FOREWORD: If anyone has recent experience playing Cheap Meat or a variation, I would love any comments, input, suggestions, or anecdotes. Testing runes in-game, especially in volume, is tough; I'm also a bit ignorant on changes in the past couple expansions. In particular, any sleeper runes to investigate, big standouts that I've missed, or stinkers to avoid would be good to know. -Thanks, Kalasle Modern Cheap Meat, or Resurrecting Resurrection Cheap Meat has changed a lot since it started several years ago. Broken Bones used to be broken, Boneguard Infantry was one of the strongest duelist champs in the game, and champs like Wandering Zombie could cost as little as 30 nora round trip. Unfortunately, Death Harvester was nerfed, and many of these glorious standbuys were - for Cheap Meat at least - gutted in the revamp pass. This thread aims to look at how Cheap Meat can work after all of these changes. To demonstrate exactly what that entails, this thread will break down into fourt parts: 1. The Core Concepts of Cheap Meat; why the idea functions at all. These have not fundamentally changed, although execution may have. 2. A history of important changes to central runes. Some are barely worth touching now, others have improved, and there are new ones to consider. The original idea was heavily fleshed out (harhar), and this section will look at how a few specific changes influence the new versions. 3. The current highlights and honorable mentions, important interactions, lynchpins, and explanations for a few runes. Similar to the Necronomicon, this section will break down and list runes with a special mind to cheap meat: why they work, how to use them, alternatives, synergies. 4. In game strategy, tips and tricks, and other miscelaneous factoids and scraps of info that might prove usefull. If something doesn't fit in any of the other sections, it goes here. SECTION 1 - Core Concepts Effective Cheap Meat is rooted as much in governing philosophy as it is particular runes or powers, one of the things which makes it a theme different from most others in Pox (Editorial Note: I find the approach the themes in Pox - an ability in common, a racial type, explicit synergies - crude and frustrating). A pure Meat deck works by delivering on theory as much as execution. Those core theories are macro play, efficiency, decentralization, and utility. They will be addressed in order of importance 1) Macro Play - Winning with cheap meat is as much a strategic battle as a tactical one. The flow of troops around the field, deployment decisions, and long-term vs short-term risk managment are more important to victory than small turn-to-turn moves and action optimization. For instance, a macro decision is to use 30 nora to throw down a cheap unit and save for later investment, as opposed to flooding with 70 nora of units immediately. A micro decision is picking out exactly which unit to play, and at which spot in a font. Admittedly, this grand-sounding path to success is somewhat a by-product of the turn time limit; there are a lot of things to manage, and a player can only do so much in a couple minutes. Even so, playing on a macro scale more than a micro scale influences all the other tenants of Cheap Meat, and is central to success. 2) Efficiency - Winning on a macro scale relies on efficient play, and efficient play benefits from efficient units. The expected nora-to-output ratio is the bottom line of rune selection. Historically, these decisions were determined in large part by Death Harvester: a flat 7 nora back became a greater and greater return at lower base nora costs. Even though that specific interaction has changed, the general concept holds. Good play relies around getting just a bit more bang for you buck in the longest of runs compared to your opponent. Champs with large health pools and staying power, champs that benefit from large numbers, and runes that provide an incremental benefit from the normal course of play all have ways of outstripping standard efficiency curves. A rune may give you more nora, more AP, more champions, more damage, or more health, any value that is convertable into another resource. The key to efficiency is breaking the opponent down with raw numbers. 3) Decentralization - Many BGs succeed with, and many interesting games are won by, the big play. Whether taking out that MVP champ at the right time or countering that crucial spell, many decks have large and vulnerable elements necessary to success. This may even be as simple as having a small number of powerful champions. As a consequence, runes that deal with one champion in a big way are powerful. Decentralized play works against this pressure-point mentality. Important assets are either non-existent, only marginally important, far from harm, or easily recoverable. Even Death Harvester, probably the most important rune in Cheap Meat, comes back in a blinding 4 turns if killed, the only detriments being 50 nora and a few turns of missed refunds. Unholy Tomb provides nora, but its absence is no great loss, and your opponent needs to work to get to it. When the entire approaching army is made up of cost-efficient copper copies, standard single target CC and one rounding tools lose much of their utility. What are you going to do, Ensare a Wandering Zombie? Banish a Decayed Mercenary? In a decentralized environment, there are no lynchpins to break, and the opponent is instead forced into a numbers war against a more durable, more efficient army. Decentralization breaks the power play. 4) Utility - Last is utility. On its face antithetical to efficiency and decentralization, utility is actually a key component to the larger BG. Over a 1 hour game, a battle group should be prepared to face everything and the kitchen sink plus the piping that goes with it. If there is an exploitable tendency in the well oiled machine of meat, it will be eventually sussed out and pried open. Rather than grinding down the opponent, the Cheap Meat deck will be ground down with similar labor. These holes may range from a swarm effect, to repeatable healing, to an unbreakable super champ. What ever it is, it will surface, and the meat player will have to face it. Therefore, the final tenant of meat is utility: having all the tools in its kit to face the broadest range of problems possible. While any BG will have weaknesses, and it's impossible to remove them all, Cheap Meat especially benefits from handling every situation it faces with the proper means. SECTION 2 - A Transitional History While breaking down every changelog would be a laborious and useless exercise, there are a couple major changes that influence the larger approach to Cheap Meat. Those are the changes to Death Harvester, Decayed Mercenary, and Broken Bones, changes which combined significantly modify the face of the BG. These changes will be, as with the core concepts, addressed in turn of importance. Death Harvester - At its honest and most frustrating core, Cheap Meat is really Death Harvester The Deck. For all the talk about decentralization and a different kind of theme, this BG would not have originally come to fruition the way it did without this beautiful little bird. Seven nora back on any real champ death meant a lot. In meta/goodstuff BGs, that was maybe an 8% refund on most champs, but in the original optimized lists, 7 nora back meant as much as 15-25% back on death, even more in some cases. With the change to a capped return percentage, however, modern Cheap Meat will have to focus on balancing between cost and perceived efficiency. Along with rebalancing of efficiency curves for lower costed champions, the changes to Death Harvester mean a major loss of power, and a necessarily different eye brought to bear on candidates for inclusion. Decayed Mercenary - Likely not at the forefront of everyone's mind when thinking about important changes in Forsaken Wastes, the changes to Decayed Mercenary had a resonating impact in Cheap Meat - not only was Decayed Mercenary played, but it also dropped out of the powerhouse Skeletal Raider. At first blush, Decayed Mercenary was nothing special: an ability-light dork with marginal stats. Those abilities and stats, though, combined to provide the most fearsome champ in Pox below 55 nora. With Block 3, Riposte, and Sunder, (the version from Skeletal Raider had Block 2 and no Riposte, if I recall) Decayed Mercenary could not only go toe-to-toe with more fearsome and much more expensive champions, he could win. Big melee powerhouses such as the Garu could lose outright. Combat would go something like this: Decayed Mercenary moves forward, 3 AP stored; Enemy champion would engage, with say 15 damage and 8 speed, and throw out an attack; Decayed Mercenary blocks, ripostes, applying 1 stack of sunder and dealing say 6 damage; Decayed Mercenary then double attacks, dealing 8 then 10 damage, for a total of 24 without taking a scratch; Enemy champion then gets a double attack for a total of 28 damage; Decayed Mercenary responds by further stacking sunder with an other attack for 12, buffering block. At this point, a riposted attack would usually prove lethal, and even if it didn't, the Mercenary could survive an other hit for 14, and then retaliate. Although somewhat idealized, the thought experiment should at least attest to the power of such a small champion in the face of a greater foe. Decayed Mercenaries working in pairs or more could rip through forces many times their size and cost. The removal of sunder, riposte, the third rank of block, and several points of health are a poor exchange for 1 additional point of speed. Coupled with the hits to Skeletal Raider, two prior mainstays now teeter on the brink of inclusion, with few front-runners to take their place. These changes shelled the military core of Cheap Meat. Broken Bones - For ages considered the classic shoebox, Broken Bones was one of the greatest strengths of Cheap Meat. Combined with the old Death Harvester and Banner, Broken Bones could actually GENERATE nora just for its deployment and death: 28 - 2 for banner - 7 for originally bones death - 21 in case of 3 further attacks = -2 nora. -2. While an ideal scenario not always achieved, that Broken Bones could generate the player nora while consuming the opponents AP and attention was astounding. With a 2 turn cooldown, original Cheap Meat lists could end up pumping out these little terrors every turn. Woe be your opponent if they reached a font and stole an other 12 nora by contestation. The enormous nora hike, changing of splits to clones, and removal of a speed upgrade hurt Broken Bones mightily, but most damning to the osteoprolific fellow was the change to Death Harvest. The expected effective cost of Broken Bones went from 5 to 33, a 660% increase. Such a monstrous change calls into question Broken Bones's participation in a modern Cheap Meat list. The changes to these three runes demand greater variance in selection, and rip the guts out (ironically, these guts were all skeletons) of the Cheap Meat front-line. The end result is a nora curve with a higher bulge and less resilience and flexibility for deployment options. More to come.