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(This is a guest article by kamman13.)

Put simply, winning Shadow era means bringing your opponent's health to 0. The game offers a variety of strategies for damaging your opponent, and a deck must include at least one of what will be called damage strategies to ever win a game. Thus, in a simple sense, understanding the various damage strategies and counters will allow you to build competitive decks.

Damage strategies and counters

Looking at the cards, there are essentially four ways to damage the other hero, ALLIES, WEAPONS, card draw MILL damage and direct damage SPELLS. The allies are diverse though, and there are several ways to use allies to do damage. You can use heavy allies (HA), weenie rush (WR), or a weenie boost (WB). Each of these will be considered separately, for reasons that hopefully will become obvious.

So, let's hit 'em up one by one.

1 Weapons

Pretty simple, you do damage through direct weapon attacks. The damage needs to be pretty substantial for this strategy to be effective.

EXAMPLES- Amber and Gwen are the most capable weapon damagers 1.28, with Darkclaw's slightly more expensive ability still making the list. With the change to Dual Wield in 1.28 though, almost any warrior can now achieve good damage from their weapons.

COUNTERS- Weapons are clearly most effectively countered by weapon or item destruction cards (Smashing Blow, Destroy Arms, Stop, Thief, Ter Adun's ability). These cards are available to priests, warriors, and Rogues. The generic human (Poor Quality) and Shadow (Acid Jet) cards also aren't half bad in a pinch. All of these counters, though, still gives the weapon-wieder a chance to attack on the turn the weapon was played (or in the case of hunters or wolves, two attacks). Another potential defense is then armour, which will shield attack damage, especially Snow Sapphire with it's freezing, slowing effect. If none of these options appeal to you, you can still beat through the weapons by wearing out their durability with a lot of allies.

2 Spells

These spells can be present in cards or hero abilities and provide direct damage (DD) to the opposing hero.

EXAMPLES- This damage strategy is most prevalent in the mages, but can also be used effectively in Zaladar's or Banebow's ability. The quick-burn or frost-burn Eladwen relies almost entirely on DD damage for the win. A Zaladar deck with SF can also spam some pretty hefty DD damage. Last, the priest's Smite spell also isn't half bad in a pinch.

COUNTERS- Since spells can't really be blocked, the only decent counter to spell damage is a healing strategy, since unlike allies spells are single use shots that won't last forever. Recurring heals, like Zhanna's ability, along with Lone Wolf, Soul Seeker, or Rampage are the most effective counters to spell damage, though any healing spell will work ok. If a mage is really using spells to target your hero and not to kill your allies, and you don't have great heal options, your best best is simply to start all out damaging their hero and trying to win the death race.

3 Heavy allies (HA)

This strategy relies on heavy allies being used to gain board control, and secondarily to do damage to the hero. It's most effective in a warrior deck as they contain several of the cards that can boost the strength of these already powerful allies (King's Pride, War Banner, Aldon the Brave, Life Infusion). Once board control is firmly gained, these boosted, beefy allies can take down a hero in a single turn or two.

EXAMPLES- This deck is limited to warrior, priest, and elemental classes. Without boosts, human decks can still run it somewhat, with Aeon Stormcaller, Aldon the Brave and Raven Wildheart, but it's not as effective. The Zaladar Mega-rush deck was built with this sort of strategy in mind.

COUNTERS- Since these decks rely on a few really awesome allies, single target "disables" are most effective against these decks. This includes Rabid Bite, Mind Control, Crippling Blow, Assasignation, and to a lesser extent, Retreat. Tidal Wave can also work nicely, though it's more efficient when used on a board full of weenies. Short of these elements, you can still get by using delays like Rain Delay, Freeze, Full Moon, and Snow Sapphire, or by destroying the ally-boosting items and armor. Finally, HA is a slow strategy, and for many decks the most consistent counter is to just play a fast deck and try to win before their allies and boosts are in place. Of course, this means an automatic loss if your opponent ever does get their HA strategy setup, but you may run out of single-target counters before your opponent runs out of beefy allies anyways, so a fast deck may be your best bet.

4 Weenie rush (WR)

Simple, you fill your hand with low cost (1-2 cc), synergistic allies that win early board control and can do some significant damage to the hero. Not viable as a consistent winning strategy, since the wrong combination of allies can leave you in the hole. An early game weenie rush strategy is available to every hero in some sense. Card draw is especially crucial to this deck.

EXAMPLES- This damage strategy is part of the strategy of the sucker-punch Nishaven deck, though I've seen it used effectively in some other human mage and human warrior decks. Elementals can also rush effectively, with Spark and Hellsteed, but it doesn't seem to be used as commonly in the other shadow heroes.

COUNTERS- Board clears are key here, since they use one card to wipe out several opponent cards, giving you nice card advantage. Tidal Wave, Ice Storm, Supernova, and Nish's ability work best, thus the counters are mostly priest and mage cards. Heals are also nice, as they help you survive through the rush at which point you can probably win. Multi-target spells, like Banebow's or Zaladar's ability or Arcane Burst, are also helpful. Short of these tactics, weapons can be a nice way to take out some of their weenies without having board control.

5 Weenie boost (WB)

This is somewhat similar to the HA strategy, but instead of relying on a few superpowerful allies, you rely on several medium-powered allies to give you the win. There are two ways to play this, you can boost the attack of allies that have good health but low attack (Bloodlust, King's Pride, War Banner, Shard of Power), or you can hasten allies that have good attack (Portal, Lance's ability). This is then a mage, warrior, priest, and elemental strategy.

EXAMPLES- The Boris "Machine" is the best example for this sort of deck, though it was common in most Boris decks in 1.27. The sucker-punch Nishaven could also make use of this strategy through the use of Portal. I've seen some use of this strategy in 1.28 in Elemental decks, but this certainly seems to be a less common strategy now.

COUNTERS- Similar to the WR counters, board clears are really best here. But unlike WR, heals aren't much help, as boosted weenies can bring you down to 0 health pretty quick so healing and "surviving through the rush" isn't possible. Item and armor destruction are nice to destroy the boosts, but another nice counter is to just run a HA strategy, as your allies will be stronger and more likely to win board control. Valiant Defender and Moonstalker's ability are also nice ways to prevent the the boosted allies from doing damage while you attempt to regain board control.

6 Mill

When you attempt to draw a card but your draw pile is empty, your hero takes what is called mill damage. This damage strategy is highly controversial, as it can lead to extremely boring games, and the game developers seem to be intent on making this damage strategy unviable. Despite their attempts, it is still possible to make a somewhat successful mill deck. Cards that allow you to reshuffle your deck (Eternal Renewal, Resurrection) aid this strategy by allowing you to outdraw your opponent. Additionally, cards that work well without draw, such as Lone Wolf which has a strong, recurrent effect, What Big Teeth which has infinite durability or Shadow Knight which can undergo infinite recursion, also complement mill strategies.

EXAMPLES- Darkclaw's "hidden machine" is currently the classic mill deck, achieving invulnerability with his ability, Shadow Font, Rain Delay, and Full Moon. An Elemental deck can also survive well with Armor of Ages to prevent damage, and Conversion/Life Infusion for massive healing.

COUNTERS- Most mill decks rely in some manner on items for the protection they need to outlive their opponent. It is hard to generalize here, because different mill decks use a different combination of cards to achieve their strategy. Item destruction like Destroy Arms or Ter Adun's ability generally counter these damage strategies well. Weaker item destruction like Shriek of Vengeance, Smashing Blow, or Poor Quality can also be effective. Lastly, a strong ally presence with something like Misplaced or Shriek of Vengeance can sometimes give you enough damage to bring a hero from full life to death in a single turn, before they can recast the misplaced item.


Notice three things.

First, rogues are poorly represented in the above damage schemes and counters, and are also considered lower tier decks, partly for this reason.

Second, I would argue that with the exception of the mill damage and HA damage, all the other strategies are not powerful enough to win on their own, meaning multiple strategies need to be employed and card draw becomes essential. In the few decks that can rely on one strategy (allyless Gwen, Amber, mage, or Darkclaw), card draw is still essential to these strategies. In the HA strategy though, the fewest cards are used to do the most damage possible, making card draw less of an issue.

Third, almost every deck has at least some sort of counter available, even if a poor one, to every possible damage strategy. This means good play revolves more around building a deck that can counter the most possible strategies than choosing a hero or class that has the best counters and strategies.

Deck-building conclusions

To build a good deck, you want to include a counter for each of these six damage strategies, but you also want to balance your deck between boosts for your strategy vs. counters to other strategies. This can leave you with difficult questions like- should I add in more really effective counters for the damage strategy I am naturally prone to defeat, or put in the weaker counters to deal with the decks that I have more trouble countering but can counter? There's not really one right answer to this question, thus comes in the skill of deck-building.

I'll finish with three questions Calmdown, the game developer, offered to ensure that your deck is competitive, which should be answered in the order given:

1) Does the deck have any auto-lose or very weak matchups in the environment?

Yes > It's a bad deck, don't play it. Too risky to run into that opponent and lose based on matchup

No > Good start. This deck is playable

2) Does the deck have multiple above average matchups in the environment?

Yes > Great. You are on top of the metagame and giving yourself inherent advantages.

No > Not good. Your deck is capable of winning, but you'll have to have no bad luck if you want to win consistently.

3) Does the deck have any auto-wins or very strong matchups?

Yes > Good. You just won yourself some free games based on draw, which can go a way to countering any bad luck you may have.

No > You're maybe missing the opportunity for deckbuilding to win you games!

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