Hello and welcome back to my series on Eternal drafting strategy! This article will focus on reading signals. Since I will be drawing heavily on the concepts from the previous article on card evaluation, you may want to go read that one first before jumping into this one. So, in case you missed it two weeks ago, here is Part 1 – Card Evaluation. Otherwise, let’s begin!
Reading signals is a critical skill. It’s probably the most difficult part of drafting – even very experienced players will often disagree completely on what appear to be mundane picks. I’m going to start by outlining some general concepts to keep in mind and then pivot into some draft examples for practice.
- Stay open early
- Find your lane
- Treat each pack as one data point
- Prioritize bombs and removal
- Be willing to splash, but look for a faction pair
Stay Open Early.
When drafting, it pays to stay open. In the first 4-5 picks, just try to take the strongest card out of every pack. This may mean you end up with cards in all five factions within the first three or four picks – that’s OK. You will almost certainly use some of these cards in your final deck. In M:tG, professional players usually end up playing fewer of the cards they take in the first pack than they do from the second and third packs. This is because as you get further and further in the draft, you become more and more sure what factions you should be drafting.
After your first pick, there are 47 more cards to take in the draft. By staying open early, you’re ensuring that you will be able to assemble the best possible deck out of the 48 packs you see. This is why you usually shouldn’t first pick a card like Peacekeeper’s Prod. Taking Peacekeeper’s Prod is great if you know you’re playing Justice, but unless your deck has 11+ Justice sources, you won’t be casting it very reliably. It’s far safer to take a card like Archive Curator or even Mortar.
An important corollary to this rule: Don’t marry your first pick. Yes, the Memory Dredger you took as your first pick is quite nice. But if you’re being passed great cards in Fire and Time, you should probably just abandon the Memory Dredger. Don’t force your deck to be a certain way just so you can play your first pick. If you “force” shadow to play Memory Dredger, you’re going to end up passing powerful cards in the most open factions later on in the draft.
Find Your Lane.
You must eventually commit to a pair of factions. Your deck will need around 27-28 playable cards. On the one hand, this means that you can “waste” 21 picks or so throughout the course of your draft. On the other, if you fail to accumulate 27 playable cards, you will have a bad deck. I find that if I commit by the middle of the second pack, I usually don’t have trouble finding enough playables. However, if you wait too long, your deck will be bad.
It is “optimal” to find your lane as early as possible. However, doing this is difficult without taking time to read the signals that are coming your way. There is a tradeoff here – you could just force the first pair of factions you draft early in the first pack. However, this will rarely be optimal, since there are 10 possible faction pairs. The “holy grail” of drafting happens when the cards you take early in the first pack match what is being passed to you from both directions. However, it’s pretty unlikely that the first pair of factions you take is what is most open in your seat. Take your time so you can be confident in knowing what is open.
One concept that is important in Eternal that doesn’t show up in other CCGs is that of the algorithm-based system that determines what packs you get passed in packs 2 and 4. Since your second and 4th packs are determined by the signals you SEND in the first pack, you do have to pay attention to what you pass in order to predict what you are likely to get passed later. This is a complex topic and deserves a full article of its own. For now, remember that if you pass a lot of Fire in the first pack, don’t expect to get passed very much Fire in packs 2 and 4. Conversely, cutting Primal hard in the first pack means you are likely to get passed quite a bit of primal in packs 2 and 4. This is another reason you want to try to find your lane in pack 1 if you can (more on this in another article).
Treat Each Pack as One Data Point.
Each pack is just one data point. Let’s suppose you get passed an Archive Curator P1P6. Does that mean that Time is open? Maybe, maybe not. It’s possible that that pack was unusually strong and had uncommon and rare Time cards all better than Archive Curator. Is that likely? No. But you must consider each pick you make within the context of the whole draft.
It’s also important to remember that the earlier you took a card in a pack, the less meaningful it is as a signal. The fact that you took Pouncing Drake P1P1 shouldn’t factor into whether or not you think Fire is open. Pouncing Drake is powerful, and it can certainly factor into whether or not you think you should play Fire as a faction. But since you didn’t get passed the Pouncing Drake, it can’t influence whether you think Fire will be open. Cards can only be signals if someone consciously took another card over them.
This also means that the later you see a card, the more important of a signal it is. Seeing Mortar 9th pick probably means that Skycrag is open. Seeing it 2nd pick really doesn’t mean much. So, pay more attention to the cards you get passed as the pack goes on, and you will be rewarded.
Prioritize Bombs and Removal.
Eternal is won with impactful cards. While these cards can take many forms, generally speaking it is difficult to win without some cards that are evasive, have big stats, or affect the whole board. Be proactive. Force your opponent to have answers to your threats if they want to win the game.
Naturally, your opponents will have threats of their own. Answering them can be critical, especially if you start the game on the back foot. Therefore, removal is a high priority in draft, particularly removal that is unconditional. Deathstrike is one of the best cards in limited because it almost always does what you need to do for a reasonable cost. Efficient removal spells such as Torch are important as well since they allow for explosive plays in the midgame.
Note that not all removal is created equal. Gun Down is a great card, but I’m not happy to put 4 of them in my deck. It’s an expensive spell that deals with most important threats but doesn’t help you get to the late game. On the other hand, I’d be happy to play 7 Torch. The more expensive the card, the fewer of them you should have (in general). In a later article I will discuss deckbuilding principles. For now, just remember that removal and bombs are important, but your power curve is important too. Balancing those two concerns can be tricky.
Be willing to splash, but look for a faction pair.
Splashing effectively can be a great way to get an edge in a draft. However, one of the most common mistakes that new players make is trying to play an evenly split three faction deck. These decks almost always run into influence consistency issues. So, splashing is generally good, but playing three factions as main factions is generally bad. Exceptions can be made if you managed to pick up a number of on-faction strangers and banners. As a general rule of thumb, 5-6 influence sources is enough to consistently splash a faction. But you won’t be casting double costed cards of that faction reliably.
In order to be a desirable card to splash, a card must:
- Have only one influence requirement of the splash faction. So, if you are playing a Praxis deck, Mortar is a viable splash but Extract is not.
- Be a rare or unique effect that complements your deck well. Typically, this means removal, but frequently bombs and strong weapons (Bloodletter comes to mind) will be good splashes.
- Be powerful in the late game. Since you won’t be drawing your splash influence on time every game, splashed cards must have late game punch. Oni Ronin is a really strong card, but isn’t a very good splash. Casting Oni Ronin on turn 7 feels bad.
Cards that suit these requirements are high picks no matter what faction combo you initially start drafting. At this point I probably sound like a broken record, but Archive Curator is an excellent example of a strong, flexible, and splashable pick in pack 1. Pteriax Hatchling, Annihilate, and Vanquish are excellent examples of pack 2 cards that also suit these three requirements. However, remember to treat a splash like a splash unless you draft enough of the faction that it becomes one of your main factions. Try to look for a faction pair and don’t just go beyond splashing a third faction unless you really know what you’re doing. We will discuss splashing more next week in Part 3 – Deckbuilding.
Alright. With all this in mind, let’s go through a draft together and try to build a good deck.
Unfortunately, this week’s draft ended up being fairly straightforward. The first cards I took were in Elysian, and I got passed Elysian – from both directions. I ended up splashing shadow for Feeding Time. Here’s the finished deck.
Remember – there are many valid ways to draft, and I don’t expect everyone to agree with my picks here. However, while experienced players frequently disagree on what the right play in a given scenario, they tend to agree on the valid options in each pack.
Next week we will focus on the second half of a draft and the pack matching algorithm. In the meantime, if you have an interesting choice to make during a draft, please take a screenshot and post it in the comments! Soon I will be doing some “What’s the Pick?” articles and I’d be happy to feature the decisions you have struggled with. See you next week!