Guest Article: Leveling up with pauses

Guest Article by finkel (the Eternal one)

“Pauses” are one of the defining characteristics of Eternal. They consist of stops where you or your opponent are allowed to interact with fast spells or ambush creatures. Because of this, you can play a Torch during combat and they can respond it with a Backlash or a Finest Hour. Similarly, though at different moments of the turn, they are the windows when ambush creatures can be deployed.

Here I will be only discussing the main aspects of how these pauses for fast spells can be used to infer information from the opponent’s hand and how you can hide this information from your opponent. This is quite a deep subject and I don’t think there is any player in Eternal that fully understands and incorporates these techniques in their gameplay yet, and it is a discussion for the more experienced players of the game.

A key element of pauses is that they will only happen when you (or your opponent) has fast spells with available targets, power, and influence to cast them. For example: it is the end of your opponent’s turn and your only fast spell in hand is a Deathstrike – if there is a creature in play there will be a pause for you to cast it and if there isn’t there won’t.

Similarly, for Annihilate, if the only creature in play is a Champion of Glory, the game will automatically skip to your turn. However, if an Oni Ronin is also in the battlefield, there will be a priority window for you to cast it.

When an opponent’s pauses can happen

On your turn

  • At the end of the turn
  • During your attack before blockers are declared (including relic weapons and killer attacks)
  • During your attack after blockers are declared (including relic weapons and killer attacks)
  • In response to one of your spells
  • In response to an effect (such as Eye of Winter or Praxis Displacers) targeting them or their units

On their turn

  • During their attack after blockers are declared (not including relic weapons and killer attacks)
  • In response to one of your spells
  • In response to an effect (such as Desert Marshal) targeting them or their units
  • At the end of the turn after you cast an ambush unit

I’m pretty sure I’m missing some possible response windows, but these are the most important ones and which should affect most of your decision-making.

Getting information through pauses

The nature of pauses allows you to get brief glimpses of your opponent’s hands. Let’s take a look at some of the simplest cases:

Scenario 1

Your opponent plays a Fire Sigil on turn 1. You play a Justice Sigil and pass the turn back. At the end of your turn there is a pause window for the opponent to cast spells.

This means he has a 1 power, fire, fast spell in hand. There are three spells in the game that fulfill this criteria: Torch, Temper and Ruin. Ruin does not have any valid targets, so it is either Torch or Temper. If you are playing Ranked (which I will be assuming from now on), you can certainly infer that the opponent has at least 1 Torch in hand. Later on, when deciding whether to use a Stonescar Maul or a Vanquish to kill one of their threats, you will be able to use this information to make the better play.

Conversely, if there is no pause, you can establish that they don’t have any Torches right now.

Scenario 2

You have an Oni Ronin in play and you attack, your opponent has no creatures and there is no pause. You follow-up by casting an Inspire and now there is a stop for the opponent respond, what could they have?

There are only two spells in the game that can only be cast in response to other spells: Backlash and Spell Swipe. Now you have to narrow down by looking at the opponent’s available power and influence. If they have 5 open power and Shadow and Primal influence, then it could be either of them. Otherwise, it can only be Backlash.

This is the most very basic of pauses and I believe that to explore your full potential at the game you need to be familiarized with these concepts and make mental tracks of the pauses and lack of pauses happening during the game. So let’s look at a slightly more complex example:

Scenario 3

You are playing at the ETS, so you have your opponent’s deck list available. Their only fast spells are 4 x Torches and 4 x Finest hours.

It is the first turn, they play a Fire Sigil and pass, you follow with a Grenadin Drone and pass back and no pause happens (you make a mental note: no Torch). They follow with a Justice Sigil and end their turn. Now you attack and there is a pause, though they choose not to cast anything.

Now they have at least one castable fast spell. There is roughly a 6% (4/67) chance that they drew a Torch on the last turn, otherwise they definitely have a Finest Hour. So now you know with >94% probability that they have a Finest Hour, you should make a mental note and play accordingly.

A small twist can be done for this example if they played a depleted Rakano Banner on their second turn. Since it is so likely that they would want to play it on Turn 1 instead, you can almost certainly guess that they just drew it, meaning that they have with 100% confidence a Finest Hour.

These examples provide the foundations of getting information from the opponent’s pauses. Naturally, there are many more particular situations involving specific fast spell conditions which you gradually learn as you practice “pause reading”.

One of the cool things you can do is to play spells with the goal of checking for opponent’s pauses and then making your plays using the information gained. It is a bit easier to explain with an example:

Scenario 4

You are playing a Combrei mirror, but your opponent has been beating you senselessly. You are at 5 life and they have a Sandstorm Titan on the field with a single card in hand. It is your turn and you have 7 power available, nothing on the board and your hand is: Sandstorm Titan, Harsh Rule and a Seek Power.

You have to make a choice: play a Sandstorm Titan, which means you lose to Vanquish, or play Harsh Rule, and then you lose to him having a Protect. Without any information Harsh Rule seems like the better play; most decks play more Vanquishes than Protects.

However, you can cast Seek Power, which will open a response window for them to cast their Protect, if they have one. In case there is a pause, you should play your Titan and hope they don’t rip a removal for it. Otherwise, Harsh Rule is the safer play.

In this simple example there is no harm in playing Seek Power, but there are moments which you may want to burn a spell just to check the waters. Let’s say you substitute Seek Power with Lightning Storm in your hand. You could Storm the board for no real effect, just to incite a pause. Such play needs a high amount of experience on Eternal and I have seen very few times happening. But it is a good thing to have on the back of your mind as these situations are not that rare.

Hiding your hand information

The most interesting aspect of Eternal pauses is the ability that one has to try to hide this information. You can force yourself to not have the available power to cast certain spells when these pause windows would happen so that your opponent can’t get information from your hand. This is quite complicated to do, as not only it requires a high degree of attention and understanding of the game, but requires you to realize that you are eliminating the option of casting that spell in that situation.

Let’s take a look at certain examples of how you can hide your spells and this should become more clear.

Scenario 5

It is your second turn, you have a 1 power, 1 Fire influence, an Oni Ronin on the board and your opponent has no creatures and no power. Your hand consists of another Oni Ronin, a Shadow sigil, a Torch and a Rapid Shot.

Half of the Eternal players would attack with Oni Ronin, play their other Oni Ronin and then their sigil. The other half would play their sigil, play their second Oni Ronin, attack and pass. These plays are not optimal. In both cases there will be a pause after your attack, indicating a Torch (on the first case), or a Torch or a Rapid Shot (on the second case).

The technically correct (though a bit less fluid way of doing it) is: play your second Ronin, attack with no available power and then follow-up with your power drop. There are very few players that do it this way (I know Unearthly is very conscious of this) and it may be something very minor, but it is definitely the best way.

Playing the second beetle hides the Rapid Shot during this attack.

A key aspect is that it doesn’t matter if you have Torch or Rapid Shot in hand, the absence of pauses with your power available is as telling as their presence. In this case you employed the two main tricks to hide the fast spells in your hand: casting spells before attacking to use up your power and play your power after combat.

Casting spells before combat may change your opponent’s play, so it is something you have weigh on a case by case basis. This example is the simplest one as they don’t really have blockers or power to react in any way, so playing a creature before combat doesn’t matter at all. The good thing is that this situation happens a lot with all the fire decks playing 1 drops and Torches.

Scenario 6

Once again your opponent has no available power with no creatures. You have an Oni Ronin, 3 power with both Justice and Fire influences. Your hand is a Righteous Fury, a Finest Hour and a Fire sigil.

Here you will be forced to show a pause when you attack. So the right play is to play your sigil before attacks, so that there is a wider range of spells that your opponent will have to guess from (spells costing up to 4 power). It doesn’t really matter that you have a Righteous Fury in your hand; even if you didn’t it would be the correct play to have the maximum available power so your opponent can’t narrow down to what you actually have.

You can’t hide the fast spell during this attack, so playing a sigil precombat widens the range of spells your opponent has to guess from.

The two basic rules of fast spell hiding

There are two small rules that I try to follow to hide my spells. They basically encapsulate the concepts shown in the previous examples:

  1. If you definitely won’t cast your fast spells when attacking and playing your other spells pre-combat won’t change your opponent’s play during combat, then you should try to spend all your power before combat.
  2. If you can’t hide your spell using the first rule, then you should try to have the maximum amount of power and influence available to make it harder for the opponent to identify your fast spell.

In general, rule 1 means that your opponent has no good blocks and can’t cast any relevant spells during the combat step. Hiding your spells usually only works on the early turns of the game and after reaching a certain amount of power it becomes impossible and you shouldn’t worry about it.

Stand Together is the most powerful card to hide. A timely Stand Together in aggressive Combrei decks against Harsh Rule is usually game over, so I highly recommend practicing hiding this spell if this is your deck of choice.

Showing pauses to trick your opponent

There are some circumstances which you might want to show a pause to your opponent, assuming that they will guess the wrong spell and play around it. This will usually happen if you have an unusual fast spell that they would not be expecting.

Scenario 7

An easy example to show this is the ETS, with open decklists. You are playing with a Rakano deck with 4  Finest Hours and 1  Righteous Fury. You have Champion of Glory on the battlefield and a Righteous Fury in your hand which you may or may not hide during your attack step.

Your opponent is on an Armory deck, full of Swords of Icaria and Auric Hammers. All these weapons trade unfavorably with Finest Hour. In this situation it may be better to make your attack without hiding your spell, since your opponent is likely to assume you have a Finest Hour and dissuade them from using those weapons to kill your creature and opt for a suboptimal line (such as rising for a 6/1 Hammer).

Final Thoughts

These are my ideas on the basics of exploring pauses to play Eternal better. I’m pretty sure other players who gave some thought about it may disagree with these points and have developed other interesting tricks to explore this aspect of the game. Overall, there is a varying degree of skill required to do these tricks and it may be that for the harder ones, such as hiding fast spells, that the pay-off is not worth it, but only time will tell if they will become an important part of high-level playing.

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