Hello friends! This week I am going to be writing about what I learned during Brewer’s Challenge 3, and as well as set up Brewer’s Challenge 4. We have a good deal to cover, so let’s dive in!
1 Permafrost (Set1 #193)
2 Protect (Set1 #132)
4 Seek Power (Set1 #408)
2 Dragonbreath (Set2 #108)
4 Kothon, the Far-Watcher (Set2 #218)
2 Lightning Storm (Set1 #206)
4 Vanquish (Set1 #143)
3 Whispering Wind (Set1 #202)
2 Aerialist Trainer (Set2 #219)
2 Eilyn’s Choice (Set2 #220)
3 Spellshield Architect (Set2 #221)
4 Spirit Guide (Set2 #83)
4 Valkyrie Enforcer (Set1 #151)
4 Shelterwing Rider (Set2 #223)
3 Watcher of the Big Ones (Set2 #130)
1 Duelist’s Blade (Set2 #226)
2 Pearlescent Drake (Set2 #127)
1 Nostrix, Lord of Visions (Set2 #229)
1 Leave a Witness (Set2 #100)
9 Justice Sigil (Set1 #126)
9 Primal Sigil (Set1 #187)
4 Hooru Banner (Set2 #216)
4 Seat of Order (Set0 #51)
I had a number of distractions this month, but I finally made master with my Watcher of the Big Ones deck. I did it with a list very much like this, though I cleaned it up a touch after I made master. The deck is certainly functional, and can be played to master, but I cannot really advocate for it as some incredibly powerful piece of technology. After playing with mentor this month a lot I have learned a good deal about the mechanic, and I wanted to share my thoughts.
Before moving forward, I want to touch on the topic of “linear versus modular mechanics”. Many people have discussed that some of the set 2 mechanics have not made it into full-fledged ranked decks, and see this as a problem, but I don’t really think that is inherently a concern. Let’s differentiate first between linear and modular mechanics. Linear mechanics are those that rewards staying strictly devoted to that theme. The most obvious example from Eternal would be the Strangers deck. Modular mechanics are those that do not have any self-synergy, and are just asking that you play them. Silence is a good example of a modular mechanic, as there is no reward of stacking silence on top of more silence. In reality, mechanics actually fall onto a spectrum between linear and modular. I have made up a visual to show this, and put all of the faction-specific mechanics on the spectrum.
Mechanics like Infiltrate and Lifeforce are fairly linear, though there is a pretty large gap between these two and something like Strangers. Although it is possible to play generically good lifeforce and infiltrate cards, both are looking for something of an A + B gameplan. In the case of infiltrate, you are looking for an infiltrate card plus something that gives evasion, while lifeforce is looking for a lifeforce card and a source of life gain. Cards on the other end of the spectrum actually have a subtle dis-synergy with one another. For example, if you ignore Workshop Forge, warp competes with itself, because you increase the chance of seeing two warp cards in a row as you put more in your deck, meaning you reduce your chance of getting the warp value off your warp cards. Spark asks you, on occasion, to suicide units in to get a spark bonus or just throw a Torch at the face. You can only do that so many times before you are behind on resources.
Mechanics on the modular side of the spectrum you should not expect to become “decks” all things being equal. Have many people actually thought about making a “Spark deck”? Probably not, since there is no reason. It is possible to modular mechanics in a linear direction if the designers wanted to. A good example is Workshop Forge, which really asks you to build a “Warp deck” even though there are not really any other incentives. You could imagine a card that said something like “3FP 2/2 charge, Summon: gets +2/+2 for every card with spark you have played this game” or even “6TT 3/6 deadly Summon: draw a card for each card you have silenced this game.” This pushes modular mechanics in a linear direction, if that is what you wanted as a designer.
I am going to be getting to a point about how this matters for mentor in a moment, but I just want to emphasize something about this modular vs. linear dynamic. There is nothing wrong with modular versus linear mechanics. In fact, it is probably good to have a mix of both to create varied gameplay, as well as better ability to mix and match. You can easily mix modular cards into a deck built around a linear theme. I have seen many comments along the lines of “There is no xyz deck that is playable! DWD doesn’t know what it is doing!” That logic is nonsense, since not every mechanics is supposed to even have a deck built around it! Deckbuilding would also be pretty boring if every mechanic was hyper-linear. “Better search for all the (insert mechanic here) cards, put’em in a deck!”
Ok, why am I going on about all of this? Well, I feel like mentor has a bit of an identity issue. The mechanic, in itself, is fairly modular. Units that give other units bonuses as a summon effect does not seem linear in any important way. DWD has decided, though, to push it in a linear direction. The cards seem to care more about the student than the mentor. At first glance this may seem like and odd statement, since there are only 3 cards that care about being students, and there are 14 cards with the mentor ability. That count is deceptive though – how many cards check some quality of the student? By my count I come up with at least 9, meaning only 5 are truly student agnostic. You can see this in the graphic below, where I have also included the “being a student matters” cards, which fall on the side of being more synergistic.
Another elements of that makes the ability feel awkward is the different things these “cares what the student is” is looking for. Aerialist Trainer cares if the unit is flying, Dragonbreath, Prosecutor-at-Arms and Serpent Mount care about the attack, Linebreaker cares about the health, and Master’s Lesson cares about the battle skills. It is hard to piece together what a mentor deck is supposed to look like. It is also useful to remember that Hooru cards are not known for their hefty stats. Primal has some larger bodies once you get to the 5-7 power range, but the 1-4 drops are fairly small, and Justice is understated at basically all points. The fact that many mentor cards card about student stats is leaning on one of Hooru’s weaknesses, which does not feel good.
This leads to a discussion of the actual mentor units. I am going to level with you – these cards are not an exciting rate. Sparring Partner is a 2/2 for 2, Spirit Guide is a 3/3 for 3, Spellsheild Architect is a 3/2 for 3. Not exactly stellar baseline stats. Aerialist Trainer and Nostrix are the only Mentor cards I can point to that have appealing base stats, though neither is phenomenal. Given that the base rates are unimpressive, that emphasizes the impact of needing synergistic pay-offs, meaning that you are once again pushed into a linear “mentor matters” style deck.
In fact, I would say that too much of the “power points” of the mentor mechanic is spent on the students, and not nearly enough on the mentors. It is possible for a deck to play 1 mentor card and be totally happy, but once you put 1 “student” card in your deck you now need to play a minimum of like 8 mentor cards to enable it. It almost feels like the presence of these student cards really spoiled some of the rest of the mechanic. As soon as you put a card like Crownwatch Squire into the card file that puts to fairly tight constraints on what you can do moving forward. If there are 2 or more good proactive mentor cards at 2, suddenly openings on a first turn 3/4 seems common. As a result you need to pull back on the power-level of mentor cards to compensate, but you are already in an awkward position. All these Mentor cards are now captive to this dorky 1/2 since the ceiling is too high when they are good, but has the cascading effect of stopping generic mentor cards to playable in non-mentor strategies. That probably comes off as a hyperbolic, but I feel like something of this type might be at play here.
The curve of costs is especially problematic. This is the kind of mechanic that wants you to curve student into mentor, but most of the best mentors are all on 3. I will admit that Kothon is an exceptional student given that he has endurance, but there are very few 1 and 2 drops in Hooru that you would actually want to mentor other than that. In fact, the best unit in the game to mentor comes after most of the best mentor cards. What’s up with that? Below is a picture of the ranked playable students and mentors. 3 being so glutted is just totally bizarre to me.
I strongly feel the 2 slot needs more love for respectable students. I think the following card is probably really strong, but might be the sort of tool a dedicated mentor deck needs to become viable.
Finally, lets talk about the identity crisis that Hooru mentor faces when looking at the kind of deck you want to be. It feels like some of the cards are trying to be small-ball tempo-aggro cards, while others are trying to be midrange beaters, while there is not enough of either to make a real deck. It is hard for me to believe that Watcher of the Big Ones and Nostrix want to be in the same deck as Sparring Partner and Crownwatch Squire. None of the “cares about being a student” cards fly, while Aerialist Trainer is looking for a flier to pair with. It just feels like there are all these disparate parts and play styles that are all slightly at-odds with one another. If I am trying to play a game where I want to dominate the ground with Watcher of the Big Ones and his 5/5 friends or am I trying to go aggro in the sky? Am I trying to come out guns blazing with Crownwatch Squire or develop some long-game advantage with Nostrix? The fact that many of the units are small makes me want to be aggro, but the tempo hit from mentor leaves me skeptical. This same tempo hit also messes up blocking, meaning you are often not comfortable mentoring in midrange decks against aggro. The thing I am particularly struck by is how poorly positioned all these plans are against Time decks. Am I supposed to play a flier heavy game plan where I cannot beat a Sandstorm Titan, or build an army of 5/5s that are outclassed by my opponent’s 5/6s and 6/6s? I honestly don’t feel like any plan is interesting, and I have no idea what they are supposed to be doing that is actually attractive, novel, or different.
Ok, so that is my extended rant about mentor, and the way it was designed for this set. This is certainly overstated here, but I really feel like the mechanic is in a weird place, and some piece is missing. It still strikes me as bizarre to take a very modular mechanic and somehow contort it in a very linear direction. Perhaps the sign post of having flashy legendaries (Nostrix, Watcher of the Big Ones, and Leave a Witness) confuses the attention? I still think that mentor is an interesting mechanic, but the implementation feels incoherent. I could very well be missing something, but this is how things feel after messing around with the mechanic for the better part of a month. I’d like to quickly note that I have no issue with the implementation of mentor for limited play – totally fine there! I can summarize my issues with the implementation of the mechanic as follows:
- The input/output of the mechanic feels disjointed and lacks a coherent identity.
- “Student matters” cards pushes the mechanic in a linear direction when it wants to be modular. Watcher of the Big Ones specifically makes it look like there is “supposed” to be a “mentor deck”.
- Many of the mentor cards are just inefficient and under-stated.
- The curve is really awkward, and this is a mechanic that seems to want to curve.
Edit: mgoetze in the Reddit thread asked about linear mechanics being the same as “parasitic” mechanics, a term that is used to describe some mechanics within Magic the Gathering. I would describe a parasitic mechanic as a something that is either self-referential, or cares only about a small sub-section of cards that come from a limited number of sets. Some have described the energy mechanic from MTG as being parasitic, and I would say the Jade mechanic from Hearthstone is fairly parasitic as well. Lifeforce is a very linear mechanic, but is not actually parasitic. I imagine that every set in Eternal will have some amount of life gain and lifesteal, meaning lifeforce will be able to interact with cards in every Eternal set. “Cares about being a student” cards are at least borderline parasitic. A good metric for something being parasitic is “would this card even be functional in a set that did not include this mechanic”. Lifeforce passes that test, while “student matters” does not. Though “parasitic” has an incredibly negative connotation, I don’t think it means the mechanic should not be made. I will not go deep into this now, but do not think “parasitic” always means “bad”.
Brewer’s Challenge 4
What card should I build around for this month? Answer in this poll! Explanation of the rules and my proposed cards below…
- I will attempt to make Master playing a deck that features the chosen card. It does not need to be a 4-of in the deck, it simply needs to be a core feature of what the deck does (not just a 1-of that I hope to never draw).
- I will write an article about my brewing challenge once I hit master.
- If the chosen card seems impossible, I will switch to the next most popular card on the list. To stop myself from “cheating” and just sliding down the list without punishment, I will still need to write about my failed decks of the #1 choice, in addition to the #2 choice.
Here are the choices with my explanation!
Battle-Tested Stranger – Strangers has consistently been a meme-tier deck, but in Omens of the Past they got some serious power. I think Battle-tested Stranger is a big add for them, but the question remains on what the deck is actually supposed to look like elsewise. Someone has got to figure it out, so that someone might as well be me!
Sentinel’s Might – The applications of this card is fairly narrow, but incredibly potent. Water of Life + Sentinel’s Might across just 4 bodies is 24 damage. I don’t know what exactly the rest of this deck looks like, but I am wondering if there is something to this as a powerful top end finisher in a go-wide strategy.
Swindle – This may seem like a weird card to put on the list, but I feel like there is something here that has not yet been attempted. Card advantage is not trivial to get in this game, and here we have a way to do it that people aren’t even trying!
Memory Dredger – Some have played around with this card, but I feel like there is a lot more potential to explore. 3/4 fliers for 4 are not that bad, and the value in the ability is impossible to deny. Maybe I will try to break the Conduit + Dredger + Predatory Instinct deck?
Sleepless Night – Every time I read this card I think that there must be something busted we can do with it. The combo with West Wind Herald seems sick, or some kind of crazy big reanimator deck, or just the top end of an otherwise fair deck. I just can’t help but think there is a lot of power here, we just need to figure out how to unlock it.