My last post was well received but left some things unsaid. So here's your guide to archetypes – Warning: I won't be brief.
We’ve all played a new deck in a challenge “just to try it out” and been absolutely smoked. Your old moves no longer seem to work, and the decks you’re accustomed to beating feel unstoppable. The months or years of matchup knowledge you’ve accumulated with your ladder deck are suddenly useless.
The ability to find a completely new experience – just by changing a few cards, is what makes Clash Royale a great game, but this complexity can also be daunting. It can be difficult to determine why a deck works in the first place, much less how it interacts with every other relevant deck in the game. Learning a new deck can be a long punishing time investment, so many of us stick to what we know, playing the same ladder deck we put together in Pekka’s Playhouse. And that’s okay, but when we decide to step outside of our comfort zone, a little knowledge can go a long way. This is where archetypes come in.
Archetypes are groups of decks that win and lose in similar ways. Understanding archetypes lets you know what decks are similar, how they succeed, and perhaps most importantly, how they interact with the other archetypes. Just as some individual decks are good against others, some broad strategies pursued by many decks are good against others. If we learn how to reason about these strategies, we can gain intuition for matchups we’ve never played and situations we’ve never encountered.
For the generality of our theory however, we pay the price of accuracy. There are matchups it won’t explain well and decks which will defy our nicely organized categories. Sometimes we’ll need to talk about specific decks in specific situations to understand what’s going on, but we can’t only talk about individual decks. There’s simply too many matchups to comprehend explicitly.
Instead, I’ll break down what I see as Clash Royale’s seven prominent archetypes. Along the way I’ll explain how they succeed and fail, show typical decks, and discuss if and when they differ from their category. So without further adieu, let’s explore the archetypes.
Beatdown is both the first archetype which everyone learns and the easiest to understand. Just put a Witch behind a Giant and you’ll fly through the early arenas. The principle of beatdown decks is investment. When you play a card behind your King Tower it won’t be immediately helpful, but by the time it reaches the bridge you’ll have gained back your elixir and can mount a much larger attack than you could just by playing at the river. The slower and more expensive the card, the more elixir you’ve invested and the bigger your final push will be. It’s for this reason that Giant Witch is much more effective when played at the back, and professionals only Golem at the river in very particular circumstances. Elixir Collector works by the same principle. You invest six elixir now, and you’ll get back eight elixir later. Sure you’ve gained two elixir, but you’ve also compressed your elixir, redistributing it from the first half of the collector’s lifetime to the second. By forcing your opponent to spend elixir on defense, cards like Barbarian Hut provide the same advantage, investment now, for a serious nuisance over time – as do the Witches, slowly accumulating bats and skeletons until the opponent is overwhelmed. All decks can invest by cycling troops at the back or foregoing defense, but beatdown decks specialize in investment by running cards like Golem, Giant, Lava Hound, Three Musketeers (more on them later), Elixir Collector, Barbarian Hut, and the Witches.
Unfortunately, spending on the future leaves you vulnerable in the present. The eight elixir you spent on a Golem is eight elixir you don’t have to defend with when your opponent mounts an offensive in the opposite lane. If they have lots of heavy defensive troops, then the counter-push which follows your beatdown attack could be too much to handle. Although beatdown decks are typically strong against chip and siege decks, they struggle against the heavy counter-push and punish decks which make you pay for that risky investment.
Golem – As the king of beatdown, Golem decks are better at investing elixir than pretty much any other deck. Golem is strong against Lava Hound and Giant because it beats them at their own game. If both decks are trying to invest, the bigger investor with the bigger push will usually win. However, heavier cards means a slower cycle, and if you have an Elixir Collector then that usually means dropping a spell. Furthermore, you better be running Zap if you don’t want to auto-lose to to inferno cards. These factors all conspire to make Golem struggle against bait decks. It’s hard to find time to Golem when every Goblin Barrel, Gang, Princess, and Dart Goblin is getting value.
Lava Hound – By taking to the air, Lava Hound decks trade defense on the ground for the ability to soar over Pekkas, Mega Knights, and other landbound annoyances. Tombstone and Guards are solid defenders, but they can’t stop a Battle Ram and a Bandit and a Royal Ghost. Unlike all other beatdown decks, Lava Hound struggles against siege, if it can’t go on the ground, it can’t block that X-Bow. With regard to bait, Lavaloon has all the same problems as Golem, but because Lava Hound Miner doesn’t spend a whole card slot on Balloon, it can often afford a third spell, swinging the bait matchup in its favor.
Giant – The baby of beatdown decks struggles against its bigger brothers and heavy counter-push decks, but in exchange gains significant flexibility. The cheaper win condition affords Giant decks a wide variety of support troops and the ability to run three spells. This flips the script on bait, making it a great matchup, and doubles down against siege, because a Giant is much more difficult to out-cycle than a Golem. Furthermore, Giants can be played at the bridge in order to punish an investment or tank for friendly counter-pushing troops. This makes Giant a bit of a chameleon, able to adapt to many situations – as long as it isn’t outweighed.
We’ve talked about investing elixir with slow cards played behind the King Tower, but you can also invest by playing slow heavy cards which defend effectively and then survive to go on the offensive. If your Bowler spends fifteen seconds killing Royal Hogs, waddles slowly towards the river, rolls a rock at each skeleton spawned by a Tombstone, and then crosses the bridge with full health – that’s five elixir you spent a long time ago that’s helping on offense now. Slow expensive defensive troops can also be good investments, and the more time they spend defending the better. Typical counter-push support cards are slow splashers (area damage cards) which can take forever to kill their target and have the health to survive on defense. Bowler, Mega Knight, Valkyrie, Ice Wizard and Baby Dragon all fill this role, as well as Pekka and Inferno Dragon which kill swarms very slowly, rather than single units. Bowler, Ice Wizard, and Electro Wizard also have the advantage of slowing down their targets and thereby reducing their damage.
There is also a class of cards which don’t defend and counter-push themselves, but that are very threatening when combined with cards that do. Hog Rider, Miner, Battle Ram, and Royal Giant are all great at tanking for counter-pushing troops while threatening the tower at the same time. Graveyard fills a similar role, but instead relies on the counter pushers to tank for it. Because many cards can assist a counter-push, counter-push decks themselves are usually more defined by key defenders than win conditions. In late July after Splash Yard made its resurgence with the Valkyrie buff, the same six cards (Valkyrie, Bowler, Electro Wizard, Royal Ghost, Inferno Dragon, and Tornado) were being used with both Graveyard Poison – as traditional splash-yard – and X-Bow Fireball. Splash-bow anyone?
The ability to invest on defense allows counter pushing decks to stop a beatdown push and form an even more fearsome attack. They can also shut down punish decks if they over commit and give siege decks a headache with lots of tanky defenders. Against chip decks however, their cycle can feel slow and clunky. Small pushes force the counter-push deck to over defend without ever mounting something substantial in return.
Splash Yard – This extreme counter push deck has a 3 step plan. First defend with slow splash damage cards, then play a Graveyard on the counter push, and finally Tornado defenders to the King tower for maximum value. When it works splash yard can feel unbeatable, but against fast cycle decks with defensive buildings (which cannot be counter-pushed) the deck can feel outpaced and sluggish. Furthermore the deck struggles against Three Musketeers which get ample value against Graveyard and the splashers.
Royal Giant – Like Splash Yard, Royal Giant decks often relies on a core of splash damage cards assisted by Tornado, but perhaps even more popular are versions which run Furnace, Inferno Dragon, Electro Wizard, and Lightning. These decks tend to have a beatdown flavor, as they can use Furnace and Royal Giant at the back as investments in the right matchup. Unfortunately the element of beatdown can also be a disadvantage when going up against other counter push decks – namely Pekka.
Punish decks are similar to counter-push decks in that they have a clear answer to beatdown. Instead of defending and then attacking, punish decks strike immediately, forcing the opponent to defend the opposite lane which weakens their main push. The bigger the investment, the harder the punish is to stop, and the greater the elixir advantage required to make that investment safely.
All punish decks are good at capitalizing on an elixir advantage quickly, but some punishes are riskier than others. A Balloon push is hard to stop – as long as your opponents air counters aren’t in hand, and it’s easy to take a tower with Bats + Goblin Gang + Minion Horde at the bridge…unless your opponent has a spell. Some punish decks make you pay for having your counters out of cycle, while others, like traditional bridge spam, try to capitalize on any elixir advantage you give them. Whereas counter-push decks play slow defensive cards, punish decks often rely on fast aggressive damage dealers like Bandit, Royal Ghost, Lumberjack, and Battle Ram.
Despite these differences the punish matchup chart looks a lot like the counter-push one. The only difference is that it typically struggles against bait decks for the same reasons that Pekka Bridge Spam does (and Pekka Bridge Spam is really counter-push and punish).
Bridge Spam – Punish in its purest form was developed by the seminal clan Vietnam Glory. Bridge Spam succeeds by waiting for a mistake, and then striking without hesitation. Give it an elixir advantage and this deck will tear you apart. It struggles however against chip decks which don’t make big investments and usually have good defensive buildings for Battle Ram. Bridge spam players should also watch out for Mega Knight, Pekka, and Fireball, all of which can get massive value and need to be played around carefully.
Pekka Bridge Spam – With the ultimate ground stopper, Pekka Bridge Spam threatens to punish your Golem with Battle Ram + Bandit at the river, defend your push with a Pekka, and then counter-push with another – often dual lane – attack. If you’re playing beatdown, good luck. The Pekka gives counter-pushing power at the cost of a slower cycle.
Balloon – Step 1: Get their air counters out of hand. Step 2: Go for the tower. Balloon decks have a similar approach to Bridge Spam decks, but they are a little more reliant on counter-pushing troops to tank for the Balloon and can even use the Balloon’s death damage to chip if their cycle is fast enough.
Much discussed in my previous post, chip decks deal consistent damage every cycle. This means they typically cycle quickly to deal more damage and can flexibly adjust their hands on the fly, whether this means cycling back to Fireball against Three Musketeers or doubling up on cannons to beat Lavaloon with 2.6 Hog Rider. The downside of this flexibility is a vulnerability to beatdown decks, as without heavier troops, a chip deck cannot punish or counter-push easily. Furthermore, fast cycle decks run low on card slots by including Ice Spirit, Skeletons or both. The solution to both of these problems is a damage building like Tesla, Inferno Tower, Bomb Tower, or Cannon. These buildings concentrate defense in a single card and give chip decks a chance to out-play their natural counter.
Chip’s flexibility and fast cycle let’s it dance around heavier counter-push and punish decks while deploying it’s Fireball or Poison multiple times against medium spell bait decks. Beatdown however, is a tough matchup and siege decks are hard to stop without beefy defenders. Surprisingly, the small spell bait matchup is not a walk in the park. Although it’s easy to cycle back to your small spell, this usually isn’t fast enough against opponents running five or six bait cards.
2.6 Hog Cycle – The canonical cycle deck and friend of free-to-players everywhere, 2.6 is as easy to max as it is hard to master. The 2.6 players at the top of ladder show you can do anything with a cycle deck – but only if you’re a prodigy.
Miner Poison Cycle – As the most consistent win condition, Miner Poison decks try to chip you down without taking a hit. The Inferno Tower can be a real stopper for some decks, but look out for lightning.
But wait, what about Pekka Miner Poison? Is that a chip deck too?
Traditionally, chip, counter-push, and punish decks were all lumped together into one archetype called “control”. This makes sense because there is serious overlap between the categories. Pekka Miner Poison, for example, has elements of a chip deck with Miner and Poison, counter-push with Pekka, and punish with Bandit and Royal Ghost. Breaking up control into smaller pieces allows us to understand the interactions between control decks, but it’s important not to forget about the significant overlap between them either. Along the way I’ve tried to emphasize that many if not most decks are part of multiple archetypes and should be treated as such, but the supertype of control makes this especially obvious.
Finally, we’ve reached X-Bow and Mortar. Loved and hated by the subreddit, siege is a polarizing archetype. But everyone agrees that siege is different. Like chip decks, siege decks often have a fast cycle and can use defensive buildings to defend their win condition. They also bear a similarity to punish decks because they want to strike when your hard counters – heavy tanks – are out of cycle. So in contrast to most punish decks, siege struggles against beatdown. But against light chip decks, or investment decks like Three Musketeers which lack a big tank, siege is the way to go. Against counter-push and punish decks, the results are mixed. Heavy splash damage cards block X-Bow and Mortar, but they can’t counter-push against them either. Battle Ram is tanky, but it’s easily distracted by the multifarious buildings of 2.9 X-Bow.
2.9 X-Bow – The most popular X-Bow deck and once and future gatekeeper of siege, 2.9 X-Bow combines the fast cycle of a chip deck with an incredible punish. After all, you only need one X-Bow lock to win. Like most cycle decks, it has a high skill ceiling, but be prepared to struggle hard against beatdown and Royal Giant especially.
Mortar Bait – Another polarizing deck, Mortar bait uses swarms which excel on defense to protect the Mortar, and then counter-pushes with Miner when spells are out of cycle. This deck can punish as hard as 2.9 X-Bow, but only if it tracks spell cycle carefully. Speaking of which…
Small Spell Bait
It’s come up in many examples already, but sometimes it’s worth thinking about bait as an archetype all its own. Relatively speaking, bait is a newcomer to the game and one that changed the meta forever with the rise of classic Log-bait in the fall of 2017. When creating decks, it’s important to pick a balanced selection of support cards so that you can be ready for any situation. Bait rose to prominence with the rejection of this fundamental deck design philosophy. While everyone else plays a variety of support cards to handle many situations, bait players do the opposite, playing cards that are fundamentally similar to overload the carefully distributed resources of the opponent. Sure Log will save you from Goblin Barrel, but it won’t save you from Goblin Barrel, and Gang, and Princess. Log-bait slowly grew in power until it came to dominate the meta, not through a critical buff or nerf, but through the realization that there was a whole different way to play the game. This sort of development shows the potential of Clash Royale strategy. How many of our other assumptions – when rejected whole-heartedly – will be revealed as incomplete?
There is a vast well of potential in the wilderness of decks as-yet-uncreated, but with this potential comes chaos. After nerfs to Knight and Goblins in December of 2017, the Log-bait meta gave way to Mega Knight Zap-bait – a deck which stifled deck diversity until it’s nerf only a month later. Luckily this gave way to The Long Meta, which lasted from February to May 2018, and might be the best meta Clash Royale has ever seen. Nonetheless, the specter of bait has hung over the meta ever since, leading to the over-buffing of Valkyrie this July and a hesitance to nerf splashers like Royal Ghost which has only recently abated. The history of bait and its effect on Clash Royale could be a post all itself. What you really need to know is that bait is strong against decks running the wrong spells, but struggles against any with the space to run three.
Log-bait – As a chip / bait hybrid, classic Log-bait was the first true bait deck. This makes it surprisingly good against heavy beatdown, as it can punish with a tank (Knight or Valkyrie) + Goblin Gang in the opposite lane. This deck has fallen off with the nerfs to Tesla in August, but recent buffs to Inferno Tower and Tesla could help turn the tide.
Mega Knight Zap-bait – Although no longer popular, MK Zap-bait was for a brief while the only game in town. In the January 2018 season it took the meta by storm with favorable matchups against everything except 2.9 X-Bow. Woody’s meta snapshot from that season showed the deck with 29 appearances in the top 200. This created a 3 deck meta featuring 2.9 X-Bow which countered MK Zap-bait which countered everything else.
Split-Lane / Medium Spell Bait
The latest and final addition to the archetype chart is split-lane / medium spell bait. Once people started baiting small spells, the next natural step was to bait medium spells as well. Although these two approaches are superficially similar, the higher cost of both medium spells and medium spell bait (Three Musketeers, Elixir Collector, Magic Archer, Zappies, Flying Machine, Royal Hogs, Minion Horde) changes the dynamics significantly. First of all, decks can’t run an additional medium spell to solve the problem. This means that the decks most effective against medium spell bait are fast cycling chip and siege decks which can get back to their Fireball or Poison quickly. Whereas small bait can spam immediately in response to a Zap or Log, medium spell bait is often too heavy to pressure faster than a quick deck can cycle. For this reason, killing two or more medium spell bait cards with one spell can be game losing – it’s simply too much of a deficit to recover from. The solution then is to spread out your cards, splitting damage and attacking both lanes rather than one. This is a significant strategic improvement and lends medium spell bait decks the character of dual-lane pressure. This practice was really started by Three Musketeers, which baits out Fireball with Elixir Collector and then splits the Musketeers at the back. Traditionally Three Musketeers (3M) has been considered a beatdown deck, because both Elixir Collector and 3M are investment cards, but the nature of a split lane push reveals several key differences.
First, a split lane investment cannot be easily punished or counter-pushed. A punish will feed value to the defending Musketeers, and it is much harder to counter-push two small pushes than one big one. The only good options are to make an investment of your own, or hit two of the Musketeers with spells. This means that the traditional responses to investment (Counter-Push or Punish) do not apply to Three Musketeers. The card’s limited counter play and difficulty to balance have made it strong in the meta for as long as I’ve played the game.
One balance response to this strength is to widen the archetype, creating more diversity amongst split lane decks. Supercell has pursued this strategy by introducing Royal Hogs and Recruits, which both offer two lanes of troops in a single card. This is an intriguing but potentially fraught approach. Will Royal Recruits help counter Three Musketeers or merely assist them? How should you respond to Royal Recruits at the back? As a shielded (spell-proof) split lane investment card, it’s easy to see now why Royal Recruits demanded an emergency hot-fix from the balance team after their August release. If it’s worthwhile for my opponent to invest Royal Recruits at the back, what am I supposed to do? I can’t counter-push, or punish, or hit them with spells. I can’t play an Elixir Collector or I’ll be overrun. A Golem or Lava Hound at the back might work, but maybe I’m best off just playing Royal Recruits myself. Just as small spell bait broke the meta a year ago, split-lane with the soon-to-be-buffed Royal Recruits threatens to do so now.
Three Musketeers, Elixir Collector – The oldest and most beatdown-esque of the split-lane decks. This combination is strong across the board, but has the toughest time against siege, chip and decks which can punish a Collector.
Three Musketeers, Royal Hogs – This deck helped define split-lane as its own archetype distinct from beatdown. Instead of cycling to an Elixir Collector, you cycle to Royal Hogs in single elixir and start making 3M pushes in double. The omission of Collector makes the deck much less vulnerable to a punish. However, because they don’t deal damage, take forever to die, and are vulnerable to splash damage, Royal Hogs are weak to counter-push decks.
And that’s a full tour of the archetypes. If you’ve made it this far, then you deserve a look at the full matchup chart:
A line from A to B indicates that A counters B, and a dotted line indicates my own ignorance. It may be that some matchups favor A and others favor B, that most are draws, or that I simply don’t understand them. There will always be exceptions, but I think the chart is informative nonetheless. As a reader I welcome you to fill in the holes in my knowledge, and correct me in the comments when you think I’ve gone astray. Because I can’t master every matchup, I’ve used what knowledge I have to make several deductions – deductions which may be dubious.
Questions for you:
What archetypes does your favorite deck fall into?
Which archetypes have you mastered or struggled with the most?
Which ones are you excited to try?
Will Royal Recruits take over the next meta?
What will Clash Royale’s 8th archetype be?
Through constructive discussion I’d like your help in improving the archetype system, expanding its explanatory power and raising our Clash IQ’s along the way.
Looking forward to your feedback,