Scion’s School: Evaluating New Cards

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Scion’s School.  Jekk’s Bounty saw the release of 16 new cards, some of which were great in everything, most of which have seen play in some deck or another.  Today I want to talk about evaluating cards – how to look at a card and see what decks it belongs in.   First things first, though:  controversial statements!

There Are No Bad Cards In Eternal

We say this somewhat hyperbolically, of course, but it’s a lot more true than you might realize.  When we compare cards, there’s a specific idea that a card might be “strictly” worse than another card.  This happens when two cards, alike in almost every aspect, have some particular difference that makes one always worse than the other in most-to-all situations.   These cards are usually designed for drafting, or to make the upgrade path for a starter deck obvious. The simplest example probably comes from Hearthstone:


Looking at the first set of Eternal (The Empty Throne) we have no “strictly worse” cards in the same colors.  The closest is probably Oasis Sanctuary: a 3 cost, gain 5 health card that is included in starter decks.  This card compares quite disfavorably to Water of Life, an echo card that is essentially a more flexible 2 cost, gain 6 health card.  Of course, if your deck is stacked with good draw cards or Echo effects, you might end up being forced to discard half of Water of Life to the hand limit, so that one tiny edge case technically exempts it from the term “strictly worse”.  

Which is to say this:  Most cards in Eternal (Oasis Sanctuary thoroughly excluded) have a place and time where they are better than any other card of the same cost and color.  Forge Wolf (Fire’s least impressive one-power card) can pop an Eilyn’s Favor right before you Flameblast or double trigger damage for Lurking Sanguar before you attack with Frontier Jito.  Horned Vorlunk has the same cost as Sandstorm Titan, but is easier to play in splash decks and can stall a Rakano deck on a crucial turn 4 holding onto a Vanquish for lethal.  Hooru Fledgeling is unimpressive in Ranked mode, but as a big flyer it can be a surprisingly good card in Draft, where removal spells are less common.  Evaluating a card is not about determining the best cards, but determining the best cards for your plan, your deck, and the overall metagame.

So when you are looking at a card, remind yourself that that card is likely good somewhere.  What we are looking for when we are looking at cards is context.  That means things like:

  1. How frequently and reliably a card is good
  2. How a card fits with other cards in a deck
  3. How a card matches up against the cards most likely to be played against it

It is from these contexts that we can determine what’s “Good” or “Bad” about a card.  There’s a lot of things that make a card good or bad, but we’re going to start with these three premises and delve into the details from there.

Frequency and Reliability (Value, Advantage, and the Vanilla Test)

Jekk,+the+Bounty+Hunter.png

The main thing to be looking at when we look at a card is how often it measures up to what we think of as “good”.  Typically, these are the cards that play nicely all on their own without any special circumstances to enable them.  The better a card is all on its own, the more likely it is to fit into any one particular deck  – for Draft decks in particular, this is one of the first things to look at.

One way to tell if this is true is if the card has better than average stats.  You’ve possibly heard of the “Vanilla test”, which is to say – does this card’s strength and health measure up against the average textless unit of its cost?  If that’s the case, then regardless of what the skills and abilities on the card, odds are that it will develop tempo for you and provide some immediate advantage.  Cards like Knifejack, Argenport Instigator, Valkyrie Enforcer, Sandstorm Titan and Impending Doom all see frequent play in certain decks due in part to their statlines being above average in comparison to other cards of their type and color.

A second thing to look for is immediate advantage.  Eternal is a game with a lot of back and forth interaction, which means a lot of time things are going to be removed the turn after you play them.  If they can reap any sort of benefit while also trading for a removal card or other unit of their cost, then you gain advantage over your opponent.  So, for example, Valkyrie Enforcer comes with a Silence effect and Temple Scribe draws a brand new card, completely refreshing your hand with the card that you lost playing it.  

Of these two, it’s actually Temple Scribe that has the stronger immediate advantage (although Valkyrie Enforcer is better for its statline and abilities).  We call this type of advantage “Card advantage” and it’s relevant because, in a game where both players play evenly matched cards and trade evenly, the person who runs out first tends to lose.  Likewise, if a player can trade unevenly – say, removing an opponent’s Timekeeper with Valkyrie Enforcer, and then trading that for a Torch – they go into topdecks later than your opponent.  So, in order of importance, we especially want to see:

  • Cards that remove other cards in play (Predatory Carnosaur, Storm Lynx)
  • Cards that draw or create cards (Mystic Ascendant, Marisen’s Disciple)
  • Cards that in some way reduce the value of cards in play (Jekk, Valkyrie Enforcer)
  • Cards that buff the value of your cards (Granite Acolyte, Ageless Mentor)

We value buff effects last because there are many cards that can remove a target regardless of how buff it is (Scorpion Wasp, Deathstrike, Annihilate), creating situations where we generate no better trades than we normally would.  An 11/11 Sandstorm Titan is functionally identical to a 5/6 if your opponent is holding an Annihilate.  Likewise, our own removal always works.

Below even buff spells are health gain cards, which merely increase the amount of overall health you have (armor cards are slightly better in some instances).  While having one to two of these can be critical in countering an opponent’s plan, health is the resource you can most rarely spend to win a game, so cards that simply gain health must have either exceptional health gain or decent stats to go along with.

Some final things worth considering are evasion and pressure, two extremely important elements in draft where reliable removal is not common.  Evasion is the stickiness of a card, its ability to linger on the board and generate lasting advantage.  For example, a flying Pteriax Hatchling is an evasive unit – but so too is a Crownwatch Paladin, which sticks to the board and refuses to trade well with removal spells.  Evasion isn’t usually 100% effective but the more slippery the card the more it can do.   Pressure is how quickly the card can reduce your opponent from 25-0, what we often call a cards “clock”.  If the clock is too small, the opponent can safely ignore it.  If the clock is large, it becomes threatening and demands an answer that they may not have.  Cards with evasion and pressure still tend to trade evenly with removal that match them, but if the opponent doesn’t have those cards, they can quickly take a game from nowhere.  Warcry cards also generate some amount of pressure, since they can’t be left unattended or they will make huge problems for your opponent later.

If the card manages to meet all of these measurements, chances are it’s a pretty versatile, reliable card and you can slot it just about anywhere.  If it’s sorely lacking in some of these areas, chances are you’re going to have to dig a bit to increase the frequency and reliability at which it is useful to your deck.

Some cards in Jekk’s Bounty that measure up well as stand-alone cards:

  • Shadowlands Feaster (Middling statline, Evasive, Removal, Decent Pressure)
  • Jekk (Decent statline, Evasive, High Pressure, Pseudo-Removal and Value Reduction)
  • Nictotraxian (Great statline, Evasive, High Pressure, Draws cards for free)
  • Copperhall Bailiff (Slightly weak statline, mass value reduction)

Some cards that could be good as stand-alone cards:

  • Stray into Shadow (Trades with multiple cards, hinders multiple cards)
  • Passage of Eons (Trades with multiple cards, hinders multiple cards)

Your Deck (Theme, Synergy, and Curve)

Avisaur+Patriarch.png

If a card isn’t functional independently, the next step to evaluation is “What can I build around this?” or “How can this support a theme?”  Most of the best decks in Eternal have a basic plan of some kind, from Aggro Warcry to Control Armory to Shimmerpack midrange.  If the card strongly supports that plan, it might be more valuable than it would be otherwise.

For example, Cliffside Porter is a pretty bad statline at a pretty bad cost.  It trades with nothing, has no pressure, and gives essentially a 0/2 spread across two units for 2 cost.  But if you are playing in a deck with Xenan Obelisk, Vault of the Praxis, and Shimmerpack, your decks plan is clearly to play lots of small cards that create at least two units to draw extra cards and later turn into giant illusionary dinosaurs.  So in that kind of deck, Cliffside Porter might be way more valuable than a Borderlands Waykeeper or an East-Wind Herald, both of which have better stats for the same cost.

Even if your deck doesn’t have a specific plan, the amount of synergy between other cards is important.  Take Throne Warden, a card that gains you 4 armor (in addition to being an OK evasive unit.  Throne Warden is average to middling on its own, but if you are playing a deck with 16 relic weapons, it increases the value of any one of those relic weapons that you might draw to give you what likely amounts to an extra card worth of advantage in trades.  There are very few Rakano cards that don’t like receiving warcries, so anything with an early Warcry tends to be very good in Rakano.  Righteous Fury has great synergy with any card that has a lot of strength, but not with measly 2/2s or 1/1s where the doubling effect doesn’t matter as much.

The strongest types of synergies are what we refer to as combos, which are multi-card combinations that create such massive advantage as to be ridiculous.  For example, Excavate, a card that not only doesn’t remove a unit or create a card but also denies you your next card draw, is a bad card on its own.  However, if you Excavate a card like Static Bolt and then play Elysian Trailblazer, you get two Static Bolts that buff each other, almost tripling their value and opening up crazy lethal opportunities.  Likewise, doing the same to a Second Sight will get you an infinite draw combo that will pay for itself in spades over time.

The other thing that is important to note is the card’s position on the power curve.  Elysian decks have a dozen great 4 and 5-cost cards, most of which are great all on their own.  But if you don’t have enough cards in the 1, 2, and 3 slots, a deck stacked with threats like these will typically face huge problems as your opponent plays too many early cards and stacks the board against you.  Putting a Sandstorm Titan down on 4 won’t save you if the board is full of tiny units that have pecked away your health and are threatening lethal with a Rally or a Finest Hour.

Likewise, if the a card is the only card you have at an important moment in your curve, then the card may not be strong at all.  Say a player thinks that Crownwatch Paladin is indisputably the best 2-cost aggro card in the game, so they only run that card in the 2 slot.  Most of the time, that player won’t even draw the Paladin on 2.  Instead, they’ll play it at an awkward turn 5 or 6 or 11, or maybe they won’t play it at all.  Now, if the player is playing a real aggro deck, he’ll be running twelve different two drops, all of which do close to the same thing that Crownwatch Paladin does.  This level of redundancy is crucial in the early curve, and fairly relevant even in midrange decks that need to accomplish a particular task at a reliable hour.  Ancient Lore doesn’t seem as good as Wisdom of the Elders for card draw, but if your deck needs to draw cards, you will probably want it right in alongside Wisdom.  Sandstorm Titan’s indisputably a great card, but if your plan is to play midrange threats than you’ll want Champion of Wisdom in there as well.  Cards that establish redundancy in your deck or even slightly vary the formula can be very strong.

So ask yourself: What does your deck do?  Or alternatively, what would a deck have to do in order to run this card?   If you are racking your brain and can’t find anything yet, set the card aside for later.  But it might have a purpose you’ve missed!

Cards t0 evaluate from a deck specific perspective:

  • Avisaur Patriarch (Dinosaaaaurs)
  • Cliffside Porter (Shenanigans with tokens, Hatchery Raider combos)
  • Praxis Outlaw (Hyper-aggro decks that run out of steam quickly)
  • Hone (Relic Weapon decks, Hooru Staff of Stories)
  • Cabal Spymaster (Infiltrate decks)
  • Combrei Emissary (Ramp Decks)
  • Quarry (Every non-aggro Stonescar plan ever)
  • Bait (Sacrifice decks, especially Brimstone Altar)
  • Tyrannize (Dinosaurs, Magus of the Mist and other Transform Synergy)

As you can see, a lot of the Jekk cards are designed with invention and experimentation in mind.  Figuring out how good these cards can actually be is one of the most fun parts of Eternal!

The Metagame and the Sideboard (Questions, Answers, and Counter-cards)

Passage+of+Eons.png

The final method of evaluating cards, and perhaps the most difficult, is to consider what other people are running.  Here’s a fairly easy start – for most of Eternal’s lifespan, around 10-20% of players like to run cheap, simple Rakano Warcry.  That deck likes to play a lot of fast, aggressive units, build value if you leave them on the board, and then maybe finish out with a spell or weapon at 4 or 5.  It’s quick and easy to build and cheap, so people play it a lot.

To that end, if a card is particularly good against Rakano Warcry, it’s probably a great card in the context of a ranked match.

A good example of a card like this is Steward of the Past.  As a 3/5, it stands under Vanquish, a common Rakano removal spell, and above Torch, an even more common Rakano removal spell.  It has deadly, so even if a Crownwatch Paladin gets Finest Hour, the card still trades 2-for-1 with the Paladin.  And as long as it’s down on the board, Rakano can’t attack effectively into you because their plan does not include a sincerely go-wide strategy where they can just throw away units.  This card slows down the Rakano plan. Statuary Maiden accomplishes a similar goal, as do faster cards like Combrei Healer, or Lightning Storm.

Depending on what type of decks you are playing against, you want to have A) the right answers, and B) the right questions.  An answer is any type of removal or effect that effectively stops the opponent from doing the thing he most wants to do.   A question, or a threat, is a card that demands an answer or else it wins the game.

Proactive cards are usually better than reactive cards, but you won’t always be the first person to play a question, so you need a good mix of answers that are specifically tailored to the meta.  Say you’re running a Feln control deck, and players are playing a lot of decks that are very aggressive this week.  You should value highly cards like Suffocate and Annihilate and focus less on big, difficult removal like Deathstrike or Feeding Time.  At the same time, you should be playing cards like Steward and Feln Bloodcaster, who force your opponent to stall out and play inefficiently. If the game becomes more control-oriented, Backlashes and Eilyn’s Favor become more important, and cards like Annihilate seem less useful against the likely multicolored sticky units you’ll be seeing.  

If a deck is practically omnipresent, you might consider running a card that is specifically for that matchup.  As a silly example, when I got sick of getting beaten by the Nictotraxian control list this week, I started siding in Pilfers to steal the dragon after my opponents Second Sight.  As a more concrete example: Decay, Furnace Mage, and Ruin are all much better cards in the context of an Armory-heavy meta, and Azindel’s Gift hard-locks most control matchups.  The more types of decks that a particular card can answer, the better.

Don’t let what the opponents are playing completely influence your strategy.  You don’t have to change every card in your deck to match exactly with a particular archetype, and you still want to have internal synergy and a consistent theme to your deck. The strength of your cards and your overall deck is more important than its position in the meta.  But if you’re seeing Haunting Scream and Xenan Killers everywhere and you suddenly start running Reality Warden in your big Combrei deck, you’ll win more games as a result!

Cards to evaluate as meta picks or sideboard choices:

  • Copperhall Bailiff (Jito and Rakano counter)
  • Passage of Eons (Heavy control metas)
  • Stray into Shadow(Low-health units, recursion decks like Wisp or Dawnwalker)
  • Shadowlands Feaster (Icaria Blue, Icaria Black, Icaria Icaria)
  • Jekk, The Bounty Hunter(For when you need eight silences in Rakano, or 12 in Fire-Time-Justice)

How many boxes?

Now you should have a pretty good idea of the levers and knobs that make a card work in a particular deck – its general strength, the amount of synergy and combo potential it has, and its position as an answer to the strategies that most bother you.  A card doesn’t have to tick all these boxes simultaneously, but if it does, you’ve likely found some extremely powerful tech to be using in your next big deck.  Think critically, and explore the card from different angles.

The way your collection works, you’ll likely be introduced to each new card in small batches at a time, so use these opportunities to practice evaluating the cards – and then find them a home and play with them!  There’s a huge, diverse set of decks out there to explore and create, and the better you get at this kind of thing, the more weird and great your decks can be.  Good luck, have fun, and keep a weather eye on the horizon!

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