It’s that time of the year: Force of Will set rotation. As we say goodbye to some of our favorite Rulers we welcome the new ones with open arms and must once again ask the question “Can the new rulers compete with the old ones?” This year all of the rulers share a cool new mechanic called Divinity, allowing them to start the game with 5 Rune cards that are essentially chants from outside the game that can be cast at their respective appropriate timings.
As most of us have heard by now, these 10 rulers are the only ones we’re getting throughout the whole of New Valhalla. Each set will show support to every ruler, with the perceived (and I believe directly stated notion) that rulers who prove to be very weak would receive a little extra support to try and bump them into viability. For now each attribute has 12 runes (water has 13) and 2 Master Runes (1 for each ruler in the color) and while that may change in the future, this article seeks to speculate only with what we already have. That being said, if your favorite ruler doesn’t seem in great shape this format there’s always hope for V2.
A Divinity ruler’s biggest tool is their respective Master Rune, and for the most part their viability in New Frontiers is going to be based off of a mix of their J-Ruler ability, the power of their Master Rune, and non-chant runes in the context of the format. We have a pretty good amount of New Frontiers tournaments under our belts now, so I want to break down which rulers are already showing a lot of promise, which ones may yet still come out of the woodwork, and which ones are just going to have to wait for more support.
FU XI - FLAME SOLDIER FORMATION
Force of Will isn’t known for being the most thoughtful with their resonator races, and like Kirik before him Fu Xi falls il to their carelessness. With only a few borderline playable options for Fu Xi to grab off of his enter ability, his massive flip cost of 5 for a measly 1000/1000 almost never seems worth it. The best dragon in NF (Misty Dragon Spirit) is locked away with a double water will cost, and all of the dragons that came out with Fu Xi just feel mediocre. Dragon of Kunlun was released in V1 with him and was clearly meant to be the go-to resonator to pull off of both his enter ability and his Master Rune, but as things stand paying 5 will to pull a 1200/1200 flyer out of deck and do 1000 damage to a resonator is one of the more mediocre 5 will plays, and having that be your trump card is downright embarrassing at a competitive level. It’s easy to see Karura, the Crow Tengu shining in top decks and think 5 will 1200/1200 flyers are good (Flame Soldier Formation even has quickcast like her!) but Karura has a very important line of text that reads “This card cannot be cancelled”, a key piece of the 5 will puzzle that Fu Xi and his support are sorely missing. Even his Master Rune having quickcast seems to be more of a drawback than anything, as it leaves you open to Faerur’s Spell but doesn’t really threaten anything other than itself by passing with 5 open will in a fire deck. At the end of the day Fu Xi feels like an overcosted and under supported Faerur Letoliel. Maybe next set.
ISIS - WHIRLWIND CONFLAGRATION
While Fu Xi takes the reins on the dragon and resonator aspect of fire, Isis seeks to focus more on the removal and burn aspects on the attribute. Unfortunately for her, now just isn’t the time for a strategy like that to shine. With most of the fire runes being removal with a little burn thrown in, there’s not enough direct damage in the format to get through all the White Leafs and Spiritual Guidances coming out of the Gill deck even if you start with a few extra burn spells in your rune deck. The general low resonator count in the format combined with Gill and TSW having barrier the chances of getting to 1200 damage on Whirlwind Conflagration without clearing your own board are slim to none, with the chances of that 1200 damage being useful should you get there are even lower. While not every deck has access to the massive life point swings that Gill does, Laurite’s Seven Disciples is enough for any wind deck to put Isis out of the game with a 900 life swing that can’t be taken down by your arsenal of combat tricks. While Isis has one of the stronger J-Ruler sides in the format thanks to her stone, even that isn’t enough to compete with Gill. His barrier protects from Isis’ 200 ping, Winds of Vitality allows him to survive combat with her and send her back to the ruler zone since none of fires runes do anything to pump J-Rulers And of course with Arrival of the Hero floating around resonators are having a much harder time getting Gill himself taken down. All that being said if you DO manage to kill the Gill J-Ruler, I don’t think you’ll be left with the resources to win the game unless you somehow didn’t use your Isis yet. You’re better off just sticking to Kirik for now.
lOKI - CONSUME
I’m going to try and keep this one short: Time Spinning Witch has a monopoly on Awakenings in NF and I don’t see Loki contesting that. With a relatively weak Master Rune and no central theme to commit to that isn’t outclassed by TSW, Loki will have a hard time finding a place in the meta even after support comes out in following sets. Having to commit to an early flip and then stay on the board with no inherent protection is a strategy we haven’t seen work out since Abdul format in 2015 and I have a feeling Loki isn’t the Ruler to change that. While it’s great that Gretel of Misty Woods exists, it still just feels like more of a TSW card. The only thing Loki feels to have over TSW is the possibility of a turn 5 double awakened Loki’s Watchdog, Fenrir, but something about the loveable pooch just doesn’t quite seem to compare to the power of Mosasaurus.
ARTHUR - ANTI-MATTER CANNON, EXCALIBUR
While water machines were considered by many of the worlds best players to be the best deck for the block format WGP, NF is a different beast with different rules. That being said, I don’t think machines are in as bad a spot as one might initially think. With Gill having to worry about the mirror, removal is not something the deck tends to lean very hard into and it’s possible to go wide against the deck and eventually push through for a win. The main problem is that while they don’t have a lot of removal, machines tend to be a little focused with their threats. The strategy of “kill whatever has the most +100/100 counters on it (probably Vivianne)” is actually a pretty straightforward and effective counter to the deck, and being a counter based deck makes it all the more vulnerable to Dragon Lord’s Breathe. While you’ll be fighting an uphill battle for most of the game, I’m not convinced that it’s impossible for the deck to exist in some capacity given how many water runes allow you to draw cards to hopefully stick down more The Knights Castle in the Sky, Sky Round. While I’m not convinced the deck is unplayable, I would advise against taking it to a Grand Prix level event if you’re aiming to make the top 8.
CHAMIMI - ELEPHANT RUSH
To the surprise of absolutely no one, the wind ruler with a playable Master Rune has broken out as THE Divinity ruler of the early format. Taking a spot in the top 4 of the initial WGP NF tournament as well as 3 top 8 spots at GP Minnesota, Chamimi seems to be here to stay. While there are a few builds for Chamimi, the one seeing the most success has been the “Zoo” variant, playing a wide array of 1 cost resonators and Viola/Seven Disciples to take advantage of the lack of board wipes in the format. Elephant Rush is also a great aggro tool since its not something you have to put in your main deck and can’t be cancelled which helps your Gill matchup a lot. With the general power and diversity of wind runes so far, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Chamimi be a competitively viable ruler throughout the cluster even if a board wipe comes out to knock out the aggressive version of the deck.
HANZO - SEALING SCROLL
While Chamimi is praised for her versatility within deck building, Hanzo is a bit more streamlined in my opinion. Without having Divinity rulers established within the top tiers of the NF meta, Sealing Scroll is probably the worst Master Rune out there right now. Hanzo feels like what Scherezade was supposed to be; a niche counterpick to a niche meta. That being said, not all hope is lost for him. I can’t sing the praises of Karura and then pretend that I don’t love the idea of getting 2 uses out of runes like Youkai Festival, I just don’t think it’s likely to resolve against Gill (the deck you should be most prepared for). If we’re being honest here, the best way to play Hanzo probably involves playing Elephant Rush and siding into Chamimi as none of the runes that currently exist seem so good that you want to forego having a Master Rune so you can attempt to play it twice. Even double Youkai Festival just doesn’t seem as good as a single Youkai Festival and an Elephant Rush (unless you’re that scared of Black Tears). Definitely keep an eye on Hanzo though, as he’s a ruler who can only get stronger as more runes get added to the game.
BRUNHILD - ODIN'S JUDGMENT
Brunhild may have taken a little longer to figure out than Chamimi, but there’s no denying the many strengths of the beefy valkyrie. While mono-light angels may still not be a viable deck, the strength of white runes has been enough for Jeanne D’Arc to find a place in the format. While it's strange to think that Brunhild would be the one to do this and not Lucifer (more on that later), the answer lies in the rune Einherjar's Summons. But I don’t want to talk about Einherjar's Summons, I want to talk about Brunhild and Odin’s Judgement. While we’re not in the most resonator heavy format in recent memory, there are very few games where you don’t think “man I wish I could just wipe the board right now”. Decks like Chamimi have to tread lightly in the face of this threat, and even more chant focused decks like Time Spinning Witch need Mosasaurus to stick around for a few turns in order to end the game. Pair this with a J-Ruler who can revive anything that was killed, and it's no surprise that she’s making waves among casual and competitive players alike. While she’s found a pretty steady foothold in the meta and really only has the singular deck, she’s got a lot of potential to evolve with the format. Light has always been one of the weakest attributes in Force of Will to base your deck around, and even without duals stones Brunhild doesn’t seem to be one to challenge that. Reanimation as a game mechanic has never stuck to just one attribute and light still has very weak tools for a main deck outside of Brunhild herself. But at least we’ve finally got a light ruler in the mix, right?
aTOM SEIKHART - ZUES' GRAND LIGHTNING
Every year I feel like we get a light ruler who leans a little too hard into a mediocre gimmick, and this year I present Atom Seikhart for this award. It isn’t often that we see a card and think “man this card would be insane if I could play it at quickcast speed”, and I feel that sentiment applies to very few runes. While we did see an aggressive version of the deck perform admirably in block format by taking advantage of main decked runes and Atom’s J-ruler side to constantly rest opposing resonators and attack through a tapped board, that sounds a little gimmicky for NF in my opinion. Removal is a lot more prevalent in NF than it was in block meaning you’ll likely only be getting in good hits with Atom himself and 800 attack is a pretty long clock to be on especially with all the life gain the Gill deck naturally has. While his Master Rune is one of the better ones this set, his static J-ruler side ability is one of if not the weakest of all the rulers, and at the end of the day it’s just difficult for anyone to compare to the powerhouse that is Brunhild.
LICH - CYCLE OF DEATH
Lich is probably the Divinity ruler I have had the hardest time predicting a place for in New Frontiers, but I think I’ve finally got him where I want him. While Cycle of Death is arguably one of the weakest Master Runes we have at the moment (ESPECIALLY when compared to Black Rosario), the symbol skill bane is probably the most powerful keyword to have right now since it can kill J-rulers and Gill is a deck that relies very heavily on its J-ruler. Obviously there is an amount of counterplay to this in the Gill deck in the form of Laurites who are more resilient to discard than they are in any other deck I feel it’s important to note that Lich will simply bounce off of the Gill if the bane effect is negated and can try again next turn. With Sandstorm being a free pass at getting through Laurites and considering your opponent will likely only have 1 buyback instance of Laurite early on in the game (that you can likely force with a discard spell first), Gill has to think very carefully about when it’s going to flip against Lich. While Diseased Rat also carries the keyword, it will not survive combat with Gill and be a consistent threat like Lich will (it also loses out to Black Leaf). On top of having bane, Lich’s static ability has more to it than might initially meet the eye. While I don’t think there’s a whole lot to be done with 100/100 tokens at the moment, they do serve a purpose by simply existing. As everyone should be aware, Scherezade was banned at the beginning of September and as a result her previously banned support cards were unbanned, namely Ruined Story. With Speaking Stone being such a natural fit for all green decks anyway, multiple copies of Ruined Story have found their way into these decks, with arguably the most useful mode on the spell being ‘your opponent banishes a resonator’ to help get around pesky Karuras. The point of this sidebar is to highlight the importance of having a wide board, even if some of the resonators like your 100/100 tokens don’t do anything. Once flipped Lich should be more or less impervious to banish effects, a much more useful ability than in previous formats since there are no great splashable board wipes in the format right now that aren’t runes that Gill won’t have access to. While I wouldn’t play a ruler just because they seem impervious to Ruined Story I certainly think it's worth highlighting.
LUCIFER - BLACK ROSARIO
Let me focus this section on clarifying a bit on my “main Lich side into Lucifer” point from the previous section. Side decking rulers has always been one of my favorite aspects of Force of Will because it is usually very unexpected and can give you a huge swing in certain matchups and can really shine in niche situations and formats. Black Rosario is an incredible anti-aggro tool for darkness to have, and Lucifer has an enter ability that will cripple any kind of deck not running Laurite. Throw a Sword of Lament into your rune deck and you can even handle J-rulers with ease, leaving your only blindspot as J-rulers with barrier. Enter Lich. Lich handles this very nuanced part of the current meta for Lucifer, and still has access to siding into Lucifer in every other scenario. So why start as Lich if Lucifer is so much better against the field? The main reason is that I expect you’ll see more Gill than anything else, and it’s very possible that if you start game 1 as Lucifer you won’t have the time to finish the match against Gill with a win. Lich still handles most of your other matchups well enough even though he can’t cast the Black Rosario in your rune deck, and Lucifer can quickly choke the resources out of aggressive decks and actually win in a timely fashion if you lose game 1 as Lich. Siding between rulers takes a lot of high level thinking about matchups, time management, and is overall one of the more exciting aspects of Force of Will to me when done properly.
MAGUS OF DAWN // SOLDIER OF WAR // GIANT OF LIGHT
These are here because I knew if they weren’t, you would ask where they were. Do not play them.
While there’s certainly a lot more that goes into a decks viability than its J-Ruler and their Master Rune, I wanted to keep things simple for this article and delve into deeper meta analysis later on. For those still looking for a little more clarity, let me break down for you where I think the Divinity rulers rank in NF.
8) Fu Xi
10) Atom Seikhart
An important anecdote about this list is that I don’t think anything outside of the top 2 are really great options for trying to top 8 a Grand Prix with. The darkness rulers certainly have potential, but I think people are focused too hard on trying to make Lucifer the Jeanne D’Arc deck when it's just a better fit for Brunhild. With Time Spinning Witch having a pretty dominating showing at the most recent GP, its hard to imagine any Divinity ruler save Chamimi doing well at any remaining events in the format. Unfortunately the Master Runes and J-Ruler abilities seem to be less important than an ability to run Laurite, and the truth is a lot of these deck simply won’t function at a competitive level if you’re trying to jam wind in with the ruler color. Sometimes synergy just isn't there, but I’m hopeful that the new cards from V2 will bring Divinity into the spotlight a little more.
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