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A Warm Front Hits Classic Constructed

Two weeks into Pro Quest Season 3, with The Calling - Indianapolis right around the corner, LSS has decided to give the Classic Constructed format a little shake-up.

Classic Constructed

  1. Belittle is banned.
  2. Winter's Wail is banned.
  3. Amulet of Ice is suspended until Iyslander becomes Living Legend.
  4. Hypothermia is suspended until Iyslander becomes Living Legend.

In my previous article on preparing for Pro Quest 3, I gave my prediction for what would be the most heavily played decks - and the first week of Pro Quests did not disappoint. According to fellow Rathe Times contributor Parker Brown's meta recap on the FABTCG website, Fai, Iyslander, Dash, Dromai, and Oldhim were the 5 most represented decks, with the big 3 of Oldhim, Iyslander, and Fai taking home a whopping 60% of the LL points available on the weekend (including Battle Hardened results). Fittingly, these bans are aimed directly at those heroes,

Card image of Belittle (Red)

Banning Belittle is probably the least surprising change of the bunch. It's been part of many of the most successful aggressive decks since in-person organized play returned, and it has a homogenizing effect on deckbuilding.

Bryan Gottlieb says in the Banned & Suspended article that this is a ban directed at the long-term health of the game, and I think that is an encouraging thought. Belittle is a lot like Plunder Run in the sense that it's a bit too good as is (particularly with rainbow availability), but cards with similar effects that are more tuned or targeted have and will be printed in the future, like Force of Nature or Flamecall Awakening.

Card image of Amulet of Ice (Blue)
Card image of Hypothermia (Blue)

Hitting some Ice cards along with Belittle makes perfect sense; and while I think Channel Lake Frigid is the biggest Ice offender of the bunch, it likely plays too important of a role in how decks get built, keeping things from reverting to the point where the best 'cheerios' deck is the default best aggro deck. Hypothermia also offers substantially less opportunity for counterplay, both in deck construction and gameplay. The explanations in the article make it pretty clear: losing Hypothermia weakens Iyslander in wide aggro matchups, and losing Amulet of Ice hurts her slower matchups.

Card image of Winter's Wail

The banning of Winter's Wail was a surprise, but in time I think its necessity will become apparent. Winter's Wail is simply powerful enough to have been a two-handed weapon. It also sets a strange precedent for a talented version of a class to have a weapon and off-hand set that are both strictly better than their talentless counterparts. The ceiling of Titan's Fist and Steelbraid Buckler are the floor of Winter's Wail and Stalagmite. RIP "Frosty Four", we'll probably see you again in the Living Legend format.

Where does the meta go from here?

Card image of Fai, Rising Rebellion
Card image of Iyslander, Stormbind
Card image of Oldhim, Grandfather of Eternity

For anyone hoping that these changes will lead to a drastically different meta than before, I am afraid you're going to be disappointed. While I expect the meta shares for Fai, Oldhim, and Iyslander will decrease, the effect these bans have on the overall meta will be more subtle, affecting matchup percentages rather than outright killing any deck.

Losing Belittle is a big blow for Fai's ability to beat Ice heroes, but I think it's impact beyond the Ice matchups will be minimal, as Fai has ample access to attacks that can fill the void.

Ride the Tailwind is scary for its potential to give go again to attacks like blue Snatch, Lava Burst, or Salt the Wound. Hundred Winds is a red starter with upside in multiples, and has the added bonus of making the decision of how to replace the Minnowism slots easier as you'll want Winds of Eternity for a blue block 3 with synergy. Rainbow Rising Resentment is probably going to become standard, as it is one of the few ways to counteract some of the taxing effects.

Card image of Hundred Winds (Red)
Card image of Ride the Tailwind (Red)
Card image of Rising Resentment (Yellow)

The loss of Hypothermia makes Iyslander's matchups into Fai, Dash, and Briar worse. Losing Belittle is a bigger blow to Fai in the matchup than losing Hypothermia is for Iyslander, so I expect it to become more Iyslander-favored going forward. The impact here will be felt most intensely in the Dash and Briar matchups. Going forward, I expect Iyslander to be unfavored into Dash and less favored into Briar. Amulet of Ice's loss will also be felt quite acutely, but especially against fatigue Oldhim builds.

Iyslander players will likely look to options such as blue Winter's Bite, blue Arctic Incarceration, and This Round's on Me to fill in for their missing disruptive elements, and potentially to Isenhowl Weathervane to force through their late game Ice Eternal combo against fatigue strategies.

Card image of Isenhowl Weathervane (Red)
Card image of This Round's on Me (Blue)
Card image of Winter's Bite (Blue)

Oldhim is the hero that will have to adapt the most from these changes, as losing Winter's Wail and Hypothermia is a big blow. The obvious answer is Oldhim leaning even harder into fatiguing every opponent they face, but that strategy is not without its own vulnerabilities (both Rhinar and the clock).

From a deckbuilding intrigue perspective, there is potential upside here. If you're no longer strongly incentivized to lean into Ice to facilitate Winter's Wail, perhaps some forgotten Earth cards could make an appearance. A fused Turn Timber pairs nicely with a Crown of Seeds activation; fused Entangle plays defense while playing offense; and Earthlore Surge packs quite a punch.

Card image of Earthlore Surge (Red)
Card image of Entangle (Red)
Card image of Turn Timber (Red)

For Dash, Briar, and Dorinthea, it's addition by subtraction. Each of the big 3 lost something, so each of these heroes gets stronger by comparison. The absence of Hypothermia means less turns get stopped before they can really start. No Belittle hurts Fai's consistency, which was one of his best assets in aggressive matchups. And no Winter's Wail means Oldhim will struggle more to safely walk down life totals with you. This is an opportunity for major gains, as far as this trio is concerned.

Dromai drew the short straw when it came to these bans, but not because of her matchups into the big 3. Rather, other heroes with improved matchups are some of her worse matchups. Less Ice means more aggro, which tend to be Dromai's worst matchups whether she is red-line, Iris, or classic dragons. And if fatigue Oldhim becomes the deck, Rhinar could come out in force to counter it - and no Illusionist wants to face a Brute.

Never underestimate the Showstopper- dominate is a helluva keyword to have on your hero. With Oldhim likely being forced into even more of a dedicated fatigue strategy to stay relevant, there is more opportunity for the OG Guardian to emerge as the most effective aggressive Guardian.

If FaB Twitter's worst nightmares are realized and full fatigue Oldhim becomes the standard and sees extensive play, that will be great news for Rhinar fans. As it turns out, you need cards in your hand to block, and Rhinar loves nothing more than discarding Massacre to a Barraging Beatdown-buffed Alpha Rampage. It's not all good news though, as the Fai matchup will likely remain fairly miserable, and another bad matchup in Briar is likely to see a resurgence.

The one unfortunate bit of collateral damage from these bans is for Lexi, who again is victimized by a ban for sins she did not commit (RIP Ball Lightning). Setting up Amulets of Ice for one or two explosive late-game turns was one of the few ways for the Elemental Ranger to close games against Guardians who are trying to fatigue them. If we end up in fatigue Oldhim world, Lexi would probably be a poor choice; but if FaB Twitter's other great fear is realized and we are beset upon by endless hordes of aggro decks, Ice Lexi could see a resurgence to counteract them.

There are a scant few cards in the game that can blunt the effectiveness of Harmonized Kodachi, but Hypothermia was one of the biggest offenders. Diehard Katsu fans will be rejoicing to see Hypothermia gone, and perhaps that's enough to bring Katsu back into the conversation before Outsiders is released.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. When the meta was Starvo, Prism, and Viserai, Starvo ate some bans and Viserai got Bloodsheath Skeleta suspended (Sonata's fault, not Viserai's); and there was a brief point in time when people thought Starvo might be dead and the meta might become more open. Then Pro Tour - New Jersey happened, and the biggest actual change was that Chane took over Viserai's share of the meta.

While some things are sure to shift starting with The Calling - Indianapolis, it'd be foolish to count Fai, Oldhim, or Iyslander out. I'm excited to see firsthand how these changes affect the format, and can't wait to battle it out at the Calling. See you in Indy!

Discussion (2)

Reader

Azalea R.

1 year ago
What is the artwork in the header image? Gorgeous.
Author Kevin
Author

Kevin Brayer

1 year ago
It's called Thaw https://fabdb.net/cards/thaw I thought it was appropriate for the piece :)

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