This current standard format for HEX has quickly become my favorite constructed format I have played. Every time it feels like things are finally settling down into a format full of decks I am familiar with and know how to play with and against, something new pops up. The most recent breakout to the constructed format is the Sapphire Empress of Ice deck.
The core of this deck came from community member Zakki which I then took on stream and began fine tuning. Since I started streaming with the archetype, it has taken off on the ladder – racking up over 300 matches in a week with an over 70% win rate. Past just the ladder data the deck also just won the Platinum Plunder.
Let’s take a look at the winning mixture shall we:
Warpsteel Shardsworn socketed with Minor Sapphire of Dread
When we first glance at the decklist we will notice that there is only a single shard type present – Sapphire. Yet it is playing Uzzu the Bonewalker, a champion designed to help fix our thresholds. In this deck Uzzu is not fixing, rather she is acceleration towards two very powerful HEX cards that have never fully been leveraged before this shell:
Empress of Ice offers an extremely powerful effect, but it comes at a fairly strict deck building cost: requiring five Sapphire thresholds consistently to unlock that effect. Against aggressive decks, Empress is a must answer threat. Not only does she keep existing troops exhausted, but any further troops our opponents play out without Speed will be exhausted by the next Sapphire thresholds we produce.
Copycat is a very flexible card. When our opponent has a powerful card in play, we can copy it without spending any resources. When we have an Empress of Ice on turn four and want to ensure our lock is going to survive, we can double up on her. The important thing to remember when we have multiple Copycats is to never copy one of our other cats because the cat we are targeting will get reverted.
Empress is not the only powerful card we are copying in the Mono Sapphire deck though. We have two other powerful payoff troops that allow us to close the game out fairly quickly if they go unchecked:
Tribunal Magistrate is another card that always seemed powerful but had never quite found a good home before the Mono Sapphire deck. In this deck, Tribunal Magistrate backed up by a couple of Copycats turns a pair of 1/1 Dreadlings from a minor annoyance to a major problem for our opponent. Two Magistrates and another Vennen make our Dreadlings into 7/1s. Three Magistrates and another Vennen make our Dreadlings into deadly 13/1s.
Commander PROMPT offers similar deadly force for our Dreadlings while making our other troops more powerful as well. PROMPT is not just good because of the offensive booster he offers, though. PROMPT gives our readied troops a boost to their defense. This is especially important for our Empress of Ice when playing against Ruby decks that have access to Lazgar’s Vengeance and Pyre Strike.
As we move down the curve of the troops in our deck, we arrive at a pair of troops that enable our payoff cards:
Skittering Cultivator does a good job of playing double duty in our deck. When we need to be aggressive, Skittering Cultivator provides three bodies for our Commander PROMPTS and Magistrates to power up. When we are on the back foot against an aggressive deck, Skittering Cultivator is a 1/4 body that creates a roadblock for our opponent.
Warpsteel Shardsworn provides a good deal of utility in this deck. It is multiple bodies for Commander Prompt and mobilize cards. The Depth Crawler it creates ups our Vennen count for Tribunal Magistrate. By default we put the Minor Sapphire of Dread in the Shardsworn so it can also create a burst of additional bodies for Commander Prompt and Magistrate to power up on our big attack turns.
Looking past our troops, we have three main deck actions:
Arcane Focus helps smooth out our draws. It can be that third shard our opening hand was missing or help us find a two drop so we can curve out effectively. Transmogrifade is powerful disruption that allows us to interact with opponents when we have a slower draw or cannot find an Empress to lock our opponent out.
Consult the Talon is what I often like to describe as a “two or ten” card. By this, I mean when Consult is good it is generally the best card we can draw. Any time we are low on cards in hand and have two or more troops in play Consult the Talons is often the card we most want to draw. The inverse of this is also true. When Consult is bad, it is awful, literally just rotting in our hand with no way to play it out.
The last couple of cards to talk about in our main deck are our couple of utility resources:
Scrios Coins are not only useful for drawing a new card in the mid to late game when we are a bit flooded, but they also offer utility for surprising opposing troops in combat with a blocker that had previously been exhausted. We can also use the Coins to trigger diligence on our Skittering Cultivator on our opponent’s turn. This allows us to generate Dreadlings that can block!
Zin’xith Silk might seem like an odd inclusion at first in a deck that does not require Blood thresholds, but because we are playing enough Vennen to support this racial shard anyway, it is simply a resource that makes a Sapphire threshold when we need it or can put eggs into our opponent’s deck when we do not.
As we move to the reserves, we will find a lot of three-ofs to solve specific situations:
Arcane Zephyr and Verdict of the Ancient Kings are both tools that can help us protect our threats from our opponent’s removal. These are especially important against decks that are removal heavy. Because Zephyr gives Flight, it can also be used to push through our Skittering Cultivators on an otherwise stalled board state.
Treacherous Pass is one of the more powerful cards in our reserves against specific strategies. Not only does taking one attack away from all opposing troops help against other decks producing Dreadlings or playing Warpsteel Shardsworn, but the fact that Pass lets us exhaust our troops on demand allows us to start triggering diligence on our troops faster and more consistently. We can even use Pass in combination with our Coins to trigger Diligence on our Skittering Cultivator multiple times in a turn.
The next couple of cards in the reserves give us tools for interacting with troop decks that can occasionally be aggressive enough to get under our own kills and lock pieces:
The last copy of Transmogrifade is very valuable against other decks with must-answer threats. Frostbite is exceptional at bridging the small gap that we sometimes have between turns three and four when we can set up an Empress lock or go wide with Copycats.
The last few cards in our reserves are three singleton threats:
These cards are in our reserves to help us hedge our harder matchups: Herofall decks. Because our main deck is so reliant on getting one of our three payoff cards into play, any game our opponent resolves multiple Herofalls will often be difficult for us to win. By diversifying our threat base post reserves, we can make it more difficult for our opponents to run us out of threats.
HEX’s current standard format is fairly diverse, but many of the more popular decks currently have an aggressive slant to them. This leaves the Mono Sapphire Empress deck fairly well positioned. Not only do we present aggressive draws of our own to just race our opponents, but we can also simply lock them out of the game on turn four some of the time.
The Diamond Aggro decks are among the best matchups for the Empress deck. The fact that their best removal is basic speed means that we can know our big turns are going to get to punch through for lots of damage uninterrupted. It also means that any time we get an Empress of Ice into play, we can know that we are going to get lock them down for at least a turn. Reserving against aggressive decks with Mono Sapphire is fairly minimal; I generally just trim two copies of Consult the Talon and a Commander PROMPT for Frostbite and the last Transmogrifade. This is because we often cannot afford to be exhausting all of our troops in order to draw some cards.
The Redlings matchup on average favors the Empress deck as well, but they do have aggressive draws that can occasionally run us out of the game. Their best tool in the matchup is Lazgar’s Vengeance. We want to be sure we are counting their Assault triggers so we can do our best to play around Lazgar’s whenever possible. Also keep in mind that sometimes it is right to keep our Empress of Ice readied while we have a Commander Prompt out because six-defense troops do not die to Vengeance. I would reserve in this matchup the same way we do against the Diamond decks.
The McBombus matchup is close, but I think the Empress deck is still ahead on average. They have quick speed interaction in Transmogrifade, but their clock is also a touch slower on average than Redlings and the Diamond Aggro deck. In addition to Lazgar’s Vengeance, the scariest card for us out of the McBombus variants is Heart of Embers. Heart can push through those last points of damage for our opponent after we have locked down the board and it can be used alongside things like Cremate to kill our Empresses. When I reserve against McBombus, I generally shave a Consult the Talons and a Commander PROMPT for two of our Treacherous Passes.
Then we get to the hard matchup: Kagu Crusader. They have efficient answers to our threats in Strangle and Rot Cast, while being able to tear our remaining threats apart with Herofall. This is the matchup where we reserve so much we almost become a different deck. With this configuration that won the Plunder I would reserve in the following manner against most Kagu decks:
It may seem counter-intuitive to trim our cards that draw three in a matchup that gets grindy, but in my experience, our Kagu opponents will generally be removing so many of our troops we often cannot play Consult. In general, we are going to want to wait to play out our important threats in this matchup until we can protect them or Copycat them in the same turn. The game will become a grind, but we definitely have the tools we need to win if we play well.
The remaining two Verdicts in the reserves come in against more controlling decks that see fringe play as additional answers to cards like From The Ashes. Against random Winter Moon combo decks they can also come in to interrupt things like Absolute Power.
If you want to see some videos of the Mono Sapphire Empress deck in action, check out my stream archive below.
If you are looking for a flexible—but powerful—deck that can have both aggressive draws and lock draws, then this is certainly the deck for you. If you are a competitive HEX player, then this is absolutely a deck you want to be familiar with. I doubt this archetype is going anywhere before the CCS next month!
Have a question about this archetype that I did not cover in the article above? Let me know by leaving a comment in the forums!
Thanks for reading,
Jeff is a professional gamer who enjoys the competitive aspects of HEX: Shards of Fate. Constructed is his preferred format and he is always looking for that new piece of technology to give him a leg up on the competition.