Droppin’ Dimes: Sapphire/Steel in the Current Metagame

We are rapidly approaching the Set Championship “season” for Into the Inklands, and I am very excited. Overall, the Into the Inklands metagame is going to be the longest and most influential in the short history of Lorcana.  So many large events, with giant prizes, will be played within this metagame, but each event may change things slightly.  For example, the Challenge event in Atlanta will close out this chapter, but features the new “Two Game Format,” so that may change the perception of what meta emerges at the event. 

I say all of this because even though the current metagame seems “solved” after a month of playing physical and Pixelborn events, there is a ton of time (and most importantly much higher stakes) on a local and national level left to be played with.  So there is plenty of room to innovate.

I see a lot of the metagame evolving around three broad axes:

  • Long term control decks with flexible answers leading to non-interactive win conditions
  • Faster aggressive decks aimed to finish a game before they really start
  • Mid-range aggro-control flexible tempo based options

Emerging "Zoolander Control"

I understand this is very much an over simplification, and many decks fall into each bullet (heck, even the decisions  you make within a deck can change its overall role..) but keeping things in these buckets will help you focus on your decks role in any given matchup, even if it may not act that way in the overall metagame.

Let’s look at the first category.  The poster child for “Long term control decks with flexible answers leading to non-interactive win conditions” is Ruby-Amethyst control. This deck was the “Rock” for the first few weeks, and continues to put up dominating numbers in various $1k or above type events worldwide (see our latest meta report, for proof).  There are other options however, and today I want to focus on one of them.

One particular list that has been dominating the online scene but does not see a ton of play in paper is Sapphire-Steel, piloted by Shuyler Duntz (“Sky”).  This is the list that won the latest large online Pixelborn event:

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Over the last few days, really since Sky won the last large online Pixelborn event, I have been watching him stream the latest version of his deck on Twitch. There are likely a few card changes to his original tournament winning list, but the list changes so often that it is likely already outdated by the time you are reading this!

Sapphire-Steel has been around since Lorcana first reached competitive play.  The combination of out of hand resource acceleration from cards like Fishbone Quill or even Belle - Strange but Special combined with massive card draw engines like Hiram Flaversham - Toymaker and the “dual sided” A Whole New World is a proven strategy. The issue the deck has always had was that it was not always the “best” control-ramp strategy, and certainly not the best “control” strategy at any one time. 

During Rise of the Floodborn the biggest obstacle to the success of Sapphire-Steel was the ever-popular Ruby-Amethyst, which also happened to be the most popular deck in the metagame.  Many top players (especially online) would argue the matchup was a toss-up, but I cannot remember a single instance where that was true in physical tournaments. Into the Inklands has changed that, however.

Innovations

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The biggest innovations that Sky brought to the tried and true ramp control strategy are the incorporation of a powerful early game and the ability to finish the game with largely uninteractable win conditions.

Sky’s list features some of the most powerful early drops available in the game for control decks: the pirate combo of Captain Hook - Forceful Duelist and Mr. Smee - Bumbling Mate.  Each of these characters can challenge way up the curve, and can pressure your opponent from a lore perspective right out of the gates.  The two Lore that Smee brings along puts tremendous pressure very early on, and his downside is mitigated both by the Captain Hook and later with Cogsworth - Grandfather Clock giving your side of the board Resist +1. 

If you miss the Captain on turn one, you still have multiple cards that replace themselves and help you find your all important turn three plays in Pawpsicle and Develop Your Brain.

Turn three is where you find your ramp, whether it is the ubiquitous Fishbone Quill or the trusty Mickey Mouse - Detective allowing you to play a powerful five drop on turn four.  The options here are Beast - Tragic Hero and Cogsworth - Grandfather Clock which dominate the board in different ways.

Each and every card you play has the opportunity to create actual or virtual card advantage.  Several of your characters have the ability to draw you cards or gain easy card advantage.  I love the six drops in this deck, with both Gaston - Intellectual Powerhouse and Tinker Bell - Giant Fairy always adding a multi-dimensional threat to the board.  Despite having 17 uninkables (in the first place list), Gaston remains a key piece of the puzzle, as a powerful win condition you play before the game is over.

The removal suite is pretty typical from Steel, with multiple copies of And Then Along Came Zeus and Grab Your SwordRise of the Titans is becoming a “new staple,” with the flexibility on an inkable card being the key here.

Win Conditions

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Finally, we have the pieces of the deck that take it to the next level: the hard-to-interact-with win conditions.  First, we start with the largest location in the game in McDuck Manor - Scrooge's Mansion.  While many decks are set up to deal with locations through various means, the nine willpower on the Manor means your opponents oftentimes have to dedicate significant time and resources to demolition duty.  I am not sure in the current metagame that a full playset is necessary, as cards like Maui’s Fish Hook have risen to more prominence. 

The real key game winner here is the largest riser in Lorcana over the last few weeks: Lucky Dime. Although it began as a win condition in Ruby-Sapphire, Sky was able to successfully port it over to Sapphire-Steel as a win condition here. Even if you are “only” gaining two Lore a turn off the Dime, the ability to essentially give all your characters “Rush for Questing” (as I called it when the card was first revealed) is at its best here.  The combo with Gaston for three Lore is also big, but it is the generally uninteractive nature of the Dime as a win condition that really sets it apart.  Sky does not need to play Tamatoa - So Shiny! as a secondary win condition, because this version of the deck simply pressures your Lore values throughout the game.  This means over a two to three turn clock, inevitability of the Dime combined with such efficient board control puts the game out of reach. It acts like a “bigger” The Sorcerer’s Spellbook with upside: sure, it has a higher cost and use cost, but you gain Lore exponentially fast!  Ruby-Sapphire normally plays the Dime when the coast is clear, but Sapphire-Steel allows you to truly use this Legendary item as just another powerful supplementary finisher for opposing control matchups!

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I honestly wish I could offer advice on changes to make to this deck, but I have a feeling that Sky will show them off at the next major Pixelborn event over the weekend.  I have seen him take the power of the Dime to another level, utilizing Belle - Strange but Special as both an extra ramp engine and a win condition to gain a massive amount of Lore in one turn.  Other than that, it is basically just playing around with current numbers and adjusting the deck to fit the expected metagame. Steel-Sapphire gives you access to so many powerful removal and win condition options, it is just a matter of what fits at any one moment.

Conclusion

This list gives you so many options backed up by such consistent and powerful card draw.  This is undoubtedly a very powerful and difficult list to pilot, as you have so many decisions to make each turn that have effects on the game beyond simply the turn you are making them.  This includes very aggressive mulligans that increase in difficulty in an unknown field. I love the card draw and flexible options this deck presents, and it is one of my top contenders for the upcoming Set Championships.

AUStarwars
AUStarwars

Scott Landis is a 30-year Trading Card Game professional, and former writer for the World of Warcraft TCG and Transformers TCG among others.  Currently he is an owner of The Forbidden Mountain, a Lorcana YouTube Page and TCG player Store. You can follow them on YouTube and please use their TCGplayer Store (same cost as the marketplace). You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.

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