Hello, my name is Exline and I’m here today to write a guest column about some of my experiences during the test tournament “Envoys,” which I won this past weekend.
First off, I wanted to introduce myself since I noticed a few people in the Reddit thread mentioning my name was unknown to them. Which isn’t a huge surprise, considering I’ve been playing on and off since around the time of open beta in December 2016, and haven’t participated in the ETS since around that same time, so my name may not be familiar to some. Like many others, I have a background in card games such as Magic: the Gathering and Hearthstone, as well as plenty of other strategy games (such as Starcraft, Dota, League of Legends, etc). I have a deep love for strategy games in general, which drew me towards Eternal. I’ve taken a few breaks but now with Worlds announced, I’m going to try to start playing more (as much as real life allows anyway).
Enough about me, and on to the meat of the article.
I reached out to BassoonBuffoon about doing a podcast spot but due to a lack of availability, he recommended I write up an article about the tournament experience. I’ll be using this to touch a bit on the tournament, my deck choice, the state of the meta, and some thoughts going forward. Hopefully you enjoy. This Envoys tournament was a bit of an adventure due to the technical difficulties that we experienced during the week prior. I’ll give some closing thoughts on that at the end of the article.
For the qualifying runs, I was assuming most people would be either playing what I considered the best deck in FPS Scream (aka Haunted Highway) or some variant on FJP cookbook. I decided to do my first run with a build of Combrei Aggro running desert marshal for extra silences against the scream decks. The meta was surprisingly more diverse than I expected in that run. I think I ended up only going 4-3 and switched over to scream for the next 3 runs, finishing up either 19-9 or 20-8, can’t remember.
Leading up to the initial top 64, I fully expected most people to be gunning for the scream decks, but still didn’t have a list I felt comfortable with other than scream, so I most of my testing was the scream matchup vs Combrei Aggro variants or FJP piles of various kinds (both the more controlling lists and Zuberi greed piles). I’m unaffiliated with a team so I just tested some with my boy Rhuark. In the week between the initial top 64 and the re-pair this past weekend, I didn’t have much time to play at all, so I yet again decided to just roll with what I was comfortable with: Scream.dec
Here is the list:
3 Combust (Set1 #392)
2 Dark Return (Set1 #250)
4 Grenadin Drone (Set1 #5)
3 Permafrost (Set1 #193)
4 Shakedown (Set1004 #18)
4 Torch (Set1 #8)
4 Champion of Fury (Set2 #187)
1 Devour (Set1 #261)
4 Dusk Raider (Set4 #153)
3 Haunting Scream (Set1 #374)
4 Crunch, the Hoarder (Set4 #258)
4 Kerendon Merchant (Set4 #217)
3 Madness (Set1 #267)
4 Bandit Queen (Set1 #389)
3 Vicious Highwayman (Set3 #275)
4 Granite Waystone (Set3 #1)
3 Crest of Fury (Set3 #266)
2 Skycrag Banner (Set2 #186)
3 Crest of Cunning (Set3 #267)
4 Feln Banner (Set1 #417)
2 Crest of Chaos (Set3 #268)
4 Stonescar Banner (Set1 #419)
3 Diplomatic Seal (Set1 #425)
1 Combust (Set1 #392)
1 Dark Return (Set1 #250)
1 Haunting Scream (Set1 #374)
1 Madness (Set1 #267)
1 Vicious Highwayman (Set3 #275)
A quick note on some card decisions – I think the list for most of this deck is reasonably set (though perhaps someone can surprise with some innovation – I’ll touch on that at the end). I am running closer to the power base that ManuS advocated for (with Diplomatic Seals) rather than the original list with Shadow Waystones (which I think was GHP’s baby). The only change I made was shaving one seal for an additional crest. I felt that I basically never wanted to draw 2 Diplomatic Seals in my opener, which is kind of a departure from most lists I’ve played before with Diplomatic Seals. The power base is mostly skewed towards getting you early Primal and Fire for Dusk Raider, Grenadin Drones, Crunch, Champion of Fury, etc. the Shadow isn’t quite as crucial on the earlier turns – the main use for it is shakedown, which is usually easier to weave into your turns as it’s more flexible than the creatures, which you sometimes also need on certain timings to turn on your banners. Similarly, you play 8 Shadow banners for this exact reason. This ended with me often having hands where my early crests/banners were covering my Skycrag colors and I was relying on my Diplomatic Seals for Shadow. And while on paper the numbers match up – my deck was giving me 2 of each color power when it gave me double Diplomatic Seal, Crest of Fury, and Skycrag Banner, in reality your powerbase cannot consistently afford to drop turn 1 & 2 Diplomatic Seals on Shadow. It hinders too much of your early development – tempo is important for this deck. Especially considering the point from above about needing to hit your creatures at certain timings for both your board presence and your banners. I shaved a Diplomatic seal for I believe a Crest of Chaos. It’s entirely possible that my thinking here is wrong and that I’m bad and should feel bad (zoidberg.gif); but it definitely felt smoother in the hands where I was not drawing multiple Diplomatic Seals. The first one is quite good for fixing your power, subsequent ones feel like they constrain your early turns far too much. This deck has a fairly greedy powerbase considering how quickly it wants to get on the board, so trying to optimize that in any way possible is important.
Other than that, my list is basically a stock list. I’ll touch a little later on potentially some other changes to make in the going forward section.
I ended up playing against Dunkelwerk on Combrei Aggro, Canepsis in the mirror, Cobalt_95 on FJP Cookbook, 1232132 on Combrei Valkyries, theovermaster in the mirror and Painkiller 88 on Talir Combo. I was pretty thankful that I didn’t run into any Praxis Tokens. I do think this was a reasonable representation of the top decks on ladder right now and about what I would have expected as a decent cross-section of the meta coming into this tournament.
Rather than going specifically into each match with a turn by turn recap like a standard tournament report (because I don’t remember all of that lol) I’m just going to give some general notes on the matchups and what I think is important.
Combrei Aggro/Combrei valkyries – I’m grouping these together (along with I suppose the Copperhall Bracer decks) since I think they functionally operate roughly about the same against the scream deck. All of them are playing pretty efficiently statted dudes, getting on the board early, ramping (either with power producing creatures or Copperhall Bracers) and trying to get their powerful equipment on their units (Sword/Vanq Blade/Bracers).
Generally you want to try to keep as much early interaction as possible (this holds true for many matchups) – torch and shakedown are particularly good. Rhuark and I went back and forth for sometime on if it is generally correct to Torch a turn 1 Initiate or not (if you don’t have a shakedown). The pros for torching are the ability to slow them down, particularly from auric record keeper, who is a particular beating for your early units, doubly so when he can trade with a champion and still impart his entomb to an initiate. It also reduces their total power available/bodies on the field for Sword of Unity. The cons are that you leave yourself more open to a turn 2 teacher/student. Of the two, teacher is IMO more scary, since the weights can hurt your tempo from market flexibility and nightfall cards. In the end, we determined it’s largely determined by the texture of your hand (shocker, I know), but I find I’m often holding torch for a higher value target such as the two drops, Genetrix, or a Valkyrie Enforcer.
Keeping Combrei’s board as clear as possible is generally preferable – again one of the big ways you lose is from sword of unity. Not only does the pump and lifesteal make it incredibly hard to race, but the aegis makes your highly tempo efficient plays much less efficient. Having to burn both a permafrost and a Combust on a unit isn’t great. Having to pop an aegis with a Highwayman can be awkward since you often can’t swing afterwards. Aegis also makes it difficult for you to pull of your high-tempo madness combos which are one of your big tools against time decks.
I had at least one game where I was able to chain merchant into Dark Return into re-buy merchant, repeat with another dark return drawn naturally. The game has kind of stalled out and a continually growing deadly unit that you can aggressively trade with the Combrei units is a tool at your disposal. Just keep in mind that it’s not the fastest process in the world, so it’s not necessarily a primary game plan.
Against FJS, you should be favored. Cookbook is a powerhouse, but it’s definitely tempo-negative in the early game, and you should be able to put enough pressure on them to disrupt them. Torch and Shakedown are again really key here. You’re just looking to strip their early interaction – Torch, Ixtun Merchant, Slay, Valkyrie Enforcer. You don’t really care enough about Cookbook to take it with Shakedown. If they are getting to get value off of Cookbook something has gone wrong and the game is slipping away from you anyway. Typically the game plan for FJP is going to be to try to Merchant for Statuary Maiden and then keep your board clear with Devastating Setback and Harsh Rule. I think the versions loading up on Setback are significantly better right now, partially because of this matchup. You can afford to play around the sweepers for the most part as long as you are continuing to pressure them. Just make sure you don’t give them too much breathing room and time to be proactive. You want them on the back foot being reactive.
For the mirror, Torch is by far the best card, and it can often feel like it comes down to who draws more of them. It’s also important to be judicious with your torches – Dusk Raider is almost always worth killing on site to prevent the berserk draws, but holding Torches for attacks from Crunch or the Stonescar 4 drops can be big tempo swings – and you do want to wait for them to attack. Doing it in your main phase will allow them to Scream on their turn if they wish. Look for your opponent pauses as well. If you suspect a torch pause, it’s probably not the ideal time to fetch Highwayman off of your Merchant.
But Torch is not the only card that matters in the matchup, to be sure. A key situation that came up in one of my games was when I had a crunch die after triggering infiltrate and getting berserk and I had played a Dark Return on it. My opponent had a decent number of cards in hand and wasn’t committing too much to the board. He plays a Kerendon Merchant. My hand consists of the Crunch I re-bought, a Devour, and a second crunch that I just drew. I’m sitting on 4 power. At this point, alarm bells should be going off. If your opponent knows you just got back a Crunch and went into their market, there’s an extremely high probability that they have a madness. Doubly so if their hand seems to be reasonably full but they aren’t committing much to the board – usually a sign that there is some combination of situational or expensive cards such as the 4 drops or the Madness combo pieces. My opponent plays a Mighwayman with the Market symbol next turn, presumably to try to bait me into playing the Crunch as if to say “see, I didn’t get the Madness, it’s safe!” But I felt confident in my read that he already had a Madness in hand. Since I was able to deal with the Highwayman and wasn’t under much pressure, my plan here is to wait until I had 5 power to be able to hold up Devour with a Crunch. I was also fortunate enough to draw into a few champions and eventually a Queen. This let me pressure my opponent without deploying the crunches – and as charge units they are still going to get some value in even if they succumb to a Madness combo. Eventually, forced with little other options, my opponent plays a Madness, takes a unit and Combusts, whole both of my Crunches and Devour sit patiently in my hand. Getting your Crunch Madnessed is such a HUGE blowout in this matchup. Doubly so if it’s one that already has been re-bought after a trigger and gets to both infiltrate and hit you with the berserk. Even if they don’t get the Crunch into their own void, you’re so far behind if that happens (and if they do get to sacrifice it and get it into their void, even worse for you).
The last matchup I will touch on is Talir Combo from the finals. And for this one I can talk a little bit more about the specifics of the match. This match is a race against time – you want to kill them before they can combo on 8 power (which is often earlier than turn 8). I absolutely hate the deck, so I have never actually played it, and it’s possible because of that there are certain angles I’m missing. I know that often the deck wants to have Aurelian Merchant in the void for using with Last Chance after playing Talir, but I believe that Temple Scribe also kicks off the combo with a reasonably high level of not fizzling, so I don’t go out of my way to keep from killing the 0/4, since it will soak a lot of damage and ramp them. The Talir’s Favored are probably one of their best cards in the matchup as they soak tons of damage from grenadins. I tend to prioritize that, Temple Scribe, Merchant, and Devour over most everything else with Shakedown – this feels right to me, but it’s entirely possible that this is incorrect, so if someone has more experience from either side of this matchup, feel free to chime in. Anyway, on to the game coverage for this match, as it obviously sticks out freshest and most recently in my brain.
Game one, PK88 did not draw a Mask, so they weren’t able to accelerate, I put a fair amount of pressure on them through Talir’s favored and merchant. I believe I ended up winning a turn before they would have been able to combo.
Game two was really frustrating for me. I’m sitting here one game away from taking this down, game is proceeding pretty similarly to game 1 except this time PK has a Mask down and is accelerating the clock. Turn 6 comes around and they play a Devoted Theurge with 2 power up. I have a ton of pressure, and I do the math and have 18 damage – PK is at 17. I think I had a reasonably wide board with a berserked highwayman coming down. I permafrost the theurge and think “alright, let’s hope for no Devour to leave them at 1 life.” Which of course, is exactly what happens. PK untaps and plays Talir into Last Chance for a soft combo, since it fizzles after “only” hitting about 4 units. My board is wide enough to go around this except for the fact that two of the units were Theurges that gained more life. They got out of range and I lost game two. Despite being frustrated by being so close (and my immense dislike for talir combo as a deck in general), I try to move past it on to game 3, where I would be on the play.
In game 3, I’m lucky enough to have the stone cold nuts. I think my curve was turn 1 Crest, turn 2 double Grenadin Drone, turn 3 fully empowered Champion of Fury, turn 4 Highwayman (killing a Temple Scribe for value). PK is quite low and it’s only their turn 4. I’m holding a Madness in hand, hoping that they tap out for a Theurge or a Titan. Sandstorm Titan comes down, Madness recruits him to my team, and the game is over. Not sure that there was really much skill involved in that game 3 – I drew the nuts on the play and I don’t think there was really anything PK could have done differently.
Going Forward with Haunted Highway/Scream:
As I mentioned before, I think the list is pretty tight as is, so it would be pretty hard to make too many changes while maintaining the identity of the deck. I think there are maybe a couple of flex spots at max.
I believe theovermaster replaced a Dark Return in the market with a Rindra’s Choice (and I think also shifted the DR to the main over devour) which is certainly an interesting choice (no pun intended) as it fights Maiden better than most of your other tools. This is certainly a change worth testing. Rindra’s choice is a very powerful but situational effect that certainly shines in a market. The Dark Return that it replaces has two primary modes: returning some value unit (especially one that has been screamed previously), or grinding with merchants by returning the merchant that fetched it after it trades off with a unit (this does not come up super often in my experience, only once for me the entire tournament). It remains to be seen if the loss in utility of being able to get Dark Return is worth it – but I think it’s very possible it could be. It really would only hurt you in longer games where you’re dipping back into the market a couple times to rebuy units. I definitely wouldn’t recommend removing combust, as it’s not only a versatile, cheap catch all answer, it also makes your madness combos more consistent by being able to fetch the other half out of the market when the situation allows for it.
I can’t think of any other spots where I would really be wanting to make any changes. I’ve seen a few people playing Vara in their scream lists, and I think that is probably incorrect. I’m assuming it is in place of one of the Stonescar 4 drops (and if not, she is definitely hurting the curve by playing alongside them), and both Queen and Highwayman are too important to the deck to replace IMO. Both give the deck a lot of reach and some utility. Vara is too slow and doesn’t accomplish enough of what you are trying to do.
Going Forward with the Meta/Balance Changes:
I think the general consensus going into this was that the meta was mostly a rock paper scissors of Highway, FJP, and Combrei, and I don’t think that is necessarily untrue, but I’m not sure that those decks are so powerful that they will stifle innovation and other lists. The only real concern I have from a metagame health standpoint is Cookbook. I don’t think the card is necessarily too powerful, but I do think that it has a tendency of pushing out midrange strategies (or at least midrange strategies that don’t also have Cookbook). Then you’re left with more aggressive decks on one end and Cookbook midrange/control on the other end. And the main problem I have with that is the cookbook mirrors feel a little coin-flippy to me in terms of who gets their Cookbook online first. I don’t tend to play a ton of Cookbook decks – and by extension not a ton of Cookbook mirrors – so someone who plays more can feel free to correct me on that point if they feel that is not accurate, but that is the kind of sense that I get from the games that I have played and the people I have talked to about it. That said, I have a lot less to say in terms of how I would answer that perceived “problem.” It’s certainly not an easy situation from a design standpoint. I think the hope/dream is that midrange decks continue to evolve to be able to fight against the Cookbook decks and that Cookbook remains just another tool with very real costs – the tempo loss of having to pay 5 power for your first card, and 3 for every card after as well as the Firebomb risk. I don’t know if there’s any huge concern yet, but certainly something worth monitoring going forward if it continues to warp the meta.
The other “hot topics” in terms of balance are Haunted Highway and the Talir Combo deck. Highway I think probably has just a little bit too much reach right now, but I don’t know if it’s enough to warrant nerfs. I would hate to see Scream reduced to creatures 3 or less as I kind of feel like it kills the spirit of the card. I think if they did want to touch Scream, the best change would probably be to make the screamed unit Voidbound, similar to how Last Chance works. That would cut off the ability for Dark Return to bring back a unit that had previously been Screamed that retained flying and charge – dont get me wrong, this is a really cool interaction that takes advantage of the digital medium – but potentially too powerful when its happening with Crunch and Highwayman. Especially considering that Dark Return with a Raider in play is also giving that unit berserk. A flying, charging, berserking unit is an incredible amount of reach.
In regards to Talir, I’ve voiced my displeasure for the deck on multiple occasions, and it mostly comes down to two things:
1) The lack of interactivity, which is typically something that a fast-paced online game like this wants to avoid (without getting into the discussion of “you’re free to scoop at any time”). Multiple players express frustration over how the deck basically “breaks” the rope by allowing 5+ minute turns.
2) The consistency of the combo. As the deck is currently constructed, I think the deck is pretty unlikely to whiff once it goes off. The best change I have seen to keep the deck a “thing” while still cutting down on that consistency is one that I heard from IlyaK (though I’m sure others have said it as well) to limit Talir’s destiny ability to units in your deck. This would remove the interaction with Vodakhan out of the market from Merchant as well as the 8 power Talir + 0 power Last Chance into Scribe/Merchant. The ability to go off on 8 power with Last Chance has really given this deck a level of consistency and power that it did not have previously. With this change, the deck would be forced to actually need to go off with something like Wisp + Talir, or Talir + Devour, though I don’t think it would entirely kill the deck, simply because I think Mask is a pretty powerful card and a decent backup plan. I think it also preserves the “spirit” of Talir’s card design, which was meant to be a value engine for Time, rather than a hard combo piece. Very similar to when Vara, Fate Touched got changed.
Anyway, that’s all I’ve really got. Thanks to everyone who made it this far and listened to me share my thoughts and opinions. I’d like to state again that I definitely enjoy a discussion and debate, so if anything I’ve said here seems wrong to you – feel free to chime in. I generally feel pretty confident in my opinions, but I recognize that no one is perfect, and there are certainly some things I could be wrong about here (specifically in regards to the decks that I do not play as often), but I hope that my insight that I shared here today is helpful.
In regards to the tournament and the technical difficulties, it’s certainly unfortunate that some people weren’t able to participate this week – robbing not only of them the chance to play, but their round 1 opponents the opportunity to battle that round. DWD did a reasonably good job in terms of transparency and communication throughout this process (with one notable exception), and definitely stepped up with the additional compensation for the participants on account of the problems. I know plenty of people were frustrated – but that’s why we hold the test tournaments. The only critique I have for DWD (which I passed along to them already) was how they handled the 15 minute window to re-join the Envoys tournament last week – there was no E-Mail sent to us (which was the method of communication advising we had qualified), no in-game messaging (may not have the capability for that yet), no announcement on stream, no @everyone ping in discord, etc. The only places I saw it were a reddit post and someone mentioning it in the twitch chat (not a mod or DWD employee, just a random viewer). Luckily, they were able to let us run it back the next weekend (though as stated above, regrettably not everyone got to battle).
Last but not least, shoutouts to my boy Rhuark for helping me test, ManuS and NotoriousGHP not only for their work on various iterations of this list, but also for being good resources in the past for me to discuss with and bounce ideas off of (GHP pls don’t cull me from your friend’s list next time you need space plzkthxbai) and Magikarp for being the most wholesome dude in the community.
Thanks for reading!