Category: Eternal (Page 1 of 2)

Sealed league discussion: When is it right to skip a week?

September was an interesting month for me. I didn’t spend tons of time playing Eternal this month. It wasn’t because I’m bored of the game or anything like that; I simply had lots of other stuff to do. I did play in the sealed league, though–that’s far too great of a value to pass up! And with the new campaign releasing this week, I’m pretty excited to dive back into Eternal.

My September pool, initially, was fairly lackluster. So much so that I actually couldn’t build a 45-card deck without playing some real stinkers. Rather than risk going 4-6 or something like that in week 1, I just declined to play. When Week 2’s packs didn’t help at all, I figured I’d just go all in on Week 4. That kind of goes against the spirit of the league format, I suppose, but I’m a competitor at heart, and I’d rather play a good deck than struggle my way through several mediocre weeks, as happened to me in August. I started that league 8-8 with a weak deck before giving up until Week 4. After waiting for my pool to coalesce a little more, I finished that league on a 20-4 heater to claw my way into the top 500 at 28-12. Had I declined to play those first two mediocre weeks, I could very easily have made a run at the top of the leaderboards.

Rather than give a detailed recap of September here, I’m going to go in a different direction. My initial pools in these first seven months have all been wildly different in texture, so I thought I’d do a more detailed analysis of these initial 8-pack pools with the following question in mind:

When should you skip a week (or more)?

The easy answer here would be “when you feel your deck is below average.” That doesn’t do the question justice, however. The most important thing to keep in mind is that the majority of your packs (8 of 14) come in Week 1. If your starting pool is below average, you are going to have to have some stellar luck to come out with an above-average deck by the end of the league. That’s not to say it can’t happen–my August pool was very much above-average by the end of it, despite starting poorly. However, even if you run hot in your 6 extra packs, you are still likely to wind up with only an average deck. That’s certainly better than a below-average deck, but it still leans on you getting lucky in your bonus packs, which won’t always happen. Sometimes you do have to gamble on that, but there are times when it can be right to just jam the bad deck and pray.

It can be correct to play overall subpar decks in week 1 if they are set up to win through evasion or other “cheese.” Basically, you can assume that most of your opponents are also trying to scrape together a playable deck from not much. They are going to have limited pieces of interaction, especially in early weeks since two of the factions with good removal (Fire and Shadow) also tend to have the fewest playable units without synergy. This will lead a lot of people to shy away from those factions until they can flesh them out more, meaning your massive beater might just get there. If I have a pool with a bunch of unblockable units and high-power weapons, I’m just gonna jam and hope I don’t run into the guy who opened a few Torches. If your pool is one-dimensional and that doesn’t look likely to be fixed by the addition of a few packs, you should play early to take advantage of your one-dimensionality. Your opponents become more and more likely to be able to handle what you’re doing as their pools expand.

I’m more inclined to wait when there are just a few glaring weaknesses in the deck. If I’ve got a bunch of decent-to-good cards in most facets of the game, but I’ve got a huge lack of removal, I’ll probably want to wait. Likewise, if I’ve got four premium removal spells but my units are all 4/1s for 3 or something, I’m going to want to wait. I’ll also wait if I have one very solid deck that’s just missing a few playables. If my option is to play 3 or 4 F’s in my deck full of B’s and C+’s, I’ll probably just wait and see if I can upgrade some or all of those F’s to D’s at the very least.

To summarize: If your deck is very weak to particular strategies, but that could be fixed by the addition of just a few key pieces, you should wait. If your deck is weak overall, but you are poised to capitalize on an opponent’s weakness in a certain area (e.g., flyers, large units), you should consider playing early to capitalize while your opponents also have a smaller pool of answers.

Obviously, if you just have a stone unplayable pool, you should wait. But that’s not really worthy of discussion, now is it?

With all that in mind, let’s look at my initial pools so far in this league format and think about what I should have done in these situations.

Pool 1: April

My result: Played every week (5-5 Week 1); 22-18 overall.

This pool had some very nice relic weapons to function as removal, but it was very lacking in unit density, having to splash for Marisen’s Disciple just to get there on the numbers. Note that I started Lavablood Goliath because this was the first sealed and I honestly wasn’t sure of how fast it would be. I benched him after four games.

Overall, this initial deck had some glaring weaknesses (units with 5+ health) and very little closing power. I was also splashing two cards on only a single piece of fixing, which is obviously subpar. It leaned too hard on just a few units. If those were dealt with, or if I didn’t draw them on time, I really couldn’t recover.

What I should have done: Wait and hope for some better answers to bigger threats, e.g., Vanquish or Stonescar Maul. Another out would have been to hope for better aggro tools to get under some of the bigger threats.

Pool 2: May

Note: I believe I actually played Detain over the Snow Pelting for faction reasons.

My result: Played every week. 9-1 week 1, 34-6 overall.

This is by far one of the best pools I’ve had, and honestly the least interesting, so I won’t spend tons of time here. The initial pool was by far above average, and it had very few weaknesses. I had fixing, I had a good curve, I had bombs and closing speed. I didn’t have tons of removal, but that was fine, since my units could just outclass or outrace most everything.

What I should have done: Petition to be allowed to play all 40 ranked games week 1.

June’s Pool

I was traveling the majority of June, and did not get the chance to play until Week 4 anyway, so I’ll skip this one. Waiting was good enough for a 33-7 record, though!

July’s Pool

My Result: 6-4 Week 1, 19-11 overall (did not finish the last week due to travel).

This was shortly after the release of Fall of Argenport, so I didn’t really have a great handle on how strong some of these cards would or would not be. I had some very powerful cards in Preserver of Dualities, Siphon Vitality, Eye of Winter, and Gleaming Shield, but the pool was missing some things overall. Number one was fixing: Only Hooru Stranger and Amaran Archaeologist did any fixing, and both are very mediocre cards outside of their fixing role, yet I felt priced into splashing Primal because my pool was too thin on Xenan playables, particularly removal. I had to splash Clan Standard and Dragonbreath in order to get there, which are not cards I really want to be splashing.

If I could have built a 38- or 40-card deck, my straight-up Xenan deck might have been good enough, but I just didn’t have enough oomph to build a fully Xenan deck. This is a prime example of a pool that would benefit from some fleshing out. I have some very good grindy cards in this pool–the four powerful cards I mentioned above all benefit from games going long and stalling out. In addition to those, I had things like Surgeon’s Saw and Vital Arcana that would help push me ahead in longer games. The problem was that my deck just wasn’t consistent enough at executing its game plan, and it didn’t always have good ways to deal with major threats. I didn’t have consistent answers to the most common of game-enders: a bird with a sword. Even when I drew my answers (Eye of Winter, Clan Standard), I sometimes was missing the influence for them.

What I should have done: Wait until I found some more fixing or better removal (or both). This was a pool that was missing just a few key pieces, and it likely could have been a 7- or 8-wins per 10 games kind of deck, had that come together. Even if I missed on that, I don’t think it would have been much worse than 6 wins per 10 games, given the raw power of some of the cards. As it turned out, weeks 2 and 3 didn’t help me much, but they also didn’t hurt. 13-7 is roughly the same as 6-4, but that means that waiting probably was the correct choice, even if it didn’t pan out.

August

My result: 5-5 week 1, 28-12 overall.

Once again, I had a pool with a great deal of powerful cards that lacked the filler to support them. If you take a look at the two decks I considered (note: Primal sigils should not be in the Argenport deck), you’ll see such hits as double Changeestik, Polymorph, Rizahn, Valkyrie Spireguard, and Slimespitter Slug. These are all premium cards, but the decks here have some very glaring issues.

First off, the Argenport deck is all units! I had no removal outside of the Changeestiks and Polymorph, yet I also had only a single Skycrag Banner to help fix for them. That made them a no-go in the Argenport deck, which had to cast JJ and SS cards as well. Eliminating the Primal cards left me with a deck that had a whole pile of units, yet many of them were just subpar filler, even if there were some nice bombs in there. I didn’t even have removal to leverage swarm my opponent out of the game.

The Rakano deck at least got to take advantage of the Skycrag Banner to give me some hope of playing Changeestiks, but its main issue was the units as well. Again, I had some huge bombs, but look at the Fire units. None of those are things I really want to be playing. Even with Changeestiks, the removal just wasn’t there. I thought perhaps the strength of my bombs might carry me, but I finished a disappointing 5-5 after week 1.

What I should have done: Pump the brakes and wait until I found some better units for the Rakano version or some better fixing and/or removal for the Argenport version. I did wind up finding some better removal and better units for Argenport and, as I mentioned, finished the league on a 20-4 run in week 4.

September

Here’s the pool that really prompted me to write this article. Don’t bother with the Fire or Time cards–they’re pretty much all bad–but have a look at the great JPS cards I opened. I’ve got a high density of flyers and some nice weapons to slap on them. Shadow has four premium removal spells and another playable one in Spirit Drain.

One problem: The density just isn’t there. Shadow has maybe 3 playable cards outside of the removal spells, and neither Primal nor Justice has the depth to make up for it. Primal and Justice had a technically playable deck between them, but it had some major issues, namely that there was very little interaction, and I didn’t quite have the unit quality needed to play a strong tempo game. The only deck I could put together that looked remotely playable was to add the Annihilates to my Hooru base, but I had no fixing to help with the splash.

So the question I had to ask myself was: Will any of these decks come together if I can open just a few missing pieces? My Hooru deck in particular had some real promising signs: some reasonable 2-drops to trade off early, yet that still remained relevant later (Tranquil Scholar, Copperhall Herald, Dusk Raider), and a bunch of reasonably efficient flying threats. That combination leans toward a tempo deck, where I’m just trying to disrupt my opponent’s ability to block, with things like the Peacekeeper’s Helm and Strength of Many that I already had. The pool had enough reasonable bodies already; just a few upgrades and some additional ways to push through would wind up turning this into a pretty savage deck.

An Argenport or Feln deck could easily come together as well, if I managed to get just a few more playable cards in those factions. With the solid Shadow removal I already had, it wouldn’t take many decent units to flesh out that deck either. That meant that I had outs to several potentially great decks, if I was able to get either decent Shadow units or a few tempo plays for the Hooru deck. Had there only been one path forward, it may not have been correct to wait, but having two completely separate needs means that I’m very likely to get there on at least one of them in my next six packs.

Here is where I ended up:

Note: I actually have no idea what happened to Kosul Battlemage here. I don’t think I actually played him. Whoops. I’d probably have cut Longhorn Treasurer for him.

Shadow never really came together, sadly, and without fixing I wasn’t able to splash the Annihilates. Fortunately, Vanquisher’s Blade, Linebreaker’s Shield, Peacekeeper’s Prod, and Mirror Shield were exactly what the doctor ordered: Spellcraft weapons (yes, I know Prod isn’t technically Spellcraft; it’s close enough).

While I had a disappointing last 10 games with the deck, going 5-5, I started 23-7, which positioned me for a top-100 finish if I could keep up the pace. Sadly I had to settle for 200ish, but that’s still good enough to lock up my premium legendary for the month.

The biggest issue with this deck was the faction requirements. Peacekeeper’s Prod did rot in my hand a few times, and there were a lot of early dual-influence cards like Aerialist and Cloudsnake Harrier that gave me fits. Seek Power helped, but I’d have killed for a Stranger or Banner to flesh things out more.

October:

My pool this month is quite promising. Once again, Fire and Time just have very few redeeming qualities. It seems I almost always end up in Justice, Primal, and Shadow, but that shouldn’t be overly surprising because they have the highest concentration of flying threats. Sealed revolves around evasion and how well set up you are to deal with it.

This pool is full of juicy flying goodness, paired with some solid dorks to gum up the ground. Most of my 2-drops double as fixing for my two copies of Feeding Time. My 3s are unexciting, but they block well and have enough health that my weapons can turn them into real threats. My top-end is jam-packed with bomb flyers and spellcraft weapons, which is exactly where I want to be.

This is exactly the kind of pool you want to play in the early weeks. When you have a deck that has a very well-defined plan like this one, backed up by good removal, you’re rewarded for playing early because your opponents are unlikely to have similar consistency and ways to stop you, and their best ways to win are often to try and steal games with lots of weapons. My deck was ideally poised to mess with that, since I had 4 outright ways to kill large units, as well as the spellcraft stuns to just beat down past them.

In the early weeks, it’s worth noting, cards like Downfall are more valuable. Ordinarily, I’m very down on Downfall because it simply costs too much relative to what it does. Vanquish is very powerful because it offsets the risk (your opponent has no target for it) with extreme tempo (you kill their 6-drop for 2 power). Downfall fails at that. However, as I mentioned before, the go-to way to win when your pool is thin on playables is to slap weapons onto your few reasonable units. Downfall is decent at hosing that strategy, which makes it a solid play in early weeks, but something I’ll quickly drop as my opponents’ decks becomes more and more streamlined.

My result: 7-3 week 1 (4-0 in tiebreakers)

Unfortunately, I did wind up dropping three games, but I did so due to power issues. Twice I got stuck on 3, once I drew 11. During the games where variance was not hosing me, however, I mostly dominated. Only one or two of the games were remotely close. So, despite the good-but-not-stellar record, I was rewarded for playing week 1. Most of my opponents were playing some dubious synergies and units, but I didn’t have any of those issues. Every card in my deck was reasonably strong, even if not exciting. In terms of gameplay, if not power level, my deck played out like a week 3 or 4 deck.

Note that I only played 4 tiebreakers. There may come a time where I miss out on a premium legendary at the end of the league due to tiebreakers, but outside of that, tiebreakers are some of the lowest-value games you can play in Eternal. I played a few because I was a little tilted at finishing my last four leaderboard games at 1-3, but once I reassured myself that yes, my deck was good, I gave up on it. Had I started 8-2 or 9-1, I might have played them all out, but at 7-3 I doubt I’ll be pushing for a top-10 ranking this month, just by the law of averages.  I’m not super concerned about raising my finish from 155 to 126 or something like that. Once you’re in the top 500, your tiebreakers might net you 2 packs. Playing a full 80 games for maybe 2,000 gold just isn’t worth it!

Wrapping up

I hope that this has given you something to think about when you crack open that sealed pool in the first week of the month. While it does fly against the spirit of the league to not play your weekly games on purpose, it can be a great way to improve your chances of a high ranking when you have a less-than-stellar pool. Missing out on tiebreakers is mostly inconsequential. There are a lot of players out there who don’t even bother playing more than one or two. I tested this at the end of the last league. Getting to just two tiebreaker wins raised my rank from 240 to 207. Going purely by averages, the lowest ranked player in the next win bracket would be somewhere in the 120 range (~50% of 28-11 players would win their last game; in reality, it’s more). I therefore achieved 25% of my possible rank increase from tiebreakers in just two games. Furthermore, even had I gone 80-0 in tiebreakers, I likely wouldn’t have even moved up a prize bracket! So don’t feel like you’re missing out by sacrificing tiebreakers.

And, of course, feel free to completely disregard this if you simply enjoy playing the weekly games, win or lose.

Cheers, until next time!

 

Sealed League Report – August results

It’s been a while since I had the time to do a sealed article, so this will cover August’s pool. I was on vacation the first week of August, and then had to play catch-up at home for a bit, so my play for the month was a bit disjointed.

August’s Pool

Here are August’s initial 8 packs, sorted by faction (click to enlarge)

(note: I missed a Skycrag Banner in the multifaction screenshot)

First thing’s first: What’s my fixing situation? That’s always good to know, so that you can evaluate any potential splashes before dismissing a faction entirely. Unfortunately for me, the answer to my question is “not great.” I have only Praxis and Skycrag banners. No Strangers, and none of the Time cards that fix.

Right away, I am able to dismiss Time. There’s simply nothing there that’s enticing. It has some solid multifaction cards, but there aren’t enough Time cards to support it as a main color, and the good multifaction cards are cheap, which means I’d want to play them early in the game. I can’t do that reliably if I’m splashing them. Awakened Student is amazing on 2, not so much on 6.

Primal has a pair of Changeestiks, a Polymorph, and some really mediocre units. It’s definitely worth keeping the Changeestiks and Polymorph in mind, but I’m almost certainly not adopting Primal as my main faction either.

Fire is the next weakest faction, at least until you glance at the multifaction cards and see Rizahn. He’s a tremendous bomb, representing both card advantage and a very lethal win-con. Renegade Valkyrie is also very strong if you have any way to pump it. I have a couple of good rares in Fire as well, with Rika (very good with Changeestik!) and Shogun’s Scepter. Final Shot is a very good, well, final shot, especially on a Renegade Valkyrie. Outside of those, however, Fire is riddled with subpar units. Rizahn and Shogun’s Scepter are very much not splashable, meaning that I will have to make Fire a main faction if I want to play them.

Shadow also has some reasonably solid cards. Slimespitter Slug, Cut Ties, and Corrupted Umbren are all very good reasons to play Shadow, and Amethyst Monument is a nice piece of anti-flood technology. Like Fire, however, there is a very steep drop-off in unit quality after the first few. And, like fire, two of the three biggest reasons to be in Shadow have a double faction requirement, so no splashing there. Since I’ve pretty well narrowed things down to some mix of Fire, Shadow, or Justice, it’s worth noting the two very powerful Argenport cards in the multifaction stack as well. Minotaur Informant and Valkyrie Denouncer are strong pulls in that direction.

Last, but certainly not least, Justice. I feel like I’ve played Justice in pretty much every league so far, but I don’t think that should be a huge surprise. It’s got tons of flyers and weapons to put on them, backed up by efficient combat tricks. My pool has, for good flying threats, Valkyrie Aspirant, Tinker Overseer, Loyal Watchwing, Valkyrie Spireguard, and a Purgeleader. I’ve also got several ways to buff them, and some good ground creatures to round it out. Strength of Many and Saddle Up are two great ways to push through damage, and both potentially combine very well with a Renegade Valkyrie. I don’t have any relic weapons or anything like Vanquish, here, so I’m basically all-in on units, but the units are very strong.

Because Fire and Shadow both lack good units, Stonescar isn’t really an option. Rakano or Argenport are really the two competing for my final deck. Let’s have a look at what both of those builds would look like:

Note that I elected to splash the Changeestiks and Polymorph in both lists, even with no/little fixing. That’s because both faction pairs were just not deep enough to flesh out a deck. Sure, there were other cards I could play in those slots, but they were so far beneath the power level of the Primal cards that I think a loss in consistency is worth it. Plus, I’m light on removal in general, so having more answers to a big Tribute threat is important. Even with three slots occupied by those cards, I still wound up having to play some really subpar units.

I’ll be honest: I was not super thrilled about either of these. In the end, the tiebreaker between the two was that Rizahn is better than Slimespitter slug when I am the one playing lots of flyers.

I wound up 5-5 in ranked after the first week. Ouch. So much for any dreams of a top-50 finish. As is tradition, I fared much better in my tiebreakers, going 14-6.

My week two packs yielded the following:

 

Right away, I’m thrilled by the Aerial Attendant and the brace of Valkyries that come with. Two copies of Ironclad Oath is more than I’d like to run, but one is a solid option. Deadly Confrontation is a potentially powerful Shadow card, but the triple influence cost means I certainly wouldn’t be able to splash anything in that deck. Plus, I double checked, and I did not get a single playable Unseen in Shadow or Justice.

With all that in mind, here’s where I wound up for week 2:

I started off poorly, 3-3, but rallied to a 4-0 finish, leaving me at 12-8 overall. Not great, but on the upswing, at least. I never got around to playing tiebreakers because the new WoW expansion dropped. I also never got around to playing week 3 because the WoW expansion dropped…

But, here are the final four packs I opened going into the last week of the league:

The cards that interested me were Finest Hour, Shugo Standard, Morningstar, two copies of Cut Ties, Valkyrie Denouncer, Suffocate, Bladewhirl, and Fenris Nighthsade, and Stonescar Pickaxe. Bereaved Stranger just doesn’t pack enough beef for its cost, and I didn’t have any other strangers to pair with it.

Something to note here is that a large percentage of that list is Shadow, and none of the Fire cards are units. The biggest weakness of my deck was the Fire half, and although Shugo Standard and Morningstar are great cards, they don’t do that much if all your units are garbage. That, combined with three fresh removal spells in Shadow, made me consider an Argenport build over Rakano. Rizahn is a great card, but even after these new packs, I’m still lacking the supporting cast to justify Rakano. I’d still have to splash Changeestiks, probably, but I don’t want to be doing that with no new fixing in week 4, when everyone’s deck has become more streamlined and faster. I wound up settling on an Argenport build that isn’t the most flashy thing in the world, but should be very consistent (faithfully recreated because I forgot to screenshot it):

The main advantage of this deck is that I get to play a huge number of great units. In the early weeks, my Shadow pool was severely lacking in removal, but that issue was solved in the latter half of the month. While I don’t have many weapons, my evasive threats are mostly powerful enough on their own to get the job done without any help. The plan is really just to slam big threats over and over until my opponent runs out of ways to deal with them.

Slimespitter Slug is not at his best in the deck, being that I have such a high density of flyers myself, but he’s still worthy of an inclusion as a backup plan. Ultimately, I think that the Argenport build just has the consistency and power advantage, even if Slimespitter Slug is a far worse bomb here, compared to Rizahn.

I really was just hoping to spike enough games to squeak into the top 500 for the premium legendary.  took my new build out for a spin and could not stop winning. I tore through the last 20 games with a 16-4 record to wind up here:

I’m not one to complain about a 70% win-rate in a CCG like this one, but it is disappointing to have started so poorly. Had I started, say, 12-4 instead of 8-8, I would have been in a great position to make the top 50, or even top 20. Still, finishing in the low 200s (my rank dropped a bit after this screenshot) is a fine place to be. I was rewarded with a pile packs and a premium Time Flies (yay…).

I was also able to make a last-minute push into draft masters after back-to-back drafts totaling 14-2. Finishing August ranked 200ish in sealed and 52nd in draft is a pretty solid month, considering I didn’t have tons of playtime invested. I’m finally settled into this draft format, I think, and my win-rate has gone way up despite my playtime going down. Next up will be an article focused on September’s sealed build, and why I’ve chosen to not play the first few weeks. I’ll round out the article with some discussion on draft, and some sample decklists with their records and why they deserved the records they got.

Until next time!

 

A primer for Fall of Argenport draft

New sets in any TCG/CCG that supports limited are always exciting. Every card down to the lowliest common matters, which means we’ve got 275+ new moving pieces to incorporate into our drafting mindset.

I’ve been traveling like crazy the last two months, which has meant less time to play/write, but I’m finally back into my daily routine, which means it’s time to finally get into analyzing the Fall of Argenport format. I suppose it’s good I didn’t immediately crank out this article, since there were a number of buffs/nerfs a few weeks in that shifted the format slightly (RIP Sheriff’s Hat).

In this article, I’ll be discussing primarily commons and uncommons, as those are the cards that show up in high enough numbers to really define a format. Sure, there are tons of powerful rares and legendaries, but you can’t craft a game plan or strategy around opening a particular rare in Pack 4. I also won’t mention every card, only those that I have found to be noteworthy. If you want an overview of every card in the set, along with grades, check out the set reviews over at rngeternal.

The draft format

You can’t draft without packs of cards, so let’s start there. Like Dusk Road, we’ve got two packs of the new set bookending the draft (packs 1 and 4). However, where the middle packs used to be a pack each of Sets 1 and 2, they’re now the same: a single curated mash-up of Sets 1-3. This is honestly fantastic on the part of DWD, as it allows them to introduce novel themes in the new sets while maintaining some sense of coherence by culling cards that just don’t fit anymore.

The curated packs are a rather large set, 443 cards (about 110 each of commons and uncommons, with the other 220ish cards filling the rare/legend slot). That means you can’t count too much on seeing particular commons or uncommons to fill out your deck, but at least the majority will fit somewhere into the Fall of Argenport themes instead of just being stone-cold whiffs (looking at you, mentor-matters cards during Dusk Road draft).

This article won’t dive into the contents of the curated packs, since that would be a lot to cover. I plan to write a separate article hitting some of the highlights, particularly the cards that have changed in value from where they were before Fall of Argenport.

New mechanics and themes

Fall of Argenport brings along a few new keyword mechanics that show up quite often at low rarities. These keyword mechanics tend to give an indication of how the format is going to shake out — the developers gave them specific names for a reason.

Berserk

Berserk units can attack twice in the same turn. The caveat? They can only do this once, but when they do, they become Reckless for the rest of the game. Thus, you’ll need to be careful about when you utilize your free attack, or else your Hotblood Barbarian is going to walk into a 3/3. This obviously favors aggression on average, but there are some big midrange finishers with Berserk as well. Berserk appears in Fire, Primal, and Shadow.

Tribute

Appearing on both units and non-units in all factions, Tribute grants you an extra bonus (usually stats) if a unit went to your void this turn. This only checks at the time you play the card; a unit entering your void later won’t turn on any tribute cards you have already played. However, note that a unit simply has to have entered your void, not necessarily from play. “Looting” (drawing and discarding) or other ways to put units from your hand/deck into your void will count for Tribute. This mechanic also slants toward the proactive/aggressive decks, since you’ll be able to dictate the pace of play and force your opponent into taking trades. Once they do, you follow up with a high-pressure Tribute threat that is hopefully larger than they can handle. There are no Tribute cards with Ambush, so only the attacking player will get to benefit from Tribute.

Inspire

Units with Inspire will grant bonuses (stats or keywords) to any unit you draw while they are in play. Note that there are other ways to “draw” a unit besides from your deck, e.g., Dark Return or “create and draw” type effects. Inspire applies to those. Inspire is somewhere in the middle of the aggro-control spectrum. On the one hand, many of the Inspire creatures are cheap dorks, e.g., 2/2s for 2, but you don’t want to be as freewheeling with them as an aggro deck might want from its units. Trading your Living Example for a Learned Herbalist isn’t what you want to be doing most of the time, which leads me to believe Inspire is better suited to midrange decks that want to go taller in the middle part of the game. Giving your 5/5 Berserk or Quickdraw is veeeery nice.

Spellcraft

Perhaps the most exciting mechanic in the set, at least to a seasoned limited player like myself. I always loved the Kicker mechanic from Magic, and this is essentially the same thing. When you play a Spellcraft weapon, you have an option of also paying the Spellcraft cost to play a spell along with it. Weapons have the inherent downside of being 2-for-1s if your opponent can deal with the unit, but being able to get a card’s worth of value out of the Spellcraft eliminates that. It also gives you flexibility on your curve. You can play the weapon alone on turn 3-4, or wait until turn 7 for an extra bonus. Properly managing that will be a very important skill in this format.

If you played a spell this turn/spells matter

I’ve lumped these together because they play out similarly, just in different factions. Spells matter a lot in this set. Fortunately, there are a number of enablers for this. Spellcraft weapons do count as casting a spell (though that is expensive), and they do put a copy of that spell into your void. There’s also the cycle of 2-drops that let you discard a card to create a spell in your hand. Those guys can help you exchange extra power or expensive cards for cheap spells to turn on your spells-matter cards.

Radiants/Wisps

The only real tribal mechanic this time around is the Radiant/Wisp dynamic in Time and Shadow. Wisps are cheap little dorks; Radiants buff those dorks and get bonuses if you have little Wisp friends for them. The density of this theme is not that high, but it’s very powerful when the synergies do come together. My experience has been that the Radiant half is plentiful, but finding good Wisps is difficult. It hurts that the best common for this deck (Illumination Wisp) is taken highly by all Time decks because it’s a great blocker that won’t trigger tribute for your opponent and can also chip in while doing so.

Notable cycles/sub-themes/archetype-defining cards

The Tactics

I love cards like this. Value lands were always a favorite of mine in Magic, and these cards take that a step further thanks to the digital nature of Eternal, literally becoming spells later in the game. I have not had a draft deck yet that was truly starved for playable cards, so there is not a huge opportunity cost to taking one of these early, and the upside is quite nice. If you’ve got a pair of Tactics in a deck, you effectively buy yourself 1-2 extra card slots, which means you’ll flood out less often than an opponent with zero Tactics.

As a general rule, I treat each of these like half a power in deckbuilding if I intend to play 6-drops, and a full power if I don’t have anything above 5.

Value Dorks

I mentioned these guys a bit in the spells-matter section, but they are worth discussing in greater detail. Combined with Spellcraft and Tactics, these type of cards give you a ton of flexibility in each individual game while not costing you too heavily in deckbuilding. Each of these units is a serviceable, if not exciting, body on its own, but some give you the ability to exchange a useless 7th power or unplayable splash card for something real. The other cycle lets you beat down early-on, then cash the unit in later in the game for a small effect. Once players hit the late-game, a random 2/2 loses most of its value, but being able to kill an opposing attachment or neutralize a flyer alleviates a lot of the pain of drawing 2/2s when they aren’t very relevant.

I’m not advocating taking these super early or anything. I just love having “value bears” (a Magic term) readily available in a format because they offer useful filler and open up a lot of deckbuilding possibilities thanks to their flexibility in filling out your curve.

As an aside, I think it’s kind of a shame that Magenta Wisp et al. don’t cast their effects. All of them except the Yeti mimic real cards. It would be a nice little piece of support for the spells-matter cards if they cast Silence, Ruin, or Suffocate. And I’m sure they could have found a way to give the Yeti a spell. Shamebearer’s effect is a curse, not a spell, but it does already play that existing card. Perhaps DWD found that doing so pushed the spells-matter stuff a little too hard in testing.

The “While you control this unit” cycle

 

These are interesting cards, kind of a half-Soulbond for the Magic players out there. Those of us who had the misfortune of drafting Avacyn Restored will remember living under the yoke of the Druid’s Familiars. These units aren’t nearly on that level of format-warping, but they bear some mention. If your opponent is at the point where they could drop one of these next turn, plan accordingly. For example, if your 3/3 is staring down their 3/3, and they are about to have the opportunity to play a Primeval Plover, it may be best for you to attack, even if you are slightly behind on life. If you hold back and they have the Plover, you’re in a world of trouble because you not only take 4, but you’re now in an even poorer position to race from there. If they don’t have it, you can change your mind and offer a trade on the following turn. (Note: A similar argument applies to playing against potential weapons, which there are a lot of in this format, thanks to Spellcraft.)

Fire and Primal’s entries are fairly bad. First-Frost Shaman is playable, kind-of, but you are certainly punished less by failing to anticipate it. Core Scavenger is just awful. I’m not looking for 7s in my Fire decks; I’ll let Welding Torch fill that role.

The other three entries are much more solid, though. Lethrai Bladewhirl is stronger than it looks. If you’re behind, a 5/2 for 5 is very bad, but if you have a flyer, it can grant you some bonus damage while threatening to trade with one of your opponent’s big threats if you need to do that.  However, it doesn’t pump the unit’s health, so if they were prepared to block, they still can unless the buffed unit had quickdraw. It’s really Primeval Plover and Master-at-Arms that are the most punishing if you aren’t ready for them, so play accordingly against Time and Justice.

Note that even the good members of this cycle are pretty bad on the defensive, yet very powerful when ahead. One more reason to try to stay on the front foot at all costs.

Merchants

As rares, these will not show up very often, but they are worth keeping in mind when you make garbage-time picks late in packs. If you’re in Fire and choosing between an extremely situational card like Cloud of Ash or a mediocre unit that you are almost certainly not playing, you may as well take the Cloud in case you get an Ixtun Merchant in pack 4. It’s not a huge edge, but it is an edge worth considering.

All of the merchants have quite reasonable bodies for limited, so I’m happy taking them early. I have not yet been starved for playables in this format, so once you have a merchant, don’t be afraid to take some more narrow cards to throw into your market, rather than hedging on factions. Even just a random over-costed body is fine; I’ve traded in my 8th power for a Pit Fighter and been thrilled about it.

The Nightfall Deck

(Note: Twilight Hermit and Winter’s Grasp are in packs 2 and 3).

I was skeptical of this deck, particularly Lethrai Darkstalker, when the set was first released, but I’ve been on the wrong end enough to have come around on it. On its face, Darkstalker looks like a card that might get in for 4 once and then be relegated to blocking duty, which isn’t really what I’m looking for. However, they get absurd in multiples, and there is enough incidental Nightfall running around that you can get in there much more often. The removal in this set is clunky enough that you can usually beat them down before they can leverage their extra cards from Night to stop you.

Winter’s Grasp was always a risky card, and Twilight Hermit never really got to shine in Dusk Road draft. The printing of Darkstalker and its uncommon friends in Fall of Argenport has revitalized both of these cards. Nightfall decks previously didn’t have too many cheap, high-attack units to leverage the tempo generated by Winter’s Grasp, but Darkstalker, Shadowstalker, and Twilight Hermit all represent very quick clocks if you can keep night going.

Nightfall is a mechanic that really ramps up exponentially. Night feeds you extra cards, which means you’re likely to find more ways to keep night rolling. It’s now in all four packs at reasonable density, something which wasn’t true of Dusk Road draft, so the deck is much more likely to come together. Enough of the key Nightfall cards are uncommons that I don’t think you can reliably force the archetype, but if it is open, you should not hesitate to move in.

I’ve included Dusk Raider in this archetype because her Nightfall (and other Nightfall cards) make her sort of a double-Inspire unit because you get twice the chances to hit. Combine that with the large attack values of many of these night-themed units and you’ve got a huge threat all for 2 power.

Inefficient removal

While the curated packs have some better ones, half of your draft comes from Set 4, and you’re not likely to pick up too many of the really great removal spells in packs 2 and 3. Hard removal is basically nonexistent in this format. These are your options for dealing with threats bigger than 3 health. Some of the Spellcraft weapons can also kill stuff, but you still have to pay through the nose to do so. This is another reason I believe it’s better to be proactive than reactive in this format. Changeestik is the only card here that I’ve found to be worthy of a very high pick (and boy is it), but that is in large part due to the flexibility of it being a cheap, aggressive weapon. I’ve played the front half by itself quite often, and it’s always great. Elder’s Feather was a high pick already! While Changeestik is powerful, the fact remains that you still need 6 power to make it into real removal. Sporebreath is the only cheap option here, but you can’t really leverage it as hard removal until much later in the game. This is yet another strike against trying to play a reactive deck in this format.

No faction fixing

Yes, that’s technically not true, but these are your common and uncommon fixing options. Learned Herbalist and Veteran Strategist are the only cards here worth playing (more on Petition later), but even Herbalist is fairly bad if you are leaning on her to fix your factions, since it will cost you a total of five power and two cards to get a 2/2 and a bit of fixing/ramp. That’s…not great. Strategist is better than she looks, since she blocks well and denies the opponent tribute, which is exactly what I want to do when I’m trying to durdle with powerful splash cards.

Fall of Argenport has no strangers or banners. If you want faction fixing, you’ll need to look to the two curated packs, which do have a few options. All ten banners are there, along with Seek Power and Amber Acolyte. Seek and Acolyte are often taken very early, so you’re not likely to see too many of them. Strangers are…strangely…absent.

Nonetheless, I have had a great deal of 6-7 win drafts with 3-5 faction decks in the format. Your mileage may vary; I could just be a gigantic lucksack. I end up in those decks because I do tend to fiddle around hedging on factions. There are a lot of powerful, splashable cards in both FoA and the curated packs (Changeestik, for example), and the density of playables is high enough that hedging a few picks isn’t going to leave you without a real deck at the end, as it would have in Dusk Road draft. I certainly don’t think you should try to end up there, but if you pick up a few pieces of fixing in packs 1 and 2, then maybe start looking to move in on the multifaction deck.

The Second-Best Common in the Set

Changeestik takes the cake for best common, but they get snapped up very fast because they are eminently splashable (side-note: I think Changeestik should cost PP for this reason). The runner-up is a card that might look a bit innocuous at first, but I have first-picked a lot of these and never regretted it:

A glorified Vorlunk is the second-best common? Really? Oh yeah.

This four-armed Radiant does everything I want to do in the format. She’s got a big enough body to block early-game pressure while not being super vulnerable to cheap, high-tempo removal. If you get to untap with her, she swings a race in your favor thanks to Lifesteal. That alone means that your opponent must try to take her off the board. Ah, but all the removal is very clunky in this set! So they’ve probably got to tussle with her, which plays into combat tricks. Combat tricks that make you gain even more life. Berserk means that she can pick up weapons nicely, and her already-high health makes it hard to take her down in combat when she does.

It may seem like I’m overselling this card. Perhaps I am, but I feel very confident in any deck that has a pair or more of these and some ways to buff them.

Pyre Elemental

This is a very nice draft-around card if you can get the density of enablers. Torch from packs 2 and 3 is obviously the nuts there, but Hotblood Barbarian and the other members of that cycle can also provide cheap spells for you in a pinch. It’s at its best in Skycrag, where you can also pack some snowballs. Pyre Elemental is often a very late pick, since it’s flaming-hot garbage if you can’t enable it. Don’t start out looking to draft this deck, but if you’ve got a few cheap spells and you see one of these 8th pick or later, it’s worth moving in. Some of my best decks so far have had 2 or 3.

Holdup

We haven’t yet had a reasonably-costed, low-rarity way of attacking multiple cards from a player’s hand. While I don’t think this card is very good, given my assessment that proactive, high-tempo strategies are where you want to be, you should at least keep it in the back of your mind when playing against Shadow. Hold extra power, and try to protect your bombs from it when it doesn’t cost you much to do so.

Bloodthirsty Brawler

If you see Skycrag in the opposing powerbase, have a plan for this lassie. If you see her in a pack, have a plan for putting her in your deck. She is by far the best berserk unit and just one of the best units in the whole format, thanks to the overwhelm meaning you can’t get out of her big berserk turn by chumping. I don’t think I’ve seen a game lost yet when she has gone without an immediate answer, from either side. Two of the more expensive common removal spells straight-up miss her (Downfall and Fiery Fissure), and once she picks up a Welding Torch or a Shugo Tactic, somebody is probably dead. Even if she doesn’t immediately reduce the other player’s health to 0, her 6 health means she almost always has to be gang blocked. Any combat trick that 3-for-1s your opponent will often end the game anyway.

Even if you’re somehow behind, she’s still solid there, as a 4/6 blocks very well! She’s patient for someone so bloodthirsty, willing to play D until you can find a way to get her through.  Brawler is the rare “big dumb beater” that is honestly worthy of a splash. I have done so a few times and I’ve yet to regret it.

Refracted Sentinel

Normally I would not think this card was remotely playable, but I’ve had it played against me quite a lot, and it has done decently. I’m still not going to take it super highly, but because the removal in this format is so expensive, giving your opponent a free sigil isn’t the end of the world. He hits very hard and basically forces your opponent to double-block and give you Tribute if they don’t have a kill spell for him. Season with some combat tricks and you’ve got a stew going.

The spells-matter relics

These both look like they could be very strong midrange cards, but I’ve not had that experience. I have tried, believe me, but they are very clunky in a format that punishes clunk. Ask not for whom the Initiation Bell tolls; it tolls for 1-3.

Training Ground

At first glance, this looks like a mediocre card. Sure, if you can play it on turn 1, you can drop your monk on turn 2, and you’ve built yourself a 2/2 endurance for 2 with Scout. Cool, I guess? Any turn other than 1, and you’ve got to sink 3 power into making a 2/2, which is terrible.

However, this innocuous little card is not-so-secretly one of Time’s best commons, and you should take it accordingly. It hits two of Time’s minor themes (endurance and spells) while also playing very nicely with Inspire. You can set up a Living Example and, say, a Xenan Lifespeaker, and suddenly your 3-power investment is returning a 3/3 with endurance and lifesteal, in addition to triggering spell themes. While it won’t always be that good, Training Ground fills a ton of roles in Time decks and is certainly worthy of its deck slot.

Longhorn Treasurer

There are a fair number of Endurance-themed cards in the set, which is a bit confusing because they don’t seem to have a ton of coherence. Still, this guy is potentially insane with a fail case that’s only slightly below-rate. He goes way up the pick order if you have 3+ endurance units. I’ve lost a fair few games to Illumination Wisp or Training Ground followed by Longhorn Treasurer. However, I wouldn’t warp a draft around him because, at the end of the day, he’s just a big unit that doesn’t generate any value. Pick up the good Endurance units to go with him and just shrug if you don’t get there. He’s fine to play even if you only have a few friends for him.

Petition

This is not Seek Power. I repeat, this is not Seek Power. Petition is quite bad, and you should only play it if truly desperate. Seek Power is a good card because you can sometimes play it on turn 1, when you probably weren’t doing anything anyway. Even when you can’t play it on turn 1 or find a turn on your curve where you’ve got a free power to spend, it never really costs you a power to play it because you can just wait until you’d otherwise miss a drop, play it, and play the power you fetched. Its fail case is a depleted sigil, which is obviously not great, but not the end of the world.

Petition, on the other hand, can’t be played on turn 1. It’s much harder to find 2 spare power while you’re developing than it is to find 1. And, even when you’re going to miss a power drop, you have to spend more than that power drop would provide, so you’re at -1 power for the turn. Again, do not play this unless you are truly desperate for fixing (or a spell to trigger your stuff).

Bringing it all together

Based on the themes outlined above, my initial assessment of the format was that you absolutely want to be proactive, and after a bunch of drafts, I’m still in on that. There has been a lot of debate on whether the format is fast or not. I don’t think that’s really the correct question. Fast would imply the game ends in the early turns. While there are certainly decks like Pyre Elemental or Nightfall that can nut-draw kill very quickly, I have not found the games ending particularly early. However, that doesn’t mean that the format isn’t aggressive. That’s subtly different from fast. In an aggressive format, I want to be the one making the first move and dictating the pace of play. There have certainly been formats in Eternal or Magic where I’m content, if not happy, playing on the defensive, but this isn’t one of them. Playing from behind is a nightmare in this format. There are just so many ways to get blown out for trying to set up a blocking situation or board stall; meanwhile, there are very few good ways to leverage said board stall. Games might end on turn 8 or something, but they will strongly favor the player who was asking the questions, not the player who was answering them. “Kill your guy, trade with your guy, draw some cards, kill your guy, slam a fat finisher” just isn’t something that is a good plan.

Berserk and Tribute are both big payoffs for being on the front foot; both can slam the door on a game very early-on if the opponent stumbles. Even if the board is at parity, Berserk and Tribute constantly threaten to blow it wide open. In my experience, games that do stall out come to an end when a Berserk unit picks up a Spellcraft weapon (or something like an Aerialist’s Khopesh, which is kind of a Spellcraft weapon that always casts Jump Kick, I guess). Similarly, taking an innocuous-looking trade on a stalled board can open the floodgates for your opponent if you enable Tribute, so blocking carries even more risk than normal. But you can’t just sit there and take hits for too many turns, either. Doing so sets you up to get killed by your opponent simply going wide in addition to finding one of their haymakers. My reluctance to block in this format has meant that many games come down to racing situations, which actually makes chump blockers or things like Mining Canary into fairly decent cards.

Spellcraft weapons lean toward proactive/aggressive strategies as well. All of them are quite powerful when you pay for the extra spell, but they’re also reasonable weapons on the front-end. That fact favors aggressive decks, since they are perfectly fine playing a 2-drop and slamming a +3/+1 weapon on turn 4, not to mention Berserk units essentially doubling a weapon’s effectiveness. A more controlling deck can’t as easily afford to hemorrhage value, so the Spellcraft weapons lose a bit of their flexibility. Not only that, but “going tall” (loading up a single unit with weapons) doesn’t do much in the face of a bunch small idiots that want to chew on your face. Aggressive decks get to better leverage both halves of the Spellcraft weapons.

The only new keyworded mechanic that doesn’t inherently slant aggressive is Inspire. You have to both play an Inspire unit and then wait to draw a unit in order to get any value. On the surface, that seems like a mechanic designed for slower decks; however many of the Inspire units have small, cheap bodies. The Inspire player certainly doesn’t want to trade off their Inspire units, so that will also often lead to units attacking past one another, or the Inspire player taking a few hits early on that lead to them playing on the defensive, which, once again, is not where you want to be! Furthermore, many of the keywords granted by the uncommon Inspire units, berserk and quickdraw, and charge, don’t do anything on defense.

Even the minor subthemes and cycles of the set push it toward an early-game brawl for board control.  There are a total of ten 2-drops that generate value later in the game, which will encourage both aggro and control players to lower their curves. Cards like Tactics are already at their best in aggressive strategies that tend to rely less on expensive cards, but four of the five Tactics also further favor aggressive decks, with only Clan Tactic being a primarily reactive spell. The “while you control this unit” cycle mentioned above also punishes you for trying to block, since your opponent’s unit can grow out of range of your blocker, and then you’re stuck either chumping or taking a big hit, neither of which is good when you were already behind!

So what do you do if you’re behind? That’s a tough question, but as someone who loves to durdle, I’ve found myself there a lot early in the format. The cheeky response would be to say, “Well, you die.” Cheeky, but mostly correct. My best advice would be to take some risks to ensure you can wrest control of the board from the opponent. Don’t take trades, even seemingly profitable ones (e.g, a 3/2 for their 4/3) if you suspect a Tribute follow-up that you can’t handle, even if it puts you relatively low on life. It’s always been said that life is a just another resource in card games, and that’s especially true when preserving your life can give your opponent Tribute. I’ve had a lot of low-life, nail-biter wins in this format because I’m so free-wheeling with my health. There are tons of huge haymaker plays in this format that are gonna kill you whether you’re at 15 or 3, so you’ve got to take some risks and just pray they can’t find them.

Even if you are behind, keep fighting the good fight and chip away. Get them low enough to where they need to fear a giant Berserk, Tribute, or Spellcraft threat out of you as well. I have been able to maneuver myself into games where we are both at low health, but my opponent is reluctant to attack, fearing a major play out of me if they open themselves up to it (or, they do open themselves up to it, and I get to capitalize). The Spellcraft-fueled haymakers in this format can get pretty absurd in terms of swinging the game in a single draw step (shoutout to Final Shot; yes I’m that greedy), so playing passively is only a good idea if you believe that you are more likely to draw one than your opponent. Correctly assessing that will be the difference between a win and a loss quite often in this format.

Wrapping up

Phew, that was a long one, almost 5000 words! To summarize the summary, be proactive, don’t give your opponent Tribute unless you’re ready to deal with the consequences, and don’t expect to get any fixing or good removal from Packs 1 and 4. I haven’t discussed the curated packs 2 and 3 yet, which I might do sometime soon. It’s interesting to see what did and didn’t make the cut, and how our evaluation of those existing cards should change based on the themes of Fall of Argenport.

Next up on the docket for me will be a write-up of August’s sealed pool. I’ve got quite an interesting one brewing this go-round. Until then!

Eternal Limited Report – Back from travel! Speed-building June’s pool, then looking ahead to July’s league

After spending less than a week at home through all of June, I’m finally back, for a little while. I didn’t play at all while I was gone, and I got home at around midnight on June 29th (technically June 30th…), so I had very little time to pick up my June sealed pool and play 40 quick games with it, tiebreakers be damned.

Considering I only picked up the pool in week 4, and the fact that we’ve now got a new set, I’m not sure how useful an article focused entirely on that pool would be, so I’m also going to talk about how I built my pool for July, as well as my first week’s result.

June’s pool

Here’s what June gave me to work with, sorted by faction (click to enlarge):

The cards that jumped out at me as fixers and potential draws to their factions were as follows:

  • Fire –  Sureshot, Magma Javelin, 2x Gun Down
  • Time – Amber Acolyte, Trail Maker, Archive Curator
  • Justice – Challenge By Law, Entrapment, Roosting Owl, Crownwatch Press-Gang (with 3 reasonable 1-drops in Justice alone).
  • Primal – Permafrost, Dragonbreath, Torgov, 2x Jotun Cyclops
  • Shadow – Suffocate, Annihilate, Extract, Deathstrike, 2x Extinguish, Direwood Beastcaller
  • Multifaction –  Combrei Banner, Feln/Praxis/Skycrag/Stonescar Strangers, Pteriax Hatchling, Recycler, Highwind Glider, Nightmaw, Hunter’s Harpoon, Call the Ancients, Eilyn’s Choice, Aid of the Hooru!!!!!! (just kidding, although I admit I tried to conjure up something that would play it).

I’m going to take a small aside here to talk about Call the Ancients. I was skeptical of this card, having never played it in limited before. It’s obviously far better in limited than constructed, due to your deck being about half the size (once you’ve drawn your starting 7, it’s 38 vs. 68, close enough to half for me). And a 6/6 with Aegis and Endurance is going to pull a ton of weight in limited, where it might not even be your best draw in a given situation in constructed. Nightfall is fairly prevalent in the sealed format, so each player cycles through their deck at a reasonable clip.

The problem is, obviously, that the card doesn’t do anything. If I draw it on turn 8, I feel really silly. Though, as I did rationalize to myself, at least my deck is smaller by that point, and I’m more likely to draw an Ancient. Still, this is mostly an early-game-or-bust kind of thing. I think the payoff is worth it, so I went ahead and considered it to be a bomb going forward. Even if it turns out not to be one, at least I was going to learn something from it.

Dawn of the final day: 24 hours remain

When I open my sealed pools, I like to sit on them for a day or two before committing to the final build. That’s just the kind of guy I am. Deadlines are the only thing that keep me from tinkering with something forever (if only someone would give me a deadline to publish my damn novel…). All-in-all, this was a challenging pool to navigate, and I had no time to really think about it. I still had to play 40 games in one day!

No faction in particular had an absurd number of great cards. Many of the cards I listed above are removal spells or faction fixers. The only true game-warping bombs in the pool were Nightmaw and Call the Ancients.

While I did lack for bombs, I had my share of faction fixing. With Amber Acolyte and Trail Maker, along with the myriad strangers, I looked set to run back a time-based multifaction pile similar to May’s standout pool. I did check to see if there were any 2-faction combinations that got me a sufficient power level that I wouldn’t need to stretch myself so thin, but there honestly weren’t. Feln and Elysian weren’t quite deep enough to play off my two big bombs. I would have had to splash Fire into either of those (for Gun Downs), but if I’m dipping into 3F already, why not go all the way?

I knew that, provided I was playing 3+ factions, I wanted to get Nightmaw and Call the Ancients in there, as they were my two biggest and splashiest cards. That locked me into TPS. I came up with this list without any other splashes:

It looks fairly robust, except for Nightmaw, thanks to the SSS requirement. As a last-minute decision, I cut the Cobalt Acolyte for another Shadow Sigil. My reasoning is that I have several big, expensive things, and a decent power-sink in Moondial. The power level of my cards is quite high, and I’m willing to take the risk of flooding to leverage them. That extra sigil gave me, essentially, 7 ways to get shadow influence. I’m okay with that. Sometimes I won’t hit Nightmaw right on time, but as long as I eventually get there, he should close the game very quickly.

It seems like sacrilege to cut a Cobalt Acolyte, but I felt that I did not need her to win me the game. I had enough removal that I could clear any roadblocks. This deck had a plan, and beating down wasn’t really a part of it. Yeah, giving flying to a Plated Goliath or Insistent Automaton is sweet, but I didn’t really feel it was necessary for me to win most games.

Now, the question: Do I splash another faction? Two copies of Gun Down in Fire is quite tempting, but look at the list above. What do you cut? Not only would I want to find room for the Gun Downs, but I would probably want to play some number of the other Strangers. My powerbase is already stretched to accommodate the Nightmaw. If I want to play Fire cards, I think I have to cut Nightmaw, and maybe even the Deathstrike. Is that worth a pair of Gun Downs? I don’t think so, especially when I have a reasonable amount of removal already.

I did have a Combrei Banner, but no J strangers. Justice had some nice cards, but I just couldn’t make the power work.

So, I reined in my greed and locked in this TPS list.

The games

As I mentioned before, I had to jam my 40 games very quickly, so I didn’t really take too many notes. I will say that Call the Ancients proved to be very strong. Pretty much any game I drew it, it did something and I was happy with it. I only got faction-screwed a couple of times. Nightmaw did languish in my hand at times, but I never had trouble stalling out the game until I could slam him and just win on the spot. I think it was worth stretching the power to accommodate him.

I made one massive misclick punt that cost me a game. I had played Nightmaw a couple of turns ago and was set to win on the following attack with my big unblockable endurance sentinels. I was at 4 or 5, and my opponent had a 2/2 flyer. I drew Dark Return, looked at my graveyard, and saw Pteriax Hatchling on the far left. Yeah, definitely getting that guy back. So I played my Dark Return and, I will admit, too hastily clicked on the left-hand card. I guess I just had it in my head “Pteriax hatchling on the left.” Problem is, the interface for Dark Return doesn’t sort by graveyard order; rather by cost, and then alphabetically. So instead of a Pteriax Hatchling, I got…Amber Acolyte.

My opponent cold topdecked Strength of Many to kill me with their 2/2 flyer that I 100% would have blocked with a Pteriax. Ugh, that loss hurt.

Especially since…*drumroll*

…I missed the top 10 because of it. Ah well. I won’t complain about finishing 16th out of thousands! I did play one tiebreaker game, reasoning that it might get me a cheeky leaderboard spot over someone who ignored them entirely. And it did! I actually went up to 15th afterward, but I think they noticed, since they leapfrogged me back shortly after.

Well Wingbrewer is no Ayan like last month, but it’s still not a bad haul!

So that is back-to-back top finishes with Time-based multifaction greedpiles: 16th this month and 6th last month. Is that the secret? Have I broken the format? Can this possibly continue into next month?

Short answer: No.

Medium answer: Maybe, but the fixing sucks in Fall of Argenport.

Long answer: July’s pool

Here is what the Direwolf gods have blessed me with this month:

Alright, *cracks knuckles*, let’s get started. I’ll just throw in my Amber Acolyte and Trail Maker and Seek Power and…

Wait, what? This pool doesn’t have any of those? Hey, uh, DWD? Yeah, so, I ordered the rainbow soup? And this…this isn’t it.

What do you mean you don’t take special orders? What kind of establishment is this? I want to speak to a manager. No, I do not have an appointment! This is the worst restaurant I’ve ever been to! Everything just tastes like computerized cardboard and the ambience feels like an office. You’ll be hearing from me on Yelp!

Ahem.

I am not thrilled by this pool.

It’s not just the lack of good fixing. I have a small bit of that, centered in the TJP factions with Hooru Stranger/Banner, Combrei Banner, and Amaran Archaeologist. That’s not really enough for my tastes, so hopefully there’s a two-faction deck with a light splash lurking in here somewhere. Let’s look at what stands out…

  • Fire – sweet lord, nothing but a Magma Javelin. Ixtun Merchant would be cool, if there were anything worth Marketing (Calderan Gunsmith for a surprise kill? Bleh.) Yikes. Kissing this one goodbye.
  • Time – Living Example, Lumen Attendant, Amaran Archaeologist, lots of reasonable filler
  • Justice – Tranquil Scholar, Mithril Mace, Master-at-Arms, lots of reasonable filler
  • Primal – Eye of Winter, Gleaming Shield, Dragonbreath, Jotun Hurler, Clan Standard, only a small bit good filler (note: having not played with Set 4, I wildly underrated Dusk Raider in week 1).
  • Shadow – Rapid Shot is the only “exciting” card, but there are some other above-average ones like 2x Longshot Marksman and Surgeon’s Saw. Not a ton of volume in the filler, but it’s decent quality.
  • Multifaction – Twilight Raptor, Hooru Stranger, Siphon Vitality, Preserver of Dualities, Bloodthirsty Brawler

Fire is garbage. Time has some strong B-level cards but no bombs, along with one of my only fixers. Justice has lots of filler but nothing exciting. Primal has my two bombs in Eye of Winter and Gleaming Shield. Shadow has some nice early-game tools and power sinks. My best multifaction cards are both Xenan.

Having both Preserver of Dualities and Siphon Vitality, I naturally looked toward a Xenan build first. The trouble with that is that this pool is shallow on all sides. I literally tried every two-faction pairing and none were deep enough. Justice is probably my deepest faction in terms of playable cards, but none of them are actually strong cards. It’s all filler. It’s like a pool that claims to be 8 feet deep but piles up 4 feet of rocks on the bottom. Diving in not recommended.

Because my best bombs and removal are in Primal, I felt drawn to TPS (once again). I looked at TJP, but staring at all those mediocre Justice cards made me feel uncomfortably average. I’m too young for a mid-life crisis, so I tried to stay away from all that drudgery.

Here’s the TPS build I settled on:

It’s not great. Horned Vorlunk and Lunging Wisp ain’t gonna be topping the leaderboards, I don’t think. I don’t believe in wasting gold/gems rerolling my pool just to place on the leaderboard, even if I have an insane average finish for the first three months of the league, so I’m going to take my medicine here and hope to salvage at least a top-1000 finish out of this thing.

Week 1 went about as I expected. I finished 6-4 in ranked matches and 13-7 in tiebreakers. Certainly not the worst finish, but I’d hoped to at least scrape out 7-3 to keep myself in contention for the top as the month goes on. Alas, it was not to be.

Looking ahead

As it turns out, my mediocre week 1 didn’t really matter. I cracked a pair fresh Dusk Road packs, and there was one single playable TPS card among them: A Nocturnal Creeper. There weren’t many playable cards, period. Justice had a Frontier Confessor, but that’s not enough to make me switch factions. My rares were Dinosaur Stampede and Combustion Cell. Yikes. Not even wasting screenshot equity on those packs (and totally not because I forgot).

I think I will take this week or two off of sealed and hope for Week 3 or 4 to bring this thing together. Playing out any remaining matches with an already-mediocre deck against people who probably got something decent out of their new packs is not a winning proposition. I’ll miss out on tiebreakers, but those are pretty low-value anyway.

With that in mind, my next article or two will focus on the new draft format! Curated packs have me excited, and the drafts I’ve done so far have been quite fun. The power level seems to have been elevated quite a bit, for which I’ve been advocating since Dusk Road came out. I don’t think it’s quite back to Set 1 levels, but you can do some pretty crazy stuff in this format, much of it thanks to Berserk. I’ll show off some of my sweet concoctions next week.

Until then, may your pools fare better than mine.

 

Eternal Limited Report – May Sealed Wrap-Up

I was pretty happy about my sealed pool through the first two weeks of action, despite opening some real lackluster packs in week two. When I left off, I was 17-3 and ranked about 20th. A solid start, but the wheels can always come off in such a long tournament. One run of bad luck and you’re back down in the hundreds.

I’m going to be traveling for basically the entire month of June, first to France, then Switzerland, then back home for a week, then on to Santa Fe. I have no idea how much time I’ll have to play or write, so I may not put up an article every week (as if I was meeting that goal in the first place…). With that in mind, I’m going to wrap up the May sealed event in one go.

I did not actually grab a screen of the deck in week 2, but here is week 1 with the changes noted:

Changes: Added Trail Maker, Silverwing Smith, Amber Waystone; cut Soaring Guard, Copperhall Marshal, Justice Sigil

Week 3

Here are the two bonus packs of Omens of the Past that I received:

Now we’re talking. Valkyrie Spireguard is a slam-dunk, grade-A bomb. A 3/3 flyer for 4 is already very strong, but a 6/6 is absurd! I had multiple cheap valkyries to pair with it, so she was almost always a 6/6. Outside of Set 1 (of which there were only two packs), there were very limited ways to deal with her. She did get silenced here and there, but once again, the fail case was a 3/3, which is just fine.

Other notable cards were Tranquil Scholar, Sand Viper, Avirax Familiar, Strength of Many, Hooru Stranger, Hooru Banner, and Talon of Nostrix.

The stranger and banner were obvious inclusions in my 4-faction greedpile, which made Pteriax Hatchling into an easy splash. Strength of Many was a good replacement for at least one of the Ironclad Oaths, as it is often just as powerful for half the cost. Tranquil Scholar is a fantastic 2-drop for a deck like this that wants to play the long game. Sure, occasionally he rolls reckless (hot tip: You can actually decline to give the ability to the card in your hand), but sometimes he rolls Revenge and you give it to your Pteriax Hatchling, which you then trade off and then hit with a +6/+6 from Roosting Owl, resulting in free 8/7s.

Sand Viper represented a much-needed way to deal with larger threats on the ground, as well as guaranteed trades against an aggressive draw. Avirax Familiar would help me ramp toward my bigger bombs and possibly provide a little card advantage to go along.

Talon of Nostrix is a decent card, but it just didn’t fill enough holes in my deck to warrant the risk of drawing it late when it was no longer relevant. I couldn’t find anything I wanted to cut for it, so I left it on the bench.

The cards I cut were Crownwatch Longsword, 2x Ironclad Oath, Oasis Seeker, Minotaur Oathkeeper, and Copperhall Marshal. These were all pretty obvious swaps, except for Oasis Seeker and Oathkeeper. It came down to him or Crownwatch Paladin. After playing weeks 3 and 4, I actually think I should have cut the Paladin. I just didn’t have the tools to help her attack more than once. Even when I had her on turn 2, she usually just traded after a single attack. With very limited interaction in my deck, I never wanted to burn one of my few tricks or removals on their 2-drop, so I was forced to just take the trades. That’s fine, generates warcry value later in the game and all that, but Oasis Seeker’s extra power is much more relevant when you don’t draw him on 2, plus he’s an explorer to help trigger Timeworn Sentinel. If I could do it all again, I would have made that swap.

Minotaur Oathkeeper is a very good card if you’re looking to attack. Problem was, all of the cards I wanted to attack with were either huge (Quartermaster buffs, Honor Guard) or didn’t get a large amount better from +1/+1 (Pteriax Hatchling would still trade with almost anything; plus I was likely to have two of those). I was really just looking to block and extend the game. Oathkeeper doesn’t help you do that at all, while also being a very low-impact card later in the game, so I cut it.

The other cards were among the weakest in the deck. I wasn’t aggressive enough to take advantage of the Longsword tempo, and the risk of being blown out was too high. Even with Spireguard in the deck, Soaring Guard is still just a 1/2 and a miserable topdeck as a result. Copperhall Marshal is a nice card, but I just didn’t have the weapons for her. Ironclad Oath is a fine trick, but it’s super clunky, and my deck had enough beef at the top end that I decided I would rather streamline things.

Here is the final deck for Week 3:

Not pictured: 1 Primal Sigil, Hooru Banner

Spoiler for uess my record...
9-1! (18-2 in tiebreakers)

Note: Apologies for the spoiler tags; the new version of WordPress seems to have broken the plugin I was using. I’ll fix it when I can.

The deck hummed on all cylinders. I even won a game where I was stuck on 2 power until turn 6. Even in the ranked game I lost, I was able to do my thing, and I probably could have won it with a few different lines. I under-estimated my opponent’s explosive capability and wound up being too conservative with my Rolant’s Honor Guard. I waited a turn too long to deploy it, and they put me into a situation where I was forced to trade it off for a giant flyer. I had Quartermaster in play, so if I got a turn with full power, I could have activated the Quartermaster for +5/+5 and had an 11/11 lifesteal to put the game away. Instead, I had to trade and wound up not being able to overcome their air force. In the dark, I’m not sure if I made any mistakes necessarily, but the lines I did take wound up punishing me.

After that stellar performance, I was in 4th place after week 3! I started to regret those missed tiebreakers (curse you, internet!), but at 26-4, I had a real shot at taking this thing down.

Week 4

Before diving into week 4, I must say that I was very nervous about the final stretch. My deck in the previous weeks was easily able to overpower my opponents, many of whom were still missing key pieces that they had to fill with subpar cards. Every card in my deck through the first few weeks was very solid, so I had a big leg up. With the final two packs coming from Set 1, which is by far the most powerful set, I foresaw that gap closing significantly. Even if I got some upgrades, I would likely be nudging a few of my cards from C to C+, while my opponents would be upgrading D- to C+ at the same time. Though I’m happy with how my deck is set up, I figured it was unreasonable to expect to 9-1 easily again, and I would have to get a lot more lucky in the games to pull that off.

With that in mind, let’s see what I’ve got to work with:

The notable cards here are Striking Snake Formation, Combrei Stranger, Elysian Banner, Find the Way, and Mithril Mace.

Once I swapped a Time Sigil for the Elysian Banner, Combrei Stranger was an easy swap for Hooru Stranger. I actually had plenty of Primal sources, but it was critical that I hit Time early in the game. I had enough fixing in the deck that I don’t think it was necessary to play all three strangers. Skycrag and Combrei were enough.

I know I talked bad about Talon of Nostrix, but Mithril Mace is a much better card. Talon is almost never going to do better than a 1-for-1, but it’s not too difficult to engineer situations where Mithril Mace gets to eat two things, and better things at that. I definitely wanted to find room for it.

Find the Way might seem like a slam dunk for a greedy powerbase like mine, but I actually decided not to play it. It is super slow. Like, glacial. At this stage of the league, I expected aggressive strategies to be a lot more prevalent than earlier-on, since people were a lot more likely to reach a critical mass of good, cheap threats. Had this been in my initial Week 1 pool, I certainly would have played it then, but I don’t think I was actually that desperate for fixing to the point where I would effectively spend 6 total power to draw two sigils of my choice. I’d rather be affecting the board with my fixers (strangers, Trail Maker, Amber Acolyte).

Finally, let’s look at Striking Snake Formation. Some people believe this card to be a huge bomb; others are more cautious about placing it in the right deck but recognize its power. It’s a fantastic card in the Time-based midrange strategies full of Seasoned Spelunkers and Striped Araktodons and Towering Terrazons that get to munch through your opponent’s stuff.

I did not have not that deck.

I had a large number of small value creatures and dorky flyers backed up by some big bombs. I didn’t have any of those middle-of-the-road cards that SSF works well with. I don’t want to give my Pteriax Hatchlings killer so I can trade them with my opponent’s Strangers. I don’t need Rolant’s Honor Guard to have killer 95% of the time. So I left my sweet rare to ride the bench.

Here’s the final masterpiece:

Spoiler for uess my record...
8-2 (13-7 in tiebreakers)

I should be overjoyed–and I am, mostly–to finish with that kind of record. At 34-6 and 53 tiebreakers, I am sitting in 6th place. But damn, I started 5-0 this week and started to really think I might hit that #1 spot. Sadly, I dropped 2 of the last 5 to some really absurd decks/draws. Really, props on that second Talir’s Intervention to eat my Rolant’s Honor Guard with your Monolith Guardian–I was not expecting that at all!

After playing my tiebreakers, I briefly moved into 5th, but I was leapfrogged shortly after. I’ll never know if those 8 missed tiebreaks would have been good enough to put me in the top 5, but I suppose I’ll just have to settle for a top-10 this month. Much better than last month, at least!

Summary

My final record with this deck, including tiebreaker games, was 87-25 (~78% winrate). I did significantly better than that during the ranked matches (85%), which can both be attributed to some luck and to the fact that I did put a lot more effort into winning those. I would take breaks after particularly intense games, and I will admit to drinking while I played my tiebreakers. Still, I can only recall one, maybe two games that I really felt I punted. The other losses were either to superior decks, or to me taking lines that did not pan out, but were not necessarily wrong, given the information I had. Remarkably, I only got power/faction screwed a couple times. This deck was very good at coming back if I missed some power drops, as it was full of solid 2-drops to contest the board.

Of my 27 non-power cards, 10 were from Set 1, 9 from Set 2, and 8 from Set 3, even though we got two extra packs of Set 3. It’s a bit of a shame that Set 3 is so underpowered compared to the rest. I wish they had tinkered with the balance a little bit for next month, but the June league will use the same format as this one, sadly.

Bonus rewards screenshot:

Not bad for 12,500 gold!

Here’s to hoping next month’s pool is as great as this one was!

Eternal Limited Report – 2 weeks of sealed and a great event finish

No article last week because I bought the new God of War game and…well, not much else got done. I managed to play most of my event games, but I didn’t have any time to write. Well, I did, but nothing could tear me away from God of War.

May Sealed – Week 1

I left off having decided on this build for the first week of competition:

Spoiler for uess how I did...

9-1 ; 13-7 in tiebreakers (22-8 overall)

This was the greediest of all of my potential builds, but certainly the most powerful by far. It had a fantastic curve, and the top-end was loaded with incredible value. There were still some fairly mediocre cards in a sealed format. Minotaur Oathkeeper isn’t that useful when your units are either 2/1s or huge. Soaring Guard was solid for triggering Valkyrie Ally, but that was about it. I didn’t even have any relic weapons for which he could get value. Ironclad Oath is an okay trick, and something that this deck actually needed, on account of its lack of removal. Still, having to leave up 4 power to play it on defense was a big risk. If my opponent didn’t walk into it, I felt real dumb. On the flipside, it was an excellent finisher in close games. And nobody expected the second one.

Crownwatch Longsword was also pretty mediocre. I usually like a few weapons in sealed, simply because your opponent won’t have many ways to blow you out. However, this deck did not have any issues punching through. I was more concerned with gumming up the ground until my bombs could take over, and Longsword is a risky play in that respect. Weapons are way less powerful on defense.

Skycrag Stranger was the unsung hero of the deck, the glue that held my ambitious powerbase together. Pteriax Hatchling proved itself worthy of the splash, and Crownwatch Quartermaster was as absurd as predicted. I played very conservative with him, running out just about every other threat into my opponent’s silences and removal, and I was rewarded handsomely when they ran out of gas and I gave my random 2/2 +4/+4 every turn until they died.

Refresh was also incredible. When Set 1 was the draft format and you saw a lot more Refreshes, it was easy to get flooded on them. Because it doesn’t buff attack, you certainly don’t want too many, but in this deck, which only wants to hold the fort until it’s bomb time, it was the perfect trick. I ate a lot of combat tricks with it and had a brick wall of a blocker leftover afterward.

A 9-1 record is a fantastic start to the league. It definitely made me eager to play out all my tiebreaks, as I have a legitimate shot at a top finish with that kind of start. The tiebreakers didn’t go quite as well. I had some power-screw issues that didn’t crop up during the ranked matches. I definitely feel like 13-7 was a bit underperforming for the deck, but then 9-1 was probably a bit better than I deserved, so I’m glad it worked out in the order it did!

Interestingly, I started last month’s league 22-8 as well, but I did it in the wrong order, going 5-5, then 17-3 in tiebreaks. The order of your wins matters! I kind of hate that, especially since it’s not like we get Swiss pairings, but what can ya do?

May Sealed – Week 2

Time to crack some new packs! Always exciting. Here are the two packs I received:

How ’bout those rares? Barf. Not getting any help there. Not getting a ton of help in general. The quality of these packs is very, very low. The only not-completely-meh cards are the Trail Maker and the Into the Furnace. The latter isn’t on my radar at all, as Fire is simply a splash, and I have no Grenadin to even make it do 4. Trial Maker, on the other hand, is excactly what the doctor ordered. It really smooths out my greedy 4-faction power base, ramps me to my bombs, and even happens to be an explorer for my sentinel friend.

Amber Waystone is another obvious inclusion, though it is probably rare that I’ll make it to TTTT. Doesn’t cost me anything to play it, though. Silverwing Smith and Copperhall Marshal are both playable cards, but I’m pretty full on 3s, and I certainly don’t need a third Marshal in my 1-ish weapon deck (I do have Arcanist, technically). Silverwing Smith does help trigger my Crownwatch Quartermaster, and it’s a nice flying body to buff with the ability, but it’s nothing too thrilling.

I actually never took a screenshot of the final deck for week 2, but I wound up only swapping Soaring Guard for Trail Maker. I cut a Justice Sigil for the Amber Waystone, figuring that Trail Maker made hitting early Time more important, and he could help fix me for the Justice if I needed it. (Update: After a couple games, I swapped in a second Silverwing Smith for Copperhall Marshal)

Not a huge upgrade by any means, but hey, it worked last week, right?

Spoiler for uess how I did...

8-2, 9-3* in tiebreakers (39-13 overall)

I did not get to finish all of the tiebreakers because I waited until the night before the reset…and then my internet died. Classic Alaskan stuff. Unfortunate that it cost me some potential tiebreaker wins, but I’m satisfied with where I ended up. At 17-3, with 22 tiebreaker wins, I was sitting in 20th place before the reset.

Trail Maker was as good as I hoped, and the deck felt a great deal more consistent in its power development. There aren’t many other comments to make on how the deck played out, seeing as I didn’t change much. Here’s to opening better packs next week!

Even with the mediocre opens in pack 2, I was roughly 20th at the end of Week 2, which leaves me within striking distance of the top. Unfortunately, missing those few tiebreaker wins may come back to bite me, as I only have 22 despite my stellar 17-3 record in ranked matches.

Bonus coverage: There Can be Only One Event

We had a second event running last weekend that I was pretty excited to play. The rules were simple: Singleton constructed. You could only play one copy of each non-power card in your deck. Here is what I jammed for my five ranked runs:

I went 3-3, 7-2, 7-1, 7-1, 3-3, for a combined total of 27-10 with this pile of goodstuff, which was good enough for a 59th-place finish.

My theory in deckbuilding was fairly simple: People can only run a single copy of each of the good removal spells, but I can run a whole lot more beefy threats than that. When it comes right down to it, an unanswered Amilli is effectively the same thing as an unanswered Cirso, which is the same thing as an unanswered Worldbearer Behemoth, and so on. The gap between those cards and the role they play in the game is fairly small, whereas the gap between Vanquish and the next-best thing is massive.

Unsuspecting all-stars were Marisen, the Eldest and Moondial. Yeah, I won games on the back of Mystic Ascendant or Predatory Carnosaur, but we knew how good those cards were already. Marisen, though, was absolutely insane. The sheer threat density of my deck meant that my opponent soon ran out of removal. In the mirror matches, where my opponent was putting my removal under similar pressure and boards were stalling out, Marisen just went far over the top of anything they could do. Moondial was a similarly fantastic answer to stalled boards. Interestingly, pretty much every Time deck I played against had a Moondial, but I did not see a single other Marisen.

I’m pretty sure the power base was a hot mess, but between the Time fixers and the Primal card draw spells, I managed to get there more often than not. It may be correct to cut Amilli for something else because there were a lot of games where I didn’t quite get to JJJ.

Other cards I wasn’t sure about were Twinning Ritual and Trailblaze. With Trailblaze, I figured hey, a bit more consistency, but when the games actually played out, it didn’t feel very impactful, and I would almost always have rather spent my power doing something more productive. Twinning Ritual wound up being pretty good. Again, the theory behind the deck was to overwhelm my opponent’s answers with big threats. That meant I had a dearth of cheap things to do, as well as some of the best possible card quality. Combine that, season with a few Echo cards and I figured it was worth a shot. It performed decently well, but I’m still not sure if it was overall correct to run.

Channel the Tempest was also excessively greedy, but good luck getting me to not play that card.

 

Eternal Limited Report – April sealed recap and the build for May

I finally got around to playing out the rest of my ranked matches for the April sealed league right about 9pm on April 30th. While the deck began as one I was excited about, I became less and less excited to play it as the weeks wore on and my packs failed to deliver anything exciting. For May’s league, DWD announced that we’ll be getting two packs per week instead of one, which is a welcome change. Hopefully we’ll get to see our decks make some meaningful leaps throughout the month this time around.

My final pack gave me one nice pickup in a Torch, but the deck was still crippled by its lack of units (especially cheap ones) and any way to deal with a threat that grew out of range of my relic weapons. Here is the final deck I played to close out the league:

My best shot to win with this deck was to pray that I had some cheap units to go with the myriad relic weapons. I absolutely had to gain tempo on my opponent and at least get them within striking distance of a Flame Blast or Flight Lieutenant kill. Games where I fell behind quickly became hopeless if my opponent had any reasonable ways to keep the pressure up on me. Relic weapons are incredible when you’re ahead because they not only trade 1-for-1 with your opponent’s units, but they also open up attacks with your own units so you can really pressure your opponent’s life total.

However, when you have to use a Magma Javelin to kill a 4/4 while still winding up behind on the board, you’re just toast. Yeah, you killed their thing, but you took effectively 3 damage to do so, and you’re going to get attacked to boot. Moreover, in a deck like this which basically has zero ways to kill a unit with more than 4 health (barring warcries landing on my relic weapons), even if you keep the board at parity with your relic weapons, you still are likely to wind up losing the long game.

I started 8-8 before playing my remaining games (though 17-3 in my tiebreaks, which is pride I will take to my grave, even if they didn’t count at all). In the 24 games I played, I went 13-11. Not spectacular. That put me at 21-19 overall, just barely over 50%. It put me comfortably in the top 5000, but without any shot at top 1000, so I didn’t bother with any tiebreaker games. If you count my tiebreaks (pride!), I went a total of 38-22 with this deck, which is quite good. I just didn’t pick a great time to do my winning. Silly me.

I do think the deck was solid, but it did break one of the cardinal rules I outlined in my first sealed article: Don’t be aggressive unless you absolutely have to. I do think the pool backed me into that corner, as I had no removal or great bombs in other factions. Still, I think I definitely could have hit top-1000 with a little extra luck. My problem was that I didn’t even do aggression that well, with the lack of units. A few more 2-drops to go with my relic weapons would have gone a long way. Playing a 3/2 on 2 and then removing their blockers turn after turn with my weapons would have been a great game plan. I just didn’t have that option.

One thing I did notice was many of my opponents playing straight-up 3-faction decks, which I suppose shouldn’t have been too surprising with how weak Sets 2 and 3 can be. Maybe that’s the way to go. Maybe I should have just gone deep on Time and played some of the greedier cards like Frenzied Omnivore. Maybe not. At the end of the month, I’m content with how I built the deck, I think, but there’s definitely an argument to be made for getting greedier.

May’s Pool

Well, no amount of whining about my streakiness is going to bring back April’s league. It’s time to move on to May and see what I’ve got to work with. Here’s the pool, sorted by faction (click to enlarge):

I abandoned my typical process for this pool. Can you guess why? It’s because Justice was about twice as deep as any other faction. There’s just no way I don’t wind up base-J with those cards. I’ve got two sweet bombs in Rolant’s Honor Guard and Crownwatch Quartermaster, as well as a solid number of cheap units and some nice late game power outside of my bombs. My building process simply became a competition to see which faction(s) paired best with Justice.

So what do the other factions have on offer? Well, Fire doesn’t have much beyond Gun Down. I could definitely splash that, however. It’s a solid removal spell that can deal with larger threats. It’s got a few solid 2s in Oni Cavediver and Spark Hatcher, but those aren’t enough to draw me into the faction completely.

Likewise, Time doesn’t have anything incredible, but it does have some very solid options, including an Amber Acolyte, which will help with any potential splashes. Clockroach is a decent card by itself, as the first one will buff the second, meaning you wind up with a 2/2 and a 3/3 in one card. Not the best for 6 power, but also still quite reasonable. Refresh is an excellent combat trick because the health buff sticks around. Trading it for a removal spell or an opposing combat trick feels great. Oasis Seeker is a pretty good 2-drop as far as those go, and Dispel is a reasonable way to deal with opposing flyers. None of these are particularly exciting, but remember that Justice is incredibly deep and I just need to fill in holes here and there to make my deck tick.

Primal has Snow Pelting and Jarrall’s Frostkin, but it doesn’t have any yetis to go with the Pelting, and none of the other cards are exciting. Pelting is playable even without Yetis, but I’m not gonna splash for it just to deal 2. Frostkin is a little more exciting, but you need to be able to deploy him on curve to really get the benefit of his tempo. Even if I had a few dinos, Clutchkeeper is just too expensive. I think they were too conservative in costing her, to be honest. You have to have a pretty damn stacked dino to even be able to play mama-saur, but if you’ve got a dino with 6 attack, why aren’t you beating down?

Shadow is just…garbage. Tock Ticks are cute with Clockroach, but where’s the removal?! That’s shadow’s main strength, and there just isn’t any. At all. Not even an Affliction. Barf.

My multifaction/neutral situation is interesting. Praxis gives me Purify and two copies of Noble Firmane. However, I don’t think the Firemanes are very good in sealed, as your deck simply won’t be focused enough to take advantage of the ability, and I won’t be able to play them on 2 in my base-Justice deck. Purify is another thing I could splash, if I wind up playing Time with the Amber Acolyte.

Skycrag Stranger would help me splash either Fire or Primal. Glad to have a faction stranger this time around. Pteriax Hatchling is an incredible card, and one I’m very keen to try and play if at all possible. It’s just everything you want in a sealed unit. Flyer? Check. Card advantage? Check. Flexibility on curve? Check.

Longhorn Sergeant is fine. If I was to play Rakano, he’d make the cut, but I don’t think I’m going to splash for him. I’m all about warcry, but it takes some work to line up a spot where a 4-cost 2/4 gets to attack, which makes him not quite worth the splash.

Deepwood Ranger isn’t going to get there. Towering Stranger is huge, and I’d play it if I was Skycrag for sure, but I don’t think I’m in for a double-splash. Same with Topaz Drake. I love the big 5/3 charge flyer, but I’ve already got a couple expensive flyers. Though this one closes out the game very quickly, I don’t think it’s quite powerful enough to stretch my faction base to play. Rolant’s Honor Guard can completely turn a lost game around. This guy can’t quite do that, and only having 3 health exposes it to a lot of removal.

Family Charter is a card I’ll play if I need a 28th playable, but I’m not thrilled. It goes up in value if I don’t have other mana sinks, but considering I’ve got a Crownwatch Quartermaster and a bunch of other 6+ drops, I’m good on big mana sinks.

Ultimately, the pool is very, very light on removal. Unlike my last pool, where I was actually flooded with relic weapons, I don’t have a single one here. Justice has a ton of solid units and a couple of combat tricks, but only Entrapment for removal. That alone pushes me toward playing FTJ for Gun Down and Purify to help out. Adding Refresh and Dispel gives me a couple more decent ways to interact. The final question is: Do I splash the Pteriax Hatchling on top of the Fire cards? I do have that Skycrag Stranger which is essentially a “free” primal source, since I would have played it for the Fire splash anyway. Amber Acolyte is another source. Adding one Primal Sigil would give me three sources for a single card. That seems reasonable to me. I’ll give it a shot for a few games, at least.

One final card I considered was the Family Charter. I wasn’t high on it earlier, but if I am going to splash two factions, it might be worth playing for both the early scout to help me find my power and the later-game digging for a missing faction. The counterpoint to that is that, by adding Pteriax Hatchling, I am upping my individual card quality, so I don’t need to draw extra cards to out-value my opponent. My cards should (hopefully) be more powerful overall, so going 1-for-1 with them should favor me. In theory, anyway. It’s choices like this that really make me long for a best-of-three mode in Eternal. Being able to bring in something like Family Charter in matchups where it would shine would go a long way to making borderline cards like Charter see more play.

Ultimately, I’m going to start Charter on the bench, but I may take another look at the deck after week 1. Here is the final product:

This deck has some beef and some nice defensive tools, as well as some cheap flying dorks to go over the top. It’s going to be weak to large ground-pounders, so I’ll have to be careful with spending my Entrapment and Ironclad Oaths, since I may need them to help stabilize a board. If I can avoid getting overpowered early on the ground, I should be able to get in enough chip shots with flyers to win.

I’m not thrilled with Soaring Guard or Silverwing Smith. However, I have a few ways to make them better in Longsword, Minotaur Oathkeeper, Crownwatch Paladin, and Roosting Owl. Plus, Crownwatch Quartermaster does have the Valkyrie Ally ability, which can help stabilize a board long enough to get his activated ability going. They will hopefully be the first cards cut (unless I open some nice relic weapons), but they should be serviecable for now.

The power base is obviously a little shaky, playing 4 factions, but I think it’s good enough. I’m only actually splashing three cards, so I may have a dead card here or there, but I should be okay even if that happens because the card quality in this deck is quite high. That’s the plan, anyway.

So that’s my deck for this week! I’ll report back once I’ve played a few matches and discuss what I opened out of my Set 3 packs. I’m hoping for some Trail Makers, Omnivores, and Entrapments!

Until next time.

Eternal Weekly Limited Report – Set 2 Sux

I’ve often opined on how Set 2’s wildly varying power level from card to card is a problem for limited, and it certainly was when it came to my sealed pool. I was hoping to get any kind of playable 2-drop, but I whiffed on that. I would’ve played a completely off-faction Stranger, even! Just anything to do on turn 2. As I mentioned last time, I don’t think it’s correct to keep trying to play my matches that count when my deck has this one glaring weakness, so I decided once again to hold off for a week in the hope that the Set 1 pack will be my salvation.

Instead, I drafted!

Deck 1 – Argenport Aggro

Spoiler for uess my record...

2-3

 

This was a pretty rough one. I thought the deck was quite powerful, but it lacked what many aggro decks lack in limited: a good way to come back once you’re behind. Outside of Umbren Reaper and Stonepowder Alchemist, I didn’t have any form of reach, and the dorky little creatures that made up most of the list were terrible topdecks on turn 7.

Pack 2, Pick 1, I took Roosting Owl over Minotaur Lighthoof. I wish I had that pick back, but at the time I had very few cheap cards, so I wasn’t so certain that I would be aggressive. I also took my first Lethrai Ranger over a Crownwatch Cavalry, which wound up punishing me as I got plenty of Lethrai Rangers later in the pack. I would have much rather two Rangers and a Cavalry than the three Rangers I wound up playing. Ah, well.

I wound up getting punished pretty hard for playing those two Crests (one of which I first-picked out of a very weak pack). I’m not saying I shouldn’t have played them – the pseudo-card advantage they bring is far too powerful – but you do have to pay a cost in the form of the Crest being depleted, and it hits a lot harder when you’re mulling into a Sigil and two Crests in your aggro deck.

Ultimately, I think this deck was a bit better than 2-3, but aggro decks can’t afford to stumble at all, and this one did a few times too many.

Deck 2 – Argenport Not-As-Aggro

Spoiler for uess my record...

6-3

 

Now this one went a lot better. I even had a few cuts to make! That’s rare in this format, where you often find yourself barely scraping by on playable cards. I whittled it down to this beautiful pile full of my favorite commons in the set (Valkyrie Arcanist, Vainglory Patrol, and Extinguish). The deck was a little light on removal, having only Extract, Extinguish, and Mithril Mace to actually kill things, but it managed to put a ton of pressure on the opponent via flyers and Lethrai Nightblade. Memory Dredger was a massive beating, as it usually is, and Beastcaller’s Amulet almost always found its way onto something that couldn’t be blocked.

I opened the draft with a Valkyrie Arcanist out of a weak pack, then immediately followed it up with Malediction Reader (wondering what someone took over this…) and another Arcanist, which set me on 6-drops for the rest of the draft. I opened Memory Dredger in pack 2, then took Emerald Ring. My third pack contained an absurd number of potential high picks for me: Stand Together, Beastcaller’s Amulet, Rapid Shot, and Dark Return. This was a tough pick. I eventually settled on Amulet because I had so many flyers, but I think I actually should have taken Rapid Shot. Stand Together was obviously the most powerful pickand I did have a Xenan Stranger (not in the final deck). However, my deck already had a lot of raw power, and I didn’t see the need to stretch my factions if I could avoid it.

What this deck had over the previous one was a way to go deep in the game and go toe-to-toe with more controlling decks. The top of the curve was not only stacked with evasive threats, but it was also full of card advantage and mana sinks. When your top-end threats can pull double duty like that, you are in great shape.

I would have loved to see this deck make it to 7 wins, but I think I needed one or two pieces of efficient removal over some of the 2-drop dorks for it to truly be a 7-win masterpiece.

Deck 3 – Stonescar Aggro

Spoiler for uess my record...

5-3

 

Sorry Primal and Time, better luck next set. I’ll have to go back through all my reports and do a compilation spreadsheet or something, but I almost always find myself in Justice, Shadow, and Fire in some combination. Maybe once Set 4 (finally) releases, I’ll write up a recap article for Dusk Road.

My first pick Into the Furnace was followed by a string of solid Fire cards. Initially, I drafted Justice late in Pack 1, but I waffled on Pack 2, Pick 1, where the only good card in the pack was Extract. I was rewarded with a 4th (!!!) pick Memory Dredger, which was signal enough for me to get the hell into Shadow. I also got what I referred to in my drafting notes as “The Latest Gun Down in History” 10th pick. Seriously, that is a splashable removal spell, people!

This deck was, I think, in-between the first two decks in power, as its record appropriately indicated. It leaned aggressive, obviously, but it had a lot more interaction than the first deck while having less late-game power and evasion than the second deck. Memory Dredger was the MVP again, winning one game that very few other units could. My opponent had a stacked-up ground-pounder, but Memory Dredger just kept on plinking in for 3 in the air whilst dredging up a repeated chump-blocker for me.

Triple Granite Waystone also did a ton of work, allowing me to go wide and keep my opponent from racing me easily thanks to free chumps.  It’s rare that I say this in draft, but I would have loved to have a Rally in this deck.

The play I’m most proud of making is slamming Dark Wisp into the red zone immediately on turn 3, pretending I’m stuck on 2 power and frustrated. My opponent declined the free block with their Stranger, allowing me to play my third power post-combat and get value out of my Sparkbot.

Final Tally: 13-9 (101-62 overall)

Another middling week for me, but such is what happens when you go 2-3. Even if my new pack is bad for me (spoilers: It was only okay), I have to play out my remaining 24 games of Sealed this week, plus maybe 20 tiebreakers if I think they’ll matter, so I’ll write up another report when I’ve finished that.

Card of the Week goes to Memory Dredger, for obvious reasons. Even if the card had no abilities beyond flying, it would be very powerful, but the ability to rebuy a stream of 2/2s or 3/2s to trade with your opponent’s stuff when they try to race just pushes it over the top. I would honestly snap-switch factions if I opened Dredger in pack 2 unless I had an extremely good reason not to. The fact that I got it 4th in one of the drafts is incredible.

Until next time!

 

Eternal Limited Not-Quite-Weekly Update – New computer and all that

So, my almost-five-year-old computer decided to finally give it up last week, which meant I had an excuse was forced to get a new one. After setting it all up, I haven’t had a ton of time to play much Eternal or Magic, so I’ve missed a couple of weekly reports.

I have yet to comb through my old, hacking, coughing hard drive for the screenshots I took, so I will simply go through a quick update on my Eternal sealed league games.

They did not go so well. At least, the ten that mattered. I went 5-5. The format was a lot faster than I was initially expecting, which I suppose is the nature of Eternal when compared with Magic. The games are simply quicker. It turns out that Lavablood Goliath was just not at all playable, which I quickly discerned and cut after my fourth game.

Honestly, my deck was better than 5-5, even after that cut. In fact, I played my 20 tiebreaker games afterward and went an astonishing 17-3, for an overall record of 22-8 in the first week. Pretty damn good, even if I didn’t win when it mattered! If I averaged that winrate in the games that mattered, I would probably finish #1 overall or pretty close to it.

After playing those thirty games, I have a much better feel for the deck. The relic weapons were definitely incredible, and when I was on the play with a few minions to lead on, I felt like I couldn’t lose. Unseen Commando was as insane as advertised, and I won every game where I played it. Even games where it died, it usually forced my opponent to devote their whole turn to Extinguishing it, which allowed me to pressure their life total.

Warcry, too, was as good as I expected. When removal is already thin, and more than half of it is damage or power-based (e.g., Torch, Extinguish), a gigantic beater is often enough to lock up a game. Just don’t walk it into Entrapment! The finest play I made in my games was not attacking with my 6/10 Town Watchman and just slowly chipping in with a Tandem Watchwing. They eventually were forced to run out the Entrapment on the Watchwing, leaning on a gang block for the Watchman. I had a relic weapon to break up that possibility and ran away from there.

My deck’s weaknesses were its glut of 3-drops with very few 2s, as well as a lack of ways to clear a big threat. As I mentioned, Lavablood Goliath was stone unplayable, though Flight Lieutenant has been putting in some serious work. At least I was right about that one…

Week Two

My Dusk Road pack for week two had a stone unplayable rare (I don’t even remember what it was off the top of my head!) and only contained two real cards for my deck. Nothing else was exciting enough to make me seriously consider other faction combinations, so I just added my Frontier Confessor and Spark Hatcher, cutting Warhelm and Rabblerouser.

Sadly, I once again couldn’t pull off the wins when they mattered. I only played 6 games this week, going 3-3 again. Two of those losses were to straight-up power screw, so I don’t feel too bad about the deck, but I have noticed some glaring weaknesses, namely that there just aren’t any 2-drops. I have two in the whole pool, meaning that I’m at a significant disadvantage on the draw. My many relic weapons don’t pull me ahead on tempo if I don’t have a board presence, only maintain parity, which isn’t where I want to be.

With that in mind, and the fact that I’ve already got a reasonable 17 tiebreaker wins, I made a strategic decision to simply not play the rest of my games this week. I’ll need to get more wins that matter in order to break into the top 1000. Top 100 seems like a lost cause at this point, so I’ll set 1000 as my goal for this league. I am hoping that this week’s pack will contain some curve fixers for the deck. If it doesn’t, I’ll once again wait a week for my Empty Throne pack and see if that gets me there.

I’ll admit it’s kind of a cop-out decision, but I think it’s my best shot at spiking a good week and moving into the top 1000. I sacrifice my tiebreaker games by doing this, but tiebreakers are at most 0.99~ wins. If, by waiting, I can get one more win than I otherwise would have, that is better than going 60-0 in my remaining tiebreakers, so that’s the correct call.

If I wind up not playing my sealed pool this week, I’ll do some regular drafts and write a regular draft report. Until then!

Eternal Weekly *Limited* Report – Building Sealed

I wrote last week that I was getting a bit worn out of this current draft format, and that I might do something different this week. Luckily, DWD had something different in store for us! Today marks the start of the first month-long sealed league, which means I’m going to have to change the title of my weekly posts!

The prize support is much improved from the previous limited event. We get a total of 11 packs: 8 to start us off, plus one new pack each week to help bolster our deck. Finishing in the top 100 will get you 15 more packs, plus a premium legendary! Even if you don’t quite get there, the top 1,000 will get 10 packs and a premium rare, which is 21 packs worth of value, plus the premium, all for your 10,000 gold entry fee. That’s more like it!

I don’t know for sure how Eternal sealed will play out, but I have a decade and a half of Magic sealed experience from which to pull. I don’t have time to build the deck, then jam a bunch of games for this week’s article, so instead I’m going to go into a bit of detail about how I approach sealed in general, then discuss my particular build for this week. I’ll play a bunch of games this week and discuss the gameplay in next week’s article.

Sealed is not draft

In Magic, if you are a constructed player who looks at a pair of decks, you might not be able to tell which one is the draft deck and which is the sealed deck. They’ll both look like inconsistent garbage to you, most likely. And you’d be right about that. However, as someone who primarily plays limited, I bet I could guess which was which with a pretty darn good hit rate.

Sealed decks are markedly weaker than draft decks, as a rule. Of course, sometimes you’ll open the nuts, but removing the agency of choosing each card naturally means that the pools will be disjointed and not high on synergy. That leads me to my first major point:

Decks are bad. In some sense, everything else I’m going to say stems from this, but don’t lose hope if you wind up playing a few real stinkers. Everyone will be. It’s simply the nature of the format. Again, you could spike a sweet pool and have 34 playables in your factions, but if you did that, you don’t need my help!

So. Decks are, generally, bad. Again, if you are a constructed player, any limited deck looks bad to you. However, draft decks can lean on synergies that sealed decks really can’t. In draft, if you need some dinosaurs to bond out your Bellowing Thunderfoots, you can prioritize those over non-dinosaur playables in your factions. In sealed, you don’t get to do that, so you’re stuck with the (probably too few) dinos that you open in your 8 packs. Even with how synergy-driven Dusk Road is, it’s going to be tough to build a deck that consistently turns on your Ally and Bond cards.

I should note that the Explorer-Sentinel dynamic is particularly egregious in sealed. It was already tough to draft a deck that actually made this shine, but your Sentinels want both other Sentinels (bond) and Explorers (ally), while your Explorers want both Sentinels (ally) and relics! That asks you to balance three card types, which will be extremely tough to do in a sealed format. If you choose to go this route, best of luck!

Avoid aggro. Aggro is a synergy deck. It might not look like it, but you do need a critical mass of cheap threats and ways to punch through before you have a good aggro deck. Your dorky 2/2s for 2 have synergy with each other because, if you don’t draw a bunch of them in the early turns, they are going to do very little for you. For this reason, aggro tends to be quite bad in sealed. You just aren’t likely to have the curve you need to play an aggressive deck. I’ve done it before, and had success with it (shoutout to my undefeated Iroas, God of Victory deck at the Journey Into Nyx pre-release where I picked black!), but it’s rare that it comes together, and I would always start my builds by looking for a playable non-aggro deck. It’s only when I can’t find a playable midrange or control deck that I start looking toward building an aggressive deck.

Expensive cards are much stronger. This is the logical follow-up to the previous point. If aggro is bad, games go longer, and more expensive cards become more attractive. In draft, there are lots of 7+ power cards that I would never, ever look at. In Sealed, those cards are the ones I’m looking at to carry my deck. In my pool, I opened a Lavablood Goliath (9FF  6/6 that deals damage equal to its attack when you play it). In draft, I’d never, ever play this card unless I had an insanely good reason, and the only reason I’d take it is that it’s a legendary worth 800 shiftstone. Most draft games don’t even go 9 turns, and you’re not even likely to hit 9 power until well after that. In sealed, however, I think this card is much closer to playable, maybe even good. I’m interested to see how it plays out.

Play your bombs, removal, and flyers (and warcry units!). This seems like baby’s first limited advice. I want to emphasize it, though. In draft, you can often cut some of these things for curve or influence considerations. Flyers, in particular, aren’t as critical to your average draft deck. However, in sealed, it’s almost always correct to play as many of these things as is reasonably possible.

In draft, it’s often too greedy to splash for a powerful card, or to play those expensive cards I discussed earlier. In sealed, you get to let your greed consume you. Because your opponent’s deck will generally be pretty slow and inconsistent (as will yours), you can play all those big, dumb beaters and go over the top. Games will often stall out, and the person to draw the biggest, dumbest stall-breaker will win. Flight Lieutenant (7J 4/4, Empower: All your stuff gets flying this turn) is a fantastic example of a card that goes from nearly-unplayable in draft to a pretty damn good finisher in sealed. In draft, you might not even get to your eighth power, and your opponents will have plenty of ways to deal with your units. In sealed, you will hit eight a lot more often, and the board is likely to be nice and clogged. Playing Lieutenant and a power will often be enough to win the game on the spot.

Now, you might be thinking that this is just reiterating the previous point about expensive cards. However, bombs aren’t necessarily expensive. Unseen Commando is a bomb. Rooftop Vigilante is a bomb. Both of those cards cost 3, but they represent the ability to just take over the game. In sealed, your opponents aren’t nearly as likely to have a way to remove these guys, and you should be trying to fit as many of these cards into your deck as possible.

Flying units are also quite powerful in sealed. Vainglory Patrol isn’t quite bomb status, but it’s very powerful simply because your opponents will only have so many ways to interact with flying threats, and it can close out a game pretty quickly when your opponent can’t deal with it.

Warcry also seems exceptionally strong, again because opponents are going to have fewer ways to deal with a big threat. Slap a few warcries on a 4/4 and suddenly you have something your opponent can’t ever beat. In that same vein, I actually think regular weapons are probably a lot better than they are in draft (and they are usually strong there).

If you can’t go high, go low. Yeah, I know I said aggro sucks. But if you have a pool that tops out at 5-drops with no prospect of closing out a game that stalls out, you’re going to be even worse off if you try to play a neutered midrange game. If you don’t have any trump cards of your own, your best bet is likely to be to make sure your opponents can’t leverage theirs. It’s a last resort in all but the nuttiest of aggro pools, but it is something you should consider if you open a very mediocre pool.

Even if you don’t necessarily build the most aggressive of decks, if you lack finishers, you should try to make plays that shorten the game. Take more gambles like betting on your opponent to not having the pump/burn to kill you if it means you can kill them next turn. A+Space even if it means your opponent gets to eat a unit or two, if it allows you to set up lethal a turn sooner. Sure, they might have that pump/burn spell or a way to stop you from winning on your next attack, but you probably weren’t winning if the game went longer anyway.

 

How I approach a sealed pool

I used to do a lot of competitive sealed events in preparation for Pro Tour Qualifiers in Magic. In these situations, you get handed a sorted, registered pool and have a relatively short time (I believe it was 30ish minutes?) to build and register your deck. Fortunately, we don’t have those kinds of time constraints in the digital space, but my approach to sealed hasn’t changed from those early days.

I’ll immediately sort by color faction, then pick out the best cards, the ones that pull me toward playing that faction. If there is a faction that has a disproportionate amount of these premium cards, I will look closest at that faction. If any of these premium cards are splashable, I will keep those in mind.

Then I go through each faction and do a rough cut, only cutting the jankiest of jank. I do this so that I can get a playable count. If a faction has a low playable count without something incredible to pull me in, I’ll eliminate it from consideration.

I then look at the power curve of my remaining factions. While I harped on how much slower sealed is, that doesn’t mean I want to be doing nothing until turn 5. I want to at least check to see what each faction looks like on the curve. If I notice that one faction has a particular lack (i.e., no 3s), I will look to see if there is a faction that compliments it well.

At this point, there should be a pair of factions that stand out as the best. Sometimes there are three, but I almost definitely have cut two of them by now.

Now, I just look at various builds and splashes to choose the one that I feel balances consistency and raw power the best. This is the hardest part. You’ll probably have to just do this by feel and sheer experience. I will say that, if you’re torn between a consistent deck of medium power and a slightly more inconsistent deck with a higher power ceiling, it’s generally correct to err on the side of power.

My event pool

1500 words later, it’s time to take a look at my pool and my process. Here is what I opened, sorted by faction (click to enlarge):

The next step was to pull out all of the cards that I thought were very powerful, including forms of removal, that actively pulled me toward their faction. Here’s where I ended up:

 

The first thing that jumps out at me is that there are zero primal cards here. Not even a primal multifaction card. At this point, I give primal a once over, which confirmed that there was nothing there that is really worth playing. I kissed primal goodbye. In hindsight, I think that Slushdumper maybe deserves to be in this list, as he can dominate a board if you have enough yetis, but it wouldn’t change my analysis of Primal. It’s garbage in this pool.

The next thing that I noticed was that there are only two mono-Time cards here. Frenzied Omnivore needs TT. There are a couple of multifaction time cards in Shadowlands Bonepicker and Purify, both of which I would consider splashing in the right deck (Purify most of all; removal is king!). Marisen’s Disciple is also splashable. It’s a 2/2 flying body that comes with a free 2/2 ground dork attached. What’s not to love?

Noticing that Time seems fairly weak here, I took another look at it. Sure enough, there isn’t much there. Certainly more than Primal, but there just aren’t many reasons to be in Time. It has a lot of medium playables, but no removal outside of the Omnivore. I kept the splashable cards in mind as I went forward, but Time is effectively eliminated from consideration as a main faction.

So I’m down to Fire, Justice, and Shadow. Of these premium cards, Shadow has the fewest. I also notice that most of my removal is located in FJ, in the form of the numerous relic weapons, plus a Flame Blast and a Frontier Confessor. Confessor turning a little flyer into a little ground-pounder or silencing a big mana-sink threat like Xenan Guardian is as good as removal in a lot of situations.

Shadow has a pair of evasive threats in Vainglory Patrols, along with Slimespitter Slug, which is an absurd bomb in many situations. I’ve lost count of how many games that thing has swung from un-loseable to un-winnable, or vise-versa. In sealed, where the most likely way to lose is an unanswered flyer, Slimespitter seems like a grade-A bomb. Recycler also seems like a great card to pair with flying threats.

Next, it’s time to look at various builds. I noted that I have a Praxis banner, which means I could splash a Time card or two in a Fire deck. That’s actually a big help if I’m short on playables because of Flame Blast, which is going to be very difficult to play if I am forced into three factions.

With that in mind, the first thing I looked at was a FJ-splash-T build that takes advantage of the double Sword of Icaria and efficient FJ threats.

I really like this deck for sealed. There’s plenty of removal, courtesy of the relic weapons, and a reasonable curve of efficient units to pressure the opponent. There are a few flyers (remember, Marisen’s Disciple counts), along with a few weapons to slap on them. It has a reasonable top-end without getting too top-heavy. Lavablood Goliath, Flame Blast, and Flight Lieutenant should do a good job closing out a game that stalls out.

The weakest cards in this deck are probably Warhelm, Wanted Poster, and Barkeep’s Friend (and, to be honest, maybe the Goliath. Good luck getting me to not play it, though, at least in the first week).

All of those cards are better than they probably look, though. I mentioned above how warcry is even stronger than normal, so Warhelm gets a slight bump. Wanted Poster is a weak card in general, but I’ve got a billion relic weapons to help me hunt down that fugitive. Barkeep’s Friend sucks, but it still kills anything with 4 health or less, which is good enough for sealed.

My unit count is a little bit low. If I could cut Warhelm for an average 2- or 3-drop unit, I would without hesitation. However, the only real option in that slot was Rampart Protector, for which I just didn’t have enough valkyries.

If I had to lock this in right now, I wouldn’t be sad. Considering some of the reactions I’ve seen on the subreddit, I’d be thrilled to have a playable deck. However, there are other builds out there. Can I do better? What about Shadow, which has Slimespitter Slug, Execute, and a pair of Vainglory Patrols?

This deck also doesn’t look too bad at first glance; however, I think it’s weaker in a few key places. First off, it’s even higher on the unit-dependent cards, in that it’s running Sleeping Draught in addition to the three weapons.

Second, the Shadow playables were just a little more thin than Justice, forcing me to play things like Stonepowder Heretic, Recogulator, Sleeping Draught, and Affliction. Now, none of these are unplayable per se, but they certainly don’t excite me without some synergy. I don’t mind a single affliction, but being forced to play the second is really underwhelming.

I do gain one flying threat, trading Unseen Commando and Tandem Watchwing for two copies of Vainglory Patrol and a Scavenging Vulture. I also get to play Recycler and Execute, but I also lose out on Frontier Confessor and the two copies Sword of Icaria, which is a bit of a downgrade. Slimespitter Slug in place of Flight Lieutenant is the major payoff. I won’t deny, Slug trumps Lieutenant handily in terms of a top-end threat. However, I’m not sure it’s enough to overcome the losses in the early game.

At this point, if I was forced to choose, I’d still lock in the first list. But we’ve got infinite time for this event, so let’s keep iterating. I can’t possibly cut Fire, can I?

The short answer is no. The long answer is that I lack a sufficient number of playables in straight Argenport. I can’t easily splash Time without the Praxis Banner, so if I’m going to splash, it should probably be the faction that gives me 4 removal spells plus a Recycler.

This build has all the flying units I could want, which is actually a major plus. Rampart Protector seems playable with five valkyries in the deck (I’m not counting Lieutenant here), but I think “splashing” five Fire cards with no fixing is a bit ambitious. I’m still playing some relatively weak cards like Spiked Buckler and Sleeping Draught, but they aren’t atrociously bad either. Sleeping Draught seems fine as a “counterspell” for removal on my flying dorks.

For completeness, what if I try out the other permutations of FTJ? Here’s the FJ-splash-S deck.

Ah, yes, the classic 7-7-4 power base. Worth noting that I gain Execute in exchange for losing Flame Blast. You simply can’t reliably play a FFF card in an almost-three-faction deck like this one. Maybe I should be greedy here and play the Blast over something like Warhelm, but I’m not thrilled with the power base to begin with. I did discuss how I like to shoot high in sealed, but that is a little ambitious even for me. It could be correct, though. Experience will tell.

This deck obviously has the highest ceiling of the decks I’ve looked at. However, I just think the power base is too terrible to make this a viable option. If I had a few shadow fixers, I would be all about this build.

The Final Verdict

It was close, and the addition of more cards later on may change my mind, but I believe that the first build that I looked at is the way to go for the first week. Praxis Banner is what pushed it across the finish line. I didn’t quite have enough playables to make a good 2-faction deck, so I have to splash something. I only had two pieces of fixing in my pool, and one of them was a Hooru Banner. Primal is atrociously bad in my pool, so that leaves me with my single sad piece of fixing.

The fact that Praxis Banner lets me play an extra Fire source is where the real value lies. Flame Blast is a powerful card, but the triple-fire requirement means I’m hesitant to play it in a deck with fewer than 9 Fire sources. Praxis Banner lets me hit that threshold and still play enough Time sources to splash my two cards. Stonescar-splash-Time would be my second choice, for the same reasons, but I feel that my Justice units are just, on average, better than my Shadow ones. Having some 3/3s for 3 is nice when you are able to clear your opponent’s units with your relic weapons and keep up the pressure.

So that’s what I’m going to be battling this week and how I got there. I hope that this article was helpful for anyone who has little or no experience with sealed formats. It can be disheartening to see people who open three bomb legendaries while you’re over here scuffling around with maybe a playable rare or two, but the beauty of sealed comes from making something out of seemingly nothing. I have 0-2’d with the most beautiful of pools and top-8’d Pro Tour Qualifiers with complete garbage pools. If you can keep calm, recognize your best path to victory, and build a deck to capitalize on it, you can polish that turd of a pool into a diamond.

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