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Who would win: an Owl or a Cow? — A Guide to JPS Nostrix Control

Article by jez2718 - 08 February 2018

Hi there, jez2718 here. You may know me as “some guy who is on Discord from time to time”—or if you’ve a really good memory “that guy who put Cirso in Elysian Dinosaurs and topped an ETS with it”. I’m here to talk about a new deck that I and the good folks at Team Synergy designed to combat the Cow Menace, and which went 16-5 in the swiss last Saturday: JPS Nostrix Control.

Where it all began…

Riding high off of a great first week of existence, with Kroge winning the ETS and Linyvine and MrNoTimeMan making top 8, Team Synergy was faced with a problem: what on earth were we going to bring to the next ETS? The incoming patch was sure to shake things up—or at least nerf Argenport—so thus was spawned a spirit of wild innovation, trying to come up with some brews that would be strong in an uncertain meta. Or at least were safe from the nerfhammer.

One such brew that DrHero came up with was this JPS Fliers build:

This build showed some promise as a shell, but was rather lacklustre in testing. However, in discussing various options within JPS I had a rather silly thought: “huh, Inquisitor Makto + Nostrix, Lord of Visions seems an interesting combo to build around”.

The idea was far too entertaining not to try to flesh out, but it required a lot of changes. Nostrix being JJJPPP demanded a reworking of the powerbase, and a general toning down of the shadow commitment. Rindra, the Duskblade and Midnight Gale were first to be axed, followed eventually by Champion of Cunning (JJJPPPPPSSSSS is utter insanity, and just the PPPPP effect didn’t seem worth the effort). Some testing later we had the prototype for JPS Nostrix:

JPS Nostrix meets the general public…

With a list thrown together that seemed to perform well in team testing, it was time to jam a bunch of games on ladder to see how good the deck felt. The results were dramatic: in just one evening I fell from rank 40 to rank 370… OK less “dramatic” so much as “tragic”. The variance on Inquisitor Makto was just too high for a midrangey deck like this, all the time I was dying long before Inquisitor Makto ever returned from the deck (though those who saw my swiss game vs. ManuS will realise this is just a personal curse). With the results solidly confirming that this was a silly brew that was more fun than effective, we shelved it in search of better options.

Midrange isn’t always the answer…

Whilst I was distracted tuning an unexciting Combrei Midrange list, DrHero and Muxosk were exploring an important idea: Inquisitor Makto gets more reliable in a longer game. Hence they were tuning more control-slanted lists utilising Harsh Rule and Black-Sky Harbinger to draw the game out and adding more draw power so that Inquisitor Makto could do his thing. Once the end of the Ranked season approached and none of my other brews had made much of a dent in my ladder ranking, I also got involved testing some of these ideas.

A basic core was soon figured out:

Conspicuous absences here are Kothon, the Far-Watcher and Unseen Commando, but we decided the anti-synergy with Harsh Rule was too great, and a lower unit count was needed.

However, the powerbase was a major team effort. At first the list had 33 sources. This was quickly judged to be too many and we dropped to 32. We tried all sorts of ideas for cutting power for power fetchers: Eilyn's Favor and Privilege of Rank being major ones. Eventually the powerbase started to settle on the one you can see in the final decklist, with a single Privilege of Rank added.

Testing, sideboards and last-second changes…

With the heart of the deck sorted out on Thursday evening—with the patch providing unexpected and welcome buffs to Black-Sky Harbinger and Inquisitor Makto—we began tuning the deck and figuring out sideboard plans. Testing against Sardek on Argenport Midrange revealed an incredibly tense Game 1 if Argenport could get enough early game aggression, but also revealed that if we could survive to the late game the game plan of 10/10 Inquisitor Makto and Shelterwing Rider was dominating. DrHero made the excellent suggestion of siding Unseen Commando to help improve our early game, and Protect was an obvious thing to side in too.

More testing on Friday (huge shout-outs to Erik9099 and Mordencranst for helping me with Feln and Armoury testing respectively) revealed that Protect was coming in almost every single game. It was great vs the removal piles that were taking over the format, and synergised very well with Inquisitor Makto and Shelterwing Rider.

When a card is coming in every single matchup, you feel kinda silly running 0 in the main. So at the last second before submitting the decklist on BattleFy we cut a Harsh Rule and a Privilege of Rank for two Protect in the main, making room for a copy of Devastating Setback in the side. Erik felt that 31 sources were enough, and Harsh Rule was underwhelming in an anticipated meta of Removal Piles, Argenport Mid and Armoury.

The final decklist, and lessons learned from the ETS…

After all this brewing, we ended up with the version I took to ETS (with DrHero and Muxosk running minor variants):

The deck feels extremely well positioned in the current metagame. Argenport Midrange is a technical matchup, but the odds are in your favour: you have ample answers to Tavrod, you have the draw power that Argenport has always lacked, most of your threats are resilient to one-for-one removal and you’re just as much a flying deck as they are. They have a real time limit to kill you before you take over the game. This was bourn out in Saturday’s results, where I beat both Argenports I faced 2-0 and our total record vs. the deck was 4-1. See my Round 7 feature match for an example of how the matchup can go.

Even better, the deck fares well vs. the Armourys, Argenport Controls and Removal Piles that people have been using to counter Argenport Midrange. As it turns out, huge units with either aegis or the ability to come back are a problem for Armoury-esque decks! However the matchup isn’t unlosable, indeed my only losses with the deck were to ManuS’s Removal Pile. The deck has few ways of dealing with a relic weapon apart from putting bodies in the way. Cards like Vision of Austerity are a serious sideboard consideration to patch this weakness.

Matchups like Grenadins and Reanimator are even easier. Grenadins is weak to any sort of fliers, let alone huge ones that are hard to remove. Reanimator too has few ways to deal with big fliers, and we have the removal to deal with most of their tricks. Post-board the Sabotage, Devastating Setback, and Rain of Frogs just dismantle their combo.

Big Combrei is a more interesting case. We have the removal to deal with Sandstorm Titan, and our units are as oversized as theirs. However they have the silences to deal with Inquisitor Makto for good, and The Great Parliament lets them put up a fight in the air. The matchup feels favoured, but with a lot of room for player skill. The second game of my Round 6 vs. HiThar was one of the closest fought CCG games I’ve ever played.

The main weakness of the deck is to aggro. Our results vs. Rakano are very strong, but faster aggro decks such as Skycrag are a serious problem. The matchup isn’t unwinnable, as Shelterwing Rider is a great blocker and Black-Sky Harbinger and Unseen Commando can be enough lifegain to survive. However time is not on your side to stabilise before getting into burn range. If aggro becomes more prevalent, sideboarding Lightning Storm may become necessary.

Card choices and future changes…

Most of the card choices are self-explanatory, or I mentioned already, but a couple deserve note. Originally, Rain of Frogs in the sideboard were Steward of the Past. However after the nerf he didn’t do much except vs. Reanimator, a favourable matchup, and we wanted more tools vs. Inquisitor Makto and Icaria, the Liberator decks. Finally one of my favourite inclusions in the sideboard were the Thunderstrike Dragons. Originally included to frustrate Armouresque decks, the card is also quite effective vs. any deck soft to flying, or vs. decks like Combrei where the more Big Dumb Threats the better. Creating an extra copy of itself makes it play better with Nostrix, Lord of Visions, which made us prefer it to Eilyn, Clan Mother.

As to future changes, we haven’t figured out anything concrete (that we are willing to share :P) but a few things stick out. Harsh Rule, whilst a fantastic card, may not be correct in this meta with so many decks eschewing creatures. It is good vs. Combrei and Reanimator, but much less so vs. Argenport or Armouresques. Shaving some of the removal such as Harsh Rule and Vanquish for more disruption like Sabotage and Protect is an approach deserving testing.

Secondly, the powerbase is probably still not optimal. 31 sources may be too few, and my losses to ManuS were partly caused by mana issues. More importantly, the deck runs 18 depleted power sources. It was not uncommon to miss playing Wisdom of the Elders on turn 3 due to having only Crests, Banners and Seats. Reducing this count down to 16 or 15 ought to help smooth out the deck’s flow.

Last words…

So there you have it, my guide to a new way to use Owls to beat Cows and Valkyries. In closing I want to thank all the members of my team who helped with refining the list and with testing, to thank Mordencranst for helping me figure out the armoury matchup (and for introducing me to this time sink of a game), to thank ManuS for his suggestions on how to improve the deck and to thank everyone who has commented on how much they like this deck.


kreeslak Eternal Version: 1.28
Thanks for the writing, has many insights even for differente color decks.
Randygonzo Eternal Version: 1.28
This deck looks really neat and interesting. I've always favored control decks generally, and lately I've been wanting something new and different to try on ladder; I'm gonna try this deck for sure. Good article too. The deck and how you built it was explained very well.
kirbs Eternal Version: 1.28
Just wanted to say thanks so much for the extensive write up! I don't have the shiftstone to craft the deck but so appreciate being able to read the thoughts behind construction and piloting.