So far in my Immortal technology columns we have been focusing mostly on the two extremes the Immortal format has to offer – decks that aim to end the game as quickly as possible and controlling decks that seek to drag gameplay out. Today we are going to take our first look at a deck that falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum: Kagulichu midrange with Underworld Crusader. While iterations of this deck have existed in standard in various forms through set four and set five, Immortal is the first time that both Spellshield Rune Ears and Underworld Crusader are in the same decklist.
Let’s take a look at a sample decklist shall we?
1x Eager Lackey
4x Howling Brave
1x Cottontail Explorer
1x Exarch of the Egg
1x Moon’ariu Sensei
1x Moon’ariu Sharpshooter
1x Subtle Striker
4x Rune Ear Hierophant [MajW Dominance and MinW Conservation]
4x Underworld Crusader [Minor Wild Orb of Vigil]
2x Paw of Yazukan
2x Rotpaw Gang
Actions, Artifacts, Constants
For those who are unfamiliar, Kagulichu Crusader is an aggressive midrange deck that is also fairly interactive. The core of our deck is the following three troops:
Howling Brave not only fixes our thresholds, but also helps enable playing our powerful three drops on the second turn of the game. Rune Ear Hierophant is always a powerful card, but in Immortal it is especially scary because it is protected by the Spellshield gem and is self enabling thanks to creating Rhinos when it damages your opponent. Even though our deck has plenty of more controlling games, we will also get some free wins where we just play a turn two Rune Ear on the play and run our opponent down.
Underworld Crusader is just an all-around fantastic card. It applies pressure, with Skyguard and Steadfast it plays defense against aggressive decks, and against other removal heavy decks it draws cards when they finally take it off of the table. It does, however, come with the small cost of having to make our deck slightly less consistent with some “fun of” troops. Thankfully in Immortal we have a pretty good selection of singletons we can play that are relatively powerful:
Starting at the bottom of our curve we have two additional one drops. While these are probably the most individually weak cards in our deck, they allow us to curve out consistently against the more aggressive decks in the format. Deathseeker also has the upside of being an annoyingly persistent threat in the late game against other midrange and control decks.
As we move up the curve we have three different value generating rabbits in the two drop slot:
While each of these troops has minimal board impact on their own, they all replace themselves in some way as they enter the battlefield. Alongside our six one cost troops and Battle Hoppers from Lily Pads Sharpshooter can occasionally create some real pressure as well.
We round out our two drop fun ofs with these two:
Exarch of the Egg is a reasonable card that is powerful against the two ends of the spectrum. Against aggressive decks it is a reasonable blocker, while against control decks it puts a couple of eggs into their deck while nickle and diming them. Subtle Striker is well positioned in a format where people are trying to utilize their champion power to set up combo kills and accelerate into giant bombs.
Our last two underworld troops are not singletons, but they are powerhouses in their own ways:
Paw of Yazukan is a flexible catch-all answer to most things the format can throw at us. Rotpaw Gang is a grindy card that goes over the top, sometimes literally, of other blood decks in the format. This is because Rotpaw Gang essentially lets every tiny troop we put into play get swapped out for a larger threat. Because Rotpaw Gang can gain lifedrain it also is not terrible against the aggressive decks when we can make it to six resources to play it out.
The last troop in our main deck is not underworld, but it is a standard favorite:
Croc is a card that eats smaller midrange and aggro decks for breakfast. Even in matchups where the battle effect is not relevant, it is still a five power troop for five that can apply some pressure.
We round out our troop selection with the most powerful piece of removal Hex currently has to offer:
It slices, it dices, it takes every copy of the best troop out of their deck. Herofall is a must have for any blood deck and that includes Kagu Crusader.
Finally we round out our non-resources with some tools that let us interact with the combo decks that are faster than our midrange deck:
While we have not even had the first Immortal Championship just yet, I do not think it is a stretch to call Inquisition a format staple. It is an efficient piece of disruption that lets you take away our opponent’s best tool or on curve play for minimal cost. It saw play for its entire life in standard and I expect it to see play in most decks that can produce double blood consistently in Immortal.
Subterfuge is a card that has not seen a ton of play, though. The reason for this is that in Standard most of the decks that are popular are fairly redundant. Taking one three drop out of someone’s hand that has multiple three drops is not particularly impactful. Immortal, however, is a format that is gearing up to have a plethora of decks which care about having very specific tools in order to kill their opponents. Majesty, Terror Mill, and the various Hideous Conversion decks all need specific cards and do not have a ton of redundancy. Taking their key card away and replacing it with something random is going to be good for you most of the time. Subterfuge also allows us to take away someone’s turn two Rune Ear even when we are on the draw.
As we move onto the reserves we have a number of cards that supplement our primary plans against various strategies. We start with supplemental removal and some additional hand disruption:
The 2-2-2 split on Cheap Shot, Carnasaurus, and Strangle may seem a bit non-committal at first glance, but these are all situational removal that all have upside in different positions against different decks. Cheap Shot lets us fill out your curve where needed since it costs only a single resource. Carnasaurus lets us gain a bit of life back against the aggressive decks. Strangle lets us tag difficult to deal with threats such as Flickering Gobbler.
Then we have some tools for dealing with various troublesome permanents that our opponents can deploy:
While Kagulichu decks generally favored constant removal like Chomposaur in standard, I feel that in Immortal the presence of Hideous Conversion decks makes Nature Reigns optimal. We want cheap constant interaction that can be played at quick speed to give us the maximum chance to interact with our opponent’s combo. Paw is another good catch-all answer that is great against other midrange decks and Gemborn Prowler is a more narrow answer to specific problems.
Finally we round out the reserves with an extra grindy threat and a couple of sweepers:
Extinction is good against both the go wide decks like Urgnok as well as opposing decks sporting Spellshield Rune Ear Hierophants that can get out of hand. Yazukan is another underworld troop that we can bring in against other midrange decks to help grind them out.
One of the most important things to remember when reserving with this deck is that our starting gems are not static for our Underworld Crusaders and Rune Ears. Against control decks, for example, we will generally want to put speed in our Underworld Crusaders. Against aggressive decks the sacrifice gem is often better than making Rhinos in our Rune Ears because it allows our rabbits to play defense faster. Against other Extinction decks we often want to swap Rhinos for crypt digging to allow the value our Rune Ears generate to be off the board.
The Urgnok aggro decks are generally good matchups for a deck like Kagu Crusader. We have a fairly low curve and put troops into play that are much larger than theirs fairly quickly. When playing this matchup we want to be aggressive trading off our Howling Braves for their threats if we are not short on resources. Do not be afraid to block because they could possibly have Crushing Blow – at some point that card is going to get us, so call early and often.
“One of the most important things to remember when reserving with this deck is that our starting gems are not static for our Underworld Crusaders and Rune Ears.”
Post reserves we want our Rune Ears to have the sacrifice gem in this matchup. A 5/5 with Spellshield that continues to grow is difficult for them to deal with. We want to swap out our more expensive threats and hand disruption in this matchup for more targeted removal and Extinction. This is because their deck vomits their hand onto the table quickly, so we do not want to be drawing discard spells when we need to interact with the board.
The Hideous Conversion decks all differ a bit from decklist to decklist. The versions that are all-in on the combo plan feel like reasonable matchups for Kagu Crusader. We have a lot of disruption for their few cards that matter and we can often apply fairly reasonable pressure. The variations of Conversion that have a “fair” backup plan such as Underworld Crusaders of their own are harder, but not impossible to win.
Against most of these decks we want to drag our curve down a bit and become a bit more interactive. Crocosaur, Rotpaw Gang, and Sharpshooter would be my first trims. I would bring in the additional copies of Subterfuge, Strangle, and Nature Reigns. If our opponent is playing one of the threat light builds of conversion, be sure to put speed into our Underworld Crusaders so you can close games out a bit faster.
When playing against the Majesty decks remember – mulligans are a privilege, not a punishment. One of the greatest thing about Hex is that you have information about what your opponent is doing before you even play out a card. If you see your opponent is playing Cressida – do not keep a seven that does not contain some disruption.
Much like when playing against Conversion, post reserves we want to drag our curve down, increasing our number of fast interactive elements. Subterfuge, Cheap Shot, Strangle, and Extinction are all reasonable cards here. Crocosaur, Rotpaw Gang, Paw of Yazukan, and a couple of Howling Braves are all reasonable things to trim.
Against other Blood based decks is where our grindy elements really shine. Rotpaw Gang is a tough card to beat for fair decks without access to Sapphire or Diamond removal. The main thing we want to change post reserves against most blood based decks is removing our hand disruption. Blood mirrors generally come down to both players top decking, so we do not want to be drawing an Inquisition when our opponent has something in play we really need to remove. I would cut the copies of Inquisition and Subterfuge to bring in the third Paw, Yazukan, Strangle, and the copies of Cheapshot / Gemborn Prowler depending on what they have good targets for.
If you want to see a couple matches of the Kagu Crusader deck in action, check out my video archive below.
While a deck like Kagu Crusader is not doing anything as unfair as something like Majesty, you also have more than enough interaction to ensure that your opponent will rarely be able to cheese you out of the game as well. In addition to being very interactive Kagu Crusader is also capable of having fairly aggressive curves in some games, allowing you to still generate some number of free wins against opponents who stumble.
Have a question about this archetype that I did not cover in the article above? Let me know by leaving a comment below!
Thanks for reading.