Thoughts and Baubles: August 2021

by Alex Truell 18th August 2021 4 : 22
Author

My name is Alex Truell. I'm the editor for the Rathe Times. I'm a casually competitive player overseeing the growth of a Flesh and Blood scene in Ripon, WI.

Strategically, I try not to follow trends, instead fixating on cards and tactics just outside the mainstream. I view this game through the lens of 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.

Thoughts and Baubles is an editorial space for the Rathe Times, where I discuss the game and respond to the community.

All Roads Lead to Nationals

August has been a fascinating month for Flesh and Blood. While May and June were defined by the release of Monarch and the early experimentation that comes with a new set, July felt fairly stagnant. And while the dominance of Chane was spoken of aloud, we had at best a hazy understanding of where the rest of the heroes fell.

But beneath the surface, decks were developing. Strategies were honed. Gameplans were mastered. And from the very first weekend, the Road to Nationals has proven: we had no idea where the meta was headed.

Stamp Dorinthea

This observation first struck me when news broke that Axe Dorinthea had won an RtN event. Dorinthea has long been considered a reliable contender, but her strategy is so tightly bound to the Dawnblade that any other weapon felt like an intentional handicap. As Christian Gilbert explained in his Rathe Times article, Dorinthea had been relying on an endgame that Chane was executing more dramatically. To remain competitive in a field dominated by the Shadow Runeblade, Dorinthea had to pursue a different line.

Since that time, we've seen Top 8 placements from every hero, and wins from 9 heroes across 6 different classes. (Azalea and Kano are still working to claim RtN crowns for Ranger and Wizard, while Levia has failed to tempt Brute players to leave Rhinar.) And while Chane has claimed more than his fair share of those wins, he's also been heavily represented in the field, making that a likely outcome. As I'm writing this, Chane has won approximately 40% of the tournaments- meaning he's lost about 60% of them.

Stamp Chane

That leads to a fascinating question that speaks to the strength of game balance in Flesh and Blood: is Chane actually as strong as we thought he was back in July, or did all that talk set him up as the fall guy to a field of diverse decks calling their shots? If Dash, Dorinthea, Katsu, Prism, Rhinar, Viserai, Boltyn, and Bravo can all claim RtN wins, is any one hero truly holding the meta captive?

The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. In a world where Chane wasn't singled out as the warping force of the meta, the players who brought Chane would probably find more success, and the rate of conversion from "playing Chane" to "Top 8 placement"- and subsequently, "Top 8 placement" to "RtN win"- would probably be much higher. There are plenty of counters to Chane available in the card pool and in strategic adjustments; but a deck built without those tools on hand and those strategic shifts within reach would struggle to counter him.

Stamp Prism

In some ways, we're seeing this play out backwards with Prism. Because of a strong set of cards and a simple gameplay pattern, Prism was an early darling of the Limited format. It was easy to build an Illusionist deck from sealed Monarch; more importantly, it was relatively hard to counter her from sealed packs. The immediate result of that pre-release experience was an influx of 6s in everyone's decks. But as Prism was being refined, players of other decks were breathing easy, viewing their 3 Command and Conquers as perfectly sufficient. Prism has developed past those early losses to ill-timed Phantasm triggers, and is perhaps on her way to a renaissance as people run the wrong kind of counters to her evolving Aura strategies.

Stamp Bravo

And speaking of experiencing a renaissance, is Bravo having a moment or what?! (Look carefully, that's 4 separate article links there, and all since Monarch!) Early in preparations for RtN, Guardian was identified as a class that could handle Chane. Now, Bravo has become a meta-shaping force of his own- a counterplay in need of a counterplay, if you will. It will be fascinating to see if players begin to target Bravo alongside Chane, and how they'll manage to accommodate counters to both decks, as they have very little in common.

Stamp Azalea

If ever there were an angle for Azalea to shoot, her aptitude for countering both these matchups would be it! As a rabid Ranger enthusist, I want to encourage the faithful among you not to give up the fight. We already had all the right tools for dispatching Chane, between Sleep Dart and Red in the Ledger. Bravo used to be seen as a tough match for Azalea, but with new tools for setting up the top deck, we can tax him heavily with repeated Hamstring Shots and avoid Staunch Responses with Remorseless. The strategy is there, all we need is a champion to pilot this!

But What Lies Ahead?

Volthaven Width 10000

If you're new here, you might not feel me when I say that Tales of Aria is coming incredibly quickly! The Monarch meta is only just taking shape- and nowhere near solved- yet here come prereleases! I'm incredibly excited for what's in store- but I hope that in looking forward, we don't lose sight of where we are now.

The Road to Nationals series has brought out the very best that players have to offer. We've seen perfected versions of the big names, like Chane and Bravo. We've seen updates to the former champions- Dash, Katsu, and Dorinthea- that show they can still adapt to the times. We've seen familiar names rise once more to the challenge, and we've seen new talent spring up from the most unexpected of places. For every tournament report that comes back with Chane at the top of the standings, we get two more that prove any hero can take a top spot, provided the deck is built well and the pilot is skilled.

Alex Truell

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.