Thursday, July 12, 2018

Eternal Card Game (IV—Conclusion)

What else is unique about Eternal?

Eternal is 5/4 Magic.
You start with 25 life instead of 20.
A deck is 75 cards rather than 60.
The hand limit is 9 cards rather than 7 (though the starting hand remains 7).
Even the units feel like you get 5/4 as much for the cost.

Some of these things add up: Having 25 life extends games, but more efficient attackers shortens them; together, games remain about the same speed but you get more exciting looking cards. Having more life, more cards, and discarding less often also reduces the number of non-games and allows for more comebacks.

There's still a maximum of 4 copies of each card in your deck, so variance is increased noticeably by the larger deck size. The improved mulligan mitigates this effect initially, but the number of branches a given game is likely to take is generally still wider.

Let's talk tribalEternal has significant support for a number of unique tribes: Wisps & Radiants, Grenadin, Valkyrie, Gunslingers, Dinosaurs, Strangers, UnseenYeti, and more. It's great to see so much tribal support right from the start; I like that there's cross-tribal synergy between Wisps and Radiants; and I appreciate that all the tribes are spread across two or more colors. (Also, the game has all ten color pairs already defined from the start, which is good and bad.)

Some decks are mighty prescriptive. I discovered Iceberg Scattershot and was excited to play it in a Fire-based infiltrate deck… until my opponent played all the cards you are required to play with it: Wump, Party Starter; Slushdumper; Thudrock, Arctic Artisan; and Scouting Party. Ugh. There are 37 cards of type Yeti or that reward Yetis, so you've got some options; I just wish so much of the deck wasn't already built for you, in terms of card choices.

Now's a good time to mention Eternal's theme: It's a Fantasy Western. For the most part, it comes off as generic Fantasy with a bunch of gunslingers and pistols. We also see some deserts and vaguely Southwestern concepts thrown in, but there's not a lot of restraint on the Fantasy side, so the Western portion can get pretty washed out. I think it was a smart move to step aside half a genre from Magic, and the effort isn't entirely wasted. They could turn up the Western and turn the Fantasy a fair bit, and the game would feel more distinct and unique.

As with any CCG, there are a few different play modes available. First, there's tutorial campaign which teaches you the basics of play. Once that's finished, you gain access to additional campaigns and all the other modes.

I just finished the first optional campaign, Jekk's Bounty, and it's a nice trio of sets with four specific enemies to beat in escalating difficulty. In addition to a unique avatar and mini-story, each enemy gets a distinct deck and a mod—a rule that affects how the game plays (like being able to play two power per turn, or all creatures having +1 strength). My favorite was Guard Duty, where you are tasked with 'protecting a caravan:' You start the game with a 2/4  Caravan that's reckless (so it attacks every turn), and if it ever dies, you lose. That's such a thematic and novel tweak to play! Campaigns earn you playsets of promo cards you can't otherwise open or craft.

There are five puzzles for, what, 12 of the game's mechanics. They all start you in medias res. Most challenge you to win the same turn, but some give you one-and-a-half or two. I recommend doing these when you're fully awake and not tired, because many are very tricky. These puzzles, oddly enough, are the only way the game teaches you some of the less intuitive details of their mechanics.

Gauntlet is like one leg of a campaign, but generic. Fight five AI opponents with the same deck, the last one getting a rule mode in its favor.

Forge is a mini-draft against AI.

Casual and Ranked are two levels of constructed play against humans. I hadn't tried Ranked until today. I assume that both have a match-making algorithm, but it's not great; At the very least, the app makes no distinction between playing one of the pre-constructed decks or one filled with mythic rares you bought.

Following the 5/4 model, drafts see you open 4 packs instead of 3. You're definitely not drafting packs directly with other players, because there's no real-time component there. When you're done, you build your deck and play that against other drafters.

Because you're never actually picking from the same pack as other humans, Forge and Draft are a let down for me, though you do still at least get to exercise strategic choice and deck-building skills, and the cards do go into your collection.

In order to see what Events are available, you must first qualify by playing 5 Ranked games. Right now, there is a League event and a multiplayer game with the rule mod "Whenever you play a spell (not a unit, weapon, or relic), play a random unit with the same cost."

You earn experience in each of the five factions for playing cards of those factions (I think; it may be for dealing damage, or spending power; because these things are never spelled out, it's very amorphous). Experience levels you up, and you get little perks at each level, including more emotes and avatars. You earn coins by doing pretty much anything, and coins are spent to do more things (with campaigns being the priciest). You earn booster packs fairly regularly for things like leveling up and winning your first multiplayer game of the day (It took me a week or more before I figured out that the tomes I was winning were sealed product; not intuitive; never explained). You earn shiftstone with which to craft new cards by 'dusting' duplicate cards, which the app does not do automatically. For some reason, crafting is more work on desktop than mobile. There are also achievements. And you can buy stuff (gems get you packs, theme decks, or decorate totems and avatars). Pretty standard free-to-play stuff, though I'll say it feels reasonably generous.

The UI is attractive and largely intuitive. Two things Magic Arena has over Eternal: You can double-click to play cards rather than always dragging them; Arena automatically ends the turn when you can't do anything else. The board also has  more interactive animations, and the art for premium cards is animated (albeit with a simple wave-motion filter mask). There are a ton more emotes in Eternal, which you can pick from and earn more; Some of them are pretty aggressive but you can mute rude opponents. There's an instant replay button, which is nice since spells shoot by pretty fast and it's not like you can read them without hovering over them anyhow.

Overall, I'm really impressed with Eternal. It grabs me in ways no other digital CCG has, and in ways that only Magic has until now. It's innovating in ways Magic is to set in its ways to do. If this game can market itself out of the canyon between Magic and Hearthstone, I believe it will be a great success with a long and productive life. If you decide to check it out, you can use this referral code to hook me up a little.

Part I - Part II - Part III - Part IV

25 comments:

  1. How have you not seen an Event active? There is a sealed league available every month, and they're great! You get 40 games over the month (plus tiebreaker games if you want them), and every week you get two more packs so your deck slowly goes from an unplayable pile of garbage to something slick. They're expensive (like 12000 gold maybe) but a great value.

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    1. Apparently I have to place in Ranked before the Event button becomes active. Another secret.

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    2. Now I've done five Ranked games and am allowed to do Events.

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  2. I'm interested that you think doubleclicking to play cards in Arena is better. I'm constantly trying to drag my removal spells and being annoyed I have to play them, then pick targets. Everything in Arena feels like it happens at about a third the speed it does in Eternal (even though it is probably three times the speed of Duels).

    Part of the slowness is that Magic cards just aren't optimized for digital play yet. Will Magic try to aim at designs for standard that make digital play "snappier"? We'll have to see. Still, Arena games often drag on 15 or more minutes, even for aggressive decks, and that is just way too long.

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    1. Arena also eats an enormous quantity of RAM.
      I haven't tried Arena on my tablet, but Eternal has some kind of bug that makes it chug in the middle of some games on tablet.

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    2. Being able to double-click or drag is strictly better than only being able to do one.

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  3. Which brings me to the smartest thing I think Eternal does that I didn't see you mention. (I'm trying to break my comments into chunks that can be rpelied to individually instead of my usual encyclopedic comment).

    Arena has recently added a ladder based around matches and sideboarding, which takes the agonizingly long 15 minute games and gives you the wonderful opportunity to play agonizingly long 45 minute games! Whoo, how exciting! And what's better, since there are no match timers, if you play against UW Teferi, that could very well be 90 minutes for one match. You will sure feel excited at the end of that match when you lose, and your only pay off is that your rank goes down. Hey, at least you got to finish all your "Play X lands/spells" quests.

    So what does Eternal do with matches and sideboarding? It doesn't, and that is the best choice a digital game can make. In lieu of sideboards, each player gets a market, 5 cards that begin the game in a separate zone, and can only be accessed by Merchants (a special kind of card). When you play a merchant of a particular color, you can swap a card from your hand for any card from your market that matches its color (or multifaction cards).

    Thus, instead of dragging on a game into three games, you can respond to your opponents game plan during the game. For tournaments, this allows Eternal to use the much, much better Conquest format where each player brings three decks, and the match continues until one player has won with all three of their decks.

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    1. I didn't know any of that! (Okay, I knew Merchants existed, but not their purpose.)

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    2. yeah but this was introduced with the latest expansion. I must also admit it is on of the best things I've seen from the game. From a strategical standopoint, it's awsome to let you have a way to answer your silver bullets against what usually are unfavorable matchups!

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    3. A few weeks in, I'm already pretty sick of Merchants/Markets, as the practical application means that every deck has an abundance of tutors and the market is less about "silver bullets" and more "increase redundancy".

      In general, it seems that Direwolf's decision to differentiate from Magic with 75-card decks has resulted in them taking drastic means to reduce variance wherever possible, and it almost feels like they're willfully attempting to create an analog to the Vintage/Legacy environment.

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    4. I'm really digging the markets, though as you say, they are being used partially to keep answers to annoying decks and partially to make decks more consistent.

      For example, instead of running 4 copies of Rally (Eternals Trumpet Blast), you can now run 0 copies of Rally, put one in your Market, and that's just as good, and you never have to worry about drawing two of them. Or, if you REALLY want to make sure you draw a Rally, you can put 3 in your deck, one in your market, and run four of the Merchants so you effectively have 7 copies in your deck.

      Eternal's designers clearly put a lot of emphasis on avoiding non-games. Between the mulligan system, plethora of dual land options (including scry lands), markets, and more, almost no game is over before it starts (in constructed).

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    5. It bothers me that the Merchants are on-rate before they give you an ability the GDS3 judges thought was dangerously powerful. There's got to be an opportunity cost!

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    6. The Merchants are definitely not on rate before they give you an ability. They're no where remotely close, by constructed standards. In all cases you're taking a huge hit by playing them in a constructed deck before you take into account the market ability.

      Keep in mind what the three mana creatures that see play in Eternal constructed look like: Siraf, Dawnwalker, Cinder Yeti, Midnight Gale, Valkyrie Enforcer, etc.

      The merchants are very good, but almost all of the power comes from the ability, not the baseline. The nice thing about them coming attached to a body is that you don't fall too far behind on board by playing one. I think they were very deliberately designed with the intention that every constructed deck would play at least four merchants. That's probably the right choice.
      After all, this is not an alternative to sideboarding, this is all you get. You didn't have to pay an opportunity cost to be allowed a sideboard before!

      All that said, I worry that actually the associated bodies for Justice and Shadow are just too atrocious, and that those colors will suffer as a result. I assume in the future we'll get more merchants, to provide more options.

      The Time Merchant is actually probably the closest one to being playable without the ability, I would guess, but I worry it is actually too prescriptive on what kind of deck it will go in. Will this warp all decks that choose to use a Time Market towards being big creature decks? We'll see.

      Markets are totally new. I have no doubt DWD will make a lot of tweaks and changes to them as they collect data. But so far, my experience has been that they've improved an already great game.

      PS: Very lucky for you to have joined the game when Set 4 came out, Set 4 is great. Set 3 was terrible, and I wonder how many players the game lost because of it.

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  4. Eternal actually does have you pick cards from the same pack as another human in Draft... in a way. I'm not sure on the specifics, but apparently the pools of packs are 'human-seeded', and your packs in Rounds 2 and 4 are 'chosen based on your picks' in Rounds 1 and 3, respectively. So in essence, you will be 'matched' with a 'human-seeded' pool of picks that lines up with what kinda cards you were taking. This means you still need to recognize what Factions are open or not.

    The difference I see is that you only have to read what is being passed to you. You don't need to worry about sending signals by aggressively cutting cards, as you're not really signalling to an individual. However, you do need to be able to interpret what's being passed to you, to determine the open Faction. And honestly, aggressive cutting and signalling isn't the fun part of Draft to me, so that works well in my opinion.

    I think I have that right. I'd appreciate corrections if I got something wrong!

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    1. Weird. Still not the same, but better than I thought.

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  5. "You start the game with a 2/4 Caravan that's reckless (so it attacks every turn), and if it ever dies, you lose."

    Eternal just seems so much like Magic that I never really had a desire to move over and learn a new vocabulary of keywords and color pie. This small detail though makes me want to take a look!

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    1. Right? That was the most fun and resonant rule-mod I've played so far, but I hope there are more like it.

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  6. They don't do a great job of explaining the draft system in game, but you ARE drafting with other players, just not at eh same time as them. When you join a draft, the set of packs you get are "passed" from drafts 2 other players did previously. pack 1 and 4 come from one player, and packs 2 and 3 come from another. The pack you get for your 2nd pick is the pack the person passing to you opened, so rather than a 8-person circle, you essentially have an infinite line of people in your draft chain.

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    1. Weird. Still not the same, but better than I thought.

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    2. Yeah,it's different, but it's probably the best solution for both a mostly real draft experience and asynchronous drafting.

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  7. Oh. I'd be remiss not to complain about card identification. The app holds your hand so low on the screen that you can't read the name of the cards in your hand, so your only identifiers are the card's cost and art. That'd be fine as a setting for experienced players, but it annoying for new ones.

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  8. Another thing you didn’t mention (and possibly haven’t seen yet) is that DWD aggressively recost, boost P/T, or entirely change abilities on cards that aren’t working the way they want in order to preserve the meta. When they depower cards when they do so, they even allow you to dust them for full value for a period of time!

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    1. But, interestingly, they only let you dust ones you crafted for full value, not ones you've opened.

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    2. I didn't know that, though I had wondered.
      Good. Far better than banning.

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    3. Yeah, they do power level adjustments all the time, and it is great for the health of the game. "Oh, Justice is by far the best faction in draft? Let's nerf three of their commons." "No one is drafting Praxis? Let's cut a mana off Purify." etc etc.

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