Guide updated for Beyond the Bandlewood (Patch 2.17) by den, originally published by Spaiikz.
With a very discreet performance during the first month and a half of the Beyond the Bandlewood expansion, Turbo Thralls has found a new life during the Europe Masters tournaments, where several teams started using it to counter the popular control decks such as Darkness and Feel The Rush. While only a few teams were using it at first during group stage, the deck was featured in most top 8 line ups and saw a rise of its popularity on ladder as well during the first weeks of October.
Picked because it is effectively one of the best counters to the control decks, which are giving it enough time to set up its strategy in the best conditions, the deck has fared better than expected against the other decks of the metagame. Matchups like Discard or Nami decks for example can fall to a turbo summoning of several 8/8s and have absolutely no ways to deal with them when they are attacking.
Although we aren’t talking about a top 5 deck in the current metagame, the matchups section will show that they are still some glaring weaknesses the deck has to solve before being considered a real contender. Thralls isn’t a deck to dismiss either, and its comeback late into the season might be the sign that some surprises are still on the horizon.
General Playstyle: Control/Combo
The deck wants to survive with AoE removal and finish off the opponent by summoning multiple Frostguard Thralls to close out the game. It can accelerate the countdown of the Frozen Thrall landmarks with cards such as Clockwork Curator, Time in a Bottle, and Draklorn Inquisitor, among others.
Accelerating the countdowns is necessary to close out games in a timely manner. Ideally, you would be looking to spawn your Thralls between turns 5 and 7, because that is when you will feel the pressure from faster decks and will need 8/8’s to stabilize the board. Fast decks usually have no way to interact with landmarks.
Against slower decks, such as Darkness, you are looking to combo around the same time and put on pressure on them as soon as possible. Be aware that it becomes easier for slow decks to deal with 8/8 Overwhelms as the game goes on. Make sure to summon your Thralls on your attack turn so they don’t get a full turn to deal with them.
The deck also wants to increase the number of Thralls summoned using Promising Future and Taliyah. A single 8/8 Overwhelm is usually not enough of a threat, especially against control decks. Promising Future is often preferable to Taliyah because it is cheaper, can be cast using spell mana, and works better with countdown accelerators (i.e., even if you’ve drawn your Time in a Bottle after casting Promising Future you can still use it to the same effect, while with Taliyah you need to apply all your accelerators before copying the landmark). The matchups where Taliyah has more value than Promising Future are the ones where your landmark is at risk of being destroyed (ex. Ezreal Draven).
In the current metagame, Thralls is played mostly as a punisher, aiming to focus on its own synergy and punish the decks who couldn’t handle it. The Frejlord defensive package isn’t bad though, as freezes and AoE are extremely useful to slow down non control decks currently.
Accelerating the countdown is not always correct. It might be tempting to just go all-in on your Frozen Thralls without much thought, but with this deck, you need to carefully plan out turns. There will be situations where accelerating the countdown is not an optimal play – for example, sometimes you might want to open-attack instead of summoning your thralls during your opponent’s attack turn.
Learn to balance accelerating and copying landmarks. Sometimes it is better to invest in a single Frozen Thrall with your Promising Futures and accelerating effects, but other times you would want to ‘diversify’ your Thrall investments. In the latter case, an example of a play would be to copy one landmark and speed it up, but leave the second landmark a few turns behind to avoid The Ruination.
Frozen Thrall and Lissandra are both keeps in pretty much any matchup. You need your Thrall landmark early enough to get your game plan started, so these cards are necessary parts for your combo. Even against aggressive decks, a Frozen Thrall is crucial to eventually stabilize the board and take over the game. Lissandra’s stats are also pretty good early on to contest the board.
Blighted Ravine, Ice Shard, and Avalanche are your AoE removals. These will be necessary against swarm-heavy decks such as Poppy decks like Rally or Bandle Tree. However, I do not keep Blighted Ravine if my opponent is attacking on turn 3 – I’d rather mulligan for an Avalanche in that spot. Against any deck that is not aggressive, these cards will often be underwhelming and should not be kept.
Kindly Tavernkeeper is a way to combat any early aggression with a solid body and healing. Tavernkeeper should be kept against any aggressive deck, but against slower decks, you can mulligan it away to look for Thralls.
Clockwork Curator helps against control decks alongside other pieces of your Thrall combo, but you can find better cards to keep against aggressive decks. I am usually mulliganing this card away for Taverenkeeper, Icevale Archer or AoE removal against faster decks.
Time in a Bottle – treat it similarly as you would a Clockwork Curator. Keep it if you are looking to accelerate. Use it as a piece to progress your combo if you are facing the right matchup and already have a Thrall in hand.
Draklorn Inquisitor is a keep only if you are 100% certain that you will be able to have a Frozen Thrall with a countdown of 4 or lower on turn 5 (for example, Frozen Thrall played on turn 1 without any further advancing will do it). If so is the case, Inquisitor is definitely the best threat to slam on-curve. However, often it won’t even be able to stick, so you shouldn’t rely on it too much. Against aggro, I never keep this.
Promising Future and Taliyah are two very slow pieces of the combo, necessary against slow decks, but terrible keeps against fast decks. I never keep them unless I know I will have the time to play them.
Rite of Negation can be a reasonable card to keep if you have a very good hand already and want to protect your key buffed-up landmark. Instead of a Rite, you can theoretically consider Soothsayer to give landmarks Spellshield – it can possibly work as a narrow tech in tournament lineups or as a meta call.
This matchup is great and all the agency is on the side of Turbo Thralls. As long as you can summon a few Thralls early you are likely to win, focus almost exclusively on summoning those Thralls with the best possible setup.
FTR has no way to interact with landmarks and has a hard time stopping early Thralls. Turbo Thralls often is free to do whatever they want as no pressure would come from the FTR side for a long time.
Darkness is another control deck that takes a lot longer to win the game as compared to Turbo Thralls, which means you have plenty of time to set up a good Thrall turn.
The occasional Prank could come and slow down a Promising Future or Time in a Bottle for example.
Overall your game plan should be the same as against FTR, except there could be some more threat to take care of in the midgame, mostly the champions. Pressure usually is the best way to prevent Darkness from abusing Veigar and Senna.
Thralls are favored against GP TF because they are rarely fast enough to kill you before you combo off. You are usually free to set up some Frozen Thralls and activate them to stabilize.
The damage will come but it’s rare they can get you down enough before you can turn it around, also, your Thralls basically do not care about Double Up, but be careful with your smaller units in the late game.
Stone Stackers is the annoying early game unit because of its tough keyword, if possible, try to remove it first when blocking.
Although they have access to Scorched Earth (which lowers the win rate a bit when played), most decks don’t run it lately, favoring the cheaper options of Ravenous Flock and Group Shot. Bandle is great at handling and slowing down board-centric decks, but actually doesn’t have a good answer to Overwhelm, which is exactly what we are abusing.
Let the early board develop and don’t try to handle the units one by one, there will be too many of them. Instead, try to get a good Blighted Ravine or Avalanche and use the Icevale Archer to protect yourself from Poppy.
If you can get a good pop-off turn summoning several thralls, you should get a lot of damage in and then look for the kill.
Nami Zoe will beat you when it gets the good curve, with Nami leveled up on turn 4 and some elusives to throw her buffs on. It’s important to accept we can’t do much about this.
But it also is important to understand that Nami Zoe cannot do so much about a flurry of 8/8s coming at it without needing to sacrifice at least its whole board at the very least.
As such, don’t get too caught on trying to control the board and assuming a defensive game plan, as time usually favors your opponent. Instead, try to get going on your Thralls quickly to get some pressure going before your opponent can set up perfectly.
Be careful about
Any aggressive deck will make your life difficult, and Discard with an explosive start definitely fits that bill. Sion isn’t so much of a problem as we usually can get our Thralls before that or buy ourselves a turn with the Icevale Archer.
Our goal is to stay outside of Get Excited! and Mystic Shot range when considering our health, this is usually safe enough to think about developing our synergy. If in fear of dying, Kindly Tavernkeeper is our only source of healing so it’s important to play it before our opponent decides to get started with the burn spells.
This matchup is a lot about who gets going on the board first. If we summon a couple of Thralls, it immediately becomes difficult for our opponent to threaten us on the board, but if they get some pressure going and find a Golden Aegis, we will be heavily punished for focusing on the Thralls.
Their early board can be dealt with Avalanche or Blighted Ravine, and it usually is necessary so we can focus on slowing down Sivir with Icevale Archer while summoning our Thralls. If you let the board go wide, you open yourself to a lot of damage as well as Concerted Strike as a removal.
This deck puts on a lot of pressure and it will all be about stabilizing. There is not too much to say here apart from that Turbo Thralls will struggle against any deck that is aggressive and has wide attacks.
Kindly Tavernkeeper and Icevale Archer will go a long in helping you derail the opponent’s tempo, but they usually aren’t enough as you need to close the game otherwise the direct damage will get you eventually.
This is easily the worst matchup whether it is Poppy Zed or Bandle Swarm. The problem is the constant threat of a rally prevents us from using our mana as we would like. Instead, we have to make sure we won’t get surprised by another attack and save our resources to answer that possibility.
Mulligan for your AoE removals and try to block as efficiently as possible until you have a few Thralls on board to swing for the win. The rally decks tend to lack a good draw capacity which makes it possible to sustain them and then go for Thralls once you feel the pressure is reducing.
You will have to take a gamble at some point in the game, so don’t always play it safe if your hand isn’t at least very good, delaying a loss still results in a loss.
Turbo Thralls definitely was a surprise pick when it first bursted onto the EUM scene. Looking back now with more information available, the deck actually had a lot of upsides in a metagame that was progressively slowing down. Now with Poppy Ziggs installed as a staple great deck of the metagame, Thralls might be a little tougher to climb with and could be limited to being a tournament deck only.
That shouldn’t make you dismiss the deck either, as this kind of counter decks are at their best when people don’t expect them. The great results it had in one of the most competitive environments is also a testimony that Thralls is capable of doing great things when put in a favorable setup.
That’s all for this guide folks, hope it helped you understand the deck better and maybe even pushed you to try it. As usual, if you wish to talk about the deck with the community, feel free to join our Discord. As for myself, you can find me on Twitter sharing decklists, talking card games or giving props to my student’s accomplishments.
Good game everyone!