Lights Out - FJS - February 15, 2019
FJS has been an omnipresent and frequently dominant force on the ladder and tournament scene for a while now. While many consider the deck boring, I enjoy the grindy, consistent gameplay it offers and have fun playing with and against the deck. As such, I’ve played it a lot and come to some conclusions that aren’t frequently seen despite the large amount of iteration the deck has gone through. Let’s start with my decklist:
1 Bore (Set1003 #1)
1 Defiance (Set5 #77)
4 Seek Power (Set1 #408)
4 Torch (Set1 #8)
4 Winchest Cargo (Set5 #237)
4 Quarry (Set1001 #15)
4 Display of Ambition (Set5 #239)
4 Hidden Road Smuggler (Set5 #210)
4 Red Canyon Smuggler (Set5 #198)
4 Slay (Set2 #236)
1 Auric Runehammer (Set1 #166)
2 Statuary Maiden (Set1 #387)
4 Vara, Vengeance-Seeker (Set1004 #19)
4 Rizahn, Greatbow Master (Set4 #246)
1 Dizo's Office (Set5 #182)
4 Xo of the Endless Hoard (Set5 #36)
3 Fire Sigil (Set1 #1)
4 Justice Sigil (Set1 #126)
2 Shadow Sigil (Set1 #249)
4 Crest of Chaos (Set3 #268)
4 Crest of Glory (Set4 #243)
4 Crest of Vengeance (Set3 #264)
4 Seat of Chaos (Set0 #60)
1 Adjudicator's Gavel (Set5 #76)
1 Vanquish (Set1 #143)
1 Regent's Tomb (Set5 #213)
1 Deepforged Plate (Set1 #317)
1 Harsh Rule (Set1 #172)
There are many cards that are core to every FJS build that it would be crazy to change: 4 each of Torch, Display of Ambition, Red Canyon Smuggler, Hidden Road Smuggler, Vara Vengeance Seeker, and Xo of the Endless Hoard. This core results in a deck with extremely consistent access to the effects it wants. It is all powerful threats, card advantage, and removal, and it will almost never power screw or flood regardless of game length. There are several other numbers that are not universally agreed upon that I believe are definitely correct:
4 Quarry. Quarry is excellent card selection that doesn’t cause you to fall behind on board due to cost reduction. It also fills up the void for Display of Ambition’s recursion mode and Rizahn’s Lifesteal. Cull the Deck is worse for those reasons - cost and filling up the void matter. Trimming Quarry for other spells or units doesn’t really make sense because Quarry helps dig you into your best cards already, so you are making your deck worse by adding extra effects and reducing the access you have to the superior versions.
4 Rizahn, Greatbow Master. He doesn’t always have Lifesteal when he comes down on turn 6 or 7 now, but you can usually get Lifesteal for his attack if you want to. Even without Lifesteal, Rizahn is a powerful threat and removal spell 2-for-1 that is well worth running. How many times have you made a play and thought, “I hope the opponent doesn’t have Rizahn here or I get blown out?” Some people choose voluntarily to not put the maximum amount of copies of that card in their deck. That is just wrong – play four Rizahn.
0 Lost Scroll. Lost Scroll is actually not good in traditional FJS. If you are ramping up to Telut and Martyr’s Chains cure, by all means play 2 power ramp. In a low-curve deck like this (there are only five cards that cost more than 4; Xo is a 2-cost Wisdom of the Elders), it is unnecessarily clunky and doesn’t advance your gameplan meaningfully. In a deck with several excellent 3-drops, skipping that portion of your curve often doesn’t matter. Lost Scroll doesn’t let you play Regent’s Tomb first on the draw in the mirror (an important thing to do) unless you maindeck it, and maindecked Tomb is bad because then you have less access to it than you do in the market with 8 Smugglers. The tipping point, however, is how awkward Scroll makes you first 3 turns. In order to play Scroll on turn 2 you need to play an undepleted power turn 2, which you don’t always have with Seats and Crests in your deck. A two Crest + Scroll hand is miserable and slow and you do nothing until turn 4. A two Crest and Seek Power/Winchest Cargo hand lets you deploy a Smuggler or Slay on turn 3. Lost Scroll also doesn’t fix for Fire like Seek and Cargo do, which is relevant. The final tipping point is that playing eight 1-cost power searchers lets you max out on 12 Crests (since double Crest hands are now fine instead of cripplingly slow), which further reduces your chances of power screw or flood and makes your late game better.
Market: Regent’s Tomb, Deepforged Plate, Vanquish, Harsh Rule. Tomb is obvious and automatic. Vanquish is also relatively uncontroversial, but some people play Avigraft instead, which is expensive and horrible. There are a lot of flyers that you want to kill, and it only takes dying to Xo with a Smuggler in hand once to be off Avigraft forever. Camat0 played a variant of FJS in the ECQ top 64 with Vanquishes maindeck over Slay, in which case the Slay could be in the market. Harsh Rule is very good when it is good, but not widely valuable enough to play maindeck, so it’s an obvious Market inclusion. Deepforged Plate wins several matchups by itself (Skycrag, Kennadin), is frequently a blowout against stuns from Permafrost or Aniyah, and can just come down late in any low-resource game and finish a game very quickly on a Red Canyon Smuggler. 14 damage is no joke.
The last market slot is up for grabs, but right now I would play Adjudicator’s Gavel since reanimator is so broken. Gavel slows them down a turn or two and maybe gives you time to finish them off before they go off (Harsh Rule is not nearly enough to stop reanimator). I don’t like running cards in the market that are not Justice or Fire AND Shadow, as they cannot be grabbed by both Smugglers, so I don’t like Bore in the FJS market. I play one maindeck because I still want access to one in the 80, and with eight Smugglers it is extremely rare to be stuck with Bore when it is bad and it is easy to play it and tuck the copy in the market for a 2-for-1 (and since Bore is maindeck, that can happen as early as turn 4). I wouldn’t fault anyone for cutting Bore completely, as relics aren’t as prevalent as they once were.
My build is rounded out by a couple copies of Statuary Maiden, a Dizo’s Office, an Auric Runehammer, and a Defiance. All of these are solid cards that are frequently fantastic, but aren’t great to draw multiple copies of or have matchups in which they under-perform. Neon made top 64 of the latest ECQ with this decklist, but swapped out the 4th Cargo and a Runehammer for a couple Defiance, which is reasonable if you expect more aggro. These cards are all flex slots and could be anything from Vanquish and Annihilate to Harsh Rule and Martyr’s Chains (but please don’t play Whirling Duo or Vicious Highwayman; those are bad in this deck).
The mirror has several stages. The beginning is the Regent’s Tomb phase, where both players try to Protect their Tomb and remove their opponent’s. Even if you lose the Tomb phase, Rizahn can bail you out by blowing up theirs before Elias comes out. After or instead of the Tomb phase is the threats phase, where you both try to land a unit and put on some pressure with it. Try to line up removal with threats, but don’t waste Display as a removal spell unless you can get an almost-sure lethal or to Kill a Xo. The final phase is the grind phase, where drawing more Displays of Ambition or Martyr’s Chains decides the game. Try to put away power with Smugglers to maximize the amount of gas you have and try to Display back Xos and Smugglers over units that die to removal without getting extra value. If you juggle a Xo back and forth (put it into the Market with Hidden Valley, pull it out with Red Canyon) your Red Canyon Smugglers all draw a card on Summon, which is great.
The more streamlined FTP builds with 8 Merchants and without Howling Peak and Xo and much less clunky and much more frightening than previous builds, but they do sacrifice some grinding power compared to your Displays of Ambition. Equivocate is by far the most important card for them, and you will lose most games where they draw 3 or more in their first 15-20 cards. If they stumble or don’t draw multiple Equivocates, Vara, Maiden, or Deepforged Plate will take over the game. They have a lot of powerful units, but your removal and Smugglers are better. Be sure to consider their Displays of Ambition, both when timing your removal spells and when casting your Varas – don’t play a Vara 3 open power and a unit if you can. Try to kill a unit and put a cudgel on Maiden the turn you play her. The key is to tax their Equivocates.
The new boogeyman is not a good matchup, but steps can be taken to make it better. Adjudicator’s Gavel in the Market is the obvious first step, but that only slows them down until they can find a Merchant for Burglarize (and they have so much card draw that they WILL find one). Harsh Rule also helps, but that only stops one reanimation chain, and they can easily Sabotage it or only commit enough to the board to make you Rule while leaving a stocked void and Merchanting for another Grasping at Shadows. You really need to pressure them. Maiden can also help a little, but turning a Vara or Azindel into Cudgels only helps if their combo turn is relatively small. If Reanimator gets more popular, drastic steps like maindecking Harsh Rules (multiple Rules + Gavel makes the matchup favorable, though not by much) or Steward of the Past may be necessary. At least reanimator’s presence should suppress the amount of FTP you run into, which is the only truly unfavorable matchup.
Both of the aggro matchups play out similarly – you interact as power-efficiently as you can, make sure you have undepleted power for turns 3 and 4, and slam down your 4 drops and hope they don’t get removed. It’s usually correct to Market for Harsh Rule and hope you don’t die to Charge follow-up. There is enough Lifesteal (even with the Rizahn nerf) that these matchups don’t feel bad, and Skycrag often folds to Plate as well. I’ve felt fine even with 0 Defiance, but I like having it to be safe.
FJS is popular and therefore despised by many, but it is extremely powerful and deserving of its popularity. Powerful and consistent decks like this lead to very fun, interactive games and are a delight to play, so I recommend you give it a try even if you hate playing the ‘best deck.’ Almost every rogue deck and poorly-constructed deck is easy to take apart with FJS, which is always a good place to be on ladder. FJS isn’t the best deck anymore and isn’t as good as it was a couple weeks ago due to how broken Reanimator is, but it is still a solid and playable deck that is very reasonable to play.
Until next time, may you always have the right answers.