Quintivarium's guide to OCEAN

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Quintivarium's guide to OCEAN


Feel:  Water changes everything, from pervasive, drop-by-drop erosion to the sudden fury of a tempest.  Nowhere are these forces more prominent, more potent, more ominous than in the oceans.  Change is inevitable; sea-change, absolutely awing.

Characteristics:  Depending upon their construction, Ocean decks can have widely differing feels, from decks that are simply overwhelmingly powerful, to decks that reduce all opponents to ineffectual blobs, to decks that slip through cracks to repeatedly deliver painful punches, to decks that systematically destroy any enemy as quickly as it is played.  Ocean contains several of the world’s biggest and strongest minions.  5 cost 5 minions – all worth the price far exceed the number of similar strength minions in other factions.  Ocean also has three minions capable of slowly but repeatedly harming enemy minions – some from a distance, three minions able to grow in strength or health (and a fourth able to regenerate health), two minions that inflict bonus life damage, numerous cards replacing power points or cards in one’s hand, numerous cards that drain enemy strength, and numerous cards that re-order the positions of cards on the board.  Because of this card mix, Ocean decks are very capable of over-whelming by brute strength; slowly eroding and strangling an opponent; seizing opportunities for growth, regeneration, and massive damage – usually by relocating enemy blockades; or by achieving set-ups where enemy minions are destroyed as quickly as they are deployed.  Ocean is capable of acting and reacting quickly – as well as acting through both plod and power.

Signature Cards:  Ocean has so many cards capable of extreme devastation that I hate to identify a handful as signature cards.  I have seen excellent decks built around sea dragon, deepsea thing, giant octopus, giant turtle, razor sharks, triton assassin, giant volta, lost at sea, sink, crushing waves, tide caller, sunken treasure, and floods – just to name a few.  And obviously, not every ocean deck will use all of these.  But there is one card so over-powered that virtually every ocean deck utilizes it.  As often as not, the game totally revolves around it.
Triton aquamancer – At cost only 2, an aquamancer can be played in tandem with a huge selection of other cards and effects.  Because of its evasive ability, probably only about 15% of all Spellcraft cards can effectively deal with an aquamancer, and because of its health growth, this reduces to about 7% if it survives even one round, and a tiny handful if it survives beyond that.  Thus, one almost must have cards in hand to destroy it when the opponent first plays it – for all four aquamancers an opponent might have in their deck.  Moreover, there are no half-measures against an aquamancer – its dangerous power cannot be blocked.  About the only way of dealing with one is by destroying it.

Other Important Cards:
Ancient turtle – 2/9 statistics for cost 5 are not impressive, but couple this with a turtle’s ability to drag an aura from one’s deck into play greatly reduces its true cost, while allowing the turtle to be a summoner as well.
Deepsea thing – 3/4 stats plus evasive are decent, but the deepsea thing’s ability to grow upon hitting for life damage makes the card very dangerous.  After just one hit, very few minions can single-handedly defeat one; after two hits, no minions can.  Given ocean’s many abilities, it is usually not too hard to set up a deepsea thing hit.
Dragonfish – 5/3 stats say it all.  The card’s drawback requires a little bit of caution, but the havoc caused is usually well worth the price.
Giant octopus – ¾ stats plus evasive are nice, but not really worth cost 5.  And at first, the octopus’ regeneration does not really seem to compensate.  But many possible combinations using that regeneration give a well-placed octopus considerable usefulness.
Sea dragon – By recalling a spell from the discard pile, sea dragons allow a player to stretch a small number of spells into many uses.  Its 4/3 stats are only slightly inferior to those of the underdark worm, and this special is far worth the exchange.
Razor sharks – with its bonus damage, razor sharks inflict 5 life damage and dare not be ignored.  3/2 stats are un-impressive for cost 4, but, like many other ocean units, there are numerous tools to assist a shark in hitting.  Not only that, it is a common card.
Triton assassin – 2/3 stats seem underwhelming, but the ability to inflict one health and one strength damage for free make the assassin very formidable – especially if played first on a lane.
Triton warmachine – 3/4 stats are not great for a cost 4 unit, but they are very respectable for a common card.  They are not widely used once players acquire rare cards, but their utility against barriers is unmatched.
Aqualid hunter – the ability to immediately drain one strength from an enemy is very nice.
Giant volta – At first voltas seem a bit clunky – as prone to hurt oneself as one’s opponent.  But as one acquires skill with them and unit placement, their special power is extremely devastating.  And health 3 makes them hard to remove.
Sirens – combat immunity gives the sirens card its value, but cleverly used, its ability to pull enemies opposite is also devastating.
Triton hunters – don’t underestimate the value of pulling traps back from a discard pile.
Aqualid mages – reversing an opposing card’s health and strength is not always helpful, but it can be an unpleasant surprise at a critical moment.
Other minions – except possibly for the shimmerfish, ocean really has no bad minions.  Almost everything is very useful in a wide variety of contexts.
Dancing jellyfish – although a bit unpredictable, one gets outstanding stats for the price.
Crushing waves – pricey and hard to use, but very devastating when appropriately set up.
Calm seas – The ultimate defense against aura based decks.
Liquefy – a cheap and effective card to negate nasty special powers
Sink – Sink is extremely cheap for its effect.  The drawback is its requirement that the target have strength 3; there are decks against which is it unusable.
Floods – A card that gives ocean a huge advantage in stalemated lanes situations.
Sunken treasure – probably the best way to bring cards into one’s hand.
Tide caller / Tideshift / Ocean mist – This trio is very effective in helping open lanes for nasty attacks.
Lost at sea – lost at sea is the preeminent minion destroying trap.  Unfortunately, because it is easily identified, an attentive opponent can usually control what it destroys.

Blocker removal combinations – There are many cards that invoke a powerful special power when they attack for life damage.  These include ocean cards deepsea thing, razor sharks, sea snakes and pirate raiders.  But such cards are not limited to ocean faction (for example swamp’s screaming skulls, or underworld’s essence eater).  Any of these cards combined with any of a number of cards that move or remove blockers (direct damage spells like meteor, removal cards like taken under, minion moving cards like tide shift or sirens, etc.) are especially potent.
Regeneration/Health growth combinations – regenerative units like giant octopi or health gaining cards like giant urchins are very useful in conjunction with cards that drain health, e.g. dreadmarsh plague, burning world, rage, and volta special attacks.  Also includes exchanging positions of two octopi so that they do not attack.  In this way, two strength 3 octopi can hold off two strength 4 enemies indefinitely by regenerating as fast as they are damaged.
Energize/Overworld elixir combinations – Oceans many units with special powers invoked by tapping the unit (voltas, aquamancers, assassins, and to a lesser degree, water elementals) are greatly enhanced by cards allowing multiple uses of these powers in a round.
Banishment combinations – moving an enemy (say with tide caller) is more devastating if there are uninhabitable lanes (say due to volcanic eruptions) where they can be sent to their doom.
Siren freeing combinations – Sirens are much more valuable if means exist to destroy enemies called to move opposite.  Probably the best of these (but not the only one) is with a lavapult behind the siren.
Health depletion combos – Since the typical minion health deployed in a round is probably under 4 total, any combination of units able to inflict 4 health damage or more a round will leave an opponent helpless as minions are destroyed as rapidly as they enter the board.  Aquamancers and voltas can contribute greatly to this number.
Item retrieval combos – Triton pearl divers, if they can be kept alive, are excellent at retrieving one use items (like sunken treasure, shimmer pearl, and lost spellstones) giving such items multiple uses.
Fire prism combos – Ocean has numerous cards (shimmer pearls, rainbow pearls, and especially triton ritual) to fuel a fire prism.  In fact, it is possible to do infinite health damage in one round with 4 triton rituals, a fire prism, and a triton waverider (repeatedly recalled to hand) and re-played.
Illusionist combos – In addition to its ability to pull a dangerous card to an open lane, an illusionist can also be used to pull a big card out of danger.  This combo is predicated upon affecting the desired card, so one must limit his most expensive card to only 1.
Aqualid mage/bodyswap combos (credit to Valentino) – Play an aqualid mage opposite an ancient turtle to create a strength 9 enemy.  Next round, move an elusive unit opposite the turtle and cast bodyswap.  The strength 9 is yours!  Numerous other possibilities exist for this combo.
Drawback removal for dragonfish – Cast evolve after playing a dragonfish to eliminate the life drain.  It also works to play dragonfish opposite a primeval ooze.
Aquamancer preservation combos – To improve the survivability of an aquamancer, find ways to get them just a bit more health before your opponent can react.  Even one extra health more than halves the cards that can destroy it.  Some possibilities: energize to give it a chance to immediately use its power; barkskin, glade faeries, or fey wand to immediately improve its health; ominous eggs to possibly “hatch” it after your opponent has exhausted most of his resources for a round.
Volta/Pyrohydra – Voltas and pyrohydras are a natural pairing – good for both cards.  
Crushing waves combos – Crushing waves is often useful but is most devastating when it hits virtually every enemy and no allies.  To increase its impact, pair it with health removal cards like fire rain, gravity well, or stormship.  To reduce ill-effect, play quick or high health or magic immune minions.
Probability enhancing combinations – Spellcraft is very much a game of probabilities.  Ocean faction presents numerous ways to improve probabilities of drawing desired cards.  If you want your sea dragon to draw only good spells from your discard pile, avoid taking a spell you do not want to draw.  Avoid “junk” traps if you want your triton hunter to re-call a good trap.  Sometimes it is desirable to design a deck around a particular card – but it is disastrous if that card is never drawn.  Simply taking four copies of the card is not sufficient; the percentage of cases where the card is not quickly drawn is too high.  Cards like sunken treasure and fluidity substantially reduce this problem.
Extra spell/trap use combinations – I often find designing decks around archmages, skyhydras, or savage trappers that I want lots of spells or traps to trigger the creature special, but that I don’t want to fill all those slots in my deck with spells or traps.  Sea dragons or triton hunters instead of a spell or trap because they will effectively bring another one into play.
Back to the sea combos – back to the sea can be used not only to "rescue" minions, but also to allow "when played" effects to be triggered twice.

Secondary Factions:  Ocean generally goes well with anything, but different mixes do have different flavors.

Air:  Ocean/Air decks tend to exploit air’s energize and overworld elixir to give voltas, aquamancers and triton assassins extra and/or immediate attacks.  Of course, granting immediate attacks to sharks and snakes is also very effective.  Astral armor serves to make already powerful ocean units virtually industructable, and aeromancers are good for summoning any spell an ocean player would like to use.  At their best, ocean/air decks leave opponents helpless and impotent.

Fire:  epitomized by the volta/pyrohydra combo, ocean/fire decks offer an explosive mix of fearsome minions and devastating effects.  Blocking units from ocean/fire decks is likely to lead to disaster as the blocker is either moved or destroyed.  But might is not the only option for ocean/fire.  Ocean’s healthy and regenerative units are supported by rage and by burning world.  Ocean/fire decks tend to be flashy and dangerous.

Forest: Ocean/Forest combos tend to be quietly subtle, but very effective.  Whether a living essence negating a volta’s friendly fire disadvantage, an evolve spell converting a dragonfish’s persistent life drain to a useful power, or a bark skin enabling and aquamancer to survive that first, critical round, don’t expect fireworks or fanfare from forest cards.  But do expect consistent, reliable, and position improving moves.

Jungle: in case ocean doesn’t feel large enough on its own, addition of jungle can make ocean megalithic.  A well-timed ferocity, or a well-placed rampage can give many ocean forces an unmatchable frenzy, a well-chosen repertoire of traps eliminates virtually all non-spell counters to ocean’s heavy hitters, strangle vines slowly whittle away what assassins and water elementals don’t, and cursed idols and mantids put a price on enemy movement – chosen or forced..

Swamp: a brooding sense of foreboding is added  to ocean with a swamp secondary faction.  Simply the threat of bodyswap, horrify, or ancient ghosts should chill an opponent trying to plot against deepsea things, sharks, voltas, or urchins.  Necromancers make dealing with aquamancers twice as hard.  Banshees send foes screaming into a volta’s shock.  Bone dragons burn an enemy’s defensive resources.  Ocean/swamp decks hold tension in every turn; deal danger in every play.

Underworld: never turn your back!  That’s the message of an ocean/underworld deck.  If underworld constantly threatens breakthrough with cards like taken under and burrowing under, ocean offers the minions to make that threatened breakthrough glorious.  Underworld defenses enhance the already formidable calm seas and liquefy.  Ominous eggs birth both voltas and aquamancers under favorable conditions.  Shadow dragons can add a fluidity to one’s ocean deck.  And other big underworld minions lend strong support.

Ocean as support faction:  Ocean is often chosen as a supporting faction because of the role of a single card (for example, voltas to power fire hydras, or giant octopi to withstand burning worlds).  Ocean is also chosen for cascades of combinations (e.g. combos involving movement of enemies, combos involving reduction of enemy strength, combos involving recall of traps, spells, and/or items, or combos generating power and cards).  Finally, Ocean might simply be chosen for its incredible minions.  Ocean adds to every faction – which is as much as one could ask.

Representative Decks:

Deck 1 (Ocean/Fire): Pyrovolt (Credit to Jason Mullins.)  This deck dominated the first Spellcraft tournament.
   3 dragonfish
   3 sea dragons
   3 giant volta
   4 sirens
   3 triton aquamancers
   4 shimmerpearl
   4 lost at sea
   2 pyrohydra
   3 ruby dragon
   4 lava giant
   2 meteor
   1 fire rain
   4 flamespike

Deck 2 (Ocean/Air):  Extra special powers due to energize and overworld elixirs make this deck extremely formidable.
   4 sea dragon
   4 triton assassin
   4 giant volta
   4 water elemental
   4 giant urchin
   4 triton aquamancer
   4 sink
   4 energize
   4 time loop
   4 underworld elixir

Deck 3 (Ocean/Swamp):  This deck is a powerful “reduction” deck, first eroding enemy strength, then exploiting weakness with heavy hitting forces.
   4 sea dragon
   4 deepsea thing
   4 triton assassin
   4 aqualid hunter
   4 shimmersquid
   4 sink
   4 liquify
   4 bone dragon
   4 undead triton
   4 horrify

Deck 4 (Jungle/Ocean):  A deck that highlights how Ocean’s ability to relocate units is powerful, even in unlikely combinations.
   4 giant constrictor
   2 hungry crocodile
   4 mantid
   4 toxipede
   2 ferocity
   3 strangle vines
   2 rampage
   4 snake pit
   4 sea dragon
   4 triton assassin
   3 triton hunter
   4 ocean mist

Beginner Decks:  
     Ocean is a natural faction for a beginner: every minion is almost always useful, there are several impactful common minions and several excellent uncommon minions, ocean forces synergize well in lots of ways, and most rare cards integrate well into existing decks.  With most factions, it is easy to make a small, technical mistake that undermines the entire deck.  With Ocean, it is almost impossible to create a bad deck.
     Looking at ocean common cards, there is already huge variety: there are heavy hitters (razor sharks, sea snakes), there are de-buff units (aqualid hunters, shimmersquid), there are excellent defenders (triton warmachines, giant urchins), a great anti-aura spell (calm seas), a lane clearer (tide shift), and a great deployment inhibitor (lost at sea).
     But I also notice that, while the common cards provide a very strong backbone for a deck, they lack what I would call a finishing punch.  De-buffs will allow common ocean minions to hold off stronger enemies – for a while.  Tide shift might grant a razor shark a free attack (maybe even two), but that doesn’t win the game.
     Ocean decks can go in many directions.  A beginning player needs to examine the uncommon and rare card owned to leverage more power, and/or more damage.  If you pick up a tide caller, that’s a great way to free lanes in front of razor sharks.  But ultimately you will also need to kill enemies or you run out of places to send them.  If you pick up a giant volta, you now have means to significantly damage enemies – but you have to figure out how to save your own forces.  A dragonfish will probably handle things by itself if you are so lucky.  There are too many possibilities for me to reasonable discuss more than this small sampling – go forth with your own ideas.
     Almost any faction supports ocean well at almost all levels of play.  If I choose air, I am looking toward speed with energize on razor sharks, and eventually, energize and overworld elixir with aquamancer.  If I choose fire, I am probably looking for direct damage spells or lane clearing effects (lavapult, volcanic eruption) to keep my sharks and snakes hitting.  With forest, at this point I look for longevity of life boosts and gradual over-powering through wild strength.  With jungle, I want huge and ferocity to supercharge by forces.  With swamp, I like horrify’s ability to open lanes under advantageous conditions, and decay’s ability to eventually remove threats I otherwise can’t handle.  Underworld offers immediate strength with its cheap underdark worms, and great utility in taken under and in burrowing under.  Of course, there are numerous possible directions a beginning ocean deck can go with any of these supporting factions.

Summary Comments:  Ocean is an effective faction with amazing minions, excellent utilities, and rife with combinations. It admits an extremely broad variety of decks, and is easy both to play and to design with.  There is no dominate strategy or theme with ocean decks: they can be built on strength or speed, dominance of the board or denial of enemy entry to the board, eroding enemy forces or growing one’s own forces, always having the right card, or ensuring every card is right.  Whatever one’s playing style, ocean will fit.  And do well.