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Chinese Wild Meta Report He Zong Lian Heng #8 - translated

This is an English translation of the latest Chinese Wild meta report from He Zong Lian Heng of NGA.CN. Decklist images can be found here thanks to u/Glormagic.
 
Tier Score Deck 1 Deck 2 Deck 3
1 96 Odd Demon Hunter
95 Odd Paladin
92 Jade Druid Discard Warlock Pirate Warrior
91 Secret Mage
90 Galakrond Warrior Reno Priest
2 89 Odd Warrior Reno Quest Mage Mecha'thun Warlock
88 Reno Secret Mage
87 Reno Hunter
86 Quest Mage Big Priest Kingsbane Rogue
85 Togwaggle Druid
84 Linecracker Druid
83 Even Warlock Reno Warlock Odd Rogue
81 Token Druid Cube Warlock Even Shaman
80 Murloc Paladin
76 Reno Mage
75 Mech Paladin
70 Albatross Priest (estimate)
3 60 Treachery Warlock (estimate)
As Quest Mage has been nerfed, the pressure of the meta has decreased. This meta report lists multiple decks, including decks that are low in popularity.
 
Note...
Meta overview:
Ashes of Outland is receiving its second "legal hearing". After Quest Mage received its "last meal" of Evocation before its upcoming execution (nerf), it learned that it was only to be demoted. Odd Demon Hunter was similarly demoted but its punishment was more akin to a fine. But relatively speaking, Quest Mage survived, while Darkest Hour Warlock was hauled to the chopping block. That deck that terrorized for more than a year was hauled off of its high horse. Mecha’thun Warlock also did not escape punishment (with the Bloodbloom nerf).
The second round of nerfs was targeted at Quest Mage, Darkest Hour Warlock, and Standard Demon Hunter. But the nerfs to Bad Luck Albatross and Sacrificial Pact cannot be ignored. The nerf of the former relieves pressure from highlander decks, while that of the latter means that Warlock and Demon Hunter will be less susceptible to Zephrys the Great. The nerf to Kael’thas Sunstrider was targeted at Standard Druid but also hit Wild Druid. With regard to Wild format, the biggest effect of the nerf was to weaken Quest Mage while Odd Demon Hunter was not crippled and continues to dominate ladder. The nerf to Darkest Hour Warlock was inconsequential as after Shadow Word: Ruin was added to Zephrys’ Discover pool, the deck ceased to have heavily favored matchups. Losing Darkest Hour Warlock did not significantly change the other decks in the meta.
The widely feared Quest Mage is no longer as consistent after the nerfs. Flamewaker Quest Mage now needs an excellent starting hand to complete the quest; in the past it was possible to complete the quest without a good hand, but now it is more difficult to do so, indicating the deck is weaker to aggro. Reno Quest Mage is also weakened as it now needs more turns to generate additional spells to complete the quest. On the whole, both variants of Quest Mage have been hit hard by the nerf and their popularity has nosedived, leading to a meta in flux. Decks that were previously suppressed by Quest Mage have resurfaced. Among these are Hemet Mecha’thun Warlock and Reno Priest demonstrating decent popularity, which fare well against decks not Quest Mage. Like Quest Mage, the aforementioned two decks have OTK potential, albeit less reliably. Reno Priest relies on drawing Raza the Chained and Shadowreaper Anduin and cannot OTK before turn 8. Quest Mecha’thun Warlock can win as early as turn 7, and usually around turn 10. Relatively speaking, Mecha’thun Warlock has supplanted Quest Mage as the sharp blade that suppresses slower strategies. The decline in popularity of Quest Mage can partially be attributed to its replacement by these other combo decks. It would seem that slower decks struggle in this meta, but that is not the case.
As the saying goes, combo decks counter control. But in the case of Reno Priest that is not entirely correct. Reno Priest can struggle against the pressure of midrange and control but it fares better against some aggro. The deck is simply a highlander control deck in the guise of a combo deck; its combo potential is a case of “buy one get one free”. Mecha’thun Warlock rather counters control, but its weaknesses are evident. It fears Dirty Rat, it fears Loatheb on its combo turns, and it must watch its health total. Older Mecha’thun Warlock lists that included Voidcaller or quest were less susceptible to Dirty Rat as the only target was Mecha’thun itself. But the current deck also has as its Dirty Rat targets Dollmaster Dorian and Kael’thas Sunstrider, without either its combo is impossible. Once a control deck has Dirty Rat in hand, it has a higher chance of disrupting the Mecha’thun combo. As a result, neither Reno Priest nor Mecha’thun Warlock have become the killers of control decks. If you want to play a control deck, in theory, you do not need to take into account the existence of Reno Priest nor Mecha’thun Warlock.
In spite of this, the wishes of players for a “control meta” are unrealistic. This is because control decks are not inherently strong. If one wants to count on Dead Man’s Hand Warrior, N’Zoth Reno Mage, Reno Shaman etc. being popular, that is clearly impossible. Weaker control decks have not resurfaced, but some mid-control decks have. The classic examples are Reno Hunter and Big Priest. Soon, we may even see Reno Warlock and Even Warlock reappear.
While control decks may not face pressure from combo decks, the current meta environment is full of aggro decks, such as Even Shaman, Odd Paladin, Pirate (Token) Druid, Murloc Paladin that rely on flooding the board; lacking a board clear can mean being snowballed to a quick defeat. There also exist aggro decks like Secret Mage, Odd Demon Hunter, Galakrond Warrior that rely on early tempo combined with direct burn; taking excess damage from an early board can result in a dangerous position. Aggro decks are becoming gradually more well-rounded and are able to reliably construct strong early boards, access burn strategies, and maintain pressure without running out of resources. This means non-aggro decks must have the full suite of counter strategies, including small board clears, large board wipes, single target removal, and healing. As it is hard to have all of the above, this indicates that non-aggro strategies will be unfavored. By Hearthstone’s nature, aggro dominates, unless the non-aggro deck is extremely broken, like Quest Mage before its nerf.
From the advent of the Wild format aggro has been king. Even when there have appeared extremely strong combo decks, the counters that arise are aggro decks. The current meta lacks ridiculous combo decks, so the aggro deck that beats the other aggro decks must be the strongest deck in the format. Last patch those decks were Even Shaman and Galakrond Warrior. No aggro deck clearly dominates the others in the current meta, but based on popularity, Odd Demon Hunter at 20% of the “meta slave” meta (not exactly sure what this means) may be the strongest. But the deck is not perfect and has many inherent weaknesses, and counters may arise in future. Once the deck’s popularity drops, the meta will be shaken up again.
Currently, the meta has not stabilized. Any change in a deck can have a butterfly effect. There are many decks with undeveloped potential. In the near future, many decks can either find new life or drop in popularity.
 
Popular meta tech cards:
There is no doubt the popularity of certain tech cards can be used to gauge meta conditions.
Card Explanation
Blowtorch Saboteur As Odd Demon Hunter comprises 20% of the "meta slave" meta, this card enjoys high popularity, even in the mirror.
Mindbreaker Like Blowtorch Saboteur, this card targets Odd Demon Hunter, but it also affects one's own hero power. Thus, it is commonly ran in aggro lists that do not rely on its hero power, such as Galakrond Warrior and Token Druid.
Glacial Shard/Frozen Shadoweaver These two cards serve the same purpose: to slow down one of Odd Demon Hunter's key turns can lead to victory. But owing to their mana costs, it is usually ran only by Odd Demon Hunter for the mirror.
Secret EateChief Inspector Secret Mage is increasing in popularity. As long as that deck exists, so will these two tech cards.
Skulking Geist The meta is not lacking in crucial 1-cost spells. Quest Mage relies on 1-cost spells to finish its quest, Jade Druid will often concede after this card is played, and both Odd Warrior and various Warlock decks use 1-cost spells. A well-timed Geist can swing a victory. But owing to its high mana cost, this card is typically only played in control decks as it fits poorly in a mana curve.
SpellbreakeIronbeak Owl Silence is often directed at Voidcaller and Mech Paladin's buffed mechs, but owing to the decline in popularity of Voidcaller and the near disappearance of Mech Paladin, these two cards are less important.
Maiev Shadowsong Maiev's not merely another Spellbreaker. It can be used to neutralize a large minion for two turns and gain the tempo advantage. But when used to bypass taunts, yes, it is another Spellbreaker.
Acidic Swamp Ooze/Gluttonous Ooze For a while, weapons have been among the stronger types of cards in Hearthstone. Weapons tend to be stronger than minions and spells of the same cost. As the Wild format contains must-remove weapons, Oozes will always see play.
Dirty Rat Dirty Rat saw little play when Quest Mage was the premier OTK deck. But now that (Hemet) Mecha'thun Warlock has taken that crown, Dirty Rat is very effective tech against that.
Nerub'ar Weblord Nerub'ar Weblord is played in Even Shaman and Token Druid. As many key minions, such as highlander minions, rely on battlecries this card is effective against those. But its effect is a double-edged sword and thus it is limited to the aforementioned decks.
 
Decks:
1, Odd Demon Hunter
Following two rounds of severe nerfs, Odd Demon Hunter remains strong. Demon Hunter has many strong individual cards; despite the nerfs to Imprisoned Antaen, Aldrachi Warblades, Skull of Gul'dan, and Battlefiend, it retains Priestess of Fury and Warglaives of Azzinoth. However, the nerf to Battlefiend weakened Demon Hunter's early game. Demon Hunter was not destroyed by the nerfs; though the nerf to Altruis, the Outcast removed the class's ability to wipe the board in the middle to lategame, Priestess of Fury serves a similar purpose. However, Demon Hunter is not perfect; the deck has many weaknesses. Odd Demon Hunter is unable to deal with a large minion or multiple mid-sized minions. The deck is carried by the strength of its individual cards and its suitability to the meta. Its cheap silence in Consume Magic targets the format's powerful minions (Voidlord, Even Shaman's totems, Mech Paladin's mechs). Mana Burn limits the snowball ability of other aggro. Odd Demon Hunter's early minions are not strong, and do not seriously threaten opponents, but Priestess of Fury compensates for this. After the second round of nerfs, Vulpera Scoundrel saw increased play and is included in the most popular lists. The Pirate package has begun to be abandoned and replaced with Beaming Sidekick to strengthen early tempo. As for tech cards, there exist Blowtorch Saboteur, Glacial Shard, Frozen Shadoweaver, and Chief Inspector, with the former being the most popular for the mirror.
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2, Galakrond Warrior
For a long time, Galakrond Warrior was built around a Pirate shell, with N'Zoth's First Mate allowing the deck to gain early tempo. This is why the deck is good in Wild but only mediocre in Standard. At times, builds that eschewed the Pirates for Eternium Rover and bombs also saw play. As highlander decks are stronger and thus more prevalent in Wild than Standard, the bomb package, despite being low in tempo in both formats, sees more play in Wild. Pirates retain a place in Galakrond Warrior, but the nerf to Bad Luck Albatross leads it to be ejected in favor of the bomb package to target control. Thus, Pirate bomb Galakrond Warrior is the optimal build, with the Pirates able to combat aggro while the bombs disrupt control. The deck is very popular and has few counters. How many bomb cards or tech cards to include remains a question. Possible tech cards include Blowtorch Saboteur, Maiev Shadowsong, Mindbreaker, and Spellbreaker. These tech cards are of two uses: to bypass taunts or to target even/odd decks.
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3, Odd Paladin
Though Paladin's popularity is low, it is undeniable that data from Netease Hearthstone Box (tracking Chinese server) and HSReplay demonstrate that the class has the highest winrate. At the very least, it can be said that the class is not weak, and Odd Paladin is the strongest of its decks. Post-patch, the meta is more suitable for Odd Paladin as Odd Demon Hunter is now an even more favorable matchup. But, Odd Demon Hunter's popularity has not dropped and it continues to suppress Even Shaman and slow Warlocks (Odd Paladin is not unfavored versus slow Warlocks and the latter's decline in popularity means that Odd Paladin can afford to cut a tech card), indicating that Odd Demon Hunter has created an optimal meta condition for Odd Paladin. Though Odd Paladin's popularity is only so-so, it is already a very strong deck. Still, the deck retains its drawbacks. Despite suppression by Odd Demon Hunter, Even Shaman still sees play. The rise of Pirate Warrior also signals trouble for Odd Paladin. Odd Paladin's cards seem out of place in the explosive Wild format. Stable, unlikely to clog the hand, and smooth tempo all seem not to be characteristics a Wild deck should have. With regards to deckbuilding, there are many ways to build Odd Paladin. Fungalmancer and Faceless Corruptor compete for the 5-cost slot. Unidentified Maul and Rallying Blade vy for the 3-cost position. There are many differences in potential 1-drops. Brazen Zealot is unsuited for the aggro-heavy meta but the Pirate package is. Libram of Justice being changed to cost 5 mana renders it a candidate for inclusion, but it is at best a tactical soft removal that is poor at acquiring initiative. Moreover, with the nerfs to SN1P-SN4P and Darkest Hour Warlock, decks that can build tall and wide boards, Libram of Justice seems only better than nothing. For gaining tempo, Faceless Corruptor appears superior.
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4, Hemet Mecha'thun Warlock
The nerf to Bloodbloom was a severe blow to Mecha'thun Warlock. The deck that should have received the torch from Quest Mage now was nowhere to be seen. Ever since the release of Kael'thas Sunstrider, a deck running Hemet, Jungle Hunter that relied on Dollmaster Dorian + Plot Twist + any cheap spell + Cataclysm to initiate the Mecha'thun combo had appeared. That deck could combo quickly, but it was slower than, and heavily unfavored against Quest Mage. After the Quest Mage nerf, Mecha'thun Warlock has begun to see more play; the Hemet version now fully displacing the quest version. Hemet Mecha'thun Warlock's speed and power have yet to reach the heights reached by Quest Mage, but it is still remarkable. A Hemet played on turn 6 is a countdown to the opponent's defeat. Though the deck is fast, it is heavily reliant on drawing Hemet. If Hemet is not drawn early, the deck can have trouble surviving: because it lacks Aranasi Broodmother for healing, this variant of Mecha'thun Warlock faces more pressure on its life total and is weaker to aggro.
Despite Kael'thas Sunstrider being able to replicate the effect of Bloodbloom, the nerf to the latter still has an effect on lists that run Emperor Thaurissan. Drakkari Enchanter is used to allow for Thaurissan to discount one's hand twice. Now, Bloodbloom is replaced with two cards, Kael'thas and Drakkari Enchanter instead of one, making for a clunkier deck.
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4.1, Quest Mecha'thun Warlock
Though Quest Mecha'thun Warlock has almost completely disappeared, that does not mean it is unplayable. Its advantage is that it can sometimes work miracles after quest completion. The inclusion of Aranasi Broodmother means it can heal with Plot Twist, making it better against aggro than the Hemet variant.
It must be noted that Quest Mecha'thun Warlock should include a copy of Drakkari Enchanter to duplicate the effect of Thaurissan. Kael'thas Sunstrider is superfluous. It is important to be able to combo even without Dollmaster Dorian. Playing Dorian and Plot Twist with 7 mana can let the deck flood the board and survive for longer. Thus, Dorian allows the deck greater flexibility.
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5, Even Totem Shaman
Ever since its inception at Saviors of Uldum (with the release of Splitting Axe), Even Totem Shaman has been recognized as a tier 1 deck. Through its subsequent widespread promotion during Descent of Dragons, the deck failed to attract the attention of game designers. A "forever god" (referring to a meme about Chinese League of Legends player Uzi) had been born! The arrival of Demon Hunter in Ashes of Outland quickly dispelled that myth. Even Totem Shaman needs to keep its totems alive to snowball, but Odd Demon Hunter clears totems with ease. Even if the totems are buffed with Totemic Might or Totemic Surge, Warglaives of Azzinoth or Consume Magic make short work of the Shaman board. It is natural for a deck to have counters, but when a heavily unfavored matchup, Odd Demon Hunter, comprises 20% of the meta, Even Totem Shaman will struggle. Moreover, the counters to Odd Demon Hunter such as Odd Warrior and the tech card Blowtorch Saboteur also pose problems for Even Totem Shaman.
Thus, even without being hit by the nerfs and with a weaker overall meta, Even Totem Shaman has fallen from the strongest deck to a weak deck. Deck strength is relative; it is impossible to discuss the strength of a deck apart from the meta it exists in.
The deck is hard to refine owing to its cratering popularity. Even Totem Shaman stagnates in the previous patch, and it is hard to find any strong individual cards to slot in.
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6, Odd Warrior
It can't be left unsaid that Odd Warrior is the champion to counter the meta. Even after the second round of nerfs, Odd Demon Hunter makes up 20% of the meta. As the meta is unsettled, other aggro decks (Pirate Warrior, Discard Warlock, even Murloc Paladin) ready to make trouble are trending up in popularity. Jade Druid and Cube Warlock are popular but not overly so, allowing Odd Warrior an opportunity.
With regards to deckbuilding, pre-patch Odd Warrior could afford to exclude Coldlight Oracle, as it did not improve the matchup against Quest Mage and worsened the ones against aggro. But in this meta, the milling murloc is a must, in more and more matchups.
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7, Odd Rogue
The second round of nerfs has had wide-ranging consequences, the most important one being a meta shift to a more midrange and tempo-based environment. In this environment Odd Rogue thrives. Actually Odd Rogue is already suited to the meta and has definite strengths, but the meta shifts in the short time since the second round of nerfs do not show it. In the future Odd Rogue may make a comeback, but it won't be too big of a splash.
Owing to its low popularity, innovation has stagnated. The Magic Carpet package is a given, but the details of said package and other cards are uncertain. In this tempo-dependent meta, the authors recommend reinclusion of two copies of SI:7 Agent at the 3-cost spot, and two copies of Faceless Corruptor at the 5. As for other cards, it is up to your own preference.
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7.1, Odd Galakrond Rogue
The Galakrond package has been tried many times in Odd Rogue but its results are average at best, with its only purpose being to counter Odd Warrior. Otherwise it is useless.
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8, Secret Mage
Secret Mage is an offensive deck that focuses on disrupting the opponent. It is not a brainless aggro deck that relies on direct damage to win. Nowadays in the Wild format there are two lines of thought for offensive strategies: one relies on its cards' abilities (weapons, burn etc.) to prevent the opponent from securing board presence while whittling away at their health with its own board until it can find the kill, the other floods the board and hopes the opponent cannot clear. Secret Mage's game plan is the former. It uses cheap Secrets and Secret-synergistic minions to disrupt the opponent's board or prevent them from clearing your own, finally finishing off the opponent with a combination of minion damage and burn. But there is a flaw common to this type of aggro-control, and that is that one's board is not large enough to resist board clears. Secret Mage does not have enough minions and it runs out of cards quickly, so it easily loses tempo if its minions are cleared. Galakrond Warrior, Odd Demon Hunter, Odd Rogue, and other similar decks have more minions than Secret Mage and will not face the same problem. But Secret Mage excels at disrupting the opponent and can easily win if the opponent cannot counter this strategy. Thus, Secret Mage shines against opponents who are unskilled or unfamiliar with Wild. Against better opponents, however, Secrets lose effectiveness.
Secret Mages will often opt to include the new Secret, Netherwind Portal. Otherwise, it is little changed.
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9, Big Priest
Bad Luck Albatross was nerfed, Zephrys the Great is losing IQ, Open the Waygate was severely nerfed: to Big Priest, this is like three happinesses knocking at its door. As the pressure of the meta has decreased, it is even possible to exclude Convincing Infiltrator for greedier resurrect and Shadow Essence targets. Big Priest is inherently favored against aggro and control, but it is kept in check by combo. As combo decks are collapsing, Big Priest is seeing an unstoppable ascent.
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10, Togwaggle Druid
The new expansion added Ysiel Windsinger, which, paired with Aviana, allows for the casting of many expensive spells. Of the combo druid decks, Togwaggle Druid is the most reliable. But, combo druid is still low in popularity, so when matched against druid, Jade Druid must be considered first.
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11, Reno Quest Mage
Although Open the Waygate was heavily nerfed, it still has a definite power level. For Reno Quest Mage, it can finish the quest, but the extra turns required means it must survive longer. This is not a problem against control but rather aggro. The Bad Luck Albatross nerf is a good thing for Reno Quest Mage. Though it now takes longer to complete the quest, it is now also easier to survive before quest completion. Opponents will no longer disrupt Reno Quest Mage with Albatrosses. Both nerfs considered, Reno Quest Mage is weaker in absolute terms but stronger in relative terms. The deck is still a slow killer.
With the quest requirement increased from 6 to 8 spells, it is more important to consider tempo and quest completion. The Dragon package is recommended. Eschewing Dragons can grant more sources of spell generation but to survive it is recommended to run Arcane Breath and Malygos, Aspect of Magic. As the quest is harder to complete, Sorcerer's Apprentice is necessary to discount the mana cost of generated spells, such as those created by Banana Buffoon, Cobalt Spellkin, or Evocation.
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12, Reno Priest
Following the revert of the nerf to Raza the Chained, Reno Priest walked the way of explosive OTK deck construction. But before the Open the Waygate nerf, Reno Priest was helpless against Quest Mage and, following a brief post-revert burst of popularity, almost disappeared from the meta.
Even after the second round of nerfs, Quest Mage and Reno Quest Mage can still pressure Reno Priest. The good news is that Quest Mage has its own weaknesses, the power level of the meta has dropped, and Bad Luck Albatross was nerfed too. Reno Priest finally has a chance to become a mainstream deck.
Though Reno Priest is decent at clearing the board and healing, it is not heavily favored against aggro owing to its weak board presence. After clearing a board, it cannot seize initiative but instead lets the opponent redevelop. When matched against Galakrond Warrior or Odd Demon Hunter, decks with burn, Reno Priest's surrendering of initiative renders it vulnerable to being killed by a well-timed Loatheb.
Highlander decks have a diverse pool of card choices, and Reno Priest is no different. Generally there are three different flavors: Dragon, OTK and N'Zoth. The OTK variant is the most popular.
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13, Flamewaker Quest Mage
Though Open the Waygate was nerfed, this does not affect Flamewaker Quest Mage with a perfect draw in the slightest. When miracle mage has enough luck, Eloise (Sorcerer's Apprentice) paired with Evocation or Mana Cyclone can complete the quest in an instant. But excluding situations with uncanny luck, miracle mage now faces an significant increase of difficulty in completing the quest. Before the nerf, it was possible to easily finish the quest with Violet Spellwing and Licensed Adventurer. After the nerf, it is necessary to have Sorcerer's Apprentice to reliably complete the quest. Thus, the deck now fares much worse against aggro. It is now very reliant on drawing Evocation or Mana Cyclone combined with Apprentice. On the bright side, with a lucky draw, the nerf does not affect the deck at all. But without luck, the deck can now be beaten to death.
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14, Cube Warlock
As Odd Demon Hunter firmly dominates the ladder, conditions are miserable for Cube Warlock. Previously, the deck's advantage was that it could counter the popular meta decks, but now it is heavily unfavored against Odd Demon Hunter and its ladder position is not ideal. Before the second round of nerfs, Cube Warlock could at least tech against Odd Demon Hunter with Sacrificial Pact and it could seem like both decks countered each other. But now Odd Demon Hunter can use Mana Burn to block key turns where Cube Warlock wants to play cards like Voidcaller, Skull of the Man'ari, or Carnivorous Cube. Consume Magic can deal with cards like Voidlord. As Cube Warlock lacks healing, the matchup is now very one-sided. But the meta is volatile, and if Odd Demon Hunter drops in popularity, Cube Warlock will shoot back.
Despite the nerf to Bad Luck Albatross, it is still a viable inclusion in Cube Warlock, but its popularity has dropped as players have disenchanted the card, and it is predicted that the card will not regain its popularity. As for Cube Egg Warlock that relies on Nerubian Egg to counter board flood, that strategy is also unpopular. Nerubian Egg can help gain tempo, but it does not protect the warlock's life total. Differing from the popular Prince Taldaram and Egg build on the Chinese server, foreign servers favor running two copies of Dark Skies for a more controlling style. Dark Skies can clear the opponent's board and limit incoming damage. Perhaps control Cube Warlock is the best suited for the meta.
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15, Jade Druid
At the end of Descent of Dragons, Jade Druid received Kael'thas Sunstrider, allowing for explosive midgame turns. Even if Kael'thas was drawn later, it could reasonably solve the issue of the difficulty of playing Ultimate Infestation. But following the second round of nerfs, Kael'thas' mana cost was increased by one. This may seem minor, but as druid lacks AOE, giving the opponent another turn can be hard to bear. In the later stages of the game, Kael'thas is also more awkward to play. It is now impossible to play Kael'thas and combo with a 3 mana and a 1 mana spell. If one insists on playing him, it is recommended to also run Bogbeam.
Though the Kael'thas nerf weakens Jade Druid's midgame tempo, the deck still has its use. Current aggro decks are unable to deal with Jade Druid's Spreading Plague and high armor gain. Against Hemet Mecha'thun Warlock, Jade Druid's mortal enemy, it is possible, but unlikely, to mill a combo piece with Naturalize.
Variants that have appeared include dragon, Kael'thas, and King Phaoris. No variant has proven superior to the rest.
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16, Pirate Aggro Druid
No matter how the meta changes, this deck's gameplan never deviates: hard mulligan for Embiggen, and win from there....
Frenzied Felwing was nerfed and is no longer ideal. Other card choices are little changed. As Odd Demon Hunter is running rampant, consider running Mindbreaker, and excluding cards with two (or less) health.
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17, Kingsbane Pirate Rogue
The popularity brought by the revert of the Raiding Party nerf has scattered to the winds. The deck now enjoys low, but stable popularity. Kingsbane Pirate Rogue is not weak. Ship's Cannon is strong against aggro, Southsea Captain buffs the board, and Fal'dorei Strider can develop presence quickly. All can tilt victory in one's favor. The deck has no hard counters but its real enemy is itself. It relies on luck, whether that be for Ship's Cannon pings, drawing Kingsbane, or drawing Fal'dorei spiders.
Secrets are worthy of inclusion.
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18, Pirate Warrior
The addition of Corsair Cache is truly a cache of riches for Pirate Warrior. For this deck, Corsair Cache is clearly better than Forge of Souls. Even if Corsair Cache were 3 mana, it has the same weapon-drawing effect as Forge of Souls plus Upgrade!, but in one card instead of two. The choice of weapons is typically two copies of Wrenchcalibur and Ancharrr, the latter being core and the former being good tech against highlander strategies or just for more face damage. Against aggro, Pirate Warrior has long been on the upper echelon. N'Zoth's First Mate, Ship's Cannon, and Skybarge can crush opponents. As Corsair Cache has increased the deck's reliability, in the future meta, the deck is not lacking in potential and may become popular.
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19, Reno Warlock
As Quest Mage and Bad Luck Albatross have been nerfed, Reno decks will return to the sight of the playerbase. However, Reno Warlock is still in a state of chaos and it needs more time to be refined. The current list runs half of the cards of Cube Warlock in addition to Reno Jackson for healing. Compared to Cube Warlock, this version of Reno Warlock fares better versus aggro. Besides, Reno Malygos Warlock also exists to some extent. Reno Warlock needs some more time to ferment before it can be revived.
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20, Prismatic Lens Murloc Paladin
Following the meta changes and releases of new cards, Murlocs are now more numerous and well-rounded. Wild Prismatic Lens Murloc Paladin first appeared in Uldum and it cycled as quickly as a combo deck, but it was not strong. It was countered by SN1P-SN4P Warlock and Secret Mage, but now the latter no longer dominates and control warlocks have declined in popularity. As a result, relying on Prismatic Lens to win is now possible. Where the Wild deck differs from its Standard cousin is that the aggro decks in Wild are stronger, so it cannot afford to falter in tempo before Prismatic Lens is played. The good thing is that Murloc Paladin has strong, overstatted early minions with snowball potential. If an opponent is unable to clear or contest the early board, they will be dispatched by the Murloc Paladin by turn 4 or 5.
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20.1, Divine Favor Murloc Paladin
Excluding Prismatic Lens in favor of Hand of A'dal, Crystology, and Divine Favor is also a viable strategy. On the whole, both builds of Murloc Paladin have shown sprouts of popularity, but whether they can put down deeper roots remains to be seen.
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21, Mech Handbuff Paladin
Mech Handbuff Paladin invariably loses to other aggro, whether it is Even Shaman, Odd Paladin, Odd Demon Hunter, Pirate Warrior, Discard Warlock, or Murloc Paladin. However, it has shown success for short periods of time, and its low crafting cost makes it suitable for newer players. Mech Handbuff Paladin is unsuited for the current meta. But if one insists on playing it, it is not bad as a training tool on a budget.
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22, Reno Secret Mage
For a long time, Reno Secret Mage failed to stand out because it was not fast enough to compete with Quest Mage. After the Quest Mage nerf, Reno Secret Mage is now favored against other aggro decks, and its popularity has rebounded some.
In terms of deckbuilding, Reno Secret Mage has a plethora of options. There are two different ways of building the deck: to make it more like Secret Mage, or more like Reno Mage. Adding more low-cost cards can gain tempo, with the drawback of running out of resources more quickly. Adding more high-cost cards mitigates that problem, at the risk of having clunky early hands.
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23, Reno Hunter
In the quest to counter Odd Demon Hunter, players gradually uncovered Reno Hunter. The deck has two bad matchups: Cube Warlock and Quest Mage. The current meta has decreased the strength and popularity of those counters, and Reno Hunter has been gradually strengthened. Reno Hunter has experienced popularity at high legend, and may serve as a fuse to change the meta. Reno Hunter's cards have a high chance of not curving out, but none of its curve plays are weak. If it can curve out, then it will be strong.
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24, Even Warlock
Even Warlock's targeting of Odd Demon Hunter has seen success. Mountain and Molten Giants pose a headache for Illidan. Even Warlock has always feared the Quest Mage matchup, with Ray of Frost stalling until quest completion. But the recent nerfs now make Even Warlock favored, as it can now pressure the Quest Mage's life total or build a wall of taunts. In other matchups, Even Warlock is not heavily disfavored either. It is now more suited for the current meta, but its popularity hovers around zero. The release of this meta report may make a difference.
In terms of deck construction, whether it is full highlander, partial highlander, or traditional even, all variants have their merits. But in terms of deck strength, traditional even and partial highlander are recommended. Owing to the prevalence of Odd Demon Hunter, it is not recommended to run Voidcaller and Enhanced Dreadlord, but rather the traditional Vulgar Homunculus and Hooked Reaver.
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25, Reno N'Zoth/Luna's Pocket Galaxy Mage
Despite Reno Mage not being extremely strong, the nerfs to Quest Mage and Bad Luck Albatross have unleashed Reno decks, with Reno Mage showing a definite rise in play owing to its committed playerbase. Whether it is the N'Zoth or Luna's Pocket Galaxy variant, the deck has definite strength. The overall decline in OTK decks is a major factor in the reappearance of slower decks. In future, other slow decks may also reappear.
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26, Discard Zoo Warlock
The evolution of Discard Zoo Warlock has led to the deck becoming another form of zoo. The discard cards are overstatted; Fist of Jaraxxus and Silverware Golem also secure tempo. Hand of Gul'dan allows for refill while the Sacrificial Pact nerf improve the matchups against warlock and highlander. In all, the deck is decently popular, but its random elements repel some players. Unlike quest mage that needs a good draw, Discard Zoo Warlock does not need to get lucky but rather not get unlucky to avoid snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Darkglare is a potential inclusion. Discard Warlock is now viable; the pieces of the puzzle have been assembled and Shenron can be summoned.
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27, Mecha'thun/Linecracker Druid
Refinement has long progressed Linecracker Druid beyond a meme. The deck is similar to Jade Druid. Mecha'thun is a must, as it can bring victory even if one does not acquire 1000 armor. The increased prevalence of Skulking Geist in the meta bleakens the outlook for this deck.
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submitted by EerieIratxoak to wildhearthstone [link] [comments]

Offseason Review Series: Day 10: The Detroit Lions

Detroit Lions

Division: NFC North 2015 Record: 7-9

Coaching Changes

Position Previous New
General Manager Martin Mayhew Bob Quinn
Running Backs Curtis Modkins David Walker
Tight Ends Ron Prince Al Golden
Quarterbacks Jim Bob Cooter Brian Callahan
Offensive Line Jeremiah Washburn Michael McCarthy
Defensive Line Jim Washburn Kris Kocurek
Why did they change?
Martin Mayhew was fired after the Lions' 1-6 start to 2015, signalling plans by ownership to shake up the front office. After a long search, they decided on Bob Quinn, the Director of Pro Scouting for the New England Patriots since 2012, as their new General Manager. Quinn decided to keep as much coaching continuity as possible, largely making interim positions permanent.
Jim Bob Cooter was kept as the Offensive Coordinator from his interim role, following the post-week 7 firing of Joe Lombardi. His role as Quarterbacks coach was taken by Brian Callahan, the Offensive Quality Control coach from the Denver Broncos, who earned high praise from Peyton Manning. It's worth noting that when Cooter left the Broncos for the Lions, Callahan took over his position on the Broncos. Cooter was similarly praised by Peyton.
Jeremiah Washburn was fired at the same time as Joe Lombardi. Michael McCarthy, former Offensive Quality Control coach for the Cleveland Browns, was brought in by Quinn three weeks after his own hiring, to replace Washburn and provide Offensive Quality Control. Ron Prince, a coach highly sought and valued by Caldwell upon his hiring, was promoted from Tight Ends coach to Assistant Head Coach and Offensive Line Coach with McCarthy.
Jim Washburn, Jeremiah's father, left when his contract expired and followed his son to Miami. His role was filled by his longtime assistant, Kris Kocurek. Curtis Modkins left for a promotion, becoming the Offensive Coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers. His replacement, David Walker, was last an NFL coach in Indianapolis in 2014, having worked only one year with Caldwell.
The significant change that Quinn made to the front office staff was the strength and conditioning coaches, who were uniformly fired and replaced. Jason Arapoff and Ted Rath were retained through the Jim Schwartz firing, but have been replaced by a new staff headed by Harold Nash Jr, the Patriots' head of strength and conditioning, who is being assisted by Josh Shuler and Dominic Raiola.
My Grades
These are based on my perceptions, so big grain of salt here. For a great many of these, I expect I'm in the significant minority.
General Manager - I think they made a lateral move at GM. The strongest reports talking up Bob Quinn were about how much he pursued many of the same players that Mayhew pursued. Their strengths overlap, with Mayhew having a keen eye for undervalued NFL talent. It remains to be seen where they are at the draft. With a first time GM, there's likely to be a bit of a learning curve, that Mayhew had already been moving on. I'm also generally in the minority in this view. C+, Room For Improvement
Running Backs Coach - Modkins' RBs weren't setting the world on fire, but there are some good arguments (many of which I happen to subscribe to) that he was hampered by other aspects. More to the point, he was effective at deploying his RBs as a significant threat in the passing game. David Walker doesn't have much to his resume in terms of proven track record. With the Colts 2011-14, the best season a running back of his had was either Donald Brown in 2013 (537 rushing yards, 5.3 Y/A, 751 Yards from scrimmage, and 8 TDs) or Vick Ballard in 2012 (814 rushing yards, 3.9 Y/A, 966 Yards from scrimmage, and 3 TDs). D+, Cross Your Fingers and Hope It Works
Tight Ends Coach - Caldwell loved Prince, a priority coaching hire when he was brought in. Working as the TE coach, the TEs took a step forward in terms of blocking and scheme-understanding, but underwhelmed as receivers. On the other hand, most of the offense was underwhelming for most of the year, and Eric Ebron made significant strides while healthy (arguably surpassing expectations in his healthy games). The new TE coach, Al Golden, has largely been a defensive-minded coach during his career. This is his first time as an NFL coach, but he has worked as a HC for two College teams, and was a TE in college, and for 1 year with the Patriots. D+, Cross Your Fingers and Hope It Works
Quarterbacks Coach - Jim Bob Cooter is upgrading to a 2 story trailer, and getting his ripped jean overalls studded with diamonds, as a rising star of a coach. He reportedly has a great relationship with Matthew Stafford, with a much more aggressive view of Offense than his predecessor, Lombardi. New coach Callahan comes from the same pipeline with much of the same endorsements. B+, Don't Fix What Ain't Broke
Offensive Line Coach - Jeremiah Washburn coached a unit that was inexcusably bad last year. On the other hand, if any unit on the Lions had been simply missing the personnel to function properly, it was the offensive line; it was entirely bereft of strength or depth at Offensive Tackle. His track record was spotty, and too short to address prior to that. His replacement, Michael McCarthy, has a history working with offensive lines on a number of teams. He doesn't have any notable track record, though, having never spent more than 2 years with any team. C, If You Don't Go Up and Don't Go Down, You Go Meh
Defensive Line Coach - This will be an interesting confluence of coaching and personnel. Washburn and Kocurek, in the time they worked together on the Lions, have only had one drafted Defensive Lineman bust: 2014's 4th rounder, Larry Webster. They have also developed high level talent like Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril, and Ziggy Ansah, while providing career jump-starts to players like George Johnson, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Devin Taylor, and Jason Jones. It remains to be seen how much of the nearly perfect draft rate on DL was based on great drafting, and how much was on great development. Further, how much the great development was because of Washburn or Kocurek. Shedding one of the coaches for nothing in return is nothing but a loss, though. D-, Pray, Pray It Doesn't Matter

Free Agency

Players lost/cut
Player Position New team
Calvin Johnson Jr. WR Retired
Rashean Mathis CB Retired
Jason Jones DE Dolphins
Isa Abdul-Quddus S Dolphins
Manuel Ramirez OL Retired
Travis Lewis LB Vikings
Joique Bell RB Free Agent
James Ihedigbo S Free Agent
Darryl Tapp DE Free Agent
Josh Wilson CB Free Agent
It wouldn't be a Lions article without mentioning Calvin Johnson's retirement. It sucks. We're sad. The world is a little less Honolulu, and a little more Blue. The Lions had already begun to plan for his leaving, so the personnel is in place to take his targets, though nobody will ever take his performance.
Abdul-Quddus was a role player in 2014 and earlier, and really broke out last year earning a starting position by the end. Ironically, this breakout overpriced him for the Lions and he went down to Miami to be overpaid like all former Lions. Speaking of Lions players who were overpaid to go to Miami, the Lions also lost their elder DE, Jason Jones. Ihedigbo's combination of age, injury, and general declining performance makes his loss understandable, and likely permanent.
Bell left on his high price tag, declining role, and now-crowded position on the Lions. There are rumors he may return later on, though, they're nothing more than rumors right now. In a similar position, Ramirez, the Lions' best offensive lineman last year, left for the Bears for a chance to earn a starting spot. However, during OTAs, it looked like he was going to be a back-up, and retired.
Players signed
Player Position Old Team Length Salary
Stefan Charles DT BUF 1 $1,750,000
Marvin Jones WR CIN 5 $40,000,000
Wallace Gilberry DE CIN 1 $1,250,000
Johnson Bademosi CB CLE 2 $4,500,000
Andre Caldwell WR DEN 1 $885,000
Tavon Wilson FS NE 2 $2,200,000
Rafael Bush FS NO 1 $1,500,000
Geoff Schwartz G NYG 1 $840,000
Jeremy Kerley WR NYJ 1 $850,000
Stevan Ridley RB NYJ 1 $840,000
Darrin Walls CB NYJ 1 $840,000
Tahir Whitehead OLB DET 2 $8,000,000
Don Muhlbach LS DET 1 $1,065,000
Dan Orlovsky QB DET 1 $1,065,000
Tim Wright TE DET 1 $815,000
Crezdon Butler CB DET 1 $760,000
George Winn RB DET 1 $600,000
Marvin Jones is obviously the headliner of the group. Intended to take the role (though, again, not the performance) of Calvin Johnson, complementing Ebron, Tate, and Riddick. Some Lions fans were positively drooling at the prospect of him, and it's easy to see why.
The other noticeable thing on here is the number of short-term contracts for players who are unproven or have had uneven performances. Players like Ridley, Schwartz, and Bush are getting another shot to prove they can be productive again. Similarly, Tahir Whitehead got rewarded for his breakout season with a higher contract, giving him two years to prove himself worth a bigger, longer deal.
Bademosi was brought on, expected to be a pivotal player to watch on special teams, and Orlovsky is a mainstay of Caldwell teams as a back-up.

Draft

Round Number Player Position School
1 16 Taylor Decker OT Ohio State
2 46 A'Shawn Robinson DT Alabama
3 95 Graham Glasgow C Michigan
4 111 Miles Killebrew S Southern Utah
5 151 Joe Dahl G Washington State
5 169 Antwione Williams OLB Georgia Southern
6 191 Jake Rudock QB Michigan
6 202 Anthony Zettel DE Penn State
6 210 Jimmy Landes LS Baylor
7 236 Dwayne Washington RB Washington
Taylor Decker, OT - It's no secret that the Lions had needs on the Offensive Line going into the offseason. With the tackle position going completely unaddressed in Free Agency, it was clear the Lions were going to spend a high pick on an OT. Decker was considered a very "Pro ready" OT, with a ceiling potentially limited by his average athleticism. With the top three OTs off the board, he may have been a bit of a reach, but the need fit was superb. He has been getting a lot of reps at LT so far, with Riley Reiff working RT. Already knowing how Reiff plays at LT, they may just be getting a look at their options, or they may be prepping for shifting around on the line. One way or the other, though, expect Decker to suit up day 1. Need: A+. Value: B-. Overall: A-
A'Shawn Robinson, DT - A true heft of a DT, he joined an already crowded DT corps that returned all of last year's players, plus a new free agent. Among the DTs, he's taking first team reps with Ngata, and expected to be used in heavy rotation even if he doesn't start. With most of the DTs near the end of their contracts or only on short deals, he provides some much needed flexibility down the line, and a very high ceiling. Need: A-. Value: A-. Overall: A
Graham Glasgow, C - That the Lions needed a new Center has been no secret. Travis Swanson has been something less than impressive since he took the field in the NFL in 2013, having trouble snapping the ball reliably and transitioning to blocking afterwards. The entire offensive line looked lost, so he may get another chance. Either way, Glasgow is currently looking like he's 3rd in line at Center right now, behind Swanson and Ikard. Look for him to make his case as a starter later on in the preseason, and trying to completely steal it if Swanson falters again during the year. Need: A. Value: C+. Overall: B-
Miles Killebrew, S - Killebrew is a real thumper of a Safety, and joined just as the Lions lost their last two Safety starters, creating an opening at SS. Apparently the Lions had a little fun with him, telling him outright they wouldn't draft him just to see how he reacted. While Rafael Bush is the presumptive starter right now running with the first team, look for Killebrew to get an extended look at how his physical style complements Glover Quin at FS. He's a lock to make the team, given the lack of Safety depth on the Lions, but he is unlikely to wrest a significant amount of snaps this year without an outstanding showing. Need: B. Value: B. Overall: B
Joe Dahl, G - At this point, the Lions were just planning for the future. Dahl has no chance of starting in 2016 without a major injury (or two), and is expected to be a long-term project. They're working him at tackle and guard, and getting him used to run blocking. With Schwartz rounding out the top 3 guards, and Swanson and Ikard providing CenteGuard flexibility, he's well and truly buried on the depth chart. That's fine, though. He's an emergency back-up everywhere right now, and is looking like he'll be a fine project. Look for contributions in 2017, and pretty much not hearing his name in 2016. Need: D+. Value: B+. Overall: B-
Antoine Williams, OLB - This is another "futures" pick, with Williams unlikely to get any significant playing time in 2016. At 6'3", 245 lbs, he's a pretty hefty LB, and has good football IQ. He's clearly a project, though one that the Lions clearly liked a lot drafting him a little high. The top of the LB depth chart is nice, but the Lions were clearly looking towards future depth with Williams. Need: B+. Value: D. Overall: C
Jake Rudock, QB - Lions fans were itching for a QB from this state. The hopes were more in the range of MSU's Connor Cook, but Quinn pulled a wildcard and drafted Rudock out of Michigan instead. His odds of unseating Orlovsky as the backup QB are low, but he could earn his way as a developmental QB 3rd on the depth chart, with an eye to developing him into a back-up or tradebait. Need: C+. Value: C+. Overall: C+
Anthony Zettel, DE - The Lions have been favouring big, long DEs recently, and Zettel is certainly a break from that trend. Projected starters Ziggy Ansah and Devin Taylor are 6'5" and 6'7", both with outsized arms. Zettel is 6'4" with shorter arms. However, the dearth of significant Free Agents brought in combined with letting two of their top-4 from last year leave in Free Agency leaves a spot or two open for him to make his case. Again, watch for his development with Kocurek without Washburn. Need: A. Value: C-. Overall: B-
Jimmy Landes, LS - Drafting a LS, even with a 6th round pick, is bold. Muhlbach is getting up there in age, but he's still likely the favourite for this year. Problem is that it's hard to bring in a good rookie LS to compete if you have a well established starter. Need: B. Value: B-. Overall: B-
Dwayne Washington, RB - Outstanding measurables, but little production, Washington is probably looking for a spot on the practice squad, completely buried behind Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah, George Winn, and Zach Zenner. He'll need to work on everything, from his ball security and play diagnosis to learning the Lions' scheme. Very little risk here, but his potential definitely counts for something. Need: D. Value: A. Overall: B+

Other Offseason News that Affected the Team

Outside of Calvin Johnson's retirement (I'm trying to mention it in every section, so nobody feels the need to bring it up in the comments), there isn't a lot in the way of football news. There are a handful of injuries sidelining major players like Caraun Reid (DT), Ameer Abdullah (RB), and Brandon Pettigrew (TE), all of which are expected to be ready to go soon except for Pettigrew.
The biggest football story so far is the Stephen Tulloch story, and there's not a lot to recount here. He's been a rock for the Detroit Lions at LB, but his age and his 2014 injury seemed to catch up to him last year. Combined with his $5.5+ million salary hit and pending roster bonus, he seemed a lock for a cut before Free Agency. He announced on Twitter that he was leaving the Lions, and thanked the team. Then he wasn't cut. Then Free Agency was well underway, giving him a roster bonus, and he still wasn't cut. Now he's been excused from the minicamp, and still hasn't been cut. He hasn't been in workouts, OTAs, and minicamp. Nobody is sure why he hasn't been released yet, outside of a vague statement from Tulloch that, "hopefully, we can resolve things in the next couple days ... and kind of get things under wrap and we can kind of finalize things."
Thrilling drama.
The other big news is that the Lions are bringing in Cheerleaders! Citing an overwhelming demand by Lions fans, Bob Quinn announced this 2 days ago. The specifics are still being worked out, but they're expected to be pretty much the standard outside contractors working part-time.

Projected Starting Lineup

Offense

  • Quarterback - Matthew Stafford
  • Running Backs - Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah
  • Fullback - Michael Burton
  • Tight Ends - Eric Ebron, Brandon Pettigrew
  • Wide Receivers - Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, (Theo Riddick)
  • Left Tackle - Taylor Decker
  • Left Guard - Laken Tomlinson
  • Center - Travis Swanson
  • Right Guard - Larry Warford
  • Right Tackle - Riley Reiff

Defense

  • Defensive Tackles - Haloti Ngata, A'Shawn Robinson
  • Defensive Ends - Ziggy Ansah, Devin Taylor
  • Linebackers - DeAndre Levy, Tahir Whitehead, Josh Bynes
  • Cornerbacks - Darius Slay, Nevin Lawson, Quandre Diggs
  • Safety - Glover Quin, Rafael Bush

Special Teams

  • Placekicker - Matt Prater
  • Punter - Sam Martin
  • Long Snapper - Don Muhlbach
This is a big year for a few of the players.
Darius Slay and Ziggy Ansah launched themselves into national recognition last year, and they're both playing for a new contract this year, trying to prove they're among the elite at their positions. Slay is looking to prove he can shut down anybody, and that the first few weeks last year were a fluke. Anything less than "shutdown" should be considered a disappointment for him. Ansah's development is continuing at breakneck speed, and it's terrifying that we still don't know how good he can be. A good year from Ansah gets his name mentioned in the same breath as Von Miller and Justin Houston.
Theo Riddick is hoping to continue his assault on linebackers, while developing into a serious threat as a rusher. After hauling in 80 receptions last year on 99 targets, he was firmly entrenched as a reliable target for Stafford, in the same vein as Tate and Megatron. He's looking to increase his yards per reception, and hopefully increase his rushing yards.
In a different direction, Eric Ebron needs to do two things this year. He needs to play all 16 games, and he needs to establish himself as a deep threat. He had a good start on the latter in 2015, but failed in the former. With Calvin retired (check, for this section), there are targets to go around now.
On defense, you have a few young guys who need to prove that they deserve the starting position they have. Nevin Lawson and Quandre Diggs were forced into starting last year due to a rash of injuries, and both outplayed expectations. If they can keep it up, and play at a similar or better level this year, they'll have both outplayed their draft positions in the 4th and 6th round, respectively. In a similar boat is Devin Taylor, the 6'7" DE with 36" arms, who was a long-term project drafted in the 4th round of the 2013 draft. With Jason Jones ahead of him gone, he's in line for some serious snaps to show he can make it happen for a full year.
Finally, Matthew Stafford and Golden Tate both have to prove they can get it done without Megatron. Tate, to prove he's a dangerous #1 target, and Stafford to prove Megatron wasn't his crutch. I think both will come out stellar in this regard. There will be more on this in the section on schemes.

Position Group Strengths and Weaknesses

  • Quarterback - It's still weird to say after all these years, but the Lions are in a good place at Quarterback. Stafford is as good a starter as you could hope for in the NFL, Orlovsky is still "Safety Dan", as a safe and unremarkable back-up. Rudock is their new young gun to develop. In all-around strength, they're likely top-10 in the NFL, with a likely (by the end of the year, at least) top-10 starter.
  • Backfield - This is a group with a lot of shifty quickness, but not a lot of speed. Players like Riddick and Abdullah don't have elite top-end speed, but they accelerate and change directions great. There is some solid depth, with decent NFL-level play down to their 4th string RB, significant youth (only Stevan Ridley, trying to re-establish himself, is over 25), and high potential. However, their rushers have a problem with ball security, with Stevan Ridley and Ameer Abdullah being benched for it, and Dwayne Washington having fumbling issues out of college. In all, this is still likely to be one of the weaker backfields in the NFL, though it has the potential to develop rapidly.
  • Offensive Line - The good news is that the Lions are returning all five of their starters from last year, and continuity on OL breeds success. The bad news is that the Lions' starters last year were awful. The most reliable of the group, Reiff, might be changing positions, and the Center ought to be losing his starting position. There are a lot of concerns here, still. There is still a hope that this can be an above-average unit, but the hope is dwindling. I would expect them to underperform again this year, as among the worst offensive lines in the NFL, with new players and new positions getting settled.
  • Pass catchers - There are a lot of great underneath receivers here, who excel at breaking tackles. Theo Riddick and Golden Tate line up differently, but they're both good to avoid the first two people who come at them. There's also a great deal of youth, with the oldest established catcher being 27-year-old Golden Tate. The biggest problem is the lack of proven deep threats available. While Tate has filled that role before, he's more suited to working underneath defenses. Marvin Jones filled the role of the split end on the Bengals, but it remains to be seen how he'd do as a primary target there, taking the top off of defenses on his own. Ebron has flashed, and was ostensibly taken to fill that role, but has yet to prove anything. If Marvin Jones or Eric Ebron take off as a serious deep threat, it could be a top-5 receiving unit again, Megatron or not. Right now, this is easily one of the better units in the NFL right now.
  • Defensive Line - Last year, the Defensive Tackles were top-heavy and shallow, and the Defensive Ends were pretty even and deep. This year, it's the opposite. There are a number of very good DTs on the roster, but none who (at the moment) can be an absolute focal point. The DE duo is very dangerous among the starters, but drops off precipitously after Ansah/Taylor to Gilberry Wallace and Anthony Zettel. Ultimately, this will depend on the development from Kocurek, but I would expect this defensive line to return to being fearsome again, as one of the best units in the NFL.
  • Linebackers - This is another group that was very deep last year, arguably the strongest position on the roster, that has shallowed out a bit. The top is still solid, with Levy, Whitehead, and Bynes (last years' starters). After them is a hope and a prayer, in Kyle Van Noy and Jon Bostic. Blitzing will continue to be an issue, with none on here especially excelling at it (Levy, potentially, excepted). A lot of this depends on health and reliability, but I'd call this unit about average. Particularly good performances by Bynes or Whitehead could make it slightly above.
  • Defensive Secondary - Cornerbacks could be the new strength of the roster. The big concern here is their relative youth (notice a trend?) and inexperience. 25-year-old Slay is the oldest starting CB, and the only there isn't a single CB over 30 on the roster. Safeties have a different issue. Quin is still reliable, though getting up there in age, but he needs a new partner in crime. None of the other safeties on the roster (Killebrew, Bush, Carey) has performed at a starting level in the NFL. Right now, this unit is above average, with the potential to be maybe top-10 if everything works out.

Schedule Predictions

With the caveat that I think predictions before a game aren't worth much...
Week Opp The Game Outcome Record
1 @ Colts I expect the Lions to come out guns blazing week 1, and making short work of the Colts. Likely to be billed as an offensive shootout, I expect the Lions defense to be viscious, giving the edge to the Lions. Win 1-0
2 vs Titans The Lions have tended to lose against who they're expected to lose against, and beat who they're expected to beat. The Titans are improving, but the Lions should still be expected to beat them. Win 2-0
3 @ Packers Riding high on a 2-0 record, and the fact that the Lions are undefeated in Lambeau since 2014, I expect the Lions to be too overconfident, and get handed a loss on the arm of Aaron Rodgers. Loss 2-1
4 @ Bears The Bears have been quietly improving, likely making the NFCN pretty close next year. However, the Lions have had the Bears' number for the last few years (even when the Bears were the better team), and I don't think the Bears are sufficiently better than the Lions to break that. Win 3-1
5 vs Eagles If the Eagles are expecting Bradford to work out for them, they're as mistaken as the Rams were. This may be close, as I think the Eagles may get underestimated a lot this year, but I think the Lions pull it out. Win 4-1
6 vs Rams Newly settled in Los Angeles and with a new QB, I think the Rams may overperform their talent this year. Especially with expectations high for the Lions at 4-1, I think they drop the ball here. Loss 4-2
7 vs Washington I think Kirk Cousins continues to perform well for them, but I think their counting on Josh Norman will prove to be a mistake, and their defense will be weak throughout the year. Win 5-2
8 @ Texans I don't think Osweiler is the long-term answer for them, but I think their defense will be fearsome enough to make up for it. Their defensive line should take ample advantage of the Lions porous OL, and coast to a victory. Loss 5-3
9 @ Vikings The reigning NFCN champions (I'm just glad it isn't the Packers) are a pretty complete team from top-to-bottom. I think this will be a tough-fought match, but the Vikes manage to win by more than a score. Loss 5-4
11 vs Jaguars The Jags have been slowly and steadily improving. However, I think the Lions are still a more complete team and the Lions' DBs will shut down the Jaguar WRs. Coming off a Bye week, playing at home, and coming off 3 consecutive losses, I think the Lions win by a lot. Win 6-4
12 vs Vikings The Lions have been on a bit of a Thanksgiving hot streak, taking out the Packers, the Bears, and the Texans (fuck you, the Lions won that game). Look for them to extend this streak (though not in the blowout fashion of the last two), against the Vikings. Win 7-4
13 @ Saints The Saints defense will continue to be porous, but I don't think the Lions are able to take advantage, with Brees comfortably picking apart the middle of the field all day. Loss 7-5
14 vs Bears With the end of the season in sight, looking to win the division or at least go to the post-season, I think the Lions overlook the much-improved Bears, and drop this game, ending their winning streak. Loss 7-6
15 @ Giants The question will always be which Giants show up. I think the good Giants show up to this game and hand the Lions a big loss. Loss 7-7
16 @ Cowboys At this point, I think the Cowboys will be suffering a rash of injuries. Moreover, I think the Lions DBs will completely take away the passing game and force the Cowboys to be one-dimensional, ekeing out a win. Win 8-7
17 vs Packers With a winning record, vs the Pack at home, I think the Lions could be at "win and in" at this point. I think it'll be a close game, but the Lions lose control near the end of the game. Loss 8-8

Training Camp Battles to watch

The Lions have quite a few battles going on of varying implications.
  • Starting Strong Safety - Right now, Rafael Bush has a strong grip on the position. Don Carey is more familiar with the system and (I think) has a higher floor, but a lower ceiling. On the other side, Miles Killebrew has the highest ceiling of the lot, but also the lowest floor. I think Bush starts, but either Carey or Killebrew could take it with an exceptional showing at Training Camp.
  • Starting Center - This one seems more like a race-to-the-bottom. I think you could but even odds on any of the current three: Ikard, Swanson, or Glasgow. If any of them looks even semi-passable, I think they take the position, but that it'll default to Swanson if nobody proves anything.
  • Starting Defensive Tackles - This is the opposite of the Center, with a young DT who performed well last year (Reid), a young DT who flashed then got injured (Walker), and a high draft pick showing a lot of potential (Robinson). Robinson needs to be favoured right now, if only because Reid is injured. Walker was pursued by Quinn while he was in New England, so I expect him to get an extended look as well. The odds-on favourite should be Reid, but any of them could take it. Most likely is roughly even snaps between the top-two, running a three man rotation with Ngata.
  • Rotational Defensive Ends - The top two are established with Ansah and Taylor. After that, it's wide open. The Lions like to deploy fresh DEs, so third and fourth DEs should be expected to get a lot of snaps still. I'd expect Gilberry to take one of those roles, with a wide-open competition for the last rotational DE position.
  • Third (and Fourth) Wide Receiver - While there are a plethora of pass catching targets on the team, the Wide Receivers themselves are rather top-heavy. There's a wide open competition right now between Corey Fuller, Andre Caldwell, TJ Jones, Jeremy Kerley, and Andre Roberts to fill the last few roles at WR on the team.
  • Third Linebacker - Right now, I would still put Josh Bynes as the favourite for the third Linebacker position. However, Kyle Van Noy has been having a great offseason. Drafted in the second round, he was expected to be an edge-rushing blitzer, a role that no LB on the team currently excels. If he is, indeed, starting to live up to his potential, he could unseat Bynes as the third linebacker, and throw the whole position into disarray.
  • Backup Cornerbacks - Johnson Bademosi was brought in as a special teams ace, but is getting a good look at outside cornerback during minicamp. Last year's third round pick, Alex Carter, is similarly getting some reps on the inside. Carter is likely playing for a roster spot against Crezdon Butler, who has shown versatility.
  • Fourth Running Back - With Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah firmly entrenched at #1 and #2 at RB, the competition is fierce for a roster spot. Ridley is largely expected to take the #3 role, leaving likely one more slot for either George Winn or Zach Zenner, with Dwayne Washington likely playing for a spot on the Practice Squad. Winn is taking first team snaps right now, and has been with the team a little longer, but Zenner is considered to have higher upside potential. This could be a really close one, like it was last year.
Bonus
  • Third Tight End - There isn't a lot of competition here, but there is somebody to keep an eye out for during Training Camp and Preseason. Cole Wick has been impressing significantly during minicamp, earning lots of rave reviews, calling him (more than once) the best player on the field, while running with the first team. His chances of upsetting the top-2 are next to nothing, but he's an intriguing player to keep an eye on.

Discuss Offensive and Defensive Schemes (optional for non-fans)

Offensive Schemes

The Lions changed offensive coordinators midway through 2015. The previous Offensive Coordinator, Joe Lombardi, was replaced by the Lions' Quarterbacks coach, Jim Bob Cooter. Lombardi was criticized by many for having blocking schemes that didn't suit the personnel, for changing Stafford's play style by taking away deep passes, and for making a system that was too complex.
In his time as interim Offensive Coordinator, Jim Bob Cooter simplified the offensive system, switched back to a primarily power-man blocking scheme as opposed to primarily zone blocking, and was somewhat more liberal with deep passes. This worked to great effect, with Stafford posting (arguably) the strongest 8-game stretch of his career.
Jim Bob Cooter has now had an entire offseason to install his own system, rather than modifying an existing one. Early statements indicate that it will involve far less short passes and screens, and be focused on building around Stafford's existing strengths, rather than fitting him to a desired system.
Using the end of last year as a guide, as well as the situations in which Stafford has performed best, this is likely going to involve:
  • Significantly greater involvement of the Tight End.
  • A focus on spreading the field vertically, rather than horizontally.
  • Underneath routes designed to take advantage of the space created by deep shots, rather than using short slants and screens to set up the deep pass.
  • Diverse sets of 12 and 21 personnel to disguise the play.
While there is going to be an emphasis on improving the run game, the offense will still run through Stafford's arm.

Defensive Schemes

Defensive Coordinator Teryl Austin runs a 4-3, with heavy use of nickel and dime packages, counting on the 4 linemen up front to contain the run game. On average, you can expect to see an extra DB more often than a third linebacker, with a 6th DB almost as often.
It is very personnel-based. With Fairley and Suh, the Lions used interior stunts to get one a free lane. With Reid and Ngata, they focused on containing the interior to use Ansah and Taylor's length in one-on-ones to disrupt the QB. Regardless of personnel, though, the Lions typically rush just the base 4 for pressure. When the Lions do blitz, it is generally unpredictable. They have had blitzed from every position, and nearly every player on the defense has blitzed at least once, including backup CBs, Safeties, and depth LBs. Linebacker blitzes tend to run slightly delayed in the interior.
Austin was a DB coach, and tends to lean heavily on the DBs to work, leaving the DL to clean up (which is why the Lions run nickel and dime so often).
Shoutouts to those who helped:
  • Thanks to skepticismissurvival, as always, for organizing this great series and making sure everything gets done.
  • Thanks to THEGRAPEESCAPE for writing about the Lions, even though he hasn't been cursed with their fandom.
  • Thanks to AngryCavemanLawyer for actually reading my ramblings closely enough to do copyediting.
  • Thanks to everybody who has contributed thus far, giving me ideas from which to work.
  • Thanks to /detroitlions for being way more involved than me this offseason, so I actually had some information to work off of, saving me a massive amount of work looking everything up and putting it in context.
Link to hub
Link to non-Fan writeup
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Snow White and the Apple Tree. Chapter Twelve: The Disney Princess

Warnings: coarse language, some violence, and some fairly graphic descriptions of bullying.
New to this story? Start here, with Chapter One.
I usually don't serialize and hit publish on anything unless I'm about 95% done writing the entire thing - and I thought I was there, but this next batch of chapters has required pretty extensive rewrites, as they're interconnected and jump around in time. Also, a scene written in past perfect tense to indicate a flashback was nearly the death of me and my apostrophe key. So, today will be a double-header: look for Chapter 13 in a few hours!
I’d like to thank an anonymous friend for some technical assistance on this chapter.
She’d walked him inside the house, asking him to be quiet, because her baby nephew was just finishing his afternoon nap. She’d told him to sit on her bed, and dimmed the lights. She’d disappeared for a few minutes, while she'd made them both tea in the kitchen. Then she'd brought him a blanket, and put on soft music, and had sat down on the bed, being careful to not spill her own mug of tea while retrieving her laptop from her desk, and then she'd asked him if he wanted to watch a movie with her. All this kindness seemed fairly irrational to him, but he was in such a state of confusion, and so thrown out-of-balance by the new environment, and upset about the damn apple trees, that just comfortably sitting in one place, trying to process his emotions, was enough to deal with.
She must be the witch, he thought. There was no other explanation. A normal girl would have left him to cut down the orchard because he was crazy. And she probably thought he was a goddamned child himself, needing to be put in a quiet corner to avoid a meltdown, like her nephew. But he found himself not caring what she might be thinking, grateful to not be alone right now, even though minutes ago he were wishing he’d just left her behind and gone into the house.
“Let’s try to find something chill to watch,” she was saying. “Do you want to come over here and help me choose something?”
He gingerly moved his body to sit beside her on the bed, as she scrolled through a library of movies on her laptop. She seemed to have quite a lot of animated films, and she panned slowly across them, as though considering them for prospects.
“Please don’t judge me,” she was saying. “I know it’s kind of childish, but I really love these movies, and they’re super relaxing when I’m stressed out.”
He didn’t say anything. Was she reading his mind? He wondered. She must be. If there was one area of his private life he was incredibly embarrassed about, it was his own collection of animation, which wasn’t even of the borderline-socially-acceptable anime variety, but consisted of a huge compilation of Disney films.
He cringed, as he thought back to that first month living at the house with his roommates, when they’d found out about his habit of drawing. During those initial weeks of his stay, he’d reflected that Low-IQ had been right, after all; that he wasn't able to handle life in the group house whatsoever. Living with seven other guys was incredibly stressful. There was constant noise, constant messes, and constant social interaction. Guys screamed at each other, physically and verbally fought all the time, played music at all hours of day and night, and held lengthy gaming tournaments in which he was constantly expected to participate. He’d felt as though he hadn’t known a moment’s peace and quiet in weeks.
“Nah, I think I need some time to myself,” he’d said, when IQ had invited him to join in a round of Counter-Strike that night, as he passed through the living room into the hallway back to his bedroom. “I hate playing competitive mode. I always fucking kill someone by mistake, and everyone gets pissed off at me.”
“Yeah, you suck at this game,” IQ had said, testily. “But I already promised the other guys I’d have you on my team.”
He'd shrugged nonchalantly. IQ had stared at him with a frustrated expression, and pulled him aside.
“You don’t know how hard I had to work to make Ben and Med School agree to it,” he’d said in a low voice. “You aren’t going to get better unless you work at it. And I’m bored of these assholes and their tricks. We need new players. You need to try, man.”
“Sorry,” he’d muttered. “I really can’t. Thanks, but I feel like I’m going to go fucking insane if I don’t get away from this for a bit.”
“Fine,” IQ had replied, looking peeved. “But it’s going to be worse for you if you keep doing this. I’m only trying to help you.”
“IT’S ALL RIGHT, SWEETIE,” Grumpy was screaming at them, while they quietly argued across the room. “MOMMY WILL HELP HER SON COPE WITH THE BAD BOYS WHO ARE SO MEAN TO HIM.”
They had laughed openly at him, and started in with their own taunts, and so he'd grimaced, and left abruptly. He'd made sure to lock his bedroom door behind him.
The words had stung him, and he'd simmered with rage. Whatever he did, whether it was participate, or not; speak, or be silent; it was always, without fail, the wrong thing to do at that moment. He'd repeatedly found himself teased and ostracized, even in this group of outcast losers. So, he did what he always did whenever he got in a mood like this. He'd fired up his laptop and opened Photoshop, pulled out his stylus and drawing tablet, and, after connecting his noise-cancelling headphones to his PC, had chosen a Disney movie to watch out of his peripheral vision, more for the audio track than for an in-depth viewing, while he drew on his tablet. Tonight, he'd hesitated before he made his movie selection, and, oddly enough, he'd found himself choosing one which put him into a slight rage, a violent mood which anticipated his later anger over the plot of so many other Disney movies on the same theme, of the beautiful, virtuous princess rescued by the prince. And so, while his roommates had waged virtual war on each other in the living room, he'd waged a battle against something else: the idea of love, maybe. Love as an exaggerated, unrealistic cartoon he could trace and attempt to understand.
This movie’s childish plot was ridiculous, he'd thought to himself: an undersea princess is discontent with her cushy life, so she makes a deal with the devil to leave, selling out her entire family in the process, just so she can fuck some handsome Chad she’s literally never spoken to before. And she gets away with it, and her family forgives her for being such an asshole. No wonder this was his sister’s favourite, he'd thought, bitterly. As if selling out her family for some douche she wanted to fuck hadn’t characterized her entire life. But, thanks to her, and her obsession with this movie from the age of six to thirteen, when he’d repeatedly found himself a captive audience, he’d probably seen it a hundred times. He’d memorized all the lines, at least. He found himself trying to also memorize these characters, even though, to be honest, he completely hated them. As he’d done with just about every animated Disney movie ever made since the 80s, he took screenshots, and traced over them using his tablet, then, after these warm-up attempts, tried to draw them on his own.
He’d never be a talented enough artist to be proud of his work, but it was strangely soothing to pretend as though were possible to be one, even if he knew that this, too, was a cope. He would certainly never know what it would be like to be handsome, like this cocksucker Prince Eric, having a 10/10 redhead goddess throwing herself at him. He'd privately wished Ariel hadn’t got her voice back at the end of things - not that it held her back from hooking up with Eric, he'd thought bitterly, since it wasn’t like she was saying anything important, anyway. Ariel, more than any Disney princess, showed how much looks mattered above all else, whatever any normie might say.
And really, he’d reminded himself, this was about drawing. This was, he had realized, with a twist of irony, his “hobby,” which normies were so fond of recommending that guys like him cultivate.
Yeah fucking right, he'd thought, as he'd traced the sweep of Ariel’s red hair across her shoulders with his stylus. As if any girl would tolerate being in the same room as a guy who did this for fun, without secretly thinking he was a giant loser. Hell, he’d tried, hadn’t he? He recalled, as he started coloring Ariel’s hair on a sublayer of the drawing, his online conversations with girls on an art website he had frequented in his teenage years, to which he’d posted his shitty drawings. At that time, he’d been bluepilled enough to think that just being a nice person would be sufficient for him to find someone to date. Every time he got to the point where he’d ask girls to send pictures of themselves instead of drawings, they’d wind up ghosting him.
A loud knock had interrupted his reverie. For a second, he’d considered not answering, but something serious must be going down, he’d rationalized. He knew it would usually take nothing short of military intervention to stop the guys from gaming once they got started.
He'd paused the movie – Ariel having just been gifted with her own set of legs, a scene that he had to admit kind of turned him on, and had minimized the movie on the PC, while quickly doing the same for his Photoshop session. He had opened the door to find Ben and Grumpy were standing at the door expectantly.
“What’s going on?” He’d demanded. “Kitchen on fire again or something?”
“Nah, man,” Ben had said. “We just wondered what you were up to, hiding from everyone. We’re just checking that you’re not up to any creepy shit, you know. For the good of the house.”
“Nope,” he’d said, flatly. “Just chilling out. Not much happening.”
“You’re drawing something,” Ben had observed, seeing the drawing tablet plugged into his laptop. “I didn’t know you liked drawing.”
He shrugged. “It’s just something I like to do,” he’d said, trying to sound nonchalant. Fuck, he’d thought. He’d hoped he wouldn’t have to get into it, and that they’d ask no more questions. He had braced his arm across the doorway, as though to prevent them from entering.
What are you drawing?” Ben had asked. “What artistic masterpiece are you working on, huh? Some Sistine Chapel bullshit, maybe?” He pushed against his extended arm, as if threatening to shove past him into the space. “Gonna paint the ceiling of your room with all the pussy you’ll never get to see?”
“It’s nothing,” he’d protested. “I’m just dicking around. It’s not art.”
“Let me see it,” Ben had demanded. “Come on. Are you drawing porn, or something, for real? Is that why you’re so embarrassed?”
“No,” he’d said angrily. “I’m not embarrassed. Just fucking leave me alone.
Ben and Grumpy had looked at each other, and then Grumpy had rushed him, knocking him to the ground, and pressed his forearm across his neck. He’d yelled, and ineffectually flailed his arms. He was trying to get a finger in Grumpy’s eye, but soon the pressure against his throat choked him so strongly that he’d given up, and had desperately tried to pull Grumpy’s arm off his windpipe so he could continue breathing. Grumpy had looked down on him dispassionately while he’d strangled him, a cold expression in his eyes.
“Fuck!” Ben had yelled. “HE’S DRAWING THE LITTLE MERMAID! BRO!” He'd cackled to himself, as he'd pointed to the screen, and commanded Grumpy to have a look. Grumpy had released his throat, and he'd sat up and rubbed his neck, coughing with the discomfort, as his eyes streamed.
“All this time,” Ben was laughing. “All this time you’ve been hiding away on us, doing your own thing. It’s because you were jerking off to cartoon characters. Oh my God.”
“I don’t jerk off to them,” he’d protested, his voice harsh and gravelly against his strained vocal chords.
“Sure, you don’t,” said Ben. “I bet you have never, ever drawn any dirty picture of a single Disney princess.”
He lunged for Ben, hoping to pry him out of the desk chair and shove him back out of his room, but Grumpy was quicker. With lightening speed, Grumpy had grabbed his wrist from behind with his right hand and forced it up and back. Then he'd threaded his left arm between his right arm and his body until their elbows locked, and then pressed his left hand just below his shoulder to force him downwards. He'd struggled, and screamed at Grumpy to let him go, but the more he fought, the more his shoulder and elbow had burned with pain.
“What’s it like, to have a Disney fetish?” Ben had asked, minutes later. He’d flipped through the open folder of his saved drawings, which contained hundreds of sketches, and, of course, had found every single time he’d attempted to depict female nudity or captured a screenshot of a kiss, which was the subject matter of an embarrassingly high number of his works.
“Is it as pathetic as it looks, to get hard for this bullshit, instead of real women?” He'd taunted. “No wonder you have no chance of getting laid. This seals the deal for all of eternity, I’m pretty sure. No woman is ever gonna let you touch her if they know about this."
By this time, thanks to the commotion, the rest of the housemates had gathered in his room, gawking at the screen as Ben clicked through the images. The small space had filled with their laughter. Grumpy had continued to hold him, despite his attempts to escape and his howls of protest, and he’d stopped struggling, finally, because the pain was simply too bad whenever he moved.
“You’re going to dislocate his arm,” Low-IQ had finally said, to Grumpy, “If you keep holding him like that.”
“I know what the fuck I'm doing," Grumpy had protested. "If I let him go, he’s going to go batshit insane on us. You guys better leave before I do that.”
“I’m sure he’ll be fine,” IQ had said, staring at him intently, as though he wanted to communicate something. “Sure, it’s funny that he’s into this,” he’d appeased. “But it’s not like he’s a bad artist or something. They’re not that embarrassing.”
“Like fuck they aren’t,” Ben had snorted. “I can’t imagine spending all this time and effort on this trash. That’s embarrassing.”
“We need to go one more round on Counterstrike, to break the tie,” said IQ. “We’ve spent like 20 minutes in here. I have class tomorrow and I need to get up. Let’s get to it.”
“How lucky,” sneered Ben, “That he has such a kind mommy to protect him from all the mean bullies. Fuck, IQ, you are a dumb one, thinking there’s any hope for this subhuman. I don’t know why you treat him like your fucking child you have to take care of. It’s disgusting.”
IQ didn’t respond. “We won the last battle,” he’d said. “You two had to go take a break because you were so pissed off you lost. So, you went and picked on someone else to cope with it. If you don’t want to finish this tournament, you’re fucking cowards,” he’d needled.
“All right, boys, let’s clear out,” Grumpy had finally commanded. "Let's go shut up this fucking peacemaker who won't stop yapping about who's a coward."
Grumpy had released him, and shoved him back towards his laptop. He’d staggered towards his desk, his right arm stinging with pain, and pulled open the drawer, where he rummaged around for two frantic seconds before he’d found his switchblade. He unsheathed it, and switched it to his left hand, since his right was now weak and useless after Grumpy's torture session. He’d charged towards Grumpy’s back, but IQ had lingered behind, and caught his extended arm as he tried to push past through the doorway.
“Don’t,” he’d said, simply.
“Fuck off,” he’d protested, and struggled against his friend, who’d refused to let go of him.
“You’re going to get yourself arrested,” IQ had told him calmly. “Think about what that’ll mean before you go after him.”
And then, IQ had shoved him back into the room, retreated, and closed the door behind him. He stabbed the knife into its wooden surface, where it stuck there with a satisfying thwack.
His life had been solitary and miserable for a week afterwards. He hadn’t dared to show his face in the rest of the house. His inbox was full of Disney memes he didn’t want to look at, and so were his text messages. The online forums he frequented were flooded with them, too, in response to all his posts. He’d have to create a new account, he realized, and he did: he made up an elaborate backstory of a former Chad who’d turned to humiliating Stacies for revenge. That hadn’t seemed to work, either. “You sound just like Mr. Disney Princess when you write,” one poster, a guy who didn’t even live in the house, had noticed. “And the timing is pretty obvious. Stop being fake. You’re not fooling anyone.” He’d stopped posting after that, and decided to lurk for awhile. He’d assumed that every surface in the house must be plastered with Disney Princess shit, and so he simply avoided it all, burrowing himself in his room. He’d stocked enough snacks there to tide him through a short emergency, but on day seven of his self-inflicted prison sentence, he was beginning to feel nauseous from eating mainly sugary candy and Doritos. He’d realized he’d have to cave, soon, and go restock on provisions, if he didn’t want to die of scurvy.
As he’d contemplated when to stage a prison break, someone had finally knocked on his door.
“GO AWAY!” he’d yelled.
“I brought you food,” he’d heard IQ yelling from the other side.
The knife he’d thrown into the door was still stuck there, and it clunked against the wall when he’d swung it open to allow IQ to come in. IQ had greeted him with a half-smile, which he met with a cold stare. IQ had offered him a sandwich on a plate, and an apple.
“Look, man,” IQ had said, as he ravenously devoured the meal, “You have to stop taking these things so personally.”
“I’m leaving here, so it doesn’t matter how I take it anymore,” he’d said glumly. He’d shoved some of his belongings into one suitcase, which had laid half-open on the bedroom floor, but his attempt at packing had been half-hearted at best. He’d had no idea where to go, and hadn’t even contacted his family yet about the possibility of coming back for a few days or permanently, which honestly had seemed a worse option than staying here in isolation surrounded by bullies to whom he wasn't related.
“No, you’re not,” snorted IQ. “You’re pretending you are, to get sympathy.”
“Like anyone here’s going to give me fucking sympathy,” he’d scowled. IQ had looked bemused.
“Whatever you’re doing in here,” he’d clarified, “Maybe making sure I’m not dead, I don’t know – it stopped being sympathy as soon as you start telling me to get the fuck over it.”
“They’re just pushing your buttons, man,” IQ had said, with practiced calm, ignoring his jibe. “It’s because you freak out so hard that you make it entertaining for them. They don’t even know that you went full psycho on them because I didn’t tell them.”
“Oh,” He’d said, swallowing a bite of the sandwich. “Thanks – I guess.”
“It’s not like they don’t have dirty secrets,” IQ had continued. “There’s probably way more embarrassing shit on their computers than on yours.”
“So, help me find it, then, if it’s gonna be so much worse for them if their porn habits get out,” he’d griped.
“It’s not even about that,” he’d said. “It’s just that they don’t act as crazy as you do no matter what embarrassing shit you'd ever find about them. I bet even if we found, like, MILF porn on Grumpy’s computer, he’d turn it around so that we’re the cucked ones for not watching it long enough to be repulsed by roasties.”
“True,” he grunted.
“It’s fun for them to shit-test you because you let them,” IQ had continued. “You’ve got to grow some balls.”
He’d sat, silently, glaring at IQ.
“They’re right about how you act towards me, though,” he’d finally griped to his friend. “I don’t need another fucking mother. One of that whore is enough.”
“Fine,” IQ had said, sighing. “I'll stop fighting for you, if that's what you really want. Just try to forget what happened,” he’d advised. “Seriously, you can’t hide here for the rest of your life. I’ll stand up for you when you really need it, but just ignore them when they tease you, and they’ll get tired of it.”
Except they hadn’t forgotten. IQ had done his best, but telling bullies not to bully was about as effective as yelling at the birds outside to permanently stop them from singing. The Disney thing had become a household meme for them. And it had poisoned the films for him. He couldn’t even doodle the characters anymore like he used to, because thinking about them brought back such painful memories. He was unable to see them without extreme anger now. Instead, he spent hours and hours venting online under obscure pseudonyms and ever darker corners of the virtual world, becoming even angrier, especially against women, thinking with hostility about the plots and characters he used to love, but now hated.
“This one’s my favourite,” the girl was saying, bringing him painfully back to the present. Her fingers were hovering over the play icon for Disney’s Snow White.
He didn’t say anything. He wondered if this were confirmation of his hunch, a neat parallel with the original story presented by the Witch. What else could it be, he realized? He felt strangely apathetic: he should have been happy, that here was a clear signal of a reference only she could know about. This meant she was who he thought she was, and he was going to get laid at some point. But instead, he felt strangely deflated; he’d hoped, all along, he supposed, that it was all a coincidence, and that she might be a real person, in spite of all the coincidental connections which linked her to the Witch.
“It’s probably a dumb choice,” she was saying, worry in her eyes as she assessed his reaction. “Maybe I should let you find something less childish. I’ll rent something on Amazon, if you like.”
“No,” he said, shaking off his reverie, and trying to force a smile he didn’t feel. “I haven’t seen that one in forever, but I’ve seen it at least twenty times, thanks to my dumb sister.”
“What?!” she exclaimed. “You’re teasing me,” she grinned, and wrinkled her nose at him. Despite himself, he smiled back at her. “Prove it,” she challenged.
“Fine,” he said, smirking, as he played along. He knew this plot better than she did herself. “I bet I remember more of the dialogue than you do.”
“Oh yeah?” she said. “You have NO idea how obsessed I am with this movie. Want to bet on that?”
“With money?” He asked. “Or with something else? Like….” He was on the verge of asking what he’d wanted to ask her for weeks now, but he hesitated, and he realized he couldn’t do it. Fuck.
“No, not with money,” she said. “I think the loser has to cook the winner a meal. How about that?”
“I’m not a very good cook,” he protested, as his heart sank. This was going to take an eternity, if she kept cockblocking him with her stupid platonic hangout suggestions. He’d seen her food blog, and he knew she cooked for friends all the time, and so this didn’t mean anything. Fuck, he was sitting on her bed right next to her, and she wasn’t fucking him. That was probably a sign she was going to string him along forever, torturing him, and nothing was going to happen. He curled his lips in frustration.
“Don’t look like that,” she said, lightly. “You can’t possibly be that bad at cooking if your roommates eat your food.”
“I wouldn’t bet on that,” he said, grimly, recalling one of his early group meals, which had consisted of burned pasta and meat sauce from a tin. “You’d be surprised at the absolute garbage they can shovel into their mouths.”
“Then you better hope you win,” she said, smiling, and pressed play.
Chapter Thirteen: Virtue
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