Autumn Frost: Why I Took Lexi to Nationals

by Isaac Jessen 16th November 2021 7 : 36
Author

Introduction by Editor in Chief Alex Truell

If you've followed my editorial commentary here at the Rathe Times, you're probably aware that I'm a pretty big Ranger fan- which isn't always an easy fandom to ascribe to. Since the class debuted in Arcane Rising, Azalea has been considered a bottom tier hero. Worse than that, Azalea has so consistently registered at the bottom of the list that she could justifiably be called the bottom tier hero.

Lexi's debut gave renewed hope for the Ranger class. But while Lexi has certainly showed more promise than Azalea ever has, the initial distribution graph from the US Nationals seemed to paint a clear picture that the hope of the Ranger faithful wasn't enough to change the community's perception.

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(Lexi is somewhere in that "Other" category, presumably in single digits.)

But then, the narrative shifted. While Briar's increasing share of the pie was the most overt detail, what caught my eye was the emergence of a new slice...

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Seven Lexi decks had made it to Day 2! There was a very real chance that represented the entire Lexi population from Day 1! And when Channel Fireball's live stream caught up with a 12-2 Isaac Jessen in Round 15, I knew I'd found a champion for our cause.

I reached out to Isaac that weekend and asked if he'd share how he gained such skill with the bow, and why he dared to run Lexi on the National stage.

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I learned to play Flesh and Blood by piloting Azalea. In those early days, I may have lost fifteen games straight to Dorinthea, but I didn’t care. I was mesmerized by the bow mechanic and the satisfaction of crippling your opponent with a well-placed arrow.

The initial frustration of piloting a seemingly linear character quickly faded as the subtle lines of play became more apparent. Your turns didn't need to be limited to a dominated arrow for eight; and with a deeper understanding of your character, victory was possible.

Your turn starts off by using Skullbone Crosswrap to gather information, deciding whether you want to draw the next card in the deck with Death Dealer or Opt it away to the bottom.

You play out that Take Aim you just flipped face up in your arsenal, increasing the threat of your next arrow. But you skip the reload that Take Aim offers; instead, you pitch a yellow to activate Death Dealer, loading an arrow and drawing a card.

Next you play out a Ravenous Rabble, presenting a threat to your opponent and revealing a red arrow- Remorseless- on top.

Your opponent squirms, facing four damage with go again, knowing there's a dominated Remorseless to follow. They take the damage. Normally you would prefer to save a card to arsenal, jump starting your next turn; but they seem to want to hold onto their cards, so instead you play out an Enlightened Strike- five damage with go again- further punishing them.

The power of lines like this, coupled with the fragility of your hero, make for a very satisfying class to pilot. The quiet, humming synergy of card cycle, card velocity, and draw power every turn is a beautiful mechanic.

The quiet, humming synergy of card cycle, card velocity, and draw power every turn is a beautiful mechanic.

I learned to play Azalea in the same post-Crucible meta dominated by Dash and Dorinthea, where my sideboard was dedicated to increasing my count of 3-blocks and defense reactions. This was a meta of incremental exchanges and subtle tempo calculations, one of careful block value ratios and victories hinging on the performance of 2- to 3-card hands. Victories against control Dash were only possible through a very carefully managed race, while the Dorinthea duel was a deliberate dance to the bitter end.

And beyond these two, there was the rest of the field to consider! Using Remembrance to play a dominated Remorseless six times in a game barely got you over the top against control decks. A well-timed Feign Death could turn the tide in a tight match against Katsu. These long months of lockdown taught me everything I know about the Ranger class and the nuanced lines of play found throughout Flesh and Blood.

Azalea found a little more room to breathe with the release of Monarch. With the success of aggressive go-wide decks, the control decks of the meta were leaving their red Unmovables at home. Deep control was viewed as a losing strategy against Chane- and so Azalea’s worst matchup was less prevalent. Ranger could stretch her wings a little more without the tight blocking ratios required to topple Dorinthea. Chane was a difficult adversary, but the rest of the field was less equipped to handle the unique type of pressure Azalea could present.

In that meta, I was able to pilot Azalea to a Top 8 at a 32-player Road to Nationals, and was more proud of that accomplishment than if I had won the event piloting another more powerful deck. Little did I know, fierce class loyalty and an affinity for underdog decks wielding complex lines of play would eventually pay off.

A New Kind of Ranger

Tales of Aria brought with it an obvious answer to the hyper-aggressive meta of the summer. I will admit I was initially put off by Ice Lexi, as it once again felt linear in its gameplan. I stuck with my carefully-crafted Levia deck during the early days of Tales; Shadow Brute was a toolbox deck with many rewarding lines of play, just the way I prefer.

Then, about a week and a half before US Nationals, a bomb went off in the form of Lightning Briar. I had just decided to attend the event, and was set on bringing my well-rehearsed Levia deck, as I believed it was well positioned in the meta that had existed only moments before. But that meta was gone, and I knew that playing into a field of Lightning Briars would be a disaster, as Levia has no on-hit effects to cripple the extremely efficient (yet extremely fragile) zero-cost Briar.

A week and a half before US Nationals, a bomb went off in the form of Lightning Briar.

At first, I played Lightning Lexi into Briar to feel out that matchup. After one game I could see that Briar was doing the same thing I was, but leaner and meaner. With Embodiment tokens and zero-cost attacks, this matchup seemed overwhelmingly in Briar’s favor.

Azalea had gotten a few new powerful tools with the release of Tales, and I briefly considered her as a sleeper threat to the field. Competing at Nationals piloting my well-honed Azalea deck was a romantic vision, but I couldn’t ignore the appeal of essentially having a free Hamstring Shot effect every turn in the form of Frostbite. Besides, this is what Frostbite was made for: my adversaries trudging through a biting blizzard of arrows! Frostbite was becoming more and more appealing.

And so I returned to Ice Lexi.

My one advantage was that Lightning Briar has very clear-cut strengths and weaknesses. Her cards all having zero cost means that, with one Frostbite, she now has to pitch a card on a turn where she would not otherwise have to. This essentially strips an entire card out of her hand. In addition, her power goes down exponentially with fewer cards to create Embodiment of Earth and Lightning tokens.

Without any time to test, I sat down for an afternoon to theorize and really pin down my goals. I needed to pressure Briar’s hand size, her resource curve, and her arsenal, all while presenting enough damage to win the game. In the end I settled on a list that prioritized control effects over efficiency and synergy to some degree. Cards that attacked Briar’s hand and cost curve made the cut; anything else did not.

I crafted an anti-control package that I thought stood a good chance at competing against the more defensive decks, but I was mostly banking on Lightning Briar weeding out the Bravos and Dashes of the field. I decided this was a decent line of play, as I would only need to win a few games to place me high enough up in the tables to be surrounded by Briars.

I would only need to win a few games to place high enough to be surrounded by Briars.

My focus on potency over consistency paid off. The other Lexis in both Nationals and the Calling could not contend with Briar’s outright aggression, but my list was up to the challenge. I had opted for cards like Seek and Destroy and Command and Conquer over more Weave Ice targets and blue arrows. This guaranteed I could threaten multiple cards in my opponent’s hand every turn; I knew that one or two Frostbites would not be enough.

I ended up going 11-2 in Classic Constructed over the weekend, with an 8-1 record against Lightning Briar. My strategy worked just as designed- although matches were not overwhelmingly in my favor. I had some very close matches against the top players on their Briar lists. Nevertheless, I ended up with a final ranking of 5th out of 414 at US Nationals, and I was able to do it all with Ranger.

Winter is Coming

Ice Lexi is my favorite new hero thematically, and I was able to pilot a class that I love into a field where I would not auto lose to the dominant, top tier meta deck. I had been unsure of how well I would perform, but I think my tendency towards class loyalty and specialization in this game allowed me to take a risk that paid off. I couldn’t have been happier to represent Ranger and show that it was possible to succeed with an off-meta deck.

My tendency towards class loyalty and specialization in this game allowed me to take a risk that paid off.

I believe Lexi still has a lot of room to grow. Heart of Ice is a powerful tool to combat defense reactions, and her aggressive abilities on the Lightning side of the build are impressive. The dual nature of the talent system, along with the intricate nuances of piloting the Ranger class, make her optimal builds less obvious. Ranger will always have her weaknesses, but in a balanced meta I think she has plenty of room to be a potent threat.  

The past few months have seen a string of high level tournaments dominated by both Chane and Briar. Although this is discouraging, glimpses of success by Oldhim, Lexi, Bravo, and others give me hope for a balanced meta in the near future, especially with the upcoming release of a supplemental set. See you all at the Festival!

Isaac Jessen

Isaac Jessen has been an avid Flesh and Blood player since Arcane Rising, and is the co-host of The Attack Action Podcast. A Northern California native, he loves underdog toolbox decks like Ranger, Levia, and Kano.