Lights Out – Role Assessment in Eternal

“Who’s the Beatdown?” has been a staple concept in trading card games ever since the original article was published nearly 18 years ago by Mike Flores. It illustrates how each player in the game has a role as either the ‘beatdown’ (the aggressor) or the ‘control’ (the defender) and the missassignment of role = game loss.

Determining who is the aggressor and who is the defender in each game of Eternal is an important and often undervalued skill. Sure, plenty of games have obvious roles for each player due to deck matchups or initial draws, but there are even more games that require dynamic switching of role or taking a non-intuitive role.

What do ‘the aggressor’ and ‘the defender’ mean?

So what is meant by ‘role assessment?’ Generally a player’s role is what they have to do to win the game: the aggressor seeks to end the game before the defender stabilizes. If the defender is able to prevent the aggressor from winning, they will be able to win in the later game once they bring their slower plan to fruition. Note that the point where the defender switches from ‘losing’ to ‘winning’ doesn’t have to be the super late game – it could be as early as turn 2 or 3 where an Elysian midrange deck Lightning Storms 3 units away from its Queen Jito opponent and plays a False Prince the next turn to dwarf the Jito player’s follow-up.

This means that the early game and ideal roles are usually determined by matchups – the slower deck takes the role of the defender, regardless of whether that deck is generally ‘aggro’ or ‘control.’ There will always be a faster or slower deck than yours. A hard control deck like Icaria Blue is the aggressor against an even slower control deck like Feln Control. A hard-hitting aggro deck like Rakano Warcry is the defender against hyper-aggressive Queen Jito.

Once you are able to identify what role you should be based on matchup, many early decision points become clear. If you are the aggressor, you should not block and trade units, and should instead take some damage and attack back and race. If you are the defender, you should trade your generally better units and cards to prevent damage and extend the game.

Some examples:

As A Rakano Warcry player, you are generally the aggressor, but not always. Let’s say you are going first and play a turn 2 Crownwatch Paladin with a Crownwatch Deserter in hand ready to play next turn. Your opponent plays a turn 1 Seat of Chaos into Oni Ronin, and turn 2 plays a Frontier Jito and another Oni Ronin and attacks you with both Oni Ronins.  This signifies that they are a more aggressive deck than you, so you are the defender and you should block and trade away your (much better) unit in order to extend the game. If you take the damage, your opponent will play some follow up units, you will attack with your Paladin, they will not block, and then the opponent will either remove or swarm around your 3/3 next turn and put you too far behind on health to race.


As a Combrei aggro player, you play turn 1 Initiate of the Sands and your opponent does the same off of a Seat of Wisdom. They are probably playing a Shimmerpack deck, which has a better late game than you, so you should attack and either deal some damage or trade Initiates. The longer you both stay in the first stage of the game where you both have few units in play, the more favored you are since you have fewer, larger units.


When do I switch roles?

Early game role assessment and then acting on that role is relatively simple once you can recognize what deck your opponent is playing in the first couple turns. Where it gets tricky, and where the concept of role assessment will really pay dividends, is deciding when you should switch roles.

A mirror match is a prime example of a time where you must have dynamic role assessment (though not the only time). Who is the aggressor and defender will vary based on who goes first/who is ahead on the board (generally, you should lean towards being the aggressor), who has more cards in hand (generally, you should lean towards being the defender), and who has more health (generally, you should lean towards being the aggressor).

Some common things to look for that affect your role:

If your opponent is short on power, you want to be the aggressor and try to finish them off before they draw power. If you take your time they will eventually be able to start playing their cards, and you know their hand is all units and spells. If they survive long enough to start trading their cards with yours you will run out of gas and lose.

Conversely, if you are short on power, you want to play defensively to try and get enough time to play out your hand. Even a traditionally aggressive deck wants to do this. For example, you are playing Stonescar Burn and draw a beautiful opening hand of 2 power, Argenport Instigator, Torch and some more expensive cards. You play your Instigator turn 2, and your opponent answers with a Champion of Chaos. On your turn 3, you don’t have a third power. You might be tempted to attack and then try to Torch after your opponent blocker, but without a follow-up you will be playing right into your opponent’s hands. You have 6 action cards in your hand; you just need to survive long enough to draw another power or two and use them. You should hang back, attempt to block and trade with some of their units, and hold on long enough to bring your more powerful hand to bear.


If one player has a lot more cards in hand, they should be favored in a long game since they can trade cards until the opponent has nothing left. If you are playing an Icaria Blue control mirror where your opponent casts 3 Wisdom of the Elders and you cast none, the onus is on you to play some weapons or units and hope that the opponent doesn’t have the right answers yet. If they do have the answers, you will lose, but if they don’t you have a chance to win before they are able to make use of all of their extra cards. The same concept applies if you are super flooded on power, as in that situation you essentially have access to fewer useful cards than your opponent.


A large health total discrepancy is another reason to change your strategic role. In time-based midrange mirrors especially, the board often stalls out so neither player has particularly great attacks. A player at 23 health has a lot more room to make big, aggressive attacks in a board stall than a player at 10 health. If you are the aggressor, you are free to make lots of big attacks and trades without fear of being attacked back and dying. If you are the defender, you want to hold back and threaten favorable blocks until you can reverse the board position by playing more units or a sweeper like Harsh Rule.

If Fire cards like Flame Blast or other large bursts of damage are involved, health actually affects role assessment in the opposite way. If you are low on health against a deck that can kill you without having units on the board, you often need to be the aggressor so that you can win before your opponent draws burn spells. 14 health isn’t safe against a flurry of Torches, Obliterates, and Flame Blasts, so use removal spells on suboptimal targets if you have to in order to free up your units to attack. You won’t win if you leave them back to block since you will lose in the long game.

A common situation where it is not clear if you should be attacking or defending is in a board stall. For example, a common board stall involves a Sandstorm Titan being held off by a 2/5 and a 4/4. If you attack, your opponent will double block and you are basically trading your 5/6 for a 4/4, which is bad if you are the defender and want to use that Titan to block. It is good if you are the aggressor and want to clear out the board a little so you can make better attacks with other units. If you don’t attack, both players will play more units and it will get harder and harder to make effective attacks. Determining who should be the aggressor/defender is very difficult in such board states, and often revolves around specific abilities like Marshall Ironthorn, Siraf or Xenan Obelisk. Having Ironthorn makes you the defender as you have a powerful late game, Siraf makes you the aggressor since you can force your opponent to trade with your “free” units, and Obelisk makes you the aggressor once it is fully active.

Playing around sweepers

lightning-stormSweepers like Harsh Rule and Lightning Storm are a key part of decks that tend to take the defender role. Sweepers allow you to turn an unfavorable board into a neutral one, which favors the slower deck. Sometimes, an aggressive deck cannot win if the slower deck has a Harsh Rule; the follow-up cards from the slow deck will simply be more powerful than anything they can muster post-sweeper. In this case, the aggressor should play as if the defender doesn’t have a sweeper and attempt to end the game before they draw one. If they have it, you will lose, the game, but if you were going to lose the game anyways you increased your chances of winning that game.

Example: a Combrei player has a 5 power, a Sandstorm Titan and a 4/4 Awakened Student in play that they just attacked with, and the opponent has no units, 10 health, and 5 power (2 justice 2 shadow influence). The Combrei player has 2 Vanquishes, an Initiate of the Sands, and a Valkyrie Enforcer in hand. If the opponent has a Harsh Rule here, the board will be cleared and the Combrei player will only have 4 total strength in units to follow up with, which will almost assuredly not be enough against the opponent’s follow-up removal spells. If the Combrei player goes all in and plays both units, they can win the game in a turn or two if the opponent only has a couple single-target removal spells. Since they can’t beat the sweeper, they should play as if the opponent doesn’t have it and play the units so they CAN beat the two spot removal hand. If they hold back, they aren’t going to beat ANYTHING, so they should try to take the chance they have to win the game.


This concept gets more difficult when you have the capacity to win the game by playing into a sweeper (hoping they don’t have it) or by playing around a sweeper (by only playing one or two threats at a time). Combrei Midrange was the best at doing this, as several threats demanded answers all on their own by accruing card advantage (e.g. Siraf, Mystic Ascendant), but once you got far enough ahead by accruing card advantage you could afford to ‘waste’ some cards by playing into a sweeper and making them have one while you still held plenty of threats in reserve in your hand. This is sort of related to the section above that talked about being the aggressor when your opponent has more cards and will win the long game. If YOU have more cards and will win the long game because you drew 4 cards off of your Mystic Ascendant, you want to trade cards with your opponent (even at a disadvantage) because they will run out before you do, at which point you can win with whatever you have left.

If you have 6 units in hand and your opponent only has 2 cards, you can play 2 units at a time and have them Harsh Ruled twice, and you will still have more units standing that will win the game.


Role assessment is a very complex topic, and the examples are ever-changing, so it’s impossible to cover everything in one article. I hope this was a helpful starting point for those unfamiliar with the concept.

As always, I will answer any questions in the comments and all comments are appreciated.

Until next time, may you always properly assess your role.



  1. Small clerical error; I think the winning and losing need to be switched here:

    “Note that the point where the defender switches from ‘winning’ to ‘losing’ doesn’t have to be the super late game – it could be as early as turn 2 or 3 where an Elysian midrange deck Lightning Storms 3 units away from its Queen Jito opponent and plays a False Prince the next turn to dwarf the Jito player’s follow-up.”

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