One of the notable aspects of physical card games is their immunity to balance changes/nerfs. Tarmogoyf will never cost 2G, never have */* P/T, and never cost less than $100. Such is Magic.
But Eternal is not Magic, and balance has come to the game in the form of Patch 1.18. This Patch brings many buffs/nerfs, mostly in the form of buffs to Primal and nerfs to aggro. There are 19 changes to cover and you’re not here to hear about how my day went. Let’s get started.
♦ Azindel’s Gift – Now costs 7SSS, instead of 7S
This change addresses the insane splashability of Azindel’s Gift, which had been adopted as a potent mirrorbreaker in TJPx Control decks. Azindel’s Gift is now only playable in slow base Shadow decks (i.e. Feln Control), and likely only in decks that incorporate Celestial Omen as well (as the 2nd Azindel’s Gift is utterly useless). 4f Control decks will need to find new ways to get an edge in grindy mirrors matches.
♦ Champion of Chaos – Now gains +1/+0 from each ability, instead of +1/+1
This is a big nerf to a very prominent and powerful card. ChaCha, as it is so lovingly called, has been a 4 of Stonescar staple for as long as I can remember. Not gaining 2 toughness from Influence introduces two major issues for ChaCha. It is now vulnerable to Torch and can also be more easily killed in combat by Valkyrie Enforcer, Siraf, multiple 1/1s, etc. I would expect to see players explore other 3 drop options such as Assembly Line, Censari Brigand, and Cabal Countess. The “Torch test” has proved too much for otherwise powerful x/3s such as Midnight Gale to overcome; whether or not players will eventually come crawling back to ChaCha remains to be seen.
♦ Champion of Wisdom – Now a 4/4 that gains +2/+2, instead of a 3/3 that gains +3/+3
While not technically a pure buff, I would mark this change as a solid improvement for Champion of Wisdom. It now lives Torch regardless of your Influence count and enjoys similar or better sizing than before until you hit TTTT/PPPP (where it is a 6/6 regardless). CoW is still no Sandstorm Titan, but now feels like an actual option for Elysian decks. I prefer CoW to Marisen’s Disciple or Praxis Displacer in Midrange, but predict that Shimmerpack will still play other, more synergistic 4s over it.
♦ Cobalt Monument – Now transforms into a 4/4, instead of ¾
+1/+0 makes Cobalt Monument, an already decent card, a bit more appealing. One of the primary issues with Monuments is that most 3+f decks are already encouraged to play tons of Seats, which play poorly with non-Sigil Power sources. Throwing random Cobalt Monuments into TJP Control could lose you games due to Depleted Power sources. In addition, the current metagame does not support any Tier ½ 2f Primal decks. I would heavily consider playing 4 of these in Feln Control though. Free threats are great, and it’s not as if Feln Control has great Power sinks currently (their curve usually tops at Blacksky Harbinger).
♦ Crownwatch Paladin – Now a 2/1, instead of 2/2
Rakano Aggro takes a fair hit with this nerf to Crownwatch Paladin. -0/-1 means that Crownwatch Paladin now trades with Initiate of the Sands, Temple Scribe, and Grenadin Drones. This makes the card much less appealing if you aren’t immediately planning to suit it up. Tinker Overseer is the likely runner up for a replacement 2 drop in Rakano Aggro. I would not recommend playing Crownwatch Paladin in an open metagame (as it is very weak against token decks), but it remains a solid beater against most Control decks.
♦ Explorer Emeritus – Now a 0/2, instead of 0/1
Old man Emeritus is now merely frail, rather than on constant life support. He’s still largely a dog to see Ranked play, wherein he is generally outclassed by Staff of Stories, but +0/+1 is a nice “feel good” change for Draft. Emeritus can now stick through an Amethyst Acolyte/Plague and do awesome things more often. I already liked playing this guy in Draft to begin with, as the risk was medium (he at least replaces himself) and the reward was high (wins the game if unchecked). Will be even better now.
♦ Frontier Jito – Now costs 2F, instead of 1F
Ouch. Aggro will never die, but Jito himself should be very much dead with this change. Paying 2 Power for a 1/1 Charge is just too depressing, and setting up two spell turns on a low Power count just became much harder. Expect Stonescar Aggro to be less focused on 1 drops going forward. More burn heavy, higher curve focused Stonescar lists will likely become the norm for getting people dead.
♦ Jarrall Iceheart – Now a 6/7, instead of 6/6
Jarall Iceheart is cool and all but +0/+1 doesn’t really do anything to push Jarall into Ranked. DWD stated they were trying to position x/7 Jarall against commonly played Fire cards (likely 2x Torch/Obliterate). However, Jarall is still a 6 cost vanilla unit that must connect in order to get value, and is very weak against Permafrost, Annihilate, Vanquish, Harsh Rule, and so on. Still a bomb in Draft at least.
♦ Scaly Gruan – Now costs 2P, instead of 3P
Scaly Gruan is actually a fairly appealing card at 2 Power, in both Ranked and Draft. In Draft this is a strong early play in a defensive Primal deck, capable of blocking most 2-4 drops with no help. In Ranked this is a nice buff for Dinosaurs.dek, where Scaly Gruan both fits the tribal and provides early defense. It also isn’t completely out of question for Scaly Gruan to see play in Feln/TJP Control, as it survives Lightning Storm and walls aggro staples such as Oni Ronin, Argenport Instigator and Champion of Glory for days.
♦ Soulfire Drake – Now costs 5FFF, instead of 5FF
This is a challenging nerf to analyze. FFF appears to be a significant Influence requirement at first glance, but 1.17 Stonescar builds frequently played Flame Blast (FFF) alongside SS cards such as Impending Doom and Umbren Reaper. As such, I wouldn’t expect to stop seeing Soulfire Drake completely; it is still one of the best anti-Control cards in Eternal. Rakano Aggro will likely be cutting Drake for more Deepforged Plates though, as 5FFF is an issue for a deck with 0 Favors and only 25 Sigils (4 of which are usually Diplomatic Seals).
♦ Spire Chaplain – Now a 3/3, instead of 3/2
Valkyrie Enforcer, Combrei Healer and Siraf cast rough shadows on Spire Chaplain, even after getting +0/+1. If Spire Chaplain is worth testing anywhere, it would be in an Empower focused shell (i.e. Vodakombo) where drawing Sigils has extra value. I doubt Patrick Chaplain will get anywhere though, as the competition seems too rough.
♦ Staff of Stories – Now +0/+4, instead of +0/+5
Staff of Stories will remain a 1-2 of staple in Control decks, -0/-1 be damned. Torch still doesn’t kill SoS, and most beaters are either 3/x (Argenport Instigator, CoG, Siraf) or 5/x (Sandstorm Titan, Impending Doom, Umbren Reaper), meaning SoS will live/die much like before. DWD explained this change as letting Control decks take over the game at a “little greater risk”. Personally, I think nerfing one of the few played Primal cards in a patch engineered to buff Primal is bizarre, but what do I know?
♦ Steward of the Past – Now costs 4SS, instead of 4S
Statuary Maiden’s void hating brother in arms is now marginally harder to cast. This should only affect his spot in base Rakano Armory decks, which were playing Maiden over him anyways. I doubt this change will herald a golden era of nonsense. Maybe one day, 4f Varn Cauldron.
♦ Subvert – Now costs 4SS, instead of 4S
This is an extremely minor nerf to a fringe card. Subvert remains a niche anti-Midrange/Control option for Shadow based decks. I approve of this change because Subvert is an extremely unique card mechanically, and having it be easily splashable undersells this somewhat.
♦ Thunderstrike Dragon – Now a 5/6, instead of 5/5
I could see Thunderstrike Dragon doing things now, both due to this buff (can now block Sandstorm Titan, Impending Doom, Umbren Reaper, Soulfire Drizzy, etc) and the aforementioned nerfs to aggro (Jito especially). Blacksky Harbinger has traditionally ruled the 6 slot in Primal Control decks, but Thunderstrike Dragon is a much beefier win con that seems like it would overperform in a slower metagame. Certainly excited to try this one out.
♦ Tundra Explorer – Now 3P for a 3/3, instead of 2P for a 2/2
Um…congratulations? I will yield that this is a buff for Draft, where 2/2 for 2 is exceptionally unimpressive (trades with Strangers). I wouldn’t expect to see any Tundra Explorers in Ranked though, as even in a deck with 30 Spells, this is only 40% to draw a card. Spire Chaplain always draws a card and still isn’t good enough!
♦ Umbren Reaper – Now costs 5SSS, instead of 5SS
Much as with Soulfire Drake, this nerf keeps Umbren Reaper viable while introducing some awkwardness to it. It is now very difficult to run Drake and Reaper in the same deck, which means prospective Stonescar pilots will likely have to choose only one. My initial take on the issue is that Soulfire Drake is stronger in slow, controlling metagames, and that Umbren Reaper is much better card in aggressive mirrors. I would let the rest of your deck (i.e. which faction do you have more cards/doubles of) guide your 5 drop of choice though.
♦ Windshaper – Now 4P for a 2/4, instead of 5P for a ⅖
I can’t shrug this buff off quite the way I did with Tundra Explorer. I don’t expect Windshaper to be good enough yet, but it now has a decent enough rate to see play in the future. If Set #2 includes Flying tribal support (possibly as a Hooru theme, see Hooru Fledgling) then Windshaper could end up being a solid lord in such a deck. Windshaper has also gone from a decent card in Draft to a great one; I look forward to curving Pteriax Hatchling into this.
♦ Withering Witch – Now a 1/1, instead of a 1/4
Our last nerf is an unexpected and savage affair. This is bad news for Feln players everywhere, who now must turn to new options (Stray into Shadows?) for their board sweeping needs. 1/1 Witch just isn’t a card on its own, even if combos such as Lightning Storm + Withering Witch remain potent (cast Storm first, then Witch; the x/1s will have 2 damage marked and still die). Black Sky Harbinger is also weeping softly right now, as although it is a decent card on its own, its partnership with Witch is what truly pushed it into playability. I can’t call 1/1 Withering Witch 100% unplayable, but would not expect to see more than 1-2 copies in Feln lists, as it is a liability on its own. Expect 1.18 Feln Control to look nothing like before (rough draft below).
That concludes my thoughts on the changes. If you’re interested in reading more about why DWD made these changes, they wrote some notes on their thought process (link requires you to login to your Eternal account to view them). Another great read on 1.18 is this article by NeonBlonde, which touches less on the “what” of the changes and more on the “why”.
4 Permafrost (Set1 #193)
2 Seek Power (Set1 #408)
2 Suffocate (Set1 #251)
4 Annihilate (Set1 #269)
4 Lightning Storm (Set1 #206)
4 Vara’s Favor (Set0 #35)
4 Feln Bloodcaster (Set1 #386)
4 Wisdom of the Elders (Set1 #218)
4 Deathstrike (Set1 #290)
4 Steward of the Past (Set1 #287)
1 Champion of Cunning (Set1 #371)
2 Staff of Stories (Set1 #234)
3 Stray into Shadow (Set1001 #9)
2 Black-Sky Harbinger (Set1 #385)
2 Celestial Omen (Set1 #241)
2 Thunderstrike Dragon (Set1 #243)
1 Azindel’s Gift (Set1 #306)
1 Rimescale Draconus (Set1 #246)
7 Primal Sigil (Set1 #187)
8 Shadow Sigil (Set1 #249)
4 Cobalt Monument (Set1 #418)
2 Feln Banner (Set1 #417)
4 Seat of Cunning (Set0 #62)
Here’s my initial take on 1.18 Feln Control. Witch is gone completely, having been replaced with Stray into Shadows. A Celestial Omen package gives the deck access to powerful game enders against Control (Azindel’s Gift) and Midrange (Rimescale Draconus). Once I get in more games with the deck I’ll likely tune the numbers on Permafrost/Suffocate/Annihilate/Lightning Storm to be less rounded. Seems like a fine starting point though.
I should be back in a week or so. My next article will likely be Magic focused, as GP Orlando is coming up and I’ve been jamming as much AER/AER/KLD as possible to prepare. Take care.