Lights Out - The Evolution of Xenan Killers
The ranked metagame has already gone through several cycles since the Fall of Argenport released. In the beginning, Time midrange decks were everywhere – Mono Time, Elysian, Praxis. FJS rose to prominence to prey on the Time fatty decks and Gift of Battle decks were iterated on, and the non-Praxis Time decks fell by the wayside since they just could not keep up without Heart of the Vault and Torch. The metagame felt sandwiched between Alessi and Icaria, with Praxis barely hanging on.
Blitz took a huge hit, however, and without the constant threat of dying turn 4 in the air Time is back on the menu. You can stop fetching Sandstorm Scarf from the market and start grabbing Predatory Carnosaur again. I had a deck I really liked that felt very strong, but the ubiquity of Berserk aggro decks that kill you in the air made me put it down. With the flying threat substantially reduced, it’s time to bust out Xenan again:
3 Dark Return (Set1 #250)
4 Seek Power (Set1 #408)
4 Teacher of Humility (Set4 #67)
4 Vara’s Choice (Set2 #206)
1 Vara’s Favor (Set0 #35)
4 Xenan Initiation (Set2 #44)
4 Auralian Merchant (Set4 #70)
4 Auric Interrogator (Set1002 #13)
4 Ayan, the Abductor (Set2 #204)
4 Dawnwalker (Set1 #86)
4 Sandstorm Titan (Set1 #99)
2 Xenan Obelisk (Set1 #103)
1 Twinbrood Sauropod (Set1 #113)
3 Predatory Carnosaur (Set1 #118)
3 Shadow Sigil (Set1 #249)
8 Time Sigil (Set1 #63)
1 Amber Monument (Set1 #420)
2 Cabal Standard (Set4 #193)
4 Crest of Mystery (Set4 #266)
4 Seat of Mystery (Set0 #61)
3 Xenan Banner (Set2 #201)
4 Ripknife Assassin (Set1003 #13)
1 Banish (Set2 #207)
1 Xenan Obelisk (Set1 #103)
1 Twinbrood Sauropod (Set1 #113)
1 Predatory Carnosaur (Set1 #118)
1 Xenan Banner (Set2 #201)
Xenan has the same core of powerful Time cards as every other Time deck: Teacher of Humility, Dawnwalker, Sandstorm Titan, and Predatory Carnosaur. Instead of Praxis’s Torch and Heart of the Vault, you get better 2 drops (Ripknife Assassin, Blistersting Wasp when flying and aggro are popular), better removal (Vara’s Choice, Banish and Annihilate if you want them), and better grinding power (Auric Interrogator, Dark Return). FINALLY getting Crest of Mystery in the Fall of Argenport enabled Xenan to actually cast all of these cards!
Having aggressive 2- and 3-drops beyond Teacher and Dawnwalker lets Xenan play a more traditional aggressive midrange game plan, a style I am a huge fan of. You don’t need to play ramp units like Initiate of Sands and Trail Maker and hope to draw them early and 5 and 6 drops later – you get to play all individually powerful cards that work even better together. Vara’s Choice, Xenan Initiation and Predatory Carnosaur are especially powerful when you are ahead. Choice in particular is such an efficient piece of removal that I don’t even feel the need to play Praxis Displacer – my list has only 10 cards that cost more than 3. Another nice thing is that having so many cheap units and Auric Interrogators enables you to play a couple Xenan Obelisk without falling behind on your development, so you have additional ways to break a board stall should it come to that.
Ayan is a surprisingly contentious card in Xenan lists lately, and I don’t understand why. Ayan is exceptional at racing aggro and tokens decks, enables ‘surprise’ double blocks, helps put on pressure by Ambushing end of turn against Harsh Rule decks, and can bring back giant fatties in board stalls against other unit-based decks. He is respectable in every matchup, and having versatile and powerful cards is Xenan’s trademark. He also scales super well with obelisk buffs, gaining you more health or bringing back Dawnwalkers at end of turn.
Aurelian Merchant adds another element that Xenan did not have previously, and furthers cements Xenan’s adaptive, aggressive playstyle. Banish is my relic removal of choice, and it can also pull double duty against buffed up small units or troublesome evasive units. Xenan Obelisk breaks board stalls and activates Auric Interrogator. Twinbrood Sauropod grinds for days, and is especially sick with Dark Return and /or Xenan Initiation. Dark Returning a Killer Sauropod is a 4-for-1 or something like that? I don’t know, it’s hard to count that high. The market is rounded out with Predatory Carnosaur, mostly so that you can draw it even more often than just having 4 copies in the main deck. Nothing shuts the door against an opponent on the back foot like killing their best unit while developing a 6/6. CHOMP
Other deckbuilding quick hits:
2 Cabal Standard, 1 Amber Monument. Monument is great to bring back Dawnwalker and have higher threat density, but Xenan usually has a few units in play and Cabal Tactic allows smaller units to attack into Sandstorm Titans and Icarias and win. It also activates Auric Interrogator to draw a card as a bonus.
Twinbrood Sauropod as the 5 drop in the main deck. Alhed is basically a fat vanilla guy, and grinding through removal or producing more blockers has been more relevant for me than pure stats or ramping from Alhed or Worldbearer Behemoth. Vara’s Choice and Xenan Obelisk allow you to press early advantages against other Time decks, so a coupe fatties usually don’t spell the end for the slightly-smaller Xenan Killers list.
3 Dark Returns. Dark Return is amazing with basically every card in the deck, but having 4 means you are often flooded on them without a good unit in your void. I have played two in the past, but with Aurelian Merchant to put away excess copies and grant extra access to Twinbrood Sauropod and Predatory Carnosaur (which are the best Dark Return targets along with Auric Interrogator), I feel comfortable adding a third.
4 Vara’s Choice, 0 Banish, 0 Annihilate. Vara’s Choice is simply the best removal spell Xenan has access to, so you should play four copies of it before dipping into other removal. Ripknife Assassin serves as a sort of Annihilate for big ground units that can also be played proactively, and playing proactively is always better than playing reactively. Banish is good when it is hitting 3 and 4 drops, and most threats now cost 1, 2, or 5 or more. Banish is pretty inefficient at hitting cheap stuff and can’t touch expensive stuff. Silence and bounce the big guys in play, discard the Icarias from hand, and beat down.
Xenan has a better matchup against Harsh Rule and Icaria decks than other Time midrange variants because of the grinding power of Auric Interrogator and the discard ability of Vara’s Choice. Anything trying to stabilize a board with removal spells will have a difficult time with the endless Dawnwalker recursion, Dark Return on Twinbrood Sauropods, and card draw. Obelisk even enables you to put on additional pressure without exposing yourself to Harsh Rule, so it has use even in its bad matchup here (it worse against aggro, but Merchants help that dead card problem a lot).
The head-to-head against Praxis is not an ideal matchup, but if they stumble a little bit due to you killing ramp dorks or you are on the play, you can often leverage Vara’s Choice bounces into Carnosaurs to cross the finish line. If the opponent sticks a Worldbearer Behemoth you need to create a board stall and get on the grind plan with Interrogators, with the end goal of playing a couple Xenan Obelisks at 8 power to overwhelm them. Ayan can also bring back an 8/9 or 9/9 to blunt the opponent’s offensive.
Aggressive and token decks are also way better for Xenan than other Time decks, as you have more and better 2 and 3 drops for blocking, and Ayan in particular is a massive beating if they don’t have exactly Torch. Merchant-ing for Twinbrood Sauropod to clog the board until you can A+Space for lethal or to force a bunch of chump blocks is a common plan. If Haunting Scream or Berserk decks remain popular, Sandstorm Scarf is prime market tech that is very difficult for them to beat, and can replace the Obelisk (or if you’re greedy, the Banner). Before going to such drastic measures, however, try swapping the Ripknife Assassins for Blistersting Wasps and see if that improves the matchup enough.
Xenan Killers is a powerful and malleable aggressive midrange deck, and players adept at role assessment and sequencing will find it enjoyable. I love how good it as at punishing random jank decks as well, as it is consistent and proactive, but not fragile.
Until next time, may your Auric Interrogators draw many cards.