Howdy ya'll, long time no speak. I've been off the grid for a while, but now that we've seen all the starters for the new cluster, I figured I'd crawl out from the wood works to give my prestigious 2-cents on the matter. In this article, I'll aim to look at each deck in the context of the overall game as well as how they'll perform pitted against each other in a vacuum.
Light - Panda Power
Taegrus Pearlshine, Lord of the Mountain, -insert Game of Thrones joke/reference here-, Ruler for the light starter deck. FoW Inc has made it clear that each deck gets its own unique theme/mechanic, and the focus of the light deck is gems. Shiny, magical, valuable gems. I'm not 100% sure how they interact with other cards in the game, and how/if they can be destroyed, but to my understanding they're some sort of in-game entity that just... exist. Kind of like an energize token. Taegrus obviously doesn't have enough of them, as you can tell by his art, so the goal of his deck is to mine more. Pretty much all of his
slaves resonators work to that goal by creating gems of different attributes. Taegrus doesn't have the best stats, being the weakest of all the starter deck Rulers, and can consume your gems for a stat buff or to gain flying. Honestly this is a Ruler that will probably need to wait for his sealed ability, since he isn't too magnificent on his own. Apparently he spent too much time working on his outfit and not enough on his effects.
Most of the cards in his deck are pretty basic. The humans create gems and the Panda Pals use those to get minor effects. The cards featured in the deck are your basic vanilla monsters that gain keywords (Precision, Flying, and Swiftness) depending on what attributes of gems you have. They're really nothing too special, but the big beater of the deck, Diamond, can give Barrier to cards and gives your field a blanket buff each time you get a gem. You might have some trouble getting him to stick, but once he's on the field, you can keep him alive with his Barrier effect, and a couple gem-generating effects can let him get out of hand fast. The deck has a spell that can RFG a resonator for the cost of two gems, but it only works at chant speed so it doesn't have too much utility. The true power of the deck lies in the Jewel Sword and Jewel Shield cards, which will give your monster a slight buff, create a gem, then give them a larger buff based on the attributes of your gems. These are a great way to reach for a little more damage to close out the game, as well as generate more gems.
Among the starter decks, this one feels a little lacking. Its only form of removal is chant-speed and consumes two gems, so you can't react to your opponents big beaters very well. Diamond, the big resonator of the deck, doesn't have flying so it'll be easier to block. The deck seems to want to play a wide game, with a handful of resonators that Diamond can buff, and it can make a surprisingly long reach for game with the Jewel Sword spell. Taegrus himself is the weakest stat-wise of all the Rulers, and consumes gems to gain effects/stats that some of the others have passively.
Looking at the bigger picture, I really like the gem mechanic. It leaves room for FoW to print cards that require different attributes to work. We could see something that gains increasing effects based on the number of attributes among your gems, encouraging a deck that can generate all colors of gems. We could see some cards that want X number of a certain attribute, leading to decks that tunnel vision one color of gem. Or maybe a card that needs a certain number of gems in general, so a gem turbo build could emerge. There's a ton of potential here that I'm excited to see.
Dinosaurs Dragons Dragonoids
I'm gonna be honest, I have a huge bias for this deck. Dinosaurs are hands-down my most favorite theme in any card game I've played, and I was overjoyed when I heard FoW was introducing them this cluster. I'm a little sad they're nothing more than a side-race so far, but I have hope. The red deck focuses on "Strength counters", which it uses like Mana counters to help cast its spells and use resonator abilities. The Ruler, Kirik Rerik, starts with ten of them and can replenish the stash by tapping or flipping.
The deck has a lot of synergy with itself. One card straight-up gives you a few counters, while there are two resonators that recover your resonator so you don't have to give up calling a stone in order to refuel your counters. There are a couple of basic starter deck cards (the pig and the dinosaur) that do generic beatdown/minor burn effects which likely won't see any real play, but there are worse things to fill space with. Good stand-alone, beatdown cards are nice in a starter deck-only format. The Ruler has a support card in the form of Kirk's Partner, a 3-drop resonator with flying that also gives your J-Ruler flying and lets you recycle one of the spells. It has mediocre stats for a 3-drop, but the +1 and giving flying to your J-Ruler almost make it worth it. The big beater resonator is a 1500/1500 monster that can't do anything unless you feed two strength counters to it, but those are easy enough to replenish, and it hits hard. The chants are the real stars of this deck, all being very low in cost but requiring a huge investment of your strength counters. There's a quickcast stat booster (1000/1000 ain't no joke), a quickcast burn removal, and a blanket burn that only works at chant speed.
In a SD-only format, this deck looks like it can steam roll. The chants are cheap enough that you can use them early, and provide a form of removal on the opponent's turn that allows you to answer anything problematic. It has spot removal and mass-removal, as well as a massive steroid to reach for game. The amount of flying the deck has access to means other starters will be hard-pressed to deal with your threats.
Looking at the cluster going forward, a good chunk of this deck looks good. The Battle Arts chants are strong, Kirik himself is impactful, and the Strength Counter mechanic looks to allow red to be aggressive early by giving you an alternative cost mechanic to play strong cards and effects.
Water - Make it Rain
Obvious joke out of the way, the water deck focuses on the new weather mechanic, creating a "rain" state that your cards benefit off of. Honestly, the deck looks like its the weakest of the five from a mechanics point of view. Most of the cards in it get a minor stat boost while its raining, and overall the deck feels full of cards with very decent effects that are locked behind an artificial pacing mechanic. The Ruler only makes it rain during your turn, and can search out a card called "Weather Change: Rain" that can turn the weather into rain during the opponent's turn, allowing your weak cards to become normal cards and "surprise" the opponent. Unfortunately, this card becomes obsolete if/when you flip, since Shaela's J-Ruler side makes it rain all the time. At the cost of invalidating a card she's supposed to have synergy with, you'd think Shaela's J-Ruler form would bring a lot to the party. Unfortunately, she let's you draw a card on enter and that's it. From there, she's a moderately beefy non-flier that gives you a permanent rain state.
The big beaters in the deck are The White Whale, a 3-drop with inflated stats that can't attack or block unless it's raining, and Wave Rider Mermaid, who becomes a 12/12 flier that can rest resonators on your opponent's turn while its raining. Cleansing Rain is a quickcast chant that bounces a resonator, or puts it on top of the deck if it's raining. Stormbolt is a modal chant with three different options, allowing you to pick all three if its raining. The fact that it prevents the damage a J/resonator would deal but ISN'T quickcast honestly confuses me.
All-in-all, the deck has a cute gimmick while you're sitting on your Ruler, letting you cards get slightly stronger during your turn and including a card that lets you surprise the opponent by making rain during their turn to momentarily buff your cards when they try to make plays. When you flip into your J-Ruler, the deck looks like it'll become a stagnant vanilla beatdown without any true plays to make or mechanics to master. The rain buffs are very minuscule and are hardly worth discussing, although the mechanic itself isn't awful. If there was a little more variance in the rain-vs-non-rain power, the deck would be cool. Instead of having a 5/5 vanilla 2-drop that becomes 7/7 during your turn, it would have been neat to see a 4/4 vanilla 2-drop that becomes 8/8 while it rains, or something like that. Make them legitimately weaker while there isn't rain, and reasonably stronger while it is raining. Your deck would have a very weak early game that you would need to play around with using Weather Change (or bluffing it), and when you're able to flip, your deck's power is permanently unlocked.
This gives me hope for the support in the real set. Starter decks generally only give you a small taste of the mechanics, so maybe we'll get cards with worthwhile rain effects in the set itself. The weather mechanic certainly has potential, and there are a number of directions FoW could take it. In an SD-only format, the deck isn't in too bad of a place either. As boring and vanilla as it is, Cleansing Rain and Wave Rider Mermaid offer strong stall options to keep the opponent's resonators from getting out of hand. Wave Rider and White Whale are huge beaters, with the Mermaid gaining flying and the ability to remove flying blockers.
Wind - Ancient Magic, but not really
Gill is the Ruler for the green deck and, surprisingly, plays a lot like Alhama'at did. Spirit Magic is obviously an allusion to Ancient Magic, but unlike the Luminaries where you build up your mana counters to blow on one big spell, this deck plays more like Gill Alhama'at where you'd want to use your counters slowly to play a lot of smaller spells over the course of the game. This Gill only gives you one extra mana per turn, but that allows you to play your Spirit Magics for free, or just above your curve. You also need Elementals in your grave to generate this extra will, so you need a constant flow of dead resonators to keep the engine going.
The deck itself flows fairly well. There are a handful of cards that dump Elementals into your grave to get your engine started, although the large Elf component of the deck seems a tad out of place. Cecil Letoliel is your big resonator bomb, who goes from a 5 drop to a 2 drop depending on how many Elementals you've dumped into the grave, and he buffs all the Elementals you have on your field. This is a bit counter intuitive, since you want your Elementals in the grave and not in play, but later on in the game you should have more than enough fuel in your graveyard to last you the rest of the game.
In a closed format of only starter decks, this one really falls flat. It has the only cancel spell in the five decks, but it has no actual removal or flying cards, while the heavy hitters in the other decks are all fliers. This means you're kind of left high and dry if the opponent manages to play something with flying. Gill has Barrier, so he's immune to any destruction or debuffs the other decks could throw at him, but aside from generating his one extra will a turn, he's a vanilla 11/11, as is most of the rest of the deck. A huge chunk of the resources in the deck are devoted to either being an Elemental, or getting one to the grave, while the only Spirit Magic cards in the deck are a cancel, a 6/6 buff, and a cantrip. The deck works well, it just doesn't really work towards anything, nor can it interact very much with the other decks.
Looking at the big picture, Spirit Magic obviously has the potential to be a strong mechanic. Free will is always good. It just needs some Elementals that are good as stand-alone cards, and a chant or two that is worth ramping into.
Darkness - The Tits-ular Character
Here we have Reiya, the girl the cluster is named after, and the fourth daughter of Mikage that we were all waiting for last cluster to salvage the Vampire theme. Looks like she just abandoned her family, and I honestly don't blame her. Her sisters never really amounted to much. Like her father, Reiya focuses on stacking counters, although she operates more like Kirik in how she spends them. Unlike Strength Counters, Mystery Counters aren't nearly as easy to generate, although the cards that use them don't demand quite as many counters in order to go off.
The darkness deck is overall slower than the red one at making counters. Reiya only starts with one, only gets one for flipping or tapping, her stone only gives one, and the only main deck source of mystery counters has to die in order to get one. You definitely have to use your counters sparingly in this deck, but the cards that use them are very impactful. Reiya is a Stoning to Death for just one counter, there is a 1-cost chant that, for two mystery counters, can force your opponent to discard two cards. If your first stone is Reiya's special stone, you can force your opponent to start the game with only 3 cards in hand. Sword of the Half Moon costs two will and two mystery counters to give something -6/-6 and return to your hand, and Sword of the New Moon costs one will and one counter to become another Stoning to Death.
The resonators in the deck largely focus on a vanilla beatdown strategy, as with pretty much every other starter deck, and Grimm is your heavy hitter. For a 4-drop, he gives you 9/9 in stats, flying, and lets you recycle a resonator on-enter. He also has a built-in gravity effect that hits all of your opponent's cards, scaling with the number of Fairy Tales you control. It strays from the Vampire motif of the deck, but since Reiya doesn't really need Vampires like Mikage, you have a ton of leeway here. Grimm is a very impactful card, and can use his effect to clear out weenie blockers, or get over a flying blocker that would otherwise kill him.
This is certainly a deck that forces you to think the game all the way through. If you blow all of your mystery counters early you're screwed, but if you use them to strategically eliminate your opponent's pivotal plays, you'll have the game in the bag. It's certainly one of the stronger starter decks, especially in an SD-only format, right up there with the red deck. Hopefully we'll get more consistent ways to generate mystery counters later on, but that's really all Reiya wants. Including something like Flute's Pet Dragon to allow her to call a stone AND generate a mystery counter every turn is going to be a must-include, unless the new set brings a better option.
And that's all she wrote, folks! Long story short, I'm super excited for this cluster. The starter decks, while they may not be the best, are definitely on a more even playing field than some in the past, and their core mechanics are all very solid and leave plenty of room to improve on in the coming sets. And since FoW has confirmed fewer Rulers/themes, and larger set sizes, on top of continued support for these decks throughout the cluster, I have very high hopes for them. If anything, their sealed abilities alone will be able to fill in most of the holes they seem to have.