Drafters’ Corner: Chatting with NorthernPolarity about Event and Draft

Hi everyone! As the draft event just concluded, I’ve decided to do an interview with NorthernPolarity (NP) and hear some of his thoughts about the event. He is a very consistent and good drafter and managed to clinch 11th in the weekend draft event! Some of you might also recognize him as one of the more active and helpful posters in #draft in the Eternal discord, while other might remember his unique rants about emerald spear 😛. In any case, let’s get down to the actual interview!

Flash: Hi Northern! So to start things off, let’s talk about how did you find out about eternal and when did you start playing?

NP: I learned about Eternal shortly after open beta was released and dabbled in it, but didn’t really start seriously playing it before Omens of the Past, when I discovered the great Eternal discord community.

Flash: I see! Did you have experience with other card games prior to this?

NP: Prior to this, I’ve been drafting Magic the Gathering weekly for the past decade.

Thoughts on the Event

Flash: How did you find the drafting in the event compared to standard draft? Was it easier? Harder?

NP: Drafting in the event felt easier than normal drafting, but I think that was primarily caused by the higher density of newer players in the event compared to normal draft. I was getting passed strong cards far later in the draft than I would normally expect (p2p3 Valkyrie Enforcer, for instance), so it was very easy to switch into the open factions pack 2 because you would get so many late playables in those factions. I also noticed that yetis (one of the best if not the best tribe in the format) was criminally undervalued, which is indicative of an influx of newer players as well since the cards individually do not look that strong despite the tribe being incredible.

Flash: Interesting! I definitely agree with good cards going later, but I also think part of the reason was the lack of fixing. This made it much harder to hedge or pivot, but as you’ve said, another facet could easily be due to newer players evaluating the cards poorly. If only there was a tier list to help…. (Shameless self-plug)

Did you enjoy this format more or less than regular draft?

NP: I enjoyed the format since new formats are always fun to figure out. However, I think that it will ultimately be less enjoyable than just normal set 3 draft once the novelty wears off. Drafting the set definitely seems far less interesting than set 3 for the following two reasons:

1) The curated packs being so much better than the set 3 packs means that the best strategy is to generally just find the two open factions in pack 2 and stick with those for the rest of the draft. You want to maximize the number of good cards being passed to you, and the best way to do that is to just take whatever the person passing to you isn’t taking in the two best packs of the draft. There are some exceptions to this like if you get a very strong tribal opening in pack 1 since tribal cards can reach the power level of the curated packs, but I expect this to be rarer than just not getting anything too great in pack 1.

2) The lack of splash enablers caused by the removal of strangers from the pool also makes taking splashable cards not in your factions (Extinguish, Confessor, etc) far riskier since you can’t splash the cards nearly as often.

This heavily encourages you to find the two open factions in pack 2 and stick to it for the remainder of the draft, meaning that there are just a lower volume of interesting picks overall, since your draft is mostly on rails once you find the two open factions.

Flash: I definitely agree with the lack of fixing making picks relatively straightforward the moment you’ve established your main factions. Using Pack 2 to decide your main factions is interesting though, and now that you’ve brought it up, it definitely makes sense due to the power level differences between the curated packs and Set 3 packs. How about the gameplay aspect then?

NP: I’m not sure about whether the gameplay improved compared to normal draft, but my hunch is that it got worse. The threats clearly got better since the curated packs are full of insane cards like Pillar, Mentor, etc, and the removal stayed roughly the same. This led to a fair amount of uninteractive games where someone sticks a threat, it goes unanswered, and wins the game. I vividly remember one of my losses being to someone who goes turn 3 Ageless Mentor into turn 4 Nesting Avisaur into turn 5 Twinbrood Sauropod…. Needless to say, I did not win that game.

Flash: That’s interesting, considering that a lot of people were on the buff everything train to make draft feels more fun to play. Does that mean that you actually rather have a lower power format?

NP: To be clear, the “higher power levels” i’m referring to is mostly how many of the top tier common and uncommons (3.5+ cards) remained in the curated list, which often led to frustrating games. Higher power levels can lead to more enjoyable games, but for set 3 in particular, I wanted to see the weakest cards get better while maintaining a similar ratio of very good cards, not remove all the weak cards so that we get a large density of very good cards.

Flash: Ah I see, so your complaint is more of the increased discrepancies between the worst and the best cards in your deck? That definitely makes sense, and improving the quality of unplayables in set 3 packs would definitely help improve the real draft format.

Event Rewards

Flash: Another contentious issue with this event is the prizing structure? What did you think of it?

NP: I’m probably not the best person to ask this question since I was probably one of the people most affected by the prize structure, but from personal experience it doesn’t feel good finishing 11th out of 10,000 players and getting effectively the exact same prizes as if I did mediocrely on a single run. I think I ended up getting 10 packs and 3 draft tickets spending 22k gold on the event, but a person doing a single run and finishing in the 1-5k bracket would have gotten 5 packs and 1 draft ticket for 7.5k. This means that I effectively spent triple the amount of gold getting triple the amount of prizes as someone who finished in 4000th place, so I was probably better off just doing one run instead (although the glory of being on the leaderboards is nice I suppose). I’m not sure if the prize structure was due to DWD not expecting such a large turnout, but something definitely felt off there.

Flash: How would you fix it then? Scaling rewards (e.g. top 30% gets 2 draft tickets instead of top 100)? Or just bring back per run rewards?

NP: As for fixing it, it really depends on what your goals are. In a way, this event felt much more like a tournament than any other event precisely due to the lack of per-run awards, which was interesting in its own way. If DWD wants to keep this tournament style event where runs are effectively capped, then the solution is tricky. Having % based payouts sounds like a good idea, but it isn’t ideal because it can be confusing to players and just isn’t very elegant. Moving back to the per-run prize structure and the leaderboards being more of a bonus/glory deal would probably be my preferred solution since it fits this style of game better.

Curated Packs to Fix Set 3 Draft?

Flash: Curated packs of set 1/2 was a common suggestion to “fix” set 3 draft. After experiencing it in the event, do you feel that this addresses the major issues of set 3 draft?

NP: For some background information on what I think the major issues of set 3 draft are, I wrote a reddit rant about this a while back. The TL;DR of this is people generally think that set 3 draft does not feel cohesive and it is very hard to find the support for tribes that you are drafting. I distilled down into three core issues, so let’s list these issues and see if the curated helped:

1) High density of completely unplayable cards in set 2/3.
The curated packs does somewhat address this by nuking set 2 from orbit, meaning that there are far less unplayables in the curated packs. However, set 3 remains unchanged, meaning that the first pack experience of ending with 5 playables in the pool stays the same. With curated packs being so good, this actually creates an even bigger issue where your first pack doesn’t matter most of the time, and the best thing to do is to just go all-in on whatever is open packs 2/3. This already was the main strategy in the current draft format, but the curated packs likely make this even worse.

2) Many tribal mechanics are a trap.
One would think that the curated packs helped here by increasing the amount of tribal support in packs 2/3, but the curated packs have actually made this even worse by increasing the overall power level of the format without substantially increasing the density of enablers/payoffs for many of these tribes. Since the good stuff decks got better, there is even less reason to try to go for tribal synergies, which in turn makes the bad tribes even worse. The curated packs also felt rather lopsided in that certain tribes just got way more support than other tribes. Just by considering the amount of enablers for elysian dinosaurs in the curated packs (Scaly Gruan, Towering Terrazon, Avirax Familiar, Pteriax Hatchling, Nesting Avisaur, Twinbrood Sauropod) compared to the number of grenadin enablers in the curated packs (Grenadin drone, Sparkbot, Assembly Line), it’s pretty clear which tribes are traps vs not.

3) High density of cards that are unplayable without synergy.
The curated packs helped this somewhat by removing the bad lifeforce cards in set 2 and increasing the amount of goodstuff in general, but as long as set 3 remains unchanged, this issue remains unsolved since cards like Winter’s Grasp, Scrap Hound, etc still remain extremely hard to enable .

All in all, the curated packs address some of the issues with set 3 (low amounts of playables in particular), but introduce other issues that are arguably worse (severely imbalanced tribes, set 3 packs being even more irrelevant compared to the middle packs). Maybe more playables makes these trade-offs worth it since it means that people trainwreck less often, but I think experienced players will enjoy the curated pack format much less because of how strong the macro strategy of forcing good tribes and the open factions in pack 2/3 would end up being.

Thoughts about Draft in General

Flash: So moving back onto drafting in general, what are your thoughts on the current draft format?

NP: I love the drafting aspect of it The format is very skill testing and heavily rewards deep knowledge of how good each tribe is, what are the key payoffs and enablers are for each tribe, and what faction combinations work for certain tribes. Examples include Serene Excavator being much harder to enable than Yeti Windflyer, Temple Raider really being a praxis card in disguise, and grenadin tribal being mostly a meme dream. The presence of strangers and banners in packs 2 and 3 also make splashing fairly easy. This greatly increases the number of choices in drafting, since often you have to decide between a playable in your faction, or a much better splash card or fixing to enable your splash cards. For example, do I take this Highbranch Sentry in my factions, or this Mortar that I could potentially splash but don’t have fixing for yet?

There are also a ton of small, non-tribal related synergies as well that further change the valuations of certain cards in the format, such as Premonition Wisp being a card worth prioritizing with enough incidental lifeforce triggers and Shielded Shortbarrel being a much better card than it looks due to fliers and weapon synergies in Justice. Also, with the way the format is set up, you are heavily incentivized to shoot for the stars in pack 1 and gamble on as many high payoff cards as possible and try to make them work. Funnily enough, set 3 being so low on playables actually makes this strategy better, since even if that Scourstone Sentinel only has a 20% of working out in the end, taking it has a very low opportunity cost if the rest of the pack is basically empty. All in all, these factors all contribute to making the format incredibly rewarding to draft.

The games are more or less average. The relative lack of removal and tribal blowouts can make the games feel very non-interactive at times, but as a whole it averages out and I don’t have a strong opinion either way.

Flash: Yes, I definitely concur there. To me, the drafting aspect is really fun and enjoyable, and getting rewarded with great picks when you find your lane is amazing. However, the gameplay often feels like a chore now because there is a significant lack of interaction in the format. This makes it often feels like gameplay devolves into who draws better.

Moving on to talk about factions, you’ve been pretty vocal about your dislike of justice being overpowered in draft. After these two cycles of nerfs and buffs, where do you think justice now stands?

NP: To be fair, I stopped complaining about that after the arcanist nerfs, though the second round of nerfs still helped get the faction to a more balanced state. I would rank justice as close to Time/Primal, and ahead of Fire/Shadow right now. The best decks in the format still belong to time and primal, but justice is still very deep at common and isn’t as reliant on synergy as the other factions. I still disagree with the second round of nerfs since they didn’t really make the format better in a meaningful way, but if the goal was to go for faction balance, then it helped out on that front.

Flash: Primal as the strongest faction, really? Outside of yetis, the faction feels pretty bad. You have a lot of conditionally good cards (e.g. Winter’s Grasp/Voracious Fosora) which makes primal decks very high variance in my experience. Or are you referring to primal overall, i.e. set 1/2 primal dragging the faction power level up?

NP: Primal is in a weird spot in set 3 because the commons in set 3 are individually very bad, but yetis as a tribe is so good that the faction routinely leads to the best decks in the format. The main reason why I think primal is the best faction is that yetis are still criminally underdrafted. A faction is going to be good if you can get common Tinker Overseer 10th pick, and that’s what commonly happens with Yeti Windflyer in this format since people undervalue it so much. As soon as people pick up on this then primal will fall back until dumpster tier but as long as you can still get Slope Sergeants/ Yeti Windflyers 8th pick, it will remain a good faction to speculate on.

Flash: That’s definitely true. Yetis are an extremely powerful tribal and if they are open, the decks often end up pretty insane. Another interesting thing that surprised me is that you rate fire as one of the worst factions. In my experience, Fire has been my favorite faction to draft and also my most successful one (highest winrate and most commonly drafted faction according to my stats). It’s pretty surprising because I’ve had this discussion with Isomorphic before and he too doesn’t like Fire as much as the other factions. I wonder if this simply boils down to a difference in playstyle between us.

NP: Well, when you look at fire’s best commons and uncommons, you’ll see cards like Sawed-off Shotgun, Into The Furnace, Spark Hatcher, and so on. While these cards are okay, the only real card that excites me there is Sawed-off shotgun, which can often singlehandedly win you a race in your favor. The other cards are just small units that will rarely carry a game for you.

In contrast, if we were to look at time, your best commons/uncommons are Trail Maker, Frenzied Omnivore, Insistent Automaton, Fishing Dinoch and it is clear that time has far more cards that can run away with a game than fire can.

Fire generally relies on curving out and hoping they have enough ways to push through damage to punish slow opposing starts, but that’s a much harder strategy to draft than a strategy that has individually very powerful cards that can take over a game. In a way, the faction feels too fair compared to what the other factions are trying to do in this format.

Flash: Well, I think I view fire decks the same way that you feel about primal/yetis. I definitely agree that fire’s units doesn’t go toe-to-toe against big time units, but a cohesive fire deck is often very fast and able to snowball out of control quickly. I also agree that Set 3 fire isn’t amazing per say, but the decent unit quality, paired with the amazing quality of Set 1 and 2 fire, often still allows for a great deck. I might also be slightly biased by my inclination towards fun games, since fire decks generally give you the biggest room to interact and attempt to outmaneuver your opponents.

Well, to wrap things up, are you hoping for more draft events by DWD? If so, what sort of funky new rules would you like to see?

NP: Of course! Draft events are an awesome way of increasing the variety of limited formats in the game and getting people back to playing Eternal. The obvious suggestions of prerelease sealed events and throwback drafts (set 1 or set 1 and 2 drafts) would be great starting points for additional formats. If they really wanted to get wild, they could do some crazy stuff like completely randomized packs or tacking on construct-event style rules like “you start the game with +2 power” to the format. Those rules would be pretty interesting since picks clearly change drastically with rules like that.

Conclusion

Well, that was definitely an insightful interview for me and I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did. I also didn’t have to do much work since Northern obviously enjoyed rambling on and on! As always, let me know whether you enjoyed the article in the reddit thread!

Eagerly awaiting the next draft event!
Flash2351