It took me awhile to get what styx is all about. When I first got the cards, I wrote my first impressions, but pointed out at the time that they were based on zero table time.
I have now had the chance to play five games with Styx. While I am definitely still learning about him, I feel that I have some basis for explaining what Styx is about. As expected, it’s a bit different than I thought it would be at first glance.
At first, I thought Styx and his hounds would be manipulating the board a lot by using Dead Beckoning, Apparition, and Drag to rearrange the positions of models and hexes. Styx does do this, but not as well in practice as in theory. The restriction that these abilities can only move things towards Styx and his pups is very limiting. Dead Beckoning and Drag have felt far less impactful than I thought they might. Apparition is still handy, but it’s weak tea compared to what several other shapers can do with hexes.
By contrast, other elements of Styx’s game have stood out even more than I expected them to.
In a single sentence, this is how I would summarize the Styx experience: Styx feels really underwhelming until he suddenly wins you the game.
Styx can do lots of things, but there are two which stand out: his ultimate and the ability of the hounds to tear a banner to shreds. The other stuff is nice, but these two areas of strength are the reasons to take Styx.
Styx is, quite thematically, the slow and inevitable approach of death. He marches implacably toward you and, when the time is right, kills you. The right time is usually in the plot phase or early in the clash phase on turn 3. It is very hard to prevent Styx from doing this because KOing Styx will not keep push him away from you. If you run, he’ll pull you back in. Moreover, Styx is pretty free to go where he wants (albeit at a casual pace) because your banners do not compel him to go after them personally (more on this later).
It was obvious just from reading the card that this ultimate was a big deal, but it feels even bigger on the table. The ability to just KO someone at any point with no dice rolled is… wild. It’s easy to notice that this means you get to reposition the enemy Champion and force them to take a rally action, but the strategic importance of this at the right time feels even bigger than you might imagine. If I were to redo my ultimate rankings again, The Reaping would probably be in the top 3. Simply dispatching of someone’s beefy guardian feels enormous.
The control over the timing of this ultimate is what makes it such a big deal. An ultimate is usually well spent if it swings a banner. The Reaping certainly does that rather well since it can often put an enemy champion out of range to crush Styx’s banner. The loss of an action for your opponent is potentially an even bigger benefit in addition to the banner. If you uncork the Reaping before the opponent has had a chance to activate in the plot phase, not only will it make your banner safer, but it will probably also prevent the opponent from claiming in the first place. A big ultimate they were planning to use may suddenly not be so useful because the target won’t have a chance to couple it with a second action. If used before the enemy’s clash phase activation, the Reaping can (in addition to protecting your banner) prevent a Slayer from Slaying, A Maelstrom from targeting followers, etc. The Reaping is simultaneously banner protection and denial. It’s massive. It’s a huge reason you’re taking Styx.
Torn to Shreds
The Abyssal Hounds are the only followers in the game that can remove banners. It’s incredible. Torn to Shreds (and the mere threat of it) significantly change the dynamic of the banner game.
Each of your three champions is a banner denial resource. It’s a scarce one! Just 3! The Hounds add another banner denial vector to the board. You now have essentially a 4 on 3 situation when it comes to denying banners. This is obvious from the card, but its importance becomes more pronounced with table time.
Practically, what this means is that Styx is much freer to go where he wants than other champions are. There is usually a tension between the need to get the opponent’s banner and the need to score steps with your own banner or by KOing things. The Hounds relieve this tension. Styx can ignore your opponent’s banner to do his other business if you have positioned the hounds to threaten the banner.
Another effect of this on the board is that champions who are normally quite good at protecting their banners will not be able to cope with Styx and the Hounds presenting threats from different angles. For example, Finvarr and his followers can push a champion and debuff their speed. This is enough to protect a banner from Styx, but the Finvarr crew does not have the resources in the plot phase to ward off the hounds ALSO.
The impact of the Hounds varies based on scenario. The restriction that both hounds have to be adjacent to the banner is major and becomes more impactful based on how the hexes are set up.
The hounds are at their best in Quest. The small clusters far apart from each other emphasize the tension between claiming and denying banners which the hounds so aptly relieve. The hounds will translate less effectively to a scenario like Life where things are all bunched together because this will clog their approaches from the outside of the hex clusters. Although the Hounds can remove the banners, they still can’t enter the hexes. They’re the opposite of Froglodytes.
Styx is a better fighter than I first thought. The combination of Hour is Nigh and Scythe Slash is pretty strong. An armor blight is more impactful than a damage boon, so this attack is actually a bit better than it would be if it were printed at 5/6, assuming you were able to set up with the bonus action. The hit effect that debuffs damage also helps Styx survive when the inevitable retaliation comes. The thing is, though, that KOing a champion will take a few whacks of the Scythe. This means that unless you can layer Styx’s attacks with attacks from another source, the damage you do may end up being meaningless when you use The Reaping on a heavily wounded champion. If Scythe Slash can get a KO the old fashioned way before turn 3, do it. If not, it may be better just to pick off a follower or two.
Triple Bite is a bit better than I thought as well. It’s a gamble, though. Into dodge 3, you’ve got a ~37% chance of getting three hits. 6 damage from a follower is a huge deal, though, so it’s a worthwhile gamble in many cases.
Drag is less useful for enemy followers than I expected. It’s more useful fro bringing your own small followers up the board. It’s absolutely perfect for Knightshades.
SFG’s Styx guide is absolutely correct that Styx and Mourneblade pair up well, by the way. Using the Reaping on an opponent and then surrounding them with Knightshades essentially ensures that most targets will accomplish nothing for at least a turn. Dead Beckoning can pull enemies into Knightshades, and Apparition can pull hex clusters farther apart, which means that Mourneblade can used his ranged claim on the far away hexes while Styx claims on the nearer ones. This makes it harder for a single enemy champion to crush both banners.
The more I play with Styx, the stronger he seems. It's easy to get caught up in the feeling that he is not affecting the game much early on. The Reaping is such a big deal that by the end of the game, I generally feel like Styx had done a tremendous amount of work. Kailinn's release also makes the Abyssal Hounds more important because they relieve some of the pain causedd by her inability to crush a banner. I think Styx is in a great place overall. I don't know if I'm ready to say that he's more competitive than Raith and Shayle, but he is a completely valid option depending on your overall list and play preferences. I'm glad Styx is here!