So to start off with, what do these cards have in common?
Well, anyone who has been playing since the Fall of Argenport was released (and read this article’s title) will realise that they all get hit hard by Disciplinary Weights, Teacher of Humility’s only lesson. Now, I’m not going to discuss whether it is unbalanced or what cards to play against her (just search for anything that costs two or less and kills it). The point here is trying to find ways to win once your opponent has it on the table and you don’t have answers for it.
The first thing to understand about Teacher is that even though it is bad to get hit by it, it doesn’t mean all decks are affected by it in the same way. We can divide these decks into three big subgroups: aggressive, midrange with just merchants, midrange and control with merchants and card draw.
In the first category, you should never go out of your way to not get hit by Teacher. The situation below exemplifies this point:
In this case, you should play and attack with Champion of Fury. If your opponent wants to hit you with Teacher, they will have to forego blocking with it for two turn cycles and as a beatdown deck, you should be more than fine with that. On the other side of the table, the Teacher player should usually block this attack as Weights is not worth the damage you will be taking. All of this is pretty obvious once you look at what Skycraggro is trying to do, but overvaluing Teacher is one of the easiest mistakes to make if you don’t frequently play decks that fast.
Things get a bit fuzzier if you are on Stonescar aggro, which often runs merchants. According to my teammate Ahorn, who plays a fair bit of those decks, you still care about aggression enough that you wouldn’t leave units back to prevent being hit. Mindfire and Combust are cheap cards in the market that can still be played under Weights.
Midrange with merchants
Once you go bigger to midrange decks that rely more on merchants, you should definitely have a different posture, playing for trading and killing Teacher in the early turns almost no matter what. Since only merchants do any card drawing in your deck, you shouldn't chump or two for one yourself to deal with Teacher.
In this type of decks, you can sometimes let Teacher through to get out of power screw. This is perfectly valid when playing something like Answer the Call decks, which don’t really rely on card draw but do need to reach five power to play Harsh Rule and even more for their threats. However, with something like Icaria Blue, this is a harder call to make, since you will also depend on card draw at some point in the game. Below is a case where not doing anything is probably the best play:
Midrange and Control with merchants and card draw
Decks with eight or more ways of drawing cards will be severely disadvantaged by the cursed relic and you need to be more aggressive to prevent getting hit by it.
Right at this threshold is the Combrei Alessi deck. It has card draw through Crownwatch Press-Gang and Auralian Merchant is central to its strategy (especially since Sword of Unity is your main go-to card on the market when behind). I enquired Mouche on what he would do in the following situation:
In this case, you have the choice of spending a card (Safe Return) to nullify Teacher for a turn. The answer was that he would make this play given that the whole game plan of his hand revolves around his card draw units. For other hands, with less card draw, the answer would probably be different.
Here you are getting something out of Safe Return, so when do you outright chump Teacher?
In actual control decks, this should start being a consideration. The problem is that most decks which care enough about Teacher’s effect won't really have early game units to do so (but they should have enough answers if built correctly). If the following scenario came up and I was on something like Feln Control, Reanimator or Scream, I think that it is definitely correct to throw the merchant under the bus:
Grenadins (and the same is probably true for Kennadins) should also prevent the hit at the expense of their 1/1's, but that's clearly not a big sacrifice for them. There are a couple of situations that come up quite often:
The question here is whether you triple block or just chump. You don't really mind having a Grenadin torched, but the real fear is that if it does and you don't have a follow-up play, then Teacher hits you on the next turn. In this situation, you need to assess how your next turn will play out. Grenadins are, in general, heavily favoured against Time midrange decks, so you can afford to chump, whereas there is no reason to be wasteful if you have an Assembly Line, Torch or Merchant in hand.
Another thing to play around is their ability to give Overwhelm through Sword of Unity. If your deck is very weak to Weights and you trust in your late game, it is worth having enough health on the battlefield to prevent this hit. With Grenadins, I tend to leave a Kerendon Merchant on defence so that even if they manage to get the hit in, they waste the Sword and the Teacher. I still think that this is a favourable exchange for the Teacher’s controller, but it does mitigate the damage.
A final consideration would be madness’ing a Teacher for no other value except the Infiltrate. You should always make this play if it is the only way of protecting yourself. However, if you have another way to hold it back, it is better to save Madness for a more impactful play. This is especially true against Praxis Midrange, which isn't hurt much by Weights whilst having premium Madness targets.
From the earlier examples, it should be clear that the way you protect yourself against Teacher is quite different when your opponent is on Combrei or Praxis. Naturally, against Praxis you can't really rely that much on units with three or less health. Combrei depends on Killer and Sword of Unity to get rid of blockers, so they usually can't push through before turn four if you play a unit. Note that these answers end up being quite weak against Deadly.
The long game
As the game goes longer, being hit by Teacher loses its effect. Players will have already deployed a lot of their hands and developed their power. So from turn five, your opponent's other threats are way more important and your efforts should be concentrated on their Wandering Wisps, Alheds or evasive units. If you have an established board, don't overvalue the chance of getting hit by it. If your opponent has to spend a lot of resources just to get through, you will ultimately win the game even under Weights. What this means is that if you have a Sandstorm Titan and a Siraf in play, there is probably no reason to torch Teacher, while a Valkyrie Enforcer or a Wandering Wisp are real threats that you will need answers for.
Also, there are some unique late game situations where you are quite behind and need to draw out of. In these cases, it is worth considering not blocking Teacher so you see more cards and find whatever you are looking for.
Well, this was a lot of talking about when to chump, kill or let the Teacher go through, but I do think that inexperienced players get this wrong a lot and the ease of swapping decks helps us forget our instances in each matchup.
How to deal with getting hit
There are a couple of simple things to do when you are about to be hit by Teacher. Naturally, you want to prioritize playing your card draw spells and your merchants and make your decisions based on the fact you will be restricted by Weights.
Also be mindful of your scout the turn before you are hit. The card you put on top of your deck will be drawn by the infiltrate trigger, so don't leave something you can't cast soon. Optimally, you will want a power, since it is completely unaffected by Weights, but Vanquish and Annihilate are cards that are still pretty good even with the additional three cost added to them (except against Praxis Tokens), as you should still be able to still trade evenly or up in power with them. If you have a Bulletshaper, Privilege of Rank becomes quite a good extra card to draw, as you can play it for free. Naturally, all of these cards are good options to be grabbed off of the market once you are under Weights.
In general, you will be a big underdog once you are hit by Teacher, but how do you improve your chances of winning? If you are playing a slower deck, it is pretty easy to feel like the game will be impossible to win from now on so resign yourself and go through the motions. It is important not to fall into the subgame that you need to destroy Weights to keep on playing the game. At this stage it is good to make a plan for how the game will play out: will you spend the next couple of turns killing the relic and then play as normal? Will you just win under Weights or will you stabilise and eventually destroy it?
Destroying it as soon as possible should be employed when you are not under much pressure, so you can take a two-turn detour to play a merchant, fetch your answer and deploy it. The good thing is that almost all merchants already trade/bounce with Teacher, so in a way the first step is already helping to deal with the board. I think this approach is almost never correct against Praxis Tokens, as they will be posing way more relevant questions each turn, so while you try to destroy the relic they will certainly get you dead. Technically you only need to destroy Weights once you start drawing cards, so if you have enough stuff to play you can leave it for later.
To win the game without removing Weights, you will need hard to deal with units that can just dominate the board by themselves. Icaria is the most obvious example of this, but depending on the circumstances and what your opponent is on, this can even be achieved with Rizahn, Black Sky Harbinger, Champion of Cunning or a big Alessi or Wandering Wisp + Sword of Unity. The main Teacher decks do struggle to interact with very large units, so don’t be shy to put all your eggs in one basket. As an underdog, you should be willing to take high risk high reward lines that can help these units winning the game. Let's look at this illustrative example:
If there was no Weights, the right play would probably be to kill both smaller units, but given that you won't have your card advantage tools available, it is better to set up a board where Icaria will dominate and hope that the opponent won't have other answers.
Not all decks have access to these haymakers, but in some cases, you can create roadblocks that slow down enough of your opponent's attacks that it gives you time to develop your power. A large Lumen Defender (with the help of Chalice or Combrei Healer) is a big headache for Praxis Midrange and in some situations can also stop Combrei Alessi. A similar effect is achieved with a grown Scraptank or a Torrent of Spiders for three or more. Overall, these setups allow you to compensate for not being able to draw cards as efficiently by nullifying so many of your opponent's threats.
Sweepers are naturally great catch up tools. Once you are under Weights, you should be a bit more conservative with them and gamble more on your life as they compensate for some of the other ways you would normally have got up on cards over your opponent. Even if your opponent doesn't commit more to the board, as long as you are hitting your power drops you should be reducing the burden of Disciplinary Weights.
Most Combrelysian based control decks don't really have the luxury to win without removing the opponent's relic. In this case, you should play to stabilize the board and at the right spot play your disjunction. On the other hand, Mask of Torment can produce enormous amounts of power and just follow their normal plan. In general, I feel that it is better to prioritise your power development.
How many answers should you play?
I believe you shouldn’t change your deck to defend against Teacher if all your card draw comes from a single set of merchants. Once you have eight or more ways to draw cards then it becomes important to have enough early interaction so that your deck can play most games without being handicapped. I believe that such decks need to play a bare minimum of eight answers to Teacher, so as not get hit by it too often (which should be around once every ten games). Now, if the metagame starts revolving around Teacher (as it was before the Answer the Call boom), you should aim to have a couple more answers, at which point you should be actively happy facing such time decks. With Grenadins I had slightly more than ten answers (including drones that chump) and I was thrilled to face Teacher decks despite being so weak to Weights.
Oddly, the last two winners of the ETS (Chlidroland’s Big Elysian and Mouche’s Combrei Alessi) were decks which were hurt by Disciplinary Weights and are pretty short on answers, so my perceptions could either be totally off or they managed to dodge it throughout the tournaments.
These were some of the strategies to play against Teacher that I managed to find with the help of some of my Eternal Titans teammates. Clearly, it is heavily skewed for the decks we have played a lot with. Do let me know how you feel you can beat Teacher and hopefully you will be able to teach her a lesson in your future games.