The Madhouse World: Looking Back
Howdy, Between the Laners! In a few short days, Legends is going to enter a brand new era – Fall of the Dark Brotherhood is about to lay down forty new cards that are sure to shake things up. Since January, we’ve been playing in what you might call the Second Era of Legends: The Madhouse Era. Launched by the debut of Chaos Arena, it featured ten new cards. Let’s take a look at those cards and the impact each had on the game, from least influential to most influential.
Tier “I Might Be Fun in Arena”
- Shivering Apothecary – It was actually only last night that I faced this card on the ladder for the first time, but if you had told me that when the set was released, I’d probably have said that that was one more time than I thought I’d ever see it. The card definitely has a place – it’s a simple way to work on some of the rarer achievement titles while grinding through an Arena run, for instance – but the card never took off in any meaningful way.
- Forsaken Champion – Forsaken Champion was a bone being tossed to the Legends players who were interested in playing their Argonian decks or their Imperial decks and were doing it because it was fun. To that end, the card worked, I think, even if it never worked on the ladder. I recently had a copy of this in an arena deck full of Argonians, and even then, the card was pretty disappointing. Probably more helpful to the community as a reminder that the designers know that fans of tribal cards are hungry than it ever was in play.
- Ring of Imaginary Might – I have to admit, this was one of two cards in the set that I was initially most excited to play. Try as I might, however, I never got a shot of me killing someone with a Portcullis on film. Ring of Imaginary Might, looking back, reflects the whole attitude of most of the Madhouse cards, I think. It did something different, and it was the kind of card that made you think about brewing up some new decks, even if going into it, you were pretty sure it was going to be more meme than tier 1.
Tier “I’d Be Win-More If I Ever Won”
- Close Call – Close Call really sees play in two types of decks – the greediest of Willpower running control decks, looking to replay Mantikora, Miraak, and Odahviing, and in the truest, most glorious combo deck in the game: RaidMother Battlemage. This is the first of the Madhouse cards that you may actually run into on the ladder, but even then, it’s a tech choice in one archetype and part of a fairly unreliable (although spectacular) combo in another. Ultimately, Close Call did little to advance either strategy, although as far as tech choices go, it can turn a Mage or Spellsword Control list into a ferocious anti-control force. Close Call probably sees the most play on the ladder as a random gift from Smuggler’s Haul in Swindler’s Market decks.
- Merchant’s Camel – Aside from being my fiancée’s favorite card, Merchant’s Camel is noteworthy for being the first card in Legends to offer card-selection-draw that wasn’t linked to RNG, as Moment of Clarity is. Merchant’s Camel ranks higher than Close Call by virtue of appearing in slightly more lists, although it’s likely to appear alongside it in Combo and Control decks. Merchant’s Camel sees peripheral play in a variety of specific lists hinging upon the power of certain cards, including Swindler’s Market decks and Doomcrag-Ping Warrior decks. The fact that it also sees play in some Altar lists, as well as Wispmother/Relentless Raider decks, pushes it to this position. Merchant’s Camel is a card, like Close Call, that could see more play in the future, if there are decks that need to find certain cards to “go off.”
Tier “I’m In a Deck, Just Not a Great Deck”
- Illusory Mimic – Scout, once the most popular class on the ladder, has fallen on tough times. If it wasn’t for Illusory Mimic, times would be worse, so there is that, at least. Illusory Mimic is the sort of card that requires a bit of deck-warping to play, and even then, it doesn’t always do anything, so don’t rely on it to grab charge and drain unless you’ve got no other play. Still, Mimic Scout is a reasonable popular deck at the moment, and for that reason, we’ve got to place Illusory Mimic here. It’s a card that is unlikely to ever get better, even if more cards with more keywords are printed, because of the function of the card itself – and even a 5/5 with a huge stack of keywords for 6 isn’t likely to be meta changing. This is the beginning of cards that changed the decks you were likely to face, so in that sense, they did change the ladder.
- Stoneshard Orc – Don’t get this placement wrong – Stoneshard Orc is a powerful card. The problem with Stoneshard Orc is that Orcs themselves aren’t great. Stoneshard Orc is the reason you see anyone playing Orcs (although Wood Orc Headhunter helps a lot, of course). Stoneshard Orc is a card that could get a lot better if more great Orcs were printed, so it’s one to keep your eye on. Orcs jumped out of the gate quickly when the Madhouse cards were released, because Stoneshard Orc was the most obviously playable card in the set. The increased popularity of decks running Ward creatures not long after, however, hurt the viability of the deck.
Tier “I’m In a Deck That Could Eventually Be Broken”
- Altar of Despair – Here’s the thing about my personal favorite card from the Madhouse Collection – its power level is dependent on one thing it can’t control, and one thing it can but isn’t there yet. Outside of the deck’s control is the availability of support removal, which right now (thank you Belligerent Giant and Shadowfen Priest) is definitely at a high. The best decks in the format are likely to be able to smash your precious value engine, and the tempo loss you suffered could break the match. Sure, Altar of Despair can absolutely dominate in a match against Control Mage (assuming that Mage hasn’t tech’d in some Vicious Dreughs), but Control Mage isn’t super popular right now. The second thing that’s keeping Altar from being a real player is that you need a critical mass of “silver bullet” cards to pull out with it that just isn’t quite there yet. Ideally, you’d need two different cards at each cost that do roughly the same thing when they hit the board, and are also reasonable plays on curve. That doesn’t exist yet. It could one day, though, so stay tuned. Altar decks have definitely been present in the metagame already.
- Swindler’s Market – This is a card that is in a more popular, more successful decks than Altar of Despair is in, but has the same sort of sky-high power cap – in fact, it probably has a much higher power cap, and it probably influences future card design. Market Archer and Market Assassin are unrefined decks, but they exist and they’re pretty good. It can be easy to underestimate the card, which is probably where part of its power comes from, and it’s definitely not an easy card to play in an ideal way, but it’s a card that I’m personally both impressed by and leery of. It wouldn’t take too much to make this an unstoppable win condition with virtually no counter-play. I know that I’ve lost to it more than once from positions that felt almost invulnerable. Expect to see more of this card as Legends expands, and don’t be too shocked if at some point it’s nerfed or retired. Cards like this, which you have to consider whenever you create a new card, must be frustrating to design around. This card comes in at the penultimate spot because while we’ve probably played against more Altar decks, we’ve probably lost more games to Swindler’s Market.
Tier “Triumphant Jarl”
- Gardener of Swords – I will admit that I didn’t think Gardener of Swords was going to be the powerhouse card that it ended up being. I’m calling this Tier “Triumphant Jarl” because it’s the other card that, three (?) balance changes later, still gives aggressive and midrange decks access to card advantage that control decks dream of. Gardener of Swords, along with some ward creatures and previous nerfs that brought down the toughness of a few creatures, defined the Madhouse Era. Gardener of Swords was a great addition to the game because it really did introduce a couple of new decks to the highest levels of play, while not, in my opinion, being broken. There is definitely counterplay to Gardener decks, and there are still a variety of decks on the ladder. When the Madhouse cards were added, Legends had been playing with the same cards (minus Hist Grove) since open beta began, and while the meta continued to evolve thanks to Hist Grove and some nerfs, the debut of a new powerful engine like Gardener was exciting. Some people brewed with it, and others brewed against it, but everyone was impacted by it. There isn’t much to say about the mechanics of the card itself, really – it’s simply powerful. It gives you more stuff. More stuff is good.
If I had to give it a letter grade, looking back on it now, I’d give the Madhouse Collection a solid B. There were several cards that inspired new decks (Market, Altar, Gardener, and Ring), a few cards that reinvigorated tier 2 and 3 strategies (Stoneshard, Mimic), in addition to a few utility cards. There’s no doubt that this very small set of new cards had an impact on the meta. The Madhouse Era may be remembered as the Gardener Era by some, but I think it was just as healthy a meta as the game has ever had, really. There are always going to be strategies – usually fairly linear strategies – that are more reliable than others. Despite that, there were a host of exciting decks that were perfectly viable to take to Legend. The Madhouse Era was a good time to be a player, and a good time to practice the deck-brewing skills we’re all about to need when Fall of the Dark Brotherhood launches.
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