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[Guide] [Balance]/Blood/Strength: bringing a penknife to a sword fight

[Balance]/Blood/Strength

This has been my regular tournament since shortly after I arrived here. I still have things to learn about using it, but I thought I’d put my existing thoughts up to see what others think.

Short version

High-damage units
Make good trades using Drakk’s haste,
Counters in Balance.

Intro

Let’s start with how this deck is not good. It is definitely not among the strongest decks.

  • It doesn’t make use of powerful synergies for its own specs: for example, Strength is not paired with Growth, so you can’t whack Dinosize on Doubling Barbarbarians, or use Bird’s Nest to set up Might of Leaf and Claw or Blooming Ancients.
  • It uses the Green starter. I think this is an awkward starter deck, for reasons I explain in the Early Game section.
  • You don’t have a powerful combat hero: Midori and Rook have good stats, but they’re very expensive to level, and Drakk only fights to open the way for buffed units to hit where it hurts. (Incidentally, this deck started as [Balance/Growth]/Blood, and I switched out Argagarg because having Midori as the only hero decent in combat was crippling.)

However, instead of an overpowering synergistic card pairing, you have a lot of flexibility:

  • You have a lot of easy out cards. Nature Reclaims stops anything reliant on buildings or upgrades, notably Might of Leaf and Claw and Flagstone Garrisons, as long as they don’t win the game on the turn they arrive, and as long as you actually tech it instead of assuming madmen like Bomber678 won’t try to play them anyway. Balance gives you good air units against decks without good anti-air, and deathtouch to kill heroes and Tech II/III units. Kidnapping lets you steal powerful, expensive units that are targetable. DeGrey counters token spam.
  • Balance’s air units also let you quickly destroy a Tech building, or go for the base if the game starts to slip away from you.
  • Blood is strong by itself. Crashbarrows and Shoddy Gliders make it easy to keep the board small and manageable, and the Gliders make it possible to hit things on the backline if you can’t get through the patrol zone. Crash Bomber is cheap, and buffing him makes him do damage very efficiently.
  • Strength has units with high health, and two units that are also relatively cheap (Doubling Barbarians, Whitestar Grappler), that are good for lots of hasted damage, or hitting cards hiding on the backline, respectively. Colossus is also useful for finishing off the base.
  • Midori threatens flying damage if you can get some levels on him, and can destroy Tech buildings if given a rune with Forest’s Favor.
  • Rook has the always-annoying Bird’s Nest, and Thunderclap if facing illusions (it can target illusions that aren’t patrolling). At maxband, he’s very good for blocking while you wait to set up a big attack.
  • Drakk is amazing. Bloodlust and Drakk’s maxband let you put haste on the other two specs, both of which contain strong units that are balanced by their usually having arrival fatigue. Failing that, Bloodlust doubles up as a decent damage spell to kill off wounded units in the backline, and makes Crash Bomber a very efficient damage dealer. Doubling Barbarbarians are the obvious target for this, and are cheap, but hasting Faerie Dragons also works well, for quick kills or tech building destruction. Either can bring Wandering Mimics along for the ride. Hasting a Colossus can be handy to close the game out.
  • For the reasons above, plus Blood II units being good generally without out-of-spec help, all three specs are viable choices at Tech II, so you’re not locked into a single spec choice.
  • Blood + Strength has, as of writing, never been banned from a tournament, so the deck is always available.

Let’s go through, starting from early game.

Early game: Pre-Tech I, or How Not to Get Blown up

You are almost always on defence in the early game, due to using a starter that’s geared for keep-away, and not having heroes with fast-levelling combat stats. At best, Rampant Growth lets you steal some good trades. If you’re not getting early push-back, you could try getting Rich Earth out. More income for Drakk is always better. Just be aware it’ll likely force you to patrol with a single unit on Turn 2, and there are spells like Sacrifice the Weak that can take advantage of that.

To repeat what I wrote above, the Green starter deck is awkward. It has some great cards in it, but with Merfolk Prospector and Ironbark Treant being the only 1- or 3-cost units, it’s common as Player 1 to find you have neither a small unit to bring out with a hero, nor a big unit to come out and dominate the next turn. (This is part of the reason Garth is so good: his option to bring out a Skeleton makes spending all your gold on the opening turn consistent.)

Because many of your starter units are low-damage, it’s very easy to set up your board so that an opponent can kill your units without losing any themselves. Since you don’t have access to high-stat Feral I units to recover with, your patrol setups might feel odd, because you’ll often need to prioritise trading with attackers over keeping your patrollers alive.

Starter cards

In rough order of usefulness:

  • Merfolk Prospector: Great if you draw it on the first turn, as you can put it down with a hero as Player 1. It’s still useful in midgame as a cheap blocker, and a potential source of income. It can occasionally be useful in late game as a cheap extra unit to bring out under Bloodlust, but at that point you should usually worker it in favour of Crash Bomber.
  • Tiger Cub: I’ve been increasingly playing the Cub over Panda against early aggression, due to it not arriving exhausted. It’s one of your two 2-cost units that block with 2 attack, so in the Elite slot it can threaten to trade with a beefy unit or an unlevelled hero. It’s also the only non-token card in the entire deck to benefit from Midori’s midband, but Drakk is the higher priority, so this seldom matters.
  • Young Treant: A great card later on. If you’re playing the deck like I do, you rely a lot on spamming Bloodlust and cheap cards like Crash Bomber, so the extra card draw really helps.
  • Rampant Growth: As good in this deck as ever, but very good on Doubling Barbarbarians if you can spare the gold. If nothing else, the armour can save your units from Bloodlust damage at the end of the turn.
  • Playful Panda: Obviously great for the Wisp, and Drakk’s midband makes it even better. Just be wary of keeping it around later on, because arriving exhausted means it can’t be used for turns with massive damage out of your hand.
  • Spore Shambler: I haven’t fully grasped what Shambler can do yet, but the runes can be really handy later on, when you’ve got money to burn. I’ve sometimes used it early when I couldn’t see a better option – putting both runes on a Tiny Basilisk in Squad Leader makes it painful to attack into, a poor man’s Gorgon. Drakk lets it trade for extra damage after giving away its runes.
  • Ironbark Treant: Situational. Either your best friend, or the worst card in the deck. Against any sort of removal, it’s useless, but otherwise it’s a reliable card to block up with. While 3 armour in Squad Leader is nice, you’re usually better off sticking it in Elite to force trades.
  • Forest’s Favor: Siuational. Good for ensuring a patroller trades well, or for slapping on Midori later so he can destroy Tech buildings at maxband.
  • Rich Earth: Situational. Suicide against decks capable of decent early aggression, but if you can play it then you’re laughing, since you’ll have yet more gold for big Drakk turns later.
  • Verdant Tree: Situational. With careful timing on your reshuffle, a Tree allows you to instantly build Tech II and put out a high-impact 3-cost unit, such as a Crashbarrow. This can be handy if you expect to lose in a straight-up Tech II battle.

Recommended early-game tech choices

Starting with the best:

  • Crash Bomber is a cheap unit that does crazy amounts of damage for its cost later on, under Bloodlust and Drakk’s midband. One gold for 4 damage out of hand is good, 2 gold for 5 damage out of hand (adding half the cost of Bloodlust) is great and sweeps away most Tech II patrollers. Even if there’s no patroller for his death damage to hit, you can still hit a building instead.
  • Gemscout Owl gives the extra income that you’ll need both now, and later when you’re making heavy usage of Drakk. It’s also good to stick in Squad Leader to stop a Nullcraft pestering you, because otherwise you don’t have any anti-air outside of Balance II and Blood II.
  • Tiny Basilisk is excellent if you’re expecting to have to kill a hero quickly, or to face expensive Tech I units that it can trade with for gold advantage. Just make sure you’ve got something out to block the Tech 0 units too. Later on, it allows cheap hasted deathtouch.
  • Nature Reclaims is good if you expect the opponent to play an important ongoing spell or upgrade early. The prime example is when playing against the Purple starter paired with Peace or Present, because there’s a high chance the opponent wants to make use of Battle Suits.
  • Bird’s Nest is always annoying, so if you’re opening with Rook anyway there’s no reason not to tech this. This is a tradeoff, however, because Rook can’t cast Forest’s Favor and Rampant Growth as cheaply as Midori can.
  • Ardra’s Boulder is an interesting choice if the opponent has no removal. However, it’s a soft tell that you’re planning to go with Strength, to make use of Mythmaking, so be wary if the opponent can destroy upgrades.

It’s usually not worth it, but, if the early game’s going well, at least spare a thought for poor old Rickety Mine. It’s a questionable card and can’t attack, but it’s got the fastest-return income in the game outside of Galina on a big board, even if it collapses first time. If the opposing board is low-threat enough to play it, it can let you get Drakk going very early.

Midgame: Tech I

Odds are good that you’ll still be on the defensive at this stage, but you’re at a level of income where Drakk can pull off a trick or two. Maybe not all-out offensives just yet, but Bloodlust and your spare Wisps / runeless Spore Shamblers / Crash Bombers can allow for easy trades that put you up on gold. Drakk will die a lot, suck it up. You’ll have the gold to immediately re-level him when he comes back later, and the extra base damage adds up.

Recommended midgame tech choices

Starting with the best:

  • Bloodlust, essential for inflicting high damage, or killing off wounded enemies hiding on the backline, especially heroes. Prefer putting it on your cards instead of the opponent’s, so the extra damage helps you break through the patrol. A bit expensive and card-hungry to tech in early game.
  • Your choice of Tech II units.
    • Balance: probably start with Potent Basilisks and/or Faerie Dragons, then get the other two or some Wandering Mimics. A cute alternative (h/t CarpeGuitarrem) is to tech in Chameleons, to attempt quick stealthed building destruction. Dorthram Horselords are risky, but in the absence of Argagarg’s spells their buffed damage output can be about the same as a Doubling Barbarbarian, and they’ll still have high damage on the opponent’s turn, with the same amount of health. Great if the opposing spec doesn’t keep things on the board, e.g. Blood. Balance units are more expensive than those for the other specs, so you can’t sink as much gold into Drakk.
    • Blood: you want Crashbarrows and Shoddy Gliders. A hasted Ogre Recruiter might be worth a shot if you think you’re facing a Tech-I-heavy strategy, such as Virtusos. Without Growth you don’t have the Wisp spam to fuel Bugblatter, but since you’ll often be wiping the board the base damage could quickly add up.
    • Strength: Doubling Barbarbarians and Whitestar Grapplers are the go-to units, but DeGrey is worth taking first if you need the token destruction, e.g. against Lich’s Bargain, or for his stats if you’ve already added Mythmaking.
  • Circle of Life. Yes, I’m recommending this now, not at the same time as the Owl. Getting a single Balance II unit early on doesn’t usually do much for you, unless the opponent can’t deal with an early Potent Basilisk, so you might as well have a few turns of Owl income while you wait to hit Tech II properly. After that, when you’re doing a big push with Drakk, you can use the Circle of Life to turn it into a hasted Wandering Mimic to join in the fun, if you don’t urgently need something else.
  • Kidnapping. Very match specific, but, against a lot of specs, it’s a godsend: if you can make the kidnapped unit trade with another, it’s great value. Be wary of untargetable units. Immortals also do well against Kidnapping since they can’t trade.
  • Maybe an ultimate spell. I haven’t used them much, but an Earthquake is easy to set up with Birds or Crash Bombers if you’ve got a high-level Rook. War Drums could be fun, and, if you’re using Balance or Strength, enough of your units might survive to keep the bonus high. Final Showdown is questionable, but if you can play DeGrey immediately afterwards you’ve got yourself a good source of damage, and a good source of cards for big Drakk plays, with no downsides.

Late game: Tech II

If you haven’t lost yet, you’re in a position to start doing some massive-damage turns. You’ll probably get into a cycle where Drakk comes into play at maxband, you do a ton of damage, Drakk gets killed in reprisal, and you spend a turn setting up for the next big attack. Midori and Rook also shine here if they get a few levels, due to air attacks on units/buildings and walking past lone patrollers respectively. Cards hiding on the backline struggle to be safe from you.

Recommended late-game tech choices

  • More of what you have. A second Bloodlust is good, plus any more Tech II units you want, or another Crash Bomber.
  • Units for quick base attacks, if you think the game is slipping from you. Balance can do this with flying units, Strength can close the game out with Colossus.
  • Anything else you need. Depending on what you’re facing, you’ll need targeted effects (Fairie Dragon, Whitestar Grappler), ability to hit enemies on the backline (Fairie Dragon, Shoddy Glider), upgrade removal (Nature Reclaims), or breathers against aggressive decks (Moment’s Peace). You might also need more of either Basilisk: outside of normal combat damage and Kidnapping, they are your only removal option for heroes and Tech III units, unless you’re lucky and catch them on patrol with Entangling Vines. For most Tech III units, this only occurs on the turn they arrive, so your draw timing needs to be really good to pull this off.

Very late game: Tech III

Tech III units can give you some trouble, because you don’t have any unit removal. Instead, you have to rely on deathtouch, or doing tons of damage with Drakk support. Tiny Basilisk can even deal with Tech III fliers if you put a feather rune on it, and that lets you deal with Tech III units with Swift Strike too. Just hope they don’t have both.

You have some decent Tech III options yourself:

  • Tyrannosaurus Rex can remove two things when he arrives, including other (targetable) Tech III units. Save up your gold if you’re doing this, though, because a lot of Tech III units have resist.
  • Oathkeeper of Kor Mountain has swift strike, plus OK stats for a Tech III. As long as you’re not facing flyers (Gunship / Gryphons), and he can’t be sidelined or disabled (Octavian), he can stand in front while you set up a final base assault, then sideline almost everything once you’re ready. He also prevents you being locked out of victory by swift strike (Blademaster).
  • Pirate Gang Commander isn’t so great for board control, but, like Captured Bugblatter, he can help close a game out with base damage, and dropping tech requirements could be handy against things like Injunction.

Weaknesses

Drakk counters

Regardless of spec choice, the deck makes heavy use of Drakk and his spells. His being killed or bounced isn’t a problem, because you can spend his time away building up for another big attack and his death causes base damage in the meantime. If anything, it’s expected. However, there are some cards that stop him cold:

  • Moment’s Peace is annoying, because you rely on attacking with units buffed by Drakk. Either wait it out – Strength II units have high health to make that a decent option, and Grapplers to still deal damage – or level up Midori to smack things if you have him out.
  • Free Speech is, at the best of times, one of the most annoying cards in the game. It’s doubly so here, because it prevents Drakk giving units haste, and also stops your really cheap options for doing high damage. If you need something to hit a backline enemy, make sure you’re teching in units to do it (Whitestar Grappler, Faerie Dragon, Crash Bomber…)
  • Jail is in a weak starter deck, but it completely nullifies Drakk’s maxband.
  • Mind-Parry Monk prevents both Kidnapping and Bloodlust for killing stragglers.
  • I haven’t seen it happen, but Slow Time Generator could also give you a hard time. Your units are cheap, so you usually go down on hand size and pour the gold into Drakk instead. Slow Time Generator stops you from doing this, so you can’t set up for big Drakk turns nearly as easily. Nature Reclaims helps a bit, but you still need to deal with the opponent getting a full-gold turn immediately afterwards.
  • Chronofixer stops you from repeatedly pouring gold into Drakk. It’s is hard to deal with if it’s behind a good patrol, due to being untargetable. If you haven’t got Balance fliers or Shoddy Gliders ready, and you haven’t got Midori out at maxband, you’re in trouble. Especially infuriating in combination with Moment’s Peace, as seen here, where it gave my opponent time to bring out an Octavian.
  • Immortal isn’t really a weakness, but it’s a pain to deal with, because you rely on wiping the board regularly, and Kidnapping things that stop you doing that. Immortal can’t be wiped, and won’t trade if Kidnapped. You have to leave something on defence after a big Drakk turn, otherwise it’ll hit your buildings hard.

Card drain

Specifically, Black’s card drain. Because you’re using Bloodlust and Crash Bomber a lot, you will probably go down on cards quite early. If the opponent has card drain on top of that, you’ll have a hard time. Drakk’s improve most cards, so you can do surprisingly well on a low hand size, but it’s asking for trouble if something comes out that you need a specific card to respond to.

Other cards to watch out for

  • Black starter gives you a hard time in early game, because Deteriorate and Sacrifice the Weak handle most of your good defensive options between them. It also drains your cards, when you’ll often already want to play more than 2 cards a turn. If Vandy is in the game, strongly consider a Tiny Basilisk to keep her under control.
  • Even with Nature Reclaims available, a Peace player only needs one good Flagstone Garrison turn.
  • Rook with Two Lives active is a pain, but Tiny Basilisk + haste make him much more manageable. You’ll also need to deal with the Birds somehow: try bringing out your own, since they can probably have their attack buffed more quickly than the opponent’s.
  • Xenostalker has a surprisingly large amount of health, enough to stand up to a frenzied Crashbarrow if put in Squad Leader.
  • If you go for Strength II, you have no quick way to deal with fliers outside of spells and Whitestar Grappler. Try to set up frenzied Birds.

Things you don’t care about as much as usual

  • Bigby’s spells. Community Service is annoying, but unless you went for Blood your Tech II units aren’t as useful with Drakk to haste them. Injunction is a problem if it comes out on when you’re defending while Drakk recovers, but a disabled Tech II doesn’t stop you wrecking things with boosted Crash Bombers.
  • Anything that depends on units staying alive for a long time, i.e. Disease, will struggle, since you’re frequently emptying the board.
  • Battle Suits is threatening early. Later, you’re often don’t care if your attacker has to trade. If it’s really a problem, you can use a Nature Reclaims, if there’s nothing else you might need it for.
  • Hyperions and Tricycloids. Balance + Drakk deal with them pretty effectively. They hit hard, and Tricycoids can do damage during Moment’s Peace, but they’re expensive, so they’re good Kidnapping fodder. Hyperions ideally need to attack twice to make them worth using, and Basilisk and Bloodlust make that difficult. Potent Basilisks don’t care about Trycycloids. Be ready to deal with Immortals, though.
  • Your per-unit damage output is high enough that deathtouch isn’t threatening most of the time.

General

  • Bloodlust, Crash Bomber, and Overpower are your main crowd control, but only hit two enemies at a time. Against dedicated unit spam (Lich’s Bargain, Murkwood Allies, Peace engine that’s allowed to set up), you’ll have a harder time. This is further motivation, on top of the Drakk-centric, high-damage game plan, to keep the board small by trading when you can.
  • Crash Bombers aside, you heavily rely on Tech II units. If your Tech II starts getting destroyed or disabled, it’s time to put everything into destroying the base.
  • Don’t be precious with your Doubling Barbarbarians. While they do get tougher if you have them out long enough to rune them with Forest’s Favor, draw into Rampant Growth, and so on, their job is to hit things really hard, and preferably overpower into something else. Surviving combat is a secondary concern. You’re usually better off attacking with them immediately, instead of leaving them at home to patrol.

Example Games

A few examples with varying strategies, à la DOTA character guides. Search the deck name if you want to look at losses, or look at the game mentioned above in the entry for Chronofixer. A lot of them are me messing up early game defence. My tournament win record is less than 50-50, so hopefully it doesn’t come off as bragging if I link a few wins. Even these show my early game as pretty weak.

  • CAWS18: P1 vs [Past/Present]/Finesse. A long game, taking Strength II against Present II for Hyperion/Tricycloid, supported by Nimble Fencer, Two Step, and Prynn banish. Examples of a good Kidnapping (Turn 11), and a hasted Colossus closing out the game (Turn 15).
  • CAMS19: P2 vs [Past/Future]/Finesse. Taking Blood II against Finesse II for Virtusos. A rare example of getting away with Rich Earth, and pumping a Tiny Basilisk with Spore Shambler.
  • CAMS19: P2 vs [Necromancy]/Blood/Finesse. Taking Balance II against Finesse II for Virtusos. Midori gets to maxband, and join Fairie Dragons hitting the Tech buildings, later going for the base when I don’t fancy my chances on defence.
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Hey, I saw that

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I’ll put it back in :wink:

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Updated the notes on Verdant Tree. After playing a few games with it, Verdant Tree into an early Crashbarrow seems like a useful option if the opposing deck’s Tech II game is scarier than yours.

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