Into the Mists just “released” - whatever that means in this day and age - and is sending Aftermath Block into the depths of Core rotation! If you haven’t seen Into the Mists, the first set of Block 8, go check it out as we will be heavily referencing it today. Though we won’t start there.
Block 7 Races
It was October the 2nd of 2012 and fans around the globe were staying late at their friendly local game shop to grab their War of the Ancients product. The brand new set brought with it something that had previously only appeared in small batches in WoW TCG, but a mechanic that is wildly popular in every CCG: tribal / racial themes.
Humans, Orcs, and Tauren got new Tag Words while Night Elves got a whole new Keyword. These were to help develop the themes of the set and spell out each race’s goal: Humans work together, Orcs strike quickly, Tauren get immediate results and become stronger as the herd grows, and Night Elves get a weird cost increase plus aggressive conditional discount (???). Additionally, Crypto went very far out of their way to skew the racial distributions in the sets towards those four races and made allies and abilities that supported each race. These new abilities, race distribution, and cards like Hugh Mann, Legguards of the Legion, and Timewalker Grunt made it clear: Timewalkers Block was an all-in racial block.
With Betrayal of the Guardian, Echo and Rift looked to support the established races while two unsuspecting allies forecast new up-and-coming races. Monster, which still seemed to be developing as a third faction, got an ally referencing Beasts and another ally with a new keyword Portal on it. In Reign of Fire, Beasts would get another card or two and Demons would be the premier race of the set with twice as many allies as any of the others, and a ton of instances of their Portal keyword.
But due to the raw power level of Block 6 allies and the death of the game before Block 7’s swan song could make it to any major events, the racial themes never really saw the light of day. Not to say they didn’t make appearances or dominate the limited format, just that they didn’t climb the competitive ladder and sit on top long enough to seem fully established. Out of the Horde / Alliance races, Night Elves appeared to have the most potential. But were Night Elves really good enough or was it just a result of the powerhouse ally Archdruid Fandral Staghelm?
What’s In a Rotation?
In a rotating format, when the rotation occurs, the first thing most deckbuilders think to do is see what survived. The new cards are nice and all, but what cards that we know are broken through the hard evidence of playtest and event results are sticking around? And what pieces of the tried and true strategies are out the window? In this case, with Block 6 leaving, it’s harder to do this because almost all of the major players are losing sizable chunks - especially in the ally department. Here’s just a handful of the allies leaving the format:
In some ways, the racial themes of Block 7 not showing up was by Cryptozoic’s own design. Orcs and Night Elves didn’t require more of their kind, while the payoff for Unity in Humans was too weak with too few enablers, and Tauren always felt like they were missing just a couple cards. But in a lot of ways, it was the power of the Block 6 allies that kept Block 7’s racial themes from shining through. If we had seen a Block Format States in 2013, I imagine the Block 7 races wouldn’t have taken the year off. So with Block 6 out the window and being replaced by a new set that doesn’t appear to have immediately restocked the format with new Edwins and Mazu’kons, is it really Human, Night Elf, Orc, and Tauren’s time to shine?
7 + 8 = Racial Decklists
Let’s go through each race together and see what happens when we try to stick to their mechanics, however loosely or tight. In theory, this is one of the best places to be brewing if you’re looking to score a golden trophy, EA Edwin, and a pile of Reborn Circuit Points at GenCon next month.
We used the abilities and bits of Mitch Parnell’s Night Elf decklist which you can find here. I know, I know. This isn’t 40 Night Elf allies, 8 abilities, 8 quests, and 4 Ashenvale played out of Sylvanas. I’m just as disappointed as you are. But hear me out: My goal is to win and sometimes you gotta go a little off-theme to play the good cards. And in my book Buck Ehn and Defender Wesley are good cards. Buck Ehn isn’t the second-coming of Ashnaar, Frost Herald or nearly as good as Grumdak, Herald of the Hunt… but he’s pretty dang close to both of those allies that see heavy Classic play.
Meanwhile Defender Wesley and Alpine Foxling are just great for triggering Haste. Darnassus Warrior is good and all, but with Buck informing our hero choice, I think Salli’s flip gives Alpine Foxling the edge. The bad news is that Ashenvale and Wrath of the Ages lose some value with our varied race choices, but the good news is that our early game is very stable. We can even head into the middle turns threatening a 2-for-1 with SI:7 Assassin Telrendil. Follow up this stable early game with Fandral and Shandris things (with Wrath of the Ages looming) and we might just have a winning strategy on our hands!
Okay, I’m probably just crazy here. My favorite way to try and make humans work with Block 6 in the picture was Blood Parasite and Frostmourne. Alongside either of those cards, each 1 / 1 Human Protector just had such an impact. But even without Blood Parasite, I think just the power of Frostmourne and Despair of Winter is enough make DK a good home for Humans. I’ll be the first to also admit that some of my card choices are sketchy here. Initially I got sucked into the A King Among Us / Anduin trap which made me want to put an Ongoing ability in the deck (come back to me, Blood Parasite!), when really I should probably just be playing good cards instead of hoping to get lucky with the Warp ability.
But here’s what I did get right: all the auto-includes from Block 8. With Admiral Taylor and Anduin being in the Mists story, they both got sweet playables in the set. And then there’s Portal Master Arion. Holy crap is this guy tailor-made for the Human strategy or what? Aysa is a bit odd here, but she’s just a solid on-curve body that gives empowering Yoga lessons to your Human Tokens. Since we’re slow and can’t beat Legacy of the Horde, I threw in a couple copies of Goran to go with our reveal quests. And then there’s my pick for one of the best, if not the best, cards in the set in Lion’s Landing. That coupled with Frostmourne gives us a great late game recursion engine.
Overall this one feels somehow wonky, but maybe that’s just a Human’s lot in life. Maybe Mage with Secrets of the Ages is another direction we could go - making a second Portal Master Arion seems pretty great. During these last few years of WoW TCG Dark Ages, Hearthstone showed us that a 1 / 1 ally with “Draw a card.” on it might be great. I’m not sure if the playability of Novice Engineer translates perfectly from Hearthstone to WoW TCG, but I thought it was worth giving Mias the Fair a try.
(Edit: Thanks to Bryan Hedrick for pointing out that DK’s can’t use shields. Sometimes the finer details block out the obvious. Deck list has been updated.)
Next Time: Orcs, Tauren, Beasts, and Demons
We’ll pick back up with some decklists for the final four races of Timewalkers Block next week. Have any thoughts on my terrible prototype decklists, opinions about the races of Block 7, or decklists including Block 8 cards? Let us know on Facebook or Discord! Until then, may the Mists protect you.