Between The Lanes Meta Snapshot #4
The primary purpose of the BTL Meta Snapshot isn’t necessarily to rank the decks per se, as I personally feel that the meta fluctuates regularly and certain decks become temporarily positioned higher or lower as a result. The use of tech cards can also skew matchups which, in turn, affect general rankings. The main goal of this snapshot is to show players what is being played and widely perceived as dominant on the ladder, and offer some insight into deck lists and matchups to make grinding the ladder easier – or at least a little more predictable. That being said, the decks are organized into “tiers” which can be defined as follows:
TIER ONE: These decks dominate the ladder at the high Legend ranks, both in popularity and power level. They are optimized and adaptable, with good matchups against many other popular decks that often lead to extremely high win rates and access to some of the most powerful cards and combos in TES: Legends.
TIER TWO: Though not quite of the power level as the tier one decks, these decks are also quite popular and fully capable of reaching the very top of the ladder. These are very solid decks that occasionally benefit from good matchups among other tier one and two decks.
TIER THREE: These decks are generally average. They aren’t particularly bad, but may not be optimized or well-positioned against the dominant tier one and tier two decks. Unrefined new strategies poking their heads into the competitive ladder meta often wind up here. Many of these decks have either fallen out of favor slightly or have room for future improvement through refienment.
TIER FOUR: While not incapable of grinding the ladder or taking wins off higher-ranked decks, these decks find more of a struggle. They are typically very unrefined or poorly-positioned. Winning against tier one and tier two decks with these usually requires great tech choices and deep knowledge of the matchups. Many of the decks here are, in comparison to tier three decks, more extensively tested but found lacking in the current metagame.
Beneath each deck is a general overview of the deck itself, an explanation of why it is placed where it is in the current Meta Snapshot, a link to a sample list, and (for the first two tiers of decks) a paragraph on matchup analysis against the other decks in the top two tiers. While not irrelevant, matchup discussion for the decks listed in tiers three and four are not provided mostly due to lack of data; however, they are mentioned in the write-ups of several decks.
Note: As tier four decks are those which essentially exist but haven’t found a competitive place in the current meta according to the snapshot team, they are simply listed in this snapshot with links to sample lists as decks that (essentially) almost made the cut and may find their way back to the top three main tiers in future snapshots.
Midrange Sorcerer, previously dubbed “Ward Sorcerer” in this snapshot, has continued to rise in popularity since its #1 Legend appearance and high tier two ranking in November’s Snapshot. This deck is an aggressive Sorcerer deck that utilizes high tempo plays in cards like Black Worm Necromancer and a low curve of resilient creatures to get far ahead of its opponents.
The core of the Midrange Sorcerer deck hasn’t changed much since the previous Snapshot, though reliance on the Ward keyword remains low; Wards are simply a way to make the creatures harder to remove.
Matchups: Despite little change, Midrange Sorcerer has propelled itself to the top of the Snapshot due to its fantastic matchups across the popular decks of the last Snapshot. Besides a very favorable matchup to Ramp Scout, which it shares with many Midrange strategies, it also has the ability to get under those other Midrange strategies with a slightly lower curve and is one of the best (if not the best) decks to use against Merric Battlemage due to the difficulty the deck has of removing Sorcerer’s early creatures.
Sample list: CoreyMilhouse’s Midrange Sorcerer
With the introduction of Hist Grove as the September monthly reward card, Ramp Scout saw a surge in popularity. The deck is fairly straightforward in that it wants to draw the game out and win with a variety of large threats like Blood Magic Lord. Now that Hist Grove is available to Endurance, however, it offers and almost insurmountable amount of pressure in the very late game, giving the deck a huge advantage over slow decks not using the card.
Ramp Scout continues to be the go-to deck for those looking to play the long game this month, though its counters are still very popular on the ladder. Keeping this deck afloat is the refinement it sees as the list gets closer to being perfected. Cards like Tazkad and Moonlight Werebat are rarely seen in the current lists, while Giant Snake, Snake Tooth Necklace, and Shadow Shifts are in virtually every one.
Matchups: Ramp Scout has gotten much better against straightforward Aggro decks with the recent modifications to the list and remains a great choice against Control decks that don’t have access to Hist Grove like Control Mage. Aside from that, the overall power level of this deck means the ladder is full of decks aimed at countering it – Merric Battlemage remains the most potent counter, while Midrange decks can prey on the Ramp deck when it doesn’t draw a vast amount of Magicka ramp. One of the rising Control decks, Control Spellsword, does have a late game that can compete with Ramp.
Sample list: CVH’s Ramp Scout
Merric Battlemage is an archetype with the ability to use the cards Merric-at-Aswala and Supreme Atromancer to combo with your token generators like Raiding Party and Markarth Bannerman and thus kill your opponent out of nowhere. In addition, it boasts powerful early plays with great snowball potential in Crystal Tower Crafter and Breton Conjurer that can keep up with the fastest Aggro decks on occasion. This deck offers a number of lines of play every turn and thus is hard to play optimally. Without a healing effect in the deck, one minor misstep can spell doom for the decks pilot. While mastering this deck can be hard, it is also quiet rewarding to play as one becomes more comfortable with the deck.
Perhaps the biggest strength to Merric Battlemage in this current meta game is its match up against the Ramp Scout deck. The efficient and resilient early game threats in addition to the burst potential in the late game makes Merric Battlemage a strong favorite in that match up. This is what propelled the deck to tier one in the last Snapshot and one reason it has stayed there.
Matchups: As mentioned, this decks best notable matchup by far is that of Ramp Scout. In addition, it is favored against all slower, control-oriented lists due to its burst potential, particularly those that don’t have easy answers to Supreme Atromancer, such as Ramp Scout. However, it isn’t without weaknesses, and while it can function against many Midrange decks, the newly popular Midrange Sorcerer is quite powerful against it. Without a healing effect, hyper aggressive strategies (particularly in Battlemage and Crusader) also threaten to outpace it.
Sample list: s_l_w’s Merric Battlemage
Aggro Battlemage saw a surge in popularity at the very end of the October season, and that popularity hasn’t waned since. This is another list that doesn’t see much variation as lists have been refined for many weeks now. The most popular variant of the deck is highly reminiscent of Prophecy Assassin – except with much more burn damage thanks to Gladiator’s Arena, Dark Rift, and the damage-dealing Actions in the deck.
Aggro/Prophecy Battlemage is currently the most popular Aggro deck at Legend by a fair margin, and that is likely to continue for a while. This deck is one of the best options for those looking for fast games, and benefits from solid matchups against other aggressive decks thanks to the Prophecies. Against some slower decks where the Prophecies matter less, the burn damage is often enough to close games by itself, though it has a very narrow window to start converting its early creatures into damage; once this deck loses the board, it’s almost never able to regain it.
Matchups: As the most popular and fastest mainstream Aggro deck currently in the metagame, players using this deck will be hoping to queue into decks with a higher Magicka curve, few to no heals, and inefficient removal – this makes Midrange decks and Merric Battlemage, which usually prey on Control, a perfect target. The rise in Sorcerer and Midrange Scout, along with Midrange Archer’s continued presence in the metagame, has been good to Aggro Battlemage and is why the deck sits at a comfortable tier one in this Snapshot. Prophecy-heavy Control decks are this deck’s hard counter, and even Ramp Scout has all the tools it needs to defeat the deck if it’s able to draw its cards in the right order.
Sample list: WorthlessProtoplasm’s Aggro Prophecy Battlemage
Midrange Archer has been one of the most popular Midrange decks since the game’s inception. With powerful early game cards like Daring Cutpurse and House Kinsman and a mid-game typically comprised of the likes of Soulrest Marshal and Triumphant Jarl, this deck can outpace slower decks and keep the aggression up into the later stages of the game if need be.
For the first time in the BTL Snapshot’s short history, Midrange Archer falls to high tier two. While still a fantastic deck to climb the ladder, the popularity of Midrange Sorcerer has overtaken it this month by a fairly wide margin at the higher ranks. The Burn and Pillage nerf also affected this deck and, combined with lack of a reason for Withered Hand Cultist and Mage Slayer since Control Mage fell off a bit, encouraged players to leave Strength for their Midrange strategies. There have been slightly fewer Archer decks and more Scout and Sorcerer Midrange decks.
That being said, there have been many variations of the deck popping up recently as players continue to experiment and at the moment, one can be less sure what cards he or she may see when queued against Archer. Today’s sample decklist, for example, eschews Soulrest Marshal and uses cards like Snake-Tooth Necklace and Vigilant Giant to offer a more reactive strategy to combat faster decks.
Matchups: Traditionally, Midrange Archer has been good against Control/Ramp decks, quite poor against Aggro decks, and 50-50 against other Midrange decks. This all depends on the variant, however; built more aggressively, it can defeat other Midrange decks but fall short against Ramp, and built more defensively as in our featured list, it can defeat slightly faster Midrange decks with a bit more consistency while still having enough threats in the late game.
Sample list: TurquoiseLink’s Soulrest-less Archer
Gardener of Swords Tempo /
Dubbed “Item Sorcerer,” “Item Assassin,” “Mono-Blue,” and others, decks centered around Gardener of Swords have seen a huge surge in popularity. Among the Legend ranks, Gardener of Swords has easily seen the most play of any of the recently introduced Madhouse Collection cards.
The reduced specificity of the name is due to builds currently being worked out; Item variants of Assassin and Sorcerer seemed too similar to make two categories for, as both operate in mostly the same way. Those are the two most popular classes for the Item package so far though.
Item decks with Gardener of Swords aim for a Tempo strategy which is a bit slower than the average Aggro deck but without the high threat density of many Midrange decks. Instead, the decks play a lot of efficient removal and disruption to keep the assault going and can make value plays in the late game against slower decks using Daggerfall Mage, Tome of Alteration, Master of Arms, and Gardener of Swords.
Matchups: Matchups are still being figured out as the lists themselves need perfection. However, if these decks don’t tech against the few faster decks such as Aggro Battlemage or Crusader, they run the risk of being out-raced. Against similar speed decks, the Shackle effects help greatly. Against slower decks, this game can generate powerful value plays which are hard to come back from but which require drawing Master of Arms with Tome of Alteration in the discard pile.
Sample list: CVH’s Item Sorcerer
Two months ago, Control Mage was in a great place and was one of the strongest archetypes in the meta. However, with the recent balance changes this archetype took a big hit. In the past, this archetype was able to use Healing Potion in the late game in addition to powerhouse cards like Mantikora to both stabilize the board while also pulling yourself out of lethal range. Additionally, Elusive Schemer gave the archetype card advantage and a 4 power creature that gave the deck an ability to trade in to 4 toughness creatures that the archetype inherently struggles against. Lastly, the change on Brilliant Experiment made it much harder to copy Pillaging Tribune, the premier stabilization/healing play in the deck, and it is now near impossible to copy Mantikora in the late game. These balance changes have drastically changed the way that Mage has to play today.
Control Mage remains in more or less the same position as last month, but new variants are coming to light. Whereas a more proactive approach was featured this month, players are gravitating to a more Prophecy-heavy strategy and really capitalizing on the deck’s natural strengths against aggressive decks.
Matchups: The reactive Prophecy-heavy Control Mage boasts some of the best matchups in the game against straightforward Aggro decks and can even punish early aggression from Midrange with timely Propehecies to get far ahead before having to even worry about the threats the Midrange player can drop later. However, against a careful Control, Ramp, or Merric Battlemage opponent, this game plan makes those matchups almost unwinnable. This is truly a meta-counter deck for Aggro strategies.
Sample list: pautz’s Control Prophecy Mage
This archetype, unlike Control Mage, has more situational early game removal and thus is more reliant on early game ramp cards (Hist Grove and Tree Mender) to bridge its self to the late game. If this deck can get to the late game, it is very hard to handle due to it having some of the best late game finishers in the game (Mantikora, Hist Grove, Blood Magic Lord, Odahviing) and having the best unconditional removal (Edict of Azura and Piercing Javelin).
Control Spellsword rises to tier two this Snapshot and has continued to see a rise in play. Those struggling against Ramp Scout will enjoy Control Spellsword’s improved late game options if they can find the Magicka ramp. Executes have become staple to deal with the influx of Daggerfall Mages from the Gardener of Swords decks, Merric Battlemages, and this Snapshot’s #1, Midrange Sorcerer.
Matchups: This deck struggles against aggressive match ups but can be tooled to combat a more aggressive meta with the inclusion of cards like Execute, Ravenous Hunger, and Kvatch Soldier. This still leaves a lot to be desire in the Midrange matchups, but in the very late game, this deck is the Apex predator of the meta – if it can get there.
Sample list: CVH’s Control Spellsword
Aggro Crusader was hit hard by the nerf of Divine Fervor to five Magicka, but continues to hold strong in tier two this month. While not the most popular aggressive deck on the ladder at the moment, it remains one of the most potent. Markarth Bannerman is incredibly hard for certain decks (like Ramp Scout) to deal with. Combined with the buff cards, a Raiding Party or unchecked Markarth can deal an obscene amount of damage after a strong aggressive curve and end the game in a flash.
A new approach to the class, thanks to Stoneshard Orc’s introduction, centers around Orcs. This variant of the deck sacrifices just a bit of speed for a higher threat density with cards like Bangkorai Butcher, and is the featured list for this archetype this Snapshot.
Matchups: The continued increase in popularity of Midrange strategies has been good to this deck, as well as the low presence of Control Mage. This deck can even defeat Ramp Scout with its Midrange threats like Bannerman or the Orcs. One of the biggest weaknesses is its disability to play from behind if it starts to lose the board, which causes it to suffer against an Aggro or Tempo deck that had a good start or Control decks that can counter its early turns.
Sample list: CVH’s Orc Crusader
This more aggressive variant of the Scout class waned in popularity after nerfs hit many of its cards and the metagame picked up speed, but is seeing more play at Legend nowadays. A lot of this is due to the introduction of Illusory Mimic, which many have chosen to build around using cards like Giant Bat and Territorial Viper in additional to the usual Charge creatures. While this deck has gained steam, it remains near the bottom of tier two due to a rise in popularity for other competing decks as well. That aside, this deck is still a strong choice to climb the ladder and benefits from having many opponents mulligan for the much more popular Ramp Scout
Matchups: Traditional matchups for Midrange decks apply and are even increased; this deck is typically even better than other Midrange decks against Control and combo decks due to having Soulrest Marshal, Black Worm Necromancer, and the threat of a Charge Mimic, but will frequently need to hit a lucky Prophecy to have any hope of keeping up with Aggro. Mirror matches are typically decided by who gets ahead on life in time to use Soulrest and Necromancer.
Sample list: Dazer’s Midrange Scout
Action Assassin took quite the hit after the recent card changes, as the deck leaned heavily on the power level of House Kinsman and Moonlight Werebat. This deck has lost some popularity in the face of newer strategies and falls to tier three as a result. However, it boasts a fantastic early game with cards that can snowball like Crystal Tower Crafter, Goblin Skulk, and Daring Cutpurse. After losing the board, Lillandril Hexmage and powerful burn Actions allow this deck to compensate with massive amounts of burst damage.
More recent variations have even cut Lillandril and focused on the deck’s early snowball potential to outface other aggressive decks, such as today’s featured list, originally created by PVDDR, that CVH used to finish high on the last day of the December season. This has seemingly made the deck more consistently able to seize the board early and keep it, sacrificing only the small percentage of games where Lillandril could actually finish the game after losing the board early.
Sample list: PVDDR’s Action Assassin
Wispmother Combo Battlemage
Wispmother Combo Battlemage is a true combo deck in that its win condition is a multi-card combo and its entire game plan is essentially to find those pieces and stall the game until it can win in a single turn. The combo, tried for a long time prior to this deck’s inclusion in the Snapshot, involves summoning five Relentless Raiders with Wispmother and then breaking a single rune with any creature or damage-dealing Action, causing all five Raiders to trigger indefinitely until the opponent is out of life, not giving any rune a chance to break and draw the opponent a life-saving Prophecy.
While previously this deck was too inconsistent to warrant mention, Close Call and Merchant’s Camel from the Madhouse Collection both gave this deck true potential. While it takes a lot of skill to play correctly and might not be the best choice against many of the faster Aggro and Midrange decks currently dominating the ladder, a change in meta slightly could see this deck as an incredibly powerful answer to slower decks as they give the deck a lot of time to cycle for its combo pieces.
Sample list: Commando18’s Wispmother Combo Battlemage
Token Spellsword took a significant drop to tier four in the last Snapshot. Once considered a tier one deck, Control Mage and Ramp Scout caused it to fall and the recent nerf to one of its key cards, Divine Fervor, did it no favors. By no means is Token Spellsword unplayable, as it still boasts some strong matchups against certain Midrange and Aggro decks, but its power level is generally considered much lower than other decks with the same good matchups, and it’s virtually nonexistent at high Legend ranks. Its rise to tier three this Snapshot is a result of a slight shift in the meta to more Aggro, Tempo, and Midrange decks and slightly less Ramp Scouts. On the lower ranks of the ladder primarily, this occurrence can mean Token Spellsword is generally pretty favored against much of the field.
Sample list: FrankLepore’s Token Spellsword
Wrothgar Archer started as a fun idea that, with deck refinement, has proven its self to be a viable archetype. Its greatest strengths are the fact that it can run the core components that make up most mid-range archer shells. Archer staple cards like Leaflurker, Cliff Racer, Moonlight Werebat, and Earthbone Spinner give this deck the ability to be both proactive and reactive depending on the circumstance.
The true engine of this deck is Wrothgar Forge plus the many Charge creatures that make up the deck. Without Wrothgar Forge this deck would not be able to out value other late game decks. Additionally, in the match ups where this deck wants to be aggressive, it can often play a Wrothgar Forge on turn 7 in additional to a Nord Firebrand from Raiding Party or Markarth Bannerman.
The reason this deck is not tier 1 is that its reliance on Wrothgar Forge makes the deck unreliable. When the deck doesn’t hit a Wrothgar Forge it can run out of resources. Additionally, Endurance decks like Ramp Scout or Control Spellsword can easily remove the Wrothgar Forge and leave you stranded without resources. As long as the meta is dominated by decks with Support destruction, Wrothgar Archer will remain a tier below those decks. This season, due to the rise in popularity of other decks and the more successful variations of Midrange Archer being explored, Wrothgar Archer falls to tier three.
Sample list: BradfordLee’s Wrothgar Archer
Altar of Despair Assassin
Altar of Despair Assassin, similar to Wrothgar Archer, started as another gimmicky idea around a support card that proved surprising competitive playability. Game developer Matthew Nass played one of the first versions on ladder, and the deck continued to be experimented with. Altar of Despair combined with the package of Last Gasp effects and Necrom Mastermind can make game states that are almost impossible for the opponent to come back from, given the time to set up and correct planning. The biggest weakness of the deck is that while it has many of the tools Necrom Mastermind Assassin had to play the early game, the draws can be inconsistent and there are several RNG-dependent effects in the deck so Aggro and more aggressive Midrange decks can go to town on the board with their consistency before the truly powerful combos of the deck get set up. As the link shows, however, the deck can accomplish some of the craziest games given enough time. Against Control decks, the value from essentially infinite Elusive Schemers alone should be enough to have incredibly favorable matchups. This is one deck that I expect to see continuously refined moving forward, but for now it sneaks into tier three as a mostly unrefined idea with a ton of potential.
Sample list: CVH’s Altar/Mastermind Assassin
Aggro Warrior (Sample)
Action Mage (Sample)
Pilfer Monk (Sample)
Control Sorcerer (Sample)
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