November 20, 2015
Table of Contents
“There Can Be Only One” – Reno Jackson Analysis
Reno Jackson. When doing my LoE card reviews, it was the card that gave me most trouble. I just couldn’t rate it, because it really, really depends on the cleverness of deck builders to make him work. In a world where only standard decklists with 2 copies of all the staples work, Reno Jackson has no place. But what if you can make a Highlander deck that truly works? Even if it’s slightly worse than the standard one, if you can offset the disadvantage with some really powerful effect – like let’s say healing to full – maybe it has a chance to be good?
That’s the story of Reno Jackson. The card that could either turn out to be complete crap or card that defines the meta. Even though Reno decks still aren’t THAT popular, we’ve already seen some tournament appearance and tons, tons of Brews – both from pros and from usual players.
I dare to say that it’s one of the most interesting cards in the whole game. Whether you like it or not, you have to admit that it’s going to affect the mindset of the players and deck builders in every region. So, let’s talk about the card a little.
Why Reno Can Be A Meta-Defining Card
In the introduction, I’ve used the term “define the meta”. But what does it exactly mean?
There are some cards that well, don’t define anything. They just are in the game. Some are played, some aren’t even touched in Constructed. But they don’t make people react in any way. They won’t tech in something or play in certain way just because you run this card. This card is, let’s say, Azure Drake. It’s a solid card, but doesn’t really change your strategy.
Then, there are cards that define a deck. They make you play the deck in certain way, they are staple cards that you have to base your strategy around. When opponent plays against you, once he identifies your deck type, he pretty much knows what he needs to worry about. This card is, for example, Molten Giant in Handlock. It really changes how you play the deck or against the deck.
And then, there are cards that define the whole meta. People are aware of them in a lot of matchups, they change their strategies and decks to play around them, they tech in cards just to counter them. Probably the most notable example is Dr. Boom. Especially just after the GvG, people were running it in every other deck and thanks to that Mind Control Tech + Big Game Hunter were staple tech cards. Even if people didn’t tech in against it, they all had that card in mind and saved the removals and other stuff. Another card that defined the meta was Mad Scientist. This time it was more from the deckbuilding perspective. Before Scientist, people didn’t really use the Secrets. There were some Hunter lists utilizing the Secrets with Eaglehorn Bow synergy to stall the game, but they weren’t so wide-spread. After Mad Scientist got released, suddenly pretty much every Mage and Hunter decks were playing with Secrets. The card changed the meta a lot and is still keeping the decks with Secrets in a good shape.
I’m still not 100% sure, but I might say that Reno Jackson fits the third category. If the Highlander type of decks become even more popular, the whole meta is going to change. First of all – a whole new type of decks will emerge. Meta will slow down. People will always have Reno Jackson in their mind when playing against this kind of deck. They won’t always be able to play around it, but they might value board control over the face rush and burn. Or, on the other hand, they might try to rush enemy down as fast as they can, while the chances that they already drew Reno are still rather low.
Meta will definitely not change over one night. Even if Reno decks are pretty successful, just like any other deck, they still need a lot of meta adapting and refining. We’ll probably need a few weeks from now to really see how the card works and how it affects the game.
Is Reno Healthy For The Meta?
This is a pretty tough question. For one moment, let’s assume that Reno decks are all over the ladder and people need to adapt. What are the pros and cons of the meta driven by Reno Jackson?
- Meta slows down. Reno decks are generally slower, more Midrange or Control oriented. They also tend to counter the Aggro decks – possibility of 20+ points of healing in one card is something that a lot of Aggro decks can’t deal with. It means that Aggro decks need to start playing a more board-centric game instead of face rush game.
- It encourages the unusual deckbuilding. Reno decks can be built in a lot of ways and honestly, it’s pretty hard to build a working Reno deck. Obviously, people will start to netdeck once some “meta” lists show online, but there should be a pretty long period of time where great deckbuilders can shine.
- It gives an unfair advantage against Aggro decks. Control decks are at disadvantage against Aggro, because small drops are much more efficient. Slow decks need unfair advantage to beat the Aggro. Reno isn’t auto-win against Aggro decks, but it significantly increases the win rate.
- Reno decks are usually harder to pilot than the standard ones, because of the higher number of decisions (more unique cards = more decisions to be done throughout the match) and less consistency, so it might increase the skill cap in the meta.
- Reno decks are generally expensive – since you’re running a lot of one-ofs, decks often use a lot of Legendaries, because you can put only one copy anyway. Expensive decks mean that F2P or new players have harder time catching up.
- Continuing the previous point, if Aggro decks become weaker (and Aggro decks are usually the cheapest), being competitive might require F2P/new players to spend money on the game.
- From the Aggro player’s perspective, playing against Reno Jackson is really unfun. It feels really bad when one card can completely negate what you did since the start of the game.
- The card has almost no counter play. There should be some way to counter cards with such a strong effect.
While I know that a lot of people are happy that Aggro players cry in the corner after they play Reno, I’m generally a big opponent of the “Aggro-hate” movement. I think that Aggro decks are vital part of the game, just like any other type of decks. Diverse meta is the best thing that can happen to this game – everyone playing Aggro is bad and dull, but it would be the same if everyone played Control. Reno Jackson is a really cool card and I’m actually glad that it was created. When people stopped playing Patron Warrior, meta has became really fast. Aggro and Midrange beat down decks were the most popular ones and Reno can stop that and slow it down a little. I just hope it won’t slow down TOO MUCH.
The biggest concern about Reno I have is that he’s pretty much uncounterable. While there are some subtle ways to play around it, you can’t really stop the healing. If Reno decks were very popular, it’s like everyone would be playing with two lives. And while healing to full is definitely healthier than OTKing opponent (like the old Patron Warrior did), in my opinion such a strong effects SHOULD have clear counters.
There Can Be Only One… But Sometimes Two Are Okay
While it’s kinda unrelated to Reno himself, the origin of “Highlander” name for the decks is pretty interesting. Highlander is a mode in Magic the Gathering, where you can only put one copy of each card (normally it’s 4) besides the Lands (Lands are source of Mana in MTG). The name comes from a series of movies called Highlander. “There can be only one” is one of the most iconic quotes from the movies. Hence, decks where “there can be only one” copy of each card are called Highlander.
While Reno works best in the true Highlander decks, you don’t actually have to run one copy of each card. The card’s text might be a little confusing. The effect can trigger if there is only one copy of each card in your CURRENT deck in the game, not in your whole deck. It means that if you draw 20 cards and you’re left with one-ofs in the bottom 10, you can get the healing. Obviously, if you run a true Highlander deck, Reno has 100% chance to trigger whenever you play him. But in reality, some cards are so strong that you can’t really afford to play only one copy. Especially if those are the early game cards – since you Mulligan hard for those, the chance that you’re going to draw them early goes up. 2-3 pairs of duplicates is alright in pretty much every deck that plays Reno.
But what if you want to play more? Sure, no problem. The more duplicates you play, the more card draw and/or stall you need to play. That’s pretty obvious – if you get deeper into your deck, the chances of drawing your duplicates gets higher. The most notable example of the deck that can run a lot of duplicates and still use Reno Jackson is Freeze Mage. The deck’s base is heavy cycle and stall, so that’s exactly what you need in Reno deck. Even against Aggro decks you’re often drawing most of your deck. And in certain matchups it’s nearly guaranteed that the game is going to fatigue.
Talking about fatigue – Reno Jackson can also fit into the Fatigue decks. Decks that want to play defensive and remove opponent’s threats, that want to stall the game so long that it gets to the fatigue. Since your game plan is to draw pretty much every card in your deck, Reno Jackson is very consistent with that game plan. When you have only a few cards left, you have 90%+ chance that there are no duplicates there. If you draw your whole deck, well, that’s right. Reno Jackson always heals you to full health, because your deck is empty, meaning there are no more duplicates in your deck.
Reno Decks: DIY
I’ll be honest with you – building your own Reno deck is pretty complicated. It’s even harder than building a standard deck and it’s already a challenge to a lot of players. I’m not the best deck builder ever, so I’ll just stick to giving you a couple of tips.
The first thing you need to decide is – obviously – a class. You can play Reno in pretty much every class, but I think that strongest classes to put Reno in are: Warrior, Warlock, Paladin and Mage. Those classes have a good diversity of strong class cards, so they don’t have to run suboptimal cards, making the decks a slightly more consistent. Hunter is obviously the weakest class, because Reno decks are more control-oriented and slow Hunter decks are rather weak. The same goes for Druid and Rogue – faster or combo-oriented versions are much better than slower ones. Priest is kinda in the middle, because on the one hand it can fit a Control Priest, but Control Priest is already a very, very reactive deck that can be inconsistent with the answers it draws. It also has negative synergy with Auchenai Soulpriest (unless you like dying). When it comes to the Shaman, honestly, I don’t know. It’s the only class I have no clue about. But who cares about Shaman, amrite? On a serious note, Reno feels okay in Shaman too, but I’m not 100% sure whether Control Shaman with only one-ofs would be consistent enough.
So, once you’ve picked the class, you need to decide how many 2-ofs you want to run. For every duplicate you run, you need to add more stall or draw. I think that 2 or 3 duplicates is the safe number even if you don’t run a lot of card draw. But those duplicates should be the cards you mulligan for, not ones you throw away in mulligan phase. This way you have a higher chance of drawing them before you want to drop Reno.
Then you need to decide on the actual cards. The general rule should be: run solid standalone cards. You can afford to put some tech cards in – like one copy of Big Game Hunter, one Mind Control Tech, Loatheb etc. But do not play combos. The chances that you draw into your combo cards when you’re using only one-ofs are much lower. The cards that require some sort of synergy also should be dropped. For example, you don’t want to build a Highlander Dragon or Mech deck.
Change the standard, staple cards into cards with similar effects. For example, if you remove one Shield Slam and one Execute from Warrior, you might lack the removal. So why not add one copy of Bouncing Blade and one Crush? This way you end up with the same amount of removals. Arguably they are worse than Shield Slam and Execute, but both of those are okay. If you need Taunts, instead the second Sludge Belcher you might use Sen'jin Shieldmasta or Sunwalker. In Mage, if you look for burn/removals, you can add Forgotten Torch in place of second Fireball. You want two Silences? Ironbeak Owl + Spellbreaker combo might work just fine. This way you can fill a lot of holes in your deck.
Remember to add some early game into your deck. Highlander decks are less consistent than the standard decks and while healing to full with Reno is cool, you won’t be able to if you just die on turn 5. If enemy gets overwhelming board advantage in the early game, Reno will also be useless. For example, I’d use Zombie Chow in pretty much every Highlander deck, because it’s still probably the best 1-drop in the game.
On the other hand, Reno decks need to have a solid late game. While Reno Jackson is a win condition itself against fast decks, against slower decks you need much more. That’s where the solid Legendaries come into play. Dr. Boom, Sylvanas Windrunner, Ysera, Kel'Thuzad etc. might make into those decks to give a win condition. Reno Jackson might be completely useless against a lot of Control lists. For example, you won’t likely lose a game against Handlock, because he rushes you down. You’re going to lose because he outvalues you and you run out of cards or because he gets huge board presence that you can’t deal with (and in both cases Reno is a pretty bad card). It still might come handy in some cases, especially if the game goes to the fatigue. This way healing to full might give you a two of three more turns.
One thing to note is also that Reno is cool and stuff, but if you want to focus on the anti-Aggro side of the deck, don’t let it be your only way to gain health. Since you run only one, sometimes you don’t even draw it until it’s too late. So if you intend to counter the fast deck, you want to have let’s say an Antique Healbot in your deck too. You can also add class cards that “heal” you if you prefer – like Shieldmaiden in Warrior, Ice Barrier in Mage or Lay on Hands in Paladin.
Try to balance your deck. Have a pretty smooth curve, good amount of removals, some AoE, some defense and solid drops throughout the whole game. You want a balanced deck, not a deck 100% focused about playing Reno. It’s just one of your win conditions and you can’t base your whole game plan around drawing it. I know that it easier said than done, but that’s the beauty of building a Reno deck – it’s a bigger challenge than a normal one.
If you want a few example Reno Jackson decklists, you can check out those:
- Reno Jackson Card Analysis by Asmodeus – example Warlock and Paladin lists + SuperJJ’s Freeze Mage list.
- Reno Control Warrior by LOKShadow
- Reno Fatigue Mage by GR2
Cutting Reno’s Head
In the Cons, I’ve mentioned that Reno might be unhealthy because of how hard countering him is. And that’s kinda true. There are pretty much no hard counters to Reno and the soft couters aren’t particularly good too.
The first and the most obvious way to counter Reno is Beneath the Grounds spell. Cool, we have a hard counter. No, it’s not cool at all. The fact that it’s Rogue only and that the card can be solid pick pretty much only in the slow Rogue decks (like Control Rogue), which as we all know aren’t really viable. That’s not the counter we need. Still, it’s kinda cute and maybe, just maybe Control Rogue might become better if Reno Jackson decks will roam all over the ladder.
The second counter is Alexstrasza. If you play it in your deck, you keep it until enemy plays Reno. And then you can get him down to 15 again. While not the best counter ever, especially since there aren’t tons of decks that you can fit Alex into, it’s something worth mentioning.
And that’s pretty much it. You can add a Nerub'ar Weblord to your deck, but that’s more like an overall Battlecry counter not a Reno counter in particular. Still, it might stall it by 2 turns if you really need to. And it might actually be just fine if the new Explorer that just came out turns out to be good (Brann Bronzebeard).
You can’t really counter Reno Jackson with another card. There is only one hard counter and other ones aren’t there or just don’t work good enough. What you want to do is to adjust your strategy. First, you need to identify: when is Reno good? It’s good when you’re at low health and the opponent has already used a lot of resources to put you there. Aggro decks generally try to use all resources to deal face damage. They don’t play the value game. So when you drop Reno and heal for 25 when they have like 5 damage on the board, you’re in great spot. And when is Reno bad? Reno is bad when enemy has a very strong board presence and you’re at average amounts of health. For example, when you’re at 15 health and enemy is threatening 15+ damage on the board. This way playing Reno will indeed prevent lethal, but not dealing with the board means that you’re going to be in the same exact spot next turn.
So, the best way to counter Reno is to play the board control game. Since Reno Jackson deck MIGHT be a little less consistent (e.g. less removals, less AoE) you might have a chance to take the board and then take the game. Obviously, it’s impossible when playing something like Face Hunter – it’s a deck that is all-in and you can’t make the trades all the time. This kind of deck just loses against Reno Jackson and it can’t do much. On the other hand, a little slower decks that are still aggressive can do that. For example, Midrange Hunter or Zoo Warlock can focus on playing the board control game, because they have better tools to do so. And if they identify that they’re facing a Reno deck, that’s probably what they should be doing. Win the game by overwhelming enemy with the board, not by just face rushing him.
Right now that’s the only real “counter” to Jackson. If Reno decks become very popular, face rush decks should fizzle out. Whether it will really happen, we’ll have to find out.
That’s all folks! I hope that both Reno Jackson fans and haters could learn something from this article. If you’ve enjoyed it, I might do the next one on the Brann Bronzebeard once I get to test him a bit.
If you have any questions or comments, leave them in the section below!