Starhorn Burst, A Tale of Evolution: In-depth Deck Guide

Thunder_God / January 30, 2017

Are you looking for a deck that allows for longer games, countering the opponent’s over the top damaging moves, while tactically encroaching on them? Well, then this isn’t the list for you, and instead you should consider my Heal Zir’An list, and the guides for it by PandaJJ (written guide, video guide).

No, this list is here in case you want to burst your opponents down with a combo-burn list, fast games, and to enjoy the feeling of power introduced in the Rise of the Bloodborn experience. First, the list:

Here's a video of me playing the list to fatigue versus Heal Zir'An, without analysis.

Before I move to how we got to this list and more importantly, why, a couple of words on its performance: I’ve been playing this list exclusively since Diamond 3 with 0 stars, and over the past 55 games have gone 41-13 with it, which amounts to nearly 76% win-rate. I’ve hit S-rank with it around the 14th of the month due to being busy with real life, and kept at it since. I’ve peaked with the list at S-rank #18, and my last 11 games had 10 wins and 1 draw, so it could probably get higher if I kept at it.

Paidamion has been using this list to hit S-rank #33, with a record of 41-19 (68.33%), with 9 wins in a row, so he too could probably keep climbing with the list.

How We Got Here:

Back when Rise of the Bloodborn had come out, everyone expected Starhorn to be very strong, and it was. Seeing as everyone played greedy and unrefined lists, aggro decks ran amuck, as they usually do in unrefined fields. Then everyone started teching anti-aggro decks, and the sea of Aggro was washed away. Seeing that aggro was vanquished, everyone once more returned to being greedy, removing all the anti-aggro tools out, and aggro flourished once more. Finally, we reached a point of equilibrium, where decks got more refined, and as part of that remembered that you should always contain anti-aggro tools.

This is the Starhorn list I ran at the time:

The problem with this list was that if the opponent ran even 5-6 points of healing, you often just died, because they won the race with all the self-damage you inflicted. And if they managed to stall the game out, you usually lost to their superior damage. This was even before the rise of Zir’An’s popularity, which didn’t help matters. You also ran into issues with decks swarming you and a single Kelaino often meant game-over. That was not a good place to be, and the above list was an aggro list. It went for the jugular, and either burned the opponent down, or burned out. I have never liked coin-flippy lists, and wanted more consistency in my lists. I mean, I treat decks with sub-65% win-rate as “bad”, so consistency was desired.

The direction I went in was “Anti-anti aggro”, where the first thing that had to be done was lowering the amount of self-harm inflicted, and putting in some healing. This let you actually “Heal Race” the opponent and not drop so low that you can’t kill them or are rushed down and killed. Flameblood Warlock is also not a good meta inclusion right now due to the prevalence of Bloodtear Alchemists, Skorn, and Tempest. I find that a 2/3 minion ends up dealing more damage than a Flameblood, in the current meta.

The deck slowed down, which meant we needed some removal, to help us actually make do in the longer game, and Ephemeral Shroud also became necessary to counter Faie’s Concealing Shroud.

Since the list now usually wins on 7 mana, a third Makantor might be a good inclusion. Potential removals are one of the 2 drops or a Bloodtear Alchemist, but I think the list works fine as is.

Playing The List:

The list might seem like a flat-out aggro list, but it isn’t. It’s a combo-burn list that usually wins around 6-7 mana. Decisions whether to go face or not actually matter. Early on in the game, you seek to drop your minions, and control the board, so your minions will deal more damage and forcing the opponent to not hit you in the face. Should the opponent aim to race you, you should usually come out ahead.

The main skill required in playing this list is “playing to your outs”. You must set up 2-3 turn lethals without actually having the lethal-giving cards in hand. You must constantly think of what damage thresholds you have at what mana points, and try to get your opponent down to said thresholds at said time. It helps to slowly get their health down lower early on, so when the time comes for burst you can just kill them, but at other times trading is to be recommended, specifically when it’s going to protect more damage for next turn. If my opponent has a 4/4 minion and I have an Elucidator, I’d usually go face and hope they have to use their 4/4 on my Elucidator, but if their 4/4 is a value-generator such as Decimus or 4 Winds Magi, the decision becomes much harder.

Speaking of thresholds, here are the thresholds to keep in mind:

Saberspine Tiger + Thumping Wave = 8 damage for 6 mana.

Saberspine Tiger + 2x Thumping Wave = 13 damage, 9 mana.

Elucidator + Thumping Wave = 10 damage for 7 mana, and 4 HP. Flash can reduce this combo by 2 mana.

Elucidator + Flash Reincarnation + 2x Thumping Wave = 15 damage, 8 mana.

And the combos we all came here for:

Decimus + Tectonic Spikes = 9 damage, 7 mana, 3 self-damage. Flash Reincarnation allows this to come down on 5 mana, which is 4 mana + Manaspring Tile.

Decimus + Tectonic Spikes + Entropic Gaze = 15 damage, 9 mana, 3 self damage. This combo very notably comes out on 7 mana with Flash Reincarnation.

Let’s look at the last combo in particular, Decimus very often does not survive an extra turn on board, meaning you have to actually get use out of it the turn you drop it. Your hand has Decimus, Tectonic Spikes, and Flash Reincarnation,you have 7 mana, what do you do? At this point in the game if you don’t win this turn, you might not win at all, or it’d be an uphill battle. Assuming the opponent is at 15 HP, in the above scenario, I’d Flash out the Decimus, Tectonic Spikes, and hope to get an Entropic Gaze for lethal. Even if I don’t get the Gaze, I’m likely to get a 2-drop or a Bloodtear Alchemist to make use of some of the mana I have left.

You constantly have to think of what you can draw, especially because you are going to draw plenty of cards, so you have to set up lethal, by lowering your opponent down to a specific threshold, then keep in the relevant distance from them. Knowing when you have to hit your opponent with your face to bring them down to a point where you have more outs, and how far from their general you have to be is the main skill piloting this deck requires, beyond the general skills of replacing. If you end up too far from your opponent, the number of outs you have falls down drastically as your rush minions are unlikely to reach them. The list does have more than enough burn to win the game while each side is on opposite sides of the board, but you have to know when it is alright to retreat and fish for these combos, and when close-distance pressure is to be preferred.

Since Decimus needs to get value when dropped, I almost never drop him without at least getting the BBS off. BBS + Decimus is fine, since they still need to deal with it, which is often via dispel which gives me a 4/4 on the board. Entropic Gaze is used when it fits my curve, since it doesn’t gain as much when comboed with Decimus (1 damage per 1 mana, and 50% damage increase total), while Tectonic Spikes is to be comboed with Decimus when possible (200% damage increase, 2 damage per 1 mana). I see many people holding onto Gazes, but I use them or replace them, mostly.

Rancour is a 2-drop. Most people seem to try and get too much value out of Rancour, same as with Chakri Avatar, and thus end up getting not enough. I place Rancour as aggressively as possible without it being killed immediately. A 2 drop dealing a total of ~8 damage on average is more than good enough. It also pressures the opponent into a corner, which can be game-winning on its own, as it limits the opponent’s choices.

Replacing, Mulliganing, and Match-ups.

Though this is naturally part of playing the list, this is one of the biggest decision-points of Duelyst, so I want to spend more time on it.

If I have enough 2 and 4 drops in hand, then I replace Entropic Gaze. I almost always replace Tectonic Spikes, unless I have Decimus in hand. Decimus in hand is the most common reason for me to keep Flash Reincarnation or Tectonic Spikes, if I don’t have Decimus, I tend to replace those cards in hope to get more proactive plays earlier and try to draw into those later. This deck has a lot of draw, so I tend to replace cards I’ll want later on with the assumption I’ll usually draw into them. Replacing Entropic Gazes back into the deck is also one of the reasons that Flash Decimus into Tectonic Spikes on 7 mana is so likely to yield an Entropic Gaze back, or how Entropic Gaze can keep drawing you more damage.

I do keep Gaze in hand when lacking a solid turn 1 play, because while far from amazing, it’s something, and you really need to be doing something every turn with this list. While Makantor is a very strong play, I tend to replace it against non-swarm lists, because again, I’d rather get more proactive plays early on, and an early Makantor is more of a get out of jail card than a winning play.

This also feeds into why a card such as Plasma Storm is alright as a one-of, with all the cycle in the list, you stand a good chance of drawing into it by the time you need it.

Versus Faie, I try to get a Shroud and keep it when I get it, since you don’t know when you’ll see it next. Most Faies who use Concealing Shroud tend to place themselves in a situation where it being dispelled kills them, or nearly so. Get the card, and the match-up is basically a free win. The list deals too much damage for Faie to deal with otherwise.

Reva is the list’s hardest matchup, as she can use all the cards you give her to burn you out. Knowing how far of a distance to keep from Reva, when you can let her draw, and when you have to use your rush minions on her minions rather than going face is the key decision-point here. I’d hold onto and hard replace for Earth Sphere in this match-up, as it’s likely to be the card that wins you the game. I’d be fine holding onto it all game long from turn 1 and never casting it, but having the assurance of having it in hand when necessary.

Cassyva used to be this list’s second-worst matchup due to her healing and big minions that could out-pressure you, but cutting out on self-damaging effects and adding removal, all of which can kill off Kelaino had made this matchup much more comfortable. Lilithe can be hard for the same reason, as this list doesn’t deal too well with getting swarmed, which can also block rush minions, and wraithlings block off Natural Selection. In this matchup aside from Plasma Storm, try to make use of your rush minions as much as possible before the Wraithling wall goes online, then retreat to not get blown up by a Deathfire Crescendo or Soul Grimwar, while using out of hand burst to win the game. I’ve won versus a turn 2 Variax who then had a complete hand refill courtesy of a Tectonic Spikes with this list, you just have to go aggressive.

Aside from that, the list just sort of wins versus the rest of the crowd. I find most Vaaths have moved to playing weaker versions of Starhorn Decimus Burn lists, rather than their Drogon and Sunsteel Defender pressure lists which are superior. No other matchup really stands out, but it’s still important to pace yourself according to your opponent: Mech? Try to burn them out before they kill you. Slower lists? Chip them down, establish board dominance, and then use one of your combos to win after they fall below a threshold. You have the time to assemble a Flash Decimus Tectonic Spikes combo versus slower lists, so do so. You can aggro, but you can also burn them out. You gotta know when to use which.

Specific Card Choices:

  • Rancour - Rancour is a 3-of, no questions, as far as I’m concerned. Don’t play it so it can be traded into, but I usually play it as close to the opponent as I can without. Will I play it in their face if they have no minions and I can hit something so it’d be at least a 3/3? Probably. 3/3 for 2 mana is fine. And next turn, if it lives, it would quite possibly be 5/1 or better. This card can exert pressure, but it doesn’t pay to bank too hard on it, as the game will end before you can cash it in or the opponent will draw some AoE to deal with it.

  • Young Silithar and Gro - The idea for Gro came from Kolos the Dragon’s list. It puts out quite a bit of pressure, but is weaker later in the game, as well as not being a reliable ramp card. Young Silithar messes up Natural Selection, but is great for ramping. I can’t pick which one I like more, so I run two of each. I do recommend sometimes suiciding Young Silithar so the opponent has to stay in range of everything else to clear it and to enable Natural Selection later in the game.

  • Thumping Wave - Replaced early against factions other than Magmar and Lyonar, there it's a bit harder to decide. The card is used almost solely as removal, the list uses it for damage almost only as a closer, where you want to draw into it later. As removal, it's more necessary than as a damage dealer, being your only unconditional rearline removal.

  • Plasma Storm - Good against various zoo strategies, which can out-pressure and out-board control you, with Lilithe still being quite prevalent I like having one of. Also good versus Lyonar, specifically Zir’An. Not consistent or necessary enough to run more than one copy of, especially with all the draw the list has.

  • Earth Sphere - This card wins games. This card allows you to get to 7+ mana to assemble a combo, and then another one. It allows you to win against other aggro decks that burn out before you do, and allows you to use your self-hurt cards. The deck will lose many more games without, espcially to lists such as Tempo Argeon and Cassyva, who can mix both healing and early pressure.

  • Makantor - Borderline too slow, but much better now that the list aimes to win by 6-7 mana. A third copy would be nice, but I’m not sure it’d be better than everything else in the list.

  • Bloodtear Alchemist - Mostly used for board domination. Removing a 2/1 minion from the opponent can mean your own 2/1 minion will deal two more damage, and so will the BTA. You want to limit the opponent’s choices.

Limiting Options:

Regarding Bloodtear Alchemist, here is an important lesson regarding the game, and this deck in particular: There are three ways to limit an opponent’s options in this game. The first is to deprive them of cards. This deck doesn’t do that, quite the opposite, so how can it still contend with opponents, after it paid mana to give them more options? The second option is to limit their space on the board, Bloodtear Alchemist and early minions do that. The third option which is where this list specializes is through taking away their general’s health.

A general’s health is a “time” resource. You can trade it for more time or board control. When you face lethal the next turn, you can’t play anything that won’t stop it, and that’s one of the issues Variax lists face, that the tempo-loss of playing it might be insurmountable. This list focuses on early board domination, which translates into lowering the opponent’s health quickly, at which point most of the cards you draw them can’t actually be used.

In closing, this list is very strong, and is massively underrepresented on ladder, as well as the Starhorn lists I commonly see being less than great in the current meta - adapt, or die out. And sometimes adapting means taking an aggro-burn list and tuning it to be more of a burn-combo list. It’s not a very complicated list, but it’s also not as simple as it seems. May you have success on ladder, and fast wins and easy climbing.

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