I’m tired of writing up column after column describing the latest Shaper-dominated decks in SolForge Tournaments. Until this past weekend, it seemed that the metagame was slowly evolving away from them… unfortunately, from that perspective, we just took a large step backwards. (More on that later.)
So with that in mind, let’s talk about how to beat Shaper decks. Hopefully, that might inspire some of you to play something else in the next few tournaments.
A few general rules that apply to playing against any kind of Shaper deck:
First, keep in mind that Shapers have an awkward depreciation curve; or to put it another way, a Shaper 2 played on Turn 5 is significantly stronger than a Shaper 2 played on Turn 8. After all, on turns 5-8 your opponent will have to play several Level 1 cards anyway. After Turn 8, Level 1 cards become costly to play, even if they do generate Shaper triggers. So if you are playing against a Shaper deck, remember that every turn that passes diminishes the value of any leveled-up Shaper in your opponents’ deck–and therefore also reduces the urgency with which you need to dispatch the Shaper quickly.
Second, all Shapers are vulnerable to the equivalently leveled Cull the Weak, Botanimate, Grave Pact, Natural Selection, and Metasculpt. Level 2 and 3 Shapers are similarly vulnerable to Uranti Bolt and Gemhide Basher. (Level 1 Gemhide and Uranti Bolt cannot kill a Level 1 Shaper–but Level 1 Shapers are generally the least of your worries, given that they have no triggered ability.) All of those cards can take out a Shaper that your opponent played into an empty lane before it can wreak too much havoc.
Third, all Shaper decks can be rushed. Level 1 Shapers are mediocre cards, at best. Decks that are capable of dealing significant damage while dominating the lane match-ups through the first four turns can throw off Shaper decks–either by forcing the opponent to level fewer Shapers or by punishing them for playing too many relatively weak Level 1 cards.
Even so, the four different Shapers are not perfectly interchangeable–and neither are the strategies to defeat them.
Steelshaper Savant and Lifeshaper Savant are the two most similar; both provide buffs to enable you to maximize the potential of the creatures (often low-level creatures, due to the nature of Shapers) that you are playing on the board. They are strongest against decks built to grab and hold card advantage through the mid-game, such as decks that rely on Spring Dryad, Shardplate Delver and/or Leafkin Progenitor. On the other hand, these Shapers, like all buff cards, are especially weak to direct creature removal (or disable). Whether I remove a card, through Dreadbolt, Grave Pact, Botanimate, Blight Walker, etc., or disable with Energy Prison, I eliminate the threat from all buffs that card has gained–including all Lifeshaper or Steelshaper triggers. (Although keep in mind that Blight Walker’s ability will not trigger if all damage is blocked by armor, which reduces that particular card’s effectiveness against Steelshaper decks.)
Darkshaper Savant similarly allows you to build Card Advantage, but does so by destroying your opponent’s creatures. Darkshapers shine against decks that want to play weak creatures and grow them. Once again, this means that they are strong against decks that contain Dryad and Delver–and beyond that can include decks with Rageborn Hellion or Oreian Warwalker. Darkshapers are also strong against armor and regeneration, as their triggered effect ignores both. On the other hand, Darkshapers are weak against “bombs”; a Darkshaper can reduce the effectiveness of a 25/25 creature, but cannot kill it. Darkshapers are also especially vulnerable to spell-heavy decks; after all, its ability is worthless if there are no vital creatures on the board to debuff.
Flameshaper Savant is the most flexible, and the most popular, of the Shapers. Flameshaper is a powerful tool at taking out an opponent’s creatures–in many cases stronger than Darkshaper. Moreover, Flameshaper can be used to damage your opponent directly, which means that it can still be a useful card even if your opponent has no creatures in play. Finally, because the damage to the opponent cannot be blocked or avoided, and is not subject to the Random Number Generator (unlike Volcanic Giant, Disentegrate, or Graveborn Glutton), Flameshaper (once played) can predictably damage your opponent’s life total.
Flameshapers have the fewest matchups against which they are especially strong or especially weak. In general, Flameshapers are especially powerful against decks that rely on playing low-health creatures. On the other hand, Flameshapers don’t like regeneration and especially dislike armor, both of which reduce the effectiveness of direct damage. Flameshapers are also vulnerable to bombs; once again, like Darkshaper, a Flameshaper has trouble killing a 25/25 (or bigger) creature.
In any case, if you put all of that together, I think it becomes a little clearer why Shapers are so popular right now. In general, the non-Shaper decks that we’ve seen the most of so far in the meta-game tend to be Uterran- or Nekrium-centric decks, built around growing or buffing creatures: Spring Dryad, Grimgaunt Devourer, Shardplate Delver, Echowisp, etc. Those decks can be easily dominated by Flameshapers and Darkshapers. On the other hand, in tournament play we are not seeing a lot of extremely aggressive Tempys decks (which can defeat an opponent before the Shapers can be effective), nor are we seeing many slow decks built around bombs. There has been a slow trickle of both types; in fact, non-shaper decks that crack the Top 8 tend to fall in one of those two categories. But many Shaper decks can go through an entire tournament these days without seeing either one of those deck types–and certainly not a well-designed one piloted by an experienced player.
Unheroic (9/6) Results
For the first time ever, the Top 8 was just a pile of fairly monotonous Shaper decks. Additionally, seven of the eight played some combination of Dryad and Delver, and none of them played Alloyin. In fact, despite being prominent cards in the tournament-winning unheroic deck the previous week, only nine players (out of more than 60 total) in the entire field played with either Forgeplate Sentry or Forge Guardian Beta, and only a dozen players used Alloyin General. Meanwhile, Lifeshaper, Darkshaper, and Flameshaper each appeared in more than 20 decks.
In any case, here’s a breakdown of the Top 8 (actually Top 9 due to ties). I’m not going to mention that every deck contained Shapers; I think that’s been covered already. Instead, I’m only going to note the primary cards used to support them. Also, I should note that Topdeck is the only player here not using Uterra.
1) VittorVinicus: Tempys/Uterra; Dryad and significant creature-buffing capablility
2) Crono373: Tempys/Uterra; Delver and Volcanic Giant
3) Cornballa: Nekrium/Uterra; Dryad and Delver
4) Rootbreaker: Nekrium/Uterra; Dryad and Delver
T5) Jmo101: Nekrium/Uterra; Spell-heavy (mostly creature removal and buffing)
T5) Topdeck: Nekrium/Temps; Direct-Damage (including Volcanic Giant and Graveborn Glutton) and Creature Removal.
T5) Leaf: Nekrium/Uterra; Dryad, Glutton, creature-buffing
T5) Justice: Nekrium/Uterra; Spring Dryad, Blight Walker, Gemhide Basher
Constructed (9/8) Results
Shapers were not quite as prominently featured in this tournament’s Top 8… but they were still key components in more than half of the decks. (The full Swiss results can be found here.) Four of them used spell-heavy Shaper decks, while Hadesblade used a Shaper/Dryad deck that was quite similar in composition to many of the Unheroic decks. The other three decks in the Top 8 relied heavily on both Grimgaunt Devourer and Grimgaunt Predator.
I’d also like to note that Alloyin was drastically underplayed in this tournament as well, appearing in only one of the Top 8 decks and in less than 20% of the decks overall.
2) PTKTempo: N/T; Rageborn Hellion; Predator; Devourer
3) Mattf: T/U; Spells and Shapers
4) Darnaudov: T/U; Spells and Shapers
T5) Hadesblade: N/U; Shapers, Delver, and Dryad
T5) Hoywolf: N/T; Spells and Shapers (with Predator)
T5) Raidrinn: A/T; Spells and Shapers
T5) Ximane: N/U; Devourer, Predator, and lots of creature removal
Reddit Constructed (9/10) Results
The big news from this tournament was its sheer size. Snook and Justice did a fabulous job advertising this event, in which 256 people participated. (Our previous record was just over 90.) Unfortunately, there was not significantly more variation in deck-design among the Top 8 in this tournament than in the other two. Of course, there were still five Shaper decks (three spell decks and two built on creature-buffing). Then there was a slower deck built on Arboris, Grove Dragon and Phoenix; and two built around Dryad and creature-swarm.
Oh, and once again, Alloyin was only played by one of the Top 8.
1) Whytefyre: N/T; Shapers, Spells, and Predator
2) Axel: U/T; Phoenix, Arboris, Healing
3) Thematic: A/T; Scorchmane Dragon, Flameshaper, creature-buffing
4) Sandtrap: N/U; Shapers, creature-swarm and buffing
T5) Foil: Mono-Uterra; Dryad, Swarm, buffing
T5) Juzamjedi: N/T; Spells, Shapers, Predator
T5) Pesh021: T/U; Shapers, Spells, Phoenix
T5) Technogeek5000: U/N; Dryad, Delver, Predator, Uterran Packmaster
This weekend, Forgewatch is once again hosting two tournaments; an Unheroic on Friday night and a Constructed tournament on Saturday morning. Additionally, Snook is now hosting quick 8-man events every Tuesday and Thursday, if you are interested in a smaller format. Finally, this thread will keep you informed of all the latest updates; if you have yet to subscribe to it, what are you waiting for?