Hey Friends! As a departure from my usual writing that tends to be very theoretical and big picture, I felt like I should put something together that was much more practical and applied for this week. Recently, I took some time off grinding Ranked, and made a run at Master for Draft. I built up quite the stockpile of Gold, so it seemed like it was about time.
On RNGEternal we have a Draft Tier list. This is a great resource for people starting out drafting this format, but as any experienced limited player knows, synergy is a key part of winning in draft. If you look at different limited formats, there are varying levels of synergy that are supported. Sometimes a format just rewards you for picking a collection of the best cards available, and building a reasonable curve. This is true of Hearthstone’s Arena environment, and many Magic sets, especially Core Sets. Other formats reward decks that have a plan. Cube draft is famous for being very rewarding for high synergy decks. I would describe the Eternal draft environment as being a bit more synergistic than the average Magic format, and way more synergistic than Hearthstone.
One of the key elements of synergy driven formats is knowing which cards go up or down in value based on the archetype you are in. In this 2 part article I’ll share my thoughts on 10 different archetypes, starting with what I think the 4 best are today and doing another 6 tomorrow. I will be answering the following questions for each deck:
Description: what defines it? What does it do? Outstanding characteristics of the deck.
How do you get into the deck? Each deck has something of a “path” that you take to get into it. You start off by taking a certain type of card, and then you take some of a second type of card, and now you find yourself in a specific deck. This is really helpful for understanding what direction to push in as the draft unfolds.
Difficulty to play/draft: not all archetypes are created the same in terms of difficulty in drafting or playing. Are you drafting Rakano Aggro? Well pick the cards that say “Warcry” or “Deal X damage” and you will be in a good spot. Are you drafting 4 Faction Time control? Well, you will have a tougher time. I will be ranking these decks in terms of the difficulty to both put together and play.
Power ranking: this will give you my own subjective take on which decks are the most powerful most consistently. I want to make clear that a good version of any of these decks can reach 7 wins, so you should not go out of your way to go crazy and force one of these archetypes. This is also a format that rewards finding the right lane I have found, as piles of cards will usually lose to decks with a plan. The ranking is out of the 10 decks I have presented here. I imagine that this will be the section I get the most disagreement on, so don’t take my ranking as “Truth”. Discuss with others and see what the consensus is!
Cards that go up/down in value: the draft tier list has been assembled as if you are picking for pack 1 pick one. As soon as you take a card, the value of everything you see changes. If drafting were as simple as just choosing the best card in each pack it would be a lot easier to do! Here I will specify a few cards that I noticed which tend to go up/down in value in each archetype. I want to make clear that when I say a card “goes up in value” I’m not saying you should be taking it over premium removal, and if a card goes down in value I’m not saying it is unplayable. Just think of these as adjusting the grade of a card from B to B+ or B- for example.
As always, if you feel like I have missed some archetype that you have had some success with, or that there is some card I missed, be sure to leave a comment below or on Reddit! Let’s get started with one of my favorite archetypes!
Decks that didn’t make the list:
Combrei Aggro – Once upon a time this was a reasonable archetype, but it has been nerfed a number of times. It started with Unlock Potential moving to 3 power, but was totally crippled when Vodakhan’s Staff moved to rare and Gilded Glaive was rebalanced. Some Ageless Mentor + Karmic Guardian decks can pull off a reasonable beatdown, but the strong versions of these decks are few and far between.
Elysian Echo – The echo units in Elysian are very good, and the enablers for echo synergies are pretty OK, so why isn’t there a good “Elysian Echo” deck? Well, I feel this is often just a sub-theme in Elysian midrange decks, and it is unnecessary to build an entire deck around just Echo synergies because there are just not enough Echo cards. I will be touching on this in the Elysian Midrange section.
“Flyers” – There are flyer-heavy versions of both Feln and Elysian. Given that there isn’t really any great “flyers” pay-offs since the change to Skycrag Wyvarch I don’t really think there is point in pushing a specifically flyer heavy deck. For now I would just focus on picking good cards, and if you end up with a lot of good flyers, that’s cool.
Stonescar Tokens/Aggro – I have never been crazy about this deck. The tokens theme does not have quite enough support to come together consistently, and the pure aggro version often just feels like a worse version of Rakano aggro or Stonescar Midrange. This deck is buildable, but I would rather be in one of these other archetypes.
3+ Faction Time
Most of my archetypes are going to stick to 2 Faction pairs, but this is the main 3+ faction variant that people can draft consistently. Time has some great fixing options, so we get to take advantage of it a play a 3+ faction “good stuff” deck. The most common base for this is Elysian splashing Justice or Shadow, but you can really run any combination you like when you have enough fixing. I have personally have gotten 7-wins with 4 Faction decks, and I know of others that have made it to 7-wins with true 5 Faction brews. Pretty sick!
How do you get in the deck?
It may seem obvious, but I feel like the answer is just “Time is open”. If you have a good flow of time cards to make up the backbone of your deck, as well as some of the Faction Fixing Strangers, and suddenly you are passed a 5th pick Feeding time, or open a Worldpyre Pheonix, or some other random stupid bomb rare. If you are still early in the draft, it is easy to just shift to building a Time-based deck splashing all sorts of nonsense. If I start out in Time I am usually looking to move into this kind of deck.
Difficulty to draft/play: 8/10
This is a deck that really rewards people who know the value of cards. What is worth splashing for? How many sources do I need to splash for my bombs? How much early game do I really need? If your deck is all Faction Fixing Strangers and early game blockers it doesn’t matter that you can assemble your influence requirements early, since other decks will overpower you, while if you have a mitt-full of bombs it doesn’t matter if you can’t cast them. If your first foray into such a deck is a failure don’t feel too bad, as it takes some adjustment. This deck is a test of your greed, as an appropriately greedy deck will be insanely powerful, but an overly greedy deck will be non-functional.
Overall power level: 7/10
A well-built version of the time-based 3+ Faction deck is exceptionally powerful. You get to play all the best cards that you see in the draft, and end up with a late game that is truly unreal. That being said, since we are grading the “average” power level of decks, this archetype takes a major hit from its high variability. Poor versions of this deck will sputter and spurt through the early turns, and often find themselves too far behind to leverage their powerful top end. This is the highest variance deck in my opinion.
Cards that go up in value: Faction-Fixing Strangers, Amber Acolyte, Seek Power, Any Bombs, Any Removal
Although I believe many people do not take influence-fixing effects highly enough, this deck really needs it. My rule of thumb in splashing is as follows: 1 card needs 3 sources, 2 cards need 5 sources, and 3 or more cards need at least 6 sources. Remember, you want to “splash” cards that are good at any point in the game. Cards like Permafrost are great early or late, while splashing cards like Direwood Beastcaller are not worth the effort, even though the ceiling on the card is high if you can get it to work.
For Bombs and Removal, you want to prioritize stuff with single influence requirements. In a deck such as this it is often much easier to hit TTFJP than TTFF. You will also need to decide which Factions are light splashes versus dedicated parts of the deck, as it will inform which removal and bombs you will be taking.
Cards that go down in value: Initiate of the Sands, Minotaur Grunt, Temple Scribe, Off-faction early game blockers.
Any reasonable version of 3+ Faction Time will have more than enough top-end to shake a stick at, the issue is getting there. Any early game cards that do not block well are worth skipping. Initiate of the Sands is a particularly bad offender here. You are usually bottle-necked on influence requirements rather than maximum power. Putting a 1/1 into your deck that might let you slip 1 card into play a bit early is fairly unexciting. I would usually rather a Faction-Fixing Stranger.
One common trap people will fall into is playing early game blockers from off-factions. Maybe you have some sweet shadow cards for some of your top end. You still should avoid things like Direfang Spider, despite the fact that it is a good early blocker. Unless you are very heavy in Shadow you are very unlikely to play it in the first few turns of the game.
For my money, this is the most consistently powerful deck you have access to when drafting. I would consider this to be a tempo deck, that is aiming to use a combination of evasive threats and removal to connect with Infiltrate units. Turn 2 Lethrai Ranger into turn 3 Cobalt Acolyte is a frequent opening that is very tough to beat. The best part about this deck is how it does not rely on super key cards. Don’t have Lethrai Rangers? Gorgon Fanatics and Serpent Trainers will do. No Cobalt Acolytes or Jarrall’s Frostkins? Flash Freeze and Levitate can do the trick. The depth in these factions is pretty astonishing.
How do you get in the deck?
You may start with a Permafrost or a Bomb like Impending Doom, but soon you start getting passed Lethrai Rangers and Gorgon Fanatics. These Infiltrate units are the real priority, as the secret is certainly out how strong this archetype is. Once you have gathered 1 or 2 premium removal spells and some great early game threats, you just need a handful of enablers and you are on to the next pack! Any time you see any premium Infiltrate threat past the 3rd pick, you should start thinking about moving in.
Difficulty to draft/play: 5/10
As I said above, there are TONS of interchangeable pieces. As long as you have a reasonable number of threats enablers and removal your deck will be good. Gameplay is a little bit harder as you will need to customize answers and threats to a given situation, but it is certainly not overly difficult to play.
Overall power level: 10/10
Because of the redundancy in the available cards, as well as the premium rares and uncommons that fit into this archetype so well, this deck both has a high ceiling and a high floor. If you have played with a good version of this deck you know the feeling of just establishing a great position as early as turn 3, and knowing your opponent will need to string together some premium cards to get back into the game. There is no question to me that this is the most consistently powerful deck in the draft format.
Cards that go up in value: “Infiltrate” cards, Jarrall’s Frostkin, Rapid Shot, Cobalt Acolyte, Dark Return
You are obviously looking for a base of strong infiltrate cards. Blood Beetle and Yeti Spy are a little bit unexciting for what you are up to, but other than that you probably just want to take anything with that word on it. Beyond this, you want to put a premium on the most efficient infiltrate enablers. My personal ordering would be Cobalt Acolyte as the best, followed by Jarral’s Frostkin, Levitate, Flash Freeze, Trickster’s Cloak and Ghostform. Really you want to avoid Flash Freeze and anything below it, but they work. Dark Return also has some nice synergy in the deck as you can rebuy units like Lethrai Ranger that have Infiltrate buffs and retrigger them.
Cards that go down in value: Stonescar Magus, Execute, Dark Wisp, Sapphire Drake
There are a handful of defensive cards in Feln that don’t quite do the trick. You can’t use Execute to clear out a troublesome blocker, so it is not as exciting of a pick up as it would be in a more controlling deck. Defensive units like Stonescar Magus or Dark Wisp are not terribly synergistic with what you are up to, although they go up in value if you are particularly high on Flyers. You can play finishers like Sapphire Drake or Horsesnatcher Bat, but they can end up clogging up your hand. Make sure you don’t go too deep on this sort of card if you can help it.
I believe I like this archetype more than the average person, and probably more than I should. Of the two Feln archetypes I feel this comes together less often, is more dependant on high-power rares and uncommons. All that being said, when a good version of this deck comes together, you have an extremely powerful deck that can take on the world.
The name sorta says all you need to know. This is a classic control deck through and through. Card draw, defensive units, removal spells, and kill your opponent with some finisher. The difficulty is finding the right mix, as well as fighting for the key removal spells that make the deck playable. If you do not have multiple copies of fairly unconditional removal spells you probably have a bad version of the deck.
How do you get in the deck?
I find there are some people who don’t respect Feln top-end cards. I have seen Umbren Reapers and Thunderstrike Dragons being passed in pack 1 which is insane to me. I guess some people just don’t like playing control? However it happens you can either open one of these control finishers, or some premium removal spell (Feeding Time, Deathstrike, and the like) and get passed the other half. From here you just want to fill out your curve with defensive units and a bit of card draw and you have a control deck!
Difficulty to draft/play: 7/10
Finding the right mix of effects is very difficult because your most important cards (removal spells) are sought after by everyone. If there is no good removal spell or curve topping bomb in the pack, you will often face tough decisions about whether you want to choose card draw, defensive units or mediocre finishers. Finding the right balance between these effects will be challenging, and only experience with the archetype will guide you to an understanding of which to prioritize when.
The actual games are also challenging as you must meter out removal, trade resources, and set up 2-for-1s carefully throughout the game, while staying alive. There is always the chance that an opponent has the wrong threat for your removal, like a Karmic Guardian suited up with weapons to dodge both your Lightning Strike and Execute.
Cards that go up in value: Shadow/Primal Rare Bombs, Execute, Plague, Lightning Storm, Stonescar Magus, Yeti Troublemaker, Wisdom of the Elders
I talked above about these bomb cards. There are actually a wide range of them you could have access to. Hatchery Raider is great, Dinomancer is serviceable, Recurring Nightmare can work too, Touch of the Umbren is surprisingly good… You would like to have some of these in your deck, but Sapphire Drakes and Horsesnatcher Bats will function as a substitute.
Execute and Lightning Strike are playable in any deck that can cast them, but they really shine here. You expect to be on the back foot throughout much of the game, so these spells will be castable, unlike in more aggressive Feln variants where they can sometimes be turned off for several turns. Having all your removal be reactive does have some issues, as it means you cannot hit certain targets (Execute struggles to hit Endurance units for example), so you will need more proactive removal as well.
Sweepers like Plague and Storm are obviously the nuts in a deck like this. They can often be a 2-for-1 at a power advantage, which is everything a control deck has ever wanted. A late Storm might be a good reason to move into this archetype.
There are a selection of defensive units in Feln that fit into this archetype well. Stonescar Magus has impressed me a great deal after giving it a fair try, and Yeti Troublemaker represents a slow-motion 2-for-1.
Card draw is also important, but difficult to get right. I have gone through a lot of drafts where I seem to get non-stop Wisdom of the Elders, or I see none of them. A Scheme is also serviceable in this role, as it can help you dig for a clutch Feeding Time or Permafrost, but it does not help with just building an overwhelming ad advantage in resources the way Wisdom does. I feel like every control deck wants about 2 or 3 of this kind of effect.
Cards that go down in value: Lethrai Ranger, Blood Beetle, Rapid Shot, Xenan Destroyer, Flash Freeze, Cobalt Acolyte
These are all fairly obvious. These units favour attacking, which is not what you are up to. Ranger you should be playing still since the card is so powerful, and is a great blocker if it is able to connect. Beetle is barely playable in dedicated aggro, so it really misses the mark in a control deck. Xenan Destroyer can gain some life, and opponents must often attack into it just to maintain an aggressive stance, but it certainly does not shine when you lack some of the tools to defend it.
All the Infiltrate enablers like Rapid Shot, Flash Freeze and Cobalt Acolyte go down in value. I still play Acolyte in these types of decks, as you often want to build a flying blocker, but she certainly is less exciting here than in something like Feln Aggro.
Although there is technically a Stonescar Aggro deck that is draftable, I’m not crazy about it, as it just feels like a worse version of either Stonescar Midrange or Rakano for the most part. If I am drafting Stonescar I want to be building a Smuggler’s Stash deck. The power this adds to your deck is difficult to overstate. The first half of the game you trade resources, and getting in some early beat down. Then, in the mid game, you can cast Smuggler’s stash for full value and bury your opponent!
How do you get in the deck?
If Stonescar is open, you want to move toward this deck. Smuggler’s Stash in a good Stonescar deck is the most powerful thing outside of Legends and Rares. As soon as you find yourself taking a handful of Fire and Shadow cards you should start thinking about your weapon count. I think the average Stash deck wants about 6 Weapons, with Granite Acolyte and Obsidian Golem each counting as about a half a Weapon. Don’t settle for crappy weapons like Heavy Axe – it is better to only get 3 cards off a Stash than dilute your deck with crappy cards.
Difficulty to draft/play: 6/10
The drafting here is not too difficult, but the balance between Weapons, Units and Spells is harder to strike in this deck than most. If your balance is off your Stash will not give you the card volume you need, or you will be left with hands of all Katanas and no targets. Obsidian Golem and Granite Acolyte are just outstanding in this deck because they pull such fantastic double duty.
Overall Power Level: 9/10
Giving a good-stuff midrange deck a powerful draw spell of the late game apparently leads to some messed up stuff. I’m not sure whether Stonescar or Feln has the best removal mix, but they are very close, and both are miles ahead of everyone else. That is one of the main reasons why these decks are at the top of the power rankings. Although some draws with this deck can kinda fail to come together if you draw too much top end in the opening hand, that is a danger of any midrange deck. I also just love drawing so many cards off of Stash. It feels filthy.
Cards that go up in value: Runic Revolver, Ornate Katana, Magma Javelin, Oni Quartermaster, Granite Acolyte, Warband Chieftain
You need to get your weapon count high enough to make Stash work at its best, and this is best accomplished by playing a couple (mediocore) Relic weapons. Does it feel great to Magma Javelin down your opponent’s 3-drop? Not really. But if you get a second crack at it later in the game you are fairly happy.
Oni Quartermaster can also shine here. It is not uncommon for her to draw you 2 or 3 cards over the course of a game. Be careful though; one of the greatest dangers of the archetype is putting too much energy into maximizing value when you are getting beaten down.
It is important to have some top end beef to finish out games. Nothing is better at this than Warband Chieftain, although Frontline Cyclops and Horesnatcher Bat are functional alternatives.
Cards that go down in value: Blood Beetle, Rally, Heavy Axe
Remember, this is a midrange deck. Although it is possible to get off to fast starts with Oni Ronin into Obsidian Golem on the play, you are not planning to beat down every game. Any card that only works when attacking is not worth including in your deck.
That’s it for today! Join me tomorrow when I talk about the next 6 archetypes!