Friday, October 26, 2018

Eternal Analysis 005—Tribute

Tribute is one of Eternal's poorer keywords, which is a shame because it's so close to being morbid.
Tribute kicks in when you play the card if one of your units went to your void this turn. Most tribute effects are stat bonuses, but there are a bunch of various effects and they usually define the card they're on. All the common tribute cards suck except Guard Dog (because it's on-rate without tribute) and Scavenging Spikeback (because a 5/5 for 4 is a real threat in Draft). (Pensive Lumen and Silverwing Purgeleader are on the cusp.) The reason they suck is how hard it is to actually trigger tribute.

Tribute has a strength over morbid that you can also trigger it by discarding units from your hand or milling units from your deck. But it has a huge weakness too: It doesn't trigger from sending your opponent's units to the void. That means the normal play pattern for this mechanic is to have a unit in play, attack with it, and lose it in combat to your opponent's unit(s). Even throwing away little units is hard to do because your opponent knows you're only doing that to trigger tribute, and they've got a ton of life to just take the 1 or 2 damage. There's only one card you can tribute during your opponent's turn and it's legendary.

Why is Ironfist Faithful
It's unplayable!
At uncommon, the trap grows stronger. Knight of Sorrow looks like a 6/6 lifesteal for 5; Warrant Officer looks like a 4+/3 that stuns an enemy unit for 3; Fierce Mosaraptor looks like a 3/4 Killer for 4; and Wurmic Chanter looks like mad value. But they're not. Not unless you can reliably engineer a board state where your opponent wants to or has to block your units. Or you can find unusual ways to trigger tribute. There are 5½ commons in the entire game that help you do that. There are 15 uncommons here, but 4 of them cost 4+ and don't leave enough power to actually follow up with a tribute card. The best tribute enablers are the wisp cycle, Combust, and Devour—Ironic that the three best enablers are in the faction with the least tribute.

As usual it's at rare and legendary where the cards start to be worth the difficulty, either by being worth the power without tribute or being completely absurd with it. Consider Kenna, Breaker of Games or Jekk, The Only Gun You Need. Even here there are cards that you regret playing when you can't trigger tribute. It just feels bad a lot of the time.

Like warp, tribute is a keyword you can absolutely make work for you if you dedicate your deck to that aim. That's not a great place for a keyword mechanic. It's awesome that it inspires new and unique decks that wouldn't exist otherwise, but it's simply a miss for one of your major mechanics to be a trap in Limited and in decks not built explicitly to overcome its weaknesses.

How would I tweak tribute? We need to make it easier to trigger in normal gameplay.

The most obvious answer is to make it as good as morbid by letting it trigger off your opponent's units going to the void. This makes chump-blocking dangerous for them. This makes the removal spells you were going to be playing anyhow trigger tribute. This lets your offensive discard and mill spells able to trigger it too. We've just opened up a whole range of new decks and made a keyword more relevant to Limited.

That's clearly the best solution. Downsides? Tribute becomes much stronger, and so some (but definitely not all) of the tribute cards will need to be nerfed a little to compensate. And that's it. I'd make that trade in a heartbeat.

If I had to find a solution with less impact on existing cards, I'd make more cheap common enablers.


  1. I didn't really get into Eternal for too long (my aging brain is capable of devotion to the ins and outs of one complicated card game).

    Are all mechanics distributed among all colors? Because for me the solution would seem to be to make it a niche mechanic to be used in colors or decks that are designed so that they don't need the opponent's choices to trigger it for you.

    In Magic something like this could be tied to red and black or even black and white, since white has a few self-sacrifice triggers. Instead of trying to make it work across the board in every color, you put the mechanic in places where it you design for it to actually succeed.

    Even in Aether Revolt, they didn't put Revolt in all five colors.

    I had kind of been thinking about an ability word mechanic for red/black that would trigger when you either sacrificed a permanent or discarded a card. I wasn't sure about the size of that design space, though.

    1. Some mechanics are faction linked, some are not.

      Tribute appears in every color but least often in Shadow, which has self-mill and sacrifice abilities, and most often in Justice, which has neither. (Justice also doesn't have Killer/"fight", another enabler for forcing your own things to die on your turn.) It's like they were trying to make it anti-synergistic on purpose.