Hi everyone! For today's article, I've decided to talk about the deck TJP fliers and give a history of how the archetype developed. TJP fliers was one of my pet decks before Kennadins came along and stole my heart. Taking it up once again in the Invitationals just brought back so many memories that it inspired me to write this article. In this article, I will chart the history of TJP's evolution and use it to highlight important deck building lessons. I believe that these lessons are extremely interesting, and will hopefully help you with tuning your own brews.
The Key Gameplan
Before starting on its history, it's important to understand what defines TJP fliers. It is a fliers deck that is able to play the best cards from all 3 factions, and those cards synergize extremely well together. Permafrost, Equivocate and Vanquish are insanely tempo efficient answers, and you are often able to put on a ridiculous amount of pressure with your units. Stand Together not only refreshes Shelterwing Rider's Aegis, it allows you to play pro-actively and aggressively into Harsh Rule decks. Moreover, post-Stand, most of your units will get an additional +1/+1 buff from Unseen Commando. Hooru Pacifier also shuts the door to relic weapons, a common answer to big Aegis units.
Being a deck filled with fliers also meant that it was extremely hard for the opponent to interact with via combat. Your opponent is usually unable to block your fliers so you can threaten to clock them aggressively. In contrast, if you are under intense pressure, you can always hold back your fliers to block and slow down the game. As such, you get to dictate the pace of the game completely, an extremely powerful advantage if you are able to utilize it well.
The first step, Innovation
The modern TJP fliers was a natural evolution from Hooru fliers. With the release of flying Siraf (Hooru Pacifier), Hooru fliers was an archetype that A LOT of players looked at. People started to realize how powerful Shelterwing Rider is, and started thinking about ways to reactivate it. Naturally, Stand Together was the answer, and since you are already splashing for Stand Together, why not throw in the best 2-drop in the game (at that point) and one of the most efficient removal?
And so, TJP fliers was born. Interestingly enough, two groups of people came up with decklists that executed the idea at the same time (Pupi and myself was one, and AhornDelfin and his team Eternal Titans (ET) was the other). It was actually a really funny experience running into Ahorn on ladder and we were like, "Eh, are we on the same deck!!?!". Of course, there were a few key differences, but the core idea of powerful midrange units and Stand Together was present in both decks.
Ahorn constantly updates his list so I don't have an accurate documentation, but I believe this was reasonably close to his initial list:
Lesson 1: The Power-Consistency Trade-off
One of the first key differences that I wanted to highlight was the inclusion of 4 Trail Makers in Ahorn's list. It is an interesting inclusion, and the key rationale behind it is to be able to hit your influence requirements extremely consistently. Of course, the trade-off is obvious: you are playing 4 terrible 2-drops in your "aggressive" midrange deck. Ahorn subsequently cut it from his list, and I definitely agree with that since I felt that the drop in power level was way too large.
The Next Step, Iteration
Of course, not to be outdone, Mouche brought ET's take on TJP then-midrange to a Top 4 finish at the very next weekly. Their decklist was as follows and the EWC version can be found here.
Lesson 2: No card is an auto-include
I think that the biggest innovation that Pupi and I did when building TJP fliers was cutting Siraf. As normal as it seems now, remember back then, Siraf was an auto-include in ANY deck that could play it. She was easy on the influence, has great stats and an activated ability that could help you come back in long drawn out games. So why did we cut her? Because she didn't fit the plan. With the exception of Awakened Student, your entire deck FLIES. The whole point of the deck was to fly over your opponent and force them to try and answer you (since you are likely to win any race with the Lifesteal from Unseen Commando). Playing a 3/4 ground unit does not fit with the plan and so she had to go. Moreover, her ability is rarely relevant since most games with this deck do not go to 8 power.
As you can see in the ET list, they were running both Siraf and Copperhall Elite, both of which are anti-synergistic to the game plan. To remedy this issue, the ET list ran two Accelerated Evolution, but I think that was a bad idea (and subsequent iterations on the deck show that they probably agreed with me). Accelerated Evolution was really mediocre unless your opponent was running Permafrosts or if you drew one of your ground units. Even then, it isn't amazing, and it often left you vulnerable to getting 2-for-1ed by removal.
Lesson 3: Don't Get TOO greedy
Of course, that's not to say that I was the genius deck-builder that got everything right the first time around. The main criticism for my initial list was the presence of Amilli. Amilli was definitely a strong card, and being able to summon a chump blocker every turn meant that it became even harder for your opponent to race you. On all fronts, it seemed as though Amilli was a perfect fit for the deck. Except the influence cost. JJJ was too much of a stretch for a power base which already needed to hit TJJPP, and I've definitely lost a fair share of games with Amilli or Shelterwing Rider (because I fetched 3rd J over 2nd P) stuck in my hand. Funnily enough, as I was realizing this and trying to find replacements for Amilli, the promo Svetya was released, and a natural answer to filling the void that cutting Amilli left behind.
Lesson 4: a splash of unorthodox can work
The next big innovation in the TJP fliers archetype came from Camat0, when he added Mirror Image, a card that has previously seen next to no competitive play, to the deck. Of course, he went slightly overboard and added 4 (I think the right number is 2 or 3), but regardless the addition of Mirror Image was a huge boost to the deck. The decklist was as follows and the EWC link can be found here.
Mirror Image is actually downright amazing in this deck. Firstly, multiple copies of Unseen Commando and chains of Svetya are just back-breaking for opponents to deal with. Mirror Image also refreshes the Aegis on Shelterwing Riders, and any post-Stand unit also becomes a great Mirror Image target. Last but definitely not least, Mirror Image allows you to play your Valkyrie Enforcers out more aggressively, since you can always Mirror Image the Valkyrie Enforcer if you need a Silence effect later on.
Lesson 5: the meta affects card choices
Svetya was an interesting inclusion, and controversial to say the least. Ultimately, she was a very meta call. The card is amazing against control since it allows you to play another unit before you Stand Together, and occasionally in Midrange matchups, removing the ability to cast spells could be huge on a critical turn. However, the fundamental flaw with Svetya is that she doesn't fly. As such, she really doesn't fit in well in the deck's gameplan of flying over the opponent. Moreover, there are times when you play Svetya in Midrange matchups and your opponent simply just plops down another big unit instead and you effectively just played a worse Copperhall Elite.
In the Season 2 Invitational, Pupi and I expected the meta to be filled with Argenport Midrange and TJP fliers. As such, it seemed as though Svetya would be very lackluster, and so Pupi came up with another unorthodox card choice: Lida, the Most Skilled. His list was as follows and the EWC link can be found here.
Lida is amazing in this deck for a multitude of reasons. Firstly, despite being a ground unit, she has the ability to interact with fliers via killer and even has pseudo-charge (since she can attack the turn she is played)! Secondly, she is great in the mirror because she can remove Unseen Commandos (the best unit in the mirror) and Shelterwing Riders (the second best unit in the mirror) with a single Unseen Commando buff. The same can be said for the Argenport Midrange matchup, except replacing Shelterwing Rider with Impending Doom. Lastly, Lida gives the deck sufficient density of Unseens so that you could still run Common Cause, which I think is superior to Diplomatic Seals. In retrospect, I think this was a brilliant meta call and utterly regret my last-minute cold feet swap to Argenport Midrange. (Fun fact: Pupi aactually wanted to abandon this deck and swap to Argenport Midrange at the last minute, but luckily for him, he returned home too late to re-register with Argenport Midrange.)
Lesson 2 rehashed: No card is an auto-include
When Fall of Argenport came out and everyone was losing their minds over Merchants, people started jamming Merchants into every deck, including TJP fliers. The unfortunate issue is that none of the merchants synergized well with the gameplan of TJP. Auralian Merchant has a nice defensive body, but 1 attack on your 3-drop is not where you want to be in an aggressive deck. Jennev Merchant seems promising, but being a non-flier in a flier-centric deck is a huge cost, as is the fact that it cannot fetch Stand Together. This leaves us with Winchest Merchant, but being a 2/2 flier isn't great for beating down when you could be playing Unseen Commandos or Hooru Pacifiers instead.
So, despite all the hype surrounding Merchants, merchant-less builds are definitely a viable alternative, as demonstrated by this Merchant-less build by Pupi. For that meta, I think that was probably the correct choice. He also swapped back from Lida to Svetya, again showcasing that quite a few of these flex slots are meta-dependent.
Since then though, TJP fliers have taken somewhat of a backseat in the tournament meta. The post Fall of Argenport meta shaped up to be extremely explosive, with decks like TJP Alessi and Charge Rod taking the forefront. These decks generally don't play a fair game, which is what TJP fliers excel at. TJP Alessi can simply remove key fliers with Xenan Initiation or simply outscale your units with bigger 1-drops and destroy you with a burst out of nowhere. Charge Rod also doesn't need to attack constantly to win, thus negating TJP's greatest advantage of being able to dictate combat.
The nerfs to Charge Rod and Alessi decks in general helped TJP fliers come back somewhat, and I've had quite a bit of success piloting the deck on ladder in preparation for the Invitationals. While no longer the dominant force that it was in Set 3, TJP fliers can definitely put up results still. Fast forward to the Invitationals, and the unified conquest format made TJP fliers an extremely appealing choice. This deck functioned mostly off Justice and multi-faction cards, and as such, only really used up Valkyrie Enforcer and Equivocate from the high demand pool. As such,including TJP fliers gave a lot more flexibility to your other two decks, making it an ideal choice for the invitationals.
LEsson 7: Sometimes, no-one knows the answer
Looking at the various TJP fliers lists in the invitational though, one interesting thing to note is that there is 0 consensus on which Merchant to run, or even whether it is correct to run Merchants in the first place.
Mouche's Deck (Built by ManuS) (EWC Link)
Tobboo's Deck (EWC Link)
OND's Deck (Built by Pupi) (EWC Link)
Mouche opted to not run Merchants at all, choosing to go for a more streamlined aggression over the extra flexibility and situational answers that the Merchants provide. Tobboo and the entire OND team chose to run the Winchest Merchant, though the OND lineup chose not to run the full 4 Merchants. This is because while Winchest Merchant can occasionally win you games by fetching a critical Stand Together or Vanquish, drawing multiple Merchants feels really bad, and most of the time, you would much rather just see one of your key fliers.
Camat0's Deck (EWC Link)
Camat0 went even further and chose to run the Jennev Merchant instead. While intriguing, I am of the opinion that this is the wrong choice. Not being able to fly is a huge downside, and a 3/2 Aegis body isn't impressive. Moreover, Stand Together is probably my most fetched card from the market, and not being able to do that makes me even more dubious of Jennev Merchant. Of course, Camat0 has proven himself time and again to have unique insights into deck building, and he might know something that I don't (which he talks about in his h0t takes here, but I still disagree with). Or maybe he is just trash =P.
The decision between running and not running Winchest Merchant is a much more difficult one, and I'm also not sure what the correct answer is. In my games in the Invitationals, I definitely won games off fetching Vanquish or Visions of Austerity off of Winchest Merchant, but at the same time, I've also lost games because a 3 power 2/2 flier is really mediocre at contesting the board. This is an interesting question on the trade-off between power and flexibility, and I would definitely love to hear other players' thoughts on it.
Another interesting difference is the lack of Svetya in the ET versions. I definitely think that this is wrong, especially for the Invitational meta. Svetya is great against Harsh Rule decks (which I am sure that at least 90% of lineups would have) and chaining Svetyas are pretty insane against Feln Beserk/Scream decks and Combrei Alessi. Again, I would love to hear the reasoning why Svetya was cut.
Lesson 8: Never stop innovating
Besides the Merchant and Svetya discrepancies, the TJP fliers list from ET had another interesting addition: Dusk Raider. Dusk Raider feels like a great addition to the deck because Berserk gives the deck even more burst damage than before. Moreover, it has ridiculous amounts of synergy with Unseen Commandos. Firstly, simply activating Berserk gives a unit 2 battle skills, allowing Unseen Commando to buff it. Next, the unit gets the buff once on the first attack, and AGAIN on the second attack. While I haven't actually played the deck with Dusk Raider in it, this card seems like a perfect fit for the deck and definitely increases the power level of the deck. This is an important reminder that even when you think a deck is fully optimized, there is always the potential for improvement.
Highlighting the addition of Dusk Raider brings us back to the purpose of this entire article. So often do we get entrenched in certain mindsets, or think that a certain build is fully optimized, that we forget to ask about off-the-beaten-track cards; that we assume certain cards must be included or that we stop iterating on a list. However, this constantly evolving TJP list showcased the importance of thinking outside the box. From cutting cards that were auto-include (Siraf) to adding unorthodox cards (Mirror Image, Lida), TJP fliers is a list that shows in deck building, the only rule is that there are no rules.
I hope you've enjoyed this recap of the evolution of TJP and hopefully the points I've raised would help you with your own brews. As always, let me know what you think in the Reddit thread! And not to forget, huge congratulations to Mouche for piloting TJP fliers alongside his other two decks to an Invitational win!
May all your brews turn out amazing,