Nature’s Role in the Meta

cvhAs Kaijudo progresses and the meta evolves with new set releases and players putting new ideas into the competitive scene, it's very interesting to observe the trends in civilizations.  I'm talking about which decks use which civilizations and which see the most play in the competitive circuit.  Sometimes, certain civilizations see a lapse in popularity because of a current metagame trend, or one civilization will appear to be played in everything.  One trend that many players have spotted is an apparent decrease in the amount of decks using Nature taking top spots in tournaments.  This has been worrying some people, and has caused rise to the questions, "is Nature just the worst civilization?" and "What can Nature receive in future sets to help it catch up?"  In this article, I'll be taking a look at how Nature has been fitting in this meta to see if there is any real cause for worry.

The Strengths of Nature

Before we can see whether or not Nature is succeeding in its goals, we first have to assess what those goals are.  Nature is traditionally known for two things: high power levels and mana acceleration.  Of course, Light is the other civilization really regarded for its high power in relation to level, but Nature is the only civilization really known for mana ramp, much like Fire being the only civilization that currently has Fast Attackers.  Cards like Sprout and Mana Storm really define what Nature is.  [ccProd]Bronze-Arm Sabertooth[/ccProd] combines Nature's two main strengths and, as a result, gave birth to a slew of "Saber-Bolt" decks in the Evo Fury meta a few months ago.  There was no question 250px-Sprout_(Y2PRM)then that Nature was just as powerful as the other civilizations, since Saber-Bolt remained one of the pillars of the meta and is still used in different variations even now.

Mana ramp by itself is a difficult thing to manage.  If it's made to be too good, every deck would run it, so the cards have to be balanced.  Cards like [ccProd]Sprout[/ccProd], [ccProd]Reap and Sow[/ccProd], [ccProd]Energize[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Mana Storm[/ccProd] are only used in decks that truly benefit from having extra mana at those stages in the games.  Decks have to take their ideal progressions into account, such as a control deck aiming for a turn six [ccProd]Skull Shatter[/ccProd] after a turn five [ccProd]Mana Storm[/ccProd], and allocate space for the civilization accordingly.

Where It Began to Fall Off

When Dragonstrike Infernus first came out, the worries about Nature began.  Light raced to the forefront of the meta with cards like [ccProd]Andromeda of the Citadel[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Lyra, the Blazing Sun[/ccProd].  Released right after Evo Fury, the jump in power between those cards and Andromeda and Lyra created a meta consisting of only two decks, in truth: LWD Control and Greed Dragons.  Nature simply didn't have what it took to keep up for a while, but [ccProd]Root Trap[/ccProd] suddenly became arguably the best removal spell card in the game.  [ccProd]Lux[/ccProd] was at its prime at this time, so it was largely thought that [ccProd]Terror Pit[/ccProd], though still great, simply wasn't as consistent as [ccProd]Root Trap[/ccProd] as far as getting rid of threats.  Because of this, it became the norm for LWD Control to splash three copies of [ccProd]Root Trap[/ccProd], something Greed Dragons was already doing.  That being said, Nature really didn't function well as an actual component of top decks.  Some players still attempted Dark Saber-Bolt, though not to much success, and some Greed Dragon variants ran a full Nature section to take advantage of [ccProd]Mana Storm[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Kurragar of the Hordes[/ccProd], but it was clear that it was the least dominant of the civilizations.  

The Post-Clash Meta

It took a little while for players to adjust to the post-Clash meta.  The two decks that people gravitated towards were still Greed Dragons and LWD Control variants.  I went to a KMC the weekend after the set's release and seven out of eight of the top eight decks were made up of those two strategies.  However, the meta eventually shifted into something much more diverse than the post-Dragonstrike meta.  Two of the decks quickly becoming top-tier were LWDN control and Megabugs.

LWDN Control used a Nature section packed with the likes of [ccProd]Mana Storm[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Fullmetal Lemon[/ccProd] to reach its late-game cards earlier than other control decks.  It also had an insanely good matchup against Greed Dragons because of its ability to play multiple copies of [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd].  The Nature section in this deck was absolutely key, and it really showed how Nature250px-The_Hive_Queen_(7CLA) could be utilized to the best of its ability.  LWN Megabugs took first place at the KMC in PA under my teammate's control, and was quickly realized to be one of the top contenders.  The Nature section in that deck wasn't so much to mana ramp, but more to simply utilize [ccProd]The Hive Queen[/ccProd] and its bait.  Just like Sabertooth, Nature had yet another Evolution that was shaking up the meta and causing players to adapt.  So, with both of these decks tearing up the KMC scene, what was the problem?  It looked as if Nature might be even more dominant than a lot of other civilizations.

The problem that has restarted the concern about Nature is that both of these decks seemingly fell off in recent weeks, specifically at the first ever Kaijudo Championship in Seattle.  As much as those two decks were dominating, it couldn't last forever.  Megabugs actually did part of the work to end Nature's control of the meta, as LWN Megabug tempo was found to be the strongest counter to control yet seen in the game.  A lot of it was due to cards like [ccProd]General Finbarr[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd], which admittedly aren't from Nature, but on the whole, the big LWDN control decks just couldn't compete with the Megabug deck.  Now that most people had strayed away from that strategy, the main goal in testing for the championship was to find something that beat the bugs.  Dragons clearly answered that call, as the top eight of the Seattle championship was absolutely filled with them.  The Megabug decks that showed up wound up not doing so well, and the control deck Bobby Brake used to win the whole thing was LWD Leviathans - not a Nature card in sight.

The Ever-Changing Meta

The meta changes every week, whether or not new cards are released.  Otherwise, such a drastic shift in meta wouldn't have occurred.  It's my belief that the general absence of Nature in the top decks in Seattle wasn't a result of a fault in Wizards of the Coast making Nature competitive, but rather the tournament being at the wrong time for the civilization to succeed.  If it had been held the very weekend after PA, bugs would have overrun the tournament and probably taken the whole thing based on sheer numbers.  LWDN control would have also been seen getting more play than it did.  Perhaps people would have them complained that Fire was the weakest civilization, though we all know now that isn't true based on Seattle; it just took a few weeks for players to discover counters to the top decks.  Let's take a look at what are, in my opinion, some of the cards that have defined the past few months.

Light: [ccProd]Keeper of Laws[/ccProd], [ccProd]Andromeda of the Citadel[/ccProd], [ccProd]Lyra, the Blazing Sun[/ccProd]Water: [ccProd]King Tritonus[/ccProd], [ccProd]Bottle of Wishes[/ccProd], [ccProd]General Finbarr[/ccProd]Darkness: [ccProd]Mesmerize[/ccProd], [ccProd]Skull Shatter[/ccProd], [ccProd]Umbra[/ccProd]Fire: [ccProd]Infernus the Awakened[/ccProd], [ccProd]Herald of Infernus[/ccProd], Drakons
Nature: [ccProd]The Hive Queen[/ccProd], [ccProd]Mana Storm[/ccProd], [ccProd]Root Trap[/ccProd]

Obviously I didn't include a plethora of multi-civilization cards that have had a major impact, but looking at the list, it's hard to say that one civilization is under-powered.  Many consider Light to be the current best civilization, and with recent tournament results in mind, I'd have to agree, simply because Light was given such a dramatic boost after Evo Fury that hasn't yet seemed to go down.  However, discrediting Nature 250px-Necrose,_Nightmare_Bloom_(Y2PRM)simply because of one weekend when it underperformed is foolish; [ccProd]The Hive Queen[/ccProd] and her fellow Megabugs may not have taken Seattle by storm, but you can bet that they're the reason the meta shaped up like it did.  This of course came after LWDN control took literal control of the meta in the last few KMCs of the season, ousting dragon decks almost entirely.  On the subject of multi-civs, [ccProd]Sword Horned[/ccProd], [ccProd]Steamtank Kryon[/ccProd], and [ccProd]Humonculon the Blaster[/ccProd] have all been seen in quite a few top decks as well.

So, looking forward, I wouldn't ask what needs to be released for Nature in order to allow it to compete, but instead which turns the meta needs to take for that to happen.  It's happened numerous times in the past and even present metas.  With Shattered Alliances and enemy multi-civ combinations such as Nature/Darkness on the horizon, many players are already speculating that Nature will once again be seen in many top decks.  It will get cool new toys like all the other civilizations, but this is more because decks are being thought up that actually stand to benefit from what Nature has to offer, much like control with mana ramp has.  Each of the civilizations has a different role within the game, and as the meta shifts and specific cards make their impacts, some of the roles become more important than others.  The important thing is that it's all cyclical, and every civilization has its time to shine.  I think so far, Wizards of the Coast has allowed us to have that set after set, and I'm looking forward to seeing how Shattered Alliances continues that cycle.  Make sure to leave a comment below with any thoughts you may have on the article, and until next week, Play Hard or Go Home!