For The Throne — 1st Place With Praxis Midrange at S2 Invitational

For The Throne — 1st Place With Praxis Midrange at S2 Invitational

 

Last season, I didn’t qualify for the invitational. That was a miserable feeling for me—I’m very competitive, and last year, I qualified for every invitational after I started to play the game seriously. It was just one rough season, which is completely reasonable. That didn’t make it any easier to swallow. Going into season 2, I told myself I’d not let that happen again if I could afford it. I was determined to never made a bad deck decision again, take the ETS weeklies more seriously, and achieve victories I knew I was capable of.

Well, the work certainly paid off in a very big way, and I took 1st place in the Season 2 Invitational. This was my second invitational Top 8 and, strangely, my first actual win in an Eternal tournament despite my history of Top 8 appearances. It’s funny how everything has worked out: as a younger twenty-something, I had dreams of being a professional gamer for Magic, League of Legends, Smash Bros, or any of the other games I dumped so much of my heart, soul, and time into. Having put those dreams aside and focused on normal job prospects as an only slightly-older 27-year-old, I now find myself with the kind of game success I longed for years ago, albeit for a much smaller game. That last point hasn’t made this victory any less meaningful, though.

As for the tournament, my deck and some of the card choices were a little suspect to many, so I’m going to go through the process of creating the deck and explain my reasoning. I’ll also talk about my experience in the tournament. Along the way, I’ll be sharing some of my thoughts on things I think are really worth talking about right now, including breaking deck building conventions and theory, the dangers of community groupthink, and some general thoughts on the metagame.

Preparation

Once the Last Chance Qualifier ended, I had no idea what deck I would play for the tournament. After mulling over results and thinking about the metagame for a day or two, I started to hone in on about five decks: Argenport, TJP, Praxis, Xenan Killers, and Unitless Control. The obvious two, TJP and AP, didn’t feel like safe choices despite their results: I had a feeling more people were going to try and target these decks, and while they can function well under hate, it wasn’t a risk I was sure I wanted to take. If I were to choose one, it would have been Argenport, which I considered almost up to the 11th hour. I also was not yet sold on TJP. It’s powerful draws are very good, but it felt like it had so many chances to flop with bad hands, power issues, and just generally petering out. Unitless Control did actually seem like one of the strongest decks after seeing teammate SecondBlue play it in the LCQ, but admittedly, I didn’t feel comfortable picking up a control deck so soon before a major tournament.

That left Xenan and Praxis. Xenan, especially the smaller “killer” version that’s more based around Obelisk, seemed strong in a metagame like this one with lots of small flying Justice units and aegises. However, I’ve always been disappointed in Xenan’s late game vs. non-aggro decks; Dark Returning 3 and 4-drops just doesn’t feel like an amazing game plan when your opponents are dropping Channels and Eilyn’s. It also always felt inconsistent compared to other decks with its lack of Crests. That left me with Praxis or returning to one of the decks I just disqualified for various reasons.

It’s here we need to take our first jump into theory and talk about groupthink. At some point or another, the general consensus of the competitive community on Praxis Midrange was that it was a bad deck. “It has no good interaction.” “It’s just playing big vanilla dudes.” “It’s an inconsistent highroll deck that’s only good if you’re lucky.” These are all phrases that have been thrown around for a long time regarding the deck, and although I wasn’t sure I fully felt that way, the effect was strong enough that I would always dismiss Praxis as a deck worth playing in most ETS tournaments. However, in the pursuit of knowledge, nothing can be off the table, and so I tried to look at the deck and the cards available to it entirely with fresh eyes: what does this deck do? What options does it have?

And after thinking about it for a while, the deck seemed great for this weekend. It looked like it had all the qualities I wanted in a deck for a metagame full of small flyers: Up to 8 cheap removal spells (Torch and Purify) that hit almost every unit in TJP and Argenport; Killer effects to go past Aegises; a proactive game plan to attack an open field; a lot of fuel in the form of Dawnwalker recurssion and Heart of the Vault to ensure a game is never over; and, perhaps most importantly, an on faction Crest, secretly one of the most important workhorses of the Dusk Road metagame. A few players had stood by the deck throughout the season, notably Kangbreath, and I started by looking at their most recent lists and begun playtesting to see if my thoughts were on the right track. (SPG had success with Praxis Midrange last season and early this season, though it was a targeted attack on the metagame and we had more-or-less dropped it after that.)

Early playtesting and really tinkering with the numbers and card choices showed these things to be more or less correct. In fact, I became quite convinced that all these previous conclusions on Praxis just weren’t true: Torches and 8/8 Killers are more than acceptable forms of interaction; big monsters are just as great a game plan as any; and, perhaps most importantly, the deck was highly consistent. This last point deserves a lot of investigation, as I think there is an important distinction to be made between a deck being inconsistent and a deck being “highroll.” Inconsistent implies that it just can’t execute it’s gameplan regularly, for reasons such as being too vulnerable to power screw or flood, requiring too many moving parts, and so on. Highroll, on the other hand, seems to imply that you have hands and sequences of draws that can completely run away with the game. It might imply that it’s also inconsistent, which I think is how we’ve interpreted it in the past. But it seems quite possible that a deck could be consistent in its regular draws—what we might call having a high floor—and still have the ability to highroll, or have a high ceiling. After playing the deck for several days, I became convinced it was this latter case: Praxis, at least in the list I settled on, was a very consistent deck that applied its game plan consistently, dealt with screw and flood better than almost all other decks thanks to cards that utilize flood (Xenan Obelisk and expensive cards), had a constant source of fuel to never be out of a game, and had Crests to control the flow of everything. All of this isn’t to say the deck is invincible (it isn’t) or that I didn’t get a little lucky this weekend—I certainly did, as does every major tournament winner. Rather, I think the accusations we’ve generally held to be true about the deck resulted from groupthink, accidental or intentional, and not researching the deck as much as it deserved.

I still managed to doubt myself and my thoughts on the deck into the last day before registering, but with an even stronger conviction over the deck’s strength, I was able to convince teammate ChildRoland to give Praxis more consideration. After he tested it for a while, he agreed it was worth registering, and we began to piece together the final version of the deck (with minor disagreements over numbers, mostly due to time constraints.) TonyGeeeee also boarded the Praxis train in the last minute.

Card Choices

Here is the deck I registered:

4 Initiate of the Sands (Set1 #74)
4 Seek Power (Set1 #408)
4 Torch (Set1 #8)
2 Friendly Wisp (Set1 #82)
3 Purify (Set2 #176)
4 Temple Scribe (Set1 #502)
3 Xenan Initiation (Set2 #44)
1 Amber Acolyte (Set1 #93)
4 Dawnwalker (Set1 #86)
4 Crimson Firemaw (Set1002 #3)
2 Praxis Displacer (Set1 #100)
4 Sandstorm Titan (Set1 #99)
3 Xenan Obelisk (Set1 #103)
2 Worldbearer Behemoth (Set3 #87)
4 Heart of the Vault (Set2 #183)
2 Predatory Carnosaur (Set1 #118)
3 Fire Sigil (Set1 #1)
5 Time Sigil (Set1 #63)
2 Amber Monument (Set1 #420)
3 Amber Waystone (Set3 #51)
4 Crest of Impulse (Set3 #251)
4 Praxis Banner (Set2 #171)
4 Seat of Impulse (Set0 #54)
—————————————-
3 Grenadin Drone (Set1 #5)
2 Scorpion Wasp (Set1 #96)
2 Diogo Málaga (Set2 #179)
1 Praxis Displacer (Set1 #100)
1 Xenan Obelisk (Set1 #103)
3 Shatterglass Mage (Set2 #181)
2 Flamestoker (Set2 #32)
1 Predatory Carnosaur (Set1 #118)

Eternalwarcry link: https://eternalwarcry.com/decks/details/Eh1zeNf9MBs/praxis-midrange#

There is one major thing worth talking about here: the curve (and in particular, the 4-drop slot.) To do this, we need to once again talk about theory.

Years of testing and math in card games with resource systems like Eternal’s have shown the necessity of a gradual power curve—more generally, having most cards in the deck be 1, 2, or 3 cost, not clumping too heavily on anything more expensive than that, and having a smooth decline in card costs so that you’re able to use all your power every turn on the most powerful card as often as possible. At first glance, this deck breaks several of these rules by having a whopping 13 four-cost cards, a strange dip to only 2 five-cost, and a near absence of three drops entirely (especially in a deck that wants to lead with Initiate of the Sands.) One of the hardest parts of a statistical game like Eternal is knowing not only why certain “rules” of deckbuilding and playing exist, but also which ones you can break and when you should break them. In this case, I found a lot of these rules regarding curves worth breaking, for several reasons:

  1. Eternal is still in its infancy, and the designers are likely still figuring out how strong everything is. With Eternal not having the luxury of several years of players testing and breaking their game, cards can be wildly more or less powerful than the designers expected. That leads to scenarios like this one where Praxis just doesn’t have a lot of 3 and 5 drops, but has a multitude of powerful cards at 4 and 6 that make the deck worth playing. When I started with the deck, I had a much more reasonable curve, but changed cards not by what should be right but what was actually right, and this is how it ended up: a deck with a graph that looks like nonsense. It’s unclear whether this type of curve was intended or not by DWD, but regardless, this list was clearly the best, at least just for this weekend.
  2. Perhaps most importantly, Eternal’s redraw system has a tremendous impact on the game, and the implications have yet to be fully explored. Guaranteeing you will start every game with 7 cards and 2-4 resources (not including cards such as Seek Power) leads to wildly different math than a game like Magic, which makes hands through true randomness and will regularly give you less than 7 cards. As a result, while many of the principles of curves still apply here, there are times where they don’t, and I think this was one of them. Eternal’s redraw system is such a large topic that it demands it’s own article or two, but in general, you’re likely to get more power than in other games and that has a big impact on what sorts of cards you can and should play.
  3. In some ways, the high power level of many individual cards in this game makes specific threats and specific answers to them more important than tempo. For example, there are so many strong flying units right now that not having both answers to them and your own flyers will likely not get you anywhere. Before Crimson Firemaw, I played around with several 3-cost cards, including Lunar Magus, Reliquary Raider, and Champion of Impulse. But all of these just weren’t pulling their weight and often felt like their inclusion was making the deck worse, even if they gave me more things to do early game. When I realized I wanted more flying units, I did what felt right and tried the Firemaws over the three drops, and it worked: the upside of playing Crimson Firemaw was more important than playing a three drop on curve (and sometimes playing nothing at all on turn 3) and resulted in me winning a lot more games.

I suspect that as the game goes on these scenarios will matter less and we’ll have more normal looking curves. But for right now, I think I’m right in my assessment, and I think it’s worth taking this approach to many other decks.

Lastly, I’ll touch on some individual card choices. First, as mentioned earlier, Crimson Firemaw was incredible all weekend. The card has been relegated to the bench due to how omnipresent Auric Runehammer has been for quite some time. With the printing of Hooru Pacifier and Svetya, Runehammer usage has dropped dramatically, and that has created a lot of space for Firemaw to come back. It does a lot of things you want right now: it beats Valkyrie Enforcer, Unseen Commando, and Hooru Pacifier; and it trades with Shelterwing Rider. It does a lot for Praxis, too, such as bringing back Dawnwalker, making 2-cost Heart of the Vaults, and just being a 5/4 flyer that will win the game on its own if unopposed.

Next, I cut Worldbearer Behemoths down to 2. The card is generally pretty weak as a 5-cost card that doesn’t do anything when you play it and doesn’t block flyers, but I felt its inclusion was important given its power vs. other Time decks and it’s synergy with Xenan Obelisk and Xenan Initiation. Two Carnosaurs felt right for the mainboard, though admittedly, I actually wanted to cut them from my mainboard entirely as I dislike situations where my hand gets clogged up with 6 drops. However, my teammates (especially ChildRoland) talked me out of it, and if you happened to see day two of the tournament, then you know that I have a lot to thank him for.

Friendly Wisp is a card I like a lot when Aggro and Shadow in general are less common, and both of those were true this weekend. With removal, both Purify and Xenan Initiation have their drawbacks, so I settled on a 3/3 split alongside the playset of Torches and it felt like the right number. For Obelisk, I felt three copies in the mainboard was right, and it’s definitely a card I think is mandatory in some number for all Time Midrange decks with the cards available. In Time, you need to play a bunch of small utility units like Initiate and Temple Scribe, and your whole game plan revolves around having a stronger board than your opponent and playing expensive cards. Obelisk solves all of these problems. I never played zero copies in any of my games this weekend (though I certainly cut down a little vs. TJP and a lot vs. Stonescar Aggro.)

The Tournament

I actually had a terrible start to the tournament that I thought was going to cost me everything. I forgot that the tournament started at 8 am PST, as the tournaments normally start at 9 for me. I’m in Oregon, and I need all the sleep I can get, so I set my alarm to it’s normal 8 am… then woke up as the tournament was starting. My teammates pinged me in discord and I rushed to my computer to get started. I need to give yet another huge shout-out to my first round opponent and S1 invitational finalist Heywhyyou, who was completely understanding of my situation. They let me take a second to compose myself and get ready before starting.

Day one felt ultimately fairly uneventful, and the whole day happened pretty quick. I went 4-2 in total, beating Heywhyyou in round 1 on Praxis Tokens, Dr. Stein in round 3 on Feln, SPG teammate Trumpets on Unitless Control in round 5, and Dunkelwerk on TJP in round 6 for the win-and-in. My two losses were to Alarmadillo in round 2 on Xenan Killers and Mouche in round 4 on TJP. I hadn’t tested vs. Praxis Tokens and historically it’s been a bad matchup for Praxis Midrange, but the inclusion of Crimson Firemaw and sideboard Grenadin Drones helped a lot. The other matchups, minus Xenan Killers, were all fairly good matchups for me, and they went as expected.

Day two was a lot more eventful. Except round one, I played the entire day on stream, which does still get me a little nervous (as it does for many.) In round one, I faced Magikarp on Praxis Tokens going 3-1, and once again this version felt much stronger against it than versions of the past. My first match of the Top 8 was Tinman on Stonescar Aggro, which was very scary. In sideboarding, I kept Xenan Initiations all the way up to the last match where I opted to try cutting them, and in the end I’m not sure what the best decision was. With some minor play mistakes, including a somewhat embarrassing missed lethal (that thankfully didn’t matter), I scraped out a 3-2 win. That win was a major milestone for me, as I was much less afraid of the rest of the bracket.

In the semi-finals I went up against Tobboo on TJP. We tested TJP relentlessly given how likely it was to be popular, and we found it overwhelmingly in our favor. However, some of my draws were really awkward and Tobboo played very well, leading to some intense games with very difficult decisions. Among the most memorable moments was one game where I was dead in the air but had three Xenan Initiations in hand, one of them being free. I sat there thinking on that turn for what felt like an eternity, trying to find if there was any way to win back and get in for lethal next turn, but it ended up not mattering as he had a Valkyrie Enforcer to silence my Firemaw and swing in. Another great game was the third game of the series where we went into an incredibly long board stall lasting around 10 turns, and thanks to a hidden torch and some incredible top decks I was able to beat an incoming alpha strike and push through his 8/8 Awakened Student with Aegis. That whole series was among the most intense set of games I’ve ever played in my life.

Finally, I made it to the finals against fellow teammate BruisedByGod—a dream scenario. I actually went into the match expecting to lose due to the matchup, yet still feeling quite happy knowing I had made at worst 2nd place. However, his signature Xenan list is much larger and lacked many of the deadly units that normally would be difficult for me. This would become a huge advantage for me. The consistency of the deck really showed itself here, and I out-tempo’d him and smashed him quickly in the first two pre-sideboard games. Suddenly, instead of expecting a loss, I was now looking at a 3-0 sweep. He dashed those dreams quickly in the post-board games, bringing in a whole playset of Annihilates and generally preventing me from establishing any meaningful board presence. In the final game, he struggled slightly on influence and I assembled an early Dawnwalker with Killer on the board. The constant recursion was too much for his board, and with the help of some timely Carnosaurs off the top, I closed out the game to take the series 3-2.

Closing, Shoutouts, Moving Forward and Shameless Self-Promotions

The Season 2 Invitational was an incredible tournament. With a 1st place finish, I can finally relax a little bit and focus on other things. This is perfect timing given the upcoming release of The Fall of Argenport. Expect more content from me and SPG during spoiler season and post-launch!

I already gave my shoutouts on Twitter, but it’s worth doing again:

  • All my teammates at SPG for being an awesome group of people and helping me get here
  • RNG and all their casters/producers for hosting the ETS
  • Heywhyyou for being such a great and understanding opponent as well as the rest of Team Rankstar for generally being good people who are fun to play against
  • LordofSlam for being a great friend who always has my back in this game
  • DWD for making this amazing game
  • And lastly, my wife for always supporting me in my Eternal endeavors and for putting up with the ETS taking away from her weekend sleep.

Lastly, as a final plug, I am now offering coaching. Please message me in Discord for more details if you’re interested: Paradox#0523

Until next time,

Paradox


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