Constructed Analysis – Diving into the Dusk Road

Introduction

Hello everybody, I figured it was finally time to write something up on the new and exciting set that was released last week. I decided to wait a bit longer than most since as the title of my column implies, I like to analyze things. The first week of a new set release is generally just a chaotic storm of experimentation and nonsense, there just isn’t a lot to really sink your teeth into in terms of understand what the format is shaping up to be.

However, generally after the first week though – it tends to become significantly more clear as to what the early winners and losers of the release are like. While this might change as the metagame evolves and adapts; for the time being this is what it looks to be like. Instead of dividing this into Factions or going thru each of the new deck lists, I decided to instead breakdown by Macro-Archetype (Control, Combo, Midrange, Aggro) and then look over what new and powerful tools each has received. Along with how they have begun to influence the deck builds that we are seeing.

Let’s dive right in with the easiest one first.

Control

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It should come to no ones surprise that I am quite the fan of Control decks, and they are looking to be an extremely powerful force within this new format. The universal additions to Control decks are obviously the Waystones and Crests. While almost every deck is leveraging these expansions to Powerbase architecture, none make greater use of them than Control decks. The presence of sweepers and other comeback mechanisms allow these decks to load up on as many Crests as they can reasonably fathom, with even some deck builders experimenting with playing off-color Crests simply for additional Scrys. Feln Control especially has received a massive power-boost from Crests due to how important Champion of Cunning is to that decks overall game-plan and how much better the Champ has gotten with an extra 4 dual-sigils.

While Waystones are less powerful, the Cobalt Waystone in particular has proven to be a great source of the once rather difficult to find Face Aegis. While in the past you could run cards such as Protect or Eilyn’s Favor in order to get this effect, you were never particularly happy with spending 2 power to cast Eilyn’s Favor – while with Protect it is incredibly powerful card, but relies on you being able to leverage it’s capacity as an Anti-Removal counterspell to really shine. The presence of Cobalt Waystone as a 3 to 4-of in numerous Primal-based Control decks has greatly increased the amount of Face Aegis in the format.

What does this mean? Well first, it really damages the viability of Azindel’s Gift since it complicates the windows that you have to cast the powerful Cursed Relic. It likewise hurts the viability of Channel the Tempest in TJP-based Control decks as these decks tend to have very few ‘ping’ effects with which to freely knock-off the Aegis. Now, Channel the Tempest is still a very powerful card but it does force some greater diversification in finishers for Control decks that aren’t looking to slam down Vara.

The other biggest addition to Control is found in Strategize. Suffice to say while I was incredibly impressed by the card when it was previewed, playing with it has made me even more fond of it than I was before. Strategize might be the most powerful deck manipulation Eternal has ever had, even counting errata’d-out-of-existence Push Onward.

The ability to bottom situational or irrelevant cards in order to continue hitting Power drops or to simply dig thru your deck for the cards that are relevant in the specific match-up is unbelievably powerful, and all at the low cost of 2 power and 1 Primal Influence. Strategize is in fact such a powerful card in Control that it is hard to imagine any non-Armory and non-Primal Control deck from being viable.

The Primal deck will simply overwhelm the non-Primal deck in more resources, and better quality resources – all while also running a lower Power count since the fact that you can never have less than 2 Power in your post-mulligan hand makes Strategize slot nicely into functioning as  a Cantrip-as-Power part of the overall Powerbase. Effectively, 4 Strategize allows you to skim on 2 Power sources or so.

Another card that has really changed the Control landscape is Disjunction. Aside from being the backbone of the FTJ Armory lists which rely on recurring powerful buffed weapons such as Molten Fist or Starsteel Daisho, it has likewise given new breath to the utilization of Sword of the Sky King as a finisher in both TJP and TJS lists. Aside from working well with any Relic Weapons or even situational attachments such as Wanted Poster, the biggest impact of Disjunction is that it has proven to be good enough that you want to actually change around your main deck in order to play main deck Disjunction. This in turn impacts the viability of Azindel’s Gift by an extreme margin.

Whereas in the past you could generally rely on Gift to steal a Control v Control game pre-board almost 100% of the time. Now, not only do you have to contend with the greatly increased number of Face Aegis, but you also risk losing it to something as cheap as a 2-power Disjunction. Suffice to say, this is a disastrous turn of events and may force the Gift to retreat out from the Metagame or for decks packing it to start adopting Unseals in order to force thru the Gift past Disjunction. In addition, Disjunction as 2 to 3-ofs in most Control decks mean that even unitless contraptions such as Temporal Control have a far more reasonable match-up against Armory-based decks.

There is also the rather unassuming Moondial which I believe will become a ‘core’ to Control game-plans very soon. Moondial is not on paper a very powerful card, it has the same text on it as the never-played Highwind Glider along with a Nightfall trigger and kind of restrictive influence requirements in double Time. However, the fact that the card will always replace itself in your hand no matter when you cast it (even when you don’t have the stability or excess power to activate it) while also providing a difficult to interact with threat that is entirely an engine on it’s own is very powerful.

Moondial is in some ways a better Crystalline Chalice. While it is more expensive to activate and does not provide free Crownwatch Longswords, it also does not require you to twist an entire deck around enabling one particular card. You get to just play these generically good cards while also having a powerful reusable way of generating constant card advantage. You even side-step the issue with Chalice where it can occasionally draw a deep pocket of power and spells, which will prevent it from continuing to dig deeper into the deck as you simply have no units to tap.

Moondial has already made it’s way into Temporal Control, but I predict that the card will find it’s way into Big Combrei, Big Xenan, and potentially even slower TJS Control decks as well. While it will never be a 4-of, and probably not even a 3-of, I think that as a 2-of the card provides a very powerful threat diversification. It even plays well with Disjunction, allowing you to get the card back after it is destroyed by an opposing Disjunction!

The last three mentions are less important than the others, but still worthy of inclusion in this recap. Nocturnal Observer has proven itself to be a very powerful tool in Control strategies and especially in Hooru Control where it can accrue additional value by pitching away Privilege of Rank. For 3-power it effectively cycles itself and also allows you to cycle 2 more cards by looting on each of the ‘night’ turns it invokes. Seeing 3 new cards for 3 power is very good, and that’s without even accounting for the body being a reasonable enough anti-aggro tool seeing as how it can block any of the common early-game threats over than Champion of Glory and Argenport Instigator.

Then we have Jotun Feast-Caller. I will admit that I likely underrated this card in the preview and have generally been impressed by it in the decks I have played it in. It’s quite a bit harder to remove than I anticipated, and in the decks in which it is good (removal-clogged kill-everything control decks) it can generally attack multiple times. Most importantly, is how little equity you are actually giving up by including it vs. how high the potential pay-off is. With that said, the stock of this card greatly depends on how dense the metagame is in Control decks. It’s not an impressive card against Midrange and well, 5-power card tend to be useless against Aggro unless they kill a lot of things or gain you life.

The final card is Temporal Distortion, a card responsible for revitalizing the long-dead archetype of Unitless TJP Control, and in fact revitalized it so hard that I’d even argue the deck is actually quite good. Now whether it is good because it received Strategize, Moondial, and Disjunction to solve some of it’s key issues, or because it received this incredibly powerful late-game ‘finisher’ is a matter of debate but it can’t be argued that casting Harsh Rule and Channel the Tempest at instant speed isn’t just glorious. While I was originally unimpressed with the card itself or even the deck, I feel that the inclusion of ways to burn off excess main phase Power has made it look a lot more impressive.

Turns out that when you can use 10 power on your turn to draw cards without falling hopelessly behind on Tempo because you have another 10 power to spend on your opponents turn, you can swamp them in every form of advantage possible very quickly. With that said, I do think that the deck does still have some important issues with it that need to be addressed. Especially if it is to make it’s mark in the ETS format where playing a Unitless deck is far less of an advantage than it is on ladder.

 

Combo

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First, let me start this off by saying that I think ‘Combo’ is a bit different in Eternal than it is in some other CCGs. There is no real true Combo deck in Eternal which can assemble a combination of cards which win it the game on the spot, while also being consistent and reliable enough to be competitive (Sorry Bad News Herald afficionados!). Instead, Combo in Eternal is more about decks which rely extremely heavily on synergistic effects in order to produce a game-plan. So what falls into that category? Sacrifice decks, Obelisk decks, and Haunting Scream primarily.

All of these decks generally rely on cards which are individually weak but when compounded produce very powerful effects, often more powerful than the individually powerful cards of Midrange or Control strategies. Even if at times these interactions are rather mundane (Token producers+Obelisk), they can also be rather interesting such as how the entirety of Stonescar Sacrifice seems to feed into each others interactions.

With that out of the way, what has Combo really gotten from The Dusk Road? Well, not an exceptional lot. There are some unfinished in my opinion concepts here and there such as Talir, Unbound providing a reusable Time Walk at an extremely high Power cost or other cards like Kaleb, Reborn which seem to provide another piece for the spell-heavy Skycrag deck. However, for now it doesn’t seem like there is quite enough for these cards to really ‘clink’.

What has quickly proven itself to be very formidable however, is Stonescar Sacrifice. This deck received an absolute bounty of new cards all of which provide very powerful effects. From Combustion Cell providing a reusable Sacrifice outlet that does something more useful than simply ping the opponent for 2 damage, to a way of fighting through sweeper and removal heavy decks via Scrap Heap, to reusable card draw in Stonescar Scrapper, to of course the crown jewel of them all – a massive instant board refill in Gearcruncher. Gearcruncher has proven to be so powerful that even Kaleb (the not-reborn) has found his way into certain lists since it forces the opponent to react to every single token producer immediately or risk being blown up on the following turn.

While Obelisk decks are on the decline due to the prevalence of Disjunction, the Grenadin swarms keep flowing. With that said, Gearcruncher is no less potent in Praxis Token decks than he is in Stonescar Sacrifice, with a potential FTS Token deck being a possible as-of-yet unrefined powerhouse.

Another deck that is likely better than it was before is Moment of Creation. While as of yet it is unclear what the ideal form of this deck is (though it is likely involving Primal), the ability to power-out massive Sentinels which can then be used to either pay for Novaquake Titan or simply smash the opponent to smithereens cannot be underestimated. The format has a lot of powerful spells now, many of which you want to be playing, and nothing loves going really deep on spells more than Moment of Creation.

The last high synergy deck that I feel is worth mentioning is Lifeforce, while Lifeforce was already a fringe strategy with Set 2 and Horus Traver – I feel that t The Dusk Road has really helped flesh it out with the additions of Dreamsnatcher, Lunar Magus, and Ancient Bauble. There are a multitude of directions that are possible now, from grindy Midrange to more Agggressive builds – all built around the same powerful core of Katra, Beckoning Lumen, and Dreamsnatcher.

Why is Dreamsnatcher so important to the deck? Well aside from functioning as another fantastic unit against Aggro due to it’s relatively high health and lifesteal, it also gives the deck an angle against Harsh Rule decks which used to present an incredible problem for Lifeforce. If the game drags on long enough, 2 activations of Dreamsnatcher will usually be enough to mill out the remaining cards of a Primal Control deck. The fact that Lifeforce has powerful ways to fight just about any archetype except for evasive Aggro and Tempo decks makes it feel extremely powerful right now in my opinion.

 

Midrange

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While they are generally rather distinct archetypes, for the purpose of this article I will be rolling Ramp decks into Midrange since they are rather intertwined in their card choices. The difference between what can be called a ‘Big Mana’ deck and a Midrange deck in Eternal is not yet as clearly defined as it is in certain other CCGs, at least when it comes to Time – which has been defacto the Kingpin of Midrange with guest appearances by Argenport.

So what has Midrange received in Dusk Road? Well, the elephants in the room are definitely Worldbearer Behemoth which might be simply the strongest unit in the set – instantly slotting in as a 4-of in basically every single Time deck that you can imagine; and Great-Kiln Titan which almost single-handed makes you want to play a ‘Big Mana’ Praxis deck. While I think Worldbearer Behemoth is the more powerful card since it is simply enormous for it’s cost and also provides a consistent scaling powerful effect, Great-Kiln Titan is one of the more devastating late game threats available – being on average even more powerful than Icaria if your deck is built to capitalize on it’s effect.

The final piece of the Time puzzle comes in Trail Maker, which has proven to be a very efficient Mana Dork that also helps fix the often difficult to hit Influence requirements of these massive monstrosities. As such, it is easy to understand why most Time decks have gone bigger than they were before, opting to utilize the added acceleration in the format alongside the more powerful threats. In addition, the presence of these Big Mana decks has pushed more sane curved Midrange into a rough spot, in that the ‘fair’ Midrange will lose to the Big Mana variants of it’s own colors.

Outside of Time, Argenport has diverged into 2 different directions. One is the traditional at this point ‘Good Stuff+Disruption’ focused version that aims to capitalize on efficient threats backed up by evasive or overwhelming top-end such as Tavrod or Impending Doom. The only real new addition to the deck are some sideboard cards such as Corrupt and the Crests, which do help the consistency of the deck a great deal. The other build is one that goes deeper on Valkyrie synergies and plays a heftier top-end of 8 5-drops.

The Valkyrie deck has primarily come into it’s own due to the existence of Inquisitor’s Halberd. When you can curve into a 3/3 weapon to kill a 2/x on turn 3, you tend to win the game, it’s very difficult to come back from that kind of a tempo swing and Valkyries is capable of producing a 3/5 weapon on turn 3 – followed by a 6/6 Flyer for 4. While it’s early-game has a lot of dorky utility units, the deck has a surprising amount of grind potential backed by the standard arsenal of Argenport Removal.

It will be interesting to see which of these decks ends up being the prime Argenport Midrange deck of the format, but for now it’s not entirely clear to me, although Valkyries has performed better for me in testing – though a fair bit worse against Control due to absence of Sabotage or Protect in the Valkyrie list.

While there are some other avenues of Midrange or Ramp exploration such as a Big Dinosaur Elysian deck or the versions of Feln which run Zelia alongside Champion of Cunning, these decks either feel under-powered and incoherent (Feln) or simply under-explored (Big Dinosaurs). For now, it seems that Midrange is shifting into Big Mana with Argenport remaining as the main representative of true Midrange.

 

Aggro

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Aside from Control, Aggro is the archetype that has received the most power from the new set. Whereas in the later period of Omens of the Past, Aggro decks had effectively all coalesced into a single form all built around using the tempo swinging nature of Cinder Yeti. With The Dusk Road, this paradigm has definitely shifted.

The biggest impact is arguably the addition of Feln Tempo as a fully fleshed out and comprehensive deck. Utilizing evasive beaters in tandem with great interaction and over-statted monsters such as Rindra and Daring Pioneer this deck can rapidly develop pressure and then sit back. Coupled with the way that Nightfall allows the deck to continue it’s onslaught without gassing out, and having additional reach via Nyctophobia empowered night pings and the deck has a lot of game. While it did not prove to be quite as powerful or warping as some may have originally predicted, it is definitely a powerful addition to the metagame.

The other interesting new addition into the ranks of Aggro are the Gunslinger decks, with both Argenport and Rakano fielding variants built around arguably the strongest tribe of the set. The basis for both of these decks is Steady Marshal, a 1-power 2/3 that simply asks you to play units that are largely already good such as Rakano Outlaw, Champion of Glory, and Argenport Instigator provides a very powerful start. In the case of Rakano, it also gained the powerful Unpredictable Outlaw for hyper-aggressive weapon strategies and Whirling Duo for more traditional Plate-based builds of the deck.

In addition to all this, is the availability of Cowardice for hyper-aggressive Shadow decks (read: Rally Queen). In the case of these hyper-aggressive and extremely linear decks, Cowardice may as well be unconditional removal at the extremely low cost of 2-power. While the format is still in a state of experimentation, Rally has not been very common and perhaps the presence of Feln Control will be enough to oppress it’s numbers – however, I predict that Rally will rise to become one of the more popular forms of Aggro once things have finished settling down.

While Skycrag has not seen a lot of innovation, and remains largely unchanged, the metagame has become far more welcoming to it. Control is very popular, and the swarm of Aegis units that Skycrag employs helps fight thru this. Another deck that approaches the issue of removal spam in a similar but slightly different way is the reborn Burn Queen. Packing the new Vicious Highwayman, the deck has actually increased the amount of ‘fast’ damage that it has access to. While it does not quite reach the levels it once had or the ease of directing that ‘fast’ damage to the opponents face, it has been putting up solid results on Ladder.

 

Conclusion

Now that we’ve looked over what the new trends and cards are that are impacting these trends, where does that leave us? Well, the ideal meta-breaker would be a deck that can boast a fantastic match-up against both Grenadins and Feln Control without sacrificing too much equity against Armory or Aggro. While the Big Mana decks are present, they do not seem to be extremely popular, partially due to how expensive they are and partially due to them overall under-performing against the field.

In a strange way, I think that while we have moved past the era of Time Midrange – we are still very much in a Midrange metagame. Decks which can produce enough disruption to fight through the removal possessed by Control are wonderfully situated right now, and if the deck also has access to evasive threats it should be doing well enough against Grenadins.

The ceiling of the format is essentially Temporal Control and Sacrifice builds including Kaleb. While there are some interesting things that may potentially crop up with Moment of Creation, these decks would likely have to be 4 factions to really cover their bases and figuring out how to build a consistent 4 faction Powerbase seems to be elusive to us for the moment.

I hope this article has illustrated to you what I see as being the overall state of the game as of the end of December, and can hopefully guide you in your own deck builds and tunings.

Until next time.

-VSarius