Drafting Empire of Glass: Zero Games Played

Fresh outta grad school, I could’ve written an extraordinary 30-page paper about improving speech & language therapy outcomes for individuals with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder)*. Google Scholar and I were best friends, transition sentences flowed effortlessly while I typed, and I had a campus full of academic and professional resources at my disposal.

*Source: Schaab, SLP (speech-language pathologist.)

Fresh outta grad school, if I had to perform 30 minutes of direct therapy with an individual with ASD: Panic. Silent screaming. Nothing therapeutic would have occurred and it would’ve ended with this frazzled man repeatedly muttering “I am so sorry. I’m new at this.”

Knowing an abstract, complex process in theory is far different from being able to perform that process in action. I could’ve told you how to do therapy, I couldn’t have done it.

When it comes to another abstract and complex process like draft, it’s one thing to know heuristics like “draft flexible cards, “stay open,” or “draft the open color.” It is another thing entirely to sit down at a draft table and actually execute those simple concepts. Knowing something in theory is not, at all, the same as being able to apply that knowledge.

So, do I know how to evaluate the new Eternal draft format, Empire of Glass? Yeah… in theory. I have some ideas about how other people do it. During my first guest appearance on Farming Eternal, Patomaru explained how Sam Black tests archetypes in new limited formats and then asked me about my process. In his mind, these two questions seemed reasonably related.

Ah yes, my counterpart, Sam Black. Very similar resumes, he and I. One of us is a potential Magic Hall of Famer for his various deckbuilding innovations, contributions to the game, and three Pro Tour Top 8s. One of us is making line drawings and thinking “How can I make more Jeopardy jokes?” Here’s how Sam Black does it, Schaab, how do you do it? Uhhhhhh

Here’s how I imagine someone like Sam Black identifies what’s important in a new limited set.

Here’s what I’ll be doing today.

BANG! BANG!

Evaluating Limited Sets

Now that we’ve lowered our expectations, let’s go ahead and dip them down a little further. Evaluating a new draft format requires a depth of knowledge that I don’t possess. Let’s talk for a moment about my actual area of expertise: language.

When you describe something, you use information that both you and the listener are already aware of to inform them about something new. If someone who plays CCGs asked “What’s Eternal?” you’d probably reply “It’s like Magic…” or “It’s like Hearthstone…” because that person knows those games. They would already have a framework in mind so you wouldn’t describe it in complete detail from the beginning. If my Nana asked me about Eternal, I’d probably just say “It’s a game I play on my phone” because everyone is familiar with the concept of games.

Ideally, I’d have a deep pool of limited formats in my head to draw from (Narrator: He doesn’t). The actual number of Magic draft sets that I’ve really learned (i.e. know and could play well) is probably around 10. I might know 20 Magic draft sets in theory, but that’s not all that many considering how many new ones come out in a given year. When it comes to knowing sets of limited, I’m much closer to my Nana than I am to Sam Black. So now I’ve written a page and a half as pretext to this one sentence: I don’t know how to evaluate all this market access. I’ve never played a limited set like it.

Doing my best, I reached into my brain with “ok, markets. What can we say about markets?” and my brain came back with “obviously this little piggie went to the market, one stayed home. Another had roast beef…..” so that’s where my brain is right now. Sam Black’s mind works similarly, I bet. Throughout this writing, I’ve typed “Set 10” because I can’t type the words “Empire of Glass” without hearing Stone Cold Steve Austin’s intro music in my head. My mind is a circus.

A month or two ago, I said the first thing I do when learning about a new format is play a lot of games. NOOOOOOPE. WRONG. Elite awareness over here. When a new format comes out, I read the cards. Always. Spoilers are great. Not sure I could stay from them if I tried. So no, I definitely don’t just start playing a lot of games when I want to learn about the format. First, I look at all the cards and see if anything stands out.

My early writing especially was intended to inform newer players about the fundamentals of draft. The information I provided was accumulated over years by some of the most brilliant, elite minds these games have ever seen. Telling people to draft flexible cards and make sure their cards impact the board, none of which I figured out on my own, feels almost like this:

Figuring out Set 10 and then writing about it on my own feels like this:

Though writing Eternal articles is still very new to me, I’m guessing the number of memes in my articles increases as my confidence in the information decreases. Proceed with caution: these are not limited fundamentals – this is Yosemite Schaab’s best shot at a few aspects of the new format. Let’s Talk Limited. BANG! BANG!


Format Definers

Let’s all gather round for some group therapy. The urge is to read this card as “Put a unit into EXILE FOREVER!” because that’s essentially what it would be in most limited formats. Not this one. Market access is much more prevalent in Empire of Glass, though I expect Send to Market will be premium removal in most games. Your opponent getting their unit out of their market feels slightly more likely than getting a unit back from the void in a format with recursion given that all factions have market access. In a lot of games, this is a version of Disappear that’s cheaper and easy to cast, but the drawback is real. It’s a premium common for sure. Just don’t tilt too hard when your opponent gets their unit back, because it’s probably going to happen more often than you’d like.

I’ve already tweeted my thoughts.

Unless I’m misreading it, this card is a great topdeck for Fire decks. Maybe that seems like a weird way to think about a 3-drop, but drawing low-quality cards in the lategame has been the demise of more than a few aggro decks. There are going to be so many games where I think “I’ve stabilized! Just as long as they don’t draw that big, dumb 5/5.” And then they are going to draw this big, dumb 5/5. You don’t even have to think about decimating your Conjurings! Decimate away! This card scares me tremendously.

On the other hand, this card rewards thoughtful deckbuilding. Premier drafters will discard half-cards (e.g. rustlings, snowballs) more often than average drafters over the course of the format, just like they sacrified more half-cards (e.g. shepherds, copperhall porter) to Grisly Contest and Siphoner Paladin during Argent Depths. That won’t be an accident – it will be the result of good planning. The concept of a half-card, or the value of a card in general, is a difficult topic that I will cover in a future article. For now, let’s just say that really good drafters find ways to get incremental value out of phrases like “sacrifice a creature” or “discard a card.”

Update: Some early feedback on the Farming Eternal Discord indicates this card might not be as annoying as I think it is. Fingers crossed, but I’m still skeptical.


Relics

Relics seem abundant both in number and payoffs. Evaluating the common and uncommon relics is pretty difficult given how much the synergy of a set can impact a card’s value. That being the case, I always tend towards cards with a mediocre-floor but upside like this one:

I tend to stay away from cards with low floors (i.e. potentially dead cards) and low ceilings like this one.

Okessa’s Audience seems important to me but I don’t know exactly how. Yosemite here just firing away.

Here’s an example of how I learn about a format:

Cotillion, currently #21 ranked drafter (and Patron ❤️), advocating for a card I’m unlikely to draft. The explanation is more than just “I played this. It was good” and seems correct to me when I read it. Mentally, this card moves from Potentially Unplayable to Potential Sneaky Value. If Cotillion is right, and my opinion of Munitions is closer to accurate because of it, then I’ll be just slightly better at Set 10 draft. I’ll have a small edge I didn’t have before. Drafting well is that x10,000.

Aurelian relics

Hearing through the grapevine already that Aurelian (Time, Shadow, Primal) relics seems like a supported, powerful archetype. Relic decks can be very difficult to draft/deckbuild because they don’t function when they’re imbalanced or you just draw the wrong half of your deck. They’re also very fun. I’ll be keeping an eye on this archetype (and those who are building it particularly well) for sure.


Grafter Cycle

This cycle is fantastic, and that opinion is only slightly inflated by how much I love two drops. They’d all be acceptable cards with just one of their two activated abilities (i.e. market access and buffing a card in your hand), but luckily we get both. With all the market shenanigans happening, you could be swapping late-game sigils with very impactful cards from your market thanks to your two drop. I will be drafting these early and often.

Newer players: Don’t rush to activate this on turn 3 if you have another option. A majority of the time during the developing phase (turns 3-6), putting more units onto the battlefield is a higher priority. Plus, the longer you wait, the more likely it is that you’re trading a card you really don’t want for a card in your market. 

Between the relics and the activated abilities of units, it looks like this set has a lot of ways to spend power. That makes me happy. More decisions rewards better decision making. Tough decisions are a large part of what makes games like Eternal great, so I’m particularly excited about players having multiple options on every turn. 


Signpost Uncommons

Signpost uncommons are multi-faction cards that give you a clue about what that deck is trying to do. If you read Grubbot, you could reasonably conclude that grenadin is a theme in Skycrag. Stormhalt Batallion tells you Hooru still cares about stun effects. Based on its 3-drop uncommon, Deathwing, Argenport’s theme is broken cards.

These haven’t all been spoiled, but I tend to love signpost uncommons. They send a pretty clear signal for what your deck wants to be doing. Draft is hard. Signpost uncommons make it a little bit easier.


Rewarding the Informed

I suspect a lot of Set of Glass decks will fall into these categories:

(A) Decks built around synergies and relics that do cool stuff but are usually pretty bad.

(B) Boring decks. Focused less on synergy, more on individual card evaluation, casts cards consistently.

(C) Effectively uses the attempted synergies in (A) while adhering to the rules of (B).

(B) is pretty much where I live at the start of a format. I let other people have their fun and stories with their (A) decks. When I start to lose to an archetype or card(s) consistently, then I know I’m playing against (C). Someone, or more than one someone, has figured out how to do powerful things on a consistent basis. It makes me think of Echoes of Eternity draft in a way, though I’m not claiming the experiences will be similar.

With so much going on in the new format like market access, relic synergies, etc., there are likely a lot of narrow edges to be gained during the draft and deckbuilding once the rare drafters and bots have done their thing. Typically, I don’t draft enough to find a lot of those small edges on my own. I learn them from my opponents. If you want a well-informed opinion, keep an eye out for @Tyler_Chaney’s stream. His approach to draft is excellent and he experiments with different archetypes to see what’s viable. On a recent episode of Farming Eternal, he said something like “I forced mono-shadow decks for 4 hours yesterday.” I can’t even type write now because I’m so jealous. Just check out his stream if you want great analysis of the current draft meta.

Drafting (B) decks was within my skillset without consuming Eternal content – (C) decks weren’t. That’s why I started looking for content. When my competitors at the top of the leaderboards were crushing me with regularity, I knew my process had to change.* Yosemite here couldn’t figure it all out on his own, so I started listening to draft podcasts like Eternal Journey and Farming Eternal. LetsTalkLimited’s chief web designer doesn’t come in to the office frequently (it’s me, y’all), but he’ll be adding a Resources section to the blog with links to all of the Eternal resources I use along with some recommended reading, watching, and listening.

*I was perfectly content to get crushed by the elite drafters until the 2020 Draft Championship was announced. Once that tournament was in my brain, (B) decks were no longer acceptable and I started looking for content to improve my game. More draft tournaments would undoubtedly get more people interested in draft. Just listen to that anecdotal evidence! Hello, DireWolf. Schaab here. We’d love more draft tournaments, please. Want tournament reports? You got it. Feature profiles of the top 8 finishers? Sure. Deck techs with unnecessary Jeopardy themes? Twist my arm. I will commit to all sorts of things Mrs. Schaab would be angry about in exchange for more draft tournaments. Thank you for listening. Sincerely, Schaab on behalf of Drafters. 


Context Matters. A lot.

Here we have two Magic cards.

One looks like Char and the other is  a 4/4 flyer with a desirable effect (Ancient Serpent-ish). There’s no doubt which card is more powerful and you’d be correct to take the big flier in most limited formats – but not this one. In that draft format, Magma Spray is the correct choice and it’s not particularly close. Amonkhet was very aggressive and Magma Spray was in contention for best common in the set. Most drafters, I think, would’ve been more than happy to start their drafts with two of the removal spell. The angler is an incredibly powerful card but it didn’t fit in that format. Looking at these two cards, knowing nothing about Amonkhet, I would’ve taken the angler – and I would’ve been wrong. Context matters. A lot.

We can do a lot of theory crafting just reading the cards, but sitting down and playing the games changes card value significantly in some cases.


Schaab’s DND (Do not draft) List

These are cards I won’t be drafting and putting in my deck until my opponents show me why I’m wrong. I won’t provide explanations – I’ll refer you to my articles on Card Evaluation and Be Boring. If you’re a very new drafter: it’s ok for you to trust me and avoid these cards. If you’ve read my previous writing and want to become a better drafter, it might be helpful to think about why I don’t like these cards. If you’re not sure why I like a card or just disagree, that’s fine! I’m not saying these cards are unplayable, they’re just not Be Boring cards. You’re doing the right thing just by going through these thought processes and asking questions, which is far more important than getting the right answer about whether a card is “good” or “bad.”

Not a complete list.

Update: Shortly after publication, @TempestDragonKing correctly noted that Shadow Walk Cloak and Expand the Reach are far more playable than the other cards. I agree but decided to put them on the list anyway. Find out why in next week’s update!

New Mechanics

Regen – “The first time this would be dealt damage, prevent all of it.”

Units with regen are impossible for me to evaluate until I see what some typical gameplay is like. Stay tuned.

All damage based removal spells get slightly worse (i.e. Sear might not kill their 2 drops with Regen. Defile will).

Definitely intrigued by this colorless card.


Valkyrie-Warp – “If you have a Valkyrie in play, you can Warp cards with Valkyrie-Warp and get a bonus when you play them.”

Warp is a great limited mechanic. Remains to be seen how big of an impact this has on draft choices.


Drafting Set 10: Preview Event

Enjoy it! New cards are sweet. The rare drafters and bots make formats difficult to pin down at the start. It takes a couple of weeks to get a real sense of what the format will be like. For now, it’s the Wild West. Rares and legendaries will be everywhere. Even I force rares in draft because I want to play with them. You’ll lose with great decks, so be prepared for that.

It’s a strange time. Enjoy all of the new interactions you discover and don’t tilt too hard when your opponent gets to do cool stuff. Have a lot of fun and let me know what you learn, ‘cuz I sure can’t figure it all out on my own. For now, I’m only sure of one thing: I need to dodge JohnAvon if I want to win games. Happy drafting, y’all. BANG! BANG!

-Schaab
Draft Enthusiast
Valley-Clan Sage Fan Club President

I genuinely love helping people get better at draft, but make no mistake, I hate losing. Visual approximation of me waiting to get matched up in game

The Stone Cold Steve Austin intro music has been in my head all day.

ETERNAL CONTENT

@telemokos has been running a Tuesday night Eternal tournament. I don’t get to participate or watch live, but you absolutely should if you’re able to. I mostly consume Eternal content while I’m hiding in the laundry room from my kids. My children are wildly misinformed about how often I need to check the dehumidifier in the basement. Still, I’ve been loving the coverage the few times I’ve seen it. You should definitely check it out.

If you’re curious about the type of decks and level of play you might see at the tournament, PLEASE read this fantastic write-up from Stormguard798. I don’t play constructed, but I assume the analysis is correct. I do write – and I highly recommend their article (It’s their first, so please be sure to let them know if you enjoyed it).

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