Going Deep – Pushed Cards

Over the time that I have been in the Eternal Beta there have been some recurring conversations about specific cards being “imbalanced” or “too good”. “Why is Sandstorm Titan so good? Don’t they know it is better than every other 4 drop?!” “Why is Siraf a billion times better than Ijin? Surely DWD could better balance them!”Eternal has a number deliberately pushed cards that are important in shaping the overall environment, but some people take issue with this.  Today I want to address some of the reoccurring themes within these conversations with the hope of advancing these discussions through discussing principles of card game design. The point is not to determine if any given card is “imbalanced”, but rather help develop the understanding of the community of why some cards are better than others.

Before I launch into this, I will give a bit of a preface. Firstly, nothing that I am saying has been endorsed by Dire Wolf Digital. Although I have probably had more direct conversations with DWD employees than the average player, they have not given me special information on these subjects. I would classify myself as a “game design enthusiast”, and have consumed tons of content on the subject, but I do not have any formal training. I am also interested in taking input from others, and really welcome feedback. There is still plenty of room to develop my own thinking on this subject. With all that out of the way, we can get started.

What are Pushed Cards?

Many of you may have heard that XYZ is a ‘pushed’ card, but what does this term mean, and why do game designers deliberately push cards? A good definition of the term might be “a card that is obviously and deliberately powerful”, or maybe “a card that is significantly above average on purpose”. One of the most obvious examples in Eternal is Sandstorm Titan. This card has more stats than any other 4-drop, has no downside, and has two great abilities. This is pretty obviously pushed. It is also possible for spells to be pushed. Wisdom of the Elders may not be as obviously pushed as Sandstorm Titan, but this spell is incredibly powerful. The ability to threaten a removal spell or draw 2 on your opponent’s turn for only 3 power is extremely strong. There are many other examples we can come up with in both Eternal and in other games such as Smuggler’s Copter in Magic: the Gathering, and Tirion Fordring from Hearthstone.

The concept of a pushed card is pretty easy to grasp, but the reasoning why creators intentionally make pushed cards might be harder to understand. Don’t game designers want to create a “balanced” environment? Some people may have the callous response that the purpose of pushed cards is to “sell packs”, where players need to spend tons of money before they have access to competitive decks. I don’t think this is a fair explanation. In Eternal, two great examples of pushed cards are Oni Ronin and Torch. These are extremely powerful cards and they are commons. If everything were about selling packs, there is no universe in which Crownwatch Paladin is an uncommon while Retribution is a Legend.

Properly pushed cards are actually very good for card games. Mark Rosewater, head designer for Magic the Gathering (easily the most influential card designer of all time) had this to say about developing sets to have a flat power level:

It’s one of those things some players think they want, but would be miserable if we actually gave it to you. – Mark Rosewater, 20/8/2016, Blogatog

Now, let’s start breaking down some of the many things pushed cards do and why they are good. I am going to begin with the most practical reasons I am aware of, and move to more theoretical reasoning (these are not in a hierarchy of importance but of “obtuseness”).

“Flagship” Cards (also selling packs)

How do card game developers sell you their game? They show you sweet cards! Whether it is big dragons or awesome swords or massive fireballs, they are going to try and hook you on the coolest cards they have to offer. Powerful cards are exciting to people, and are an important tool for selling their game.

Above I said that “selling packs” isn’t the primary reason to create pushed cards, and here I seem to contradict myself. Let’s be real here though – obviously the game developers are looking to sell their product, but I don’t feel the rational people use for “selling packs” is quite right. Many people will say “Siraf is a Legend because DWD wants us to open a billion packs to play top tier decks”, but what I am saying here is “Powerful flagship cards like Siraf are an important part in attracting people to your game.” There is a subtle distinction here that I feel paints the developers in a more favourable light.

Comfort and Signposts

Pushed cards can provide signposts for people to find the strategies they like. If you are coming from a card game background and had particular interest in being more aggressive or controlling, it probably didn’t take you too long to get an idea about which decks fit that strategy best. Do you like aggression? Oni Ronin and Torch are clear signposts of where to go. Do you like control? Wisdom of the Elders and Harsh Rule are great places to start. These types of pushed cards are important for people to feel comfortable in the environment and get a sense of where to begin.

It should be emphasized that comfort is a useful element of game design, and is a recurring aspect in the design of most games. First person shooter games usually have a sniper rifle, a shotgun, a big bazooka and so on. Real time strategy games all have small swarming units, the fast flying units and the huge tanks. Think of any genre of game and their will likely be some recurring themes between different games within that genre. Are there exceptions to this? Yes, obviously, but the general rule is still true. These reoccurring motifs are especially important in card games, as they tend to have more “pieces” than most other types of games, and therefore having pushed cards helps guide you to the various available strategies.

One game that uses pushed cards as signposts very consistently is Magic: the Gathering, especially in the case of limited. They often have cycles of pushed multicolour cards at uncommon to give a loud message to players on what a certain color pair is “about”. Take for example the card below. You basically don’t need to know anything about Magic or the format to be able to guess that white-red may have a “vehicle matters” theme. Clear signs such as this found on pushed cards are a huge help to new and experienced players alike.


Providing Variety

Card games rely on a variety of play styles to be available to the players. Above I said that pushed cards act as signposts for finding archetypes and providing the comfort of having certain types of effects, but that is all about finding the archetype. Here I am talking about actually playing the archetype. Pushed cards do a spectacular job in defining the play style of a given deck. Sandstorm Titan makes the game about big dumb monsters and board stalls. Harsh Rule encourages unit light strategies that are looking to go long, and forces both players to contort their play. Smuggler’s Stash encourages playing a mix of both units and weapons, but with grindy mindset. In order for games to not be repetitive it is important that different cards actually feel different, and pushing cards in specific directions helps in creating that identity.

It is also important to remember here that balance happens at the level of decks rather than the level of cards. We want a healthy ecosystem of a variety of deck with different strengths/weaknesses. Individual cards can be a bit over the line as long as the decks that tend to play these cards still have some inherent weaknesses. A classic example of this is Combrei, which has a collection of truly remarkable cards, but also has several systematic weaknesses it struggles to overcome.

Healthy Play Patterns – Helping You Find the Fun

Next, let’s talk about “play patterns”. The term “play pattern” refers to sequences of plays in the course of a game that share certain characteristics. These may involve the same exact cards, or use interchangeable pieces that accomplish similar goals. For example, the Rakano “pants” deck is built around a very specific play pattern. First you play a cheap unit (usually with Warcry), which you then equip it with Weapons, and compliment with a few removal spells to clear the way. This exact sequence could be Oni Ronin + Elder’s Feather + Vanquish or Rakano Outlaw + Shogun’s Sceptre + Torch. There are obviously different strengths and weakness to each of these exact lines of play, but both follow a similar “play pattern”.

Players and developers have slightly different incentives when it comes to the preferred play patterns. On the one hand, players are simply attracted to the most powerful play patterns. Although a subset of players will choose to do the “fun” thing, most will gravitate towards whatever wins the most. Developers, on the other hand, want users to engage in play patterns that are fun and interactive. It is actually on the developers to make sure the “fun” play patterns overlap with the “powerful” play patterns. If the most powerful thing to do in a game is not fun players will gravitate towards the winning strategies despite this. In addition, they will blame developers for making a bad game because the “winningest” way to play isn’t fun, even though there may be more fun (but less winning) ways to play the game. The developers must therefore lead the player to ‘the fun’ by making sure it overlaps with what is powerful.

This section is going to come off as mighty subjective because of the word “fun”. Fun is a vague term, but I am not going to go into it here as that will be a bit of a tangent, but let’s pretend that we agree on what the term “fun” means. A “fun” play pattern is usually one that allows for interaction and decision-making. Although some games involving Rakano Aggro may not require a ton of meaningful decisions, the Rakano player is often faced with tough decisions on how to sequence threats, how much to go “all in”, and how to utilize their limited removal optimally. The opponent needs to make tough and interesting choices about how to spend their limited removal, when to chump, multi-block or counter-attack. Interesting decisions are being made on both sides, so it seems like this is a play pattern you would want to encourage!

Another good example of the type of play style developers will want to push is having games end. The best examples of this is clearly Siraf. If you have read my Combrei article (also known as my 5000 word love letter to Siraf), you should understand how important she is to finishing midrange mirrors. There is only so long an opponent can battle against an endless parade of beefy monsters before they are beaten into submission. If it were not for her, many Combrei mirrors would devolve into a miserable staring contest. The “activate Siraf and bury your opponent with oversized monsters” play pattern allows games to actually finish!

I want to take a moment here to emphasize the difficulty of a game developer’s job. Designing some cards that are interesting and do original things is challenging, but developers have to actually mould these cards into a game that is fun. It is a complex task of determining which play patterns are the most fun for the most people, which cards best promote those play patterns, and then balance the cards properly to best achieve this fun. That is an exceptionally difficult!

Providing Answers to Healthy Play Patterns

As much as developers want to encourage fun play patterns, they also don’t want any type of play pattern to get out of hand. It is important for an environment to have pushed answer cards to deal with potential threats from your opponents. When you were reading the section above there were probably some of you that thought “Hey, I don’t actually think it is very fun to play against Rakano. There are a ton of games where I just get run over by a turn 1 Oni Ronin wearing 10 tons of armor!”. If that is the case, then you should be thankful that there are a number of pushed answer cards. Annihilate is pushed. Scorpion Wasp is pushed. Harsh Rule is pushed. You get the idea. These answer cards are a great way to attack the various threats that exist in the format.

One card that I see people complain about often is Desert Marshall, which I find surprising. People will argue that it is too good, and stops too many “fun” strategies. I certainly understand that it sucks to have your neat synergy invalidated by this pesky 2/2, but he is an important part of keeping the format stable. Dawnwalker based strategies would be much more powerful if Marshall were not around, and killer Dawnwalker mirrors sound terrible. The Haunting Scream deck would be totally intolerable if there were no efficient answers to it in the form of cards like Desert Marshall. I have sometimes said that given the developers did not truly know what the meta game would actually look like, it would be best to push cards that err on the side of making the game “too fair” rather than “too unfair”. Given where we are now, I wouldn’t be shocked if there were not an abundance of super-efficient void-hate and silence effects released in set 2 as the game currently seems well saturated.

Pushed Cards Make Game More Skill Intensive

The last reason for pushed cards actually relates to increasing the skill intensity of the game. According to many, the opposite is true, so I am going to run through this argument carefully. Here I am going to need to describe 3 possible worlds. The first is a world in which the power level is flat, the second is a world with variable power level, and the third is a world in which there are cards that are overpowered.

A flat power level implies that all cards are balanced to be roughly similar in quality. Mark Rosewater has said that during design the power level of cards is flat, balanced such that everything is at the correct power for limited (draft) play. Such an environment is very low in skill, since it will almost always be correct to just cast the most expensive card in your hand. You don’t need to make as many hard choices about card value relative to board state and deck composition; everything is close to equivalent. There is always skill in sequencing and assessing minor advantages that can be gained from keen observation, but this is greatly diluted. Deck building also becomes low skill, as card choice becomes irrelevant.

An environment where there is a variable power level becomes much more skill intensive. Firstly, deck building becomes more challenging. Of course you want to jam as many pushed cards into your deck, and leave out the weaker cards, but there is a limit in the number of excellent cards that are hanging around. You need to identify what is best, which becomes harder and harder as you move down the list. In addition, you need answers to the best cards from your opponent’s deck. It isn’t enough to just have a random sample of cards that are good, since your opponent’s best cards may be much better than your answers if you are not careful. Game play becomes more interesting too. The value of cards will tend to move up and down much more depending on what is happening in the game. In flat power level world the most important cards will generally just be the highest cost card in play. In variable power world, this is often not the case, as context becomes more important. The skill of the game goes up as a result, since you must keep track of what matters and why, rather than just following what costs the most. You are also forced to come up with creative lines of play when you draw your less powerful cards and you opponents draw their more powerful cards. Sure they have the advantage, but is their a way to combine these low power cards to actually counter my opponent’s strongest threats? That leads to some of the most interesting games.

Overpowered world is an overextension of this. A card is overpowered (OP) when it has a substantially higher power level to anything else, and there are insufficient answers to the card. When some cards are significantly better than everything else the format warps around it and makes the format low skill. Deck building becomes all about playing your OP cards, answering your opponent’s OP cards and nothing else. Games are decided by who draws the most OP cards and nothing else. A good sign that a card is OP is that, regardless of match up, everything revolves around these same cards. In Eternal, the best example I can recall is Morningstar in draft back when it was a 3/2 Weapon at common. The game was all about turn 1 idiot turn 2 Morningstar. It was very hard to beat almost regardless of what your opponent was playing. These are not games that are decided by tight play or crucial decisions. These are games decided by drawing the right cards in your opening hand. In addition, it is essentially impossible to combine lower powered cards to oppose the most busted cards from the opponent.

With this breakdown, I hope I have convinced you that in order for the game to be as skill testing as possible we want cards to have a range of power level, but not be OP. Once again, this is hard to achieve when creating a game. Developers don’t get a clear sign of when they cross the line to OP, and there will always be some segments of the player-base that disagree with your choice.

Subjectivity, and the Greater Good

As a closing note to this relatively theoretical topic, I am going to discuss a larger philosophical point. Many of the things I have described ultimately feed into subjective assessments. What play patterns are “fun”? What is the appropriate power level of answer cards? Where is the line between OP and merely pushed? What is best for the game? Anyone who has hard-and-fast answers to these questions hasn’t thought hard enough about them.

Not only are these questions challenging, game designers have an added level of difficulty as they must answer these questions for everyone. You can obviously do market research on some of these issues. Magic, for example, has done extensive research to determine play patterns and card types that are more or less popular with the player base. At the same time though, if you look at that quote from Mark Rosewater, people don’t really know what is best for them. A classic example of this that he cites in many places is how people say they want more and more powerful cards, but in reality this will eventually lead to serious problems with power creep. This doesn’t mean that we should always take a stance of “game creators know best”, as some cards end up being improperly balanced despite the best efforts of creators. We have already seen a number of balance changes in this game. At the end of the day, a DWD’s job is very difficult, and they are trying to make the best game possible. Hopefully though, the next time someone writes about how Sandstorm Titan should be nerfed just because it is overstated, you can respond with “Well, it is more complicated than that…”

That’s all for today folks! Big-picture theory articles are difficult to write, so I hope some people found this interesting. I would be more than happy to engage with these ideas in the corresponding Reddit thread. If you enjoy this kind of content, please let me know! I am always looking for feedback to help direct my efforts.


  1. It is hard to respond to a long comment like this easily. I encourage you to get into contact with me on discord (im Neon #3989) to talk about this, if you are interested. There are clearly several layers that for which i can attempt to explain my reasoning.

  2. Hi,

    Seeing a post like this honestly make me hesitate to play your game.

    At points of this post I will express some negative emotions, but I just want to better paint many players’ feelings on this before I move on to key analysis. I’m not mad at you or anything.

    As someone who started with Hearthstone, then got deep into MTG, then tried enjoying other card games, I’m frustrated with certain recurring issues in card games.

    The three issues are cost, design, and balance.

    Obviously, some formats of Magic in particular are absolutely unreasonably expensive. A deck should not cost $300+. That is the price of a video game console, not stand-in symbols for game pieces.

    The second issue is design. A lot of magic formats are undesirable to me and others because their environment warps play in often unenjoyable ways. Modern MTG is full of linear decks with incredibly fast wins that often make magic more about “Roll a Dice, Compare your top 10 card, next game” than decisionmaking and interesting interactions.Yugioh is a more extreme example of this. Or how Hearthstone has issues with severe randomness. Formats are often either blindlingly fast in a way that removes some of the major attractions of card games, or disruption is so good that synergistic play is meaningless which also removes some of the major attractions of card games. At this point, I have limited interest in playing Generic Aggro / Midrange / Control Deck # 42085285 as far as constructed is concerned.

    It seems to me that, naturally, your game had a decent chance of avoiding these first two issues.

    But it seems that you want to repeat the mistake of countless other formats where t he format is bad because of 1-3 top decks that are only exceedingly good because of 2-9 pushed cards.

    Of course, there have been formats that have been bad for reasons besides pushed cards, but those happen less and less with experienced card design teams. The frustrating issue is, over and over, “Ah, once again I am losing a match simply because they have/drew their most pushed card and I did not.”

    I adored the ways that Force of Will(the card game, not the card) improved on Magic’s ruleset, but then the environment was not only badly warped but there were hilariously pushed cards.

    Standard MTG was recently looking like it would get good again with a variety of vastly different decks, but then the pushed cards of WU flash, GB delirium, and Smuggler’s Copter defined the whole god damn thing.

    I’m honestly just sick of it. Like, why tease me with synergies when they are just literally going to be irrelevant because of a few cards the developer decided to make the best for flimsy reasons? Do not put those exciting deck designs in my face if I cannot play them without getting trounced. If the only good decks are “The obviously best 1 to 4 cost cards in the format in A&B color and C&D color” then just tell me up front so that I know what i’m getting into, so that I can probably just go somewhere else to search for a format that is enjoyable to me.

    Your arguments, honestly, do not really make sense to the extent of the cards you’re discussing.

    Yes, sometimes you do have pushed cards that provide important support. For example, imagine a weak MTG format. The cards in this format are below the power of Standard’s by a large margin. However, the format may still have cards like Faithless Looting, Treasure Cruise or Rampant Growth- Standard-worthy-power cards- because they are fundamentally support cards and allow archetypes of weak cards to grow around them. The power of these cards is relative.

    Pushed “relative” power cards can easily be fine and allow for decks that aren’t naturally good to be decent, allowing for variety and thus enjoyment.

    However, generic “Whoops, this generic creature is absurdly strong” are almost never sensical.

    The “signposts” notion is taken to extremes here. Any additional achievement of this goal through pushed cards seems very likely to be miniscule compared to the impact on “have an enjoyable game”, and you don’t provide any reason to believe that you actually need a super pushed card to be a signpost. A control card or midrange creature can be one of the five best cards in the format and a sizable “signpost” without actually being heavily pushed. It is, at best, an after-the-fact justification, and not a significant force to make a card pushed.

    The play pattern guiding thing is a reasonable point- if various design constraints set rather unhealthy combo decks at a certain power level, but you don’t want to exclude them entirely, then you may need certain pushed cards to comfortably keep combo down so that gameplay remains enjoyable for most people. Still, I find that pushed cards usually overdo it, and that what often happens is that formats end up as a chain of pushed cards in reaction to each other, creating an awful mess that would’ve been solved with a more even power level. If a 2/2 silence is so important to keeping synergistic strategies down, then several mistakes seem to have been made. A 2/2 flash for 2 should not effectively 2-1 a variety of cards if they’re synergistic, but then do nothing for cards if they’re goodstuff. That’s too low of a price unless you’re making some sort of very high power level format. “Oh boy, I lost because they had the cheap, easy answer on a nice body. What a brilliant play and deckbuilding decision.”

    The most important problem with this article is arguments against flat, or close-to-flat, power level. There only seems to be one justification presented for this: “If the power level is flat, then you just want to cast the most expensive card in your hand and decisionmaking is very simple.”

    But this is just nonsense. Even if we accept your argument that this is true, ultimately what does having some pushed cards do? It just means that some cards that normally would be valued at 5 can be cast for 3, in which case, the decision is supposedly just “Cast the most *effectively* expensive spell you can cast.” The entire frame of that argument doesnt even justify its own solution.

    But ignoring that, the argument is ridiculous. In matches with equal power level cards you still make decisions the same way as normal with lots of depth. If you can use a crucial offensive card, like a bounce, to give you a great offensive push so that you can threaten lethal now or next turn and force your opponent to burn cards on defense, you do that instead of playing a bomb that is slower to impact board. Or if your opponent used some synergy to make a huge threat, you want to cast your normal kill spell rather than casting your now-inferior bomb. These things happen at extremely high frequencies whether or not pushed cards are present. Context is already massively important, and trying to make it more important at the cost of ruining the meta is at best an extremely risky trade.

    “Sure they have the advantage, but is their a way to combine these low power cards to actually counter my opponent’s strongest threats? That leads to some of the most interesting games.” Obviously already happens in scenarios where they draw more heavy cost cards than you, for example.

    “Deck building also becomes low skill, as card choice becomes irrelevant.” is honestly just a nonsense sentence. Metas are still relevant. Finding out the best synergy is still relevant. All the normal conditions that make deckbuilding skillful are still there. The biggest enemy is still the biggest enemy. The idea that deck building is more challenging when you can just start off with 4-16 autoincludes because they’re so powerful is hilarious- you weren’t challenged, you had half your deck automatically made for you! You didn’t have to think half as much as you would about your plan, your synergy, and your answers. Have you ever made a deck where your choice is between something like a generic 2/2 with a small effect and a 1/3 with a different small effect? It really makes you think about what will work best for your deck, rather than simply jamming in the 3/3 with upside. It is a real deckbuilding challenge.

    Pushed cards are a bane of formats. In an environment where constructed is defined by 300 cards at, say, a “power level of 7”, you have a variety of decks that allow for people to enjoy what they want to play and answer top decks healthy. But with a mere 30 cards defining everything at a power level of 10, the ability for the developer to actually create a healthy meta is incredibly limited because the ability for players to deal with the meta is incredbily limited, and so they get frustrated and bored since they cannot even reasonably successfully play the archetypes they would most enjoy. Normally X tempo deck would prey upon the goodstuff deck decently well, but when the goodstuff deck gets all the pushed cards, that answer simply cannot be chosen and so you have an artificially stagnant meta in which the developers’ arbitrary decisions lock the meta into a small amount of cycling in which players have insufficient means to adapt. Power creep is a natural result in order to help players be able to fight things- but then you invalidate other formerly-fantastic archetypes- and you just keep going on and on with whack-a-mole.

    As someone who has designed a currently-private constructed format, I empathize with the incredible and unpredictable difficulties of balancing a card game. But pushed cards are only OK in very specific uses, and not as a general thing to try to do in order to increase skill, and the damage they inflict on a meta is almost always more than the damage they fix.

    On a less analytical, less severe note, I would like to say that while I enjoy weapons synergy and the fact that your game has relics, I’m a little sad at the flavor of it.

    Auras in MTG have a wonderful flavor to me, ranging from physical impediments to a variety of magical enhancement. An aura can be a spirit, a burst of magical heroism, a weapon, a plague, a feverous reckless fury, a blessing from angels, a curse, and so on. To see that card category reduced to just weapons really sucks a lot of the excitement I normally have about auras out of me.

    Relics are not as severe a case, but I love the variety flavor wise among enchantments/artifacts in MTG, from typical “relics” to things like Thassa’s Ire, Aggressive Mining, Bad Moon, Expeditions/Quests, Wheel of Sun and Moon, Titania’s Song, Sigil of the Empty Throne. There’s a lot of room for the abstract and the magical in noncreature permanents in MTG, and it makes me sad that Eternal lacks this. I’m not upset at you or anything like that though, just disappointed and wanted to pass that comment along.

    Lastly, Oni are great. 😛

    Have a lovely day.

  3. Ah, I missed it because I really felt the nerfs were aimed at Rakano in constructed. For instance, fearless nomad went from “maybe” to “unplayable”. Morningstar went from “maybe” (you could have run feather, glaive, plate, morningstar, katana) to unplayable outside of draft.

    To me, it just feels that the devs have it out for anything that isn’t Combrei/Elysian. All the other three factions suffered harsh nerfs (madness nerf hit feln and stonescar hard, rakano got plate gutted, witching hour wrecked).

  4. My issue with Boardstall Titan is that it promotes board stalls and is recurring hate against flying decks. (Though I guess Statuary Maiden is also recurring hate and kind of hard to get rid of. If she saw more constructed play, she might be even more problematic. Maybe change her ability to a 1-time ultimate.) Recurring hate I’m not a fan of… sometimes it will shut down an entire deck like monojustice. It makes for non-interactive games.

    The board stall raises issues of:
    a- Punishing people for making games longer. There’s an incentive in ladder to have games go faster.
    b- Also, having games go faster kind of lets better players’ skill shine through. Having a larger sample size of games lets skill shine through. (Though I guess you could argue that the Combrei mirror favors skilled players and gives them a higher winrate.)

    I’m fine with the uneven power level. It does introduce some luck into the game so that newer players do have a shot at beating #1 players. Some level of luck like that is fine.

  5. The purpose of this article is not to address each individual pushed card and make arguements about whether they are under or over “the line”. I know that we have had versions of that conversation before, and we disagree, but I did not articulate my thinking on their balance here. It is best to leave that conversation for somewhere else.

    Note: The 1-drop idiot into morningstar example was specific to draft. I didn’t put a lot of emphasis on that point, so you may have missed it. Titan would obviously be way over the line in draft if it were a common or uncommon.

  6. So, while I may agree in theory to the message of this article, I take extreme issue with your choice of examples.

    Essentially, I think some cards are just busted because not only do they do the job they’re intended for, but they also do a bunch of other things.

    For instance, Siraf: okay, she’s supposed to end games. Why does she also have one of the best statlines in the game for the cost? Furthermore, wouldn’t she be far more skill-demanding if her ability was “Ultimate 8: exhaust to play a justice or time unit from your deck or hand”? Essentially, instead of the possibility of having her fail by giving you 2/2 initiate of the sands, you’d instantly search your deck for Rolant, Talir, Icaria, Vodakhan, or Curiox (or just about any other big unit you wanted). If you can’t win the game with that silver bullet, well, what good is your deck? For instance, consider the following redesign:

    3/3 overwhelm, ultlimate 8: exhaust to search your deck for a justice or time unit and put it into play. Suddenly, you’re asking yourself deckbuilding questions, such as do you stay on color, (hey, Talir, Vodakhan, and Rolant can be pretty damn good, as can be a predatory carnosaur), or do you get greedy and potentially draw a dead card (“too bad I can’t cast this Icaria since I have no Siraf”)? Do you include teleport, praxis displacer, or get another ultimate activation? How do you ensure that your one use of Siraf’s ultimate will really do damage? Sounds a lot more skill-intensive than “plop, get 8 power, win”.

    Next, onto Sandstorm Titan: let’s distill him. Okay, he’s supposed to prevent flying, and he’s supposed to be a fat beatstick. Fine. What would happen if he was a 4/5 without endurance? He’d still promote that defensive, board-stalling playstyle. But he wouldn’t just invalidate permafrost and eye of winter for free, and nor would he recur dawnwalker, so that time-based strategies that wanted to adopt a more aggressive playstyle (Xenan, Elysian Midrange) might prioritize other cards before him (Copper Conduit perhaps).

    Next, Desert Marshal: my issue with him is that he’s supposed to be this very utility-based answer (he’s the only silence on your opponent’s turn in the game), but he just does EVERYTHING. Destroy a champion of cunning alpha strike? Check. Blow up a dawnwalker? Check. Intercept a sword of the sky king? Check. Neuter a Rakano Outlaw and trade with the crownwatch paladin? Check. For instance, consider the following spell: 2JT – fast spell – silence target unit. I can assure you that such a card WOULD see play in constructed combrei lists. However, like other spell-based answers in this game, it’d open up more deckbuilding space. It’d allow armory lists to flourish more, for starters.

    Also, regarding some of your other examples:

    “1-drop idiot into morningstar”. You mean pyroknight? Or Oni Ronin, which you just said was a good card? Or maybe Sparring Partner? In any case, I find it a bit hypocritical that you think Sandstorm Titan is okay, despite invalidating stun, and demanding vanquish (among other things), but a crownwatch longsword (obviously unplayable) with 1 more attack was suddenly the end of the world.

    Similarly, when you call oni ronin and annihilate pushed, sure, they may be, but they aren’t obvious-includes-for-free wins the way Siraf and Sandstorm Titan are. For instance, some lists may not run oni ronin. Annihilate is almost never a 4-of, and some decks forgo the card entirely.

    Anyhow, here’s how I think the three offending cards should be addressed:

    Siraf: 3/3, ultimate: exhaust to play a T or J card from your hand or deck for free.
    Sandstorm Titan: 4/5 units can’t fly, no endurance.
    Desert Marshal: IMO, he needs to be a 2/3 for 4. If teleport + 3/2 = 4 (Praxis Displacer, which is run in some variants), then 2/3 ambush silence would be fair at 4, and still see play for its unique effect, while giving more room to vanquish and scorpion wasp.

    I also think that there are other cards in other factions that could stand to be pushed more, but I digress.

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