When I first saw Kark, I was happy. I had no intention of playing it, but I thought it would help to address the never-ending nature of some prominent control decks. Also, I was hoping it would become popular because I thought my style of decks would crush it.
To understand where Kark fits into the Epic meta, I’m going to first explain the two major decks that came before it: Sage/Wild tempo discard (my previous thoughts on it) and Derek Arnold’s 4-color control (my previous thoughts on it).
Sage/Wild Tempo Discard
The Sage/Wild tempo discard deck and its variants have consistently been the most popular decks in constructed Epic. Thought Plucker, Knight of Shadows, Muse, Sea Titan, Kong, Flame Strike, etc. These decks generally try to play the most high-value champions and supplement them with discard and/or burn. Some decks focus very heavily on Wild generally and burn specifically.
Derek Arnold’s Control Deck
Derek Arnold’s deck (his write up can be found on his blog here) effectively broke the format at the first major constructed qualifier at Origins. I got to watch it and be amazed as it played opposite to all of my assumptions of Epic at the time. It was able to survive the Sage/Wild tempo discard decks by constantly wiping their board, outdrawing their forced discard, and gaining enough health with Inner Peace to blank their burn. This was also the first deck to exploit the Lesson Learned -> Ancient Chant combo to draw 4 cards, and it had Drinker of Blood combo in it too.
This deck was dominant, but it was slow. He made top 8 with a record of 3-0-2 winning the first game of the first 3 matches and drawing the rest. In other words, he made it to top 8 by winning only 3 games. Once in the untimed rounds of top 8, he grinded out all of his opponents to win his spot. With this deck, the control deck was introduced to competitive Epic. Variants of it would continue to earn spots at worlds: Tom Dixon’s control deck (mislabeled in Foundry) that heavily targeted the Sage/Wild meta and other decks that focused on Drinker Combo. I believe there was a deck at one of the World’s LCQs that even qualified without “winning” a single game. It just went to time every round and had more health than its opponents to win the tiebreaker.
The major problem with the control focused decks was that, with the inclusion of mass-discard banish and recurring health gain, games could theoretically never end, especially in the mirror matchup where both players were playing control. Life totals easily surpassed 60 health and games could and did go on for hours. With the introduction of Chamberlain Kark, this deck gained a way to end the game after reaching a high enough health threshold. In other words, Kark did not create the stall + health gain deck, it just gave it a win condition and shifted it more heavily into Good and health gain.
From what I gathered by attending Origins/Gen Con and by listening to other members in the community, Sage/Wild variants were the go-to strong decks for people relatively new to Epic. They were/are straight forward and effective.
Control was the next logical answer to this. These decks out-valued the Sage/Wild decks. In addition to outright nullifying the deck’s tempo and burn, these decks also leaned on discard-hate cards: Soul Hunter and ally -> recall cards like Inner Peace or Plentiful Dead. So, while Sage/Wild decks floundered, control decks could kill them over time with incremental advantage and incidental tokens.
These decks were incredibly difficult for most decks to defeat, but I had stumbled upon a potential answer with my Combative Humans deck. Instead of relying on high-impact champions, discard, and burn, this deck relied on a lot of mid-range champions with tribute -> draw a card in addition to blitz. Unlike the Sage/Wild decks that had to choose between applying pressure with champions and drawing, this deck did both at the same time.
Due to this, my deck forced the control deck to keep playing answers to my never-ending flood of threats. In this way, I ran them out of cards because I gave them no windows to safely draw, unlike their matches against Sage/Wild. If they board cleared me on their turn, I dropped Angel of Mercy, Noble Unicorn, or Angel of Light and forced them to deal with a new threat on my turn. Then, if they board cleared on my turn, I played a blitz threat like Lord of the Arena (possibly with Faithful Pegasus) or Avenging Angel, forced damage through, and left another threat they needed to answer in play. In this way, I was able to force the control deck to use their gold first, punish them when they did, and out resource them. Since my meta was fairly heavily control based, I constantly developed this deck idea. (The first iteration got crushed by a Sage/Wild deck largely because it had no way to effectively answer Muse.)
Chamberlain Kark Decks
Chamberlain Kark decks are built around the idea of reaching close to 60 health to play Kark and immediately win. In order to do this, not only do they have to gain health, but they also have to prevent themselves from taking damage.
The more popular version is Kark Control or Kark Prison as Finalist Will Morgen describes it in his Worlds Tournament Report. This version focuses on shutting down any aggression, board clearing for significant value, and gaining health steadily throughout.
John Tatian won the tournament and $25,000 with his version, Gabriel Costa-Giomi and Jason Smith both made it to top 8 with their version, and Tom Dixon won the first 2017 Worlds Constructed Qualifier with his version.
Clearly, Kark is a strong card.
World’s Kark Lists Card Crossover
All 3 (26, 78)
John + Gabriel/Jason (11, 22)
John + Tom Dixon (10, 20)
Gabriel/Jason + Tom Dixon (9, 18)
John Only (13)
2x Angel of Mercy (+1 run by John+Tom)
1x Brand, Rebel Fighter (+2 run by John+Tom)
1x Chamberlain Kark (+2 run by All)
3x Palace Guard
3x Priestess of Angeline
2x Royal Escort
1x Inner Peace (+1 run by All)
Gabriel/Jason Only (14)
1x Bodyguard (+1 run by all, +1 run by Gabriel/Jason+Tom)
3x Memory Spirit
1x Soul Hunter (+2 run by Gabriel/Jason+Tom)
1x Erase (+2 run by Gabriel/Jason+John)
1x Frantic Digging (+2 run by Gabriel/Jason+John)
2x Hasty Retreat
2x Urgent Messengers
Tom Dixon Only (15)
2x Markus, Watch Captain
3x Rescue Griffin
1x Arcane Research
1x Consume (+1 run by All, +1 run by Gabriel/Jason+Tom)
1x Final Task
3x Martial Law
1x Reusable Knowledge
2x Zombie Apocalypse
In my testing, I ran across 3 or 4 test Kark lists run by different players, and I either beat them or came close enough in game one to feel confident in the matchup. Admittedly, my testing was not thorough, and I neither played against the lists nor the players running it at Worlds, but I felt like my decks of preference matched up well against what Kark was trying to do. It all ties back to my Epic: Limited – Get Ahead, Stay Ahead playstyle and my genesis decks: Combative Humans and 4-Color Army.
Kark decks lose to consistent, unrelenting pressure, just like the control decks before it. The most important aspects to applying this pressure, in my preferred style of decks, are Ambush Champions, Blitz Champions, and Maintaining a consistently adequate Handsize. (Incidental damage, discard pile hate, and possibly forced discard could be helpful too.)
Every time a Kark deck is forced to board clear, they lose a card in hand and don’t gain health. Their removal is primarily board clears. So, if you can get a threatening champion into play that they can’t neutralize by chump blocking with Bodyguard/Brand/Rescue Griffin/Blind Faith, Fumbling, or Hasty Retreating, they either take damage or need to use their gold. If they take damage, they are farther away from winning with Kark, and you are closer to killing them; you can also pass with your gold up. If they use their gold on your turn, you respond by playing a blitz threat that can hopefully push damage through anyway (airborne blitz champions and/or blitz champions with breakthrough or direct damage are ideal because they are a lot harder to fully neutralize). Then, if they use their gold on their turn, you play an ambush champion to keep the pressure on. Once you get ahead of them by forcing them to spend their gold first, if you can keep establishing immediate threats (ambush/blitz), it can be hard for them to dig their way out.
Ceasefire is one of Kark‘s most important cards. It draws 2, prevents you from punishing them for spending their gold first on your turn, and turns off a multi attack turn. In addition, it can bait players into over-extending. Generally, if you have overwhelming force in play that your Kark opponent can’t deal with, it is usually better to just draw cards after getting Ceasefired. Since your opponent is already in a position where they can’t win unless they answer your threats, adding more non-immediately threatening threats achieves little, especially if they get caught up in a board clear. Drawing 2 lets you maintain your aggression longer.
Bodyguard is another important card for Kark decks because it can completely lock out certain decks. Instead of drawing out resources with every attack you make, Bodyguard can keep you locked out on the ground without decreasing your opponent’s hand size or depleting their gold. If you rely on non-airborne/non-breakthrough champions, Bodyguard is a high priority target for discard pile banish.
Ancient Chant is another critical card for your opponent. If they can get it in their discard pile by either playing or discarding it to max hand size, they are able to recycle it with a 0-cost card to draw, or even worse, draw 4 by targeting it with their Lesson Learned. A lot of pressure can be alleviated by a 1 gold draw 4, so the best way to deal with this card is prevent them from having an opportunity to play it. If you keep enough pressure on them, you can hopefully prevent their hand size from reaching 8 at the end of their turn so they can’t discard it. You can also force them to choose between playing it to draw 2 and either taking damage or leaving you a free opportunity to establish an ambush champion on their turn. If you are running forced discard (Thought Plucker), this card is particularly nasty against you. Or, if your opponent has Frantic Digging, they can bypass the need to ever actually play it to get it into their discard pile. However, if it does hit their discard pile, you want to banish it before they can Lesson Learned or recycle it (particularly before they can 0-cost recycle it into 7+ reveal Kark to win the game).
Recycling and other discard pile recursion like Soul Hunter and Lesson Learned are also important to some Kark decks. John and Gabriel/Jason’s decks in particular relied heavily on recycling to maintain handsize, dig to Kark, and neutralize attacks at the same time. As can be seen in the finals between John Tatian and Will Morgen, if you can prevent recycling, you significantly weaken Second Wind, Fumble, Watchful Gargoyle, etc. However, this is much easier said then done because Kark plays a lot of events that fill their discard pile.
Noble Unicorn is another strong card in Kark because it allows for multiple draws if not immediately answered. Angel of Light and Drain Essence are also strong cards because they disrupt Kark‘s opponents and gain a significant amount of life. Inner Peace is actually a fairly weak card in this specific matchup because it neither relieves them of any of your pressure nor draws them closer to Kark. It can be strong to get that final burst of health to win though.
Reasonable Decks Against Kark
I’ve done well against various test versions of Kark decks with all of these decks below.
Going into Worlds, I believed that my Pyrosaur deck had the best matchups with the rest of the field, hence why I ran it. The rest of the decks, while potentially strong against Kark, did not match up great with other decks I tested against.
This deck went 1-1 against Kark decks at Worlds, losing to the Gabriel/Jason Kark deck and beating a non-standard Kark deck. The deck follows the general formula of consistent pressure. Raging T-Rex, Fire Spirit, Brachiosaurus, and Cave Troll are my establishing champions to begin the pressure. (Kong, Scarros Hound of Draka, and Winged Death are my reestablishing champions.) Draka’s Enforcer, Strafing Dragon, and Surprise Attack are my off-turn threats. Draka Dragon Tyrant, Strafing Dragon, and Pyrosaur are my primary blitz threats on my turn.
Against Kark decks the Spore Beast, Drain Essence, and to a lesser extent Winged Death are almost worthless. Guilt Demons were great for helping counter my opponent’s discard pile and recycling. Scarros, Pyrosaur, and Fire Shaman were nice for constantly chipping damage through. Brachiosaurus, Pyrosaur, Draka’s Enforcer, Draka Dragon Tyrant, and Strafing Dragon were also all attacking threats not easily shut out by Bodyguard.
3x Winged Death
3x Drain Essence
This is the first posting of this deck. It was my backup deck for Worlds before I fell in love with my Pyrosaur deck.
Once again, this deck followed my Get Ahead, Stay Ahead strategy. Winter Fairy and The Gudgeon helped me reach 7 cards in hand. Raxxa Demon Tryant and Zannos Corpse Lord established threats on my turn. Rift Summoner, Spawning Demon, Final Task, and Medusa established threats off turn. Rampaging Wurm and Demonic Rising were my blitz threats on my turn.
This deck went wide with tokens by continually spawning them out. Plentiful Dead was nice, especially into a Rift Summoner for 17/17 worth of stats off turn spread over 4 bodies. Ceasefires were particularly nasty against my hordes, but I largely blanked Inheritance of the Meeks and mitigated the effectiveness of Bodyguard.
Rampaging Wurm was excellent in this deck because my tokens would generally draw out all blocks before the 14/14 blitzer would come in. Wither, Raxxa’s Curse, Wolf’s Bite, and Unquenchable Thirst helped it connect as well. After it dealt 14 damage, it would then stay in play as a 14/14 champion, immune to Drain Essence. In theory, Demonic Rising is incredible after a Wave of Transformation or Zombie Apocalypse, but it also works fairly well with Plentiful Dead too.
Jonah Acosta’s deck designed by team Pluck You! worked similarly.
2x Blind Faith
2x Winter Fairy
2x Rampaging Wurm
2x Surprise Attack
2x Wolf’s Bite
This is the first posting of this deck. It was my pre-uprising anti-control deck.
This deck was built around the idea of including no Drain Essence targets. In addition, it includes 3x Lightning Strike, 3x Wolf’s Bite, 3x Flash Fire, 3x Rage, 1x Wither, and 1x Flame Spike to pick off any potential blockers before they could be assigned to block, especially against my blitz champions played while my opponent’s gold was down. Arcane Research, Amnesia, and Surprise Attack also helped to thin my deck to reach my threats + 0 cost removal. Bodyguard could be a problem for this deck because of the value generated over multiple replays which forced me to hold Amnesia specifically for that card.
Establishing Threats: Raging T-Rex and Brachiosaurus
Reestablishing Threats: Kong and Scarros
Off-Turn Threats: Crystal Golem, Lurking Giant, Surprise Attack
Blitz Threats: Rampaging Wurm and Frost Giant
There is nothing subtle about this deck. It just hits hard.
2x Drain Essence
3x Frost Giant
This is the first posting of this deck. It was yet another attempt at a Good deck, but I scrapped it due to a terrible Wild matchup.
Establishing Threats: Silver Dragon and White Dragon
Establishing Defense: The People’s Champion, Village Protector, and Paros Rebel Leader
Off-Turn Threats: Angel of Light, Angelic Protector, Angel of the Gate, Angel of Mercy, Rescue Griffin
Blitz Threats: Gold Dragon, Avenging Angel, Insurgency, Justice Prevails, and Revolt
This deck was strong against Kark (even though The People’s Champion, Village Protector, and Bodyguard weren’t great cards in the matchup) because it was able to consistently fly over Kark‘s defenders and keep my opponent’s health reasonable. At the same time, my Gold Dragons, Angel of the Gates, and Justice Prevails were easily able to get my health well above 60 which would have let me win with my own anti-Kark Kark, assuming I hadn’t mulliganed it before knowing I was against Kark (4 cards away from drawing through the deck to reach it).
Unfortunately, this deck had other terrible matchups making it non-viable for Worlds.
Admittedly, Kark is stronger than I initially expected, but I’m still not overly scared by it. If you disagree with my analysis of Kark and how to beat it, feel free to let me know in the comments below. Or, if you try one of these decks against Kark and get trounced, let me know as well: Pyrosaur and Uprising Demons will probably do the best for you, but don’t expect short games.
In addition, I continue to build decks that exploit undervalued cards that might show promise. I have my own version of discard + discard pile-hate that shows promise, and I am liking my Blue Dragon/Hunting Pack deck although it still needs work.