- Play cards that give mana, like Roseleaf Druid, Stars Align, and Selemene's Favor, then play huge cards like Time of Triumph and Emissary of the Quorum.
- Playing one of those two cards on turns two or three is a fairly common scenario, and are often back breaking against opponent's who aren't prepared.
Hero Choice and Ordering
Flexible 5th Heroes
Picking a 5th Hero
- The debate between three red heroes or three green heroes is still not entirely settled, and depends on the matchup and meta.
Three Red Heroes
- More consistent, early game board control.
- Typically have Axe, Treant Protector, and Legion Commander on the flop, followed by Drow Ranger on the turn, then finally Beastmaster or Tidehunter on the river.
- This gives you lots of flexibility to play both red and green cards early and have powerful late game effects like Beastmaster's Primal Roar or Tidehunter's active.
- Alternatively, some versions have run three red heroes on the flop (normally Axe, Legion Commander, and Bristleback) for the best possible turn 1. But with this version, you have less ability to play things like Mist of Avernus or Unearthed Secrets, which are very powerful Improvements.
Three Green Heroes
- Selemene's Favor, Stars Align, Gust, and especially Cheating Death, you really want to have green heroes on the right lanes at the right time. In order to get the most possible value out of your turn one plays, namely Mist of Avernus and Unearthed Secrets, you want to have two green heroes on the flop. Otherwise it could be in lane three, then you miss out on some value from those improvements.
- I like Omniknight as my fifth hero. Unlike every other Green hero, he survives the fight and eventually trades with the popular black heroes, like Phantom Assassin and Bounty Hunter. Aggressive Black based decks are very popular in the meta after the success that Hoej had at the WePlay: Strength tournament (Decklist here). Against these decks, it is critical that you keep your heroes alive and contesting the board because they can very quickly take down a tower if you give them an opening. I like putting Legion Commander on the turn and saving Drow Ranger for last for the same reason.
- Omniknight's card, Allseeing One's Favor is mediocre in this deck, expecially because it competes with other powerful turn two plays, Roseleaf Druid and Selemene's Favor. But it does synergize well with wide boards that you want to build for Emissary.
- Some people have played Lycan, who is better against blue decks, where your creeps survive longer, and the Savage Wolf can favorably interact with some heroes. Others have played Chen, who is mainly there for his Holy Persuasion active, which can take opposing Thunderhide Packs or Incarnation of Selemene. Both of those cards are very hard for a non-black deck to handle.
- These cards are the core and namesake of the deck. Ramps cards to give you extra mana. Normally I don't include signature cards in these sections, since you don't have a decision to cut them without cutting the hero, but since Roseleaf Druid is a key mana ramp card, I figured I would include it here.
- These are the biggest, baddest, payoffs in the game. The can be cast as early as turn 2, using a Selemene's Favor from a previous lane, then casting Stars Align to get 8 mana. It sounds crazy, but not that uncommon. Turn three is much more likely though, since Roseleaf Druid can take the place of one of the other two ramp cards. An opponent will typically abandon a lane where one of these is played, so be ready to pivot and fight on other lanes as well.
- Cheating Death is not part of the ramp strategy, but it is such a powerful (and frustrating) effect that you really need it in the deck. A few lucky coin-flips and you take a game that you are behind in and now you are dominating.
- Smash their Defenses is also core, especially given the current meta, where every deck has high impact improvements. You generally want all three but a split of two Smash with one Demagicking Maul is fine as well.
- Regardless of your exact build, these key cards don't get cut, although I have seen some more heavy red versions run less than the full sets of Emissary and/or Cheating Death.
- These cards all serve a similar purpose, to contest the board early against opposing creeps. They also can help you be more aggressive by pushing extra damage. The more red heroes you are playing, and the earlier they come down, the more inclined you should be to include some combination of these cards.
- In regards to Mercenary Exiles, this deck generally wants to keep its item deck low cost due to no extra gold generation. Sometimes you find yourself wanting to pump with say six gold for +3/+3, then it kills a hero and you can still buy after that round. Unlike in the Black/Red Deck, where you sometimes pump it for +10/+10 or more, feel free to spend small amounts of gold early on the Exiles.
- These cards are close to core cards, and you will likely include some number of each. The more green heroes you have on the flop, the more you want these cards. Also to consider, the more extra units you have, the more you want Mist of Avernus because it will have more things to buff.
- Generally though, you want more Mist of Avernus than Unearth Secrets, because sometimes you don't get value out of the Secrets, but you can always get value out of Mists.
- An alternate payoff that helps with one of the decks biggest weaknesses: its lack of mobility. While you have Blink Daggers, so does every other deck, and you lack strong cross lane plays like Gank, Assassinate, Ignite, Thundergod's Wrath, etc. Some number of Spring the Trap, generally one or two, can help to leverage a strong presence in one lane where you have extra mana into another lane that your opponent is focusing on.
- Similar to Spring the Trap, a cross lane play that helps out more in the early game. I am actually not terribly impressed with this card, since the opponent still gets attacks off, and you still take the damage. Not to mention it is negated by armor. Compared to Ignite, it is just lacking as an AOE tool to control aggro decks. I prefer more early units and early red heroes to counter opposing swarms.
- Since the deck has no extra gold generation, you need to keep your item deck cheap. No fancy Horns of the Alpha or Vestures of the Tyrant here. Make sure you have three Blink Daggers since mobility is so important (more on that below). After that, a mixture of cheap health items like Traveler's Cloak or Revtel Signet Ring, and possibly a Demagicking Maul will round out your item deck.
Playing the Deck
In the opening few turns, you want to look for ways to maximize the value of your red units, Mist of Avernus, and Unearthed Secrets. Ideally you play Mist on a future lane, so it activates on turn one, then that is the lane you want to deploy your fourth hero to. That way next turn, you buff two heroes instead of one. If there are unblocked creeps, you want to put it in that lane, so the creeps become 3/4 on turn one. Then if an opposing melee creep spawns in front of them, they will be a 4/4 and one shot the opposing creep. If they were already blocked by an opposing creep, they will still trade even with Mist.
Going into turns two and three, ideally you have some mana ramp cards and a payoff as well. You need to figure out the best way to deploy the ramp effects so that you can get maximum value from your payoffs. For example, you want to put your Emissary into a lane with multiple creeps, even if only one hero, but you want at least two heroes in the lane for Time of Triumph.
Remember that Cheating Death can also be played from one lane to another, so you can add some level of security to the lane you are going to play your payoff into.
Once you played an Emissary or Time of Triumph, your opponent has probably lost that lane, and will shift to trying to win the other two lanes. The deck seriously lacks impactful cross lane plays, so buy Blink Daggers and Town Portal Scrolls highly. You can even buy them and sit on them for a few turns so that they are available when you need to get out of a won lane and recommit to another.
Emissary does allow your lane to generate ancient pressure (see article on ancient pressure), but it is unfortunately a bit slower than the pressure that can be put out by the Black/Red Sorla Khan aggro decks. Coupled with the fact that you rarely win lane one whereas the opposing aggro deck normally does, you need to be able to move heroes there to contest an ancient race.
You may be asking "why don't you win lane one with this deck?" Unlike the Black/Red decks, which put a high priority on lane one for cross lane plays, this deck does not need lane one priority to function optimally. In fact, it is hard for this deck to compete for lane one, due to the nature of its improvements.
To get maximum value from Mist of Avernus and Selemene's Favor, it makes sense to play them on future lanes, that is played from lane one to lanes two or three, or from lane two onto lane three. Since these are the cards that most contribute to winning a lane, it is rare that this deck establishes control over lane one, and instead it wins on lanes two and three.
The deck does some powerful things. It can play Emissary or a two hero Time of Triumph on turn two of the game. But it also comes with inconsistencies. Sometimes you draw all your payoffs and none of the ramp. Or all of the ramp and none of the payoffs. Sometimes you just get overrun in lane one by an aggro deck. And sometimes you lack mobility to meaningfully contest other lanes.
The deck is still very strong, and well suited to constructed gauntlet or tournament play. There are many variants out there too, between the three red vs three green heroes, and exact mix of the optional cards.