Brief Summary of Build
If you've not seen it, I recommend reading Trynet's explanation for why Axemen is the best deck in the game. It's written at a fairly advanced level, but it's clearly argued and I find it convincing.
Nonetheless, Trynet's explanation hinges on one thing: that Axemen has the best long round in the game by a wide margin. After having played lots of games with this deck, I believe this is the deck with the best long round. It's really hard to lose with this deck if both players drypass round 1, and what's more, I've actually won against Axemen in this situation. There's more:
- Axemen has weaknesses, the biggest of which is that it's reliant on weather. That in turn makes it vulnerable to not drawing weather (and it only has 4 weather cards, 5 if counting Decoy) + the opponent having weather clear.
- Axemen is vulnerable to Mandrake, a card that's now at ~50% popularity across all decks.
- Axemen lacks proactive plays.
- Axemen lacks high-tempo plays without setup. With Axemen on the board it has no problems, but facing Brouver on the blue coin with a mulliganed Wardancer is the absolute nightmare.
- Axemen is less flexible. It cannot, for example, easily beat Greatsword since its plan is so one-dimensional and Greatsword happens to be effective against it.
- Axemen folds to Imlerith: Sabbath if it comes down before they grow a big Axeman.
This deck has none of those problems. This doesn't mean that Axemen is bad - that deck is criminally underplayed, just look at the latest meta report and Harald's win rate vs. his metagame share - but it means that Moonlight Dagon is, in my opinion, the best deck in the game. Warning: some part of this deck's effectiveness comes from the fact the opponent might assume it's Deathwish (I had people drypass round 1 vs. me before). The core of the deck is strong enough to not fizzle if the opponent knows what he's up against, but it does get weaker, especially against other weather decks. Further, now that I've publicized this list, it and especially Miruna might get less effective.
EDIT: After having played a lot more games with this deck + Axemen, plus paying close attention to why I lose games, I take back what I said above about this deck being the best deck in the game. The problem is that if Axemen goes into round 3 up a card, its cards still generate decent points. One of the worst possible cards, a Warship, is an 11 point bronze. Corsair bringing back a Warship is worth 14 points, Harald is worth 16, and so on. With this deck, you could be stuck with cards like Nekurat in round 3. Nekurat is by no means a bad card, but needs at least three turns to be worth as much as Warship. You do have high-value bronzes - Werewolves - but they need enabling from low-value plays like Siren, and your best win conditions Monster Nest & Ozzrel have the problem of being vulnerable to Mandrake / Scorch / Coral.
This deck isn't bad and it's still got the distinction of having the best long round in the game, but I can't call it the best deck in the game anymore.
What happens when both players drypass round 1. My opponent in this game had Aglais into Blood Moon to cancel one of my Moonlights, and Recon did not draw into the other Siren. He also later spawned a Marauder with Elven Scout to negate fog. Without these, I would've won by a lot more than 17 points.
Blacklist Moonlight and Foglet at once. Be sure to take into account blacklist value - for example if you only have one Moonlight and one Foglet, blacklist the Moonlight first. Depending on matchup, Lacerate can be bad; if so mulligan it. After that, make sure you have enough Organic targets for Whispess: if you're holding all three, mulligan one. If you've already blacklisted Moonlight and Foglet you can use more mulligans to search for your best cards; otherwise don't use the third mulligan.
Drypass round 1 on the blue coin. The only exception - vs. a Brouver with Wardancer mulligan - I'll go into more detail later.
On the red coin, the aim is to set up your engines while always being able to catch up in a card. Siren into the melee row is generally the best first play (there's a reason for this: Woodland Spirit's wolves are beasts, and they spawn on the melee row), since this also turns on your Werewolves. The secondary aim is to thin your deck; Dagon is an easy early play for that reason. If the opponent stays in the round long enough, go for the win on equal cards. You'll have to use your judgment on when to do this; a general guideline (but it varies greatly depending on matchup) is when you're generating at least 4 points / round. The ideal situation is when you can start slamming down engines like Ancient Foglet or Woodland Spirit while simultaneously staying ahead on points. There're a few matchups where the above doesn't apply; see the matchup section.
If you won round 1, there's no reason at all to play round 2. Drypass. Your opponent should not have carryover. If they do, or if they can have it, pass round 1 up a card at earliest opportunity.
If you lost round 1, then treat round 2 the same as round 1 on the red coin. Again, set up your engines, and pick an opportune moment to go for the win up a card. You do not want to try this too early since if you use all your high tempo plays but fail to catch up, the opponent can pass and your engines will be much weaker in the short round 3. I generally keep the key win conditions Ozzrel and possibly Monster Nest for round 3.
Not much to say about this round. Plan out your hand for maximum points. Monster Nest is potentially the trickiest card to use in this round. Remember it can be Drowner if opponent is not playing into fog, but has the downside of decreasing future Lacerate value. Ancient Foglet is also an option if round 3 is sufficiently long, although since it's a weaker engine you usually play this later and it's just not worth that many points. Ghoul consuming a spy is usually the best, if available.
- It can be hard to play around Igni / Scorch. You should try regardless, and consider these cards (especially vs. Scoiatael) before placing your Werewolves. You might also want to place Werewolves early, before playing other engines, to avoid Siren reaching 14 strength before you place your first Werewolf. A 4-point difference in strength still might not be enough, unless you have more beasts on the row. Nekurat is usually on an odd number and so is automatically not exposed to Igni.
- In a similar vein, against Alchemy, you want to play Werewolf sooner rather than later since every Full Moon buff that goes to a Werewolf also cannot be hit by Viper Witcher. Same goes for Skellige (Werewolves are immune to Coral).
- Play Dagon before Woodland Spirit, in general. This is because the opponent knows you have Dagon, but not that you have Woodland Spirit. The only exception is if your Siren in the melee row dies - Woodland Spirit can apply fog and simultaneously put buffable units into the melee row.
- If you're short on Moonlights, don't play too many units into the Full Moon row, especially if it's in the melee row. You might run out of space (limit = 9).
- Foglet will always spawn on the row in which you apply fog to. This includes your opponent's Foglets. Against other Dagon decks, place your Dagon on the row that you are applying fog to - if the opponent counter-weathers, his Foglet will be on a fogged row.
- Miruna is here as a counter to Greatswords and NG Handbuff, which are hard to beat otherwise since their win conditions > yours even if you go into round 3 up a card. There are some tricks you can do with her & Frightener - my favourite was opponent passing with 11 strength Calveit on the board while up points. I played Miruna (weather ticked once), then Frightener moving the highest strength unit away from the Calveit row, taking the Calveit and blanking his Cahir, and still going into the next round on equal cards.
- Against weather decks, you have an ample amount of Moonlights, but ample doesn't mean inexhaustible. Usually the first player to place weather loses the war. Try to play other cards (especially Ancient Foglet or your own fog) before putting up Full Moon.
- You can play Werewolf before Full Moon. You lose 2 points, but keep the Moonlight to override the opponent's weather. Warning: you both reveal you're a Full Moon deck (this will make opposing Dagons play differently for example), and the opponent might avoid using weather on the row Werewolf is on. This also makes it hard to play around Igni and Scorch.
- Don't forget Triss: Telekinesis can double as another Moonlight - in fact, that's the biggest reason she's here. This has a downside - if the opponent has Triss, he might Triss into Blood Moon against you. Be wary of this possibility and try to keep a Moonlight in reserve to counter.
- If you're hunting for another Moonlight with Triss, don't forget to check for Recon into Siren into Moonlight for an extra 6 points (4 from body, +2 next turn from Full Moon).
- Try not to use too many Moonlights in a round unless you are sure you will not need them in the future. Two is a good number.
- It's possible to run out of bronze units to use Reconnaissance on. I suggest using a deck tracker to help keep count.
- It's natural to want to destack rows with Frightener, but resist the temptation. Frightener to fill a row, which also makes Blood Moon / Lacerate more powerful. The other time to use Frightener is to interrupt synergies (Vran Warrior, Light Longship) or if a fogged row is otherwise not getting value (empty, opponent has Greatsword / Dwarven Marauder on it). If you're using Frightener to interrupt Vran Warrior, do it when it has one turn left to the next consume, since it might screw with the opponent's plans.
- If you're unfortunate enough to have all three organic cards and Whispess in your hand, it's important to mulligan one away in rounds 2/3. This actually takes precedence over mulliganing Moonlight / Foglet in round 3.
- If the opponent passes and you only need 4 points or less to catch up, Foglet is a good choice to play if it's in your hand. Recon into Foglet is also fine. It seems counterintuitive, but the reassurance that you'll not muligan into Foglet is usually worth it, plus this deck is relatively low on bronze units and you might brick a future Recon / Triss into Recon if you play some other bronze.
- Vaedarmakar is your only source of hard removal. There aren't that many cards that demand an immediate answer, and it's often better to apply fog anyway, but keep this in mind in case you need to remove an Octvist or something.
- Against most decks, it's better to set up Moonlights than fog. That's because they might be running weather clear, but are much less likely to be running weather of their own. Besides, you have more Moonlights than fog. You still need to play Dagon early of course for the thinning and tempo, but I will usually get the 2nd row of Moonlight up before a 2nd fog.
Scoiatael: The unique thing about all Scoiatael decks is that they have Wardancers. Therefore, get out of round 1 up a card as soon as you're threatened. That means on the blue coin, drypass at once if they don't have a Wardancer. If they do have a Wardancer, Dagon is a good play since Siren is just too slow. Put out the points, and once you get the chance, pass.
On the red coin, things change slightly. Play until they play spy, unless you're able to respond with your own spy while staying up on points. Remember, as soon as you're threatened with a "win round 1 down a card scenario", it's better to get out. You can win round 3 down a card, but it's hard even with 10+ cards in the round.
Against Brouver, if they Cleaver your Yaevinn, resetting it with Mandrake is potentially the best use of the card - not only do you gain up to ~16 points at once, you make future Ghouls and Ozzrels better.
Key cards to play around: Ida, Hattori into Ida if applicable, Isengrim: Outlaw into Ida, Aglais into Fog or Moonlight, Schirru, Elven Scout into Pyrotechnician, Triss: Telekinesis into Blood Moon (Eithne only).
Skellige: Against Axemen, remember what I said about playing against weather decks. You can win a long round vs. Axemen, but only if they don't stick Skellige Storm on a stacked row. Husband your Moonlights! They're so important that I will consider not mulliganing Moonlight if I have no more ways to draw them. Whispess into Mandrake can also deal with Derren permanently. If doing this before round 3, try to do it as late as possible since they might not have time to grow another Axeman.
Against Veterans the standard gameplan applies. Only thing to keep in mind is that they are likely to have Birna. Keep a Moonlight to override it. If you see Olgierd / Morkvarg, pass up a card as soon as possible for the same reason you do this against Scoiatael (and carryover in general).
Against Greatswords you have a unique plan: passing round 1 sooner rather than later. This applies even if you're on the red coin (on the blue coin you're of course drypassing round 1 already). You want them to play Greatswords, but once they do, pass. If you're running Muzzle (see replacements section) then Muzzle a Greatsword, and once they play more, pass. There're a couple of reasons for this. The first is that this forces them to use their resurrects in round 2, and each resurrect used then is one that's not available in round 3. The other reason is that this means you'll go into round 3 on the blue coin. This allows you to Ozzrel their biggest Greatsword before they can resurrect it. You can be sure they'll play round 2, because it's the only way they'll grow their Greatswords. Miruna will be your 2nd-last play, and it's unlikely they'll be able to kill her since they'll probably have used Mandrake to reset one of your buffed units. Coral cannot target Miruna. A successful Miruna trigger is usually a win. Be careful with positioning your fogs since they're ineffective against Greatswords. You can use Frightener to move a Light Longship onto a fogged row.
Key cards to play around: Birna Bran, any carryover unit, Triss: Telekinesis into Blood Moon.
Northern Realms: Standard gameplan applies against all NR decks. If you're running Muzzle, Ronvid is the best target if possible, followed by Trebuchet. It's conceivable you want to Ozzrel Ronvid while it's 11 strength (the first time it dies), but I advise against playing round 2 just to do this.
You can kill Villentretenmerth with Drowner (from Monster Nest) + Vaedamakar. Some fog also helps. Save Mandrake to deal with Bloody Baron against Henselt, or at least to reset a heavily-damaged unit. Don't forget Werewolf cannot be targeted by Reinforced Trebuchets or Ballistas. Against armor don't worry too much if their Redanian Knight gets really big, since Miruna pwnz it (or Mandrake). Naturally try to bait Radovid with Ancient Foglets before playing Miruna.
Key cards to play around: Scorch, Villentretenmerth, Korathi Heatwave (rare), Triss: Telekinesis into Blood Moon (Henselt only).
Monsters: Standard gameplan applies in general but try to keep Mandrake until it's clear the opponent isn't running Sabbath (or you have a unit too big for Sabbath to be played - Werewolf is great for this purpose). An unanswered Sabbath is the easiest way to lose the game.
In the mirror the first person to use weather is at a major disadvantage. Try to avoid it as long as possible. The same goes against Eredin, although you should check if they're running 26 cards. If they are, they only have 2 frosts, potentially 3 with Caranthir - a lot easier to muscle through.
Deathwish is a favourable matchup, since your engines are stronger. Fog on a D'ao row is usually safe since even if it dies there'll be lesser Dao. This is also a key row since it'll probably get really stacked, maximizing Lacerate value. Don't forget to place Dagon on the row you're using fog on (see tips above).
Consume is tough on the blue coin. Drypass anyway since winning round 1 down a card does your engines no good. Miruna is your win condition. I recommend against trying to starve them of Nekkers unless you have both Mandrake and Muzzle in hand. Save Mandrake to reset a big Vran instead, and don't forget that if you're going to use your movement cards (Frightener, Drowner), do it just before Vran triggers.
Key cards to play around: enemy weather, Imlerith: Sabbath, Miruna (very rare), White Frost (Eredin only).
Nilfgaard: Alchemy is favourable since they have to play on multiple rows, which in turn means you get to farm fog. They'll always play round 2 if you drypass round 1, and they lack very high tempo plays, which means you can turn the corner pretty easily to go into round 3 up a card. They don't even have good win conditions. The only common way for Alchemy to win is if they have drawn their spy while you haven't. Remember to use only two rows against Alchemy because of Expired Ale. If they play a disloyal unit to occupy the third row, put small units on it if possible (e.g. Vaedamakar) to potentially save some points.
Nilfgaard handbuff is why Miruna is in the deck. Without Miruna, you probably can't win a three-card round 3 even if you're up a card. Don't try to un-Mandrake his handbuff unit; save it to reset a big Spotter instead (or something pulled by Joachim).
Finally reveal is very uncommon and I have not played against it. I imagine the standard gameplan works, but keep in mind their tempo can be extreme, so you might need to use Woodland Spirit / Werewolf earlier than normal. They also run Scorch, Yenn: Enchantress and Villentretenmerth - watch out.
Key cards to play around: Expired Ale, Viper Witcher (don't play non-Werewolf big units vs. alchemy for as long as possible), Black Blood into Nekurat (both counters fog or removes Full Moon), Triss: Telekinesis into Blood Moon, Letho + Regis (very hard to beat sadly), Scorch (reveal only).
Miruna is the most replaceable gold. She's here mainly to improve the NG Handbuff and Greatsword matchups, but she can be weak against other matchups. If you don't like her, Muzzle and Igni are the obvious options. Downside of Muzzle is that you're weak vs. NG Handbuff, and it's not very good against some NR decks as well; downside of Igni is that it's a bad topdeck in round 3 + it can be dead. You can morph into an Imlerith: Sabbath deck as well if you wish: I would use -Miruna -Triss: Telekinesis +Royal Decree +Sabbath, -Ozzrel +Parasite, -Lacerate +Ancient Foglet as a starting point.
Silver slots are all core. If you must cut something I'd probably cut Ozzrel, but you'll be a lot weaker in a short round 3.
For bronzes, you can consider -Ancient Foglet +Alpha Werewolf. He gets more immediate tempo, helps play around Scorch a bit, and doesn't become an enemy engine if Muzzled. The main problem is that unmolested, Ancient Foglet will usually be worth a couple of points more. Your call.
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