It’s the deck that was so scary, almost all opponents banned it in the World Championship Top 16 – Ezreal Shellfolk! (…and Vi is in there too, I guess…). I have been playing almost exclusively this deck on master's ladder over the past week, and it is one of the strongest and most fun decks I have played. Let’s jump into what makes it so good, how to play it effectively, and its matchups!
This deck is inherently a combo deck, where you fight to stay alive as you assemble the pieces, then explode with overwhelming card advantage as soon as your Curious Shellfolk hits the board on turn six or seven. Unanswered, Curious Shellfolk will completely take over the game, both stopping your opponent’s plans and furthering your own. Finally, Ezreal can provide the burn over the top to close out the game.
The Decklist, Key Cards, and Tech Options
Here is Alanzq’s version that won Worlds it must be pretty good, right? Personally, I find Aloof Travelers to be an incredibly strong card in the current meta, hitting many of the big threats in other decks. To make space, I have removed one copy of Vi and the copy of Aftershock, as Aftershock is too situational, Aloof Travelers can fill a similar role as Vi, and hands with multiple Vi can be clunky. The deck is relatively flexible with its removal spells, so you may find yourself swapping out any of the non-essential cards to suit the current metagame. Below are the cards that I would never swap out and their role in the deck:
Curious Shellfolk: It’s essentially our second champion, and the most insane value engine in the game.
Ezreal: A great finisher that synergizes with the card advantage generated by Shellfolk
Trinket Trade: This card enables Shellfolk’s strongest synergy for one mana, and often counts as multiple spells when cast with levelled Ezreal.
Loping Telescope: A great early stabilization unit that has the potential to generate game-winning celestial or epic cards.
Conchologist: Out of all of the regions I have played with this card, PnZ + Bandle City give a fantastic selection of spells. Great early unit and insane with Shellfolk.
Mystic Shot: The classic PnZ removal – very efficient at clearing units during combat or damaging the nexus for a win
Sump Fumes: Three mana for three damage almost every time – you can add the second card to your hand with nearly any unit, Trinket Trade, Time Trick, or Pokey Stick.
Pokey Stick: Rounding out the removal package, another card that can either hit the nexus or a unit, and helps keep cards in your hand.
The other cards – Vi, Minimorph, Thermogenic Beam, Aloof Travelers, and Station Archivist – are all great, but can likely be swapped around without damaging the core of the deck substantially. For example, if Bandle Tree makes a resurgence, adding a copy or two of Aftershock is probably useful. If more one-health units become popular, Timewinder or Statikk Shock could be strong considerations. If Sion falls off the map, Minimorph might be less necessary. Gotcha is also a strong removal option, given the amount of card draw that we have through Pokey Stick and Time Trick. Recently, Lecturing Yordle has been seeing play over Aloof Travelers as an option to deal with some of the one-health units in the metagame.
Generating Value from Shellfolk
Since Curious Shellfolk is your main win condition, we need to understand the best ways to generate advantage when it hits the board. The strongest option is typically a Trinket Trade which can be used to generate two copies of a spell (one with reduced cost), or, if the options aren’t desirable, two Otterpus, where one of them costs 0 mana. Choosing Otterpus effectively lets you refund the cost of the spell, get a unit on the board, and generate a Prank. Casting the Prank lets you weaken one of your opponent’s cards and gain a copy of it at reduced cost. All for one mana, you have an Otterpus on the field, Otterpus in your hand, pranked your opponent, and gained a copy of their card at reduced cost. The value is insane!
If your Shellfolk make it to the next turn, you can continue the absurd value generation with most of your units (Station Archivist, Loping Telescope, or Conchologist) or Time Trick. Sometimes, the Shellfolk will get answered, but by this point Ezreal should be close to levelled up, so you can play him on the board and unload your spells for lethal.
That’s all great, but how do we get there?
To survive until you can play your Curious Shellfolk, you will need the spells and units to deny your opponent from early value. Most of this is extremely matchup dependent, so check out those sections for specific advice.
In general, you need to think through what cards need to be removed in the early game (e.g. Bandle City Mayor) and try to have your spells ready to remove them. If they are threats that must attack (e.g. Legion Saboteur), you can try to have blockers that trade effectively.
To get those answers, you need to mulligan very carefully depending on the matchup (more on this below!) and determine the right time to play cards that can find you more answers: Conchologist, Loping Telescope, Station Archivist, and, if absolutely necessary, Trinket Trade.
Finally, you need to embrace the pass button. With every action, ask yourself “What are they threatening?” If the answer is “not much” you should probably pass rather than continuing to develop a unit.
A correct mulligan is essential to success with this deck – if you keep too greedy of a hand or you don’t have the right answers to the opponent’s threats, you will lose. Mulligans are extremely specific to the matchup (details in the matchups below!), but I would divide them into 3 types: Aggressive early decks (Burn, Noxus Pirates), Midrange Decks (Sion, Bandle Pirates, Plunder), and Late Game decks (Darkness, Bandle Tree).
For burn: Do not keep Shellfolk. Keep early units and removal spells that match their biggest threats.
For midrange: Keep Shellfolk in most cases. Look for your units that generate value
For late game: Always keep Shellfolk and throw away everything if you don’t have them. If you do have them, keep the strongest combo pieces (Trinket Trade, Otterpus for Prank, Time Trick).
- Save any Prank generated by Otterpus, whether you have Curious Shellfolk in hand or not. Prank value goes up significantly with a Curious Shellfolk or levelled Ezreal on the board.
- Do not play Trinket Trade unless you have Curious Shellfolk down. Sometimes it must be played early for a removal spell or blocker, but only if you are very desperate. Trinket Trade is the best way to get value from Shellfolk.
- Conchologist, Loping Telescope, and Station Archivist are great early plays, even though they get more value with Shellfolk down. These units help stabilize the board, so do not be afraid to play these units on curve.
- When playing Station Archivist, make sure to have at least 2 mana to take advantage of the spell, and ideally 3 mana to include Sump Fumes. You do not always have to cast the spell, especially if it will cause the opponent to burn a lot of mana.
- Match your removal with their threats. While it might be nice to remove an early unit with Thermogenic Beam, if Thermo is your only answer to something scary like Poppy, Veigar, or Gangplank, you will need to save it.
- Wait to play Ezreal until he is levelled up in most matchups, unless you have 2 copies or a clunky hand. Sometimes, you need to attempt to generate a Mystic Shot to remove a unit, even if it means losing your Ezreal next turn.
- This is not a Vi deck. It’s nice if she levels up, but you can play her as a threat and then not attack – your opponent will be scared to develop, and might just pass back to end the turn, which will get you closer to playing your Shellfolk. Feel free to trade Vi off as blocker into a big threat like Gangplank or Poppy
- Time Trick is a useful way to find Curious Shellfolk or Ezreal if you do not have them.
Manifesting the Best Cards:
Between Loping Telescope, Conchologist, and Trinket Trade, you will be offered cards from a lot of random options. How do you decide what to pick? Here’s my flowchart:
Are you offered a card that immediately fixes your biggest problem? Maybe they just played Poppy or Nami and you can’t kill it, but you are worried that they will win the game if these units stay on the board. Did Conchologist just offer you a Sump Fumes? Great! The immediate impact of a card to fix a problem is priority number one.
Do any of these cards do something that your deck cannot, or offer you insane value in a matchup? This is especially true with the random Epic coming from Loping Telescope. For example, I was once offered Captain Farron against Caitlyn/Draven on turn 2. I took it, since I know that they have no healing and are not likely to kill me before turn 8. That early pick secured me a win down the road. Other examples to look out for might be Equinox, since it fills the gap of being able to deal with a big Spraklefly or a Leviathan.
Are the cards already in my deck? If you find another Mystic Shot, it’s likely your best option! We’re running these cards because they are good, so picking a card that’s already in your deck is probably a safe choice.
Here are links to my Tier 1 choices and Tier 2 choices for the random spell cards (Conchologist and Trinket Trade). Tier 1 contains the most efficient damage spells that can clear units and help to level Ezreal. Tier 2 has the less efficient removal and some sneaky tricks (Stress Defense, Ambush, Jury-Rig, and Purpleberry Shake).
- Predicting Champs: If you have Curious Shellfolk on the board and predict a champion from Time Trick, you do not get a second copy. Similarly, choosing to “skip” the prediction will also not give you a copy of the drawn card.
- Prank Stacking: If you Prank a card that has been previously pranked and have Curious Shellfolk, you gain the base copy of the card at reduced cost. For example, if you prank an opponent’s Vile Feast, you get a one mana Vile Feast and your opponent’s now costs four. If you prank that Vile Feast again, you will get another copy that costs one mana, and theirs will cost six.
- Prank with Champions: Pranks prioritize the opponent’s hand and do not hit champions. If they have only two cards in hand and one of them is a champion, your prank will hit the other card and a random card from the deck. You can use this information to get a better read on what your opponent might have.
- Station Archivist shows in order: The cards are shown in order with the top card on the left. Sometimes you will see five spells and know exactly what your next five draws will be! Predicting your future draws can be very useful. If you are unhappy with what you see, playing Time Trick will shuffle your deck.
- Sump Fumes does not show correctly with the Oracle Eye if you are drawing on the stack: If you add a card to your hand on the stack, the damage from Sump Fumes will go up, but it will not show correctly. For example, if you target a 4-health unit with Sump Fumes then Pokey Stick, the Eye will show that you are doing three damage, but really you will deal one and draw one from the Pokey Stick, then deal three more from Sump Fumes, for a total of four.
In the current ladder and tournament metagame, this deck is situated fairly well, staying even or advantaged into many of the top decks. If you are running into lots of Ionia Poppy, you will have great success with the Shellfolk deck!
Poppy/Lulu Rally (Demacia/Ionia) (65%):
Mulligan for: Sump Fumes, Mystic Shot, Thermogenic Beam, Loping Telescope, Conchologist, Vi
This is your best match up – your removal outvalues their protection spells in most cases. You can slow down their early aggression with your units and force them to use protection spells on turns where they do not have the attack token. Eventually, they will run out of steam and concede to your massive card advantage.
Pass, pass, and more pass! Make them play out their units, and then go after them with your spells or match them with blockers.
Target them when they do not have the attack token. Making them spend Sharpsight on your turn is far worse than when they are attacking you. Another great play is to take some damage from an attack, and then play your spells after combat. This line can often stop rallies, since they will have to spend mana protecting their units.
Be ready for Lulu and Poppy. Unless your hand has an overwhelming amount of removal spells, you should ignore their smaller threats and instead focus on removing these two key units. Other good targets are Young Witch and Yordle Smith.
Mulligan for: Mystic Shot, Sump Fumes, Thermogenic Beam, Conchologist, Loping Telescope, Curious Shellfolk
Their deck aims to go into the late game, so you have plenty of time to set up your Shellfolk. The problem, of course, is that they often have an answer ready. Typically this requires two cards – first a damage spell, then a Ravenous Flock. During that one brief turn, you can play lots of Prank, steal their best cards, and burn them out.
They can’t heal. Between your burn spells, levelled Ezreal, and any chip damage you find with your units, you need to look for any way to find lethal.
They have lots of removal: Your units will not live very long, so you need to get value at Burst or Fast speed. When playing Shellfolk, make sure to have Time Trick or Trinket Trade backup. Only play Ezreal when he is levelled and you have spells that can do a lot of damage on the stack.
Mulligan for: Vi, Curious Shellfolk, Thermogenic Beam, Minimorph, Conchologist, Loping Telescope
They will likely pass the early turns, then try to drop Nami on turn 4 or 5. Use the early turns to play a 2-drop and push some damage, while trying to set up your answers to Nami and Fleet Admiral Shelly. Don’t hesitate to use a Minimorph on either of these as soon as they start to present a threat. For example, just a levelled Nami on board is fine, but if they play a unit or a Crescendum, throw out the Minimorph immediately and force them to have a second Nami.
Use Vi effectively: Vi is a HUGE threat in this matchup – they only really have Hush or a stun (Gravitum or Crescent Strike) to deal with her. If you manage to play her, do NOT attack until they drop below Nami and Fleet Admiral Shelly mana. This will likely force them to pass the turn with a lot of mana still up, slowing their win condition and letting you set up Ezreal and Curious Shellfolk.
They can end the game on turns six and seven – watch out!: If you enter turn six or seven and they have the attack token, hold up lots of mana until you are convinced that they can’t kill you. It’s much safer to spend a huge mana investment like Shellfolk or Vi when you have the attack token, or after they have attacked.
Drop Shellfolk at the right time: If they played a Supercool Starchart and not the generated card, you should expect your Shellfolk to get hit with Equinox, so be ready to at least get some value with a Trinket Trade or Time Trick and banked mana. Outside of Equinox, they don’t have good answers, so dropping Shellfolk on six is very safe and very powerful if you have not seen a Supercool Starchart.
Keep an eye on your generated cards: For this matchup in particular, there are some more niche generated cards that become very strong. Look for Equinox on Loping Telescope to answer Shelly or a big Sparklefly. From Conchologist and Trinket Trade, you might find Iterative Improvement (your Shelly? My Shelly!) or either of the spells that give you surprise elusive blockers, Ambush and Sumpworks Map. Poro Cannon and Calculated Creations are also ways to generate elusive blockers to stall the game.
This matchup hinges on either answering all of their Nami and Fleet Admiral Shelly, or sticking a Shellfolk and winning the value game. Play to either of those gameplans depending on what your hand looks like after the mulligan.
Darkness (Senna/Veigar) (55%):
Mulligan: Mystic Shot, Thermogenic Beam, Vi, Curious Shellfolk. Keep a Sump Fumes if you don’t have a Mystic Shot.
You have two jobs: remove every Twisted Catalyzer, and remove or Minimorph every Veigar. If they power up their darkness to three damage, they only need two of them to kill Shellfolk, which is very achievable in one turn. If you stem the darkness growth, you will be able to more safely drop Shellfolk and win the value game.
Stop the darkness. Get rid of Twisted Catalyzer and Veigar at all costs.
Wait for a safe time to play Ezreal. If they have powered up their Darkness once, they only need Darkness and one ping spell (Vile Feast or Pokey Stick) to remove Ezreal. A levelled up Ezreal is often necessary to close out the game, so try to have lots of burst damage ready before dropping yours.
Prank the Darkness. A Prank on Darkness hurts more than a typical card, since they must cast it before generating another one. If you feel it is necessary to protect a unit, you might consider spending the Prank before dropping your Curious Shellfolk.
Ez/Shellfolk Mirror (50%):
Mulligan: If it’s not Shellfolk, Vi, Thermo, Minimorph, or Aloof Travelers, put it back.
This matchup revolves entirely around the Shellfolk. No one can win before turn six, so use this time to bank three spell mana and look for surprise options from Loping Telescope if you have one. Use Pokey Stick to get targets for Ezreal and draw cards, but turns four, five, and six are where it gets interesting. You need to either be playing a Shellfolk or killing a Shellfolk.
Answer Shellfolk Immediately using either Minimorph , Thermogenic Beam, or Vi if she is on board. You cannot let them play any pranks – they get to steal your cards, and, as it so happens, your entire deck is built to give Shellfolk value! The last surviving Shellfolk wins, so pour all of your answers into this card.
Mulligan for: Minimorph, Mystic Shot, Sump Fumes, Thermogenic Beam, Conchologist, Loping Telescope
In this matchup, we need to preserve our life total by dealing with early units, then either Minimorph on Sion or kill them as Sion attacks. Our ping spells match up very well into their threats, with Mystic Shot dealing with Risen Rider and Sump Fumes or Thermogenic Beam answering Draven. They tend to not have great answers to Shellfolk or Ezreal until they are attacking, so plant those units and squeeze as much value from them before they are removed.
Use spells to save life and level up Ezreal. Remove every unit that they play if you can, as you really want to minimize damage to your nexus in the early game.
Drop Shellfolk on turn six or seven, whichever you are not attacking. Use Trinket Trade and Prank to generate a ton of value going into their Sion attack. The best hits for Prank is to take their Mystic Shot or Get Excited!, which can both be used to kill them on the stack.
They can’t heal either. Start looking to finish the game with your own burn spells around turn seven or eight.
Levelled Ezreal can do a LOT of damage. I almost always win this matchup with a leveled Ezreal on board and a Sion trying to attack me. Develop the Ezreal on their off-turn once it is safe, play as much slow-speed burn as you can, and kill them on the stack with your fast spells.
Bandle Pirates (Twisted Fate/Gangplank) (45%)
Mulligan: Thermogenic Beam, Sump Fumes, Conchologist, Mystic Shot, Vi
Try to minimize chip damage in the early game, then take control of the board with Shellfolk and Prank. They tend to play a lot of threatening units very quickly, and your removal has a hard time keeping up. If you can drop a Shellfolk and Trinket Trade with at least ten health, you should be in a good position, but that’s easier said than done.
Remove early threats. They do not have much of a late-game, so try to pick off the units as efficiently as possible. Your Aloof Travelers, Vi, and Minimorph are all good ways to deal with Gangplank
Watch out for Make it Rain. For example, try not to have both Otterpus and Loping Telescope] as your only two units in play – aim for Conchologist or Station Archivist instead, and fight with spells rather than blockers in that case. Playing only one unit at a time is a good way to dodge Make it Rain.
Save a spell for Double Up. Normally, Double Up is a terrifying option for them. However, if you just keep a Mystic Shot on hand, you can kill your own unit on the spell stack, preventing the nexus damage from Double Up!
Bandle Tree (45%)
Mulligan: Curious Shellfolk, Aloof Travelers, Ezreal, Mystic Shot, Sump Fumes, Pokey Stick, Trinket Trade
This is a race against the clock – they will finish the Bandle Tree on turn eight most likely, so you need to have Shellfolk down on turn six, get value, then convert that value into a win with levelled Ezreal. They also do not run any healing, so any chip damage that you can find is very important.
Answer Bandle City Mayor and Poppy. Save removal for these two cards and you will be completely safe. They have no protection spells, so your removal will connect.
Use the early game to set up. They are not aggressive enough to run you down when you answer Poppy, so you can let them hit you with smaller units. You need to play Pokey Stick and any other spells that target units, since a levelled Ezreal is almost essential to winning this matchup.
Develop Aloof Travelers on turn four. This should either hit a Bandle Tree, delaying their win condition, or a Minimorph, allowing you to play Shellfolk safely.
Mulligan: Otterpus, Sump Fumes, Mystic Shot, Thermogenic Beam, Conchologist, Loping Telescope
Poppy/Ziggs is the fastest aggro deck in the meta currently, which is challenging against our deck that has no healing. The game plan is to prevent all damage at all costs, trying to remove their units as efficiently as possible and then quickly end the game with Ezreal around turn seven.
Avoid Damage at all costs. Even if a spell might be better saved for a different unit, you usually should try to prevent damage by removing any current threats. Ideally, you are trying to get to turn four or five with at least twelve health left, and preferably more.
Aloof Travelers can hit Decimate, and they will usually hold their decimate until it is the last option since it does not add any pressure to the board. Finding the best time to play Aloof Travelers and remove their Decimate will slow down their gameplan.
Start looking for lethal with Ezreal. Since we are playing so many targeted spells to remove enemy units, Ezreal tends to level quickly. They will chip you down over the long-game with Decimate and impact units if you are on low health - look to end the game as soon as possible with Ezreal.
Ezreal Shellfolk is a very strong deck that is well-situated into the metagame right now, where every matchup is winnable, but few are favored. It’s a deck with an incredibly high skill ceiling, since you have so many choices to make on any given turn, which can make it tricky to pilot but very rewarding.
Taking down the World Championships in its first major tournament appearance is quite the explosive entrance, and I have no doubts that we will be seeing more Shellfolk in the future.
Thanks for reading!