Category: Eternal (Page 1 of 2)

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.

Eternal Weekly Draft Report – Mastering March

I didn’t do a ton of drafting this week, but I did manage to make master with my first draft of the week, so that’s exciting. To be honest, I just didn’t feel a lot of motivation to play, and it showed in some of my post-master drafts. I suppose that’s what happens when we’ve had the same format for almost 4 months now, with no end in sight. Maybe I just need a week off or something. After drafting in the event last week, going back to scraping barely-playable decks together just didn’t feel great.

Still, I’ve made a commitment to this weekly report, so I draft! Maybe next week I’ll try something different, if I can come up with something. Perhaps a constructed article.

Deck 1: Siraf Saves the Day

Spoiler for uess my record...

7-0!!!

 

I don’t know what else to say about this deck other than it was a classic, great midrange draft deck, and Siraf made it even greater. I pulled off the rare 7-0, catapulting myself to master without a ton of contributions from Siraf other than being a removal magnet in the first six games. I never activated her in those games, but a 3/4 Overwhelm for 3 is still a great card.

Boy did she pull my ass out of the fire in game 7, though. I was dead-on-board to flyers, topdecked my 8th power, hit a Rolant’s Honor Guard off Siraf, and suddenly I could not lose. Luv ya, girl.

I am not usually high on a card like Detain, but I was really able to leverage it in this deck. Siraf, Unseen Commando, and Sureshot are almost must-blocks for an opponent if you offer a trade. Even if they are pretty sure you have a trick, they also know that they probably can’t beat those cards if they don’t go for it. In those situations Detain basically becomes Swords to Plowshares, which, if you aren’t a Magic player, is a pretty good card. They are forced to block to try and kill your bomb (bonus points if you get the two-fer), and you can blow them out for a single power. It’s one of those cards that looks defensive on the surface, but it’s actually at its best in an aggressive deck that is forcing the opponent to either race or block. I won a couple games by just giving my opponent’s giant thing -6 attack when they thought they were winning a race. I don’t advocate taking or playing Detain over much of anything, but it’s worth noting the situations where it’s slightly more playable than usual and might sneak in as a 27th or 28th card.

Draft 2: Combrei Splash

(On the next page: Crest of Cunning)

Spoiler for uess my record...

5-3

 

I actually first-picked Crownwatch Traitor in this draft, followed by Extinguish, but shadow dried up quite quickly. A couple of late Trail Makers pushed me into Combrei, with the ability to easily splash anything I wanted, which turned out to be Extinguish and Pteriax Hatchling. You don’t generally want to splash 3-drops, but Hatchling is still a solid play later in the game, so I ran it. I got a very late (i.e., 4th pick) Waystone Infuser in pack 2. That’s not the first time I’ve seen it go so late. Sure, maybe Time was just wide open, but I think people criminally underrate the card. It’s not flashy, just a 2/6 for 5, but it draws tons of extra cards and helps you chew through power pockets and avoid flooding out too badly, while still holding down the ground. It might be one of my favorite rares to draft. It’s not oppressive, but it’s incredibly fun to play with.

This deck was a lot of fun to pilot. It played the grindy game really well, and splashed for both Pteriax Hatchling and Extinguish with no problems. The powerbase was a little awkward, in that I wanted to play the Crest of Cunning, but also needed to play the Primal and Shadow Sigils to be able to fetch them off Seek Power. Maybe I should have just cut one of them for an additional Time Sigil, as I did have several TT cards, as well as Initiate of the Sands that I want to play reliably on 1.

Still, the deck checked a bunch of boxes. Double Reinvigorate and Vanquish provided good ways to remove opposing threats for relatively low cost, Waystone Infuser, Valkyrie Arcanist, and Emerald Ring helped grind out longer games, and it also had the busted Ageless Mentor draws.

The highlight of these games was beating a Failed Reflection with a lifestealing Ageless Mentor (from Spirit Guide) that I kept on loading up with weapons from Emerald Ring. I kept drawing chumps to throw under the bus, and the lifesteal eventually pulled me ahead of the 12/12 monster. I managed to silence it before it got any bigger, and the Mentor eventually outgrew it and ate the reflection thanks to a Reinvigorate.

Deck 3: Stonescar Aggro

Spoiler for uess my record...

2-3 =(

 

I don’t know what happened here. This deck was wide open, had a ton of removal and a good curve. I was a little light on units, rarely drew any in my opener, mulliganed most games, and got faction-screwed once. The two games where the deck performed the way it was supposed to, I crushed my opponent. The games I lost really highlighted the weakness of aggro in a draft format. If your plan A doesn’t get there, you have no way of coming back from behind.  Sometimes it just ain’t your day.

Cabal Slasher was a card I wanted to try out here, but I never drew it. I needed a final playable, so I fit one in. I actually had a second, but I’ve had no experience with this guy outside of a dedicated Xenan deck, so I’m not sure. He looked like he’d be pretty serviceable with double Extract, Xenan Destroyer, and Devour as possible synergies. Especially if I could slap a weapon or a Rampage on that Destroyer. Alas, I hit my third loss before I ever got to try him out.

Deck 4: Combrei splash Shadow

Spoiler for uess my record...

3-3

 

This deck is what happens when you waffle too long on factions in draft, the dreaded 6-8-4 powerbase. It didn’t help that Skycrag seemed to be the only open factions in pack 4, but still, this deck was bad. I did punt one game away, maybe, but I don’t think this deck deserved much better than a 3-3 finish. I didn’t draw Rooftop Vigilante or Ageless Mentor in any of my games =(

The game I punted involved Rakano Sheriff. I had an opportunity to eat a Stormcrasher early in the game by ambushing it with Desert Marshal to block with Spiritblade Stalker. I’ve been playing a lot of Reinvigorate lately, so I must have just brain farted my way into thinking I could attack and still block (thanks to endurance from Reinvigorate). I ended up just silencing the bird and declining the trade with Marshal (thinking at that point that I was the beatdown). That, too, turned out to be a mistake, as the Sheriff came down a turn later. I was able to assemble a large Triggerman plus weapon to possibly outpace the Sheriff, but the Stormcrasher that should have been dead provided an extra body to wear a weapon and pump the Sheriff out of range of me getting through.

I got to play one particularly interesting game. My opponent led with Unpredictable Outlaw on 2. I played Copperhall Porter, with Crownwatch Longsword in hand. My opponent played Backpacker’s Machete on the Outlaw, exhausting my Porter and attacking. I had no 3-drop, so I just played my longsword and passed. It’s possible I should have attacked, but I was getting beaten down pretty hard already, and I really wanted to keep back and try to trade, as my hand had Spiritblade Stlkaer and Town Watchman for when the game went long.

Unfortunately, my opponent had Ornate Katana to draw a card and exhaust my guy again, though they missed their 4th power. I took my medicine, played my Spiritblade Stalker and once again held up the trade.

They had Blackguard’s Sidearm to make an 8/5 quickdraw. I took another 8 and was already at 7 life!

I had a pair of cheap dorks to chump, so I got in for 6 with my Porter and Stalker. Sadly, I had already missed out on 8 damage by trying to block on those earlier turns. I chumped as planned, then spent the next turn making my Porter into a 5/4 Lifesteal with the Stalker’s ability. Feeling farily safe, I attacked, and they chumped with a stranger they’d drawn. That put me up to 12 and leaving my opponent under a lot of pressure.

Then they played a Morningstar. Ugh. I took 11 and was right back at 1, and now that stupid thing had overwhelm! I cracked back to buffer my life up to 6, but I now had to chump with Town Watchman to stay alive. Things were going downhill, fast. I had a second Watchman to chump again, then I finally topdecked Desert Marshal to silence that stupid Outlaw. From there I was able to force them to stop attacking because they were out of ways to chump my crack-back. Time Weaver helped keep them power screwed and doing nothing, and I eventually found myself a Rapid Shot to slay Goliath when she finally had to block. Phew.

Final Tally: 17-9 (88-53 overall)

Not the worst week, but my sick 7-0 deck really carried me. I made master, though, which is generally my goal for a given month. I might try to climb onto the leaderboard by the end of the month, but I’m not too worried about that. I think maybe I need a break from this format. Last week’s event was quite fun, but going back to regular drafting has made the reality of the situation sting a bit. We just got a new campaign, meaning Set 4–and thus a shakeup of the draft format–is a long way off. I love drafting Eternal, but this format wears thin on my nerves sometimes. It’s just so light on playables that you can do everything right, find the open lane, and still wind up playing some atrocious cards to make ends meet. I don’t enjoy losing because I drew some terrible card that has no place in a limited deck, all because pack 2 gave me 2 playable cards. This, by the way, was my pack 2 open when I drafted my last deck:

Apparently, a playable card in either of my factions is too much to ask of Set 2. Yeah, fixing strangers are generally fine, but I didn’t yet have a specific need for those factions, and first-pick is when you want a really quality card, not a 2/2. The other option there was Sand Viper, since I wasn’t locked into Shadow by any means, but Rooftop Vigilante is a card that makes me want to do everything I can to stay in Shadow. I will be honest, I almost raredrafted this pick out of spite, but took the stranger in the end.

Card of the Week probably goes to Detain. Siraf is the obvious choice, but we all know how great she is. I like to make a note of when a card wildly out-performs my expectations, and Detain hit that spot for me this week.

Eternal Weekly Draft Report – Top 20 Event Edition

This weekend marked the first Draft event in Eternal. As someone who mostly drafts, I was quite excited by the prospect, especially once I heard that they would be tweaking the format a bit. For this event, we wouldn’t be drafting 3-2-1-3 as normal. Instead of drafting individual packs of Sets 1 and 2, we got two curated packs of cards from those sets mixed together, with a stronger focus on tribal synergies that would mesh with Set 3’s themes.

Personally, I’m hoping that this was a dry run to see how the format would shake out, to see if it would be worth drafting this full-time. Because it was great! Of the three decks I drafted, each one felt more cohesive than any deck I’ve had in a long time. I wasn’t afraid to go in on tribal payoffs in Pack 1, and I got rewarded in Pack 4 for leaning a little harder on tribes than I normally would. That’s what the format should feel like.

Unfortunately, an expensive entry fee (7,500 gold), combined with poor prize support, took what should have been an incredible event and made it frustrating, even for someone who did a great deal of winning. I finished 24-6 overall in the event, good for an 80% win rate and a top-15-ish ranking. I say “ish” because I was 10th as of the writing of this article, but I will likely drop at least a slot or two before the end of the event.

The payout for top-100 is three free draft tickets, 10 packs, and 3 premium copies of Strategize. Considering the draft tickets at 5,000 gold each, that’s 15,000 gold Not bad, right?

Wrong. If I kept up a similar win-rate in normal drafts, I’d be getting three diamond chests per run. At three runs, that means I get paid out 9 packs, 9 random premium cards, and an average of 18,450 gold. I put in 15,000 gold for those three drafts, so I’m up 3,450 gold, 9 packs, and 9 premiums.

In the event, I put in 22,500 gold to enter three times. I will come out 10 packs, and 4 premiums ahead, but 7,500 gold down. I’ll call the premiums a wash, since Strategize is a very widely-played and desirable premium, versus what will likely be a bunch of chaff. There is still about a 10,000 gold delta there.

I will probably finish between 15 and 20. Of ten thousand players. Let me make that clear: I finished in the top 0.2%, won 80% of my games, and I am still 10,000 gold in the hole from where I would have been normally.  I can’t think of an event in any game that has had a worse payout than this one. I’m an avid drafter, so I don’t mind losing the gold to play in a special event, but it’s just plain not good design to have the expected value be so low. If you are an average player (i.e., you go 15-15), you’re better off just lighting some cash on fire. I’m fortunate enough to have a bit of disposable income, but if DWD wants to attract the people who can put a few bucks a month here or there, the ones that make up the backbone of a playerbase, they need to adjust these payouts significantly.

The game is overwhelmingly generous in other areas. They clearly intend for events to be a moneymaker. I get that. But if they want people to keep playing in those events, they need to make them more friendly to the average player. Paying out per run would be a huge step forward. I sank 22,500 gold into this thing, and I won’t see any return until the event ends. If I had just done one run, even if I went 10-0, I would have put 7,500 gold in for a crappy return (no diamond chests, remember), and I wouldn’t be able to draft again until they pay out my free ticket at the end of the event. That’s a pretty negative experience. Rewarding players for strong single runs, as well as giving a few extra rewards to the top performers at the end of the event, would be a much better prize structure, especially when the entry fee is so steep.

They gave little-to-no warning for people to save up gold, which may have been intentional because they wanted us to buy gems. It was made doubly painful by the fact that there wasn’t really a point to entering if you didn’t intend to play your full three runs.

Well, enough ranting about the awful prize structure. Time to show off my sweet decks.

Deck 1:  Praxis

What’s this? A Praxis deck with an actual good curve and plenty of sentinels/explorers? I had no idea such a thing existed!

I first-picked Seasoned Spelunker out of a mediocre pack, followed up with a couple Into the Furnace, and then I was off to the races. Packs 2 and 3 were very kind, showering me in above-average playables, and I was able to focus on picking up synergies in packs 1 and 4. This deck didn’t do anything particularly special, but it also had a very high floor. Serene Excavators did a ton of work, which is not a phrase I expected to ever utter.

The highlight of this deck was, at 7-2, mulliganing into a hand that did actual nothing until turn 7. Seriously, the only play I could legally have made before turn 7 would have been to Refresh my face. I mulled into 4 power and drew nothing but that and weapons to go with my Dormant Sentinel. Fortunately, the event didn’t seem to pair by record or MMR or anything, since I was facing a player who was pretty obviously new at drafting. Their deck didn’t do much of anything in the early turns, and even a lonely Dormant Sentinel was enough to get me to 8-2 despite them playing a Scouting Party that drew 3. Phew.

Deck 2: Grenadin!

This deck was a work of art. I got to make so many sweet plays with the sacrifice outlets and had fun burning people out with double Rapid Shot. I got to draw cards, make huge dudes, beat down, and just generally put a whuppin’ on people. I don’t actually remember how I lost in the one game that I did lose, but this deck was just absurdly powerful and deserving of going 9-1. Look at all those Set 1 and 2 cards in the deck. You’d never see that many in a regular draft; the sets just aren’t deep enough, particularly Set 2. Prickly Grenadin was a bit of a stinker alongside all of the Nightfall cards (we call that a non-bo), but I had enough sacrifice outlets that any warm body was good enough.

The sweetest play I made with this deck was to attack with my 3/4 Powderkeg Rider. Recognizing (correctly) that they needed to get it off the table because they were a bit low on life, my opponent gang blocked it with the whole squad. Five creatures. I Devoured another grenadin, then had Rapid Shot to complete the 5-for-1. Granted, had they just not blocked, they would have died, but it still felt real, real good.

Deck 3: More Grenadin!

If you do the math, you’ll come to the conclusion that I went 7-3 with this deck. I feel that’s probably about right, maybe even over-achieving by a win. Again, this one had a ton of raw power, but it was markedly less consistent than the previous two. I did not strictly have to splash, but I think it was correct for an event of this type. At 17-3 already, I was almost a lock for top 100, even with a mediocre finish. However, to crack the top 10, I needed to hit 8 wins or better most likely. A card like Rooftop Vigilante can just straight-up steal games you had no business winning, especially when you have a copy of Dark Return to force it through their only removal spell. I think it was better to raise the ceiling on the deck’s power level to try and spike my way to 8 wins, even if it lowered the consistency a little bit.

I did not like that I had to play Heroic Bravo, though he put in some fine work. I didn’t quite have the density of Gunslingers I might want. Ruincrawler Yeti is another card that’s fine, but not exciting. I never hit anything with it, of course. He was hiding on the bottom of the deck when he mattered and soaking up warcries when I would have rather they went on something like Xenan Destroyer!

Nonetheless, I started 6-0. At 23-3 overall, I felt like I had a real shot at the top of the leaderboard. Sadly, the deck’s inconsistency caught up with me. I had some mediocre draws, while my opponents had good ones, and that was enough. The most frustrating thing was losing my final game to a Mystic Ascendant that I had zero ways to remove. Had I won that game, I could have locked up a top-10 finish. Ah, well.

I only drew Memory Dredger in two games, both of which I was winning handily. Sadly, it was nowhere to be found in the two games where I was getting nibbled to death by Pteriax Hatchlings.

The highlight of playing this deck was Dark Returning an already 7/6 Scrap Hound. I paid 2 mana to deploy an 8/7 and still had enough leftover to also deploy a Xenan Destroyer! A few chump blocks later, an adorable 13/12 metal dog ate my opponent’s face.

Final Thoughts

I really had fun playing through the event, though I wish it had been a little less stressful. I’m fine with losing money on an event, but I feel like it shouldn’t take a 99.9th-percentile finish just to break even, and that’s where we are now. /u/_AlpacaLips_ on reddit intentionally finished 0-10 with an alternate account to suss out the bottom of the standings, and it’s currently near 10,000 players, so you have to be in the top 0.1% if you want to hit that top-10 break even point.

To be honest, if I hadn’t started out 8-2, I wouldn’t have bothered to enter again. There isn’t a point to risking so much gold on a very minor potential improvement in prize support. I don’t think that is where DWD (or any of us, for that matter) want this to be, so I really hope they consider adjusting the payouts in the future, namely basing the rewards on each individual run, with a little icing on the cake for the top finishers.

The actual draft format, on the other hand, was incredible. I really hope that people can get that message through to DWD, even despite our disappointment in the prize structure.  I haven’t enjoyed the drafting portion as much as I did in this event since it was just Set 1. The gameplay, too, was much better than it has been. It felt much less like a cripple fight where you both have bad, non-synergistic  and much more like a real game of Eternal. If this became the normal, every-day draft format, I would be dancing with joy. I really hope that’s where DWD was heading when they designed this event.

 

Eternal Weekly Draft Report – Love Ya, but I’d Rather be Cubing

I didn’t have a ton of time this week, and I spent most of it focused on Magic. This edition of cube has treated me very well. Still, I drafted a couple of decks, including one just now so that I could fill out my weekly post.

Draft 1: Elysian Dinos

Spoiler for uess my record...

7-1

 

I started the week off on the right dino-sized foot. I snapped up Frenzied Omnivore and Sandbinder Sentinel with my first two picks, but the rest of pack 1 was very mediocre. I ideally wanted to be Praxis with those first two picks, since Frenzied Omnivore pairs well with actual removal (as opposed to Stuns), and Sandbinder Sentinel pairs well with explorers and other sentinels that are more plentiful in Praxis. I took an Into the Furnace, along with a few mediocre fire cards, before rounding out the pack with a late Freewing Glider and two copies of Bellowing Thunderfoot, which is a card I have yet to play despite my numerous drafts in this format.

Pack 2 showed me where fate wanted me to be when I opened Evelina, Valley Searcher. I had no other explorers yet (and would only get one), but she alone is a fantastic 2-drop for the Dinosaur deck. I got some decent Primal cards out of pack 2, but Time did not seem all that open. Looking at my final list, I did not play any time cards out of packs 2 or 3 (which come from the same player) other than the Evelina I opened and an early-pick Xenan Guardian.

It didn’t matter, as pack 4 contained lots of dinos for me to snap up, along with Scaletender. I wound up having to play a couple of top-end stinkers in Timeworn Sentinel and Scourstone Sentinel. The payoffs for those just weren’t there in this deck, but the sheer amount of beef on the ground, combined with a bit of flying pressure, made up for having unplayable cards stuck in my hand.

I crushed everyone I faced, losing my only game to an absurd flood. Bellowing Thunderfoot was incredible, especially Bonding it out on turn 6 off a Fishing Dinoch. Nocturnal Kyrex was as bad as I thought it would be, but sometimes he helped make a turn-5 Dinoch into a 6/6, so I can forgive the cute little monster.

Draft 2:  Praxis splash Shadow

Spoiler for uess my record...

3-3

 

This is another one of those decks where I feel that it was wide open in both directions, but the packs sometimes just aren’t deep enough to fill out a deck, even when you find the right lane. I got late Into the Furnaces and Spark Hatcher in packs 1 and 4, and late Purifies and Praxis Displacer in packs 2 and 3. Yet, somehow, despite clearly being in the right seat to draft Praxis, I wound up thin on playables and had to splash. I had a good deal of fixing, which made it less painful, but I don’t really want to be splashing things like Obsidian Golem and Vainglory Patrol. These are good cards, but they can’t really dig you out of bad situations, which is where I want my splash cards to be.

I also had to play a pair of Temple Raiders. Don’t try this at home. They were real bad, especially with only 3 sentinels, one of which I’m pretty sure was legally uncastable in this deck.

3-3 is about where I expected to wind up. The deck definitely had the raw power to do better than that, if it fired on all cylinders, but it was just as likely to lose to itself.

Draft 3: Argenport Valkyries (1-3)

I tilted off so hard at losing with this one that I forgot to take a screenshot of it. I drafted a very good Argenport deck with Rooftop Vigilante, Spiritblade Stalkers, and Valkyrie Arcanists and proceeded to lose 3 of 4 to nothing especially powerful. Sometimes the cards just don’t line up for you.

Draft 4: Rakano splash Shadow

Spoiler for uess my record...

4-3

 

I focused on Magic for a couple days, then tried to get back on track with this one. Justice was clearly open, and an early Whirling Duo pushed me toward Rakano, but after Pack 1 I was mostly Justice. Rolant’s Choice midway through pack 2 made me waver on that, which punished me a little when I took Argenport Banner over a decent Fire card. I wound up barely scraping by on playables, but the deck had some real nice curve-out potential.

Basically, I won every game where I played Whirling Duo on 3 and lost every game where I didn’t. Frontier Confessors never really lined up for me to get good value, and I lost my last round after drawing 15 of my 17 power in my top 30 cards. I feel like this deck deserved maybe one more win, but I hit upgrades on two of the gold chests so I can’t complain too much.

Besides Rolant’s Choice, which is one of the most powerful uncommons in the format, Combust was definitely worth the splash in this deck, as I always had some random idiot that was getting bricked by something on my opponent’s side. I would gladly have traded the Entrapment for another Into the Furnace or other proactive removal/pump spell. It was okay, but an aggro deck like this isn’t really looking to play cards like Entrapment, since if you’re getting attacked, things probably aren’t going too well. You still get to get ’em if they try and stack weapons on something, but it’s certainly less amazing than it would be in a slower deck.

 

Final Tally: 15-10 (71-44) overall

It’s hard to complain about a positive week, but I didn’t feel too great about it. Outside of that great Elysian deck, I was 8-9 on the week, which is definitely not where I want to be. I’m currently hanging around low diamond. I’m still confident in reaching master this month, but I’d like to have made a little more progress this first full week.

Card of the Week goes to Bellowing Thunderfoot. This big guy really impressed me. I’ve avoided drafting non-justice Ally decks, since I feel the density of low-cost enablers just isn’t there, but when you get there, you really get there. Jarrall’s Frostkin is already an insane tempo play, and when he’s a 5/5 with overwhelm that can chain out another one in the same turn, you have a recipe for killing your opponent out of nowhere.

Eternal Weekly Draft Report – Splish Splash

Between an exhausting workweek and the return of cube to Magic Online, I didn’t have a ton of time for drafting this week, but I did manage to put together a couple decks.

Draft 1 – Praxis splashing Shadow

I somehow don’t have a shot of the final deck, but I did take screens of most of the picks, so I’ll walk through things. I opened a pretty easy first pick, where the only reasonable cards were Vainglory Patrol and Frenzied Omnivore. The Omnivore is a much stronger card, so this was an easy choice.

My second pick put me to a choice immediately, by offering a choice between Grenadin Bellower, Reinvigorate, and Into the Furnace. Combrei has some very strong cards, but it isn’t directly supported by Set 3 synergies, or in Set 2. If you get lucky enough to get a bunch of Awakened Students out of Set 1, it’s great, but I don’t like committing to it yet. Grenadin Bellower is great, but not at its best if I wind up in Xenan, since it’s more of a go-tall deck instead of go-wide like Stonescar would be. Into the Furnace is a very versatile little spell after the buff to Fast, and I haven’t drafted Praxis in a while.

Third pick, I had a choice between Disassembler, Seasoned Spelunker, and another Into the Furnace. I like Omnivore more than Into the Furnace, so I was more inclined to commit to Time. Seasoned Spelunker is quite a bit stronger after the buff, so I took him and moved in on Time.

My next few picks were pretty unexciting, though I snagged a 6th-pick Stonescar Sawed-Off, which is a great way to push through damage.

Oni Cavediver 9th pick showed me that Fire was pretty open.

I opened trash in pack 2, with a pair of Justice cards and an Argenport Banner as the only things I’d ever consider playing. I raredrafted. Noble Firemane was the follow-up, a card that’s still quite powerful but less so now that Praxis is more concerned with going big instead of wide.

Waystone Infuser made an appearance third pick, which is both a huge benefit and a nice signal that Time is open. It looks pretty innocuous as a 5-power 2/6, but it’s one of the best cards in the set. Drawing yourself through your power pockets later in the game is a major advantage, and it blocks well and has warp itself.

I picked up Amber Ring next, which is not a very good card in most cases, but the Praxis deck wants both relics and explorers. If I get there on payoffs, it can certainly make the deck.

Pack 3, I got punished for not being Combrei, as I opened both Awakened Student and Paladin Oathbook. Pack 3 was pretty thin for me. I picked up a Pyroknight and a splashable Smuggler’s Stash, along with a Stonescar Stranger, so it wasn’t all bad.

Pack 4, I opened a very slim pack that contained Monolith Guardian and Recycler as the only two reasonable cards for me. I didn’t have enough relics to make Guardian good, so I took the Recycler in case I needed a splash, though I hoped not.

Splashing started to look like it was happening, as I followed up with Extinguish from another pack containing no Praxis cards.  I picked up some Trail Makers late in the pack, so I wound up splashing the Smuggler’s Stash and Recycler, along with Extinguish. Recycler was a little suspect, but I needed a final playable, and he has a pretty high upside if you can get there on the factions. I had plenty of fixing, and it didn’t turn out to be a problem.

I wound up 5-3 with this deck, but should have been at 6+ if not for a massive punt in the final game. I had a Dormant Sentinel wearing Stonescar Sawed-off, along with a Waystone Infuser wielding a Fixit from Recycler. My opponent had some favorable blocks that would put them at 1, or some unfavorable blocks that would put them at 3. I had drawn Baying Serasaur and played a power off the top so my Sentinel had Overwhelm. I figured they might take the good blocks and go to 1, then I’d get ’em with Serasaur for the last point off Nightfall.

I spaced out and forgot they were Justice. My Sentinel ate an Entrapment that I easily could have prevented by playing Serasaur before attacks and making Nightfall. It’s something I definitely should have seen. Even though playing out Serasaur would make it so that I didn’t win that turn, they would have had to make some bad blocks that meant that their outs were very slim. Instead, they made good blocks, killed most of my threats, and then killed me. Ah well, lessons learned.

Draft 2 – ??????

Spoiler for uess my record...

3-3, somehow

 

It took a lot of discipline to share this one. Frankly, I don’t know where it went off the rails. I started off on Duskwalker and Extinguish. Fine Xenan start. That dried up very quickly, and I was getting some late Valkyrie love, so I moved in on Justice and also picked up some late Fire cards. After pack 1, I had no damn idea what was happening.

Pack 2, I opened Plated Goliath and Gun Down. These are on a similar power level, in my opinion, but Gun Down is more easily splashed if I wind up there, so I took that. I regretted it, as I got passed another Goliath, but I settled with a Xenan Stranger instead, intending to draft some sort of FJS pile.

More regret followed as I got a Blistersting Wasp next. Because playables are thin in this draft format, I had some discipline and took a Talon of Nostrix. The time for waffling on factions was over. Maybe I should have been Xenan, but after pick 2 in pack 1, I saw nothing in those factions.

I picked up a late Mortar over nothing, then opened another bad pack 3. I took a Shimmerpack and consigned this draft to oblivion. Pack 4 was pretty kind, giving me a Crest of Chaos, Valkyrie Arcanist, and Rooftop Vigilante.

I considered splashing the Mortar as well as a Jarrall’s Frostkin that I picked up in Pack 3, but despite a Hooru Stranger, I didn’t really have any other way to get Primal influence. I wound up with some pretty mediocre cards at the top-end as my final playables. I didn’t have high hopes for the deck, but maybe I’d freeroll a few power-screwed opponents.

Truthfully, 3-3 was above my expectations. Silverwing Rallier was as atrocious as I always suspected it was. Most of my Valkyries (and most Valkyries in general) were pretty small, meaning this guy cost 7+ most of the time. And even if you manage to play him, he doesn’t stabilize the board. For his cost, he doesn’t block well (and you exhausted a blocker to play him!), and if you’re behind on life, 5 damage doesn’t race that well without lifesteal or endurance. This was the first time I’d ever tried it in the deck, and it’ll take something special to make me do it again.

Final Tally: 8-6 (56-34 overall). 

Not a great week, but it’s early in the season and that’s okay. It was pretty frustrating because I don’t feel like I made too many mistakes in drafting, especially in the second draft. This format pressures you to commit hard, but when signals get crossed or playables simply dry up, it’s difficult to stay the course. And even when I did commit, correctly both from my perspective at the time, and from how the packs actually played out, I still wound up very short on good playables. Weak packs, and even weak drafts happen sometimes. Eternal only has 8 commons per pack, but when so many commons are wildly unplayable, sometimes you just roll packs with nothing good in them. Personally I don’t like that design choice, but that’s what we’ve got, and we have to make the best of it, even if it results in a miserable deck from time to time.

Card of the Week goes to Entrapment. Play around this thing, people! Even if it got nerfed.

 

Why the solution to balancing Dusk Road draft is buffs, not nerfs

Update: Some folks over on reddit have pointed out that this analysis doesn’t quite do justice to some factions. The biggest reason for this is that a 0.0 and a 1.0 aren’t fundamentally different in terms of whether or not you’re going to play them in draft, but one hurts a faction’s score significantly more than the other. I’m going to leave this article as it is, but I’ll be posting a follow-up (will be linked here) with some more data that better shows that some factions have too high a density of bad cards.

In the last month, Dire Wolf Digital has released two balance patches for Eternal. In each patch, one of the major objectives was to tone down the dominance of Justice in draft. This was much needed, in my opinion, as it was often correct to force some sort of Justice deck, even if it wasn’t particularly open. You’d often end up splashing, or a full-on three factions, but that was fine because the multi-faction Justice cards (e.g., Awakened Student, Whirling Duo, Rooftop Vigilante, Slay) are powerful enough to make up for a shaky power-base, and Justice as a whole is not as reliant on its tribal synergies as other factions.

So, Justice needed to take a step back. The first round of nerfs didn’t quite get the job done, so DWD hit it again. It’s still a little early to tell if this will be enough to finally end Justice’s reign of terror, but were nerfs ever the right answer in the first place?

I’m not so sure. With the exception of Valkyrie Arcanist, I didn’t feel that any of the Justice cards were under-costed, and certainly not oppressively so. Arcanist needed to get hit with the nerf bat because allowing decks to play too many of them created bad play patterns by which you keep chaining 6/6 flying threats until your opponent finally can’t deal with one. None of the other nerfed cards had that kind of problem.

Will the nerfs succeed in putting Justice back in line with the rest of the factions? Maybe. But will it make the format better? That’s the question I asked myself when I began this analysis.

The Data

For the data used here, I took the draft tier list ratings produced by the folks over at rngeternal.com. You may not agree with all of their ratings. I certainly think some things should move up or down a little. Still, this represents a sampling of multiple high-level drafters that is the best available data set outside of my own biased rankings.

The cards are each rated between 0 and 5, at increments of 0.5. Thus, we expect an average card to have a rating of 2.0 or 2.5. These are the bread-and-butter type cards in draft. The majority of your deck will (hopefully) be between 2.0 and 3.0. If you’re playing any cards at 1.5 or below, you’re not feeling too great about it, usually. That’s not to say you should never play 1.5s. Sometimes you just have to fill in that last slot, or sometimes you’ve really gotten there on whatever synergy the card is asking for, or sometimes you just really need something to do before turn 4.

Ratings of 4.5 and 5.0 are generally reserved for absurd bombs like Mystic Ascendant or Ijin, Imperial Armorer. Cards of lower rarities should never be 4.5s or 5.0s because that would create a very skewed draft format toward whatever faction held that 5.0 uncommon. Indeed, no common or uncommon holds a rating higher than 4.0 in the RNGEternal spreadsheet.

The first thing I did was to hack and slash that wonderful spreadsheet, cutting out all the rares and legendaries. These just don’t make a huge difference to the health of a draft format because they show up so infrequently.

I then sorted the cards by set and faction. I plotted the number of cards at each rating, for each faction, at both common and uncommon. Multifaction cards are grouped all together in the plots, but I consider each faction pair individually in my further analysis, which includes variance and total strength of individual factions in an average pack of each set.

The Ideal Format

What does an ideal spread of ratings look like for a draft format? Or, rather, what spread do we expect a good draft format to produce? For commons, this is a fairly simple question to answer, since we expect most of them to be between 1.5 and 2.5, with a few above and a few below. Commons should almost never be 4.0s, and only a few per set should even go to 3.5 because we don’t want them to overshadow uncommons in terms of power level, and we don’t want too many of a single, powerful card showing up to warp the format. We also don’t want too many low on the scale, since having too many bad cards showing up frequently will lead to people failing to scrape together playable decks at too high a rate. A regular bell-curve type distribution entered at 2.0  is probably the “ideal,” but it obviously isn’t the only criteria for a good format.

At uncommon, things are a little less clear. The high-value uncommons should obviously be higher on the rating scale than the best commons. But the uncommon rarity also tends to introduce more complex, “out there” cards, as well as more build-around type cards. If you’re drafting competitively, and not just for the memes, you probably want to shun all-in build-around strategies because they’re inconsistent. The “out there” cards tend to be over-costed because the developers don’t want them accidentally breaking the format. Thus, at uncommon, you not only tend to have more 3.5s and 4.0s, but you also have more unplayable cards at 1.0 and below. So, we expect more of a double-peaked distribution, with maxima near 3.5 and 1.0.

I haven’t analyzed rares and legendaries here (perhaps later), but I would expect those distributions to be even more skewed.

Set 1 – The Empty Throne

I thought Set 1 draft was a great format. I always felt like I could draft whichever supported faction pair was open, and I never really felt as if one was better than the other. Combrei did get the one single 4.0-rated common in Awakened Student, but Student never felt completely oppressive, thanks to a variety of efficient answers. Playable count was rarely a problem, unless I really waffled on my factions deep into pack 2. Do the numbers bear out that assessment?

Set 1 starts us off strong. The average value of a common is 1.996, which is pretty much spot on in terms of what we’d expect. The distribution is somewhat skewed, with a large spike at 3.0, meaning there are more premium commons, but also more fringe playables, and fewer average commons. Fire appears to be weaker than the rest, with a wide spread in power level, while Primal seems to be the most evenly-distributed. Now let’s have a look at the uncommons.

Once again, Set 1 has an absolutely beautiful distribution, with the expected peaks at 3.5 and 1.0. The average uncommon rating was 2.31, a reasonable amount higher than the commons. The factions appear to be fairly balanced, with the exception of Primal, which has fewer weak cards overall, and thus will have a higher average.

Let’s look at some more detailed numbers. The table below shows both the averages and standard deviation of the commons and uncommons, along with the expected average rating of a card in that faction that you’ll see in a pack. For those who aren’t familiar with statistics, the standard deviation is a measure of the variance in a set of data. Larger standard deviations mean that the data is more spread out; smaller standard deviations mean that the data is more clustered.

FactionAvg. Com.StD. Com.Avg. Unc.StD. Unc.
Fire1.751.132.320.97
Time1.951.112.111.36
Justice1.880.922.091.14
Primal2.030.902.611.16
Shadow1.901.002.331.09
Multi-Faction2.400.742.601.01
Neutral2.391.021.33--

 

These numbers show that Fire has the weakest commons, while Primal has the strongest by a margin of 0.08. Worth noting is the larger standard deviation of the Fire commons, where we have a couple of really premium options like Torch, along with a lot of really bad ones like Ruin.

Primal also wins at uncommon, by quite a large margin. Looking back at the distribution once more, this isn’t due to any excessively powerful uncommons. Rather, Primal just has fewer unplayable ones. As long as these uncommons aren’t oppressive–and they aren’t–having a high average score at uncommon won’t break the format.

Of course, multi-faction cards have a large impact on how strong or weak single factions are as well. For the following table, I’ve assumed that we know we are drafting each two-faction pair. With that in mind, I combine the cards from both of the factions in that pair, along with the relevant multi-faction cards to compute what kind of power level we’re likely to see, depending on our faction pair.

Faction PairAvg. Com.StD. Com.Avg. Unc.StD. Unc.
Combrei1.951.062.171.27
Elysian2.011.082.421.22
Rakano1.861.072.201.03
Stonescar1.851.142.311.05
Feln2.001.072.511.11
Praxis1.851.182.221.19
Hooru1.951.002.351.13
Argenport1.891.012.211.14
Skycrag1.891.182.471.16
Xenan1.931.092.211.26

 

These numbers bear out my experience with the format. The spread in all factions is only 0.16 at common and 0.34 at uncommon. Even the pairs that weren’t directly supported, receiving no multi-faction cards, are decently strong. The median lies at 1.91 at common and 2.27 at uncommon. Keep these numbers in mind as we compare the other sets to Set 1.

Set 2 – Omens of the Past

I enjoyed Omens draft, but I didn’t find it quite as balanced as Set 1. I almost never drafted Praxis. I did draft Skycrag sometimes, but I never had much success with it. Usually I stuck with Argenport, Xenan, or Hooru. The format was much lower-power than Set 1, both in terms of the raw power of each card, and because Set 2 rendered moot the powerful multi-faction cards found in Set 1. There were far more payoffs for drafting a critical mass of cards from a Set 2 faction, as well as a higher density of multi-faction cards at Common, so you usually found yourself heavily committed to one of the Set 2 faction pairs. This reduced the value of the multi-faction cards from Set 1, because you would often have to splash if you wanted to play them, and things like Awakened Student have much less impact when you can’t consistently land them on turn 2.

The ratings here for Set 2 have been taken in the context of Set 3, so many of the synergistic cards have been lowered in value from where they once were. These numbers aren’t reflective of the health of the Set 2 format, only Set 3. Let’s have a look…

The average rating for commons is 1.88, which is significantly below that of Set 1. This distribution is also less pretty than that of Set 1. Not only is it misshapen, but the factions are also poorly spread.  Primal, Shadow, and Fire, have zero mono-faction commons that rated at 2.5. Shadow only has two commons above that; the rest are below-average cards. Time’s biggest concentrations are at 3.0 and 1.0. Fire has nearly as many cards at 0.5 or 0.0 as it does everywhere else combined. Justice is the only faction with a nearly-even distribution between 1.0 and 3.0.

The average uncommon rating is 1.92, which is well below Set 1. The distribution looks a little more like the two-peak distribution we’d expect. The higher peak is down at 3 instead of 3.5. Once again, Fire is in the doghouse, with only three uncommons at 1.5 or better.

FactionAvg. Com.StD. Com.Avg. Unc.StD. Unc.
Fire1.461.191.130.58
Time1.821.172.291.09
Justice2.040.642.131.04
Primal1.860.911.421.15
Shadow1.460.901.421.11
Multi-Faction2.130.932.650.98
Neutral3.000.00----

 

Yowza. Justice is top dog at common by a long shot, with Time and Primal being tier two. Fire and Shadow are both atrocious. Remember how I mentioned that you’re really unhappy to be playing 1.5s and below? Well, the average Fire and Shadow common is nigh-unplayable. Same goes for Primal and Shadow uncommons. Shadow and Fire are complete and utter trash. Primal has decent commons, but very little punch at the uncommon slot.  Time does pretty well, with decent commons and the strongest uncommons. Justice is the clear winner, however, with above-average commons and the second-strongest uncommons. When it comes to drafting, strength at common is often the most important thing at determining which faction is dominant, and Justice runs away with it here.

Not only does Justice have the strongest average, but it also has a very small standard deviation. This means that the ratings are tightly clustered around the average of 2.04, resulting in fewer stone-unplayable cards. When you see a Justice card, most of the time it will be a 1.5 or above, meaning that, at the end of the draft, if you’re in Justice, you’re simply more likely to have more playables than a player who isn’t Justice. Somehow Fire’s average uncommon is 30% weaker than its average common .

The average multi-faction card is much stronger than the mono-faction cards (as they should be). Are they strong enough to pick up the slack in the other factions?

FactionAvg. Com.StD. Com.Avg. Unc.StD. Unc.
Combrei1.930.992.211.07
Elysian1.841.051.851.19
Rakano1.751.001.630.98
Stonescar1.461.071.270.92
Feln1.660.961.421.13
Praxis1.731.181.661.13
Hooru1.950.781.961.16
Argenport1.810.882.001.22
Skycrag1.771.161.361.01
Xenan1.631.122.041.21

 

The short answer is no. The Fire and Shadow factions place much lower than the factions that contain neither. Argenport and Rakano are somewhat carried by their Justice half, as Xenan and Praxis are somewhat carried by Time. The latter two are hampered by the fact that they have weak multi-faction options. Praxis’s were never too good to begin with, with such hits as Brilliant Discovery and Sandglass Sentinel. Xenan’s multi-faction cards used to be fantastic, but the complete lack of lifegain support in Set 3 has knocked them down several pegs.

The median rating is 1.76 at common and 1.76 again at uncommon. This is well below the median power level of the factions in Set 1, particularly at uncommon.

Set 3 – The Dusk Road

Much maligned for relying too much on synergies that don’t come together, Dusk Road has been the primary target of the nerfs. Certainly, Justice is by far my most drafted faction, followed by Shadow and then Fire (usually because of Whirling Duo).

Set 3 has a pretty reasonably-shaped distribution. The only problem is that it peaks a little too far to the right. The average rating for a common is 1.87, on par with Set 2’s low rating. Set 3’s distribution is better-shaped, but it really lacks premium commons. Set 2, which is of a similar size, had 28 commons at 3.0 or above. Set 3 has only 12, none of which are in Primal.

Uncommon is quite a bit different from the previous two sets. The distribution is pretty much flat between 1.0 and 3.0, which isn’t really what we want from our uncommons. There are about a third fewer cards at 3.5+ when compared to Set 2, which itself was considerably weaker than Set 1. Furthermore, two-thirds of those powerful uncommons are multi-faction, compared to about 40% in Set 2. That makes it even more unlikely that you will be able to first-pick a desirable uncommon out of your Set 3 pack, since taking multi-faction cards first overall is a major risk that is usually best avoided in favor of a slightly weaker, but mono-faction card.

Speaking of mono-faction cards, let’s have a look at some numbers.

FactionAvg. Com.StD. Com.Avg. Unc.StD. Unc.
Fire1.940.752.080.78
Time1.880.821.961.15
Justice2.190.771.570.84
Primal1.560.752.000.84
Shdow1.780.711.810.90
Multi-Faction----3.100.80
Neutral----1.0--

 

How do the faction pairs stack up? Justice is once again the clear winner at common, but it’s much weaker at uncommon. Fire is somewhat redeemed here, boasting strong averages at both common and uncommon. Time is a clear third, followed by Shadow, and then by Primal. Though Primal has relatively strong uncommons, it’s so much weaker at common than the other factions that you won’t often see Primal cards that keep you invested, even if you do first pick a solid card.

Faction PairAvg. Com.StD. Com.Avg. Unc.StD. Unc.
Combrei2.030.831.841.09
Elysian1.720.852.001.01
Rakano2.060.791.880.89
Stonescar1.860.742.000.85
Feln1.670.781.940.86
Praxis1.900.792.000.97
Hooru1.880.821.790.87
Argenport1.980.801.770.93
Skycrag1.750.892.200.97
Xenan1.830.781.941.03

 

At common, Justice takes four of the top five. That’s it, case closed, Justice is OP!

Is it, though? Look at the actual scores. Only Rakano and Combrei exceed the 2.0 threshold, and not by too big a margin. Several factions, most notably those containing Primal, are well below 2.0.

At uncommon, the Justice pairs are actually the lowest. Primal factions get a bit of a bump here, but because of the inconsistency of seeing any given uncommon, it’s not enough to help them overcome their major deficit at common. The power level of the uncommons as a whole is much weaker than that of Set 1.

The median ratings are 1.87 at common and 1.94 at uncommon. The common power level is close to that of Set 1, but uncommon is still well below the bar.

Bringing it All Together

In order to get a clear picture of how this all shakes out, let’s look at each set’s average scores side-by-side, starting at common. Since we get two packs of Set 3, I’ve included a weighted average that counts Set 3 twice.

FactionSet 1Set 2 Set 3Weighted Avg.
Fire1.751.461.941.77
Time1.951.821.881.88
Justice1.882.042.192.08
Primal2.031.861.561.75
Shadow1.901.461.781.73

 

In Sets 2 and 3, which make up 3/4 of the draft, Justice is the strongest faction, but it isn’t exceeding the 2.0 mark by that much. The more glaring departure is in how low some of the other factions are. Particularly in Set 2: Fire and Primal miss the 2.0 mark by 0.54! That is a massive margin. In Set 3, Primal misses by 0.44, and Shadow by 0.22. Both of those margins are greater than the margin that Justice is exceeding 2.0.

Can the multi-faction cards make up these deficits?

FactionSet 1Set 2Set 3Weighted Avg.
Combrei1.951.932.031.99
Elysian2.011.841.711.82
Rakano1.861.752.061.93
Stonescar1.851.461.861.76
Feln2.001.661.671.75
Praxis1.851.731.911.85
Hooru1.951.951.881.92
Argenport1.891.811.981.92
Skycrag1.891.771.751.79
Xenan1.931.631.831.81

 

This reveals what I believe to be the crux of the problem. The Justice pairs are the only ones that don’t have major drop-offs at common after Set 1. Heck, Set 2 is supposed to be THE set for Praxis, Skycrag, and Xenan, while Set 1 isn’t supposed to support those combinations. Yet, the average scores at common for those three factions take a major dip in Set 2.

Set 3, on the surface, seems as if it is supposed to support all factions. However, in my experience, Hooru, Feln, and Xenan lack any sort of identity in Set 3. Hooru seems to want to be “things with two battle skills,” but all of the payoffs are at uncommon or higher, and the cards aren’t playable on their own if you don’t get there (a 1-cost 1/1 and a 4-cost 1/5, for example).  Xenan is…I don’t even know. Dinosaurs? Nightfall? Dinos in the Dark? Feln wants to be the Unseen curse deck, but none of the payoffs are worth playing some of the terrible curses in the set. As a result, the Primal factions, Feln in particular, wind up with a major deficit in Set 3. Elysian’s score is higher in Set 2, a set which did not support that combination at all.

Remember the median scores from Set 1? At common, the median faction pair score was 1.91. Only the Justice faction pairs meet that threshold, and only Combrei really exceeds it by a decent margin.

Every non-Justice pair falls short of the mark. Praxis gets the closest, but Xenan, Skycrag, Feln, and Stonescar all miss by a larger margin than Combrei exceeds.

At uncommon, Justice is actually one of the weakest factions. However, the overall power level is quite a bit lower than we might like:

FactionSet 1Set 2 Set 3Weighted Avg.
Fire2.311.132.081.90
Time2.112.291.962.08
Justice2.092.131.571.84
Primal2.611.422.002.01
Shadow2.331.421.811.84
FactionSet 1 Set 2Set 3Weighted Avg.
Combrei2.172.211.842.01
Elysian2.421.852.002.06
Rakano2.201.631.881.90
Stonescar2.311.272.001.90
Feln2.511.421.941.95
Praxis2.221.662.001.97
Hooru2.351.961.791.97
Argenport2.212.001.771.94
Skycrag2.471.362.202.06
Xenan2.212.041.942.03

 

The median average sits at 1.97. This means that the average uncommon across the three sets is weaker than the average common should be. Time has the best uncommons at 2.08…but that is the same average as Justice gets at common! Of course Justice is going to dominate the format when its commons are just as good as the top uncommons of all factions. Again, though, this is a symptom of non-Justice factions being too weak rather than Justice itself being too strong.

Conclusions

While Justice is clearly the strongest single faction across the draft format, this analysis does not find that it is excessively strong. Rather, it finds that other factions are excessively weak, particularly at uncommon. Nerfing Justice cards will bring balance to the factions, but it will not create a more fun drafting environment. Consider two matchups, one where both players have a deck which averages a 3.0, and one where both players have a deck which averages a 1.8. In the first match, both players get to do powerful, exciting things. Even if you lose, you say to yourself, my deck was great, but my opponent’s was better. What a game! If you win, you say to yourself, awesome! I beat my opponent even though they had a really good deck!

Now consider the other case. Even if you win, you are left with the feeling that you got lucky that your dumpster fire burned a little hotter than your opponent’s dumpster fire. And if you lose, you’re left with the feeling that your deck is complete trash and you suck at drafting. Your opponent’s deck was terrible, but it still beat you.

Is that the kind of experience we want to have, especially for new players? I consider myself a skilled drafter, able to read signals and have the discipline to switch gears and abandon my first picks, and I still find myself scrambling to put together an actual deck quite often. I’ve played some real stinkers as my last few cards. It must be even worse for those who aren’t as serious about drafting.

From a design standpoint, it actually makes sense to overshoot the power level a little bit. Rather than 2.0, aim for, say, 2.2. High enough that players can build consistent, fun decks without crossing their fingers and hoping they get to 28 actual playable cards.  As long as the various factions stay balanced, that is a fine place to be. New players won’t find themselves playing complete garbage cards, and skilled drafters will be able to really put together some sweet decks.

With that in mind, Justice is fine where it is. What we need is to elevate the other factions to that level, not lower Justice to theirs. The few buffs we’ve received thus far are a good start. We need more of that. In particular, Primal, Fire, and Shadow all need significant help in Sets 2 and 3.

At the end of the day, these numbers don’t necessarily tell the whole story. After all, you need to consider power curves and synergies as well. There will be times when you take a 2.5-rated 2-drop over the 4.0-rated Pillar of Amar because you already have a few 6+ drops and really need a cheap play. Plus, it doesn’t matter if a faction is stacked with 3.5-level commons if those commons all cost 6+ power, as you won’t be able to play too many, even if you can draft them. I’ll be taking a deeper look into those things with my next little project.

Until then, for all the complaining I’ve been doing here, I’ll be drafting because that’s still the best thing to do in any card game, even if I believe the format could be improved.

 

Eternal Weekly Draft Report – Piles and Piles

At the end of last week, I was two wins away from Master. I began the week drafting Elysian, splashing Shadow for a few removal spells. Unfortunately, I forgot once again to grab a screenshot of the deck. I thought it was a powerful deck, good enough to carry me those two wins. Sadly, I got power-screwed a couple times and finished a frustrating 2-3 to start the week, leaving me now three wins from Master.

I then drafted this beauty:

Draft 2: Argenport Arcanists

Spoiler for uess my record...

7-2

 

 

I mentioned last week that the nerf to Valkyrie Arcanist might make it so that you can’t just draft a pile of them and expect to win. Turns out I was wrong.

I opened on a pair Spiritblade Stalkers and an Entrapment. Classic Justice stuff, right where I want to be, even after the nerf. Inquisitor’s Halberd followed, which pushed me into Argenport. My first Arcanist came next, then Challenge by Law. That’s a rare I’ve never played before, but hard removal is never stone unplayable in limited.

Omens of the Past was as mediocre as it usually is, giving me only 4 playable cards.  The Empty Throne was much kinder, stuffing my deck full of Lethrai Rangers and ways to get them through. The second Dusk Road pack was where things got really juicy. I picked up 2 Arcanists, Entrapment, Tandem Watchwing, Affliction, and Copperhall Marshal.

I got off to the 3-0 start I needed, which means…

Wait, did I say I was three wins away? Sorry, I meant four. ahfjagajkhgbdj

Okay, deep breaths, everything’s fine. My deck is great. I’m just going to keep playing well, and I’ll get the Master rank I deserve.

Or my opponent will get stuck on 2 power when I have a Lethrai Ranger. Whew.

I finished out this draft and climbed through Master to about rank 60. Crownwatch Press-Gang was a little suspect in the deck with only two 1-drops, but I had enough evasion that tutoring for a Minotaur Oathkeeper was a solid play. Challenge by Law proved to be playable, if not amazing. Usually the thing you want to silence is also the thing you want to kill anyway, but there were a few times I used it to kill a big ground-pounder and clear the skies for my valkyries to get there.

Arcanist might cost 6 mana now, but she’s still as annoying as ever for the opponent to deal with. And because I had so many flyers, the opponent was often in a Catch-22 position when it came to dealing with her.

Draft 3: Xenan Dredger

Spoiler for uess my record...

2-3

 

 

Riding high off my fresh Master ranking, I started off on Stonescar Sneak. I love this guy. He gives you an incredible amount of late-game inevitability for a very small cost. I followed up with some Vainglory Patrols and random gunslingers, flirting with justice along the way. When I opened Memory Dredger in pack 2, I felt really good. Pack 3 blessed me with Plague, followed by Execute. Nothing could possibly go wrong.

Pack 4 was the worst pack I could possibly imagine. I first-picked Vainglory Patrol over nothing else. My second pack had zero shadow cards and no playable time ones. Other than a second, very late Vainglory Patrol, I picked up nothing but extremely mediocre junk like Duskcaller and more Baying Serasaurs than I could ever want. Serasaur is fine when you’ve got some dino synergies to go with it, but I didn’t have any of that. I wound up having to play Subvert as my last card, but I probably should have just played 18 power (since that’s all Subvert ever hits: power).

Still, I started off 2-0, peaking at rank 38. Memory Dredger was fantastic, returning all my random 2s that I traded off. Unfortunately, 2 was where the winning stopped, as I started running into players with actual synergistic decks instead of leaning on bombs.

Draft 4: Breaking Safe Return

 

Spoiler for uess my record...

5-3

 

 

After that disappointing finish, I dropped back below 100. I opened a rather unexciting pack, with some middle-of-the-road playables and a Crest of Wisdom. I took the Crest, staying open. You might notice that the Crest isn’t in the final deck, and you’d be right. I must have completely overlooked it in deckbuilding, and then totally forgot I drafted it until I looked at my notes to do this writeup. Whoops. On the bright side, I don’t think I ever flooded out, so it would have probably been only a marginal upgrade.

I second-picked Extinguish, then followed up with a Trail Maker over Vainglory Patrol. Took Nocturnal Creeper third out of a very weak pack. Auric Record Keeper came fourth, which is a card that goes later than a 3-power 4/4 with upside should go because Combrei isn’t really a supported tribal archetype. Not much else playable came out of this pack. I took a few mediocre fire cards over nothing, but I wasn’t feeling too good.

I opened a foil Crownwatch Press-Gang and a Noble Firemane as the only two notable cards in pack 2. I didn’t feel like fire was really open, so I went with the money draft/higher upside of the foil Press-Gang, even though I didn’t yet have any 1-drops. I took Streetwise Informant over not much, and it began to look like I was going fully three-color in this one. Sleepless Night came third, again over nothing. Highbranch Sentry (aka a vanilla 3/3) followed. 6th pick, I moneydrafted a Champion of Fury because there were, yet again, no playables.

Glad to be out of that horror show and back to real cards, I first-picked a Clockroach over Rapid Shot and a Lethrai Ranger. I really didn’t want to be committed to shadow if I didn’t have to be. Unfortunately, I had to take an Amethyst Acolyte second, but I got back on track with Vanquish and a pair of Towering Terrazons. Then I picked up an Awakened Student sandwiched by Safe Returns.

I still wasn’t thrilled, but it began to look like there was a decent Combrei-splash-shadow deck lining up. I took a pick-1 Duskwalker in pack 3, not ideal but not unplayable either. Frenzied Omnivore came next, followed by two Frontier Confessors.

So that’s how I ended up with this pile. Safe Return was definitely the MVP. Resetting the killer on Frenzied Omnivore won me several matches, as well as protecting a swole Awakened Student from their one way to deal with it.

It also did a fantastic job of resetting Frontier Confessors. At 4-1, I ran into a Praxis Sentinel deck with not one, not two, but three Monolith Guardians. I combined Frontier Confessor and both Safe Returns to silence two of them and a Seasoned Spelunker. I dealt with the third by trading a Nocturnal Creeper for it.

Sleepless Night was actually pretty good for me. I had enough Nightfall that I was hitting all my power drops. If it looked uncastable, I discarded it to Frenzied Omnivore. It directly won me two games where we had exchanged resources and then I got to draw 8 cards.

Unfortunately, I went from 5-1 to 5-3. My last-round opponent comboed off with Sureshot to kill me just before they were about to die. Curse you, Ornamental Daggers!

Final Tally: 16-11 (48-28 overall).

Not the best week, but not the worst either. It was good enough to get me to Master, where I’m currently hanging around in the 60s. I’ll probably do a few more drafts before the reset, but my time may be devoted to Magic for a bit, starting on Wednesday with the return of Cuuuuuuuuuube!

Card of the Week goes to Safe Return. Despite being fairly mediocre in previous formats because it’s such a negative tempo card that doesn’t generate card advantage on its own, the Dusk Road draft format is a lot slower than previous formats. When both players are struggling to assemble synergies, setting yourself back on mana to protect a big threat or generate card advantage isn’t so punishing.

Soapbox time: Set 2 should get the hell out of my draft format. I mentioned this last week, but I feel like going into more detail this time. It was already a fairly low-power set compared to Set 1, but Dusk Road rendered half of the already-scant playables useless. Lifeforce and Mentor synergy cards are garbage now, because you can’t draft enough of the pieces around them. Sure, some of the cards like Roosting Owl, Sparring Partner, Minotaur Oathkeeper, and weapons are just sold cards overall, but stuff like Voyaging Lumen is just a vanilla 5/5 for 6 most of the time. You can’t go deep on Bloodcall Invocations anymore because there aren’t enough lifegain cards to make it consistent. Many of the Xenan commons, in particular, were devoted to the Lifeforce deck, which can’t really exist in the Dusk Road format. There’s one repeatable lifegain effect in the Xenan factions in Dusk Road, and it’s a 1-cost relic that won’t do anything if you don’t have one or two of your payoffs.

A lot of the playable-but-mediocre cards lack the right tribes. Nobody wants Unseen or Elementals or Minotaurs or Mystics or Radiants or Centaurs or Warriors or Soldiers or Mages, all of which appear on multiple commons/uncommons in Omens. Omens has some nice Hooru cards…except that Hooru isn’t really supported in Dusk Road, so you’re unlikely to be prepared to take advantage of things like Aerialist Trainer or Shelterwing Rider with their demanding influence requirements.

What about Skycrag, though? That was a supported faction in Omens, and we’ve got Yeti tribal in Dusk Road! One problem…Skycrag in Omens has exactly 4 Yetis, one of them rare. None of them are real payoffs for being the Yeti deck. Sure, you can pick up some Mortars if you’re lucky enough to have them opened in your pod, but you’re not going to get much tribal help here. Fire doesn’t even have a single yeti.

Praxis in Dusk Road wants you to have Sentinels and Explorers and Relics.  Praxis in Omens has…three explorers at common, but only one is really a card worth playing unless you have serious payoffs. In my opinion, Praxis is the biggest offender because some of these cards could easily have been explorers. Excavation Assistant barely has a reason to exist as-is. Couldn’t we at least have made it into an explorer instead of a machine? It has three mages at common or uncommon. Two of the lifeforce cards are a cultist and a mystic, but could we not have found a way to make them flavorfully explorers? I’m not saying these should all have been explorers, but it would be nice to have a least a few of them. Amber Ring is the best card for the Sentinel deck here, but it’s uncommon and you may not ever even see one. Fire in Omens is straight-up worthless for the Praxis deck. Not a single explorer OR sentinel OR playable relic.

Argenport does a little better. Even though its multicolor common, Auric Bully, fails the tribe test, it’s a very playable 2-drop that synergizes with a universal mechanic, weapons. Shadow is not very deep because of the aforementioned lifeforce problem. Justice has a million playable units, but so many are soldiers or minotaurs or unseen that it’s tough to make synergies come together. There are a few valkyries, and one random gunslinger (why just one???) at uncommon in Minotaur Duelist.  Stonepoweder Alchemist is also a gunslinger, but requires a full Argenport commitment. Argenport gets by because it has decent weapons and pump spells that are always decent things to have in draft, not because it’s actually at all synergistic with Dusk Road themes.

Another thing to note is the density of Justice cards that remain playable out of Omens. The recent balance changes have been aimed at taking Justice down a peg, and rightly so. In my opinion, this is because Justice has so many generically-playable cards out of Omens of the Past. When other decks are drafting effectively three packs and Justice is drafting four, of course it’s going to be dominant. Instead of fixing the cross-set synergies, they’ve just nerfed Justice cards twice. Honestly? I still think Justice is the best faction because you’re just less likely to draw blanks in one-fourth of your draft.

So, of all the faction pairs that Omens of the Past was created to support, none of them have any cohesion with Dusk Road themes whatsoever.  And of course, if you’re in one of the other five faction pairs, you can’t take advantage of any of the multicolor cards in Omens, which are where a large amount of the power lies. Note that my analysis hasn’t considered rares or legendaries. They don’t show up often enough to matter in the overall draft environment. Empty Throne doesn’t help out as much with the synergies

I feel like, outside of bomb rares, pack 2 has added little, if anything to my deck in any of the Dusk Road drafts I’ve done. Why is it here? What’s wrong with 3-1-3-1? If you’re concerned about new players building their collections, bump the Omens of the Past drop rate from gold chests. Pay out 2:1 Omens:Empty Throne. Or, instead of just tweaking things in Dusk Road, buff some of the unplayable commons in Omens.

 

 

 

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