When I was volunteering at Gen Con showing off Eternal, the most frequent initial comment I heard from passersby was “Is this like Hearthstone?” A fair comment as, at first glance, the game certainly looks similar but it doesn’t take long playing the game to realize there are some very important differences. This primer will be geared toward helping Hearthstone players learn these key differences.
For a nice overview of Eternal geared more towards the Magic player, definitely check out this article by Peter Golightly: The Magic Players Guide to Eternal. If you are primarily a Hearthstone player, you should check it out after reading this to get a more comprehensive overview of each of the mechanics in the game. I will only be covering a few of them here.
Let’s begin by outlining one of the most fundamental differences between Eternal and Hearthstone: the resource system. In Hearthstone, you generate one mana per turn under normal conditions. You can spend any amount of mana each turn playing your cards or activating your hero power. At the start of each turn, your mana replenishes. All Hearthstone cards have a simple mana cost, the number in the upper left of each card. If you have enough mana you can spend it on a card or cards for that turn.
In Eternal, the resource is Power and it does not automatically generate each turn. You can only generate Power by playing resource cards with the Power type from your hand once per turn. The basic Power cards are Sigils represented from each of the five primary factions – Time, Fire, Justice, Primal, or Shadow. You need to include these cards in your deck and draw them naturally over the course of the game in order to be able to play them and increase your total Power each game. Cards in Eternal also usually have Influence requirements. For example, Torch costs 1 Power and you need at least one Fire influence to cast it. You generate Influence with each Sigil you play from your hand, but other special Power cards can generate multiple types of influence when played. (Rakano Banner)
The influence requirement on each card in Eternal means you have to be careful to include the right types of Power cards in your deck so that you will be able to meet those requirements as the game progresses. The bigger result of this system is that ANY of the 400+ cards in Eternal can be combined into a deck. You are only limited by how much risk you want to take to accommodate the various influence requirements of the cards you want to cast. Compare this to Hearthstone where in your Warrior deck you can’t include any Mage cards, you can only include Warrior or Neutral cards. The deck building possibilities are dramatic in Eternal in comparison.
There is a downside to Eternal’s resource system. It is possible that you don’t draw enough Power cards to play all of the cards in your hand or that you draw. You might not draw the right mix of Power cards; you might need Justice Influence but only draw Fire Sigils. The risk is there that you might not cast a spell over the course of an entire game. You could also reach a point in a game where you draw too many Power cards and not enough action cards. These situations are unfortunate, but a necessity to allow for the incredible depth of deck building that is possible due to the resource system. With thoughtful deck building, these non-games should be rare.
The redraw system in Eternal is critical to lessening the number of non-games that happen. Your opening hand can be any combination of seven cards in your deck. If you don’t like your hand, say it has no Power cards, you can choose to redraw your hand once. The new hand will always have between two and five Power cards in it. There are no guarantees that you will draw the appropriate types of Influence, but you will likely be able to cast at least a few cards with the new hand. This redraw safety net increases the power of cheap cards that can be played with two or less Power as you know that if you redraw and draw one of your cheap cards you will nearly be guaranteed to be able to play it.
It will take some experience to determine the appropriate ratios of Power to non-Power cards in your deck, and the appropriate numbers of each type of Power to meet your Influence needs. Some general guidelines:
If your constructed (75 card) deck only has a few cards over three power, you can likely play the minimum number of Power, 25 cards. If you intend on the games lasting longer and you are playing more expensive cards, you likely should aim more for 28 to 29 Power cards or a few less if you are playing cards that search up Sigils like Seek Power or Secret Pages.
In your draft (45 card) deck, you could play the minimum number of Power, 15 cards, if your deck is mostly one and two costs cards with a few three cost cards. Most often, you will have a few four, five and perhaps more expensive cards in your deck, in which case you will want closer to 18 or 19 Power cards. Again you can reduce the number of Power cards if you have ways to search out Sigils.
Now that we have gotten our resources set up, let’s talk about how to use the cards we play with them. We should begin with the combat system which is significantly different from Hearthstone’s. In Hearthstone, once your minions are ready to attack, you grab whichever minion you’d like and then hurl it at either an enemy minion, causing the minions to damage each other, or you can send the minion directly at the enemy player. Damage in Hearthstone is persistent, if your 4/5 unit takes three damage, it will remain a 4/2 unit unless healed.
In Eternal, there is a singular combat step where you select all of the units you wish to attack with, hit A to select all units, and then click Attack, or hit spacebar, to send them into combat. Attacking units are attempting to strike the enemy player; you cannot directly attack opposing units normally. The opponent can use their units to block the attacking units, causing the units to damage each other, or they can choose to not block and the attacking units will do their damage to the opponent.
In Eternal, damage on units is not permanent, at the end of each turn each unit will heal back to full. For this reason, it is critical that you ensure that you do enough damage to kill the unit when you decide to block an opposing unit or cast a spell to deal damage to an opposing unit. If you are short by one point, the opposing unit will heal back up and your card could be wasted. Let’s talk about the implications of this with an example.
The opponent is attacking you with a Jungle Prowler and you have a Copperhaul Recruit ready to block. What would happen if you blocked? The two units would damage each other. The Prowler would deal three damage to the Recruit and the Recruit would deal two damage back to the Prowler. The end result would be the Prowler dying and the Recruit living with three damage on it until the turn ends and the damage wears off. Isn’t blocking great!? The Copperhaul Recruit’s stats of 2/5 mean that any unit that can’t deal five damage to it, and has two or less health, can’t effectively attack you because you can freely block with your Recruit and kill the unit. Don’t forget that the damage done to the Recruit will heal at the end of the turn. This threat of “eating” a unit on blocks can lead to games of Eternal developing a large board state as units pile up that can’t profitably attack into the opposing blockers.
How do these games end? One answer is evasive threats such as flying units, for example, Skysnapper. Flying units can only be blocked by other flying units, so your Copperhaul Recruit won’t be able to do anything about an opposing Skysnapper that is attacking. It is often important to have flying units of your own to either block opposing fliers, or to attack your opponent when the ground units are in a stalemate.
Another method to break through a ground stall is with a very large ground unit such as Direwood Rampager. This unit will often require at least two units to block it in order to take it down. Killing those blocking units, might then clear the way for the rest of your smaller ground units on future turns.
This brings up an important concept about combat in Eternal, you can block with multiple units against a single attacking unit! Let’s say you are being attacked by a Sandstorm Titan, a fearsome threat indeed. You can use two Jungle Prowlers to “gang block” the Titan, just click on the first Prowler to select it and click the Titan to set it as a blocker and then do the same thing with the other Prowler. Once all of the blocks are set, combat will ensue and the Titan will deal its damage spread across both units, the attacker decides how to spread the damage, and the two Prowlers will each deal their damage back to the Titan, killing it. Gang blocking allows for some complex combat situations as you will need to consider all of the possibilities before committing to an attack or how to best block an incoming attack. One common situation is that if you have a 3/3 unit, you normally won’t want to attack into two 2/2 units ready to block. They can gang block and your 3/3 will only be able to do enough damage to kill one of them and you will have ended up trading your 3/3 for their 2/2, not a favorable outcome.
Let’s return to the Jungle Prowler versus your Copperhaul Recruit scenario. Under normal circumstances, no one would make that attack with the Prowler given our analysis above, but there is another important thing going on in Eternal that is different from Hearthstone, Fast Spells! You can cast Fast Spells on your opponents turn or during combat. The opponent is representing that they have Finest Hour, which they could cast after you declare the Recruit as a blocker. If they have this card, their Prowler would become a 6/5, plenty big to eat your Copperhaul Recruit. This would be a disaster for you because trading your 4 Power 2/5 for the opponent’s 1 Power fast spell is a terrible trade. You invested significant time and resources into deploying the Copperhaul Recruit, and you can’t afford to lose it all to a cheap spell from the opponent. That is, unless the opponent is bluffing and doesn’t really have the Finest Hour card at all! This is a very basic example of the types of mind games you can get into in a game of Eternal.
Another key thing to keep in mind is that you can respond to a spell with a Fast Spell of your own! Let’s say you decide to block the Jungle Prowler and then your opponent casts Finest Hour on their Prowler. You have an opportunity to cast your own Fast Spell before the Finest Hour happens! Let’s say you have Torch. You can respond by Torching the Prowler, and if your opponent has no other Fast Spells, the Prowler would die and their Finest Hour card would fail to do anything and also go to the Void. You just netted yourself two of your opponent’s cards for one of your own, a game swinging type of play. You should try and find these type of situations to maximize your Fast Spells.
Related to Fast Spells are units with the Ambush skill such as Storm Lynx. If your opponent attacks you with an Oni Ronin, you can surprise your opponent by casting a Storm Lynx and blocking the Ronin for profit! Ambush can also be used to block an incoming Relic Weapon attack or to absorb a use of the Killer ability.
What is a Relic Weapon? Let’s take a look at Magma Javelin. Relic Weapons attach to your Avatar. The numbers on the lower portion of the card tell you much strength and armor the weapon has naturally. In the case of Magma Javelin, it has four strength and one armor. The armor value is very different from Hearthstone’s weapon durability number. The armor value indicates how much damage the weapon can take before breaking. Thus if you attack a 1/1 unit with the Magma Javeline, the 1/1 will take four damage and likely die, but it will deal its one damage back to you, reducing the armor value to zero and the Javeline will break and go to the void. If the opponent has no units, you can attack the opponent directly with the Javeline dealing four damage to the opponent. As long as the opponent has no units, you can do this once each turn. If the opponent has a Relic Weapon of their own that is attached, they still won’t deal any damage back to you when you attack them. In fact, if you deal enough damage to break their weapon, you can use your Relic Weapon to destroy theirs.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that if you have a Relic Weapon attached that has two armor remaining, and your opponent deals at least two damage to you on the following turn either by attacking or casting a spell, your weapon will be destroyed. Relic Weapons are both very powerful in that they can attack any unit directly, or kill the opponent if they have no units, while also being inherently fragile as they can be destroyed by opposing attacking units freely.
Peter’s article does a great job explaining all of the major mechanics in Eternal, but I wanted to touch on one unit skill that should bring back memories for Hearthstone players – Killer. A unit with killer can attack an enemy unit directly once per game. Sound familiar? One of the big differences is that the unit with killer will heal back to full at the end of the turn, just like if they units engaged in combat normally. Consider Predatory Carnosaur. When you play it, you can immediately use its Killer skill to attack an enemy unit directly. However, once the ability is used, it can’t be used again unless the unit is returned to its owner’s hand from play or the Void. The unit will have to attack and block as normal after it uses Killer.
I hope this article has helped you transition from playing Hearthstone to playing Eternal. There is no substitute for practice though, so fire up a Gauntlet and jam some games against the AI. I tried to cover what I thought would be the most surprising differences, but I am sure you will discover more as you explore the game. If there are other concepts or aspects of the game you want to know more about, please send me a tweet and I will either dedicate a future article to it or respond directly! Another great way to learn the game is to watch streams on Twitch. If you identify yourself in the chat as a new player, I am happy to slow down and explain what is going on in the game when I am streaming. Feel free to follow me on Twitch so you can be notified when I go live next!
Thanks for reading.