This is Isochron presenting Meta Monday
Thank you to everyone who submitted games to our forms this year and made Meta Monday possible. The list of people who did this would be too long, but special thanks for helping the articles beyond compare go to:
A Year in Review
Even though I’ve been consistently writing for three years now, the last end of the year article still remains one of my favorite things that I’ve written. Everything from the research to the presentation was incredibly rewarding and I think the end result turned out really well. For those who haven’t read that article and are in any way interested in the history of eternal, you can read it here.
2019 has been my most tumultuous year with Eternal. I barely played at the start of the year, and stopped playing at all in the summer. At the beginning of fall, I started grinding to build up Shiftstone for the new expedition and from then on I played fairly frequently for a while. And now the year is ending again and I’m back to just casually getting to master rank on a monthly basis and not much more.
This all is to say, I don’t really have as many cool memories from this year as I did from 2017 and 2018 and there’s no real archival element to this article. And if I wanted to properly follow up last year, I needed to find something else great. But thankfully, there is something else great this year, and that’s the community metagame breakdown. Creating this project has been a dream of mine for a long time, and I’m amazed at how well it’s been working. Massive shoutout to NotoriousGHP for all of his work on the project and his dedication to the community. Meta Monday has always been a shared project here at TRS, and he has done some really amazing work on it. Consistently getting an article out every Tuesday really is a laudable accomplishment.
With that aside out of the way, I have to introduce this years centerpiece. If you know me, you know that I like data and charts. But the pre-rendered variety wasn’t doing it for me anymore, I needed something better. Which is why I am so happy to present to you this masterpiece, an almost complete history of the best decks during 2019:
A few basic notes on the chart to make interpreting it easier. The community Metagame Breakdown project started on the sixth week of the year, this means we only have data from then on. And since making a pretty chart by hand takes a long time and I wanted to get this article out in 2019, the last week of the year is not included in it. With that out of the way, we can look at this colossal accomplishment by the entire Eternal community and decipher the story it tells.
At the start of the year for a month and a half, before we started recording everything in a neat breakdown, FJS had been king. This was already the second FJS-centered meta as both Into Shadow and Defiance had created their brands of FJS. And this FJS meta had lasted for a while. When looking at this chart in a vacuum, it’s easy to compare FJS to Stonescar and act like the dominance by that deck at the start of the year was just a small thing in comparison, but that perspective is a bit flawed (especially considering that it’s easy to overestimate the difference in popularity given that the chart only starts at 8%). This is why I called the start of the year the late FJS era, this was already FJS in decline.
What made it worse is that a deck with similar strategy was always acting as a counterweight to FJS. Jennev Peaks was also in the meta at the same time. Even though the decks were in different factions, their overall gameplan was still relatively similar. They played merchants to generate value with Xo, and then proceeded to turn the entire game into a grindfest that they set themselves up to inevitably win. This is not to say that this was necessarily the worst time to play Eternal.
For people who came into the game during this era and enjoyed the grinds and board stalls, this was a great time to play, maybe even the best. But for people who had started playing earlier and expected the game to play like it used to, this was in large part an alienating period. From personal experience, I know that this was when a lot of my friends quit the game because they could no longer play how they wanted and even I personally didn’t enjoy the game at all after a while.
Even though I do like the general playstyle of FJS and Jennev Peaks, the games with those decks turn out to be pretty long and eventually become relatively samey due to their ridiculous consistency. These decks don’t have much real room to navigate between a lot of cool plays. And even though true masters of the game like Popotito are able to get to the depths of Jennev and pull out a crazy play that can maximize their chances of victory, to normal players like me, that dimension of the game doesn’t exist. So as someone who just mainly plays ladder, both periods where FJS was popular combined into four months of miserable Eternal. And even though the Feln Midrange meta and the Peaks meta separated those two periods of FJS, it all combined to be a really unfun experience.
When homecoming released, the Hooru decks that had already been building up in the background started to become a regular fixture of the meta. However, Ixtun quickly took it’s seat as the best deck in the game again. But after a few weeks of post-homecoming Ixtun re-emergence, Champion of Chaos was un-nerfed, and thus Stonescar took the top spot in the metagame. This Stonescar strategy was really unique compared to past decks, it was a true midrange list. It did have some aggressive elements and could be compared to older Stonescar builds in some respects, but it re-invented the archetype completely.
Stonescar stopped being about burning the opponent out with big creatures and fast spells and found the perfect middle ground as a fast midrange list. In retrospect, it was foolish to call it an aggro deck at any point, even though it seemed relatively aggressive. But having been accustomed to aggressive Stonescar builds, it was not easy to see how much it was truly a midrange archetype by now. This is especially so because midrange in Eternal never tends to be fast, from classic time midrange to more modern post-merchant midrange, none of the midrange decks focus their efforts into the early game. But this Stonescar build did and could position itself really well because of it.
But unlike FJS, which was only really contested by Jennev Peaks, Stonescar wasn’t hegemonic, it was just the best deck. You could easily build decks that target Stonescar and counter whatever it was doing. Sure, you might lose to the rest of the meta by doing that, but there were good answers nonetheless. Nothing like that existed during the FJS era. However, Stonescar was really the best deck a lot of the time and the ladder was often transformed into just being a mess of Stonescar. But as we can see from the chart, there were many times when it lost it’s spot and was supplanted by Praxis midrange, Rakano midrange, and Yetis.
And this is the great Rakano uprising in July. Rakano wasn’t really a Rakano deck, it was more like a justice deck that just played fire cards because they helped it along. Sediti was a really good card, and it was only brought down to par by the nerf it got. However, even after the nerf it continues to be a pretty good card and is definitely worth playing if a deck is already very justice focused. So after Rakano was suppressed by the harsh rule of the ban-hammer, yetis and Stonescar started trading places for a few weeks, and yetis came out on top. Now, this was the month where I didn’t play at all so I don’t have that much to say about this transition, but I can talk a lot about the preamble and end of the Yeti meta.
Yetis have always had a dedicated following who try to play the deck whenever they think it could be viable, and trials of Grodov provided the final piece to make the deck resurface. A big problem Yeti decks have always had is an absence of good one and two drops, and then it got a third two drop in Yeti Pioneer. So with the release of Trials of Grodov, yetis started to dominate the meta. However, during this time, Argenport Paladins was also building itself up and refining it’s strategy in the background, and then it exploded into popularity really fast. It was a good counter-strategy to basically everything in the meta. No deck had adapted to the presence of a synergy based list, and that’s what paladins was. And although my chart isn’t perfect so it can’t reflect the journey of every deck, paladins had been a long time coming.
There is a slight issue where the numbers might be a bit off here because there were multiple Argenport lists, but paladins was by far the dominant one. So even though it was a bit less popular than the data might show, it was still an incredibly prolific deck. But Skycrag wasn’t done yet, it still had some steam in it. It continued to be a popular deck after Argenport paladins fell off until the Flame of Xulta released. The first week of the Flame of Xulta meta was occupied by Ixtun, which seems to be the go to deck whenever the metagame is not settled yet in throne. However, the meta quickly turned into a combination of Praxis Midrange and Grodov. Grodov is similar to FJS and Jennev insofar as it’s a tri-faction midrange-control deck. So instead of calling it by a distinct archetype, I think it’s better to just refer to it by the faction combination it takes place in.
Praxis Midrange doesn’t really need to be explained, it’s just the deck as it had always been, except with better threats and more ramp this time. Getting a top tier pay-off for the strategy in Kairos was a really big deal. But the dominance of both of these decks was quickly cut short at the start of December with some big nerfs. The biggest one of these was making Torch slow. And here finally all my hopes and dreams had been realized and the best card in the game is now only slightly better than every other card. Heart of the Vault was also hit by these nerfs, significantly curtailing it’s potential as a big threat really early on in the game.
And now at the end of the year, Promises by Firelight is out. And as seen by week 51, no decks had climbed over the 8% barrier needed to get into the chart in the first place. We still have the current week to talk about, but we should still go over the history of Expedition before we get to what’s going on right now in the game.
Now, I don’t really have a cool chart for expedition because it’s not really worth making one for. Sure, we can track every individual expedition in it’s own chart and try to draw some conclusions from it, but even then the meta has not been complex enough and we haven’t gathered data for long enough. Furthermore, the constant changes mean that any chart does not properly represent what the organic meta looked like, and mostly just reflects the results of things that DWD implemented into expedition over the last three months. Expedition really only started a month after the Flame of Xulta was released. This was because it got a leaderboard and tournaments. For the first time, there was actually a real reason to play it. So all in all, it has been a real format for only around two months.
The story of pre-FoX expedition is worth telling only to archive it. It was basically just Throne but less powerful. Ixtun was the best deck throughout it, and other watered down versions of throne decks showed up. You could play bad Praxis, bad Stonescar, bad Hooru, bad Rakano, and bad evenhanded Golem decks. FPS Control was a relatively unique archetype because it was more viable in Expedition than it was in Throne, but even then it wasn’t anything that special. And this was the state of Expedition until The Flame of Xulta, when it became what it is now and set 1 was removed from it in large part.
At the start of the Flame of Xulta, Expedition didn’t really receive a lot of thought or innovation given that there was barely any reason to play it. I enjoyed the format when it was released, but didn’t really find playing it to be too rewarding so I fell of the wagon relatively quickly. So I just played some Throne while I was waiting for the ladder to be released. During this time, tempo was absolute. Elysian, Hooru, Xenan, Rakano, and Stonescar tempo decks dominated the meta until the big changes came with the introduction of the two campaigns.
The main changes this brought was that Combrei Aggro went from being a good deck to being a really good deck and more midrangey archetypes became way more viable. Elysian is still the most consistently popular deck in the format and seems to remain that way due to just having the best card quality around, but this is something DWD can totally change given that they already rotate the format or implement nerfs every two weeks. However, this will not necessarily last forever. It might very well be that Promises by Firelight has already dealt a death blow to Elysian and we’re just waiting for it to wither away. I don’t personally think that this is happening, and if anything, I think Elysian will resume being as popular as it has been for a while. But I have been wrong many, many times in the past, so it might be that I’m just wrong here too.
This Week in the Meta
Thank you to t3544, PapaCapricorn, chriseay, bA1ance, Mancio1982, Quitschi, and susuexp for sending their games in this week. If you want to help make next year as great as this one was, please send in your games for Expedition and Throne. So, let’s start with Throne
Endra Combo 13.5%
Combrei Aggro 10.5%
Praxis Midrange 5%
Rakano Aggro 4%
Xenan Midrange 4%
Combrei Midrange 3%
Feln Midrange 3%
Feln Reanimator 2.5%
Hooru Control 2.5%
Skycrag Control 2.5%
Kodosh Aggro 2.5%
Hooru Midrange 2%
Mono Fire 2%
Jennev Endra 2%
As expected, Endra is the top deck by a long shot. Given that it’s the most influential deck and one of the most powerful combo decks in Eternal history, I think that’s a relatively reasonable place for it to be. Whether or not it’s truly an overpowered deck remains to be seen in my opinion. It’s not settled yet whether there is any organic counterplay to the deck or whether it’s just intrinsically dominant. I still fully expect Endra to get nerfed in a few weeks, so I would encourage everyone who likes playing combo to get their fill of it now. In my personal opinion, I don’t think the deck is very consistent and I don’t think it’s necessarily going to be dominant for a long time. But it does have some games that it can’t really lose so I would not be surprised if the deck keeps being the biggest deck in the game for a relatively long time based on those alone.
Combrei Aggro and Xenan Midrange are both decent anti-Endra strategies since they don’t even play the game on the same axis as Endra functions on. They can slot in some really good hate and stop Endra decks in their tracks. Combrei Aggro is the better deck of these two, however, a large part of why it is so good is the wide array of counterplay it has to Endra. When a deck is over 13% of the metagame, having a way to beat it means that you can expect your average winrate to dramatically increase, even if that means that you don’t necessarily have a favorable winrate against any other decks.
When it comes to the rest of the metagame, I can’t really comment that much on it. FJS is just FJS, the same goes for Rakano and Praxis. They’re just good decks with solid plans that can win games against meta decks that don’t happen to be Endra. In tier 3, we have Jennev Endra. For a while, I thought this was the better version of Endra and I still stand by that. However, it loses the mirror against Makkar Endra almost every time, so I don’t really think it’s worth playing given that 13% of the games are almost automatic losses. The rest of the meta is again, relatively uninteresting to me.
Now, onto what’s been happening in Expedition this week.
Well, looks like ol’ Isochron still got it. For those not in the know, a few days ago I made this cool JPS curses list, and it kinda took over the expedition ladder. Now, seeing that JPS is my favorite archetype and that my list debuted at #1, this is the best way to end the year for me. And given that I made the most popular deck in the meta this week, I just have to brag and give a rundown of what makes the deck so good.
The essence of it is, there’s no other deck in the expedition meta that can out-value it or keep up with the amount of removal that it has. When it comes to pure card draw and removal density, it’s practically unrivaled. This applies to any JPS deck I build, which is why I love that archetype so much. However, since the current meta has shifted away from tempo dominance and the slower Stonescar, Feln, and Argenport midrange decks have taken most of the top seats, a pure control strategy can be effective again.
Elysian Tempo, Stonescar Mastery, and the other various tempo/aggro decks are still a relatively bad matchup given that the deck relies on a market card to deal with them effectively, but they are winnable. Ultimately, this deck would not be good if the meta was more focused on playing a ton of small creatures. But since that part of the meta is relatively small, the deck can flourish and do it’s thing in peace. The one problem is that it’s incredibly easy to tech against and will require constant tuning and innovation. It’s killed by multiple market cards in multiple different factions. It’s very hard to come back from Bore or Cleansing Rain and there are other pieces of effective hate against it. I don’t expect the deck to remain as popular as it is right now for very long, which is sad because I like playing it and I like playing the mirror, but it’s a case where a deck can spike up to #1 just because it’s well positioned and not because it’s sustainable. But as long as nothing changes, at least it can remain as a looming threat for midrange players.
Now, of course, there are other JPS control lists running around and I can’t take full credit over putting curse cards together in one deck. And the best versions of the deck, in my opinion, are the ones that people have already tuned to perform better in their own meta pockets. But it does feel good to know that I can still make a cool deck that people enjoy playing and that having dedicated a year and a half to the art of JPS has been worth it.
Feln Mill is as cool as JPS is, because this is the first time that a mill deck has really shown up in a large capacity in the game. There have been various brews before, but there has never been an orchestrated mill deck. While I can’t speak as in-depth about it as I can about JPS, it’s definitely a deck people should check out. It has a really effective mill strategy and a decent aggressive backup plan if the mill strategy fails. And while usually I don’t think mill decks double-dipping on damage is a good idea, the synergies with Bloodseeker and Dreamsnatcher are really powerful. The centerpiece that makes the deck as powerful as it is has to be the Tome of Horrors. Everything else in the deck is really cool and synergistic, but those three cards create an incredibly powerful plan on two fronts. Furthermore, the decision to put Solitude in the market is a really good one. In most games, it’s borderline useless, but in the games where it’s not, it’s a guaranteed win.
The Decimate Paladins deck is also incredibly cool, making this tier 1 the most interesting tier 1 I have seen in a while. It combines multiple strategies that have been around for a while in the way they were supposed to be combined. It’s a very intuitive combination of cards and one that should be explored more. It mostly just has a Stonescar-esque gameplay where it has a very solid aggressive plan that keeps putting more pressure on even after the normal aggressive deck would have already decided the game. This does have trade-offs, but the exponential synergies make it a very worthwhile deck to play and consider.
Hooru Curses is another contender. Combined with JPS, curse decks are a solid 17% of the metagame right now. But Hooru is nowhere near as much of a control deck as JPS is. If you don’t really like control but want to play a highly synergistic midrange deck that uses curses to it’s own advantage, Hooru is a solid option. While it’s harder to go from two to twelve cards in hand during one turn with Hooru, it’s still a fun deck and can definitely compete with the rest of the meta.
The rest of the best are the usual contenders in the two Stonescar builds and the Elysian tempo deck. Tier 3 also tapers out with known contenders. FJS Control obviously has a place in the meta with the display now being in expedition, and will probably stay as a relatively obscure contender based on that card alone. However, it would require a lot of innovation to become more popular.
This has been Isochron with Meta Monday.