Today we are going to talk about a style of deck that that has not been as competitive these last couple of HEX Standard seasons: a combo deck. If, like me, you are partial to drawing not just some of the cards in your deck but all of the cards, then boy do I have the deck for you. Let’s take a look at a Sapphire-Blood deck based on the Escalate mechanic that I have been having a blast playing in HEX’s current Standard format:
The combo in our deck happens with the following three cards:
Violet’s Caress is how we actually kill our opponent. We Caress them over and over and over again until they are so uncomfortable they concede (or run out of health). Bounty of the Magus allows us to continue redrawing our Caresses from our deck until we have dealt lethal to our opponent. Syzygy is the glue that makes all of this possible with a finite number of resources. Once we have played three Bounties with a Syzygy in play, they become free. Once we have played two Caresses, they become free.
From there, it is just a matter of drawing the right combination of free cards from our deck to kill our opponent. While it may sound fairly difficult to get everything set up, the rest of our deck has a variety of tools to help sculpt exactly the hand we are looking for:
Arcane Focus and Theorize provide us with some selection in the early turns. They help us find our resource drops in the early game, while digging for our combo pieces in the late game. Theorize is also excellent at letting us discard additional copies of Syzygy we draw.
Heart’s Whisper and Lanupaw’s Sight provide card advantage so we can start generating a critical mass of cards before we get to the stage of the game where we are combo killing. Heart’s Whisper also helps ensure we hit our resource drops past three with our low total resource count.
While our deck has a fairly powerful end game, we are not the fastest combo deck in the world. This means that we need some tools that allow us to interact with and slow down some of the faster decks in the format:
Thunderfield Seer may not look like interaction at first glance, but when we are staring down a Boltspasm or our opponent has just played out a Righteous Outlaw, we are happy to have a 1/1 that eventually draws a card. Transmogrifade not only tends to slow down troops that have Speed, but it also downgrades their high power threats into something we can ignore for a turn or two.
Runebind might just be one of the most subtly powerful cards to come out of Frostheart. The floor on Runebind is fairly reasonable; it takes a card that is in play and delays it for a turn or more. The ceiling on Runebind is stopping our opponent’s interrupts like Weave into Nothing or Verdict of the Ancient Kings with no drawback.
This is because unless the opponent can draw at quick speed while we have something that can be countered on the chain, eventually our opponent will draw a resource and their interrupt will be voided because it does not have a target on the chain.
The most important thing to keep in mind while playing the Escalate deck is that our health total is a resource that we should use liberally. It does not matter if we have one point of health or all 25 when we start comboing. This means that when we are assessing our plays in the early game, we often want to weigh if taking time to interact with our opponent is worth the amount of time it is going to slow down our combo game plan.
For instance, if our opponent is playing out a Boltspasm on turn one, it is often worth it to spend our first or second turn Transmogrifading it so we do not take a three damage a turn. If our opponent plays an Underworld Crusader on turn three though, and we have to choose between Runebinding it or playing our Heart’s Whisper, it is often correct to be resource efficient and progress our primary game plan by drawing more cards.
The champions this current season are fairly telling of what our opponent’s will be up to – we want to use this to our advantage. For example let’s say we start a match and are presented the following seven card hand:
In the abstract, this hand is fine. It has both of our thresholds, hits our first few resources, and starts drawing a lot of cards. If our opponent is playing something that indicates a midrange or control strategy, such as Winter Moon or Dreaming Fox, this hand is a great keep.
Say our opponent is playing something aggressive though – like Urgnock or Angus the Arsonist. Even if we are on the play, our deck is far too slow to combo our opponent before an aggressive deck can push through lethal damage. This means we want to replace this hand with no interaction to look for a six that could have a Transmogrifade, Runebind, or Violet’s Caress.
Our best matchups in the current format are the more controlling decks that do not apply pressure to the table. Sapphire-Wild Winter Moon and Sapphire-Diamond Dreaming Fox are the decks we would like to play against every single round. While they have a lot of disruption, they are often not killing us while they disrupt us, which gives us plenty of time to get setup. Our combination of Runebinds in the main and Withering Gazes in the reserves give us the ability to punch through most interrupts the control decks can find.
Against Sapphire based control decks I like to reserve as follows:
Cutting a resource may seem odd, but these games tend to go long, which gives us a bit of a tendency to flood out. Between cards with Fateweave, Arcane Focus, and Theorize, we can normally find plenty of resources in the early game.
There are a few different variations of Blood midrange decks in the format, from Blood-Wild Kagu Crusader to Uzzu Bride of the Damned variations to Blood-Diamond Constants. While these decks can occasionally have aggressive draws, on average they have so much removal that a lot of their cards are dead against us game one. The scariest card we can see out of any Blood deck is Vampire Princess. This is because not only does she pressure our heath total, but she also threatens to take our wonderful draw cards out of our hand.
Against variations with Vampire Prince and Princess I like trimming:
Against the the midrange variations with Underworld Crusader I like swapping:
The most difficult matches for the Escalate deck are the Ruby aggressive decks such as Mono Ruby Angus and Ruby-Blood Redlings. We will almost never be able to simply race these decks, so keeping hands that have quality interaction is key. Thankfully, Violet’s Caress is not only a combo piece, but it is also meaningful interaction against these decks. The first Caress kills Boltspasms and Deathseekers, and the second or third copies kill most things in their deck. The most important thing to remember when playing against Redlings is that an Emperor’s Lackey can sacrifice our Caress target to deny us the health gain.
Against these decks we want to board out:
If you want to see some videos of the SB Escalate deck in action, check out my stream archive below.
I am having a blast exploring this Standard format. There are so many different things to be doing and even weeks into trying different things I feel like I have just barely scratched the surface. If you enjoy drawing cards and the Escalate mechanic strikes your fancy then there is likely no better deck in this standard format for you than this Sapphire-Blood Escalate deck.
Have a question about this archetype that I did not cover in the article above? Let me know by leaving a comment in the forum!
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.