Hello everyone and welcome to Part 1 of my guide to drafting. The intended audience for this guide is players without much of a drafting background or intermediate players striving to reach the next level. Maybe you played a few Magic: the Gathering drafts but lapsed and feel rusty. Maybe you’ve tried a few Eternal drafts and were disappointed in your performance. This guide is for you.
However, even experienced players can get something out of this guide, as having a formal framework for card evaluation can be a useful starting point for card evaluation.
The most critical skill you will need to develop to become a draft master is card evaluation. Without a good sense for card evaluation it is hard to know when a color is open or what is worth taking in a pack. While some cards find themselves at the extremes of playability, most cards fall somewhere in the middle. Knowing the difference between average, good, and great draft cards is the first step towards becoming a draft master. Here are some general tips. Future articles as sets are released will include individual card evaluations, but generally speaking I like to consider the following criteria:
- Overall impact. Does this card create an asymmetrical board state?
- Efficiency. Is it easy to play this card? Does it pass the “Vanilla Test”? (More on this later)
- Synergy/Flexibility. Does this card support other parts of your game plan in a synergistic way? Can it be effective without its supporting cards?
- Influence requirements. How many Sigils do you need to play the card?
- Uniqueness. Is it likely you will find a card with an effect like this one elsewhere in the draft?
- Deckbuilding. Does it belong in the deck you are drafting? Does it improve the consistency or inevitability of your deck?
All of these considerations matter greatly. Later on I will write an advanced card evaluation guide and go more into depth, but these six criteria are a good place to start. Let’s go through each of them in more detail and then practice with some actual cards.
- Does the card impact the board in a meaningful way?
- Does it represent a way to win (win condition)?
- Does it press an advantage effectively?
- Does it have the potential to pull the game back from the brink of defeat?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it is probably an impactful card. Usually these cards are either “bombs” (very powerful cards) or removal spells, but I would argue that cards like Oni Ronin and Pteriax Hatchling also qualify.
Remember – games of Eternal are won when your side of the battlefield is bigger, faster, or more evasive than your opponent. Your deck needs to have a plan, and a good plan includes a proactive way to win. Large units, flyers, or inexpensive units that are difficult to answer are critical to success.
Many cards look underwhelming but overperform just based off of their stats. Remember – in order for a card to be good, it must be castable. And the earlier you can cast a card, the more of an impact it will have on the game. Having said that, cards are usually designed with a trade-off between cost and impact. Cards that deliver on both counts are especially prized.
The Vanilla Test is one framework which we can use to consider efficiency. Originated by the Limited Resources podcast, the Vanilla Test basically asks the following question: How much attack and defense must a card have for it to be reasonably playable, even with no abilities? While I don’t think this is set in stone for Eternal yet, I’m going to propose the following table.
1 power: 2/2
2 power: 3/2 or 2/3
3 power: 3/3
4 power: 4/4 or 4/3
5 power: 4/5 or 5/4
6 power: 5/6 or 6/6
7 power: 7/7 or 7/8
So, if a card has 2 attack and 3 defense for 2 power, it’s probably worth playing. It doesn’t even need any abilities – the stats on the card are enough. It’s efficient! Is it going to win the game on its own? No, and it doesn’t need to. It’s a role-player, and that’s fine. A card like this passes the vanilla test.
Adaptive Predator passes the Vanilla Test with flying colors, and is considered a bomb as a result. Meanwhile, Forge Wolf flunks the test and as such is almost never playable. Efficient removal spells such as Torch and Vanquish are especially good examples, as killing your opponent’s threat and playing one of your own on the same turn is a great way to pull ahead in a game.
Cards that are synergistic with a game plan can have a power of their own. Twinning Ritual isn’t a particularly exciting card on its surface, but it shines when paired with cards that have echo and fate. Katra, the Devoted fails the vanilla test but the first time you trigger her life force ability, you’ve completely changed the game.
It is important, however, to temper our expectations somewhat when it comes to synergy cards. While cards like Disciplined Amanera and Crownwatch Squire look appealing, they rely on other cards to be good – otherwise they fail the vanilla test. Without being in a deck 100% focused on synergy, they typically don’t make the cut. This makes them risky draft picks.
Contrast a card like Disciplined Amanera with Auric Bully. Both are clearly designed with synergy in mind, but the bully passes the vanilla test without any help from deck building. As such, even though the bully has more restrictive influence requirements, I’m more likely to pick it early on.
If you come from a Constructed background, remember that synergy-based decks in Constructed are tailor-made to amplify synergy. In draft we don’t have the luxury of picking from hundreds and hundreds of cards – we are stuck with what we get passed. While that sometimes works out, more often than not synergy-based decks fall flat when compared to decks with less interdependent strategies.
Future articles will dive more into archetypes and how to draft them. For now, just note that synergy is desirable, but avoid playing bad cards because they look synergistic. Yes, I mean you, Water of Life.
Many cards, particularly rares, have steep influence requirements. Balance dictates that more powerful effects need to be more difficult to cast, so there is a trade-off between impact and ease of casting. For instance, Nostrix, Lord of Visions, though it is a bomb, requires a staggering 6 influence split across Justice and Primal. That is a daunting task, not just in game, but also in deck building. Consistency is the key to repeatable draft success, and cards that require two or more influence to play are a liability. However, they are also typically powerful, so you have to find the right balance between power and consistency.
Now, as far as card evaluation goes, high influence requirements make me somewhat less likely to take a card early. They also make splashing (playing a couple off color cards to complement your deck) much less viable. For instance, if you are playing a Skycrag deck that is splashing time for Purify, it is probably unwise to play Striped Araktodon even with 5-6 time sources. While the Araktodon is great, without substantial influence fixing it isn’t likely that you could play it on turn 4 when it is most impactful.
Unique effects are valuable assuming that they are intrinsically powerful. This is why cards like Avirax Familiar and Mortar are relatively high draft picks. In the first case, increasing power is a great ability. In the second, removal that can also deal damage to the opponent’s face is difficult to come by.
Removal in general tends to fall in this category. While most removal spells simply trade for an opponent’s threat, they are critical to ensure that you can execute your game plan and disrupt your opponent’s intentions.
Many cards are strong in specific decks – relatively few are strong overall. For instance, Crownwatch Longsword is a mediocre pick in a more controlling deck, but quite nice in a deck with units that care about weapons. Pillar of Amar is fantastic but should probably get cut from aggressive Praxis decks or decks that lean heavily towards fire.
2 power Strangers (the ones that give you Influence) are especially valuable since they improve the consistency of your deck while developing the board at the same time. Most players do not value Strangers as highly as they should.
This criteria is closely connected to the others, but is incredibly important because it adds a sense of nuance to the previous, more rigid criteria. This criteria will lead you to sometimes pass great cards because the archetype you have chosen just doesn’t want them. Not every great card works in every deck. Card evaluations are dynamic, and while it is useful to have an idea of the overall strength of a card, these impressions change dramatically as a draft progresses.
Now, this is a lot of information to keep track of. As you play more, you will start to internalize some of these concepts. But in order to improve, you must practice. So, let’s evaluate a few cards together!
Overall, this is not a particularly impactful card. Its stats are reasonable for its cost, since the flying keyword usually makes up for missing a point of attack. This will block most plays your opponent could make on turns 1 and 2, and has synergy with spark, weapons, and “fliers matter” cards. While I don’t think this card is a high pick, it will make the cut in a variety of Primal decks. 2/5
Extract has a moderate power level. Three damage kills most of the early units in the game, and the fact that it gains 3 life for lifeforce synergies is relevant. Every once in a while this can target your opponent to close out a game as well. The scry (deciding whether to move a card to the bottom) is also quite nice. 3 power for this effect is reasonable, and I could see myself paying 4 power in the right deck, so this is efficient. Removal spells are relatively difficult to find, so even a limited spell like this one is worth taking. One major knock against it is its double Shadow influence cost, which makes it more difficult to justify picking this early. It also isn’t a fast spell, so its flexibility takes a hit. Overall, though, I quite like Extract. 3.5/5
On the Hunt is a very controversial card. I’ve seen players I respect rate this all over the place, from bomb to unplayable. Let’s approach it with these five criteria in mind. This is an impactful card. If you have this in your opening hand, it is very strong. Although the hellhound this produces doesn’t have evasion, a 4/4 attacking on turn 2 is tough for most opponents to recover from. If you happen to be on the play, it gets even better, as your opponent will struggle to stabilize if you can follow this up with additional threats.
However, this card has a pretty significant downside – it requires you to basically discard a card to play it, and the 4/4 doesn’t come into play until the next turn. While there are some theoretical synergistic plays you could make with this (giving it echo seems cute), the bottom line is that this card is a bad topdeck in the late game in most circumstances. It’s not particularly flexible, since it needs to be in an aggressive deck to be good. Does the upside of this card outweigh the significant downsides? I think so, but only in an aggressive deck. You need to be able to support this on turns 3 and 4 in order for the downside to be worth it. Sometimes you’ll draw this late and wish it was something else, but it will win plenty of games that other cards wouldn’t. Rating this card is hard, but I’m going to say it’s a comparable draft pick to Extract, maybe a touch better. 3.5/5.
I suspect that few people will agree with my ratings 100%, and that’s OK. Different drafting styles lead to different evaluations, and that is part of what makes draft such a fun format. Next week, we will discuss how to identify signals. In the meantime, practice your card evaluation while drafting!
If you would like to join in some great draft discussion, join us on the Eternal Discord server or at the Eternal subreddit. Until next week, may your curve-outs be savage and your packs be filled with bombs.