Scions School – Deckbuilding Basics For Eternal

Hello, my  name is Pojo, and I’m a brewer.  Even in a game that has roughly nine times the amount of deck slots of Hearthstone, I still frequently hit the limits on deck slots.  I build a lot of decks, some of them good, many of them greedy or silly or generally ill-advised.  Deckbuilding is a huge part of the fun of Eternal – but it’s easy to build something that, despite having a fun idea or a lot of good cards, simply doesn’t do that well on the ladder. Even with the weirdest brews, I’ve found that if you follow certain key rules in deckbuilding, almost any deck can be fun and enjoyable to play.

Like all other card games, deckbuilding is a fight against the randomness of the draw – an attempt to turn a naturally chaotic mechanic into a hand of cards that reliably does something effective, or fun, or (most often) both.  To that end, anything that increases your odds of drawing the right cards at the right time, even in small increments, is a tremendous skill to be practicing when climbing the ladder or brewing for fun. Today I want to talk about five key elements to good decks – the things that every deck needs to be successful.

I. The 75-card MAXIMUM Minimum

bigger
They’re lying to you! DON’T LISTEN! *adjusts tin foil hat*

Almost without exception, your maximum deck size should always be your minimum. Pretty much any Eternal decklist worth its salt will run 75 to 76 cards, and likewise, most draft decks should be 45-46 cards.  The reason for this is simple math:

Say you have a set of four legendaries that you consider the best cards in your deck.  What are your odds of drawing one of those cards on any one particular turn?  About 4 in 75, of course (a little over 5%).  With every card you add to the deck, the chances of drawing your best card go down, as do the chances of drawing your second best, and your third.  Your combos become less reliable, and your one-of includes become rarities you’ll almost never see.  What’s more, if your deck maintains a curve of any kind, the chance of drawing too many cards out of the curve – seven 8 cost cards, say – increases, as does your chance of drawing a hand full of power.  The bigger your deck is, the less consistent it will be at executing your plan.

Most decks have at least one or two good ideas behind them. In order to best express that idea, you want to pull out all the clutter and competing ideas so that you can best execute that one good idea.  This is one of the hardest things for any player to do, but it’s also one of the most crucial for fun, successful games.

II. Choosing the Correct Amount of Cards

With every card, a question: do you run four copies, three, two, or just one?  It’s pretty obvious, but the amount of a particular card you should run depends entirely on how much you want to draw it.  For most cards, this means four-ofs.  It’s tempting to get into a mentality where your deck contains a lot of singleton cards to answer every possible threat, but in reality, the most consistent decks tend to be ones that can do a particular thing over and over again.  That means that your basic units, your core spells, and anything that defines the theme of your deck should usually be considered a four of.

For three-ofs, consider anything that is useful to your deck, but you wouldn’t want to draw two of in the same hand.  Maybe a Karmic Guardian is a super useful card for you, but only if you can pair it with useful pieces of equipment.  Excavate is an incredibly powerful recursion effect, but it’s actively bad to draw multiples without any big draw spells in hand.  And while you’ll always want a Channel the Tempest at eight, your hand looks awful if you have two of them on turn one.  Three-ofs are most commonly powerful card effects that you don’t absolutely need to win the game.

Two-ofs and singletons are reserved for finishers and cards that answer only very specific threats, like Decay or Ruin.  These are the cards that you don’t usually want to see in your hand, but if you get into a stalemate or topdeck situation, you’ll inevitably draw into them and be able to resolve it – like that Ghostform that gets your big Infiltrate through, or the Crystallize that turns your full board into instant lethal.  Likewise, cards like Azindels Gift and Infinite Hourglass, which are powerful but have no effect when stacked on top of each other, make great singletons.  

A final example of a good singleton or two of is a draw effect like Wisdom of the Elders in an aggressive tempo deck – it’s great to hit this late in the game when you’re out of cards as it refills your hand and you can usually play the things right away, but it hurts your plan of filling the board because it has no effect on the playmat.  These cards are best for situations where your plan has failed and you need a way to swing the game back in your favor.

III. Building A Curve

capture
A healthy tempo curve

In most decks we are looking for a good-looking power curve, which is to say, we want the power costs of cards to have signs of being a healthy bell curve.  This isn’t a super hard and fast rule:  Decks can have high curves and low curves, they can have bumpy curves with multiple spikes, and they can even have totally flat lines for curves.  But when we look at curves, we want to be certain of a couple of things:

First, we want to know that we are spending all our power every turn.  That typically means making sure there’s at least a few cards of each power cost in the 2-5 slots.  The 2 drop tends to be the most important card for keeping you alive against aggressive decks as very few decks can survive without if they don’t affect the board in the first few turns of the game.  

The value of cards increases substantially with their cost, so our curve should peak in different places depending on when you plan to end the game.  Aggressive decks run a high percentage of 1 and 2 drops because they expect to end the game by turns 4-6, when other decks are just starting to play their most valuable cards.  If your deck isn’t aggressive enough, stacking too heavy on 1 and 2 drops will leave you floundering in the late game where you are constantly drawing and playing Oni Ronins and Torches into your opponent’s Thunderstrike Dragons and Channel The Tempests.  Likewise, while your late game cards are more powerful, they must be carefully reigned in and supported by a base of cheaper cards, or you’ll die before you ever get to play them at all.  

This is why the most basic, reliable curve is a bell shape – a few early drops to get into the meat of the deck, followed by a core set of cards that move the game in your favor, and finally a sprinkling of finisher cards that will resolve stalemates and end the game.  This is by no means the only way to build a deck, but keep that shape in mind and watch your own curve for empty turns and gross imbalances.

IV. Seeking Power

seek-power
The best card in Eternal.

Whatever your deck, you need to have enough power to support it.  Eternal has an enforced 1/3rd power rule due to its redraw rule (redraws guarantee you at least 2 power, so they’d prefer you not run 73 one and two drops with a pair of Fire Sigils).  This means your minimum is 15 power cards for Draft and 25 for constructed deck formats.  The computer will automatically calculate the best amount of power for you, but when you’re ready to look at these numbers and make decisions about power for yourself, open up the menu and select the Advanced Deckbuilding option from Gameplay Options.

For Draft decks, you want stable, reliable power and should always have 16-17 power at the least, moving up to 19 or 20 for very late game decks. In Ranked, 25 power is enough to support a quick, aggressive deck that plays mostly one and two drops and doesn’t need to get to 4 or 5 power very often.  The more reliably you want to hit your third power on time, the more you should increase the amount of power. The high end of power requirements tends to be around 31-35 power-related cards for control decks that want to play multiple eight drops.

This seems excessive, but most of the time, these decks don’t increase the number of Sigils or Seats at all to meet their requirement, instead using cards like Seek Power, Amber Acolyte, and Secret Pages to thin out the deck for later while guaranteeing a higher percentage of power drops early. The math on including Seek Power is compelling even in mono-faction decks – it makes it much more likely that you will hit most of your power drops on time, and helps prevent power “flood” where you draw too many power cards. This is one of the most important cards in Eternal – virtually every two faction deck that isn’t pure aggro should be running it.

Similarly, each of the “Favor” cards gives you a reasonably powerful effect in addition to helping fix your power base – I highly recommend running Vara’s Favor in any Shadow deck, and the others all have can be synergistic with decks in their faction.

You should also swap your standard sigils when possible. Banners are great if you have the unit base for them or it’s crucial to hit several influence early (say, for Feln Bloodcaster or Dawnwalker).  Diplomatic Seals are especially powerful if you are not planning on hitting any cards with double or triple influence requirements.

V. Hybridizing for Greatness

sword20of20icaria
This card wins my vote for first-craft uncommon.

Every card in the game can be used in conjunction with every other card, if you can figure out a way to support it.  If you’re just starting out, the very first thing I recommend doing is grabbing your two favorite starter decks and mashing them together to create a new deck with the best of both lists.  This allows you to take advantage of the limited cards in your collection by combining the best cards from two factions.  That logic will hold true even after your collection reaches 100%: you can typically make any theme better by including the best cards from a set twice as large.  Not only that, but Hybrid cards – the cards that require two factions of influence – are typically far higher card quality than their mono-faction counterparts, and having access to them is a tremendous bonus for these types of decks.

This fact alone makes multi-faction decks the most common and usually the most powerful decks in Eternal.  Each faction has its own strengths and weaknesses. For example, Fire is aggressive but lacks many solid flyers, while Primal has exceptional card advantage but is short on good ground units. By using different factions to you can cover your weaknesses and attack your opponent from different angles.

Hybridizing offers some weakness in the form of unreliability: there’s a higher chance that you might not draw the influence that you need.  Eternal covers this weakness by giving you the dual-faction Seats and Seek Power right off the bat, as well as having the dual-faction Banners and faction-fixing Strangers as craftable commons at a mere 50 Shiftstones.  You can easily support most dual-faction archetypes with a few of these cards, and probably stretch to three or four factions if you are feeling especially bold.

Putting It All Together

Here’s a basic deck we put together while climbing the ladder on a budget:

Progress Quest:

1 Infinite Hourglass (Set1 #67)
2 Predator’s Instinct (Set1 #75)
4 Seek Power (Set1 #408)
4 Awakened Student (Set1 #331)
4 Crownwatch Paladin (Set1 #139)
4 Desert Marshal (Set1 #332)
3 Vanquish (Set1 #143)
3 Ageless Mentor (Set1 #90)
4 Scorpion Wasp (Set1 #96)
2 Stand Together (Set1 #334)
2 Valkyrie Enforcer (Set1 #151)
1 Healer’s Cloak (Set1 #98)
4 Karmic Guardian (Set1 #341)
2 Xenan Obelisk (Set1 #103)
2 Reliquary Raider (Set1 #110)
4 Twinbrood Sauropod (Set1 #113)
4 Predatory Carnosaur (Set1 #118)
9 Justice Sigil (Set1 #126)
8 Time Sigil (Set1 #63)
4 Combrei Banner (Set1 #424)
4 Seat of Progress (Set0 #58)

As decks go, it’s pretty basic, which makes it easy to demonstrate our ruleset.  The deck follows all of our basic rules: it’s 75 cards and has a simple curve, highest on two drops and gradually descending down to four six drops.  We built it primarily by combining our Justice and Time decks – it runs Seek Power, Combrei Banner and Seat of Progress to match the heavy requirements on cards like Predatory Carnosaur, Valkyrie Enforcer and Karmic Guardian.

There is a small theme around making Karmic Guardian a 3/6 (just under Vanquish range but keeping a good clock) that we achieve with Ageless Mentor and Xenan Obelisk. Since these cards are weak on their own, we keep the numbers slightly below 4.  A singleton Healer’s Cloak follows that theme while also giving us an answer to aggressive Stonescar decks. There is a singleton Infinite Hourglass to answer Permafrosts, Ice Sprites and Eye of Winters. Most of our other situational cards are two or three-ofs, while the core tempo cards are all at four.

If it looks pretty simple, that’s because it is!  As you get more and more experimental with decks, it pays more and more to know these basic rules.  A final note: none of these rules are mandatory, but unless you understand why we use them, it will be much harder to break them effectively.

Useful ToolsProgress Quest.PNG

Don’t forget that clicking on the power curve button (top right, right below the title of your deck) gives you an advanced deckbuilding view that lets you see a ton of useful information about your deck: influence breakdowns, statistics, and the full list. The export tool can also be found on this page. You can even draw sample hands here to test how the deck is going to play before you play it!

Only Scratching The Surface…

We’ll come back and revisit good deckbuilding in later Scion’s School articles – as it turns out, there’s a lot of ways in which you can improve your decks!  If you want to see more deckbuilding discussion, you can always check out my Eternal Basics series on Youtube.  If you think you have the basics down, here are some other useful topics to think about when building your decks:

  • Themes and Subthemes
  • Overall synergy between your cards
  • Unit count versus spell and attachment count (hint – 22 or higher units for most deck types)
  • “Splash” factions (small, off-faction includes) versus fully hybrid decks
  • Deck Archetypes: Aggro, Combo, Midrange, Control.  We’ll be doing a Scion’s School about this one soon!
  • The current metagame (what decks are other people running?  What should your deck include to counter that?)

Good luck!  Have fun!  Build awesome!

 

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