The First Expansion
That carries a whole lot of feelings, doesn't it? The game debuted, and that debut was a set thing, self-contained and carefully crafted for a first impression. It has to catch attention, has to feel right. Everything hinges on it- in a very real sense, it is everything.
And then comes the expansion. An expansion has to do so many things. It has to build on what came before, make it more than it was. It has to add something new that justifies expanding. It has to tread a narrow path of 'exciting enough to make you want it, but not so exciting as to make the past irrelevant'. If the debut of a game is the meet cute at the bar, that game's first expansion is the first date.
On the 1st anniversary of Arcane Rising, I was driving across the United States when it struck me that, maybe somewhere along my route, I could find a game store that carries Flesh and Blood. (This only strikes me as something noteworthy because I live in a small, rural town in Wisconsin, and all 14 of my boxes have been delivered by mail from shops I've never set foot in.)
And so, curbside at Prime Time Gaming in Macon, Georgia, I made my first in-person purchase of Flesh and Blood.
I've never been one for box breaks...
It's a perfectly valid form of entertainment, but it's just not my thing. (In general, video content isn't my thing, which is why you find me here at the Rathe Times.) But if I was going to do a 'box break', the 1st anniversary of the set that proved FaB had legs seems as good a time as any.
But because I can't write an article I wouldn't read, I'll do this my way: using those cracked packs as inspiration, sharing my thoughts on the set as a whole, on the classes and strategies it introduced, and on single cards that just work for me. Or don't. We'll see how it goes.
The tokens always pop out of those packs first, and how appropriate to see Azalea right off the bat. Ranger is probably my favorite class; the Arrows mechanic is just so thematically inspired, capturing perfectly that 'nock, aim, breathe' routine before the shot. The notable card here is Mage Master Boots in foil. I'm hoping that hasn't already sunk my chances at a Legendary! (This is where I'm grateful Flesh and Blood doesn't guarantee rarities by the box!)
One thing I note and admire about Arcane Rising is how subtle it was. This was not a flashy release full of unhinged and complex cards that built over the prior set. Your average pack doesn't produce any cards that just scream at you. Instead, they whisper. And while it introduced some redefining elements- most notably the Arcane damage subtype- it did so with a calm, unassuming approach. ARC feels more like a companion set to WTR than an expansion.
Let's do a Common I love and a Common I hate.
Rifting is an absolutely intoxicating card that I stare at often, trying to figure out just what deck it belongs to. Thus far, the answer continues to be, 'none of them', or at least, none of mine. But nonetheless, I keep coming back to it. One day, that card will be a key component of an amazing strategy...
Locked and Loaded frustrates me. It isn't what I want out of my Mechanologist, seeming to occupy an awkward space between the Boost and Pistol variants. It also doesn't seem like it fits with a theoretical Item build. I'm just not sure what to do with it. Dash's hero ability leaves the class 100% open to radical redefinition with any given release, so I may come around to it one day.
This game truly has some of the best looking foils. Vigor Rush shouldn't be anything special. It's pretty standard art on a pretty uninspiring effect. But the way the foil catches the yellow energy surrounding her- and more notably, draws nothing out of the blackness it's set against- makes for an incredibly dynamic card. My last few card games all used patterned foils, and I don't miss those at all.
You probably expect I'm going to talk about Three of a Kind here, and maybe I should. It's a notable pull, after all, and don't I love Ranger? But in this pack, my heart belongs to Sun Kiss/Moon Wish. Now there's a combo! Not in the, "these cards do incredible things when you build around them" sort of way- though I'm definitely keen on using them effectively one day. No, it's in the power of storytelling in art and in cards and in a game. I don't know who among you has read The Starless Sea, but these two pieces evoke a mythology from that novel, and the irony of a game evoking a book about storytelling and games is just about as perfect a reference as the author could have asked for.
In what I'd call an unexpected stroke of creative innovation, Arcane Rising introduced steampunk to the lore thru the Mechanologist class (and, in small part, thru Azalea's world too). I joined after ARC was released, so I can't say what the initial reaction to that fantasy-trope incongruity was. But I can say that is does wonders for setting Rathe apart from the innumerable other sword-and-sorcery worlds out there.
(I'll also point out that Middle Earth could have believably harnessed steam, had we lingered there a little while longer, and what would the Tolkien-emulating world of fantasy have looked like if it had?)
A Rare I love: Aether Spindle. I don't play Wizard, but I can appreciate a great setup card, and I just love how this one puts so much pressure on the opponent with just Opt X.
A Rare I hate: Silver the Tip. I cannot imagine a deck where this trumps other options for setting up your topdeck...
I'd bet it says something about me that I embraced Dash and her steampunk aesthetic much more enthusiastically than Kano and his aether. In each set, there's been one class I intentionally set aside- at first for budgetary reasons and later because I'd effectively trained myself not to be interested and it was much too late to overcome that. Sorry Kano, that's a beautiful foil there, but I won't be hanging onto it.
You can probably guess from my earlier gushing that I'm excited about that Sun Kiss foil...
Arcane damage had a very real chance of running away with the game. Thankfully, foresight led LSS to include an entire suite of Nullrune equipment in the very set that introduces the new damage sub-type. There's nothing that inherently says Arcane damage should be blocked with pitch, but the Nullrune set (and all the other equipment pieces with Arcane Barrier) have so firmly instilled that in us that cards like Eirina's Prayer feel... weird for blocking it in any other way. I'd be curious to know if we'll still have that strong connection between Arcane Damage and Arcane Barrier five years down the road, or if new methods of damage prevention will be introduced. We are, after all, still in the early years of this game, and precedent doesn't carry a whole lot of weight yet.
If you haven't read Kale's incredible speculation piece on Monarch lore, I'd recommend you hop over and do that. Arcane Rising supplied much of the lore that he draws on, with Viserai firmly in the center of it. After reading his thoughts, I will never look at Drawn to the Dark Dimension the same way again.
Speaking of lore, you can't help but wonder about some of the art we encounter across generic cards. Who is the musician on Enchanting Melody? How are they weaponizing music? What's going on in Rifting's art, and have they really canonized a Jeeves in the lore? What's the story of Moon Wish, if there's anything more to it than worldbuilding? Are the sun and moon the light and shadow that Monarch alludes to?
Runechants are such an unassuming thing. A little bit of damage stacked off to the side. But in practice, they really create a wildly dynamic form of pressure that makes Runeblade feel unlike any other class. (If you haven't yet, definitely check out Runeblade 101, and then continue onto our Matchup Guide.)
Arcane Rising has not had nearly the meta presence that Welcome to Rathe continues to enjoy. There are plenty of reasons for that- WtR had a whole season of gameplay before ARC's release, which happened to fall in the middle of a global pandemic, and with so few events experimentation was risky if you wanted good results at the few tournaments that did occur. Slowly that's been changing, but for the longest time it was only Dash who really had a presence in the meta- and all because of that frickin' Pistol.
Runeblade really does have some of the best looking foils...
Arcane Rising and Crucible of War present two very different templates for an expansion set. The former builds on the game engine, adding more to the very core. The latter builds on the decks, providing additional options to the player, while leaving the core largely alone. I appreciate how LSS went out of their way to advertise them differently, calling CRU a 'supplemental set' and laying out its intended role very clearly. While we still know very little about Monarch, we can be reasonably sure that it will look more like ARC than CRU simply because of how it's been solicited.
While most of our knowledge about any given class is tied to the one character we have to represent that class (or two, or three, as you wander into Blitz), we do have an understanding of those classes that allows us to go along with art not centered around the Hero we're playing as. In Volcor, Kano is but one of many with the ability to harness aetheric flames. Azalea is the Ranger we know, but far from the only trained killer in the Pits. Dash may be far from the most skilled, most dangerous resident of Metrix. And yet, we know of no other Runeblade. Viserai is uniquely... unique. So what's going on in the art he's not present in? How do these disparate cast members tie into the class?
Never say you hate a card out loud. You're sure to pull it in foil.
Rapid Fire may be my favorite Ranger card, and I certainly wouldn't have expected that. I love going wide in Ranger, stringing together complex turns to fire 3 (or 4, even 5) arrows in a single turn. That's the stuff of stories, my friend. For a taste of what a Wide Azalea looks like, check out my Rapid Poison Azalea build.
Well I've gotta talk about Command and Conquer! This ubiquitous Majestic is one of the money cards of ARC, and sees prominent play in today's meta. Most conversations about a decklist come to a point where you have to ask, "Should Command and Conquer be in here somewhere?" and you'd better have a really compelling reason for that answer to be no! It's also fueled rumors of a planned expansion of the Arsenal mechanic- or at least, a planned exception- due to its use of a plural. Will Monarch be the set to finally give us a way to put a 2nd card into Arsenal?!
Wizard, I must admit, also has some pretty amazing foils...
3 packs to go.
OK, I honestly need to know. Has anyone ever used Aether Sink? How did you use it? Was it any good? It might be the sort of card that takes some mental gymnastics to see the true value of, like Blessing of Deliverance. But I think it's more likely it's a terrible card. I don't want to believe that, but I can't help it. Defend Aether Sink in the comments section below!
I'm starting to get some pretty serious Harry Potter vibes from this box. "You're a Wizard, Alex." I don't care how many great cards you throw at me, I'm not playing Kano!
But actually, Blazing Aether is a really cool card. Maybe just a budget Blitz deck...
Well, I didn't beat the odds with a 2nd foil (Legendary) equipment, but I did manage 3 Majestics, including Command and Conquer!
Welcome to Rathe holds most of the prestige for being the first set, but I think Arcane Rising deserves more recognition as the expansion that lived up to the initial promise. It successfully expanded the game engine, doubled the number of classes, and sustained a power level that leaves no one behind. Tonally, it shifted Rathe from a generic fantasy world to one with mysteries both mystical and mechanical, and those who seek to unlock them.
If Monarch is half the set Arcane Rising was, it will be a success. If it matches it, Monarch will be a triumph.
Happy anniversary, ARC. Here's to many more.
Alex Truell is the editor for the Rathe Times. Alex is a casually competitive player overseeing the growth of a Flesh and Blood scene in Ripon, WI. Alex is a player who cares about the competitive environment, but doesn't have to live in it; an optimist who loves the game, but can take a step back to critique it; and a deckbuilder who revels in novelty.
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