Reevaluating: When fringe becomes mainstream

Hello everyone! This will be another history article of sorts, talking about Eternal’s past. In every card game there are cards that fly under the radar for a long time, lacking either the proper deck or the proper amount of testing to bring them to the fore. Today I’m going to talk about some of today’s staples that took some time to catch on.

Sparring Partner

Sparring Partner

Sparring Partner is a card that was never bad per se, but it was definitely a card that did not see a lot of play. Back when Rakano was considered a budget deck, new players weren’t willing to invest in an unproven rare and those with collections were working on other decks. Once Chrno’s Plate Rakano made players take a serious look at the archetype, Sparring Partner remained on the sidelines as players only played 8 to 12 one drops. At the time, Morningstar was a 2 power 3/2 and offered enough survivability and power that playing a card with immediate impact like Oni Ronin, Pyroknight or Fearless Nomad made more sense. After Nomad, Plate, and Morningstar all received their nerfs in Patch v1.11, Rakano decks lacked the late game power of Plate and so needed to search for better aggressive options. Their two cost weapon of choice was Ornate Katana, which offered no surivability to the x/1s that were being shot down en mass by a format rife with Vara’s Favors and Lightning Storms. Sparring Partner offered the deck a survivable one drop that put the opponent on a very fast clock when combined with any weapon. He’s taken over the place that Fearless Nomad used to have in Rakano Warcy, and is starting to break into Stonescar Aggro lists.

Bandit Queen

Bandit Queen

While I’ve discussed how this card rose to prominance in a previous article, I’d like to take a moment to discuss how a card that defined an entire archetype managed to fly under the radar for so long. The first Stonescar decks, like the first Rakano decks, were budget builds focusing on sacrifice synergies. With Madness costing only two power, the tempo advanges from Madness + Combust or Madness + Devour were too powerful to ignore. As such, players stuffed their decks with cards like Slumbering Stone and Dark Wisp to make good use of these sacrifice cards even without Madness, usually capping their curve with Ravenous Thornbeast and Umbren Reaper. This deck played a lot of lower power cards that worked together to burn the opponent out, and it rarely had enough units in play to make Bandit Queen a consideration. Even once players shifted into playing Stonescar Tokens, many prefered Impending Doom as their 4 drop of choice and preferred Rally as their pump spell of choice. These token decks were also not dedicated to speed, playing a lot of extraneous spells like the Madness + Combust combo, which weakened it board presence. In hindsight, its difficult to say why players didn’t go for Bandit Queen, but at the time you got a lot of free wins simply by playing a Rally or two at fast speed after your opponent failed to block enough of your units. Once players played with Queen, they quickly realized that forcing your opponent to chump all your guys or just die was preferable to Rally’s common effect of making all your guys trade, and Bandit Queen has cemented itself as a pillar of the archetype.

The Witching Hour

Witching Hour

The Witching Hour has been a fun-of in Feln decks since the game began, but took a long time to see any dedicated play. Most of the problem with the card was the hefty six shadow influence requirement. Before Peppr discovered colorfixing strangers, it simply wasn’t possible to get to six shadow influence except in the slowest of two faction decks. Some players tried to play The Witching Hour in mono Shadow decks, but those decks lacked the tools to truly enable the card. Once the stranger technology had been developed, Witching Hour saw play as a finisher in many Feln Control decks, but was never the centerpiece. The card really took off with the release of Scouting Party, forming the infamous Party Hour deck. Witching Hour serves as an important reminder that there are many underplayed cards out there that only need a single new card or two to make a whole new archetype.

Shimmerpack

Shimmerpack

Shimmerpack is a really weird card that asks players to figure out what the heck to do with is. Historically, all most players had done with it was target the wrong player when one shows up off of Siraf. Shimmerpack sat dormant and unused for months until brave brewer Peppr once again took Eternal by storm with his Shimmer Party combo deck. All the pieces for a successful deck were already there, we just needed to put them together. Shimmerpack serves as an important reminder that not all combo cards are missing peices, we just might not be looking hard enough.

Feln Bloodcaster

Feln Bloodcaster

Feln Bloodcaster is a little different from the other cards on this list, as it received a large function change that led to it seeing play. Right when Bloodcaster received its ultimate, many players including myself were intially skeptical of the ultimate being impactful enough to warrant inclusion “because there’s no way you’d want a random 2/5”. Well, as Combrei Healer has shown us, we had been dramatically undervaluing 2/5s in constructed. Both Bloodcaster and Healer’s are fantastic blockers against aggressive decks and even some midrange threats, and the ultimate gives Bloodcaster late game utility and turns it into a legitimate threat verses control decks. Bloodcaster now sees widespread play in midrange and control decks alike as a versatile blocker/late game threat.

The Last Word

The Last Word

Long relegated to bulk legendary status, I actually managed to pick up FIVE copies of The Last Word card in draft with five or fewer cards in the pack. Considering it was worth 800 shiftstones, this should speak volumes for how undesireable this card was seen as. The Last Word definitely had the longest road to legitimacy, and is indeed still thought to be fringe playable by some players. Thought to be far too fragile to be a serious win condition, even for control decks, players combined it with Azindel’s Gift to offer protection by stripping opponents of their hands. Some even went a step further and granted themselves Aegis with Eilyn’s Favor or Protect. All this protection allowed players to actually play the Last Word, and it does kill the opponent in two turns or less. It now serves as a solid victory condition in decks like Feln Control and JPS Control.

There are many more cards that took some time to catch on, or shifted in and out of mainstream play depending on the metagame, but these are the main recent examples of cards that went from seeing little to no play to being format staples. I look forward to see what other great cards we’re currently overlooking!