Tips for Improving Your Tournament Performance

By Paradox

First, a quick announcement: I will be doing a full set review for Set 2, both for constructed and draft! Expect them as soon as we have all the cards. Secondly, I am working on coming up with a name for my column. 

Tournaments are hard. Ladder, while difficult in it’s own way, is much more forgiving in the long run. Organized tournament play does not offer that luxury, where just one small mistake can mean the difference between going to top 8 and walking away with 9th place. I’m going to discuss the tips that have helped me the most in improving my tournament play. Some of these will be general for all sorts of tournaments, while others will apply specific to the Eternal Tournament Series run by RNG Eternal, our current premier tournament series.

1. Have Pen And Paper

When playing face-to-face against other people with paper card games, it’s difficult to write notes down; you don’t want to write down things they could see, and you’ll often be busy shuffling and setting up the game. Digital games like Eternal don’t have this problem, so take advantage of it. I have a notepad in front of me at all times and I write down all useful information.

Before every tournament match starts, I look at my opponents deck list and write down all the cards I need to watch for and how many copies there are of each. For example, if I’m playing aggro, I’ll note all the removal spells in their mainboard, their notable blockers (such as Combrei Healers), and anything else of note. After we keep our hands, I’ll note if they redrew or not; if they didn’t redraw, they likely kept a good hand, and it’s easier to guess what they might have as they play. For the post-board matches, I’ll think about what they’re liking bringing in and what they’re taking out. I’ll also write down really important things that I might have a tendency to forget; my notepad is often cluttered with phrases such as “PLAY AROUND CABAL COUNTESS”—in all caps, of course—to make sure it’s something I’m considering it the entire match.

The other incredibly important part of having a pen and paper is writing down what you think your opponents hand is as the game goes on. While you should obviously do this when using Sabotage or Slow, you can also determine a lot by just observing their line of play. Playing against Big Combrei and they passed on their 4th turn against your board of units? There is a good chance they’re holding a Harsh Rule. Did you see them have a response window at the end of their turn but not in response to your torch? Their is at least one Desert Marshall in their hand. Write it down! It will prevent you from making a careless mistake, something that is easy to do in a tournament lasting several hours. If you’re really on top of it, you can sometimes know exactly what’s in their hand without ever seeing it.


2. Play Slowly

Perhaps the biggest advantage of tournament play is the lack of a turn timer. While you will likely never need more than 10 or 15 seconds over Eternal’s generous ladder turn timer, those few seconds may be the ones you need to really think over a difficult turn. Before you start to do anything, consider how the turn will go. By thinking about all of the ways the turn can go, you prevent yourself from getting blown out from half-baked decisions. Play slowly. There is a drastic difference between thinking out your turn and trying to draw the round by intentionally playing slow. No one can fault you for trying to think in a turn-based strategy game.

One area taking your time matters the most is with your power drops. When I was first getting into the game, I always played my Diplomatic Seals incorrectly, thinking they were just rainbow influence whenever I wanted them. I lost a game in one of my first tournaments because I didn’t play the Diplomatic Seal for my 3rd power drop, and ended up with only two Fire influence. I spent the rest of the game with two Flame Blasts staring back at me and watched as my opponent beat me with only five life left. I would go on to lose the match 1-2, where I could have just gone 2-0 had I played a bit slower and planned my turns out.

It’s one thing to feel salty about a bad draw. Losing a match because you were playing on auto pilot will make you feel saltier than the Dead Sea. Save yourself the pain and earn the wins right in front of you by taking your time.

3. Sideboard Before The Tournament

You’ve likely heard the importance of sideboarding before, and every bit of that advice is worth repeating a hundred times. To take advantage of Eternal being digital, make copies of your mainboard tournament deck, and edit them to make post-board versions of the deck against as many match ups as you can. When you go up against that deck in tournament, you can spend less time crafting the deck (and thinking about what to sideboard if you hadn’t already thought about it) and more time thinking about the game you’re about to play. Note that you should still look at your post-board deck list before you play and make any last minute considerations, especially if their list has significant changes from standard stock lists. By having your deck list constructed before hand, you’ll save yourself time, you’ll give yourself a good place to start should you need to adapt to a non-standard list, and you’ll ensure that you at least thought about how to play the whole match-up before you face it.

4. Take Breaks In Between Rounds

As soon as you finish your round and report, stand up and relax for 2-3 minutes. Tournaments are marathons, not sprints. I make most of my mistakes in the Top 8 (on stream, of course) and many of them are just careless mistakes because I’m exhausted. Being digital means you don’t have to navigate a room of thousands of people just to get some fresh air, like you would in a paper card game tournament. Stand up, drink some water, eat some food, pet your dog/cat/bird, and take your mind off the last match.

5. Remember That Other Players Are Smart

It’s always safest to assume your opponent knows what they’re doing, and this holds even more true in games as competitive as Eternal. Always presume your opponents are smart, even the ones that are just playing in their first tournament. This matters in two very big ways.

First, if you’re trying to metagame and plan a deck for the next week, remember that almost everyone else is as well. Have the last two weeks been dominated by Rakano Plate? Expect to see a lot of Armory and Big Combrei for the next week. Players tend to adapt very quickly. Some players will even recognize that everyone will go the next logical step and try to be prepared for that (i.e. bringing the scissors to the paper that everyone will bring because of last week’s rock.) While thinking about what to bring is a deep and complicated process, know that everyone will at least be aware of last week’s top placing and popular decks.

Secondly, play games as though your opponent knows what they’re doing, because they probably do. You’ll gain almost nothing from supposing they don’t know what they’re doing. If you happen to see one small line of play your opponent could make that would make you to lose, it is likely correct that you should play around it (if you can) because they probably see it.

6. Practice, Practice, Practice.

The best thing you can do to improve both your tournament play and your abilities as a player in general is to play with other good players. You need not have a fancy team or a strict group—just put yourself out there and find other competitive players to play with.

Most importantly, practice with tournament lists and practice both mainboard and sideboard games. Discuss the games, find out what went right, what went wrong, what play you were worried they were going to make the whole time, what plays won you the game, and so on. You will learn so much more about your deck and your match-ups in an hour of concentrated testing than you will in hours on ladder. In my experience, most players are willing to practice because they want to improve as well! Using Discord or other chat platforms to plan and talk about deck lists is also highly beneficial.

7. Don’t Try To Reinvent The Wheel

Brewing may be my favorite part of any card game, but I’ll be the first to admit that it’s often not the best choice if your goal is simply to win. There is no shame in playing established tournament decks. The game only has so many possible combinations of cards, and most of the best lists have been discovered and get discovered quickly. Unless you’re particularly good at brewing, you’ll do a lot better by playing a list you know is strong. Moreover, if your goal is to eventually brew a rogue list that will take down a tournament, using lists that are already good help you discover why certain things are good in the first place. You may get a lot of glory for creating a monster that levels a playing field, but you’ll get no glory at all if you never make top 8 by fiddling with un-tuned decks. Speaking of using established decks…

8. Beat Your Fear Of Mirror Matches

It’s very easy to talk yourself out of using the best deck because you don’t want to learn the mirror match. I’ve known many players who have done just this—myself included—out of idea that mirror matches are horrible match-ups that are out of your control. The thinking usually goes like this: we’re playing the same cards, so its all draw dependent. As such, it’s coin flip whether I win or lose, and those are bad odds for me.

han solo
                                                      “Never tell me the odds.”

Most mirror matches will not be that draw dependent, or at least not anymore draw dependent than the rest of Eternal. You’ll still be making choices and considering lines of play like any other match-up. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll have post-board games where you can bring a trump-card for the mirror. You might have a theoretical 50/50 match-up against the same deck, but if you’ve invested hours of practice into learning it, it may be one of the best match-ups for you as a player.

9. Realize That You Can Win The Tournament

This last tip might seem silly, but I think it’s the most important thing to remember. I’ve met a handful of players across multiple games that lost tournaments before they even started. Going with a winning mindset is paramount. Every top player was just another player before their first tournament win. No one is necessarily more lucky than any other person. By playing every game out to it’s last moment, practicing all your match ups, and staying on top of your game, you give yourself the opportunity to be lucky.

That said, getting top 8 does ultimately require a bit of luck. Recognize that each tournament is a fresh slate. If you play as many tournaments as you can, playing your best and always trying to improve, you’ll eventually hit a day where the cards align and you can take down a tournament.

Deck Tech, Tournament Report, Lessons Learned: Rakano Maulers

Stonescar-Maul-285x439.png

By Brandon “Paradox” Vance

Usually, people write tournament reports when they do well. I can’t say that was the case for me this weekend, with a rather unfortunate 1-2 record in the MSM. Despite this, my deck has still performed quite well up to this point, as I’m currently sitting at 34th on ladder while writing this. As such, I’m going to cover a lot of ground in this article: a deck tech (including the creation process), a brief guide, and the mistakes I made going into the tournament.

Deck Tech: Rakano Maulers

Rakano Maulers

4 Flame Blast (Set1 #2)
4 Inspire (Set1 #129)
2 Seek Power (Set1 #408)
4 Torch (Set1 #8)
4 Champion of Glory (Set1 #314)
4 Kaleb’s Favor (Set0 #3)
3 Vanquish (Set1 #143)
2 Copperhall Bailiff (Set1001 #5)
1 Privilege of Rank (Set1 #157)
2 Sword of Icaria (Set1 #315)
4 Valkyrie Enforcer (Set1 #151)
2 Auric Runehammer (Set1 #166)
2 Harsh Rule (Set1 #172)
4 Obliterate (Set1 #48)
2 Throne Warden (Set1 #514)
2 Jekk, the Bounty Hunter (Set1001 #11)
4 Stonescar Maul (Set1 #52)
9 Fire Sigil (Set1 #1)
8 Justice Sigil (Set1 #126)
4 Rakano Banner (Set1 #427)
4 Seat of Glory (Set0 #56)

_________

That is the deck list I took into the tournament as well as the one I’ve been playing almost exclusively on ladder. It is a midrange deck that attempts to win the game by going “over the top” with high-value cards such as Jekk, Stonescar Maul, and the eight large burn spells.

In terms of general strategy, the deck is fairly simple: survive the first few turns, establish the board, then start wailing on them with mauls and giant flameblasts. Your early units—Champion of Glory, Valkyrie Enforcer, and Copperhall Bailiff—serve two roles, getting in chip damage when they can or trading for enemy units if the enemy’s deck is more aggressive. At your expense is a plethora of removal to maintain control of the board, almost all of which also has the ability to go for the face.

One important thing to keep in mind with this deck is line up theory: having an appropriate answer for every unit your opponent plays. For example, against Burn Queen: The Torches and Swords of Icaria are there to kill Oni Ronin’s, Argenport Instigators (with Champion of Glory often being happily trading with Instigators as well), Auric Runehammers are for Champions of Chaos and Cabal Countesses, Vanquishes to take out Impending Dooms, and Harsh Rules, Obliterates, and Mauls to clean up the rest while also pushing the game to a close. While most of these cards can answer almost everything in Burn Queen (particularly Torch), playing them on curve and on the appropriate targets leaves your life total preserved quite nicely and ensures you aren’t facing down Impending Dooms with Auric Runehammers in hand.

One question I always get asked is “why are there no Rise to the Challenge?” (Or, more appropriately, “why do you never play Rise to the Challenge, Paradox?”) While I recognize that I’m in the minority, I just do not think that spending four on a slow speed tutor is what you want to be doing in a deck like this (or just in general in this format). The card also takes up valuable deck slots of what could just be more copies of the card you actually want to play! What is attractive to me is the +2 strength, but I’d rather obtain that in other ways. I was more concerned about maintaining tempo then trying to eek out every inch of value.

Creating The Deck

There are two decks to beat in the current tournament Metagame: Big Combrei (and its variants) and Burn Queen. There are many other strong decks right now, but your deck will likely get nowhere unless you have at least a strong plan against these top two powerhouses. It’s not too difficult to have your deck be capable of defeating one of them. The real challenge lies in having a good match against both of them.

I had been tinkering around with Rakano Midrange decks (such as the one I used in the S3 Invitational) but hadn’t yet found the sweet spot. To beat Burn reliably, you have to be able to stop their early aggression, stabilize the board with units of your own, and end the game quickly before they just burn you out. Beating Combrei is a little less straightforward: the most immediate approaches are either to go “under” them with a hyper-aggro deck and beat them before they setup, or go “over” them with huge burn spells and high value units. Eventually, I opted for the latter, but only after a week of trying to do the former.

I worked with Calimdir, a fellow teammate who is also an excellent deck builder. After being disappointed with various aggro decks not named Burn Queen, I shifted to slower rolling midrange decks. Originally, Calimidir and I looked at a “big burn” Stonescar list he concocted, chocked full of Soulfire Drakes, Impending Dooms, Statuary Maidens, and more. The implication here is that Combrei can’t silence everything, and eventually, a threat will stick and deal enough to put them in burn range.

However, I was hesitant about the burn queen match-up at the time. I wanted to have a deck that could deal with Combrei and burn (without being a mirror match), and I was very attracted to the possibilities in Rakano: Auric Runehammer, Throne Warden, Vanquish, and more. Having already had success with my previous Rakano Midrange deck, I decided to see what would happen if I took that list, cut out the low end aggro cards like Crownwatch Paladin and loaded up on more top end. My initial testing went very well: cards like Throne Wardens did double duty of being great vs. burn and also set up Stonescar Mauls to have 7 (or more) armor—a combo that has won many games on the spot. The flexibility of the burn spells allowed me to always have answers to targets or give me the ability to close the game. Testing put my deck a little above even vs. Combrei in the MB with a good match up vs. Burn Queen. Well… Sort of. That leads to my next section.

What Went Wrong & The Lessons Learned

Just a few hours before submitting the deck list but after I had done my major testing, I was feeling a little concerned that my mainboard was not strong enough against Combrei. I had all of these anti-burn cards that weren’t pulling enough weight in both match-ups, such more copies of Auric Runehammer. I was determined to be “the Chicken Slayer” and end AngryChicken’s winstreak*, and given that he was in my bracket, I knew there was a good chance I’d go up against him should I beat my first round opponent, Kampf.

This passion got the better of me. Only an hour before submitting, I changed a few cards around that weakened my burn match-up in order to gain an edge vs. Big Combrei. I simply assumed my match up vs. Burn would be fine (especially since I brought in several cards from the SB for games 2 and 3). It should go without saying that this was my first major mistake: not only should I have been far more cautious making a last minute change with very little testing (if at all), I should have remembered that my first round opponent was Kampf—a burn player! I may have taken him in the first round, but he exacted his revenge much more easily in round three.

And, why did I fight Kampf again in round three? Because I went against AngryChicken in the second round and… lost. While the first match was a fairly harsh power screw with only two power for the first six turns or so (from a redraw), second game was a close slugfest that ended in his favor. Even with my alterations, my deck was still only slightly favored to beat the menace at best.

Perhaps most importantly, my deck was just too untested. Looking at it now, it feels rather disorganized in the form I submitted it. The decision to play this deck still only came around two-three days before the event, before I could really hone and tune the deck into a well-oiled machine. I relied too much on a rough theory and not enough on actual testing and playing, and it should be no surprise a rough theory is often not enough—especially against a group of some of the best players in the game. I achieved almost all of my success this season on the back of Stonescar Burn lists, and in a situation where I didn’t know what to play, I should have just stuck to my guns (the ones that Bandit Queen wields.) Instead, I doubted the power of the very deck that brought me so much success, and I fell to it.

There were other errors I had this weekend, such as a play mistake from playing too fast in round 3 vs. KampfKrote; I played my Valkyrie Enforcer after hitting a Champion of Chaos with an Auric Runehammer, which made me take two damage than I could have—a mistake that mattered a lot when he killed me a few turns later for exact lethal. While play mistakes like this are not excusable, my biggest take away from this weekend will be my bad planning and decisions that happened before the tournament took place.

That’s all for today. Congratulations to KampfKrote for taking the whole thing (and also for getting married!) Going forward, I will continue to brew—and always will. I will just be sure to not throw my half-baked lab experiments into the fray, even when they earn great ladder success. Hopefully this article will help others not make the same mistakes I did. I’m determined to bring my “A” game in Season 4 and, with some luck, earn a spot for the World Championships.

-Paradox

*note that this was nothing personal at all against AngryChicken—he’s actually been a very nice guy in my experience. I just wanted to beat him, as I think many of us did.

Basics of Competitive Eternal Part One: Card Advantage

Basics of Competitive Eternal Part One: Card Advantage

Article written by Paradox

Among the selection of giant dinosaurs and game-ending dragons, Temple Scribe manages to stand out as one of the better units in the game. In fact, you’ll find him in almost every tournament deck that has the Time faction in it.

temple20scribe

If you’re confused as to how this little 1/1 for two power can be so good, that’s okay. Today, we’re going to talk about a core concept in Eternal that explains why he is so good: card advantage.

A Game of Resources

Let’s first get something out of the way: Eternal is a game of resource management, and the player who best spends their resources will win almost every single time. Now, Eternal’s primary resources are Power and Influence, which let you play your cards. Not spending your power to play cards or doing so without enough contemplation will surely lose you the game. There are, however, many other less obvious resources in Eternal, and you’ll lose just as many games for spending those frivolously. The resource we’ll be talking about today is your cards.

In addition to the power cost and influence requirement of a card, casting a card also costs you one card out of your hand. If you had two power and six cards in hand before you cast Oni Ronin, you’ll have one power available and five cards in hand after you cast him. Simple enough.

Likewise, you start the game with seven cards in hand and draw one additional card each turn. If you go first (which causes you not to draw on your first turn), and you play a game that lasts an average length, say eight turns, you’ll have only 14 cards that entire game assuming you don’t draw cards any other way. If six of those are sigils, you’ll only have eight units/spells/weapons over the course of that game! Your cards are very valuable.

Now we can talk about card advantage. Simply put, card advantage is any means in which one player gains effectively more cards than the other player. The key word here is effectively, as there are many ways to gain card advantage. Let’s go through them.

Cards In Hand

The most simple form of card advantage is just changing the amount of cards in your hand or your opponents. If you cast Wisdom of the Elders, you spend one card in order to draw two, gaining you effectively one card.

wisdom-of-the-elders-1-285x439

Likewise, taking cards out of your opponent’s hand also count. If you cast Subvert, your opponent loses one card out of their hand and you gain one card. You still lost one card in hand—the Subvert—making the number of cards in your hand the same after the Subvert, but your opponent is down one card, so you’ve once again netted one card. Just imagine if the card you stole from your opponent also granted card advantage!

Cards on the Board

The next place to consider cards is on the board. Let’s look at the Oni Ronin example earlier: casting him puts you down one card in hand, but it does gain you one card on the board, so at a very basic level, casting Oni Ronin will leave you even on cards.

If a unit is killed, that is losing a card. Suppose you and your opponent both have an Oni Ronin (a 2/1) on the board. Your opponent attack with theirs, you block with yours, and both of them die. Both of you lost a card and, thus, neither of you gained card advantage. (They did gain the Warcry trigger, which is good, but is a topic for another day.) But suppose you didn’t have an Oni Ronin but instead had the Temple Scribe I talked about at the beginning of the article. Because you drew one card when you cast the scribe, it already “earned” itself back, so taking out the Oni Ronin in combat puts you up one card over your opponent. Considering you also gained one life from Temple Scribe, that means you’ve drawn a card, killed another unit on the board, and gained one life, all for the cost of just one card. Now that is good value.

This might seem small and insignificant, but it is often these little incremental advantages that win games.

Virtual Card Advantage

Virtual card advantage is a little bit harder to measure, but in short, it’s any card advantage that’s  gained from the current context of the battle. Such advantages will only exist in specific scenarios or require certain things to exist, unlike the raw card advantage gained in the examples above. This may sound confusing, but it will make more sense with some examples.

Suppose you have a Bold Adventurer and a Copperhall Recruit on the board and I have Towering Terrazon (see below). Without any pump spells like Finest Hour, your units can’t attack me while my Towering Terrazon is unexhausted without getting hopelessly turned into dinosaur breakfast. While your two units are on the field, I’ve essentially blanked two of your cards for the cost of my one; I have a virtual card card advantage. If you were to get rid of my Towering Terrazon with a card like Vanquish, you’d “gain” your two cards back for the time being, assuming I don’t have anything else equally as large on the board.

towering-terrazon

Virtual card advantage can also extend from cards on the board to cards in hand. Imagine we’re in another game. You play Stormcaller and immediately use her ability to zap my Oni Ronin on the board. Not only did you knock me down one card, but unfortunately for me, I actually have two more Oni Ronin in hand. I never manage to kill your Stormcaller and so, for the rest of the game, I never bothered to cast another Oni Ronin. There, you gained a sizable virtual card advantage because you blanked two cards in my hand.

The virtual card advantage gained in both of these scenarios is through size advantage (or lack thereof.) It’s worth emphasizing how strong this type of advantage is in Eternal, as in the current state of the game, almost all of the removal in the game is based on size. Units with huge amounts of health will survive hits from damage based spells and Relic Weapons. Having a low or high strength will make your units untouchable by spells such as Vanquish or Suffocate, respectively. Proper manipulation of the size of your units will reap tremendous advantages.

Closing

Card Advantage isn’t the only thing that matters in games—all the cards in the world won’t save you when your life total is zero. But card advantage will almost always make it a lot easier to win the game, as you’ll have a lot more things to do if you draw a total of 20 cards in a game and your opponent only draws 14. Just one card can make the difference of winning or losing a game, and that one game could be the difference between ending a draft at 2-3 or going all the way to 7-2. You can’t control what cards you draw, but you can control what you do with those cards, and the player who better spent their resources will usually come out on top.