Deck Guide: Spooky Swain
Yo! Rowdy here. I´m a Runeterrian tryhard who enjoys competing and winning, and even more so if it’s with off-meta decks. That’s what I present to you here: a unique list that I have spent a lot of time on and have achieved success with. Managed to maintain Rank 5 on the EU ladder for the majority of the last couple of patches (1.6-1.7) playing almost exclusively this deck, with a 62% winrate over more than 400 games:
Last iteration of the deck. Shout-out to 4LW, who I took a couple of ideas from.
This is the first guide I’ve ever written, and so I appreciate any and all feedback you have. You can find me on Twitter @RowdyPoro. I hope you enjoy the read and the deck as much as I do!
Table of Contents:
- Deck Tech
- Building a Win Condition
- Mulligan/Match-up Analysis
First things first: this is not a control deck. Probably many of you may have already seen or played Spooky Swain, and expect some Withering Wails and Noxian Guillotines, but that is not what you will find in here. Although many of the cards and concepts of a control gameplan can also be found within this list, we are taking a different approach with this champion combination.
This is a midrange deck with an aggressive early game, courtesy of Elise, a swarm of spiders, and a decent top-end combo/finisher in the form of The Leviathan and Swain. At first glance, these two game plans do not seem to synergize too well, but we will see later how they actually support each other.
Spiders can be a very unreliable win condition as they need us to draw Elise, level her up, and get her to survive enough to attack alongside a swarm of frail spiderlings. Depending on the opponent’s deck, that can be very difficult at times. Thankfully, this region combination provides fantastic supportive cards in Crowd Favorite and Neverglade Collector. These two can become real threats on their own, and demand even more removal from our opponent. If we fail to overwhelm the enemy before getting to the late game, we still have a last resort, unlike other aggressive decks, which is the Swain-The Leviathan combo. The fact that these two cards require little investment and setup to work, while representing a win condition on their own, gives us a lot of room to focus on the swarm plan and adjust the deck as needed. Nonetheless, we still need some support for Swain, and that is why we run Ravenous Flock and Noxian Fervor, two flexible and efficient cards that help us control the board and level up our champion while keeping our proactive plan consistent enough.
In a nutshell, our win condition can be summed up as trying to outtempo our opponent at some point in the game by combining different cards as ¨combo pieces¨ over various turns, and building a board state that cannot be answered in time. Because of its reliance on these combos, the deck can feel inconsistent at times. There will be bricked hands where cards lose a lot of value by not being able to combo well enough with each other, making it very difficult to win; but there will also be nutty openers which will make you feel like you’re playing solitaire. All in all, there is enough synergy within the deck for it to be competitive.
3x Hapless Aristocrat: Staple. Brings synergy in many fronts: it’s a sticky card to start filling the board as early as T1, leaves a spider behind when killed, and is a perfect sacrifice outlet for Noxian Fervor or Glimpse Beyond. We always want 3 of these.
2x Precious Pet: Good overall one-drop. Fearsome is a really valuable keyword in the early game, and allows us to chip some damage at the enemy nexus, which is something this deck appreciates. This one is a flexible spot compared to Aristocrat though, and can be replaced, shaved or cut altogether if Bilgewater and PnZ become very prevalent in the meta or you want more average per-card value.
3x Crawling Sensation: An efficient spell that adds consistency to the swarm game plan. Elise, Crowd Favorite and Neverglade Collector love to have these around. It's an enabler that requires enabling. On its own, this card might not seem strong enough, but given how easy it is to activate its requirement and how much mileage we can get out of it, it sure is a nice inclusion.
3x Elise: One of the central pieces of the deck. This two-cost champion packs an incredible amount of potential value in it, but has the downside of being somewhat easy to remove. The fact that one of our win conditions is attached to such a small body makes it tricky to play in certain encounters. On the other hand if we are cautious enough, or if the opponent does not have a proper answer, this card can win games easily given how heavily the rest of the deck supports it. Elise levelling or sticking to the board for various turns usually results in a win.
*Elise's Crawling Sensation: As we discussed earlier, this spell offers a strong effect for a very cheap mana cost, and is even more powerful with Elise on board, but we should assess the state of the game before committing to this play, as its opportunity cost is so high. As a rule of thumb, we most probably would like to keep a second copy of Elise against reactive decks with a lot of removal because we expect her not to last long on board. On the other hand, against other proactive decks or in situations in which we know our opponent is not going to be able to remove her, this might be a very valuable play.
3x House Spider: Pretty straightforward card. Unconditional good value and synergy for 2 mana. Every spider deck should run 3 of these.
Tricks and Traps
3x Ravenous Flock: Cheap, efficient removal. Because we want to be developing our game plan as fast as possible, the deck can’t afford to use a lot of mana on answering the opponent’s plays. Flock is the perfect fit, as it can deal with threats at a very low cost. Its condition is also fairly easy to activate either through combat or enabling tricks like Vile Feast or Arachnoid Sentry. Finally, it contributes to Swain’s level up condition in a major way.
3x Glimpse Beyond: Strong card draw. The deck runs a high number of low-cost cards, so it is a very real possibility to find ourselves out of steam too soon, before we can finish our opponent. Glimpse helps in this regard, while also being able to counter some spells thrown at our creatures. It is a solid card all around, but especially in decks that like to go wide and have low-value followers to sacrifice.
3x Vile Feast: Flexible card, staple in most Shadow Isles decks for a reason. Can be used to ping and remove 1-health enemies, to enable Ravenous Flock on key targets, to remove our own units and make enemy spells fizzle or trigger Neverglade Collector’s effect in a pinch, and it also heals a little and spawns a spider. That’s a lot for a 2 mana spell.
2x Arachnoid Sentry: This is actually a follower, but it’s listed in the tricks section because its effect is often its most valuable asset. Let’s think of it as a stun with a body. This is a very impactful play in the right situations. It can be used either defensively, to prevent a threat like They Who Endure from attacking, or offensively, to develop a creature while also nullifying an opposing blocker. We will later see why this can be a game-winning factor when used correctly. This card also combines with Ravenous Flock for a sweet 2-card removal option.
3x Noxian Fervor: Another flexible spell that serves many purposes. Usually we will try to keep this card for as long as possible to be able to finish our opponent with some over the top damage, but it has many other applications. It can serve as removal for dangerous creatures such as Kalista, to trigger Swain’s and Neverglade Collector’s effect, and even to make enemy targeted spells fizzle. If the enemy is able to remove the “sacrificed” creature on the stack, before the spell resolves, nothing will happen, but if the targeted enemy dies somehow, our creature will still receive the damage. That is something to keep in mind when proactively using this spell. Lastly, Fervor is the most efficient way to level up Swain, potentially fulfilling 50% of the requirement on its own.
*It is noteworthy that most of these cards can be used proactively, for their straight value, or reactively, in response to an opponent’s trick, to make it fizzle or mess with their plan, while also benefiting from the spell’s effect. This is extremely important when facing decks that also run spells like Glimpse Beyond, Make it Rain, Single Combat or Atrocity. Assessing the probabilities and consequences of our opponents countering our plays with their own, and being able to predict their intentions in regard to their tricks is paramount not only for this deck, but for playing the game in general.
3x Crowd Favorite: Great payoff for swarming the board. This card has a very high ceiling, being able to be dropped as a 4-mana 7/6 overwhelm, and also a very low floor. Sometimes we will have to play our Favo without a very crowded board. That probably means things aren’t going extremely well, but it surely is better than doing nothing if we don’t have another play. A mistake I see people make (including myself) is to not even consider playing Crowd Favorite if they don’t have a wide enough board to make it impactful. Being greedy can pay off sometimes, but in many of these cases, the player is not going to get a better chance anyways. This is especially true against removal-heavy decks and bilgewater in general, both of which will be trying to keep our board as clean as possible if they realize what we are trying to do. 5/4 is good enough, and there is no shame in dropping a weaker Crowd Favorite if we don’t have a stronger line of play.
3x Neverglade Collector: Another fantastic payoff for our plan, another tricky card to play. For its cost, Collector is an easy card to remove. He dies to popular removal cards like Culling Strike or Thermogenic Beam and leaves us at a mana disadvantage, so it should be played cautiously. Its healing capabilities and synergy with Swain can become very handy and create uncomfortable situations for unprepared opponents to deal with.
3x Swain: An overall strong champion that becomes deadly with the right support. This deck is not specifically built with Swain in mind, but he fits perfectly in here, and enjoys the company of a leveled Elise very much. Spiders challenging away Fearsome blockers can allow Swain to hit the enemy nexus uncontested, which usually results in a huge advantage for us. Leveled Swain can also take advantage of Collector’s drain ability to stun enemy units before an attack, leaving them defenseless. We will explore the nuances of this last combo in the next section.
*Swain's Ravenous Flock: We already reviewed this one. Great removal option. Not that many champion spells are actually that useful. We would need to assess the state of the game to see if we are going to need one more Swain, or if we can benefit more from a removal spell and some progress for his level up condition, but in most cases we should'nt be afraid of using this card, as we are likely to draw or have The Leviathan.
3x The Leviathan: Amazing finisher, a must in Swain decks. This card puts a clock on the enemy and demands a quick and expensive answer. It can end games pretty fast if the enemy has little nexus health left by just standing on board. It also combines with a leveled Swain for the well-known ultimate board control combo.
Frenzied Skitterer: A very solid card, and a definite consideration in an aggro meta. I ran Skitterer for a good portion of my games on ladder, and it surely can perform extremely well and bamboozle some unwary opponents. The problem is that it scales with how wide our board is, like many of our threats. By including more of these payoff cards, we make the deck inconsistent and run the risk of drawing too many of them and not being able to generate a board to begin with.
Noxian Guillotine/Vengeance: Although I mentioned that we are not a control deck, 1-2 of these cards can come in handy against the right decks. In fact, usually there will be a threat we wish we had an answer for. Even though these are expensive/situational cards, they might be a nice answer for certain metas. *At the time of writing, They Who Endure is a very popular card, and we have no good answer for it whatsoever in the current list, so I would gladly sub 1x Crawling Sensation for 1x Vengeance.
Brood Awakening: A nice card in the right circumstance, but which can also feel clunky. Being Slow and costing 6 mana, it is extremely easy to disrupt or counter for the enemy, gaining a mana advantage in the process. I also played this one for a good chunk of the matches, but ultimately realized it is most of the time a much worse Crawling Sensation.
Captain Farron: Another great finisher, which probably isn't as immediately impactful as The Leviathan, but which can shine vs control decks because it packs so much value into a single card, and even if removed represents a win condition of its own. I wouldn’t run more than 1x of him though, as too many 8-drops can feel extremely clunky because you probably only get to play one of those each game at most.
Building a Win Condition
As we mentioned earlier, most of the time we must be setting up for our threatening cards way before actually playing them. With the exception of The Leviathan, none of our win conditions feel dangerous on their own, at all. Depending on our hand and what answers we expect our opponent to have, we will need to assess how to best proceed about this, especially in the early turns.
Elise can be played on turn 2 to start generating value with her spawned spiders, or be left for the end of the enemy turn and be dropped on an already wide board so she can level up uncontested. The turn 4, 7/6 Crowd Favorite dream is feasible with this deck, but it might not be a good idea to go for it if our opponent is playing Twisted Fate and has priority on turn 4. Swain on its own is not very threatening early on because it can just be blocked by a 3+ attack creature, but it may force an unfavorable trade vs decks with a limited amount of those, or inefficient spell usage vs control decks than don’t run many followers. In some instances, as in the Endure matchup, we may just try to be efficient with our mana and develop our creatures on curve, because we know they run very little removal and can’t really punish our development. As with every deck, practice and knowledge about meta answers are very important when trying to make the right calls.
As is the case in other games like chess, the more moves/turns we can look at ahead of time, the better chances we will have at successfully developing a winning strategy.
Tips and Tricks
-We should always keep an eye on Swain’s level up progress, and he should almost always be the first unit when declaring an attack. We can bamboozle enemies by leveling him on the stack before combat resolves, and if he hits nexus, he can wreak havoc on the opponent’s board. Noxian Fervor and Ravenous Flock make this very easy given how much damage they deal. Even the most experienced opponents can sometimes fall for a turbo level up on Swain. This mechanic can also be used to fizzle a Culling Strike or Devourer of the Depths aimed at our champion.
-It is a good idea to think about the opponent's nexus health in multiples of 3 when going for almost-fatal blows. This is because our non combat damage options are restricted to Noxian Fervor and The Leviathan’s effect (also Neverglade Collector, but this one is more difficult to activate on demand). There is usually no difference between leaving the enemy at 2 or 3 hp if you can finish them off dropping The Leviathan or using a Noxian Fervor, so it might be a good idea to go for a more favorable trade, or challenge a potentially dangerous unit with a 1/1 spider instead of pushing 1 more damage. Of course this is dependent on many factors such as the opponent's deck and the state of the board, but is something to keep in mind when setting up for lethal when holding one or more copies of these two cards.
-Leveled Swain has some obvious synergy with both Noxian Fervor and Neverglade Collector, but things can get tricky when all three of them are considered into the same equation. With both creatures on board, Noxian Fervor can be used to stun 2 enemy units, deal 3 to the enemy nexus and drain 1 more from it, if sacrificing a creature of our own in the process. This can even be achieved with an unleveled Swain, if he is close enough to fulfilling the requirement (9/12 or more). The order in which the damage unfolds is as follows: first the 3 damage happens on our sacrificed target (potentially leveling Swain), then the 3 damage resolves on the nexus or whatever target we chose second, and lastly our creature may die and trigger Neverglade Collector’s effect. This combo is something to keep in mind, as very few people expect or play around such interactions.
-A handful of cards in this list have an interesting mechanic which can be sometimes exploited. I like to see this as a “board cheat”: Crawling Sensation, House Spider, Vile Feast and Arachnoid Sentry all have the potential to have a +2 net impact on the effective board state for the turn. This means that they can increase the number of attackers we have compared to the number of enemy blockers by 2 in a single action. Given how the initiative system works in LoR, and how most decks can only play/spawn 1 creature at a time, this can translate into an unfair advantage, especially with leveled Elise on board, as we can basically decide blocks for our opponent. We should always keep this possibility in mind when trying to decide between developing or open attacking, as even with a not-so-threatening board we are sometimes able to push a lot of damage or even find lethal.
Leveled Elise changes the rules of the game and lets us decide blockers for our opponent.
As a mostly proactive deck, the mulligan phase is not going to be extremely convoluted. Let’s start with the general plan, and then we’ll take a look at specific threats and cards to look out for. Depending on what region combination our opponent is playing, and what we expect from it, different cards might perform better than others.
Hapless Aristocrat, Precious Pet, Elise, House Spider
We want to have these cards in our starting hand no matter what. They are proactive, unconditional cards which start to fill the board and apply pressure to our opponent, while enabling many of our subsequent plays. Even if weak to enemy removal, we want to be playing them to be efficient with our mana and expend our opponent’s resources. Extra consideration might be put onto dropping Elise. She might be worth holding if we expect our opponent to be able to deal with her and we have an alternate play for the turn.
Crawling Sensation, Ravenous Flock, Vile Feast, Arachnoid Sentry, Noxian Fervor, Crowd Favorite
These cards are usually good keeps with minimal support, but not quite enough on their own. If we have some of the definite Keepers in our hand already, it might be a good idea to hold onto Crawling Sensation or Crowd Favorite, as they are most probably going to be enabled easily. If we have a bricked hand with only high-cost creatures and removal, we instead want to aggressively mulligan for our early drops. Removal and Tricks should be assessed with our opponent’s deck in mind. We should keep Vile Feast or Noxian Fervor to deal with Teemo and Miss Fortune, respectively, for example. Watch out for ready-made combos like Arachnoid Sentry+Ravenous Flock.
Glimpse Beyond, Neverglade Collector, Swain, The Leviathan
These cards come into play way too late for us to consider keeping them in our starting hand. We’d much rather have a chance at another card than keeping any of these bricking our hand for half of the match. We could make an exception for Swain if we expect our enemy to have no creatures that can block him and no efficient ways to deal with him, like Ezreal/Karma decks.
Because match-up analysis might become obsolete very fast, especially with the new set coming out next week, I’ve decided to instead go over each region and some cards to watch out for in each of them. We are mainly looking for removal tools our opponents may have available, given how committed we are to developing our own plan and how little removal options we have at our disposal. Non-reactive decks are usually going to have a hard time against us unless they are powerful and fast enough to beat us down before we do.
The guide might get updated for specific deck match-ups after Call of the Mountain releases, if the deck is still powerful enough and relevant in the meta.
*Note that they are ordered from most to least problematic.
-Bilgewater: This supportive region is by far the most annoying one to face with our deck. Both Miss Fortune and Twisted Fate are extremely effective against our frail boards full of 1-health spiders. They also have strong early plays like Jagged Butcher or Hired Gun, and efficient removal options like Make it Rain or Parrrley. It can get tricky to develop our game plan while playing around all of the potential dangers, and it is sometimes impossible.
Watch out for: Parrrley, Hired Gun, Make it Rain, Jaull Hunters, Twisted Fate’s Red Card, Razorscale Hunter, Devourer of the Depths, Riptide Rex.
This villain can use his Red Card ability to kill all our spiderlings at once. Beware!
-Shadow Isles: The most important thing to keep in mind when playing against this region is their ability to deal with our board at fast speed, during combat, and heal themselves at the same time. Because of spells like Withering Wail and Vile Feast, they can punish our open attacks pretty easily, so it should usually be a good idea to develop our board before pushing for damage. Beware of The Ruination though. They can sometimes bring Fearsome units too, which are difficult for us to deal with.
Watch out for: Glimpse Beyond, Vile Feast, Blighted Caretaker, Kalista, The Box, Grasp of the Undying, Withering Wail, Atrocity, Vengeance, The Ruination, Lifesteal creatures.
-Demacia: The problem here is that they are probably going to be developing their board during the early game too, and that most of their creatures are beefier than ours, so it is really difficult to get favorable trades and control the board. They also bring some Challenger units most of the time, which can easily deal with our key threats, and powerful finishers which work extremely well vs our smaller creatures.
Watch out for: Fleetfeather Tracker, Ranger's Resolve, Single Combat, Fiora, Laurent Protege, Relentless Pursuit, Riposte, Vanguard Bannerman, Concerted Strike, Radiant Guardian, Swiftwing Lancer, Cithria the Bold, Genevieve Elmheart, Judgment.
-Piltover and Zaun: Another supportive region with plenty of removal options. The cards that give us trouble are actually few, but they can be found in almost every PnZ deck because of their efficiency and flexibility. It is a nice idea to always keep an eye on the opponent’s available mana and consider their removal options for the turn to play around them or drop some baits before committing our most impactful cards.
Watch out for: Thermogenic Beam, Jury-Rig, Mystic Shot, Ezreal, Get Excited!, Gotcha!, Statikk Shock, Vi, Augmented Experimenter, Corina Veraza.
-Noxus: This one presents a handful of reactive cards, but few of them are actually efficient at dealing with small creatures, so they rely on support from other regions to deal with wide boards. They bring two of the most annoying spells in the game though, Culling Strike and Reckoning. Although not all decks can benefit from these, in case we actually face them, we have to be very careful as they can end games if we play into them recklessly. We will often have to decide which of our units we prefer to sacrifice to Culling Strike, and try to bait our opponent into making the play. The Overwhelm mechanic and extremely aggressive decks can also represent a danger.
Watch out for: Ravenous Flock, Transfusion, Trifarian Gloryseeker, Arachnoid Sentry, Culling Strike, Death's Hand, Noxian Fervor, Whirling Death, Intimidating Roar, Reckoning.
-Freljord: While big units and the Frostbite effect can be annoying to deal with, this region has very few ways to threaten our plan. It must be combined with one of the above mentioned to actually pose a threat. Most of their removal options and big creatures are clunky when facing an army of spiders. Still, they have a couple of powerful cards to keep in mind.
Watch out for: Brittle Steel, Elixir of Iron, Icevale Archer, Ember Maiden, Avalanche, Braum, Fury of the North, Harsh Winds, Sejuani, They Who Endure.
-Ionia: This controlly region being the last one in the list is due to most of its removal or stalling spells being aimed at more dangerous and impactful creatures. It has little ability to deal with wide boards, and does not present an extremely scary plan of its own that we need to counter. Even the most powerful cards here fall short, and they rely heavily on their paired region to be able to handle our board. Elusives units are also weak to a leveled Elise and slower than spiders, so we should not have much of a problem dealing with those.
Watch out for: Eye of the Dragon, Retreat, Steel Tempest, Concussive Palm, Will of Ionia, Yone, Windchaser.
That is all for now! Thanks again for taking the time to go through the guide, especially if you made it this far. If you like aggressive, but not straightforward decks, which allow for some player expression, or filling the board with spiders to gain unfair advantages over your opponent, you should give the list a try yourself. If that’s not the case, I hope you still learned something along the way.
As I already mentioned, I might update the guide after the next set launches, if I think it can compete with the relevant meta decks to come. Hopefully we get some support for the archetype with the upcoming cards, so we get more options when deckbuilding. The deck should still be playable and perform at least ok regardless.
A fan of card games and gaming since high school, when he spent countless hours playing WoW and YuGiOh, Rowdy began his digital CCG journey with Hearthstone in 2013. After achieving high ranks in multiple games of the genre like Magic:Arena or Gwent over the years, he arrived at Runeterra searching for the next challenge. Following his competitive ambitions, he joined Team Aretuza to step up his game and fight for a place among the best. When he is not trying to crack the meta for the next tourney, you can find him playing poker or some hardcore strategy games.
You Might Also Like
By Asher, February 21, 2021
By Asher, February 20, 2021
By Asher, August 23, 2020