest openings that I can imagine.
At the 3 drop slot, Brightmace Paladin is great since Lifesteal prevents your opponent from trying to race you, while Guard Dog is another nice 3-drop since your opponents are often forced to trade into your aggression, allowing you to Tribute Guard Dog. Silverwing Familiar, Refracted Sentinel and Rusty Grenamotive are also powerful uncommons to keep an eye out for.
For the more expensive plays, Frontier Confessor is great as always since Silence is an extremely powerful effect in draft. Guerilla Fighters can help to push through damage and Silverwing Purgeleader is a nice big flier to help get the final few points of damage if needed. Renegade Valkyrie has also become much better in this format due to the uptick in weapons and buffs available.
Ijin's Choice, Ruination Sledge, Welding Torch, Elder's Feather, Ornate Katana and Peacekeeper's Helm are the key weapons in Rakano. The Fire weapons are one of the main draws to Rakano over other Justice faction pairings since weapons complement the aggressive nature of the other Justice cards in the format very well, and they work well with the Voltron strategy.
Rakano also gives you access to some of the best tricks in the format, with powerful Justice tricks (Sharpened Reflex, Finest Hour, Crownwatch Tactic and Strength of Many) and decent Fire ones (Rampage and Shugo Tactic). Notably, both Fire tricks are a lot better in Rakano because it often helps you push damage through chump blocks, a common strategy when your opponent isn't able to block profitably. That said, being trick flooded is a real risk in Rakano, especially since you often have a high weapon count. As such, it's important to ensure that you have enough units for your Rakano deck, and prioritize units and permanent buffs over tricks if necessary.
Sample Rakano Deck
(Note: this is pre-hat and pre-herald nerf) This is an example of a classic aggressive Rakano deck. It has a nice array of aggressive units, and often aims to curve out and run over the opponent before they even get on board. It has a nice unit count (20) to ensure that we don't get stuck with awkward hands where we draw only buffs and no units. Gun Down and Fiery Fissure are also decent in this deck because they help to clear the way by removing problematic blockers.
Notably, Spiritblade Stalker, while still a good card, is significantly less good here because it's pretty anti-synegistic to the game plan as it is much slower than the rest of the deck. If I had another aggressive card like a Brightmace Paladin in the pool, I can easily see Spiritblade Stalker being replaced by it.
Since the Set 2 draft format, Praxis has been in a weird spot and often one of the hardest factions to draft. The tension between the aggressive slant of Fire and the slow, durdly slant of Time has often led to Praxis decks been confused about what it wants to do, with decks that go turn 1 Oni Ronin into a turn 8 Pillar of Amar. Set 4 definitely helped to clear up Praxis' identity as a draft faction; now it's all about meshing big Time units with the powerful Fire weapons.
Time is one of the deepest factions in the current draft format, and as such helps complement the shallow pool of Fire playables. Moreover, most Praxis decks have the plan of gumming up the ground with Time's powerful fatties and then suiting up Time's weak fliers with Fire's weapons to win the game. Fire's removal also complements Time's pool well since Time cards are bad at anything that is not raw stats, silence or bounce effects.
Archive Curator, Dune Phantom, Primeval Plover and Illumination Wisp becomes higher priority picks when you are in Praxis because they are great weapon carriers. With enough weapons, even Excavation Assistant becomes a good playable. In game, these fliers also become high priority targets to put weapons on since they are both evasive and defensively slanted, and so are often able to attack through most opposing fliers.
The general Time ground fatties (Sandbinder Sentinel, Lumen Shepherd, Pensive Lumen, etc) are still great in this deck for gumming up the ground and can also act as weapon carriers if you find an opportunity to push through. Good defensive units are often a higher priority over aggressive units in Praxis decks, and I would tend to pick cards like Bold Adventurer, Watchful Amanera and Rusty Grenamotive over aggressive units such as Baying Serasaur, Guerilla Fighter and Hissing Spiketail. This is because Praxis decks generally don't push through the ground very aggressively since they don't have many tricks to back it up. Moreover, aggressive units don't wear Fire's weapons well since the overall low health total often means your opponent can trade up on blocks.
The ability to ground or remove opposing fliers is also very important, since your opponent can always threaten blocks or attempt to race you in the air. As such, Sandbinder Sentinel, Archive Curator, Dispel (or even Talir's Intervention if I'm low on silences) are cards that I would love to have in my Praxis decks. Fire's 5 cost removal options (Fiery Fissure and Gun Down) as well as Into the Furnace and Torch also helps to clear the path for your fliers to seal the game.
Sample Praxis Deck
This deck is a good illustration of what a typical Praxis deck looks like. The bulk of the cards come from Time, and act as the high quality unit base for the deck. Fire mostly provides the weapons, and a few units to round out the deck. Warpainter, while average in most Fire decks, is much better here since it blocks well to hold the ground while potentially buffing future fliers. Excavation Assistant also looks pretty good here too, with 4 powerful weapons that it carries well.
Another cute synergy that this deck has is that Manufacture is actually actively good in this deck, with 4 Living Examples and a Warpainter. With just 1 Living Example out, Manufacture becomes paying 6 power for 3 2/2s, and with 2 Living Examples out, it becomes 3 3/3s (pretty busted!).
Set 1 Fire was glorious aggression. Set 2 Fire wasn't as aggressive, but with a powerful commons such as Cannonbearer and Gun Down, it still jostled for the top spot. However, Set 3 Fire onwards was just disappointing. The power level of Set 3 and Set 4 Fire cards are noticeably worse, and the ability of Fire decks to come together coherently is much weaker. Curated packs definitely helped shore up some of the weakness of Fire, but I would definitely say Fire's glory days have come and gone. That said, while clearly not one of the top factions in draft, the power level difference between factions are still very minor, and I would not recommend consciously avoiding Fire. I do think the factions are all very close in power level, and simply drafting what is open is still going to be the optimal strategy.
Fire's identity has also somewhat shifted with this set. While still an aggressive faction, I would hesitate to call it the most aggressive faction. It has also picked up the ability to be a strong complementary faction through the weapons that it provides. This added dimension to Fire definitely makes drafting it much more interesting.
What are your thoughts on Fire in this format? Do you agree with my assessment? As always, I would love to hear your thoughts on the reddit thread!
My relationship with fire is like a love that is shattered into bitterness and resentment by constant disappointments,