Current Version: SHATTERED FATES (2.87)
Serena Thoughtripper – 3SE: Until the end of your turn, your weapons have +2 attack, and if Serena deals combat damage to a hero, that hero’s owner discards a card at random.
Serena excels at control, and has since the beginning. She represents a difficult, hybrid play-style, combining items and allies. Like other rogues, she does best when she has some board presence; however she sometimes has difficulty regaining board presence or control once she’s lost it. She has comparably little room for error and it is often important to anticipate your opponent’s moves. For this reason, Serena is often considered difficult to play, like Logan. Unlike Logan, she has been considered a middle-tier hero (not the strongest, but not the weakest), and may even be top-tier in the current version (2.86-2.87). Serena requires a weapon to use her ability, which means that Serena decks would do well to have at least 6 weapons in a 40 card deck. Having many items and abilities makes Serena have less room for allies, and so it is important to make those allies count. When Serena is played well with a good deck, it feels like everything is under control: even when the opponent doesn’t know it, she has an answer for everything.
Among rogues, Serena excels at developing card advantage and limiting opponent options. There are very few ways in Shadow Era to force an opponent to discard a card from her/his hand; Serena’s Shadow Energy ability is by far the easiest to use and most consistent of these. Her ideal scenario is one in which the opponent has few cards on board and has no cards in hand, so that they can only play the cards they draw each turn (also known as top-decking). Accordingly, Serena often does best when destroying card draw engines to establish such a lock. Shattered Fates has given every hero access to excellent and varied card draw options, which makes it much more difficult for Serena to establish a complete lock. On the other hand, Serena also has more options, such as Thoughtripper’s Cutlass, which is difficult to consistently use well, but can give Serena a terrific card advantage and access to opposing card pools.
The challenge to playing Serena and what makes her so unforgiving to new players is that she has a few very strong tools that are each easily countered. Black Garb, for example can kill two enemy allies, but can easily be destroyed by item destruction, a weapon, or by an ally with 1 attack (who therefore does no damage to Serena and doesn’t get killed). Using it requires Serena to take damage, so relying on it can get her killed. Night Owl is a very strong ally with terrific abilities, but can easily be removed by cards like Death Mage Thadeus, Murderous Hulk, and any number of cheap ally removal cards and abilities. Serena’s ability is strong, but relies on weapons, which can easily be destroyed, and may not always be available when you need them. Knowing when to use each card and when not to is the key to winning with Serena. Nothing that she does is simple or without risk, which makes her a challenging hero, but also rewarding to play.
One of Serena’s old weaknesses was that she tended to be a bit top heavy. Because she could only have a few allies in decks with all her items, those allies needed to be tough to kill. This forced Serena decks to be slow, as they needed expensive allies. New cards such as Wily Smuggler and Midnight Sentinel make cheap allies tougher to kill, and cards like Backstab allow those cheap allies to hit above their weight. These changes have produced quicker Serena decks in SF that combined with additional draw from Thoughtripper’s Cutlass have made Serena highly competitive as of 2.86.
- Rogue card pool – some of the best items in game, and many solid control cards
- Ability to limit player options through forced discard
- Card stealing
- Access to stealth allies
- Direct card advantage through Ill Gotten Gains, discard and stealing
- Indirect card advantage through efficient cards, such as Black Garb, Night Owl and Backstab
- Hybrid play-style – able to use allies in conjunction with weapons effectively
- Balanced – although certain matchups are very difficult; there are very few auto-losses for a well-constructed Serena deck.
- Relies on weapons to use SE ability.
- Card draw options require killing allies/destroying items or are inefficient
- Requires control play-style (or possibly mid-range) to play effectively
- Reliance on items for control limits options for early game and tends to make Serena slow to set up and vulnerable to rushes
- Reliance on allies for control (e.g., assassination) limits ability to retake a board once it has been lost
- Very limited access to ability damage (makes matchups like Moonstalker particularly challenging)
- Limited access to healing
- Several powerful tools, each with important limitations that can easily be countered
- No real board wipes – unless she steals one
- Often needs to receive damage in order to establish control (by being hit with Black Garb or using Anklebreaker when defending).
COMPARISON TO OTHER ROGUES:
LANCE: All rogues rely on having allies on board to some extent. Lance’s ability helps to retake the board when it is lost as it makes allies able to have an immediate impact, and protects them for a turn. Serena has a difficult time retaking the board when it is lost, and often needs to use allies that have stealth, are difficult to kill, or have haste in order to retake the board when it is lost. This tends to make the options of competitive allies for Serena somewhat limited when compared to Lance. New allies in Shattered Fates, like Der’kan, the Bone King and Murderous Hulk have made this more problematic, as they can easily kill most stealthy allies. Alternatively, Serena may use items to clear the path for allies, however this is situational. Thoughtripper’s Cutlass may also steal excellent control cards from opponents, which may aid in ally placement, but again this is situational. Serena’s ability does offer advantages over Lance, and the main one is the early elimination of threats and options for opponents. Lance may play Raven on turn 5, and use his ability to give it haste and nullify an enemy ally. However the opponent may respond with a Mind Control or Tidal Wave. Serena can potentially steal or discard that Tidal Wave or Mind Control, eliminating that future threat, but she may eat some damage from an ally that she left standing while doing that.
GARTH: All rogues have access to some excellent weapons which encourage a hybrid style of play. Garth’s ability takes advantage of this by working with allies and weapons. While Serena is able to buff a weapon to 4 attack easily to take out an ally, she falls short of the 5 damage that is necessary for many of the new SF allies. With a weapon, an ally or both; Garth is superior at controlling the board. Serena’s most optimal use of weapons is attacking the opposing hero. In this specific instance she is superior to Garth. Indeed, versus solo decks, Garth often has absolutely no use for his Shadow Energy. Likewise, Serena’s ability to force discards or steal cards lessens her need to exert board control (If I made you discard it, I don’t have to kill it). However, when Serena falls behind in board control, she doesn’t have Garth’s flexibility to take it back. Serena does use Fan of Blades better than Garth, and can use it as a form of pseudo-board-wipe when faced with many weak allies (as she can attack 4 times and do 3 damage to each ally).
Call of the Crystals
- Erika Shadowhunter: Serena needed allies that could stick, Erika could stick well in certain matchups that lacked direct damage. Her role is largely replaced by Night Owl since DP, but she can still be useful at times.
- Armored Sandworm: The other ally that could stick, this was an excellent counter to burn decks when burn decks were very strong. SF has a introduced Fortified Wisp, however many still prefer Sandworm.
- Nightshade: He varied between being strong and weak depending on prevalence of burn and cards like Death Mage Thadeus. In SF he has become stronger due to cards like Midnight Sentinel.
- Lily Rosecult: Because Serena uses so many items, Lily Rosecult has always had strong synergy in Serena decks.
- Aldon the Brave: He has always been strong in all human decks with even a few allies. Serena is no exception. Personally, I find Aldon one of the most boring cards and rarely use it.
- Aeon Stormcaller: Protecting other allies lets Serena expand and dominate the board (when she doesn’t fear board wipes).
- Night Owl: An excellent example of card advantage through efficiency. Night Owl’s stealth makes him hard to kill, his high attack makes killing him a high priority, and his card draw guarantees some card advantage if the opponent uses a card to destroy him. The main disadvantage for playing Night Owl is tempo loss. Many opponents have cheap removal cards or hero abilities, and while it is good that they waste them on Night Owl, it is not good when they overtake the board with 3+ allies by turn 4. Depending on the situation, Black Garb can be a better choice for turn 3.
- Champion of Irium: Similar to the other choices, CoI could stick, and therefore was worthwhile as an ally. With skilled ironmonger and synergy between Nightshade and Mignight Sentinel, CoI no longer seems as worthwhile in Serena decks.
- Layarian Seductress: Coming back from no board presence is important for Serena, Seductress helps to accomplish this. Although her ability is harder to use than the new Sword Thief, the extra health is nice, as is the fact that she disables allies, thereby nullifying activated abilities.
- Fleet Footed Messenger: Being tough to kill with haste helps to establish some board presence and use abilities like Assassination. Messenger’s ability is also very useful in a deck that may need a weapon in hand, or may have too many in hand at once.
- Layarian Diplomat: Although he doesn’t seem like much, his ability can be very useful, for example in helping you kill a Dakrath or infernal gargoyle without losing tempo, or needing (many) allies on board, or taking out Moonstalker’s allies as he uses his ability. I consider Diplomat as a potential alternative to both 2cc allies and Assassination since he can fill both roles adequately. Note: his ability does not work to cancel effects granted by support abilities like Grave Resistance and Valiant Defender, and his effect vanishes when he leaves play – so be careful using Road Less Traveled on him.
- Lyra Blackrose: This card seems like a natural combination for Serena –she could be her punky younger cousin. Unfortunately, it is difficult to fit this card into most rogue decks, especially Serena. The resource cost makes it difficult to choose her over Ill-Gotten Gains or Stop Thief!, and her ability makes her a prime target for ally removal cards. On top of that, she’s relatively easy to kill, and Serena often struggles for early board control. As much as I’d love to have her in a Serena deck, I’ve never found a way to make it work.
- Braxnorian Soldier: Although he was mediocre in DP, he has become strong with the addition of many allies with haste in SF. Braxnorian Soldier is now a good choice for decks that seek to completely shut down the opponent.
- Midnight Sentinel: This guy helps Serena by making allies tougher to kill, being tough to kill himself, and specifically by turning Nightshade into a 2/4. Ambush is also helpful to avoid Serena taking excessive damage from counterattacks, without having to sacrifice allies.
- Viska, The Scarlet Blade: Access to haste is useful for Serena, and Viska provides this in a beefy package. Additionally, she represented a strong counter to Serena. As of 2.86, Anklebreaker can now hurt Viska, which greatly mitigates her danger to Serena.
- Sword Thief: A terrific addition to thieves, who often leap ahead of the resource curve with Stop Thief and added card draw from Ill-Gotten Gains, but still want to tie up allies like Layarian Seductress. Sword Thief is limited by the many allies who have activated abilities and can still do a great deal of damage despite being unable to attack. Note that Dakrath cannot be disabled which makes him invulnerable to Seductress’s charms but not Sword Thief’s…err…thievery.
- Skilled Ironmonger: More durability for items is terrific in a Serena deck. In addition, he helps to protect from early rushes. Targets of choice are Black Garb, Night Prowler or whatever weapon she is using.
- Wily Smugger: I originally wrote that this ally had unproven potential. Well the potential has now been proven and he is featured in several top decks (such as BP Chamthabo’s current Serena deck). Smuggler can be very useful as a tough to kill turn 3 ally and as a centerpiece for a variety of strong turn 4 combos. One of my favorite tricks from my Garth deck with Wily Smuggler is to play a 2cc card, such as Backstab on turn 4, then play The Last Harvest and use Smuggler to renew 2 resources, allowing me to play a 3cc card or activate The Last Harvest. Ill-gotten gains often results in a tempo loss when played on turn 4 however Smuggler can reduce this by allowing you to play IGG along with a 2 cc card, such as Backstab. He makes similar combos available on turn 5 with weapons. Even if Smuggler is killed, he often absorbs 5 or more damage that would otherwise be directed at Serena. Taking this damage makes the tempo loss from playing IGG less problematic (since Serena’s still got some health to spare). Because he can be useful alive or dying, he is a solid card for use at many points in the game. Having many Smugglers on board is a very strong position for Serena, as she may gain resources by playing items. This can allow for some very strong late game plays. Because of this, Smuggler remains a threat even when disabled with Crippling Blow or Zail’s Hymn, and is often first disabled and then killed, wasting enemy resources and damage that would otherwise be spent on Serena and other allies.
- Twilight Ritualist/Sorceror of Endia/Eriss Fateweaver: SF brings many options for attachment and support ability heavy decks. These cards each offer solutions to these with different limitations/advantages. My favorite is Sorceror of Endia. The priority for these is often to take out draw engines (e.g., Blood Frenzy), or cards that are central to an opponent’s strategy (e.g., Lone Wolf and Rain Delay).
ABILITIES AND ITEMS:
Call of the Crystals
- Assassination: This used to be one of the best ally removal cards in the game (as it was one of few that could kill any ally). Now its limitation of requiring a readied ally makes it mediocre compared to several other classes’ cards, but it is still a primary removal card for rogues.
- Stop, Thief!: This has always been an excellent card, and a defining feature of the rogue card pool. The resource gain makes this especially strong.
- Ill-Gotten Gains: This card used to cost 5cc and was rarely used. After it was lowered to 4cc it became the rogue primary draw engine. It is one of the things that defines the rogue control play-style, since rogues benefit so much from killing opposing allies and destroying opposing items. With SF, some rogue players have begun considering alternative draw engines (such as cantrips and attachments) because IGG costs so much tempo to play. However, it remains a standard part of most Rogue decks.
- Retreat!: This has always been a generally useful control card. It isn’t ideal for rogues, since it has less synergy with cards like Ill-Gotten Gains, and doesn’t provide card advantage. Still, it can be very useful in certain situations and has always seen some play in rogue decks.
- Night Prowler: This card has so much potential, but the only strong decks that I’ve seen consistently using it are Baduruu and Gwenneth. The challenge with Night Prowler is its high cost and the need to have a weapon in play to use it. Serena has great weapons but the tempo loss to get them out means she really can’t afford to be spending the next turn playing an armor that only has 1 durability. The fact that Night Prowler only has one durability means that it often can only steal you one card. This makes it only worthwhile if you can keep the board completely clear. If Serena’s got the board clear on turn 6, she’s pretty much won the game already, which makes this a “win-more” card (a card that doesn’t help you win, but it helps you win more when you’re already winning – so it’s not really worth taking). The other problem is that even as a win-more card, it tends to run into an empty opponent’s hand and so you don’t get to steal anything. With the new addition of Cutlass, there is some promise that Night Prowler, combined with Cutlass can steal two cards in a turn, which could potentially make a large difference in game. It may also combo nicely with Wily Smuggler.
- Spelleater Bands: This is the classic counter to burn decks. It continues to be very useful depending on the meta-game, and style of deck. If you find yourself losing to ability damage frequently, you should probably have two Spelleater Bands in deck. Alternatively, you might try improving your early game so that you don’t have to worry as much about a few fireballs in the late-game.
- Anklebreaker: Another defining rogue card. This card is worth including in almost any rogue deck, and is even stronger in Serena decks. It is a great way to clear the path for Serena to play allies as it ties up enemy allies. As Serena’s ability is strongest when used against a hero, often she will attack a hero with anklebreaker, even if there are two or three opposing allies out. The hope is that Anklebreaker will cause those allies to be disabled for a turn when they attack her and are counterattacked, allowing Serena to play other allies and establish control while capitalizing on the discard that she caused. This is one of the reasons Serena has so little room for error, as this strategy can go horribly wrong (for example, if they use item destruction).
- Black Garb: Everything goes with black, and so most Serena players wear this frequently. Serena is at a disadvantage when going second, and Black Garb helps to make up for this. It has great card efficiency, as it costs the opponent two allies to destroy it. It also allows for killing allies without requiring allies on board. The downside is that killing enemy allies with black garb requires taking damage. Black Garb is ineffective against allies with 1 attack and weapons. For this reason, I often hate to see Kristoffer Wyld played on the first turn as Serena, as it often spells a weak early game and possible defeat.
- Elicit Information: this has never been a great card, but it serves as a potential secondary draw engine for Serena due to new cards in SF. Ill-Gotten Gains has many advantages over this card, simply in terms of frequency of drawing cards, however Elicit Information’s status as an attachment represents an advantage in many matchups as attachment removal is less common than item removal.
- Silent Strike: This card never saw much play in DP, but has shown itself to be effective in recent Lance decks. I imagine it could see similar uses in a Serena deck as it compensates for her difficulty in getting allies on the board. Rogues have many cantrip cards (cheap cards that let you draw a card while doing something else), and many of these combo well with other SF cards like Zailen Crusader or Confluence of Fate. Any rogue deck may benefit from a sprinkling of cantrips, but it is now possible to make rogue decks that rely mainly on cantrips for additional card draw. I have not seen this applied to Serena, but I imagine it is possible.
- A Legend Rises: This card is generally useful, it is particularly useful when board presence is needed and attachments have disabled all allies. Depending on the meta-game, having two of these in a deck can spell victory by itself. The priority with this card should not be making a very mean ally, but rather one that achieves advantage through surprise and that the opponent will have difficulty eliminating (for example, playing it on Viska or Armored Sandworm, or Night Owl in certain matchups).
- Procured and Restored: This card is somewhat costly, and difficult to find a good time for its use, but it is also somewhat flexible. Lily Rosecult can get your own items back, so this is mainly useful for digging in your graveyard for items buried below items, or for taking specific opponent items.
- Fan of Blades: This card is only suitable for Serena. Because Serena can be so vulnerable to rushes, it often can be very helpful to have a few of these in decks. It is possible to kill 3 allies (with 3 health or less) and force a discard by using Serena’s ability in conjunction with this card. It also combos well with black garb, as allies will counterattack when hit. The added card draw is a nice little perk as well.
- Backstab: This card serves as solid utility. As many rogue allies tend to be somewhat whimpy, it is helpful to surprise the opponent with a well-placed backstab. These are rarely resourced, as they replace themselves when played. The draw-back is that if there are no allies on board, and none to play, this card is dead-weight.
- Garth’s Concoction: Direct damage is nice, however with Grave Resistance being prevalent, this is fairly ineffective in Serena’s hands. It really is a card that is suited specifically to Garth. It also exhausts Serena to use it, so she must chose not to use a weapon that turn. It may see some play in Serena decks depending on the meta-game.
- Platinum Chainmail: The 2.87 update brought a nice buff to Platinum Chainmail. Although it is still too early to know for sure, Platinum Chainmail offers excellent protection from rushes. Consider that chainmail can come out on turn 2, and Night Owl / spirit shuriken can’t start controlling the board until turn 4, Chainmail may prevent 1 damage turn 2, 2 damage turn 3 and possibly 3 damage turn 4 (if there are three allies attacking). 2cc to prevent 4-6 damage is a very good deal. If it is a true rush deck, platinum chainmail will likely remain in game much longer than that and prevent much more damage. It has the opposite weakness as black garb as well – useless vs powerful allies, but strong vs weak ones. As such, the two could exist in a single deck as viable alternatives to one another depending on the matchup or stage of the game. This is all just speculation right now, but this does offer some promise for Serena.
- Coercion: This card can be an excellent way to control an ally or allies or end a game. When the game is close and an opponent plays a big ally, Coercion can damage the opponent and leave the ally exhausted for a turn. Coercion can also be used to attack an ally and get counterattacked, softening up two allies at once and leaving one unable to attack for a turn. Keep in mind that the ally has to attack to become exhausted (so it has limited uses in certain matchups, like Moonstalker). There are other interesting combos with Coercion and Vozitian Orders, Growing Bog-Dweller, or Mystic of the Vale, however I have not found a way to fit those into a Serena deck.
- Spirit Shuriken: This card is a solid response to a rush, and can be very strong if you can disable two allies, allowing you to kill all other allies cheaply. Unfortunately Rogues have limited means to permanently disable allies, and none seem to work particularly well in a Serena deck, therefore this has limited uses. Rogues do have several cards that temporarily disable allies, which can encourage opponents to play that third ally. This card seems to have largely supplanted Fan of Blades as a secondary weapon (along with Anklebreaker). It addresses the rush sooner, and can kill even difficult to kill allies, making it superior in most situations. Black Garb often causes players to hold off of attacks and play many allies. If they build enough allies, they can overwhelm the Black Garb and cause a lot of pain with minimal losses. Spirit Shuriken destroys this strategy and forces the opponent to attack and suicide allies against Black Garb before they are ready. This allows you to play another Black Garb if you have one in hand and keep the board under control. This defensive position is not ideal and shouldn’t be a goal, but it is a strong means of recovering board position.
- Thoughtripper’s Cutlass: I saved the best for last. This was the weapon made for Serena in SF. Accordingly, it now (as of 2.86) has an ability that specifically benefits her. The ability to steal a card from the opponent’s hand is very powerful, and Serena can now potentially achieve this once every 3 turns. Thoughtripper’s Cutlass has limitations. Namely, it only does 2 damage when not buffed with Serena’s ability. Accordingly, Anklebreaker is preferable for attaining board control. If board control is not a concern however, Cutlass is an excellent choice and really makes Serena fun to play. Having limited access to the opponent’s card pool opens up interesting and unpredictable possibilities in every game. The fact that opponents often have one or two very strong cards in their hand by the time Cutlass gets played makes it often very rewarding to ignore opposing allies and attack the opposing hero directly; but just like with Black Garb and Anklebreaker, this can also get you killed.
On that note: enjoy playing Serena!
Thanks to Cosmic Giggle, Chamthabo and Heidrek Rampant for some helpful contributions to this post.