Friday, December 7, 2018

Eternal Analysis 010—Sites

Eternal just previewed another exciting keyword from the upcoming set: Amplify. It's a novel new mechanic that… just kidding. It's multikicker. It's literally multikicker. (I mean, it looks fun. Multickicker's a good mechanic. It's just old news.)

The big reveal is actually Sites. They're a lot like planeswalkers, but with a touch of sagas and some uniquely Eternal stuff. Let's take a look.

The Praxis Arcanum is where Talir toils to advance her agenda. Apparently. And apparently Dire Wolf that players would be more excited to play inanimate physical locations than headlining characters. Y'know, that, or they didn't want to make the same is-this-a-creature-or-a-planeswalker-and-what-exactly-is-the-difference mistake Wizards did. While places are distinctly less exciting, I think this was a solid call. Especially since Eternal had nothing thematically representing locations before.

When you play The Praxis Arcanum, it comes down as a double-wide card, consuming two of the twelve spots you have available to play units in. It's not a unit itself, so you might expect it to stack with your avatar the way relics do, but it doesn't. Either because the team felt it needed that space for players to see all the many things going on here, or because these are strong enough we need as many invisible downsides as we can find.

It has a durability, which—just like a planeswalker's loyalty—is how much damage your opponent needs to deal to it to kill it. There are some unintuitive details about how that works, just as there were when planeswalkers debuted.

Just like a 'walker, you get to do one of a few things when it hits the board and every turn thereafter. Rather than cram far too many words onto the card like Magic did, Eternal just lets you choose from three existing cards to cast for free: Elegant. Here's where it starts to look a lot more like a Saga. Nothing you do increases your site's durability, and your opponent reducing your durability has no effect on your choices until they destroy it entirely. Instead, your choices are simply limited to what you haven't already done. If you Viper's Bite the first time, you choose between Accelerate and Refresh the second time. The third time you have no choice.

On your fourth turn, having completed chore list, Talir joins the party. That's a cool ending. And then The Praxis Arcanum—having done it's thing—goes away, clearing space for you to play more units. What's that? It doesn't go away? What? Why? Because it has an ongoing effect that continues even after the four days of Hanukkah gifts run out? Why does it even have another effect?! Because every single site is mythic, er legendary, and they just need to read (and often be) super-busted? Oh. Well. I don't love it, but I get it. That's the business. (It helps that all three of those spells unplayably bad on their own.)

They tweaked Torch (and Obliterate) from the dangerously-elegant "Deal 3 damage" to the merely-very-strong "Deal 3 damage to a unit or player" to prevent it from one-shotting our fancy new legendary cards, but left cards like the Magma Jet-alike Signal Flare alone. While I'll never celebrate muddying up an elegant design, those two cards were a bit too strong and this change makes it ever so slightly more reasonable to consider alternatives. Not enough to keep Torch from being an auto-4-of in every Fire deck, but it's a step in the right direction.

They explained a number of rules details that complicate the card type further, and I don't love all those choices (balancing the unbalanceable clearly took precedence over intuitive rules or elegant design) but it's still a lot less explaining than Wizards had to do when they introduced the superfriends. And frankly, I'm pleased to see Dire Wolf explaining anything rather than leaving us on our own to figure out all the weird little exceptions the hard way.

I'll reserve judgment until I can play with them, but my initial reaction is that they're doing one thing too many and that I'm not sure "just keep it alive four turns" is as fundamentally interesting as sagas or planeswalkers. That said, Dire Wolf has a great record from the time I've been following them, and I'm optimistic.


  1. I'm pretty excited to play with these!

  2. Update having experienced the mechanic:
    There are no fair site decks. You play them with tons of removal and mass removal, so they can net your four cards (and the power to play them) over four turns.
    I'm so sick of Howling Peak. Is it too much for 6 power? Not in a vacuum, but alongside whatever degenerate things your doing, yes, yes it is.
    Sites are mostly stronger than planeswalkers, because they offer more choices; grant an ongoing effect; doing partial damage to them has no effect; and you can't split attacks between a site and a player, absorbing more damage.

  3. Oh, and amplify is pretty so-so in execution:
    Bottoms Up is fine, but usually worse than Rally.
    I'm happy to pay +1 for Conflagrate to have another Torch in Limited, but you rarely amplify it, never more than once, and when you do it doesn't even feel that great.
    Crested Runt only justifies its backward templating at 11 mana, and frankly there are better things to do up there.
    Brilliant Idea and Starved Vorlunk are just too expensive to start.
    I do love me some Awaken the Ages and Courier Albatross.

    1. I have drafted far too many Awaken the Ages decks, and they are bad, but at least twice I've got to play Awaken the Ages for 9 with a Pillar of Amar in play, and I did win those games.