I hit S-Rank for the month! It took 65 wins total, which is a new record for me. Here is my current version of the deck:
Cards that I am not 100% on right now:
Lantern Fox - I know it’s a Songhai Staple, but it tends to get dispelled a lot, and in backstabhai I’ve found it’s often best to Inner Focus Gore Horn or Ki Beholder for the biggest tempo swing. (Gore Horn + Inner Focus is 5 damage for 3 mana and you have a 4/4 on the board; Lantern Fox + Inner Focus + Phoenix Fire is 5 damage for 5 mana and you have a 2/2 on the board - the latter is better value but lower tempo). Lantern Fox has definitely won me a fair share of matches (especially if he’s alive when I play Onyx Jaguar - 8/10 Lantern Fox is my record), but I wonder if I should put another 3-drop in there instead.
Vale Hunter - I’ve only played 3 matches with him. I had Shiro Puppydragon in the deck, but Shiro is low tempo and when I had a game where my minion play options were Shiro x3 in a row it really hit home how the card isn’t pulling its weight on its own. The main reason I added Shiro to the deck was to protect Lantern Fox from Zen’rui in ways other than Inner Focus and Mist Dragon Seal. it does its job well when my opponent turtles and I need something to say “You don’t want to sit back there”, but it’s rather underwhelming otherwise. It’s a great card, but I think it might not be right for this deck. I put Vale Hunter in because Ki Beholder consistently performs well (I don’t care if he gets dispelled - Onyx Jaguar will make him scary still), and we’re in a ping meta - not a lot of decks run nukes right now outside of Songhai and Vanar. Jaxi is a good card, but Skorn and Bloodtear Alchemist are everywhere, and I can’t remember the last time I saw a Jaxi actually get to attack. Every deck runs counters. But most of those counters don’t apply to Vale Hunter - he needs 2 pings. When I reflect, Ki Beholder has yet to die to double pings, and he should be drawing fire more than a Vale Hunter. Thus far Vale Hunter has been surviving much longer than one might expect, and he’s a viable turn-1 play. I’m not completely sold on Vale Hunter, but he hasn’t been the “wrong” card to include so far either.
Heaven’s Eclipse - I’ve honestly only used this card in 3 matches this entire season. I usually need to play more minions, and the “name of the game” is tempo through minion plays. I usually cycle this card unless my hand is almost empty. There are a lot of cheap spells for Heaven’s Eclipse to benefit from, but if I have even one minion on the board and my hand is Heaven’s Eclipse and Onyx Jaguar, the Onyx Jaguar is getting played. On the other hand, having only Spelljammer and Killing Edge for draw freaks me out - I love full hands and lots of play options. Hopefully Songhai one day gets its own Solarius.
Popular cards that are not in, and aren’t worth putting in:
Four Winds Magi - not enough spells.
Mana Vortex - half of our spells cost 0-mana.
Chakri Avatar - not enough spells.
Onyx Bear Seal - no method for removing the paddo and it kills your gameplan.
One of the reasons I struggled to make Backstabhai work for so long is that I had a lot of “counter” cards like Phoenix Fire and Onyx Bear Seal. I think those cards are great for Spellhai, but Backstabhai’s goal is in this meta is to have a significant board advantage (2-3 minions) when Onyx Jaguar drops. When this happens, your opponent has to choose whether to deal with the now buffed minions that were in play when Onyx Jaguar dropped or take care of Onyx Jaguar. There isn’t really a correct answer in this situation, and it almost always leads to a won game. Ki Beholder and Inner Focus are your best ways to gain minion advantage, and opponents who focus on removal over developing board will give you the hardest time.
Cards I have considered putting in:
Tusk Boar - a great 2-drop that would replace Vale Hunter. On one hand, it is a good tempo play. On the other hand, there’s a kind of negative synergy with Onyx Jaguar in that you can’t keep the +1/+1 buffs turn-over-turn, which is what really makes the deck work and scary. I don’t own a single Tusk Boar, so this is a question mark right now.
Grandmaster Zendo - I don’t own one, but I will craft him at some point to play Crankyhai. While Grandmaster Zendo seems like a no-brainer with the backstab synergy, this deck isn’t about going face - you control the board with backstab until Onyx Jaguar drops, and then the game is over. Grandmaster Zendo might be superfluous, a “win more more” card that’s nothing but greedy. I think it’s worth checking out, though.
The Scientist - I loved this card when it released, and it fits well in this deck - out of 14 spells, 12 of them target minions. If played, this would replace Heaven’s Eclipse (Ruby Rifter is also interesting) in the deck. Can the deck afford to play a 6-drop that has no board effect, though? Even Zendo isn’t that greedy.
Chaos Elemental - a 4/4 for 3 is great, and this is the last deck in the world that cares about Chaos Elemental teleporting away - once Onyx Jaguar is on the board, he gets +1/+1 every time this happens! (Also, Daemonic Lure will give your minion +1/+1). If it goes to a corner, it might just be a good opportunity to Juxtapose a taunt away. I think this card has potential, but I only have one and I don’t want to spend spirit on what might be a bad card. Specifically, I have been thinking about putting this in over Lantern Fox.
Syvrel the Exile - pull minions in and backstab them - seems like a neat idea. I only have one right now. If I get a second in a pack I’ll give him a shot.
Scarlet Viper - just kidding. Even in a 100% backstab deck, this card is not worth including. 5-mana and no effect on the board, Zen’rui, and a terrible non-backstab attack stat all rolled into one? This is definitely one of the worst in-faction 5-drops in the game. Which is a shame, because I love the card, what it represents, and the potential it has. I would put this card in my deck if it Juxtaposed or teleported something when played so that I could offset the cost with a backstab tempo gain somewhere. Or maybe it could drop to 4-mana? It isn’t significantly better than Gore Horn.
Cards that I wish worked in this deck:
Mogwai - if only he drew from movement effects like Blink and Juxtaposition. Even then, would he be worth playing? He is a fragile 3-drop.
Shadow Waltz - this card is terrible. If it cantripped, I [I]might[/I] play it. That’s how awful it is unless you get lucky and get a hand of Katara x3 + Shadow Waltz. Worse, you don’t WANT to give your Gore Horns +1/+1 - you just lost your best Inner Focus target! If Gore Horn were a 2/4…eh. The main issue is simply that there are only 4 backstab minions in the game. So your deck can have max 12 backstab minions. In a deck of 39, you aren’t particularly likely to draw a hand with more than one backstab minion to give Shadow Waltz good value. 1 of those backstab minions isn’t worth playing in its own archetype, so a backstab deck is really only running 9 minions total for this to synergize with.
If anyone experiments with some of the “maybe” cards in this list, please post and let me know how it goes. I know backstabbers are a minority in this game, but maybe we can trade notes on our experiences to help optimize this underloved archetype.