Mastering the Elements: Lightning's Legion

by Davis Kingsley, Mark Chamberlain 15th October 2021 9 : 13
This article is narrated by Mark Chamberlain, and is available only to subscribers. Subscriptions are currently managed via the FaB DB Patreon page. You must purchase Supporter+, Majestic+ or Legendary+ to get access to The Rathe Times' Pro Series content.

Gotta go fast! Lightning’s primary theme seems to be speed, with not just go again attacks like Entwine Lightning but also a lot of buffs that can grant go again or additional action points to other cards. As a result, even “slow” cards can become fast in a Lightning deck when paired with effects like Channel Thunder Steppe or Flash. This means that a Lightning deck can present attack patterns that other builds might have more trouble replicating.

To help with this sort of wide attack pattern, Lightning cards tend to be very cheap. While Earth features big, powerful attacks that cost two or three resources, Lightning has cheap and fast ones that cost zero or one resource. This can help Lightning decks either run with less resources (and hence more reds in their deck) or have “spare energy” that they can use to pay for effects (like the bonus damage from Shock Striker), or just use for additional costs in case they find themselves running up against the various additional costs that an Ice deck can impose!

Some Lightning cards also express speed via simply being instants. For instance, Lightning Press and Lunging Press are very similar cards (the name, art, and even flavor text on Lightning Press reference Lunging Press), but Lightning Press is an instant rather than an attack reaction. This usually doesn’t matter very much (though it does let you use Lightning Press to buff a defending attack action card in order to break a phantasm prior to attack reactions being playable), but helps showcase how Lightning is the “speedy” element.

Similarly, Pulse of Volthaven will often be played in a similar way to a non-attack action even though it’s an instant; since it buffs your next attack, you can’t play it as a combat trick as you would with something like Razor Reflex.

Pro Tip: In addition to being thematic, Pulse of Volthaven's instant status does provide utility in some situations- for instance, you can play it while another attack is on the chain in order to buff your next attack without breaking the combat chain like a non-attack action would.

Zap Your Enemies!

Another Lightning theme is zapping enemies with “pure damage”. Cards like Mark of Lightning, Electrify, or Shock Striker offer a way to inflict damage that is neither physical nor arcane. This damage cannot be blocked by conventional means at all! In the past, we’ve seen a few cards that offered “pure damage” (Steelblade Shunt comes to mind as a classic), but Lightning has perhaps the most yet. Further, these cards can be used to get “when this attack deals damage” triggers multiple times, allowing for synergies with Briar’s hero ability and other similar effects.

While “pure damage” can’t itself be blocked, many of the effects that trigger it require another condition to be met (generally a hit), so the opponent will have at least some counterplay available.

However, there are some ways for a Lightning player to get around this. For instance, Lightning Press can be used to sneak damage through the opponent’s defense, but it really shines when combined with some of these pure damage effects. If I use Lightning Press to get an ordinary attack to hit rather than get blocked out, that’s cool- but if I’ve played a red Electrify first, that Lightning Press could be buying me not just its own damage but also that of the Electrify!

A more advanced play might combine Electrify with a card that allows you to play a non-attack action card as if it were an instant, like Spellbound Creepers. The opponent might let an attack through, thinking it doesn’t have a relevant on-hit effect… only for you to use the Spellbound Creepers for a surprise Electrify, thus not only doing damage that they probably didn’t see coming but also gaining an action point from Electrify’s go again!

Further, it’s worth highlighting the Lightning legendary, Shock Charmers, which offers a repeatable version of this “bonus pure damage on hit” type effect. While two resources for one damage is pretty inefficient, sometimes you might not have anything else to spend those resources on. As someone who’s played a fair bit of Runeblade, I certainly know that sometimes spending to create a Runechant with Grasp of the Arknight can be the best way to use extra resources for a turn! Additionally, Shock Charmers is one of those cards that can enable “when this attack deals damage” triggers, so sometimes that two energy is buying you more than just one damage.

Bioluminescence

Stamp Briar

Many of Briar’s Lightning fusions deal arcane damage, providing another way to get around an opponent’s defenses. Note that the value of this arcane damage can change a lot in different formats. Briar has had an extremely strong performance in prerelease events (as of this writing, my event results tracker has her as winning >70% of these!), thanks in large part to arcane damage usually being unblockable in Limited play. However, in constructed formats it’s very likely an opponent can field some Arcane Barrier, making arcane damage much less reliable.

A great example of this is with the card Rites of Lightning. In Limited, this is a very strong card because the go again is near-guaranteed; in constructed play, it becomes much easier for an opponent to potentially counter it.

However, some of Briar’s options allow you to do more than one arcane damage at a time, which can be hard for opponents to block even in a constructed format. In general, I think many players will be equipping Arcane Barrier 1 but not Arcane Barrier 2. This means that even the basic Rosetta Thorn can sneak some damage in, while Flicker Wisp and Inspire Lightning offer some other ways to inflict more arcane damage on an opponent.

Furthermore, Ball Lightning can also be used in this way, which may not seem intuitive at first glance; if you use your replacement effect from Ball Lightning before your opponent uses their prevention effect from Arcane Barrier (which you are allowed to do as the turn player), you can force them to defend against two (or more!) arcane damage rather than one at a time.

Rules Tip: Lightning cards venture into some pretty complex rules of timing, but you can find more clarity directly from the source in Joshua Scott’s Tales of Aria Rules Reprise article on the main Flesh and Blood website.

Further, even when an opponent can counter arcane damage, that doesn’t mean it’s efficient to do so! For instance, an opponent might be happy spending two cards that block for three to block against an attack coming in for five physical damage. However, if you instead split that damage up to one arcane and four physical damage, suddenly it will take three of those three-block cards to block the attack completely: two for the physical and one for the arcane! This can allow Lightning Briar to “sneak” small amounts of damage in or else force an opponent to spend a bunch of cards to fully block out an attack. When coupled with the wide attack pattern enabled by various go again effects Briar has access to- both via Lightning and otherwise- this can prove very difficult to defend fully against!

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Lightning Bolts

Stamp Lexi

Lexi doesn’t have access to arcane damage, but she can still prove very annoying to deal with when equipped with Lightning effects!

Any discussion of Lexi has to start with her hero ability, which allows her to turn a face down card in arsenal faceup and, if it is a Lightning card, gain go again on her next attack this turn. This ability can help go even wider, though keep in mind that it does not gain value if your next attack already has go again- so if you’re using Voltaire, Strike Twice, you may as well opt for the +1 if Lexi’s ability is active!

With respect to Lexi’s Lightning fusion options, I want to especially highlight three cards that I consider unusually interesting: Buzz Bolt, Frazzle, and Snap Shot.

At first glance, Buzz Bolt and Frazzle look to do almost the same thing. Buzz Bolt’s fusion ability reads:

“If Buzz Bolt was fused, whenever an attack hits a hero this turn, it deals 1 damage to them.”

By contrast, Frazzle reads:

“If Frazzle was fused, whenever an attack would deal damage this turn, instead it deals that much damage plus 1.”

While under “normal circumstances” these abilities do the same thing- one more damage on an attack that gets damage through- there can be special circumstances that make them importantly different. The key difference here lies with the distinction between an attack hitting and an attack dealing damage.

Some abilities, like Mark of Lightning, can cause an attack to deal damage even if they don’t hit. If I were to fuse a Buzz Bolt and then use Mark of Lightning in response to my opponent fully blocking the attack, I would do one damage- the attack wouldn’t hit, it would deal damage outside of hitting. On the other hand, if I were to fuse a Frazzle and then do the same thing, I would hit for two damage- Frazzle works on dealing damage, not just on hits. This distinction means Frazzle’s fusion ability can trigger from somewhat more effects than Buzz Bolt.

On the other hand, Buzz Bolt’s fusion ability creates a new source of damage while Frazzle’s does not. This means that effects that trigger on dealing damage can trigger multiple times with Buzz Bolt. For instance, I can apply the damage buff from Ball Lightning to both the basic attack hitting and to the bonus “pure damage” from Buzz Bolt hitting, thus getting two bonus damage instead of one. With Frazzle, I believe there isn’t a new source of damage that would allow me to apply the Ball Lightning bonus again, so you wouldn’t be getting the same value.

The discussion surrounding Snap Shot will, thankfully, be a lot simpler! Snap Shot’s ability to let a bow activate an additional time as an instant can be used with the older Ranger bows- Death Dealer and Red Liner- in order to gain a bonus action point thanks to go again. This is especially strong when combined with Death Dealer, as you also get a card draw for doing this, allowing for an even bigger turn! Indeed, I’ve seen talk of a Lightning Lexi build that uses the Death Dealer and Snap Shot combo to draw multiple cards in a turn and go even wider than it can already offer.

Weaknesses

Many Lightning cards tend to be poor on their own, and require somewhat complicated setups to get the most value. While this can be true of lots of different themes, it’s much more pronounced in Lightning because many of its strong cards are “enablers” that support other pieces. Ball Lightning, for instance, is best when paired with multiple different attacks in a turn, while the various effects that grant go again need not only a card that can be given go again but also something meaningful to do afterwards in order to get value!

While Tales of Aria is, in my view, somewhat weaker defensively, Lightning is especially weak, going beyond just having lots of two blocks and into having lots of cards that either do not block at all or block for zero. In conjunction with Lightning’s need for several cards to get full value from their effects, this means Lightning decks can be in trouble if forced on the defensive.

Pro Tip: Blocking for zero is slightly better than not blocking at all, as it helps against effects like Barraging Beatdown and could, conceptually, be increased by effects that modify a card's defense value. That said, it’s basically the same thing against a large majority of attacks in the game.

Further, at times all the go again stuff can actually be a bit antisynergistic with itself and with other go again effects. Since go again does not stack with itself, there’s no benefit to getting “double go again”- so if a Lexi player flips a Ball Lightning face up in arsenal and then immediately plays it, they’ve wasted the go again from Lexi’s ability, since it applies to a card that already has go again. Similarly, Flash and Weave Lightning can “waste” their go again when played before attacks that already have it.

Spark of Inspiration

Overall, Lightning is an element that fits well with a “wide” play style, offering the ability to make lots of attacks and hit the opponent with bonus damage that can be difficult to deal with. I think it is a good choice for aggressive players- just be careful to try and keep the initiative on your side, or you may find yourself rueing the limited defensive capabilities Lightning has to offer!

PS. Some of those lightning bolts in the card art look great in foil!

Davis Kingsley

Davis Tower Kingsley (aka TowerNumberNine) is an experienced competitive player of several games, including several LCGs and miniatures games. He now runs the TowerNumberNine channel with Flesh and Blood gameplay commentary on both YouTube and Twitch, as well as a personal gaming blog at towernumbernine.com.

Mark Chamberlain

Our narrator, Mark Chamberlain, is a long-time card game player-- but they're all sitting on the shelf while he practices Guardian in Flesh and Blood. Mark is based out of Colorado Springs, USA.