Is Pirate101 PvP (D)Evolving Into a Rock, Paper, Scissors Meta?

Everyone is familiar with the classic game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Perhaps you’ve used it to determine who goes first in a board game. Or maybe you’ve used it to decide if you or your sibling got the last slice of cake or final scoop of ice cream. For those who may need a quick refresher, in Rock, Paper, Scissors (RPS) both participants pick one of the three aforementioned items. Scissors beats paper, paper beats rock, and rock beats scissors.

This game may seem irrelevant to this site and the Kingsisle community as a whole, but RPS is a deeply applicable concept in any sort of player vs player game. Possibly the most iconic application is in the trading card game Magic the Gathering (and other tcgs, but I’m not familiar enough with them).

In this instance, RPS refers to the idea that at one point in the game’s early history, there were 3 major archetypes that essentially interacted with each other in a rock/paper/scissors fashion.

The 3 archetypes were:

  • Aggro– This build featured hyper-aggressive play with very few defenses. The general idea was to kill the opponent before they killed you.
  • Control– Control is the exact opposite of aggro. It’s highly defensive and seeks to gain resource advantage slowly before eliminating the opponent with a powerful finishing move
  • Midrange– Midrange is a mix of Aggro and Control. It generally has ways to stabilize in the early game to prevent early blowouts, and then can switch focus to aggression when necessary (this means it can be aggressive relatively early against a more controlling build, but not super early).

Generally speaking, Aggro ran over Control before it could begin to stabilize, Control beat Midrange since Midrange couldn’t out-race the control player before they got their defenses set up, and Midrange could blunt the early offensive of Aggro and then be set up to win a late game that Aggro had minimal resources to win. Naturally, as the game evolved, these once strict lines became more and more gray, due to the introduction of additional archetypes, such as combo (which played somewhat controllingly, fetching for the pieces necessary to win the game on the spot).

But Why Does it Matter?

Now that I’ve introduced these archetypes, it’s time to go back to Pirate101 PvP. At the beginning of the game, and even up until rather recently, the game had a plurality of different play styles and archetypes. Most of the game’s classes (excluding the very low tier) could play at almost any pace. For instance, Buccaneer could be played hyper-aggressively, or it could be played more controllingly. Both of these builds were equally successful.

Unfortunately this has changed as a result of the last update. Why? This fella right here:

Old Scratch’s newest promotion has shaken up the game in somewhat subtle, but quite significant, ways. Simply put, Scratch is too good. He gains a Jobu AoE drain, an extra epic talent, and most importantly, Purge Magic. Purge is an incredibly potent power, as it enables combos and allows for incredible offensive might and defensive control. Once your opponent stabilizes with Old Scratch, it’s pretty much game over. The resource advantage he will enable over the course of a fight is too difficult to beat. He’s arguably a must-run for all classes besides buccaneer.

There’s an obvious answer to this dilemma: don’t let your opponent stabilize. This idea has led to hyper-aggressive builds becoming more and more favored. This team can pressure the opponent and their Scratch. If Scratch dies early, one’s odds of victory skyrocket.


Rock Paper Scissors Meta
But what about aggro? How do we beat that? The answer is simple: a midrange/counterpunch strategy. Midrange builds can play defensively early, preventing a game-ending rush, while having the offensive prowess to hit back quite hard.


The Rock, Paper, and Scissors

I just illustrated how there are now 3 dominant builds in Pirate PvP. How do they form the Aggro/Midrange/Combo hierarchy mentioned earlier? In this hierarchy Scratch functions in essentially the same spot as control, with a little bit of combo mixed in.

  • Aggro– The aggro archetype is represented by the hyper-offensive, beatdown, rushing teams. This build is best done on a buccaneer or swashbuckler, but can also be achieved on privateers using Firstmate’s Boon. It also might feature time warp to increase speed even more.
  • Midrange– As I mentioned before, midrange is all about blunting early offensives and then hitting back harder. This build is best done on a Buccaneer or Privateer/Musketeer with Emmett/Exeter.
  • Scratch– Scratch is basically a Control build, with a few variations that can add combo potential or be played more aggressively. Spell power buffs allow for more efficient healing and absorbing, while his purge and high tier buffs increase damage output significantly. Every class except for Buccaneer can effectively run this strategy.

Match Breakdowns

Note: These breakdowns are not 100% gospel and obviously go out the window when skill levels are vastly different. They just indicate tendencies in matchups between evenly skilled players.

Aggro beats Scratch- Aggro builds can knock off one or more companions, potentially including Scratch, very early. It employs high movement range companions like Peter Quint, Goronado, Nausica, and Fan Flanders. It’s too fast for the Scratch user to stabilize against as a round 2 highland, fog, or boon rush and it is just too much offense to handle.

Scratch beats Midrange- Midrange is generally not fast enough to prevent Scratch builds from stabilizing. Midrange will generally feature 1 rushing companion at most (ex. A privateer with Nausica, Emmett, and Ratbeard or a Buccaneer with Wu Tang, Temujin, and Pete). One unit in the Scratch user’s face early isn’t significant enough of a threat, and Midrange’s anti-rush tech (gallant defense, htl, barricades, and movement reduces) isn’t going to be relevant.

Midrange beats Aggro- Midrange has a lot of anti-rushing tactics that can be deployed very early. They also have heavy hitting companions and/or buffs that prevent Aggro from slowly eking out an advantage. For instance, an early gallant defense from a buccaneer prevents and aggro Swashbuckler from executing their rush effectively. After blunting this rush, Peter and the buck pirate can clean up the aggro player’s team and be well set up to win the end-game. The midrange player will still have many of their defenses remaining. Similar logic applies to muskets and privies using Emmett to slow down their opponent.

How Can a Normal Player Capitalize on This Theory?

All of this information is nice to know, but it may seem that it’s essentially based on theory rather than practicality. So, why is this information relevant for the average ranked player and how should this change how you play the game (if at all)?

  • Know your identity.

    • In the current meta, you pretty much have to be squarely inside one of the three aforementioned build archetypes. For instance, trying to run one “aggro” unit, one “midrange” unit, and Scratch probably isn’t going to be super successful. Doing this will spread you too thin (For instance, against a Scratch build, 1 unit won’t be enough to apply the necessary pressure). I’ve been working on a hybrid archetype that, if it works out, I’ll discuss it at a later date
  • Know your opponent’s identity.

    • It’s pretty easy to tell what sort of build your opponent is running, and it should be even easier to determine how you should react to it.
  • Don’t be discouraged if you lose a mismatch.

    • If you’re an aggressive build that loses to a midrange build on a large board, that should be no reason to be frustrated. It doesn’t say anything about you as a player per se, just about the current state of the meta
  • Don’t be afraid to change things up in response to what is in queue at a given time.

    • As Einstein (maybe) said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If you drop a few matches to a Scratch-based build in a short amount of time, change up your team compilation or playstyle. Add in some higher movement range or 2x haste units for early disruption or protect and rush your pirate in early-game. This is easier for certain classes. I’ll elaborate below
      • Buccaneer can play aggro and midrange
      • Buckler can play all 3 (a buckler’s Scratch build will be on the aggressive side of things, rather than super controlling
      • Privateer can play all 3 (aggro will require boon+ Nausica and Goro or a loyal 2 Time Warp pet)
      • Musket can play midrange and Scratch
      • Witch needs Scratch (they are particularly vulnerable to aggro without a good spawn)
Rock Paper Scissors Meta
Maybe not the best idea if there are an abundance of midrange builds running around 😉

The Upshot:

Why is this a problem and how can it be fixed?

You might be asking yourself at this point, “Why is this dude complaining so much? Having 3 builds is much better than 1 build, take what you can get. And also, this update is quite young, just let KI work it out next update.” While all of these gripes may be legitimate, I’m not content with that answer. There was a time in the relatively recent past when builds could be diverse.

In addition, I’m old enough to remember when wizard101 had a similar problem with its PvP. Jades were everywhere, and were ruining the game’s pvp. The great writers of Duelist101 (may the site rest in peace) found counters, but they weren’t ubiquitous. Instead of nerfing Jade gear directly, Shadow magic (most importantly Shadow Shrike) was introduced. Then came the shadow enhanced spells. Both of these were designed to give aggressive strategies a leg up on jades. Instead of swinging the metaphorical pendulum of balance back towards the center, the pendulum was swung towards aggression.

I’m not entirely confident that this current problem in Pirate101 wouldn’t be fixed in the same way. Instead of nerfing Scratch, new ways for midrange to combat Scratch would be introduced. Then aggro would get something to beat midrange. Instead of direct nerfs, pirate players would get indirect nerfs that snowball the problems rather than fix them. Eventually, we could reach a point where this current Rock/Paper/Scissors meta became much more absolute, with ranked matches being decided more often than not once the first turn starts.

In addition, the tcgs I mentioned previously had a RPS meta at one point. They have since moved beyond this rather stale set of builds to have widely varying and diverse metas. There is no reason why Pirate101 should not strive to do the same. It should move forward, towards meta diversity, instead of moving towards monotony.


  • Remove Scratch’s Purge Magic. This is the easiest solution in my opinion, and arguably the most effective one. Without this purge, Scratch is less of a resource engine and combo piece. He’d become much less ubiquitous
  • Nerf/Remove Time Warp- While warp isn’t super problematic right now, as companions get more epics, powers, and/or movement, Time Warp will only get better. Removing Time Warp allows for slower strategies to get a chance to stabilize against hyper aggressive builds.
  • Don’t allow midrange to become unbalanced- This is obviously the most vague of my arguments. Currently, midrange builds can obtain a good balance of offensive and defensive tools in comparison to other builds. However, if new gear sets were released that allowed them to gain even more resources, they could obsolete the offensive and defensive ends of the spectrum. The meta would essentially turn in to “good stuff” strategies, where the only goal is to stockpile as many offensive and defensive resources as possible.

Do you agree with this diagnosis of the meta? Have any comments or thoughts? Let me know in the comments!

Share your vote!

Do you like this post?
  • Fascinated
  • Happy
  • Sad
  • Angry
  • Bored
  • Afraid
Final Bastion