Perfecting the Aelves – Deck & Concepts

Last night I hit Platinum with a version of the Aelf deck that I have been playing since Warhammer Champions launched in August. It has been quite the journey. Insert obligatory self-gratifying image.

Aelf Deck Platinum | Covenant
 

Only a week ago, I thought that competitive success with the Aelves was impossible. The Aelf units rely significantly on Lotann’s ability to be effective, and having all-Beast or all-Aelf draws simply tanks a game. An opponent who knows how an Aelf deck works will remove your key Beasts and watch as you flail around. Going with the “full theme” Aspect of the Sea leads to even more inconsistency, with a mix of Spells, Beasts, and Aelves that have to be drawn in the perfect order to avoid unplayable cards. It just seemed like the deck would never work.

Until I asked a fundamental question. What is an action actually worth?

Quantifying value, in non-boring terms

Here is the thing about value; out of the gate, you probably have a decent understanding of which plays every turn are the best. Spoiler alert: it’s the ones you do. Removing a unit that is on its final corner is probably not the right play if you can remove a unit that is about to do 6 damage to you. There is an intuition that most of us hold to when playing out our turns.

That intuition is right most of the time, but relying on it exclusively leads to a less-than-ideal assessment of your performance. Most players stick to their intuition, start losing games, and then decide that 1) they need to net-deck a better build, 2) they are unlucky or their opponent is lucky, or 3) the game is broken. This is not the way forward.

Instead, that intuition needs to be refined through a careful analysis of exactly what is transpiring during a game. You must be certain that every single choice you make not only feels correct, but is correct.

In Champions, with no resources and a limit of 4 entities on the board, the main thing being managed is actions. If I use my actions more efficiently than you use your actions, I should win the game.

And though it can be incredibly frustrating at times, that should is actually very important. Because card draw and blessings are randomized, you might play your best possible game and still lose; luckily, this keeps Champions from being a purely mechanical experience and introduces the necessity for players to take risks and throw hail marys from time to time. 

In order to use actions efficiently, we have to have a framework for understanding what every action is worth. For me, this starts with two assumptions: every card costs an action to draw and an action to play.

Take the Paladin Decimator, for instance.

Paladin Decimator Single Card - Warhammer Champions | Covenant
 

This unit is giving me 6 damage for 2 actions (1 to draw, 1 to play), or 3 damage per action (DPA). At this rate, I can win a game in 10-12 actions.

Similarly, let’s look at the Enraged Allopex.

Enraged Allopex Single Card - Warhammer Champions | Covenant
 

This unit, absent its ability, is giving me 3 damage for 2 actions, or 1.5 damage per action. That is HALF as effective as a Paladin Decimator.

If I play it across from a unit that does damage to me, it upgrades to 5 damage for 2 actions, or 2.5 damage per action. Still not as effective as a Paladin Decimator.

But wait! As many of you may have noticed, the Decimator takes 4 turns to land its damage, while the Allopex only takes 2 turns. This certainly does matter, but let’s just disregard it for now.

Next up, let’s look at some more complex interactions specific to an Aelf deck. Suppose I play an Aetherwing Scout on Lotann and play a Namarti Soul Feeder next door. That is 4 actions (2 draws, 2 plays) that ends up doing 10 damage – 3 damage from the Soul Feeder, +3 damage for the Beast bonus, and 4 damage from the Scout (assuming it gets used one more time). 10 damage, 4 actions, 2.5 damage per action. After all of that conditional synergy, still not as good as a Decimator. If the Soul Feeder triggers its effect? 3 damage per action. Even more conditions to be as good as a single, bread and butter unit.

Lotann Single Card - Warhammer Champions | Covenant
 

When I realized this, it changed everything. Let’s keep going.

How about Alpha-Gryph Charger on Lotann, with Sweeping Namarti Thrall next door – both across from 5-cost Champions. That is 4 actions for 9 damage, or 2.25 damage per action. Not even close to Decimator level.

Alpha Gryph-Charger Single Card - Warhammer Champions | Covenant   Sweeping Namarti Thrall Single Card - Warhammer Champions | Covenant 

But what happens if we put both of them across from their ideal targets? Alpha-Gryph Charger now does 6 damage, Sweeping Namarti Thrall now does 9 damage. That is 4 actions for 15 damage, or 3.75 damage per action. That is the kind of synergy that is actually worth it, especially because each of those units is now 3 damage per action regardless of Lotann’s ability. Both units become as good as Decimator when played appropriately, resolve in one less turn, and provide insane damage per action in perfect conditions. Nice.

It should be pretty easy to see at this point that synergy does not mean efficiency. I can abuse Lotann and still be getting average or even subpar efficiency for doing so. If Lotann’s beasts are removed? Horrible efficiency.

Prevention works exactly the same way – damage prevented is lowering the damage per action of your opponent’s plays. Akhelian Barrier Guard preventing 4 damage (From a Brute Smasha and Scrapper, for instance) and then doing 2 next turn is 2 actions for 6 damage, or 3 damage per action. Next to Lotann? 2 actions for 7 damage, or 3.5 DPA. That’s fantastic.

Akhelian Barrier Guard Single Card - Warhammer Champions | Covenant
 

2 actions for every card played. Divide by total damage done or prevented. Rough evaluation of unit. A framework.

How about Razorshell Leviadon, everyone’s favorite trap card, as a final example.

Razorshell Leviadon Single Card - Warhammer Champions | Covenant
 

To fully use the Leviadon, you need to draw it, play it, use two Heroic actions, and discard two Aelves. That is a total of 6 actions. If that Leviadon is on Lotann, it results in 15 damage.

6 actions, 15 damage; 2.5 damage per action. All of those conditions, all of the potential for things to go wrong, and you STILL are not anywhere near the efficiency of the lowly Paladin Decimator.

So basically, even though the numbers are big and super satisfying, stop making those kinds of plays.

Yes there is a case to be made for spiking damage in a short amount of time, but against good players that gets less and less common.

Revisiting the Aelves

With this framework in mind, I started rebuilding the Aelf deck with the goal of getting my average damage per action at or above 2.5. First, the original decklist that took me up and down Silver.

Champions
Celestant-Prime
Lotann
Lochian Prince x2

Blessings
Blessed Weapons
Divine Blast
Healing Storm
Tides of Death

Actions
2x Aetherwing Scout
2x Alpha-Gryph Charger
3x Akhelian Barrier Guard
2x Biovoltaic Morrsarr Guard
2x Razorshell Leviadon
2x Namarti Soul Feeder
3x Sweeping Namarti Thrall
3x Swift Namarti Reaver
3x Triumphant Smash
3x Piercing Shot
3x Tactical Formation
2x Mystic Shield

I imagine this is pretty similar to most Aelf lists, with a bit of meta adjustment sprinkled in. Mystic Shield was the only way I was able to have a chance against Gordrakk/Destruction, as a board flooded with units often meant Mystic Shield was preventing 9-10 damage. Tactical Formation stemmed from a desire to quest out the Lochian Princes as quickly as possible without losing the hand presence needed to power the Aelf/Lotann synergy (where you are often playing two units on the same turn with no draws).

Once I got to Gold with this deck, I simply could not punch through. Chaos fast quest flipped their blessing(s) and did damage too quickly. I ran out of steam against Death fast quest (read: was not efficient enough). Destruction, even with the tech, was still only about a 20-30% win rate.

Then the above framework came into play, and I realized I was playing a lot of subpar cards that when combined together became…basically average. I made the following changes immediately.

Champions
Celestant-Prime
Lotann
Lochian Prince x2

Blessings
Blessed Weapons
Divine Blast
Healing Storm
Tides of Death
Abjuration

Actions
2x Aetherwing Scout
2x Razorshell Leviadon
2x Namarti Soul Feeder
3x Tactical Formation
2x Mystic Shield

3x Alpha-Gryph Charger
3x Akhelian Barrier Guard
3x Biovoltaic Morrsarr Guard
3x Sweeping Namarti Thrall
2x Swift Namarti Reaver
3x Triumphant Smash
2x Piercing Shot
2x Jaws of Death
2x Divine Vengeance

2x Enraged Allopex
3x Paladin Protector
2x Paladin Decimator

With the new list and damage per action framework, this deck plays very differently. Almost every turn is Celestant ability, play a card. I do not rely on Lotann’s ability whatsoever – if I get a few extra damage per game, that is great. Instead, I focus on making the best possible plays without considering Lotann synergy above all else.

Jaws of Death and Divine Vengeance are the most efficient “damage per action” abilities that I can play, even though they are very conditional. Celestant helps filter that out.

Piercing Shots remain for helping with Lochian questing, even though their efficiency is awful (1.5 DPA).

While the Swift Reaver is only 2 DPA, it can be pushed with Lotann’s ability and accelerated, which wins games. A Reaver in hand can be an instantaneous 4 damage when needed, and can empty Blessed Weapons for a surprise win.

Every top meta deck has a target for Alpha-Gryph Charger and Sweeping Namarti Thrall. Chaos is on Archaon/Unfettered and Chaos Champion, Destruction is on Gordrakk and Orruk Boss, and Death is on Ghoul King. Those cards are almost always a clean 3 DPA and can go higher with Lotann. If your opponent does not have any Champions in those cost ranges, get ready for a tough game.

Barrier Guards and Paladin Protectors provide a fantastic amount of prevention while also advancing your quests. Protector over Mystic Shield allows your prevention to be played on any of your champions, and the “cannot be removed” effect is priceless. Throwing down a Morrsarr Guard to complete a quest and Paladin Protector next to it essentially locks down three lanes and guarantees 6 damage.

Beasts can be played anywhere – with Enraged Allopex + Jaws of Death on Lochian Prince being one of the fastest quest completions. Even so, (almost) never play Allopex for only 3 damage. Efficiency reigns. Wait for the right moment.

Similarly, do not play Triumphant Smash if you cannot benefit from the backward rotation. This is a critical piece of making your plays more efficient. Get units in place ahead of where your opponent is expected to play (Recruiter, the fast questers on their side) so that your Smash get you the extra 3-4 damage. You will not win without doing this.

With this list and philosophy I started winning my games. By making efficient play after efficient play, my opponent’s would jump ahead early and then start sliding behind. Until I got to Gold Division 1. At that point, the fast questing decks started closing and stealing games. I was running into a lot of Chaos, particularly, and their 3/2/2 and +3 if under 15 health blessings were too much. That led to a sacrifice in efficiency in order to answer the meta.

2x Paladin Decimator
2x Hurricane Raptor

The Raptors gave me an answer to decks rushing blessings. By dropping a Raptor in the right lane, I can either prevent a quest completion for two turns or prevent abilities being spammed out of an already-completed slot. With Celestant’s ability to filter for Raptors in the right matchup, this gave me just enough edge to pull out those games.

So this is the current deck list going into Platinum:

Champions
Celestant-Prime
Lotann
Lochian Prince x2

Blessings
Blessed Weapons
Divine Blast
Healing Storm
Abjuration

Actions
3x Alpha-Gryph Charger
3x Akhelian Barrier Guard
3x Biovoltaic Morrsarr Guard
3x Sweeping Namarti Thrall
2x Swift Namarti Reaver
3x Triumphant Smash
2x Piercing Shot
2x Jaws of Death
2x Divine Vengeance
2x Enraged Allopex
3x Paladin Protector
2x Hurricane Raptor

I’m moving in and out on Divine Vengeance, potentially changing to 3x Jaws of Death and 3x Piercing Shot. You simply have to hit your quests extremely fast in this meta, and Divine can clog a hand if drawn at the start of the game.

Strike Force Liberators are on the short list as well, as you want them in your opening hand and can filter them out later in the game with Celestant’s ability. 2 actions for 7 damage is the name of the game.

One day, Tides of Death will be worth it. It is so close. Hopefully we get a Champion (maybe Aspect of the Storm) who allows the Aelves to flood the board without relying so much on Lotann. As it is, there are not enough unconditionally efficient Aelf units.

Beyond the framework

Obviously, no framework like this is perfect. That is necessary for a game to be compelling. Other factors must be considered – is this getting me closer to completing a quest? Is the time it takes to reach efficiency worth the risk of removal and time in the lane? Am I so far behind that I need to take risks instead of making solid plays by the numbers? Is there a quest right now that would save me if flipped?

Even so, having an objective understanding of the damage you are inflicting or preventing with each action you use is critical to both building a good deck and playing it well. It took my Aelf deck from meandering in Silver to joining Platinum, and I hope it does the same for you.

Side note, the second set of Champions, called Onslaught, has been announced. With how fantastic this first set has been, I truly cannot wait. Hopefully more Aelves! If you are interested in getting a full playset of Onslaught, we are selling them. I’m splitting one four ways to pick up all of the Order cards in the set for less than the price of a box.

Also, if you prefer boxes, we have a Champions Booster Box subscription that is truly phenomenal. Lowest priced boxes, free shipping, near-release day delivery (depending on USPS), and no charge until a few weeks before street date. All of us at Covenant have been playing these kinds of games since we were kids, and designed the subscription offering around what we always wished existed for expandable games. Check it out!

Shout out to Zach’s Chaos blog, too, which got me back in the writing mood. He’s also going through some deck building crises right now, so hopefully we get an update soon!

And if you see swooley out there in ranked, do not put a 7+ cost Champion next to a 1 or 2 cost Champion during setup!