Drafting Empire of Glass: Evaluating rares

New limited formats are like the Wild West and @TempestDragonKing is mighty quick on the draw, providing this and more feedback on my initial Empire of Glass article within an hour of publication.

As much as I’d love to fill this article with Wild West references and Doc Holliday gifs (Trivia: Doc Holliday was an actual doctor. What kind?), I had my share of fun last week when we only knew the preview cards. Now that Empire of Glass has been released I’m ready to live up to this site’s name. We’ll talk a little bit more about my Do Not Draft list – and find out our trivia answer – later. For now: Let’s Talk Limited.

Rares in Empire of Glass

The irony of evaluating rares after publishing a whole article about how they don’t matter that much is not lost on me.

Draft formats are largely defined by their commons, uncommons, and boosted card rates in the Eternal draft packs. So why talk about the rares first? Kasendrith, Sunyveil, and I will be reviewing the Empire of Glass commons and uncommons from a Quadrant Theory perspective on Kas’ stream this upcoming Saturday, December 19th! My plan is to listen to everything the two World’s competitors have to say, write some of it down, and claim it as my own. Stay tuned.

Looking at the rares, collectively, I’m excited to say that a lot of them are bad for draft! Formats that are defined by their rares usually aren’t the most fun. While I won’t be evaluating each rare individually today, we’ll learn (or review) a few guidelines for analyzing cards you’ve never seen.

The Vanilla Test

Ignore a unit’s text box at first. Look at the power cost and then its base stats. Once you’ve played Eternal for a bit, you’ll find that you have expectations for a card based on its casting cost. 2/2 is your typical stat line for a unit that costs two power. If a card costs four power, you should probably expect it to at least be a 3/3. Cards with skills (e.g. flying, lifesteal) and abilities (e.g. ultimates) are typically underpowered compared to their vanilla counterparts to provide balance.

*In my experience* starting with the vanilla test leads to more accurate analysis of cards. The goal of evaluating a card in limited is to figure out what it’s going to do on average. Constructed decks are optimized to utilize units’ abilities – limited decks aren’t.

Cards with both skills and abilities can sometimes be evaluated as though one of them is irrelevant.

This card is already well worth the cost of three power as a 3/1 flyer with regen. The rest is a bonus. In this format especially, there are a lot of relics worth stealing for 3 or less, so you’ll play this card for its full value more often than usual and it will be absurd. Still, I think this card should be viewed as a 3/1 flying regen unit with upside. It should not be evaluated as a relic-thief that also flies. It will steal relics sometimes – it will be a 3/1 flyer with regen always, which is much more important to us when drafting it. Worst case scenario is great – best case scenario is obscene.

Contrast the above valkyrie with this sentinel, Forge Sanitizer. Evaluate it with the vanilla test first.

A 1/1 regen unit is far below rate for three power. Now let’s look at the rest. With a non-weapon relic in your void, this is a 5/5 flyer with regen – clearly busted.

If you read the text box first, you are priming yourself to fall in love with this card. “It could be a huge flyer with regen! Who cares what else it says!? A 1/1 with regen isn’t that bad.” And then most of the time you play this as a 1/1 regen and it’s bad.

This isn’t to say Forge Sanitizer is undraftable. The condition is far easier to meet in this format than most. My point is that it’s NOT Reappropriator. At its worst, Reappropriator is still one of the better cards in your deck. Forge Sanitizer, in contrast, would be one of your worst cards if the condition isn’t met.

Start with the vanilla test, then skills, then abilities. You get units’ stats and skills 100% of the time you play them so that’s what you’re most concerned about. It’s much easier to fall in love with a card when you read its abilities first. Becoming smitten with a card isn’t a bad thing, but you want to be a cold and calculating drafter if your goal is to maximize your win percentage.

Symmetrical Effects

Symmetrical Effects impact both you and the opponent. Generally, cards that produce symmetrical effects are undesirable because you spent a card to produce that effect. Reflection is the poster child for this concept. Both you and your opponent draw a card when you play this card but you used a card to make that happen. You are down a card. That is bad.

Empire of Glass has a cycle of rare relics that produce symmetrical effects.

Hello, old friend. I cast a lot of Howling Mines before I understood why it’s fundamentally bad.

Let your opponents play these cards against you and enjoy the bonus you get. Don’t be the one to spend three power and a card to benefit both you and your opponent.

Gatecrash Trooper is a symmetrical effect. Both you and your opponent draw a card – BUT- you don’t use a resource to make that happen. All you have to do is draw the card. This is acceptable if your deck is looking for a 3/2 with aegis. Reflection is not.

Setup Cost

Some cards require more work than others to be great. The best limited cards have no setup cost whatsoever.

Quadrant Theory all-star Dichro, Vindicated is tremendous on his own. On any limited board state, this card is going to be great. That’s not the case with a card like Tactical Superiority. When a card needs to meet a condition in order to be effective, that is often referred to as its setup cost. Essentially, how hard do I have to work to make this good?

High setup cost

Sure, it’s a slow removal spell with an annoying condition to meet, but at least it also costs four and requires double influence! Okay, so this card needs a lot of work.

There’s no denying that Tactical Superiority has upside. Kill a bunch of creatures, draw a bunch of cards. Sweet! But if so many of your opponents creatures are stunned and you have so many soldiers lying around, why not just attack and kill them? 

Tactical Superiority is not a card that I first pick and build around. If I’m in primal and have both stun effects AND soldiers, maybe I’ll take it later in the draft. I’m aware of the upside but the downside is, uh, nothing. A card that does nothing. Wasn’t interested in Shatter at 1-cost, not particularly interested in it at 4 with upside, though Covenant Peacekeeper’s existence has my interest piqued slightly more than usual.

Low setup cost

Floor: 2/2 for four. Not exactly what you’re looking for out of your rare but it’s still a 2/2.

Common scenarios: Silence a unit with one battle skill and play a 4/4. Silence the flyer that’s killing you and play a 4/4. Silence a unit with a relevant Ultimate and get a 2/2. I’m happy to spend four power for any of the above.

Uncommon scenarios: Silence a unit with two battle skills to make a 6/6. Silence your opponent’s flyer, allowing yours to attack, while also getting a 4/4 ground blocker. Sign me up.

Rare scenarios: Silence the absurd multi-skilled creature (e.g Deathwing) that’s killing you while also playing your own 8/8 or bigger. That’ll do, minotaur soldier. That’ll do.

Just noticed you can also silence your own units. You won’t want to very often, but the fact that you can makes the floor on Sharp Tactician even higher.

If your cards pass the vanilla test and have low setup costs, you’ll have the opportunity to make more meaningful choices while playing, improve your overall gameplay, and win more games while you’re at it.

Modal Cards

Cards that give you multiple options (i.e. modal cards) always play better than they look and these already look great. I won’t be drafting these early if they’re only good in their respective two- faction decks, but they’ll probably move up significantly in my pick order if I can reasonably play them in multiple archetypes.

Truthfully, I don’t have a technique for evaluating modal cards. Flexibility is always highly valuable in draft and these don’t seem to be an exception. I misevaluated Collective Brutality badly when it came out and I won’t make that mistake again, so I have a hard time being down on modal cards.

General rule: Cards that give you choices are good. Cards that give your opponents choices aren’t.

Cards I Want to Draft

Not saying these are the best rares in the set, but these are ones I’ll probably be drafting a lot of:

Legendaries

Full analysis: I don’t think about them or play around them. When I get the chance to draft legendaries, cool. When my opponent plays them, bummer. My main concern is what the average draft game looks like, so I don’t spend time evaluating legends. Honestly, I’ve been looking at the commons, uncommons, and rares so much that I’m not even sure I’ve looked at the legendaries. If I had to guess: They’re probably really powerful and you should draft them.

My writing is targeted towards players whose goal is to maximize their overall win percentage. When I say players should do this or that, I’m speaking through that lens. Really, you should do whatever improves your own experience. Wanna draft all the rares and put them in a deck? Go for it. Build a pile with some insane but fun win condition? Cool. Play 50 cards in a deck? Have your fun, @cercasparkles. A guy at my LGS always first picked the rare and built around it regardless of what it was. That will never be me, but I think the fact that people can enjoy Eternal for different reasons is one of the things that makes it great.

Writing to Different Audiences

@TempestDragonKing is correct. Shadow walk Cloak and Expand the Reach are meaningfully better cards than the other four I included on my DND draft list. Reminding myself that a Do Not Draft list is specifically for newer players, I added them with a note about how they’re not unplayable, they’re just not Be Boring cards. Neither one fits CABS (Cards that affect the board state) and they don’t perform well in Quadrant Theory.

There are several respective decks in which Shadow Walk Cloak and Expand the Reach perform an important role, but how likely is it that a new player will correctly identify those decks? Slim. How likely is it that a new player will hold Shadow Walk Cloak in hand until they find an acceptable unit to wear it? Highly unlikely. New players will drape that cloak over the shoulders of their 2/2 as soon as their opponent plays a three drop. Are new players identifying which Combrei ramp decks really need Expand the Reach? Probably not.

New players, in all likelihood, won’t draft and play these cards effectively. In most cases, drafting and playing a 2 or 3 cost unit instead of the cards mentioned will lead to a higher win percentage.  The better you can articulate which situations and decks these cards belong in, the less you need a DND list from me or anyone else. In the future, DND lists will only include truly unplayable cards and I might make a separate list for cards that are good but require more advanced deckbuilding to be used effectively.

Thank you, as always, to TempestDragonKing and others who provide constructive feedback when they disagree with a portion of my writing. Eternal draft would be incredibly boring if we all agreed and knew the right answers all the time. Working together to find the answers is part of the fun.

For more detailed discussion, including full explanations about which decks should play Shadow Walk Cloak and Expand the Reach, join us in the Farming Eternal Discord.

Do Not Draft

All that being said, don’t put these cards in your draft deck (markets are acceptable).

Not pictured but on the list: the cycle of 3-cost symmetrical effect relics discussed earlier.

Looking Ahead

With only a handful of drafts played, Empire of Glass has been really fun. To hear what’s sure to be an interesting and informative conversation about the set’s commons and uncommons, don’t miss @Kasendrith’s stream this Saturday, December 19th. Hearing the opinions of two World’s competitors and everyone in chat will help paint a clearer picture of what’s important in the format. Personally, I’m hoping to draft a lot while my kids are on Christmas break so I can start figuring out what will be the last installment in this series: Drafting Empire of Glass the Hard Way.

The topic of next week’s article is a mystery. I’m not trying to tease anything – I just don’t know. This weekend’s show with Kas and Suny will help me figure that out. Optimistically, maybe next week will be about archetypes if I gather enough information. If there’s something else you’d like to read about, please let me know. I’ve received some great questions – so good, in fact, that I need to roll them around in my brain for another week before I can talk about them confidently.

Writing is fun, but I need to actually play some games now so I can inform my opinion. Happy Drafting!

– Schaab
Draft Enthusiast, Valley-clan Sage Fan Club President

I’m realizing now that there’s no exciting way to say “Dentist!” But there you have it, Doc Holliday was a dentist.

Confession- I made sure I was in the top 5 on the draft leaderboard when my first couple of articles came out to give myself some credibility. Now that this is article 13 or 14, I’m pretty sure I can stop doing that, so that’s freeing. I’ll probably rank up today or tomorrow if I get the chance.

Author’s Note

As I continue to write about Eternal and promote the work of others, concerns about getting a person’s pronouns wrong are always in the back of my mind. If I misidentify someone, please send me a message to let me know so I can correct it. I promise it is not intentional. I don’t think this has happened, I just want to proactively throw this message out there just in case. Thanks for your help!

Patreon Update


Let’s Talk Limited is offering its first promotion!

Starting now, new Patrons will receive a thank you note and at least two times the value of your contribution in the form of Magic cards from my personal collection. A write-up of your undoubtedly adorable pet is also an option.

Until the end of December 2020, new Patrons will receive at least 2.5 times the value of their contribution in MtG cards. (Example: contribute $10, get at least $25 of my Magic cards)

If the site reaches 12 Patrons by the end of 2020, I’ll give away a fetchland to a Patron at the end of every month in 2021.

If LetsTalkLimited reaches 31 Patrons by the end of 2020, I’ll give away a Zendikar expedition every month in 2021.

Why 12 and 31? Mrs Schaab and I got engaged on New Year’s Eve. Also, arbitrary.

Truth be told, I was a F2P (Free to Play) user until I started preparing for the 2020 draft Championship. Drafting boring decks usually helped me do well enough to pay for my next draft without grinding too much gauntlet. Exploring new draft cards, archetypes, and strategies requires resources though. While I was happy to support Direwolf financially this past spring, I left my job over the summer so I could teach my children at home during Covid. That still being the reality of the situation, I can’t justify spending both time and money on my hobby right now. So if you enjoy the content I’ve been creating and would like to see more of it in 2021, please consider financing a draft or two through the Patreon so I can draft enough to be well-informed. Thank you so much for considering. Happy drafting!

Let’s Talk Limited Patreon

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