Despite the new heroes released in Outsiders, the new set breaks the standards and brings with it old heroes with the premise of supporting them and expanding their possibilities, and one of those heroes that has caught the most attention and excited players is Azalea.
Today we will elaborate on the much loved Ranger, with a deck tech for its precon to a guide on how to improve it to the competitive version.
I'll put several cards from the new set here, so if you're not familiar with the mechanics, I recommend reading our hyperlink.
The curious case of Azalea
Azalea, Ace in the Hole has a peculiar history. The heroine was released in Arcane Rising and is part of the eight original heroes of the game. She was the first Ranger, but was considered by many to be one of the worst decks to play.
The idea of the deck is to play several cards that increase an attack (usually arrows) to play a giant arrow with Dominate (through the heroine's ability). However, most arrows presented no real risk to the opponent other than just damage. Red in the Ledger and Remorseless might be one of the class's best attacks, but the rest of the arrows until then were nothing but damage.
Until then, all heroes had some charm and some strength: Runeblades mix arcane and physical damage, Wizards play on the opponent's turn, Guardians have high defense and heavy attacks, Warriors focus on their weapons and so on. However, Azalea always lived in the shadow of Lexi who is a Ranger with better arrows and a range of more interesting cards provided by the Ice and Lightning talents.
Even after Dynasty with the Aim counters and a new bow (Sandscour Greatbow) were not enough for Ranger, however, in Outsiders things got interesting.
Thanks to not only new bows with better on-hits, but also very relevant buffs like Lace with Bloodrot (1) and Lace with Inertia (1) and a new equipment Crow's Nest. The set transformed Azalea, in Classic Constructed, from one of the worst heroes in the game to an extremely competitively viable option.
Despite not yet being the best deck in the format, it has already secured its position in the TOP 8 of several events alongside strong heroes such as Oldhim, Grandfather of Eternity and Lexi, Livewire. Azalea is proof that with the right support, any hero can become an excellent competitive option.
The Precon Deck
Despite being a longtime hero, Azalea received a preconstructed deck in Outsiders, focused around the cards in the set.
Like all Rangers, Azalea essentially attacks with arrows, and this one is no different. But to take full advantage of her ability, we need to manipulate the top of the deck to ensure that an arrow is placed in the arsenal with Dominate. Performing her ability in the dark is not only very risky, but can be frustrating.
The precon has a preoccupation with manipulating the top in some way.
Seek Horizon (1) doesn't exactly do this manipulation, but it does allow you to place a card from your hand on top (and most likely that card will be an arrow). Also, the full color set of Spire Sniping (1) helps tidy up the top, so they're very useful on this list.
Except for Ravenous Rabble (1) and Seek Horizon (1), the other attacks are arrows. This increases the probability that the heroine's ability will not crash. Each arrow does some desirable effect or is further enhanced with Aim counters that are placed through Crow's Nest.
Some arrows deserve mention. Infecting Shot (1) has the on-hit that gives the most threatening token in Blitz and, with Dominate, more damage will be guaranteed. Falcon Wing (1) has nothing much, however the possibility of attacking with four power and go again presents a certain cadence to the heroine in the final moments of the game or to take some of the opponent's life.
The equipment, as well as Riptide's precon, are pretty basic. Barbed Castaway as her bow, Bracers of Belief to grow the next attack (which will most likely be an arrow), Crow's Nest to put Aim counters on arrows, Ironrot Legs as an extra defense, Threadbare Tunic to generate an extra resource, and Wayfinder's Crest as a way to see the top and help with decision-making.
As said, Azalea works best in a Go-tall strategy, where we put several cards that increase attack to attack with a big arrow, so let's make a first version with cards that are cheaper financially and that agree with this idea:
- Take out several irrelevant attacks / arrows;
- Add more buffs;
- Decrease the variance to better manipulate the top of the deck.
Before we comment on the list, it's important to note the complexity in balancing the heroine between buffs and arrows - since we don't want a hand without arrows or attacks. Fortunately, we have some tools to mitigate this problem.
Read the Glide Path (1) does two extremely desirable functions in just one card: increasing the attack of the next arrow and manipulating the top of the deck, making it one of the best cards in the deck and a great combination with Spire Sniping (1) to look deep into the deck.
Other cards that grow on the next arrow will also go in here, and each of them does something else. Lace's cycle (Lace with Bloodrot (1), Lace with Frailty (1) and Lace with Inertia (1)) add one more on-hit effect to the arrow and give the opponent their respective disease token. This cycle combines very well with Infecting Shot (1) and makes the arrow harder to deal with.
Over Flex (1) allows putting an arrow in the arsenal without the need to use the bow, Release the Tension (1) as a blocker to block the arrow and Toxicity (2) as an extremely menacing on-hit.
Some staple arrows also have space here.
Bolt'n Shot (1) is one of the best arrows in the game because, in addition to having go again, it has an on-hit effect that puts the next arrow in the arsenal without going through the bow. It's such a useful attack that we're going to list it in all its colors.
Drill Shot (1), in a world where more equipment becomes relevant, can disrupt the opponent's plans for future blocks, besides it some other arrows can be good costing little.
Fatigue Shot (1) halves the opponent's next attack, while Hamstring Shot (1) taxes the opponent's next attack (similar to a Frostbite).
For equipment, we are going to improve them and put others that are more optimized. Blossom of Spring also offers more resources, but without restrictions, Snapdragon Scalers to give more cadence to attacks and Bull's Eye Bracers which have excellent synergy with Bolt'n Shot (1).
Another important change is the use of Death Dealer. The signature weapon has a slight advantage over other bows in that it draws a card when placing the bow in the armory.
We are also going to sideboard Hornet's Sting and Perch Grapplers as defensive equipment against aggressive decks.
To accommodate these changes, the following cards will be removed from the deck:
- Arrows: Falcon Wing (3) blue, Murkmire Grapnel (1), Salvage Shot (1), all colors of Sedation Shot (1), Skybound Shot (1), Widowmaker (1), Withering Shot (1), and Spire Sniping (2);
- Non-Arrow Attacks: Seek Horizon (1);
- Non-attacks: Fletch a Red Tail (1), Scout the Periphery (1) red and blue;
- Equipment: Barbed Castaway, Bracers of Belief, Ironrot Legs, Threadbare Tunic.
The Competitive Version
Now let's go to a list using the best possible tools that we have available in the format.
First, let's try to keep the same proportions between arrows and buffs, the difference here is that we're going to use better arrows and buffs.
Endless Arrow guarantees that, if you hit the opponent, you will always have an arrow to attack and always an arrow in your arsenal, in addition to a harder to block power.
Other than that, the specialization Red in the Ledger and Remorseless are possibly the best arrows in the game. Both cost one and have five power, which is average, but their on-hit effects are a real headache for the opponent.
The specialization can make you gain an extra turn mainly against heroes like Fai, Lexi or Chane, while the other arrow, in addition to not being blocked by defense reactions, mines life from heroes that performs several Actions in a turn.
Moving on to buffs, an interesting inclusion is Dead Eye. Thanks to the quiver, it is possible to consistently place Aim counters on the arrows, making the buff much stronger and presenting an annoying hand disruption for the opponent.
Another good buff is Melting Point. Although our opponent is not always using a 1H weapon, it is precisely because it adds 4 power to the arrow, but occasionally, it can break a Harmonized Kodachi or a Spider's Bite.
The last buff on the list to be added will be Seek and Destroy which does something similar to the Inertia token, with the difference that the cards go to the graveyard. This card has a strong synergy with Red in the Ledger since the opponent will not be able to play all the cards in their hand and will still run out of arsenal (or destroy their current one if they were setting up).
Buffs won't be the only non-attack cards on the list, we'll still use two more that help a lot with our game plan.
Nock the Deathwhistle is the other specialization that fits the deck. It allows you to tutor an arrow from your deck (which will most likely be Red in the Ledger), place it on top, and still place a card from your hand into your arsenal. This allows us to use her skill right away and guarantee a desired arrow with Dominate.
And finally, one of the best Majestics from Outsiders: Codex of Frailty. I explained at Riptide Tech Deck how strong it is, and here it will be no different. With Codex, our goal is to keep returning the best arrows to always charge the opponent's hand or even disturb their turn.
We won't be making many changes to equipment, but two will be making their way into the deck. Fyendal's Spring Tunic to help pay for the low cost of arrows or Death Dealer, and most importantly, which will be Skullbone Crosswrap
It is frustrating for Azalea's player to activate her ability and pull a card other than an arrow from the top, completely ending their turn. Skullbone Crosswrap is here to mitigate that problem.
In addition to having both physical and arcane protection (which is rare among equipment), its Opt 1 can guarantee that the top card is an arrow and, if it is not, it is easier to decide and just use an arrow in your hand to attack. This equipment is almost mandatory in Go-tall versions of Azalea and is a great investment for the heroine.
Upgrading for this version will require the following cards to be removed:
- Arrows: Falcon Wing (1), Fatigue Shot (1), Hamstring Shot (1);
- Non-attack: Lace with Inertia (1), Lace with Frailty (1), Over Flex (1), yellow and blue Toxicity (3)
- Equipment: Blossom of Spring, Wayfinder's Crest
Tips & Tricks
Some useful tips for playing with the deck:
- If you are uncertain if your top has an arrow, don't use Azalea's skill. Play it safe and use an arrow from your hand;
- Red in the Ledger is best friends with Codex of Frailty and Nock the Deathwhistle. Use this arrow to prevent the opponent from playing their turn to the fullest;
- We don't block well, so the best thing to do is be aggressive;
- We can use top manipulation to make Ravenous Rabble (1) reveal a red card.
Matchups and Play Style
Just like Riptide, the idea is to be more aggressive than the opponent, and arrows with Dominate collaborate with this plan.
Against aggressive decks, focus on hitting with Red in the Ledger and Remorseless to charge the amount of Actions the opponent does, and don't forget to use the sideboard equipment to defend when necessary.
With Oldhim and Iyslander gone from the format, we won't worry against defensive decks, but if you face a deck like Bravo, focus on Dominate and make a massive arrow.
Azalea has a legion of fans, and Outsiders gave the heroine the deserved support. Despite not being the best deck in Classic Constructed, her results indicate that the deck is already much better than it once was, and in Blitz where we have less life, the big arrows are threatening, showing how challenging it is to play against her.
Thanks for reading this far, and until next time.
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