You had to be there: A Closed Beta Retrospective

Hey guys, aReNGee here. I’ve been talking a fair bit my various Discord chats about how things used to be “back in the day”, and that’s made me rather nostalgic. Since many of todays players are new to open beta, or at the very least haven’t been around the whole time, I thought it would be cool to go back through some of Eternal’s funky moments in the closed beta days, working mostly from memory. To start out, I highly recommend you read the Top 5 Most Influential Eternal Players (April – September 2016) to learn about some of the great players that helped to sculpt Eternal’s future. If you’re interested to learn how drafting came about, well I wrote about that too. This article is not intended to be a criticism of anything that happened at the time – it was a closed beta and things were being tested out, broken, fixed, and broken again. I merely want to share some of the fun memories that I have of the game from a time so far back that I wasn’t even a mod of anything. Finally, most of these changes are being written about from memory, so if I’ve misremembered anything please don’t hesitate to correct me. Please feel free to share your closed beta memories in the comments!

Ladder Changes

Baby’s First Ladder: The first ladder system was… interesting. The only ranks were Bronze, Silver, Gold and Diamond. You couldn’t fall down a division. It took 100 points to get from Bronze to Silver, but then 500 points from Silver to Gold, and 1000 points from Gold to Diamond! Once you reached Diamond, point totals were uncapped. And when I say uncapped, I mean it – ThatOneGuy was the rank 1 player at over ELEVEN THOUSAND points, near doubling the second place LocoPojo mere ~6500. Personally, I only manged a thousand points or so in diamond, before the ladder system changed.

The Best (Worst) Week of them all: Patch 1.8.1 brought something that many Closed Beta players remember as the best week of Eternal – Best of Three Ranked Ladder. All ranked games were played Best of Three, with players having the option to access a 15 card side deck after game one and two. This was really cool, but took a super long time – players were super frustrated that they could spend 40 minutes playing a long best of three, lose, and get nothing for it. If they got a game at all – screenshots from the time showed 45, 50, 55 minute queues. If you were unlucky enough to be Peppr, there were literally six people on ladder when you played.

While many players remember it with fondness, it didn’t actually last all that long. Patch 1.8.2 brought back the best of one series we all know just one week later. However, it wasn’t without lasting impact: All tournament sideboard rules (including the ETS) stem from the rules used in this week, and the ability to add sideboards to decks remained in the program until open beta. I personally hit Diamond for the first time during that week, beating control decks and aggro decks alike with what-I-considered-clever sideboarding, so it worked out pretty well for me.

Everybody wants to be a Master – but you gotta earn it: In June, as a direct result of the furious point grinding  by ThatOneGuy, an additional rank was added to ladder – Master! The league structure was also modified – it only took 100 points to reach a new rank! Bronze to Diamond wasn’t very difficult, given time, but many, many players got stuck in Diamond. This was probably the toughest ladder to make Master in, ever. A match win would earn you somewhere between 4 to 6 ranked points, while a match loss would lose you at least ten points. A single loss could easily set you back 3 games of progression, so you needed a 80%+ win rate on a single day to ever have a hope of making it in. Most players that did get to Master got there on the back of enormous win rates – personally I needed to ride an 11 game win streak in. This was probably the month with the fewest players in Master – I would be surprised to hear if there were more than 30 – 40. You had to be very dedicated, very good, AND very lucky to get in.

To further complicate matters, this was probably the patch with the least sensitive matchmaking. Players would regularly be matched up against each other once, twice, three times in a row – and that was the norm rather than the exception. I believe the problem was even worse for poor Peppr, who played at off-peak times and once had something like a 10 game deathmatch against the same player. This problem, while annoying in constructed, was devastating in the newly released Draft, where getting matched up against the same person 3 times could easily spell the end of your draft run.

Leaderboards!: For the July season, the following line of text found its way into the patch notes of v1.9: “Progression has been modified to make losses less punishing in comparison to wins.” Punishing is one word for it. This patch also introduced Leaderboards and the Top 100 players, allowing us to see for the first time who the heck was where. The ladder system remained unchanged, with only 100 points between ranked. It only took 400 points to reach Master, which was uncapped in points. Points in Master were visible at this time, and players affectionately referred to players with 500+ points as “Grandmaster”. My suggested name of “Super Grandmaster” for 600+ points didn’t catch on, unfortunately. 600 points was very rare, as the system clamped your point gain HARD past 500.

Ladder July 7 12 pm.png
Ladder Screenshot, July 7th 2016

Bronze III begins: People got master pretty fast and pretty consistently on the July system – time to slow it down. For August, Ranked ladder had its tiers split up into three tiers of 100 points, which should be familiar to modern players. Again, Master points were uncapped, but visible. Instead of 500 points being Grandmaster, now 1500 points was. This was the preferred version of the ladder system for many players. Personally, I wasn’t too happy, because instead of 400 points to Master, the grind was now 1200 points – 3 times as long! I don’t know who first got Master when Leaderboards were released, but I can proudly show you the first Master player of the modern system.

Ladder Leaderboard July 31st 2016.png
Spoiler Warning: It wasn’t me.

Our First: On August 19th, one player finally did it – for the first time, someone (who wasn’t pchapin) was not only Rank 1 in Constructed, but Rank 1 in Draft as well. We had our first double number one, proving his dominance in both PvP formats: Zurrior! Unfortunately I don’t have a screenshot commemorating it, but I do have a twitter post.

Master Safety: Until patch 1.12 in the September season, players could actually fall out of Master if they dropped below the point threshold. This led to “Ranked Anxiety” in its worst possible form, where players on the bubble just would not play, no matter what. Patch 1.13 changed it so you couldn’t fall out of Master, but they also took away Master points, replacing them with a linear ranking. Good or bad? Opinions are mixed.

Swag: Many of you are only just seeing them now, but in Patch 1.13 the functionality was added to display your ending rank from the previous season. For ranks below master, this just showed your rank (Diamond II, Gold I, etc) but for Masters players, it also showed your Ranking, which was very intimidating when you faced the rank 1 player of last season. Some players ask why it didn’t capture your highest ranking – it would make Master’s rankings kind of silly with 10+ rank 1s running around. This inspired the first Top 100 list.For September, nobody cared about their ranking, since it didn’t matter unless you were Rank 1. For October, people cared, because suddenly people would see how good you were last season (and judge you).

Rewards: Way back in the day, we had a tracker on our profile that showed you how many chests you had opened of each type. One of our ranked ladder rewards types was to get nothing for the first two wins and a gold chest every three wins. Diamond chests at one time contained 2.5k gold and 2 packs. Since gold chests upgraded 10% of the time, you opened a lot more Diamond chests back then.

Non-Functional Card Changes

We used to be cool: Stonescar isn’t the first name of the faction. The original, and sweet, name of the faction was Malforge. After a while, this was changed to Velforge – a severe downgrade in my opinion. Rumors of the later change to Stonescar being chosen to line up with Scarlatch’s name are unconfirmed.

recogulator

The Ever-Changing Whathisname: Scraptank is actually on at least the third name after being originally released. While the card has had no balance changes whatsoever, it was originally called Recogulator. Then it swapped both name and art with the card called Recogulator, later changed to Autofurnace, and finally Scraptank. The names (and the card) didn’t get better.

Not on my Watch: Name changes were a hot topic back in closed beta. Flight Lieutenant was teased in a community patch note to get its name changed to Fleet Admiral – no functional changes. Suddenly a ship’s admiral was making all your units fly. Public outcry, led by myself, caused the name change to be cancelled and saved the card.

war_elephant

Pink Elephant: Way WAY back in the earliest days of the beta, not all the art was done yet. While the art would change and swap around later in the beta, it was only in the first few weeks that we had placeholder art for the cards. One of the cards that’s no longer in the game, War Elephant, had an adorable pink elephant for placeholder art. This art was beloved by most of the community, and there was outcry when it was changed to an elephant that is no longer pink. I believe to this day there have been more threads about changing it back than almost any other art.

From Evil to Good: Celestial Omen used to be called Forbidden Lore, with the same art. Something was once forbidden was now a sign from above! I’ve never understood why the Omen things to come just gave you the card immediately. Seemed like a silly name for what the card does.

Functional Card Changes

1 Power Gain 8: Back so far in May that only the first and second wave players would have heard of them, the boogeyman of Ranked ladder was… Camel Control. Featuring then-legendary cards Harsh Rule and Channel the Tempest alongside namesake Amaran Camel (then called Traveling Camel), these decks Harsh Ruled your board away then gained a bunch of life, before finishing you off with 12 damage Channels. For a player in their first week, this was pretty unfair and tough to beat. This deck was never quite as good as it seemed once we discovered cards like Protect and Stand Together and developed strategies like not emptying your hand on turn 4 into Harsh Rule, but it was the harbinger of the first ever direct card nerfs.

Excavate used to gain the caster health equal to the cost of the card returned – Harsh Rule would gain 5 health, Channel the Tempest would gain 8. With most of the playerbase on super budget Rakano decks, this put them way out of Burn range, especially combined with all the other lifegain in the deck. This was the very first “Best Deck” and much like MTG’s “The Deck” created by Brian Weissman it may seem odd by todays standards, but at the time it was very powerful.

Power can never be created: In the same very early patches as Camel Control had its dominance, a very interesting game mechanic existed. Except for Seek Power and Amber Acolyte, every other card that now searches for basic sigils actually created them out of thin air. Players would play decks with Privilege of Rank and no Justice sigils, just for the card advantage found in discarding them. This functionality was taken out in patch 1.8.1, before it was fully explored, but was certainly interesting.

This is Madness: Madness used to cost a full power less, two instead of three. While this might seem like a small difference, when combined with another card it led to some of the most frustrating gameplay in Eternal. This is way back in the May days of patch 1.7.3 – the Unstable interaction got the axe in 1.8.2 and Madness got its cost increase in 1.10. Here’s what happened: Prior to 1.8.2, transforming a stolen unit would not cause it to return at the end of turn. Madness + Unstable was a 3 cost combo that stole your opponents best unit, improved it, then hit them with it. This ridiculous combo cost you 1.5 cards, and ended up with your opponent down a card and you up one – a net 0.5 card advantage gain and a HUGE tempo swing. Madness also combined cheaply with Combust (3 power, 2 cards, kill 2 of your opponent’s units), Devour (4 power, 2 cards, kill a unit draw 2 cards gain 2 health), and even then-3-cost Burn Out (5 power, 2 cards, kill a unit deal 5 damage). Additionally, the transform interaction let you keep units that would die to temporary effects, like Haunting Scream – Scream + Direwood Beastcaller + Unstable Form was 3 cost, put a random 4 cost unit and two 5/5s into play.

Madness decks ran rampant during this time period, with both Haunting Scream and Stonescar Tokens versions being popular. Playing a unit as expensive as 4 power (like Sandstorm Titan) was actually a liability during this time period, because it was incredibly likely to be stolen, hit you, then die – or worse, stick around to hit you again! Players couldn’t rely on units to stabilize the board, moving players towards unit based control decks. So-called Camelless Control emerged from this realization. The deck removing all of its Madness and removal targets from the old Camel Control decks and replaced them with spells and relics, which turned a good third of your common opponent’s deck into uncastable cards.

Typos are Dangerous: Once the deck was discovered, players began to complain about Bandit Queen being unfun. One, two, three, Turn 4 Queen and off you go. It turns out, the deck was actually more resilient than it was supposed to be. While not strictly relevant to its dominance, all throughout development Bandit Queen was supposed to be, and thought to be, only 2 health. However, on the actual servers (and promotional material) Bandit Queen had 3 health, allowing it to survive a Lightning Storm. Just goes to show that sometimes the numbers feel wrong because the numbers are wrong!

deepforged20plate
Deepforged Plate on Patch 1.10

Stage Seven of Ladder Grief: Patch 1.10 fixed a lot of the issues of previous patches – Madness moved from a must-play-around to a fringe card, and Bandit Queen got a little more manageable. Unfortunately, Patch 1.10 was also the Day That Diversity Died. As I recall, a player by the name of Chrno discovered that Deepforged Plate, then a 4 power +4/+4 Overwhelm Endurance, was really, really good, especially on Silverwing Familiar. A popular deck tech by master deckbuilder Popohad helped to popularize the list. And so began the Summer of Rakano. It turns out the tuned Rakano deck was better than just about anything anyone could come up with, splitting the ladder into four equal parts: players playing Rakano, players with 50% winrates playing decks they thought could beat Rakano, players losing to Rakano, and more players playing Rakano. At its peak, Rakano had more than a 60% share of ladder, and 60% of those players were on the same decklist. This unprecedented representation has not been seen before or since, and Patch 1.11 dealt four swift nerfs to Rakano’s best cards, bringing it (we thought) to its knees. Of course, “Rakano is dead” rings as hollow as ever, and Rakano would ultimately survive this, and other, nerfs to rise again.

It’s Party Time: Fortunately, with the release of patch 1.11 and the nerf to Rakano, the ladder totally stabilized and diversity was restored. Not. See, the first ever Promotional card was released, called Scouting Party, and the party instantly started. While nowhere near as dominant or as ubiquitous as the Rakano decks before them, a lot of people didn’t like Party Hour winter. Combining token generation and card draw from Scouting Party with the cost reduction mechanic on the Witching Hour, players quickly ticked The Witching Hour down to castable levels. They then combined it with an empowered Champion of Cunning to hit the opponent for 30 (or more) charge damage out of hand, as they bash in with five 6/6 flying charge units. This wasn’t quite the Summer of Rakano, but it was incredibly format warping – you played Party Hour, warped your deck to beat it, or played aggro. Since the deck did have counters (Rain of Frogs got to shine!) it wasn’t unbeatable, but it certainly was annoying to play against. For my part, I pushed the deck because I thought it was broken and hoped to convince them to change Champion of Cunning – they gunned down Witching Hour instead, which is a shame because I liked that card. Still, I eventually got my wish, and Champion lost its Charge when we moved to open beta.

slagmite20swarm

No Witty Title: This card wasn’t ever actually changed, except for bugfixes that made it work with cards like Statuary Maiden. It was a very popular inclusion in Stonescar Midrange for a time, often alongside whatever Autofurnace was called at the moment. To this day I don’t know why, it wasn’t very good. This card was removed when we moved to open beta.

dawnwalker1

Bugfix City: This was probably the card that took the longest time to get working at all. While Statuary Maiden probably has more bugfixes aimed at it, most of them fixed corner cases – this card just failed to function. In the very early days of May, you would play a 5 strength unit, Dawnwalker would trigger, and that’s it. It wouldn’t come back. Even after its first couple bugfixes, it was always an adventure to see if the card would return. Sometimes a unit would return some, but not all Dawnwalkers, and they really didn’t like coming back the same turn they died. Additionally, a typo in the card’s name had it show up in-game as Dawnwaker, so the card was affectionately/derisively called Dawnsleeper whenever it didn’t show up. I’ve won more than one game off of sleepy Dawnwalkers.

Threenan Obelisk: In the early days of closed beta, Xenan Obelisk cost 3 power. Compare that to Unlock Potential. Yeah. That didn’t last long.

Tier List

Copycat: I was not the first player to have the idea of writing up a tier list. In fact, I was really against the idea of a tier list when it was first kicked around. I feared that players would only seek to play the top-tier decks, and that it would stifle innovation. I’m a huge believer in innovation, improvement, and especially public information, because I feel that the moving the game and the community forwards is the most important role I can serve. When players have hidden information, they can get an edge over other players. When everyone has that information, the game can grow, and maybe someone can use it to figure out something new.

With that in mind, I eventually changed my tune. The first tier lists were community sourced, and they were run by a name you’re going to start hearing a lot – Tess. She organized the first three weeks of tier lists, and listed them publicly in the discord channel through her indispensible Deckbot. Personally I disagreed with most of the results of the tier list as well as the process, and upon seeing that players were following it anyways, resolved to make my own. I did my best to find top players and solicit their opinions, to form an opinion based list composed of thought-to-be-top players. As you can imagine, finding them objectively proved difficult before the leaderboards were available. Most of the popular parts of my career are just me picking up where Tess leaves off – while I started out on the forums writing Masterlist articles, I really made my mark with the Tier Lists.

Tournaments

From the Beginning: Fan run tournaments have been around almost as long as this game has been in Closed Beta. Run by Tess, the Scion’s League ran its first season way back in May – and the game only entered Closed Beta on April 20th. Due to the strict NDA, the games were played behind closed doors and only the players saw them, but Discord Mod Zureyia earned his Champion badge by defeating LocoPojo in this first season of Scion’s League, less than a week after I started playing.

The First Stream: Due to the nature of the Closed Beta and the incredibly strict Non Disclosure Agreement we agreed to in order to participate in the Eternal Closed Beta, we weren’t even allowed to so much as share decklists on Imgur. That made streaming a tournament finals more or less impossible. However, we were able to get special permission for a once in a lifetime stream of the Scion’s League Season Two Finals in June. Streaming was even more bootleg back then, but we managed to stream the first ever Eternal live for almost 50 viewers! As is ever the case, there were plenty of tech problems and delays, and our overlay was not ideal, but you can check out the Vods here. And yes I say we, as I was privileged to cast portions of that stream.

Growing Bigger: The real advance happened when we moved from monthly leagues to weekly tournaments. For the first few months of Scions League, players were seeded into a pool and then played sets of games against each other. Players who got enough game wins moved on to an elimination tournament at a later date. While this greatly lessened the burden on organization, attendance was spotty and players with losing records could sometimes move on. Additionally, registering a deck in Week 1 only to have two patches by week 4, but still be playing that deck, felt bad. It wasn’t an optimal way to run the tournament, but it worked to whet the appetite for players and set the stage for tournaments to come.

The Pauper Experiment: Two weekly Pauper tournaments were run by Scion’s League. Pauper wasn’t a very interesting format – the first time around, you could choose to play Rakano or you could choose to play Stonescar. The second time around, rarity changes meant Stonescar was the only deck to play and it wasn’t close. Attendance wasn’t high, but I entered both tournaments with Stonescar, and won both without dropping a match, defeating Zureyia on Rakano in the finals both times. This was considered to be good enough to earn a Champion badge at the time, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to win it.

The Passing of the Torch: Nobody lasts forever in the community, and just as Tess was starting to get the Scion’s League up and running, with weekly tournaments, plans for major tournaments and weekly streams, her other commitments came to the fore and she was forced to hang up her TO hat. I gave players a week to step in to fill the void, then put together the ETS. Once again, Tess serves as the originator of what I am known for.

Discord

Everything beyond here is just my memories of the growth and expansion of the Discord channel. If you’re not in the Discord channel, you should be because it’s sweet.

First Impressions: When I first joined the discord server, I had a female avatar. I was immediately assumed to be female, and treated with the respect, deference and attention I deserved. All the other females (two) on the server instantly rejoiced at their sister in arms! All this adoration lasted twenty seconds until I pointed out the erroneous assumption. Then I was back to nobody. But not for long!

The NDA and Discord: The process to get into the Discord was actually really complex for a long time. Since it was under NDA, you couldn’t actually tell anyone about it, so the only way to find out about it was to get a link in the official forums. Then, you were stuck in these nothing channels, and couldn’t see anything. You had to post your in-game name and get verified by one of the Mods as an actual Eternal player before you could enter the Discord and actually talk to anyone. In order to access the beta channels, once you were verified you got a “Beta Tester” badge and your text turned blue. Once the NDA lifted, the verification process was no longer necessary, but it was a lot of work to take the badges off everyone. So the simple solution was found – the role was changed to “Veteran”, as a status symbol from being in the beta before the NDA lifted.

First Big Break: On June 6th, about two and a half weeks after I joined the Discord channel I got my first big break. The channel was looking for additional moderators, and after an intensive interview process I was chosen as one of them! Most of the moderation process was verifying Beta Testers, which we were notoriously bad at because you can’t do that on mobile and that how most of the mods liked to browse the discord. I was merely okay at the job, most of the slack was taken up by Arglebooster who was very good at verifying people within one minute.

The Mod Who Wasn’t Really: It’s tough for me to talk about my memories of the mod team without talking about Dragonfly. As part of one of our mod expansions, we added then-draft-specialist Dragonfly. He was very happy to join the team, and super active for about a day, before he mentioned that he was going to be going out of town for three months and wouldn’t be online, basically at all. Not the best moderator strategy.

Incidentally, Dragonfly was the first draft specialist to promise me a draft article then never deliver, starting a popular trend among draft specialists.

London has Fallen: In early closed beta, ThatOneGuy was basically THE guy. He made the budget decks, he made the non-budget decks, he had all the ladder success. He was also a discord moderator, and a good one. Unfortunately, he was also a british citizen working in the financial sector, and on June 23rd, his job got a LOT harder. Like Dragonfly, ThatOneGuy was forced to disappear for a month, and even after his later return has moved back into playing mostly casually and never recovered his former prominence.

Best Disguise NA: LSV joined the discord server as Yeti Spy to hide his identity. This was whispered around the mod team, but we were sworn to secrecy. Then twenty minutes later some brilliant mod gave him the DWD tag, and people figured it out. A week of people spamming LSV in chat followed.

Better Disguise NA: To this day, some DWD employees are hanging out in Discord without the DWD tag – watching, interacting, having a good time, keeping track of balance suggestions like “Oni Ronin should be 4 power”. They’re blue, that’s the only hint you get.

Win Tournament, Get Job: For a while we were just hiring on whoever won the latest Scion’s League tournament. Peppr got the offer right after his famous surprise no-storms-barred victory in Season two. We planned to offer a mod position to Sir Rhino after his season three victory, but quickly came to our senses.

I’m an Idiot: I asked DWD seriously for set two in June, believing that we needed more cards in order to brew any further. This is probably my dumbest question ever.

Wipe2.png

Wipe Gulls: While most often posted by BadGuyTy, I made the original image. He was the inspiration for the piece, as whenever anyone mentioned anything to do with DWD he’d cry “WIPE?!?” Most of our Discord jokes were pretty bad, but this was a good one that stuck around.

I’ll take that bet: Camel Control went from being the first boogeyman in may to being basically unplayable by July. It was often touted that the deck was dead, never to return, and I actually first took a look at the deck after being on the receiving end of a bet with Tess (a huge supporter of Camel Control) that I couldn’t win two games with it. She was absolutely right, but while exploring the deck I figured out a complete redesign that actually COULD win games. The key discovery was removing the namesake card Traveling Camel (and all the other units) and so Camelless Control was born.

I could probably write more about the game (a lot happened in 8 months) but this article is already getting ponderously long, so I’m going to leave it there for now. Please share your memories of closed beta, especially if you feel there was anything major that I didn’t mention! I’d love to read what those of us who were along for the ride recall, and the stunned reactions of those who were not.

2 thoughts on “You had to be there: A Closed Beta Retrospective

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