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.
Allow me to revel, for a moment, in our impending descent into the Pits. As a day-one Azalea fanboy, I've always had a keen interest in the lore of Metrix's seedy underbelly. As we've gotten more familiar with the regions of Rathe, LSS has time and again shown just how deep the stories go.
But their storytelling pales in comparison to their game design, and it's here that I want to focus on the potential that Outsiders promises, based solely on the heroes and classes chosen for this set.
A Talentless Lot
We need to begin here, because it's incredibly noteworthy that none of the heroes in this set have talents. Ever since Monarch introduced us to talents, we've not had an adult hero without one (the notable exception being Arakni, who as it turns out was a preview of things to come).
I think many of us had assumed the future of the game was designed around talents, and worried that heroes without them would eventually become obsolete - the fortunate among them might remain playable due to valuable specializations, but eventually a decreased card pool would mean holding yourself back just to use them.
Sure, Dorinthea, Bravo, and Rhinar all see similar or more competitive play than Boltyn, Oldhim, and Levia - but this has always felt like the latter's fault for being lackluster rather than a strength of the former. Viserai lags behind Briar, and would still be a dark horse choice if Chane hadn't hit Living Legend; and playrates for Azalea, Katsu, and Kano are woefully short of their talented contemporaries.
But even without proving superiority, there's been a general assumption that the first few expansions lacked talents for the sake of simple introduction, rather than being an intentional character design. This was further reinforced when Bravo leveled up in Everfest, with his Star of the Show reimagining.
Outsiders has put that assumption to rest, and looks set to prove that there's plenty of deckbuilding diversity and drafting fun available within the simple confines of classes. It also ends the looming arms race of an ever-increasing pool of classes and talents (10 classes and 5 talents, with 3 sub-talents, to date).
Standing Behind Their Product
In the wake of Bravo's evolution, perhaps a larger concern was that all the 'original 8' were fated for planned obsolescence. And for fans of those heroes, there's been a bit of a cloud over their eventual revival. Speaking from my own position as a loyal Azalea fan, the Outsiders announcement had me nervous that perhaps my time with the Ace in the Hole was coming to an end. After all, the re-feature of Ranger in Tales of Aria mostly served to push Azalea to the side; a re-train with a talent would likely close the book on ARC038.
Instead, LSS has made the bold decision to reprint Azalea - along with both of the Ninjas found in Outsiders - exactly as they appeared previously.
This loyalty to the original design is refreshing in the TCG industry, where new iterations of familiar faces are commonly used to drive purchases and make obsolete the collection you've already acquired. And for those of us who have dedicated years to the play patterns of these heroes, we get to enjoy another season of drafting them with a completely new card pool.
What does this mean for the set design as a whole? For one, it means many of us will be drafting with a conflict of 'old reliable' vs. 'new hotness' on our minds. Should I lean back into the Ninja gameplay I know so well, or test the waters of the Assassins? Does my pool of Ranger cards favor Azalea or Riptide?
Friends in Low Places
Speaking of Riptide, I need to talk about the character selection. As we've become accustomed to, Outsiders adds 3 new heroes to the game: Uzuri, Riptide, and a fresh variant of Arakni. But unlike any set that's come before, it also brings back 3 classic heroes for a significantly more diverse drafting experience: Azalea, Katsu, and Benji.
By drawing from their existing card pool, they've completely reinvented the draft experience, while also reaffirming their commitment to those heroes. There's no room for doubt that the Ranger cards found in Outsiders will support Azalea; and with 4 heroes already available to the class, it's made the bold choice to skip introducing a new character while still supplying Ninja with fresh strategies.
Beginning with our returning faces, Katsu and Benji represent the most unlikely heroes to appear in the Pits. While Katsu is known as the Wanderer, I don't think anyone expected he'd wander this way; and the lore many speculated at surrounding a possible connection between Katsu and Benji seems all but confirmed now as the only way to explain Benji's presence here.
The re-feature of both Ninjas points to a few likely gameplay elements. For one, Combo is all but guaranteed as a core mechanic once again. Drafting Combo cards with Benji in mind sounds like the sort of deckbuilding that I've talked about in the past: a reserved, selective use of his "unblockable 2s", this time to ensure key Combo pieces hit and the chain reaches its conclusion. If that does turn out to be the case, it'll make for a highly thematic feeling of Katsu perfectly sequencing his combo lines while Benji struggles to get all of his steps right.
Riptide promises to make good on the traps we first saw in Crucible of War - an 'unplayable' card type that's fascinated Ranger players since its debut. That alone should give him enough to distinguish himself from Azalea, but how they both make use of the arrow mechanic in different ways will be fascinating to witness. Riptide can be seen walking beside Uzuri and Arakni in the key art for Outsiders, and you've got to wonder if he'll have more in common with the Assassins than you'd expect.
And with another hero to compete with, Azalea will have to lean into her hero ability more to stand out: using topdeck knowledge to gain Dominate and guarantee her on-hit effects trigger. That sort of gameplay will be quite dynamic in a set with an Assassin focus; the topdeck disruption available to the Assassin class is a perfect foil. (Ironically, it's been recounted that Assassin was meant to debut in Arcane Rising and was replaced by Ranger in the 11th hour.)
Uniting the disparate classes and places of origin found in Outsiders is Uzuri. Assassin is a young class, but has already demonstrated an identity in wearing away opponents' options with attacks that come loaded with uncertainty. Uzuri has rich narrative potential as the reason for Katsu's and Benji's presence; and based on Azalea's absence in the key art, Uzuri may be a problem Azalea's been tasked to deal with as well.
While they share the same class alignment, Uzuri and Arakni do not appear to be equals. While the former is, by all appearances, leading a gang of dangerous killers, the latter seems subservient, perhaps indebted. There's definitely some history implied by the title of his Young Hero card.
We Know So Little, And Still...
...there's so much to look forward to!
We've seen multiple heroes share the same class before, but not in the same set - not to this degree. It promises greater variation in the base class card pool, and shows that there's more to explore without introducing new classes, talents, and heroes with every expansion. Meanwhile, the Assassins look to come of their own in this set, fully supported by a core set and an expansion set.
For long-term players of the game, the stripped-down 'class only' gameplay and deckbuilding will be a return to familiar form, and it's something I think many of us are eager to experience again.
And for the Azalea faithful, it's one more chance for me to say, "Her moment is nigh!"
Maybe this time I'll be right.
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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