Utilizing Shifts and Dark Nova
in Top Level
When Shift Spells and Shadow Creatures appeared in the Spiral with the release of Khrysalis Part 2, most PvP players dismissed these spells offhand. That was understandable. Shift spells, while providing great utility, cost 3 pips and with no moon mastery this translated to 3 power pips on average. The Shadow creatures had great damage but were incredibly restrictive, costing 2 shadow pips and 3 rounds of building likes to achieve maximum damage.
I initially thought the shift spells would be great with elucidate, but after thinking some more I became convinced I could make a shift and shadow centric deck work as is. Hence began the painful process of learning to utilize these spells in an effective strategy.
To start out with, I planned on training Shift Greenoak and Shift Piscean as my main shifts.
Shift Greenoak due to its after effect of simultaneously buffing me and debuffing the opponent. Piscean due to what I had believed to be an awesome aftereffect of stealing a pip. However upon using them I noticed 2 problems. Shift Greenoak despite its awesome aftereffect could not make damage stick, Shift Piscean(unlike celestial calendar) steals white pips before powerpips, which means that in some cases it could actually help the opponent. Also, Storm shields are common in the arena, and Piscean often had to meet them.
Eventually I removed Shift Piscean for that reason (non-storm schools may find good use for it). I also ran into the problem that from second I would be shifting into tower shields, further limiting my already low damage output. These observations convinced me to add 2 more shifts to my deck: Shift Sugar Glider and Shift Grendel. Grendel (a DoT) took care of stacked towers from first and second and acted as a handy shrike counter with its accuracy debuff. Sugar Glider acted as my main shifted damage dealer and also left 2 very important debuffs, a weakness (stackable with other weakness) and an infection.
With these spells, my versatility improved considerably and I was able to attack and debuff opponents from many different angles.
The only Shadow creature I planned on using was the Shadow given to my class for free, Dark Nova. This spell gave a range of damage from 400-1600 (a large amount of damage that is only available on the third and final like). However this impressive amount of damage is boosted even more as the spell gains likes:
At 1 like
Dark Nova gives itself a 40% blade
At 2 likes
Dark Nova puts on a 10% spear
In total that means that a fully buffed Dark Nova deals 2800 damage at base with 10% pierce! I quickly realized that Dark Nova would be my hammer, dealing the majority of my damage and setting up kill shots covering my fatal damage output weakness.
I knew from an understanding of spell mechanics that the shift and shadow spells would utilize universal damage boost. Thus I searched my bank for some universal damage boost gear. Luckily I had some gear from the Holiday Season Pack and I quickly decked myself in this garb. With 86% universal damage I thought I was set, no one would be able to stop me! I stepped into the arena… and was summarily dispatched within the first 5 rounds.
I found that even with the high universal damage I simply could not cast spells fast enough to keep up with those utilizing a high tempo, power pip driven offense. I also ran into the problem that I could not consistently block criticals. An unblocked critical in this meta was often death and without a mastery I could not heal effectively.
After a memorable battle with fellow duelist writer Blaze Raven, I realized that the fire mastery offered a lot of utility I was missing. I switched to the fire mastery amulet and began utilizing fire elf, krampus, efreet and power link. Power link and elf provided me with vital shield breaking capability and some minor healing ability. Krampus allowed me to possibly fizzle lock my opponent (unreliable) while efreet allowed me to deal some great damage and debuff a potentially fatal hit.
While the fire mastery amulet was fun to use, it had several flaws that prevented me from being more successful. Fire spells such as Krampus would hit into the fire portion of the common volcanic shield. Efreet while useful was still very expensive and power link simply did not provide me with the amount of health i needed to recover.
After experimenting some more I realized my deck was losing due to three decisive factors.
- Critical – My initial set-up had very little critical block(under 200). With a deck based on an offensive that was not driven by power pips, i needed time to build. A critical dealt to my low health buffer was often a game ender.
- No way to reliably recover health – While a great spell, Power Link simply did not provide the levels of heal I needed to survive. In the high level meta, attacks came frequently and hit for large amounts. Without a way to heal I was a sitting duck.
- Slow attack rate– Since the shift spells cost 3 pip slots, getting an offense together was costly and inefficient. I realized that I would have to shift my offense to a 1 or 2 hit combo strike with the shifts as support.
Correcting the decisive factors
To address the fatal critical hits, I upped my critical block to 305 (64%). Even outside of this build, having a good chunk of block is important for all but the most offensive of strategies, and my 64% was enough to survive with. It ended up protecting me from nearly all criticals with only the occasional dedicated fire, storm and balance critical getting through.
Addressing health recovery
I switched to a Life Mastery amulet, which allowed access to Satyr and Regenerate. Satyr for quick recovery from a debilitating strike and Regenerate for a constant heal to address spam or preempt attacks. I also included absorbs to protect my shields from wands and Rebirth, which was often a Satyr/Spirit Armor in one.
Addressing slow attack rate
To do this i utilized high universal damage boost and dark nova as my main offensive attack. The shifts were used to control my opponents with their useful effects such as weakness, infections and black mantles along with leveraging some damage that my opponents often ignored (to their detriment).
The Modified Gear
My new gear was designed to address my decisive factors. I used the full sentinels gear, life mastery and the lunar sceptre of anubis. This provided me with several key ways to address my flaws.
- 305 (64% block) – This block allows me to block all but the most stalwart criticals
- 62% universal attack boost – This stat drove my offensive allowing nova to hit high damage and shifts to hit a decent amount.
- 285 (45%) critical – This stat allowed my heals to critical fairly consistently and allowed me to critical against those with low block(especially when coupled with vengeance)
- 15% accuracy – This minimized my chance for interruptions via black mantle and loremaster.
- 15% armor pierce – This means that a buffed dark nova has 25% armor pierce which takes an 80% jade down to 55% resist. It takes a tower down to 25%, whats not to love?
The Winning Deck
- Ice to Tower: Stun Block
- Balance to Weakness
- Life to leprechaun; Entangle
- Dark Nova
- Shadow Shrike
- Shift Greenoak
- Shift Grendel
- Shift Sugar Glider
Card Explanation: Main Deck
My main deck consisted of mostly support and defensive measures along with my main offensive weapon.
- Stun blocks: are paramount as they ensure that my opponent has one less method to interrupt my buffing of Dark Nova and also to prempt pesky medusa combos.
- Shields/Weakness: are self explanatory. since my strategy is dependent on enduring till i can bring out my big guns, shields and weakness are essential to keeping my opponent’s attacks suppressed.
- Bubbles: are there both defensively and offensively. Offensively, the bubbles power Dark Nova, defensively they ensure that my opponent cannot maintain their own bubble and also acts to prevent me from being locked down under doom and gloom.
- Enfeeble: A great card, this prevents attempted bladestacking which otherwise could prove fatal.
- Storm Blades: Once again their only function is to power Dark Nova.
- Life Dispel: A cloaked life dispel will often stay on the entire match (barring pets) and will suppress common attempted heals if my shadow does not deal enough damage
- Primordial Pixies: Infection removal and cosmetic wound recovery.
- Dark Nova: Your primary damage dealer, keep one in hand at all times so it is ready when you are. Feel free to discard one but always keep one extra in deck just in case.
- Shrike: This is used primarily in conjunction with Dark Nova to create a superior combo.
Card Explanation: Side Deck
My side deck consisted of my heal and supporting damage cards.
- Freeze: An easily accessible stun from the bazaar, this acts both defensively and offensively. defensively it protects from shrike and can act as a stall tactic to accumulate pips/cards etc. Offensively it can buy a round to set up against a helpless or damaged opponent.
- Tower shields: Another option for defense, can be used on its own or can be stacked to defend against a shriked player.
- Leprechaun: A great 2 pip spell that deals about 600 damage to an opponent. Used against crit monster storms, to remove life dispels, to remove towers and to KO the occasional minion.
- Rebirth: A useful card that heals almost 1000 and places an absorb. Defense and heal all in one round.
- Regenerate: Your most powerful heal and a great anti-spam method. A critical regenerate will heal 800+ per round. Great as a pre nova set-up to ensure your survivability and good as a mid health recovery tool. Can also counter big DoT’s such as Heckhound/Skeletal Dragon/Artorious Myth.
- Satyr: Your main answer to damage, with my set Satyr heals 1000+ at base and 2000+ with a critical. A great recovery tool.
- Absorbs: Unlike other shields, absorbs take a specific amount of damage so they can mitigate some of a shriked attack’s effect. They also act as tower and regular shield protection, ensuring that they simply cannot be wand/elved off.
- Shift Grendel: The only DoT shift, shift grendel finds a niche as a tower stack clearer. It is also useful for its-25%, -45% and -65% accuracy debuff making it a viable disrupter and shrike counter.
- Shift Sugar Glider: Our strongest single attack in deck besides Nova, Sugar glider does about 1k to a non resisting opponent and anywhere from 600-1000 on an average resist opponent. Sugar glider comes with 2 amazing utilities: a weakness and an infection. The weakness stacks with other weakness and can provide great damage mitigation while infection acts to suppress heals. Definitely one of the shifts that sees a lot of use.
- Shift Greenoak: By far the best shift to combine with Nova, this spell provides a blade, does damage and weakens your enemy. This effectively means that shift will remove any debuff AND count as a like for Dark Nova AND boost Dark Nova’s total damage(it adds a universal blade) AND suppress your opponents offensive power all in one round. What’s not to love? Enhance your greenoak with unstoppable to make its accuracy 130% ensuring that with gear accuracy a loremaster will never stop your spell and black mantle will have a hard time doing the same.
- Conviction: Conviction is there to protect you from stuns until you can get a stun shield up and to ensure you block criticals from critical monster storms. Conviction is one of the best spells to use against storm as it both reduces their chance to critical and prevents one of their only viable combo(storm lord-follow up)
- Vengeance: Both a defensive and offensive card, vengeance makes your heals more likely to critical and improves your chance of criticalling against those with super high critical(which means super low block)
- Feint: A niche buff, this can make dark nova hit in the 8k+ range at max likes and sees most use from first or against jaded players.
- Empower/Sacrifice: Stops feint stacking and takes care of stacked weakness, one of them heals you and one of them builds your pips, pretty basic stuff. I replace sacrifice with the rare dark pact whenever I can as that is a offensive builder for nova hat simultaneously removes weakness.
- Doom and Gloom: For when your nova just isn’t enough, doom and gloom will keep a low health player suppressed and unable to heal effectively, giving you the time to build pips to take them out.
- Black Mantle: An interruption spell that has become a staple to countering shrike. Only one is placed in my deck since I have 3 more from shift grendel and 1 more from gear.
Once I corrected my decisive factors, battles went much more smoothly. My strategy revolved around slowing the tempo down and keeping my health up until I could pull out a Dark Nova end combo. As such my deck revolved around keeping my opponent constantly debuffed and my health constantly high. Weakness (trained and from Shift spells) kept my opponents off balance. Shields fended off large attacks with heals to keep my health out of the danger zone.
Once I built the correct amount of shadow pips I used 3 conditions to determine when to cast dark nova:
Low Pip Opponent
When my opponents are at low pips is an ideal time to cast nova. There low pip condition meant that they could not generate an offense that could kill me or utilize very many disruptive utilities.
Well defended/health in recovery
Typically if I have multiple stacked shields or a shield and an absorb then it is an ideal time to nova. The same rule applied if I am at close to full health or have a critical regenerate orbiting my feet.
Minimal Interruption chance
Since maximizing Nova is dependent on successfully casting 3 likes, I often try to reduce my chances of being disrupted. Typically this involves having a stun shield up(no interruption from stuns) and if I have the chance, infallible. Infallible raises accuracy and gives a greater chance to defy fizzle inducing spells such as black mantle.
Typically all of these conditions will not be met, however if you have 2/3 or even 1/3 it could be a good time to cast nova. Experience and how much risk you are willing to take will guide your decisions on when to cast nova.
Fire is a dangerous school to play against having almost as expansive a tool kit as balance. Keep shields up and protected with absorbs when you can and follow your nova rules on when to strike.
Regenerate provides a valuable heal along with satyr. Be aware of efreet possibilities(shift greenoak handles this nicely if they try to stop your nova combo with efreet). Keep leprechaun for the occasional minion that still sees play at the top level.
Ice tends to play 2 sets, aggressive ice with very little resist or defensive ice. Aggressive ice is dealt with via stun blocks(makes it harder for them to pull famous wintermoon combos) and enfeeble for when they try to blade stack. Keep your bubble up at all times and heal as necessary. Don’t be afraid to regenerate as most aggressive ices do not carry snow drift and even those who do tend to discard it against storm.
Against defensive ices your strategy changes a bit. Remove tower shields via wands or shift grendel, attack with leprechauns and shift sugar glider to bring their health into the 4k range(the dark nova sweet spot against a defensive ice). Thanks to enfeeble and your ability to debuff and maintain your bubble, you’ll have more breathing room to set up a combo.
One of the harder schools to take down with this set due to most storm’s method of play, storm can deal damage hard and fast. Keep conviction or vengeance up at all time if facing a crit spam storm. You will probably not have a chance to use nova against a YOLO storm so spam em with leprechauns and shifts. With their low block and resist a critical glider will deal 2k and a crit leprechaun will do 1.2k which is pretty much their health.
Against a more balanced storm play as you usually would but keep a heal ready for sudden damage spikes from insane/wild bolt.
By far your hardest match-up, balance is a top PvP school for a reason. They can control your pips with manaburn(including on occasion your shadow pips), remove your aura while severely damaging you with supernova, debuff you and possibly fizzle you with loremaster, set up combos with savage paw and feint and severely damage you at almost any point in the match with judgement. Against balance discard all auras unless you have the health buffer to tank a supernova and you need a “free turn”(free as in you know what they are going to cast).
This match is a match of patience, debuff them while you can, heal when needed and wait for at least 2/3 nova conditions to be met. Casting a nova against a high pip balance for example is pretty much “kill me” as they can simply feint and judge. Loremaster can and will fizzle your attempts to buff dark nova which is why an accuracy enchanted shift greenoak is so key. Keep yourself well defended and well healed and do not get frustrated as balance completely controls your resources and fizzles you repeatedly. Wait for the right moment to strike and you will succeed.
Death tends to play 2 distinct styles, jade with juju and crit monster with vampires and poisons. Against crit monster deaths keep the heals coming and maintain your bubble till you are ready to nova, mix in some shifts to lower their health and keep them off balance.
Against jade/juju remove jujus as they come with wands/low pip attacks and dark nova when they are low on pips or after a reshuffle. Make sure your pips are almost max so you can use back to back greenoaks to defy their juju attempts. For an example of this see 25:13 of the attached video.
An interesting school to play against, life can be offensive with blade stack or luminous spam and defensive with heals and guardian spirit.
Doom and gloom is your friend against guardian spirit. Keep them debuffed with weakness, shifted weakness and towers. Enfeeble off any bladestack attempt and prep for your dark nova combo. Cloaked entangle is useful here to suppress either a heal or an attack.
Ah myth the school with so many potent PvP spells.
Put a Stun block or conviction on as soon as possible, and layer weakness to stop their many shield defying attacks. Regenerate to counter artorious/basilisk. Maintain your bubble at all times and keep leprechaun in hand to take down any minions they decide to bring up.
Favorite Dark Nova Combos
Since your deck is centered around a dark nova combo it is important to understand methods to achieve your goals. Here are some of my favorite spell sequences to build into the Nova.
- Blade-Blade/Bubble-Greenoak: This is your simplest combo that buffs nova the first 2 rounds and then uses greenoak to clear the way and add a buff
- Blade-Greenoak-Greenoak: This is your combo of choice for multiple debuffs.
- Blade-Shrike-Greenoak: If you can pull off this combo, its almost a guaranteed gg. As a bonus this combo lowers both backlashes to the minimum amount.
- Greenoak-stun/mantle-feint: Used for a lower health opponent or if you are in jeopardy, this combo can end a lot of people very quickly.
PvP Livestream Matches
Heather Shadowslinger recently livestreamed some of my matches in the research and playtesting leading up to this guide.
Let us know what you think of the guide down below in the comments!