One Set, One Year – A Retrospective

It’s Retrospective Week here on RNG Eternal, and it’s been over a year since the Eternal Closed Beta began. This week also marks the one year anniversary of my Eternal writing career, with my first article being released one year ago to the day. Many current Eternal players weren’t around to experience the wild west of Closed Beta, and many of those that were are no longer with us today. A year or two from now, even those who were there are unlikely to remember much about it. Therefore, I’ve taken it upon myself to attempt to chronicle the month by month evolution of Eternal’s ladder metagame throughout its first year, as we grew from our first decks to full collections and beyond.

The intent of this article is not to point to deck creators or to say who developed what technique, but to give you a glance into what decks were played at the time and a ballpark of when technology was developed. Eternal’s early history is mostly hidden under a non-disclosure agreement and very little recorded evidence of that time has survived. Eternal Forum Articles are our primary written windows into the game’s history, and I will be referring to them extensively throughout the article. Beyond that, I am relying entirely on the imprecise human memory, and so some dates may be slightly off or attributions incorrect. I apologize in advance for any errors, but the broad strokes should be correct.

This will be my second major retrospective, and boy is it a long one! If you manage make it through this one, or are interested in reading some more about the Closed Beta, check out my Closed Beta Retrospective for a more humorous, anecdote filled journey through the early months.

The Very Beginning (May to July)

May – Control is broken!

The Eternal Card Game entered Closed Beta on April 20th, 2016. I personally entered the beta during the first week of May and it was a whole new world. Enterprising netdecker that I am, I quickly finished the campaign and hopped onto the official Eternal Forums to find out what’s good. There I found probably the most influential article of early Eternal – ThatOneGuy’s Rakano Warcry. At this time, we didn’t have deck exports, so lists were written up by hand. A number of cards existed in different forms, but the original gameplan was the same as today’s plan – play dudes, weapon up, attack! It was one of the easiest decks to build and very, very effective at what it did. I played a ton of Rakano Mirrors back in the day, as did many other Rakano players on ladder.

If the (second week) newbs were playing Rakano, what were the (first week) veterans playing? Eternal’s first control deck, of course! While I was unable to find a primer article, this list, though from June, provides the best snapshot of what the archetype looked like at the time that I can find. Known as Camel Control because of its namesake card Traveling Camel (now Amaran Camel), this deck used Excavate to chain Harsh Rules and Channel the Tempests to quickly end the opponent. At the time, Excavate gained you health equal to the cost of the card you returned – Harsh Rule gained you 5 health, Channel gave you 8! With the aggressive decks relying on just torch for reach, it was very easy for the second Harsh Rule to stabilize the control player – especially with Camel pumping up your heath turn after turn.

Patch 1.8.1 – May 20th, 2016

Excavate now gains a flat two health. We love the crazy Fate and Echo combos people have found with Excavate, but are less happy with the decks repeatedly Excavating Channel the Tempest for huge amounts of health, cards, and damage. This change should keep the fun interactions around without giving slow control decks the same level of safety.

That didn’t last long. This change brought the crazy control decks into line, and opened up room for other kinds of decks. Amusingly, in the same patch Xenan Obelisk was nerfed from its old cost of 3 (!) to 4 power, though this wasn’t a change nor a card we would appreciate for many months to come. Our final meta deck was more or less the modern version of All-In Clockroaches, which had a strong control matchup and an unwinnable aggro matchup. Echo units got multiple battle skills from crown, which meant the keyword chain ramped up much faster than than it does now. However, as with all new decks, it was inconsistent and relegated to fun tier for several months.

June – Combrei cometh (but Madness reigns)

June was a landmark month in terms of deckbuilding. Many archetypes that we are now familiar with today got their start in June, and some of the overlooked archetypes from May finally got their chance to shine. A prime example of this was the then-Velforge Sacrifice deck, once again written up by trailblazer ThatOneGuy. The deck itself didn’t end up being a metagame staple, but it paved the way for much of the annoying tech that would be adapted by big metagame decks to follow, mostly based around Madness.

In June, Madness cost 2 power, a single power less than the 3 it costs now. As we have seen from the Rapid Shot change, a single power makes a world of difference when costs are low. You didn’t get to keep your units very long against this deck. Madness + Combust took one of your units and used it to blow up another of your units – even on cost, but at only 3 power it was incredible tempo. Madness + Devour killed your unit at no net card cost, and became a key part of Haunting Scream decks. Madness + Burn Out only cost 5 and generally killed the opponent, dealing the units attack + 5 damage (plus your other units). This combo, sometimes alongside Combust, was adapted into the Bandit Queen decks that we’ll talk about in July.

Neon talked about it in his article, but its worth reiterating that ThatOneGuy also singlehandedly developed Armory this month. Punching its way through most of the metagame the deck was powerful but its earliest iterations were relatively primitive and born in part by a desire to flex legendaries on ladder. Still, many players fell in love, and with a little tuning the deck became a staple archetype for months to come.

In June at least one player actually read Sandstorm Titan and lo, Combrei was born! Combrei has been one of the most expensive decks to build since time immemorial, so its excusable that players were a little slow to build it out. Then called TJ Ramp, the decks often played medium cards like Sauropod Wrangler and Ancient Lore, but they also played pretty good cards like Desert Marshal, Siraf, and Sandstorm Titan. Their curve usually stopped at 5 – for Reality Warden, interestingly enough. Combrei decks of this era were strictly midrange and did NOT play Harsh Rule, and you’d be laughed out of the room if you suggested it. Powering through on sheer beef, Combrei decks stood strong but were playing a fair game in an incredibly unfair metagame.

Unstable_Formmadnesshaunting-scream

Speaking of unfair… there was a minor bug in the code that ended up having huge repercussions (and a really unfair deck built around it). Basically, transformed units forgot everything that had previously happened to them. This meant that, believe it or not, Unstable Form was a busted card in June. When you used Unstable Form on a unit you stole with madness, you kept it. When you used Unstable Form on a unit brought back by Haunting Scream, you kept it. Between these combos and Madness + Devour, it was nearly impossible to stop Haunting Scream decks from getting their units through. At the end of June in patch 1.9, the transform bug was patched out and Haunting Scream decks went from “ridiculous” to merely “strong”, as Fire decks were now better positioned to abuse Madness.

While never quite a top-tier deck, Finkel Flight School was developed during this era. Maximizing silences for interaction, the deck relied on synergy rather than independently powerful units, which allowed it to compete in a madness dominated metagame. It also stocked an unfair card in Diving Rod (then called Instructor’s Baton) which dumped units into play that shared keywords – in this case, flying. Hitting two or even three units off of baton was a huge swing and gave a deck filled with cheap flyers some top end. This deck inspired other Baton powered decks, and survived nearly unchanged until nearly Open Beta.

July – Stonescar is broken, take one

Once again, Neon covered it in his article, but the discovery of Bandit Queen was like the discovery of Sandstorm Titan – a can’t-believe-we-missed-this staple. Bandit Queen combines well with tokens, which combine well with Combust and Devour and Burn Out, which just so happened to be the best remaining ways to abuse Madness. And abuse madness they did. Decks that played units walked into madness and decks that didn’t  died to Bandit Queen, a quandary that never really got solved until Patch 1.10 at the end of June when Madness went up to 3 cost (and Bandit Queen went down to 2 health).

Which is not to say that players didn’t try to solve it. Emerging from the ashes of the old Camel Control decks was the new, “Camelless” Control deck, a deck name that haunts me to this day. Camel Control was more or less unplayable on ladder at this point, and some serious innovation was needed to modernize it. The Camelless decks abandoned the old Camel plan in favor of Stronghold Visage, a path which ended in them cutting all units entirely. Without any units in play, decks had no targets for their Madnesses, their Combusts, their other removal spells… Being able to render a large portion of their opponent’s deck dead was an incredible boon for a control deck, and a reliable source of lifegain helped push the deck out of burn range. Midrange decks got bogged down by Eye of Winter (which was actively good at the time) and were forced to play into Harsh Rule after Harsh Rule or watch the Camelless player’s life total tick up, up, up… Tossing the units to the curb did a lot for the deck, but it did leave the deck with one small weakness – it had a 0-100 Armory matchup. A single Sword of Icaria send you reaching for your Decays and it just went downhill from there.

Much as Combrei players read Sandstorm Titan in June, in July players read Cirso and realized you could play him WITH Sandstorm Titan! Dawnwalker also functioned properly for the first time in open beta, and Elysian Midrange was born. We still hadn’t kicked our Ancient Lore habit, but the plan was there – Dawnwalker + fatties. This deck actually topped the table for a while as people tried to adjust to it, mostly the fault of Camelless Control above. With no Desert Marshals in control, Dawnwalker was actually a legitimate threat against them giving Elysian a good midrange and control matchup.

Champion of Cunning
Feln’s early theme was Do Unfair Things

July also marked the first ever aReNGee tier list, which canvassed opinions from top ladder players (and nobodies like Neon) to form a general consensus of what ladder looked like. Feln decks really started to come together in July, as did The Other Kind of Stonescar – Midrange! With the death of Haunting Scream decks players were able to investigate Feln cards that cost more than four, and started to branch out into midrange and control decks. VSarius himself used his sole forum post to write a primer for a Feln Deck that showcased the technology of the era, and sadly what was lacking from it. Lifted from Peppr’s Scion’s League winning decklist were the Feln Strangers and Champions of Cunning – we had realized that Champion was a card worth building around. It also showcases the Witching Hour – Champion combo that would be famously rehashed in Party Hour (we’ll get there in a bit). However, this deck also shows that we hadn’t quite caught on to Seek Power or Black-Sky Harbinger, never mind Withering Witch, so it would be some time before “true” Feln control could evolve, rather than a variety of Champion powered shells.

Unfortunately I do not have a Stonescar Midrange list from that era, but the “aha” moment for Titan and Cirso happened for Maiden as well. Champion of Chaos was also spotted as a powerful card, but the rest of the deck didn’t feature much new technology. Umbren Reaper and Soulfire Drake were not widely played at this time, and Obliterate simply wasn’t a card anyone thought about until August. Without these missing pieces, Stonescar Midrange decks varied widely and lacked a concentrated gameplan.

Rounding out July was probably the best documented deck evolution in early Eternal – the Armory Split. Players had taken ThatOneGuy’s beloved Armory and iterated upon it, again and again, as they attempted to solve the problems that they encountered. Players generally ended up in one of two camps – the focused Traditional Armory camp and the flexible and powerful 4F Armory camp. These articles helpfully include matchup guides for the era and even have a podcast discussing their relative merits. A more in-depth history of the split and the development of Armory to this point is written here.

Oops, we broke it (August to October)

Whew, that’s a lot of serious reading, and we’re only a quarter of the way there! Let’s take a lighthearted break to check out my favourite set of patch notes from this era.

Avalanche Stalker

July 28, 2016 – Patch 1.10:

  • Avalanche Stalker
    • Stats changed from 3/4 to 2/5, in order to better line up against the format.

August 17, 2016 – Patch 1.11:

  • Avalanche Stalker
    • Stats changed from 2/5 to 3/4 in order to better line up against the format.

August 1st to 17th – Chrno Plate Kills Artisan

Following the Best Document July we have the Worst Documented August. If you’re read any previous articles about this era, they’ll talk about Chrno Plate but never show it to you. It’s become the ghost story of Eternal, players that remember it shudder in fear but it’s just wisps of smoke for those that weren’t there. Chrno’s deck was just a footnote in the July patch notes, and managed to fly under the radar all the way to August 6th, when the next Tier List came out – yet links instead to a different Rakano decklist from the end of July. The Rakano train started to pick up steam in early August, but rapidly grew to a larger and larger percentage of the field as people realized that the best way to beat Rakano was to play it. Rakano’s metagame percentage was still growing when the unprecedented Patch 1.11 chopped the majority of the deck down. I’ve never been able to talk about it before, but due to some clever detective work by Neon and Jaffa we’ve been able to track down the original list.

rakano1

Now THIS is podracing a deck worth getting excited about! Circa July 17, 2016 from Chrno himself, there are a TON of innovations in this deck. We see here that players had still not full embraced Seek Power, even if it was seen as a necessary evil in this deck. Silverwing + Plate was the combo that broke Rakano, and this is the first deck to showcase it. Also seen here is Rakano Artisan in a non-Armory deck – with 15 attachments he has plenty to buff, including the new addition of Shogun’s Scepter and the now-four-of Sword of Icaria. Chrno continues his innovation with nearly the first recorded sighting of Vanquish in a Rakano deck. This was a vastly different deck from what other Rakano players were playing at the time, eschewing the entire one drop package that was common at the time. Temper and Tinker Apprentice are suspect replacements at best, but you don’t become a trailblazer by being afraid to try new things.

The patch notes for 1.11 were a gory sea of Rakano death – Morningstar, Plate, Nomad and even Artisan got the axe. Burn Out got moved to 4 power and slowly slid out of decks in favor of superior options. However, Feln got a big boost that patch – now-staples Black-Sky Harbinger and Feln Bloodcaster got buffs that led players to give them a second look. Feln didn’t develop immediately, however – Felnforge (Felnscar) came first.

Felnforge was developed by deckbuilder Jaffa, and while it lacks his trademark combination of Rise to the Challenge + Icaria + two other factions it does at least have a terrible power base. Playing basically every good card in Fire, Shadow and Primal, Felnforge maxes out on Champions – but plays 3 Seek Power. We really didn’t get it, did we. One of the greediest decks out there, it highlighted the power of the Champions and the possibility of a deck that could compete on pure card quality, which helped to direct later Stonescar Midrange builds.

August 18th to 31st – [insert Party related pun or joke]

scouting20partythe-witching-hour

champion-of-cunning

These three cards more or less sum up what happened in late august. Witching Hour went down when ANY card was played – power, token, yeti spy… With the new Scouting party reducing the cost of Witching Hour by FIVE, it was extremely doable to have a castable Witching Hour as early as turn 6 or 7. Combine Witching Hour with the charge from Champion of Cunning, and you’ve got a whole lot of charge damage from hand. Party Hour took a card that was already broken (Champion of Cunning) combined it with a card that was probably broken (Witching Hour) and added the spice of a card that was definitely undercosted (Scouting Party). This deck very quickly became public enemy number one, and iterated quickly as players looked for the edge in the mirror and ways to stop the bleeding. It didn’t help that Champion of Cunning gave all you units charge even if it was killed or silenced mid turn, so previously sidelined cards like Backlash and Rain of Frogs came into the main deck as people tried to adapt.

The tier list gave a pretty good indicator of what happened – Rakano and Stonescar aggro sprung back despite the nerfs, the ponderous midrange decks added tech cards and Flight School came back because it “randomly” had a good Party Hour matchup (Party Hour was weak to fliers and Flight School had the correct mix of pressure + disruption to cause problems). What Party Hour did in a very visible way was provide the first real “ladder check” for deckbuilders – if a deck couldn’t beat Party Hour, it wasn’t worth playing. As we see from the tier list, five decks fell off the tier list entirely because they couldn’t compete, and Feln innovation suffered. Whatever you could have been doing with Feln at that time was weaker than just playing Party Hour.

gilded-glaive

Patch 1.11 was intended to bring Rakano back into line, but instead ended up revealing the depth of powerful cards that Rakano had access to. Just as Plate got pulled back, Gilded Glaive was discovered to be “like plate, but better”. A scaling weapon gave Rakano decks a ton of flexibility in their curve – Glaive could be played at any point in the curve to push in damage, or as a curve topper. Glaive provided a huge chunk of flexible stats at very low opportunity cost, which gave Rakano decks a ton of reach – Glaive plus unit was basically Flame Blast before players were playing Flame Blast.

sparring-partner

The other card that came out of the woodwork after Plate went away was Sparring Partner. Literally the day after the patch, players were playing both of these cards to great success in Rakano. Glaive offered Rakano flexibility, while Sparring Partner offered it velocity. A 0/3 may not seem like the most aggressive card, but a single weapon turned it into a must-kill threat. A simple Ornate Katana gave you a 5/3, Elder’s Feather made a 4/4 flyer (out of torch range!) and in the days leading up to Patch 1.11, original Morningstar gave you a nearly untouchable 6/5. If you were on the draw, you either spent your Permafrost, Suffocate or Torch on their 0/3, or you risked taking 5+ damage from it immediately and having your non-permafrost removal spell blanked.

Gilded Glaive also helped the first Aggro Combrei lists to develop, admitted primitive versions that rely more on attachments than current versions. A couple of other cards got their start here – Teleport and Slow were digging a little deep for the time, but Praxis Displacer started making a name for herself here. At the other end of the spectrum, Overwhelmnaton decks had started to grow in popularity during this period. Taking a page from Flight School’s book, the deck used Instructor’s Baton to dump a variety of powerful units into play. However, the inconsistent powerbase caused major problems for the deck’s consistency and power.

This deck, more than any other, showcased the aversion to Seek Power shared by many players of this era. How bad was our aversion to Seek Power? Patch 1.9 included the line “Seek Power is now the first card to encourage deckbuilders making multi-faction decks to use it.” In July, if we cared about power at all, we played Secret Pages. In August, some players had come around to the idea of playing one or two Seek Power, but it was used sparingly and only if Time’s fixing was not available. Throughout late August and early September, it slowly became consensus that three faction decks should be running 4xSeek Power for fixing. The idea of running Seek Power as deck thinners/extra power, even in two faction decks, didn’t develop until months later.

September – Party’s Over

The party continued until mid September, when Patch 1.12 changed Witching Hour to only reduce its cost from non-power drops. Power generally reduced Witching Hour’s cost by 8 or more per game, so this change greatly reduced the speed and reliability of Party Hour’s combo. Both Champion of Cunning and Scouting Party were still extremely powerful cards, and Witching Hour didn’t get any weaker when you finally got to cast it, so they deck continued to exist even after the nerf. However, it definitely lacked the speed and power it had before, which opened up the metagame for some interesting new decks to rear their head.

Speaking of new decks, Silverwing Familiar had enough keywords that all it really needed was stats, which Gilded Glaive provided in droves. This combination provided the backbone of MonoJustice and its shadow splashing counterpart. Both of these decks used Mantle of Justice as a psuedo Glaive, and relied on totally ignoring the opponent while they grew one unit out of control. The play patter was quite similar to the MTG deck Boggles, if you are familiar with that archetype. While powerful, the deck relied on getting ahead and staying ahead – it did not play well from behind and an awkward opening hand could often spell doom. It’s interesting that none of the decks of this era were interested in a now-staple like Hammer of Might, preferring even Mantle of Justice instead (which could be silenced off!). Most likely, its just a case of the overwhelming power of Gilded Glaive pushing the other options out, and players looking for more copies of Glaive.

Armory decks ran into some tough times once Scouting Party was released. Both Party Hour and the card itself were very strong against Armory, which also struggled against the other decks that were evolving to fight Party Hour. An excerpt from the time:

Alone in tier 4, Traditional Armory struggles to compete against nearly anything. Outraced by aggro, outbeefed by midrange, and combo’d out by Party Hour, you’d be hard pressed to actually find a good matchup for Armory on ladder. If Armory’s problems can’t be fixed, the deck will probably fall off the radar altogether.

Armory decks warped themselves more and more to contend with the new metagame, and ended up losing much of their original strength. Players began to experiment more and more wildly in search of an answer, turning to primal in a callback to 4F Armory. Eventually, inspiration struck from the strangest angle of all – removal of the so-called Armory Package (Rakano Artisan, Rolant’s Favor, Armorsmith) freed up enough slots for a functional deck. Enter Icaria Blue. While not originally built to combat Party Hour, the Primal component gave the deck the flexibility to adapt the popular tech choices of the time (Backlash and Rain of Frogs) and Lightning Storm kept the deck safe from rampaging aggro. Here in September we finally see Seek Power getting used as it should be, which helped to cover the intense FFFJJJPP requirements of the deck. Icaria Blue quickly became a fan favourite of our own LightsOutAce, and he dedicated his very first article to the topic.

Big Combrei started to develop out of the shells of the old Combrei Midrange lists during this period. Desert Marshal proved a key card to combat Champion of Cunning, and midrange lists adapted a slightly slower style during this period. There was a divergence of builds, with the aggressive decks going low to undercut Party Hour while the slower decks tried to go over the top. The Grand Parliament grew in popularity during this period, as did Marshal Ironthorne. Siraf, formally a backup plan, became a powerful win condition against decks relying on Permafrost for removal (as at the time Siraf did not need to exhaust to activate). Mystic Ascendant and Harsh Rule weren’t in all lists at the time but they were beginning to become widely adopted.

frontier-jito

Public Enemy Number One Drop got big break in September. Party Hour decks were hilariously too fast for regular Queen decks to beat down, especially once a Lightning Storm or two came out. So what did we do? We built the most all-in hope-they-don’t-have-it weak to lightning storm deck of all time: Stonescar Jito. This was probably the fastest deck in Eternal, capable of many turn 4 and turn 5 kills. Lurking Sanguar added a huge free unit to the board and made Jito’s nut draws even better. Jito decks generally lost to their own poor draws more than your opponent’s deck – bar Lightning Storm, nothing could really stop the Jito onslaught. Rapid Shot has been fully adopted by this time, and the deck plays 8 Rally effects to end the game. Premiere aggressive card Argenport Instigator ended up being too slow for the majority of builds of this deck.

It wasn’t a major player during the Party Hour portion of September, but a stock deck for Stonescar Midrange did begin to form during the latter half of the month. Featuring 0 card draw and 4 Deathstrikes, its a far cry from the far more tuned decks we see later on. Nonetheless, it has the Instigator-Champion-Doom-Drake-Reaper core that eventually found it’s way into Stonescar Burn. What then, was missing? Well, all the burn. Not a Flame Blast or an Obliterate in sight – although that would soon change.

October – Greed gets rewarded

Speaking of Obliterate, this particular tech card has a cleanly documented history. Long relegated to the lower ranks and monofire burn decks, Obliterate first burst on to the scene when this LighteningBall article brought Weiseguy’s ladder tech to life. The Rakano deck itself is somewhat suspect, but this was nearly the first time that someone had written a serious article about Flame Blast and Obliterate, and the world took notice. Obliterate picked up steam in some Armory and Rakano builds, and found a fast home in Stonescar. Burn was still months away, but Obliterate pulling double duty of removal and reach gave Stonescar decks a powerful new weapon in their arsenal.

Party Hour experienced a steep drop off moving through October, as Witching Hour was now often too slow to be worth enabling, and other decks could make better use of its other signature cards. Feln decks had morphed down the curve somewhat at this point – like many other decks of this era, most were powered by Champion of Cunning and Scouting Party with various shells surrounding the cards. Felnscar, for instance, had a “throw it all in” approach reminiscent of Stonescar Midrange decks of earlier months, yet with an even greedier powerbase. Champion of Chaos AND Midnight Gale on 3? The mind boggles. Playing Strangers for fixing was less a choice and more a necessity for Felnscar.

Speaking of greedy powerbases, October brought with it Eternal’s first FOUR faction deck. Azindel’s Gift had been brought to players attention in part due to powerful tournament Feln Control lists, and players had been experimenting off and on with TJS Control decks for the past months. The legendary Finkel realized that we were foolish to play an entire color just for Gift, and ended up porting the then-common Forbidden Lore (now called Celestial Omen)/Azindel’s gift package into a unit based TJP Control shell, creating 4F Control. At the time, it was known mostly as 4CC Control, but since 4CC stands for “4 Color Control” the name was less impressive then people probably hoped. A short note from Finkel himself about the deck:

Probably no one knows it, but the 4F deck was built to beat Party Hour. The idea was to have Rain of Frogs to take away their few win conditions and BSH to beat the Yetis. The weird Teleport was something I was trying to counter the 1 turn kills (though it is embarrassing not having the 4th Desert Marshal before it). It was also based on a deck that Chapin (which might have included fire for Rise) was playing at the top of masters (a bit before Scouting Party was released), so it is in some way Ilyak’s wet dream of Hall of Fame developers affecting the metagame.

This deck more than any other hammered home the power of Secret Pages and the danger of easy to splash threats. Gift was a very powerful card, so it didn’t make a ton of sense that it was just as easy to splash as Oni Ronin. 4F decks abused their flexibility to adapt over the next few months, shifting their cores to whatever best fit the metagame. This early version includes actual shadow cards like Black Sky Harbingers, later lists largely eschewed these choices for a more stable TJP core, which helped their power base by allowing them to ignore Shadow entirely in matchups where Gift was undesirable.

elysian-trailblazerSecond Sight

October proved to be a beneficial month for Eternal control. While many players enjoyed the freedom and flexibility of four factions, regular old TJP Control got a boost as well. The story of how the deck evolved requires some backstory, however. Since early beta, players were aware of the possibility to go infinite with Second Sight. Making Second Sight cost 0 (numerous options) and giving it echo (Elysian Trailblazer) allowed you to cast Second Sight for free, drawing two cards and putting another second sight. Any draw gave you two new second sights, which could put each other back and keep the chain going. You needed to get a Second Sight on top and one in hand to go off, but once you did you’ve gone infinite and could draw your whole deck (clock permitting). There were some decks built around it at the time, but they took a ton of cards to get going and just sort of spun their wheels once they got there.

excavate

Fast forward to July. Thometc is messing around with an “Excavate Prison” deck that takes the theory one step further by adding another piece to the puzzle. Excavate helped put your combo together, and giving Excavate echo allowed you to easily chain them and get more echo pieces. Add in the Second Sight combo and you’ll have total access to your entire deck and void – a powerful feeling indeed. The deck was still pretty clunky and involved even more moving pieces now, but it was powerful when it got going. It became a fringe deck for players to enjoy until August, when Conelead took the stage.

Most control decks at the time needed to dedicate their slots to a specific goal – spot removal and sweepers for units, card draw for the midgame, “over the top” anti control cards, and dedicated finishers. Echoscavate sidestepped all this by including a combo “finisher” gameplan that included only cheap cards that were fine in their own right – as few as 5 cards could be considered combo pieces, and all of them could be cast on their own. Using Excavate for infinite recursion allowed the deck a ton of flexibility – infinite Harsh Rules would grind aggro out, while higher curve opponents would eventually be worn down by the deck’s finisher of choice. With a much more flexible gameplan, the deck had few dead draws and easy access to any key tech cards, which made it surprisingly resilient and adaptable for a control deck.

While built in August, the deck didn’t take the centre stage until the metagame slowed down enough that Party Hour instadeath was no longer a concern. Being the far superior brand of TJP Control at the time, it rapidly edged out other versions after receiving the snappy name Echoscavate.

Our final deck this month wasn’t a control deck, but it was built by another legend – Peppr. He built the first ever functional Xenan deck, which included many tricks and combos that persist in Xenan decks to this day, from Friendly Wisp to Predator’s Instinct to Beastcaller’s Amulet + Instigator to Dark Returning Copper Conduits. A landmark deck, it set the baseline for the many Xenan adaptions to come.

Going Live (November to February)

November – Open Beta

November is another split month, as the release of Open Beta on November 18, 2017 completely overrode nearly everything that happened up to that point. There was one deck that was developed over the course of the month and wasn’t touched by the Open Beta patch at all – Stonescar Burn Obliterated its first opponent in November. Burn Queen variants were some of the first to develop, although the public gradually moved towards more powerful five drops with Umbren Reaper and Soulfire Drake. In the wake of open beta, players got packs based on their previous play, while new players got nothing. This basically split players into two camps – those who could only afford the cheapest of decks, and those that built an expensive Combrei Deck on day 1. Burn happened to be a very effective strategy against the Combrei decks of the time, and cheap as well – versions without Bandit Queen contained no legendaries.

Open Beta Patch Notes

The open beta patch was much more notable for the cards that it took away than the cards that it added. Of the new cards added in the open beta patch, only two (Cabal Countess and Vault of the Praxis) have seen any successful competitive play. Everyone’s collection was reset during the Open Beta patch, and it took players time to build it back up – time in which most players were not iterating on decks. Metagame staples Gilded Glaive, Secret Pages and Push Onwards were all “redesigned” but effectively removed from the game. Without Gilded Glaive, MonoJustice crumbled, and Aggressive Combrei decks became more unit focused. Without Secret Pages, we were tossed back into the stone age of three faction decks and needed to relearn the game all over again. Champion of Cunning got its teeth pulled from “basically unbeatable” to merely “strong when active”, which was a huge sigh of relief for players tired of dying out of nowhere. Champion of Cunning’s partner in crime Scouting Party got moved from 5PP to 6P, which slowed down the party but opened up its splashability. Dawnwalker, Pyroknight and Siraf all received nerfs which pulled them back into line. Stronghold Visage, a staple of TJP control decks at the time, got its cost increased to five from four and fell out of competitive play due to the incredible competition at the 5 slot. Even Clockroaches would not escape unscathed, as echo would no longer give a new battle skill to the echo’d unit. In short, many of the competitive staples we were used to at the time got taken away from us or were now much weaker. It was a whole new world we were playing in, and it took the meta some time to adjust.

December – Stonescar is broken, take two

Last month’s boogeyman Stonescar Burn takes the top slot in the early half of December. With so many players jamming it, good lists were quick to come by, and the deck generally settled into a high curve burn deck playing all the best Stonescar cards, from Rapid Shot to Soulfire Drake. The deck was very, very good at punishing stumbles and players at the time reacted to it incorrectly – many players believed that the answer was to go bigger when in reality Stonescar Burn itself was prone to stumbling and weak to faster aggro.

We saw in August that Rakano pilots barely miss a beat even after considerable nerfs. Unearthly was a well known Rakano pilot that had been making a name for himself in the past months (and was quite well known at time of writing). He made his first mark on Rakano with a Righteous Rakano list that ran now-staple Hammer of Might alongside its namesake Righteous Glory. The burst of damage and lifesteal was usually enough to swing a race against Stonescar Burn or end the game outright, and it was a powerful finisher against unprepared opponents. Alongside Stonescar Burn, this aggressive deck took two of the three top slots.

shimmerpack

Now for the third, and completely new, deck. The original list in all its, uh, glory.

4 Initiate of the Sands (Set1 #74)
4 Permafrost (Set1 #193)
1 Sanctuary Priest (Set1 #73)
1 Ephemeral Wisp (Set1 #84)
4 Storm Lynx (Set1 #353)
3 Talir’s Favored (Set0 #11)
4 Temple Scribe (Set1 #502)
1 Amaran Camel (Set1 #357)
4 Amber Acolyte (Set1 #93)
1 Polymorph (Set1 #211)
4 Scorpion Wasp (Set1 #96)
2 Crystalline Chalice (Set1 #359)
1 Marisen’s Disciple (Set1 #104)
4 Sandstorm Titan (Set1 #99)
4 Xenan Obelisk (Set1 #103)
1 Lumen Shepherd (Set1 #117)
1 Predatory Carnosaur (Set1 #118)
4 Scouting Party (Set1 #488)
2 Shimmerpack (Set1 #365)
5 Primal Sigil (Set1 #187)
8 Time Sigil (Set1 #63)
4 Diplomatic Seal (Set1 #425)
4 Elysian Banner (Set1 #421)
4 Seat of Wisdom (Set0 #63)

If I had to choose cards that I thought would NOT become top metagame threats, Shimmerpack would be high on that list, to say nothing of the Sanctuary Priest included in this list. As embarassed now to write this as I was then, Shimmerpack was a legitimate contender for best deck in Eternal at this time. Shimmerpack decks played out a seemingly unlimited array of garbage units, then used Shimmerpack to turn their tiny units into angry dinosaurs and attacked for the win. Xenan Obelisk kept them alive and Scouting Party meant that Shimmerpack could instantly reload from a board wipe. Anything large enough to block got downgraded to a Shimmerpack and traded instead, at best. The deck was actually pretty powerful – Xenan Obelisk and Scouting Party were powerful cards, and none of their units mattered so spot removal was more or less useless against them.

This original build used Chalice as a draw engine, but that was rapidly discarded as just too clunky in a burn heavy metagame. Later builds focused more on making its sigil drops and the four slot had plenty of shuffling between Sandstorm Titan, Marisen’s Disciple, and Praxis Displacer. Shimmerpack decks played very differently from other decks to that point, which is always a powerful way to attack the metagame, and early pilots put up incredible winrates. Other deckbuilders tried to duplicate Shimmerpack’s success with FTP versions focusing on Vault of the Praxis and Grenadin or TJP versions that played out as Combrei decks with a Shimmerpack finish, but none proved quite as successful as the straight Elysian version.

January – Promos!

January was a much less exciting month than those proceeding it – the top decks were known quantities and mostly just exchanged metagame percentages. Stonescar Burn slid down in success and popularity as constant targeting started to take effect, and Shimmerpack went up, up, up… However, that’s not to say there wasn’t innovation. Where previously players had relied on Burn’s incredible reach to end games, they found that that wasn’t closing out the game fast enough against Shimmerpack’s combo kill or Rakano and Jito’s relentless aggression. Enter (again) a hybrid version of Queen and Burn, Burn Queen. Taking the aggressive token based aggro strategy from older Queen decks and pairing it with “the burn cards”, it created an aggressive deck with the speed to win early and the reach to finish off games it couldn’t close out.

Felnscar decks in 2017 looked a whole lot different than their 2016 counterparts. Previously just a bad powerbase and a pile of Champions, only the bad powerbase has survived and the deck is now firmly on the control gameplan. Torch and Statuary Maiden were two of the only Fire cards to survive, and the remainder of the deck plays out like Feln control – Withering Witch/BSH at the ready! Given that Shimmerpack was a major player at the time, you ended up with a hand full of Cudgels a lot. Also, sometimes this happened.

Patch 1.16 dropped towards the end of January and brought with them 5 new cards, earnable as promos, and two key nerfs. Shimmerpack was running ladder ragged, and it got its cost increased from 7 to 8. This gave opponents a whole extra turn of breathing room to kill or incapacitate the Shimmerpack player, and slowed the deck down substantially. Additionally, in a cruel and callous move, it was declared that Excavate can’t leave the Void. Ever. This change killed the Echoscavate archetype dead and plunged our own rekenner into a crippling depression during which he wrote quite a lot of bad poetry about combo decks.

There were also five new cards released this patch, but only two of them saw major play and we’ll talk about those in February.

February – New cards, new metagame

February was actually a hot point of new card releases. First Vara’s Journey in late January, then in mid February a sixteen card PvE campaign called Jekk’s Bounty came out. Not all of the cards made their mark, but the big hits were certainly felt.

Throne_Wardenquarry

Armory went from a nobody to a somebody again on the back of two new cards, Throne Warden and Quarry. Players like Toan and JayNite quickly recognized Throne Warden’s power as a difficult to remove blocker and source of armor, and it replaced the Armorsmith package to become a staple of Armory lists. Quarry ended up being the card Scheme wasn’t and exactly the card Armory needed – early filtering that helped you look for action late in the game. Even if you discard something, you could always Smuggler’s Stash it back later and the cost decreased helped offset the tempo loss. Powered by two solid additions and its worst matchup (Shimmerpack) on the way out, Armory became a powerful metagame force towards the end of February.

Quarry gave Stonescar decks a powerful new tool themselves, and Stonescar Midrange decks were quick to snap it up. Coupled with another new card, Stray into Shadow, Stonescar decks actually had a hope of playing a control gameplan and no longer needed to rely on reach or speed to win games. At the other end of the spectrum, Burn Queen decks solidified themselves as the deck to beat and their incredible aggression kept many other decks in check.

Find_the_Way

Find the Way was the other Vara’s Journey card that had significant deckbuilding impact. The “fixed” version of Secret Pages was far, far worse than the original but still opened up three faction Time decks once again. Five Faction Nictotraxian decks in particular relied on this card, and TJP decks swore by it. The cost increase on Shimmerpack plus the aggressive metagame meant that TJP was actually the better version of Shimmerpack – mostly because it played as little Shimmerpack as possible. Possibly inspired by Find the Way, Vodakhombo decks began to surface as a legitimate option this month, with players going over and above the curve of their opponents. Decks were usually either Vodakhan himself in an otherwise stock Combrei shell, or an all in combo list with all kinds of power search and tricks.

The final notable decklist from February didn’t last long. Rakito was the name coined by Neon for the ultra fast Rakano deck piloted to huge success by Conley Woods himself. Stonescar Jito was already a deck at this point, but Rakano one drops were far better and the deck was comparable in speed. This deck began to tear up ladder at the end of February, but a March patch ended it before it could really get going.

Modern Era (March to April)

March – The Day Stonescar Died

From Patch 1.18 on March 9th

  • Champion of Chaos – Now gains +1/+0 from each ability, instead of +1/+1
  • Frontier Jito – Now costs 2F, instead of 1F
  • Soulfire Drake – Now costs 5FFF, instead of 5FF
  • Umbren Reaper – Now costs 5SSS, instead of 5SS

Sweeping influence changes occured across the board here as it was determined that we were giving up too little to splash cards. Steward of the Past went to SS and Azindel’s Gift (finally) went to SSS, which moved these cards back into their proper factions. Soulfire Drake and Umbren Reaper had previously teamed up quite happily in Stonescar decks, but becaem far more difficult to reliably run together. Longtime overstatted monster Champion of Chaos went the way of the Cunning and became far easier to deal with with reduced health – early units could actually trade with it and it was now weak to Torch and Lightning Strike even after activating. Still a powerful aggressive card, but no longer a 5/5 roadblock as well. Rakano sees some splash damage from this change, as Rakano decks were beginning to slot Soulfire Drake into their 75 for their added reach, and given their tight power restrictions now must ask themselves if it is really worth it.

Finally, the Jito archetypes, including the new Rakito lists, went the way of Echoscavate as this patch as it was quite firmly asserted that units that cost 1 or less did not have charge. Two cost Jito was just too expensive for the 1 drop heavy deck to be interesting in playing, and Jito archetypes rapidly died out. rekenner took this deck’s death a little better than the last one.

arcanum_monitor

As an additional wrench, two key Feln cards, Withering Witch and Staff of Stories, received nerfs. Feln decks were reeling from this seemingly baseless aggression on their deck, which had spent the last month or so barely playable. We were placated somewhat by releases of our first ever Enemy Faction cards, but only one made its way into a major archetype. Praxis Tokens leveraged the full breadth of token generation and anthems it had at its disposal to go wide in a metagame where Lightning Storms were absent – a reasonable strategy.

April – And So It Ends

April brought with it the doom of another longtime Stonescar archetype – midrange! A deck that competed solely on card quality couldn’t keep up once its cards were no longer quality. Comparatively, Combrei decks were growing by leaps and bounds – Vodakhombo has emerged as its own archetype with distinct strengths and weaknesses, the most distinct being the common omission of Harsh Rule. Here’s what the metagame looked like at the end of April.

Conclusion

Whew, that was a VERY long read – almost eight thousand words! Even so, I’m sure I made plenty of omissions – its quite difficult in an article this size to cover every key change, and I’m working partially by memory. Hopefully the comments will bring to light those that I have missed, and I thank you in advance for pointing them out. It’s a little lazy of me to skip May, but I did cover a full year nonetheless. This article was a lot of fun to write, and looking back many of the deckbuilders were visionaries – Peppr’s Xenan and Conelead’s TJP in particular greatly impressed me. I’m looking forward to writing another one of these next year, chronicling Set Two – “Omens of the Past”.

 

4 thoughts on “One Set, One Year – A Retrospective

  1. Every single time you post that sad-ass two Omen Witching Hour list it only reveals how little critical theory was applied to Eternal by most players in the early beta, but to continue to talk about it as if it isn’t an embarrassment is a disservice to anyone trying to actually learn something from this article as opposed to reading you pontificate about giving credit to people where no credit is due, and continually erase the legacy of Tess despite her being the only reason we had a competitive scene that was as well established as it was. This continued habit of erasing important people from Eternal’s history because it doesn’t suite your rng-centric narrative is frankly disgusting considering the marginalized people that have had their accomplishments taken from them and then driven out of the community.
    This was the Party Hour list that walked away with high finishes in every Swiss it was legal, constantly stomping the field and Omen version of the deck.
    Main Deck:
    Unit:
    4 x Feln Stranger
    4 x Feln Bloodcaster
    4 x Champion of Cunning
    Spell:
    3 x Pilfer
    2 x Sabotage
    4 x Seek Power
    2 x Suffocate
    4 x Vara’s Favor
    2 x Push Onward
    1 x Feeding Time
    4 x Scouting Party
    4 x The Witching Hour
    Fast Spell:
    3 x Levitate
    4 x Wisdom of the Elders
    4 x Deathstrike
    Main Power:
    Sigil:
    8 x Primal Sigil
    10 x Shadow Sigil
    Other:
    4 x Feln Banner
    4 x Seat of Cunning
    You can find my theory breakdown here, if you actually want a bit of education as to exactly WHY this deck was so busted on so many axes.
    http://www.numotgaming.com/eternally-innovating-didnt-start-party/

    1. What do you expect, the entire Eternal community (or at least the “content creators”) are a bunch of snobs who go about patting themselves on the back for playing a “sophisticated” card game and whining about how DWD won’t let them play oppressive control. I’ve only been around since open beta started, but this is one of the most elitist communities I’ve ever been a part of.

    2. I would suggest it’s mostly the vagaries of memory. We tend to think a first encounter with something is the source of that thing without considering there that in turn had influences or competing ideas. And I remember other decks than what he mentioned in may/june like with unlock potential. It’s also framed as purely innovation but the fact is many of us had a very limited card pool in the first months.