Going Deep – Assorted Thoughts

Hello Friends! Today’s article is a grab bag of thoughts that I wanted to share with ya’ll. Got a few things going on IRL that are taking some extra focus right now, so this will be a departure from my usual 4000 word epics on my topic of the week. There are a few thoughts that I don’t quite think merit a full article that I wanted to get out there. Hopefully everyone finds something interesting in here!

I Hate Tech Cards

ProtectDecay

People who talk to me a lot related to deckbuilding may know that I have fairly particular tastes. I have a lot of strong opinions on a lot of cards, many of which are not shared by others in the community. One topic that I feel very passionate about is certain tech cards that people will put in their decks. I would define a “tech card” as being a card that is below average in overall power level, but has been chosen to counter very specific strategies/cards in the metagame. Some examples might be playing Decay in Time-based midrange or control decks, Rain of Frogs in controlling Primal decks, or Protect as a counter to Burn. As someone with an interest in deckbuilding and staying ahead of the meta, why do I hate these cards so much? I’ve thought about it recently and came up with an answer.

Let’s compare two such cards: Azindel’s Gift and Decay. Azindel’s Gift is a tech card for Shadow-based control decks (especially Feln) to devastate their control and midrange opponents. It is just impossible to operate under a Gift for many decks, meaning that the game essentially ends when Gift connects. Now, I actually have beaten a resolved Gift playing Feln control, but it is very hard and requires a lot of luck. While Gift is truly an all-star in control mirrors, it is complete garbage in many other match ups. Any aggressive deck should be able to empty their hand way before turn 7, so Gift is unlikely to have any impact on those games.

Compare this to Decay. I have played a lot of Shimmerpack recently, which obviously leans heavily on Xenan Obelisk. Getting your Obelisk Decayed sucks, but you don’t need the card to win. I have won plenty of games with mediocre Storm Lynx + Marisen’s Disciple beatdowns, or by chaining Scouting Parties together, or just hitting Shimmerpack on turn 7 with a half dozen idiots in play. I also find Obelisks can have diminishing returns, where the first makes your team overpower the opponent’s blockers, but the second just deals a little more damage. If you have your first Decayed, a second will replace it well. Decay can win games against Shimmerpack, but it is not like killing the first Obelisk ends the game. I think this holds true for a range of match-ups. Armory usually has more weapons, and they obviously have Smuggler’s Stash. Combrei Obelisk decks can certainly win on the back of just efficient units and Siraf’s ability. Killing a Permafrost or Staff of Stories out of Feln is acceptable, but you are not exactly setting the world on fire.

So, Decay is good but not game-breaking against some decks, and totally dead against others (Burn and Big Combrei come to mind). Azindel’s Gift, on the other hand, is a game winning play against some decks, but totally useless elsewhere. I feel like Gift is much better tech card for this reason. If you put a tech card in your deck that is bad in some match-ups, it better win the game when it is good. Some tech cards have a higher floor than others, such a Furnace Mage, but in general I think people overvalue the occasional blow-out potential over just having “normal” cards. You want to beat armory with Decay? Maybe you should just play Twinbrood Sauropod instead. It is usually a 2-for-1 against Armory, and will also use up Vanquishes to clear the way for Mystic Ascendant. Obviously this is an over-simplified way of looking at things, but I think there is usually an alternative that allows you to be more proactive while effectively countering problem cards. That, or you should just punt the match up if you feel like you need a card like Decay to win. Turning a 20% match up into a 25% match up is just not worth it, when you are giving away win rate against every other deck.

Of the cards that fall into this category the least offensive are the cheap anti-spell effects like Backlash, Protect, and Sabotage. They are playable, but I feel people sometimes over-simplify or over-value them. For example, I have seen people say “If you want to beat Burn, why don’t you just play Protect?”. It is true that Protect can be good in that match up, but it is nowhere near good enough to win the game by itself. I have played Protect in decks like Vodacombo and it does not “fix” the burn match up. Does it answer the curve of Instigator>Champion of Chaos>Impending Doom? Does it answer the second Flame Blast? Nope. In addition, Protect is fairly poor in many match ups. At least with these cheap tech cards they are flexible enough that they can usually trade for a card in most match ups, but I feel like people over-value some of them as a counter to other decks.

Deck Skill

Every now and then on Discord or Reddit there are some weird conversations we get into about deck skill. I want to address this for a moment, because I feel like there are some issues with these conversations that are important to understand. The first thing that I would like to point out is that people are going to have very different interpretation of what it means for a deck to be “high skill” or “low skill”. Some decks are difficult to pilot just at the level of getting your cards to operate (Clockroaches for example). Other decks require careful thought over long games (Feln-based control). Finally, others require making the most of limited resources in some match ups (Rakano Jito). Do you measure the difficulty of a deck by the number of hard decisions, or the percentage of free wins, or difficulty of certain match ups, or just the mechanics of the deck? They all mean different things, and categorizing decks as “high” or “low” skill is often oversimplifying things.

The other half of this is implying that the skill of a player relates to the skill level of the deck they are playing. Every top player in the game that I have played against a lot has, at some point, played what I would consider a “low skill deck”. They may be capable of playing a high skill deck, but they just think this low skill deck is better right now. The example of this I think back to most clearly was in Magic where John Stern won a big tournament with a deck known as “Hexproof”. It is roughly the least interactive deck imaginable, and relies on building a giant monster out of a little 1/1 that could not be the target of spells. This was widely considered to be about as brainless a deck imaginable, and John was known as a player who always put a lot of effort into his preparation for tournaments. Why did he choose this low-skill level deck? Clearly he just thought it was the best, and apparently he was right. Don’t disrespect decks just because they are “low-skill”, since it doesn’t matter if you are playing the highest skill deck imaginable if it is just bad. I honestly think Shimmerpack is the lowest skill deck in the game, but I play it all the time when it is good.

I also think it is fairly simple to oversimplify the skill required for given decks. Once you are experienced with a given deck you off-load much of your decision making to your subconscious. This has some benefits and some problems that I may explore in a future article, but one minor problem is that you lose sight of the difficulty of proper decision making. Lines of play that are obvious to an experienced player may be less obvious to someone unfamiliar with the archetype or the specific match up. This leads into the subjectivity of skill as well, since certain players will find different match-ups more or less difficult depending on their personal experience and natural ability.

As a final note on this topic, I’d also like to remind everyone that comments like “so-and-so is a mindless deck” can be hurtful to people. When a member of the community dumps on some deck archetype or another, you may offend others without even knowing it. It is hard to guess exactly how many people are quietly offended by these kinds of comments, but given that these conversations rarely accomplish anything, it isn’t like we lose anything by avoiding them altogether. If you are just looking to tilt off in Discord because of a frustrating loss that is allowed, but it is probably better not to insult your opponent or their deck.

Too Much To Write About

Although this article is a little simple compared to my usual fare, this isn’t a sign that I have run out of ideas to write about. In fact, I often feel like I have the opposite problem. There is so much to say! Since I started writing about Eternal I am almost constantly thinking up new topics to write about, but I never know what people will be interested in. I thought I should run a simple straw poll and get a sense from everyone what you are interested in. Let me know your thoughts! You can select multiple answers. Any topics that I missed? I expect to do a mix no matter what because I just have a lot of ideas, but gauging interest will be helpful.

That’s all for now! Looking forward to being back so I can hang out with everyone again!

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