Terrible Twos: Keystone Deck Building & War Fan in 2v2
Hello all, Merlin again. This is the first in what will hopefully become a series of 2v2 deck building articles. Today, we’ll be focusing on a deck building strategy I refer to as “Keystone Deck Building,” where both players in a team run the components that each individual deck relies on for success. In my last article, I teased that I’d write an article all about War Fan, and indeed we will be spending a good portion of today looking at how one of my favorite cards in the game can be thoroughly exploited. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
These decks rely on specific cards to bring them to victory. These cards aren’t essential, but without them the deck functions sub-optimally. A classic example of this type of deck could be Plague Maidens deck – there are plenty of lovely control tools in Yellow and Green, as well as hearty minions, but if you’re really hoping to get out a plague maidens to control the board and manipulate life totals, there’s bound to be games you lose when they don’t show up for you. Sounds like a potential flaw in building around a keystone, you say? Indeed you would be correct; in 1v1 play keystone deck building is often inconsistent, and makes for poor design. Sometimes you get everything you need, when you need it; other times, you’re SOL as your opponent plows through you with an inexorable RO midrange deck or something similar, full of redundancies and similarly sized minions and effects.
In 2v2, you have two decks’ worth of cards to draw from, two hands and two sets of draws each turn in order to find those keystone components. And, thanks to the center lane, if your keystone is a minion, a lane enchantment, or some combination of the two, what’s good for your partner is good for you, and vice-versa. Not only that, but with two players you have two resource banks to spend. To follow the Plague Maidens example one step further:
In a 1v1 game, I am unlikely to play Plague Maidens before turn 4 or 5 at the earliest, because its 3 mana cost means I won’t have a chance to activate it before my opponent has a chance to remove it if I play it on-curve. HOWEVER, if I play my plague maidens in the center lane on turn 3 in a 2v2 game, my partner still has 3 mana available after burning, giving them 1 to play a Ruslan’s Bight center (if we haven’t already) and 2 mana to deal 2 damage to everything on the board and 4 damage to each team, clearing most creatures likely to have hit the board by then.
Between me and my partner, we can run four copies of our keystone rare, along with any other tools we may wish to reuse them (wake the bones and shroud of the pit jump to mind). Factoring in the many draw tools in yellow and green, acquiring a single plague maidens is all but assured.
Many keystone strategies in 2v2 have teammates running identical (or nearly identical) decks to double down on the consistency a partner’s set of cards can provide. While this is often a powerful strategy, it can leave the team open to certain vulnerabilities that the base deck possesses; if neither deck has soft removal, an indestructible minion is going to be a real problem. For this reason, I prefer more of a venn diagram approach to keystone deckbuilding in 2v2: both decks run the true essentials, as well as cards from other colors or factions that synergize well with them. This three-factor design – my cards, my partner’s cards, and our shared cards – often leads to the discovery of synergies between disparate cards and effects that might otherwise be overlooked due to the sheer infrequency of their combination!
So, how does one go about choosing a keystone? There are plenty of great effects, but a keystone needs to do something powerful and keep doing it. A one-off effect like Armageddon Angel’s board clear or Allfather’s Horn’s extra set of actions can be game-winning, but not in a way that both grants you victory and helps you get there. No, what we’re looking for is a card that changes the state of the game for the whole team as soon as it enters play and for as long as it stays there. Dashing Ringmaster’s a good option –low cost of 3 makes it easy enough to get out early, and as a rare both my partner and I can run two copies each, despite only needing one in play to gain maximum benefit for both of us. On a turn I play ringmaster, my partner can be dropping minions that now have rush! Add a couple more elements, say Red Carnival and Freki Huntress to readily take advantage of the extra trades coming from the ringmaster’s rush, and we’ve got the beginnings of our shared card pool. From there, we can both make sure to run a minimal number of minions with over 4 strength so that ringmaster is guaranteed to give a boost whenever it comes into play, and we’re off to the races!
So now let’s talk about War Fan
Now that we’ve got a bit of an understanding as to what sorts of cards we’re looking at as keystones, let’s take a closer look at War Fan. Right out the gate, it has a global, static, transformative effect on the game: reducing the cost of everything for everyone by 2. Between the universal nature of this effect and the card it’s tied to, there are some pros and cons that factor into how we can successfully integrate it as a keystone component in our strategy.
Con: With Mythics, There Can Only Be One
Indeed, as a mythic, You will only be able to have one War Fan. With two players, that’s one for each of you, but even so that’s not the best odds in the world. You can’t guarantee either one of you is going to draw it, though there are things you can do to improve your chances (more on this later).
Pro: Cheap Stuff!
Most immediately, everything’s cheaper now! That means your big 7-cost Sapo or Armageddon Angel or Iku can now come out on turn 5, just one turn after playing your fan. Alternately and additionally, you can play a whole bunch of smaller stuff for peanuts with your three-drops costing 1 and your one- and two-drops costing nothing but gems (from experience, you may well run out of gems before you run out of mana, especially in the mid & late game if fan’s been around for more than a couple turns).
Con: Cheap Stuff...for everyone, and lastly for me
That same discount you get, everyone gets. Not only that, but because you spent four mana and two gems to play the fan, you’ve got a lot less to work with in terms of taking advantage of it before your opponents get a full turn to roll in that discount. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing, however, because…
Pro: Immediate Partner Payoff!
While you’re spending four mana and two gems to get that discount out there, your partner’s got a whole bank of mana and gems, and a whole handful of things to play. This is what gives War Fan a boost from being generally a tempo loss in 1v1 to a functional tempo gain for your team in 2v2: your team becomes the first to benefit from the discount, even if whoever is playing the fan needs to wait a turn.
Con: Low Durability
With a paltry 6 durability, War Fan is the least durable artifact in the game (at present). Certain teams will be able to destroy War Fan on their turn immediately following its debut, robbing you of the opportunity to truly take advantage of playing it. Moreover, with only two fans between you and your partner, and at this time no means of regaining artifacts once destroyed, this is war fan’s biggest flaw as a keystone.
But do not lose heart! There is one final advantage to playing with War Fan as a keystone that blows all of its flaws out of the water:
Pro: Being Prepared for the New World Order
While both your team and the opposing team gain the benefits of War Fan, only one team comes prepared for everything that entails: yours. First off, that means accounting for its flaws. The easiest way to do this is through the Fires of Creation Path (the properties of which are discussed at length here). Fires lets you use forgelings to sift through your deck to find fan more frequently, and restore its durability once you do get it into play.
But the fun doesn’t stop there. The forgelings created with Fires of Creation have no gem cost, which means the discount provided by War Fan can make them well and truly free to play (at least for the first couple). Between the discounting of other artifacts – 75% of which in the core set cost 1-2 mana and thus have their cost reduced to 0 – and the cost of the forgelings created when those artifacts are played, you and your partner can lay out an impressive board presence the very same turn that war fan enters play.
As the team in the know about the paradigm shift that will come with War Fan’s arrival, you and your partner can plan your plays, saving two-drops for when they will become free and building up resources in-hand to make the Fan Drop as impactful as possible.
Being prepared also means being prepared for your opponents’ playing a whole bunch of things very quickly. Having removal or other effects that take advantage of enemy board development (Balance, Draupnir Band, Kára, etc.) allow you to collect on your opponents leaning into War Fan’s benefit.
You also want to make sure you don’t run out of gas. When things become cheaper, everyone plays more cards and eventually run dry; it’s important to have strategies in place to help you draw cards and continue to be able to take advantage of war fan’s benefits – if you have nothing to play, that discount isn't doing much.
The Decks Themselves
With all this in mind, let’s take a look at the classic War Fan lists Erobert and I run. Both decks share the Fires of Creation path and the Impel power.
Merlin's BP 2v2 Warfan Deck found here
erobert's OP 2v2 Warfan Deck found here
We both run purple for fan, of course, but supplement it with different colors to cover our bases in terms of utility, removal, card draw, and win conditions.
The core cards in both decks (in addition to War Fan) are Steam Bun, Imperative Bell, Muttonmorphosis, and the triumvirate of purple top threats: Celestial Dragon, Daigoju Supreme, and Perfect Grade.
While Steam Bun is simply an incredible card in terms of value, it also has particular power here with War Fan – it, along with the pikes it produces, is free with a fan in play. On top of that, it provides additional draws to either partner (if centered) to make sure we don’t run out of gas.
Imperative Bell is one of the best cards for the War Fan strategy, before or after fan enters play. Beforehand, it creates a forgeling that can help seek for fan as well as a draw that can get fan into your hand faster or bring you one draw closer to it. The extra mana it produces can allow a fan to hit the table turn 3, which can really upset the flow of a game. If you or your partner already has a fan in play, the bell becomes free and makes you a forgeling to boot.
Muttonmorphosis is a card that’s already pretty good, if not amazing. With war fan, however, the ceiling of what minions it can affect goes up. Since the cost of minions is reduced by two, Muttonmorphosis can affect minions with original costs as high as 7 with a war fan in play. Your opponent looking to get ahead by dropping a Sapo or Chort Stag the turn after you fan? Not so fast – it’s a sheep now.
And finally, those high-cost purple threats: dragon, grade, and Daigoju. War Fan’s a game-changer, but not a win condition. These guys are. Getting a Celestial Dragon out turn 4 because your partner played war fan that same turn is pretty brutal. Sure, there are options but now they’ve got to worry about dealing with your dragon which means your fan is probably safe. Any one of these threats coming out two turns early (or more, with multiple fans and bells) is a big problem for your opponents, which they’re going to have to spend resources dealing with fast.
Now let’s take a look at what each deck is bringing to the table.
Usually my half of the duo, the B/P Fan takes responsibility for a lot of the crowd control and optimization on opponents’ play. The thunderclaps and Magnus help to deal with surges in enemy minions, while Kara, Draupnir Band, and Balance benefit from them. The Norn Datacores sweep up all the extra minion deaths, storing them as mana to help the deck keep playing cards even when war fan doesn’t show up, and/or to finish the enemy off with a Daigoju lethal (more reliable since either player can provide the Daigoju).
A couple of our Blue 2v2 staples have additional value here. Odinthrone’s extra draws for both members of your team are particularly valuable when cards are cheaper and help stave off running out of things to play. Allfather’s Horn can affect yet more things and allow for even more plays late game by only taking up four of your mana to cast.
The secret star in Blue is Freki Sidecar. Back in olden times, sidecar gave anything next to it rush. With War Fan, we’re able to relive some of that glory. Even the monstrous Daigoju, Celestial Dragon, or partner’s Kushiel can gain the benefits of sidecar with a little boost from war fan. And, if you’ve been lucky enough to get BOTH fans in play, there’s nothing that little lady can’t rush.
If Blue’s dealing with the groups, Orange has the single-target responses on lock. Between Scion of Pride, Seal of Exile, Temptation, and Quicksand Hourglass, the Orange player is able to help keep War Fan safe, regardless of which player’s in control of it. Hourglass is a particularly effective threat here, as it gets a free drop with War Fan in play, and uses different gems which means even if you’re the one playing war fan, you can also get your hourglass out the same turn (datacore and Draupnir Band share a similar benefit, as does Lamp of Wonders here in Orange).
The Orange play strategy involves more minion-based removal and control, with racers and recruits to pressure early and vixen and Armageddon Angel to keep the board under control later on. To Heaven & Back provides a great deal of value here as a center lane enchantment that both players can take advantage of (and with only one enchantment per deck, there’s never really much competition for that slot). The inclusion of Herald of Conquest also allows for an overrun-based wincon from attacks across the board rather than a single beefy monster.
Both decks are looking to get artifacts out early and forgelings populating the field. For Blue, a datacore is most ideal but bell and band are both fine. For Orange, bell is preferable but hourglass and lamp are also great to get in play. If a fan is spotted in the first few turns, both players should be burning accordingly to maximize their output on turn 4, or whenever the fan drops.
Once the fan is out, use Muttonmorphosis on the mythics/major threats that your opponents throw down to trip you up, and sweeps to clear things and keep pressure on. Getting another durability artifact out to cover the fan is a secondary priority, depending on the burst potential you’re facing. If the mid game arrives without a fan, hopefully Blue still has a datacore to keep larger plays flowing and Orange can keep a stream of draws with steam buns and Peri.
Late game is generally not great for this combo. It very much thrives in the midrange, letting aggro decks gas and but bursting before control has a chance to really sink its roots in. If things go on too long, its likely a controlling combo will be able to steer things their way. Thus, it’s best to go for the throat as often as possible, always keeping at least one win con in either player’s hand. A sea of forgelings will help keep up pressure without having to drop all your top threats.
Many Paths to Victory
While War Fan is the heart and soul of this combination, it’s far from the only way these decks have to win. They’re still each chock-full of threats, removal, card draw, and all the other tools you’d hope to have in your utility belt. The key here is that almost every card is improved by war fan, not only in that its cost is reduced. Thus, when war fan does show up, both players get to kick things up a notch, dropping extra cards and refilling their hands while their opponents often end up gassing out, running out of cards and gems with nothing to do with all their surplus mana.
Even without your keystone, you still want a contingency. In this case, that contingency include the turbo package for Blue and the minion-based strategy of Orange that guarantees Blue’s datacores will have plenty of mana, and Blue’s extra draw resources to help make sure neither player runs out of cards.
War Fan is an interesting and exciting card, and one I’ve deeply enjoyed delving into. What are some of your favorite keystones?