If you come to Eternal from other card games, you have probably heard the phrase:
Using your life total as a resource
Today I want to talk about what this means for people who may be unfamiliar with the concept and to discuss its application in Eternal. This is an important concept that is not intuitive to most new players.
In Eternal, your starting life total is 25, when it is reduced to zero, you lose the game. Your life total sounds like a pretty important thing! If you lose it all, you do lose the game. However, what does your life total matter if you win the game at 1 life? Those 24 life points were irrelevant in the final outcome of the game. The final point was all that mattered. You don’t get special bonus points, though maybe there are some hidden achievements, for winning with a high life total. All that matters is that you reduce your opponent to zero before they reduce you to zero.
New players will often get hung up on life totals. It looks like life totals should indicate who is winning or losing a game currently. Life totals are what decides who wins or loses in the end, right? Technically yes, but you need to think about what makes those life totals change. What each player has in play or has access to in their deck or hand is often far more important than each player’s life total in a given game. In an extreme example, I might be at one life and about to lose next turn, but if I play a Champion of Cunning with enough units on the board I could win out of nowhere.
An experienced player uses their life total to buy them time to win the game later, in other words, they use their life total as a resource. This is why you might not want to “chump block” (Blocking with your smaller unit knowing it will die just to prevent damage) or even trade off units because you might need those units later when the board changes. In the Champion of Cunning example, the Champion might not be a game winning play if you traded off or chump blocked with your smaller units prior to playing the Champion.
Another example, let’s say you have two Combrei Strangers, one in play and one in hand. Your opponent attacks on turn 3 with their Rakano Stranger. Should you block? There is a lot that goes into this decision, but one huge benefit to taking the damage and keeping your unit is that if your opponent were to follow up with a 3/3, having the extra 2/2 in play is critical to being able to deal with his larger unit via double blocking when you deploy the other Stranger next turn.
Another common example in draft might be if your opponent has a few Rakano Strangers, but you have a Xenan Guardian in your hand. It is probably better to not trade cards, either removal spells or blockers, and take some damage from the Strangers until you can deploy the Guardian which should keep the opponent’s smaller units from attacking profitably. Here you have converted a resource, your life points, for cards, your opponent’s Strangers, which are now much less effective with your Guardian on the board.
What if you don’t have a larger unit in hand in that example, but instead have a Torch? If your opponent attacks you with Rakano Stranger on turn three, should you Torch it? It depends, but often the answer is no, you should take the damage and see what your opponent plays next. What if they follow up with a Crownwatch Deserter? This would be much better to Torch! If all you cared about was keeping your life total high, you might end up Torching the Rakano Stranger, preventing two damage, only to lose to a harder to deal with threat later.
Controlling decks need to make special use of using their life total as a resource. A fundamental thing is knowing when to cast your Lightning Storm or Harsh Rule. A big part of the equation is trying to maximize the number of units you kill with your sweeper. It is often correct to take some extra damage to let your opponent add more to the board before you sweep it. It is very difficult because if you wait too long to cast the sweeper, you might just end up too far behind to stabilize, but if you cast it too early your opponent might have enough to reload and defeat you later. Other things come into consideration here, such as the context of your hand, but it is hugely important to know that it is often correct to take some extra damage in order to kill more units with your sweeper later.
Controlling decks don’t just come in the form of Harsh Rule Ranked decks. You can have a controlling deck in draft as well! If your late game cards are superior to your opponents, you have a big incentive to play in a way that gets you to the late game where your cards will shine. Achieving this will often involve using your life total as a resource to buy you the time you need to play your more powerful cards that will either stabilize or end the game.
If your end game is particularly powerful, you might actually take the reverse course with how you play your cards. It might be worth treating each life point with more value if surviving until the very late game is important. That might mean trading units and using removal spells liberally in the early and mid-game. This plan works much better if you have ways to draw extra cards so that you can stay ahead of your opponent in card resources. This situation is a big reason why this concept is challenging to grasp – in some situations your life total is irrelevant and others it is the most important thing to protect.
As a general rule of thumb you should play the game under the assumption that your life total only matters when you are in range of dying to what the opponent has on board or that they could reasonably draw. For example, being at three life is a dangerous place to be against a Fire deck that likely has Torches. That leaves you with a LOT of wiggle room to play the game with a focus towards executing your game plan, or disrupting your opponent’s, without worrying too much about whether you are winning or losing based on life total.
Thanks for reading,