“But I have patience and experience. A man can do anything if he has those.” – Helmut Zemo, Captain America and the Winter Soldier
Hello and welcome back to TheBoxer’s Corner! Unless you speak a Nordic language or study mathematics you probably aren’t familiar with the character Ø. In math it is the symbol used to represent the Empty Set. The Empty Set is the most important set (if you adhere to the ZFC formulation of Axiomatic Set Theory). In Eternal, the option to do nothing is an often overlooked or undervalued play. There are countless games on ladder where I see my opponent get impatient with a board stall and lose a game they should have won. But this is much bigger than board stalls, it applies to every matchup and every deck. You aren’t doing nothing often enough.
This may seem to contradict Power Curve Theory. PCT can be summarized as “the player who uses their power most effectively will win the game.” I argue that, in certain circumstances, doing nothing is the most power efficient play in the long run. I’ll start off with a simple example:
You’re playing Skycrag and your opponent is playing Hooru Control. They went first and it’s your turn 4. You have an Oni Ronin, a Champion of Fury, and a Vadius in play. You attack and after combat stop to think. You could play a Yushkov, or you could do nothing. You decide to play the Yushkov. Your opponent plays a Power and windmill slams Harsh Rule. On your next turn you draw an Oni Ronin and play it. This turn you spent 1 of your 4 power. If you had held off on playing Yushkov you could have spent more power to play something stronger. Playing the Yushkov on 4 in the scenario means you power did nothing to affect the board and you had a less efficient turn later in the game. Both turn 4 plays have the same efficiency in the short run but in the long run not playing Yushkov is more efficient. Seek Power is incredibly important to many decks. In 2 faction decks it’s often easy to know what to grab but sometimes in 3 faction decks (especially with Icaria) you don’t always know what to grab. In this situation you should avoid playing Seek until doing otherwise would mean missing a power drop. If you grab the wrong power you could end up spending multiple turns unable to play some cards in your hand, ruining your curve.
Merchants are some of the most resource intensive cards in Eternal. They are understatted units that asks you to pay their troll toll. When you play them correctly they can be incredibly powerful, but when played incorrectly they are a fatal misstep, a premature concession. The cost of playing a Merchant and trading a good card for a bad, situational card is immense. Unless I know what I need, have something I know I don’t need, or need a unit on board I will often not play a Merchant until as late as possible. Especially against control or in a midrange mirror, I will pass the turn on turn 3 if I don’t have anything I want to ditch. By doing the wrong exchange you are decreasing the effectiveness of future turns. Doing nothing is better than ruining your future turns.
When I say doing nothing you likely include playing only a power as doing nothing. But there are many situations where you don’t even want to play a power. Strategize, Merchants, Kaleb off of Peak, Mystic Ascendant, and even bluffing potential.
I have spoke at length on the intricacies of removal timing in my article series on the topic. You should only use removal when it is necessary. If there is a board stall only use removal on stall-breakers or if you can clear a path. Doing nothing can help you match up your removal more effectively later in the game. Snapping it off on the first threat you see can leave you with the wrong answer for the problem at hand. Impatience is often the easiest way to lose when you are ahead, so save you cards for what really matters. You need to figure out what your opponent can do to make a comeback and devote your resources to stopping that. If a card doesn’t help their plan don’t use removal on it. Ice Bolt is a special case of not using removal. If your opponent is stuck on 2 or 3 power then you should not use Ice Bolt to dig them out of the hole they are in. This may involve taking upwards of 10 damage but if you can develop your board while they are stuck on 2 then you will win. By this logic you start to see one of my reasons for hating Royal Decree. However if by some drunken stupor you register a deck with Royal Decree I will advise you not to play it while your opponent is stuck on power. I have won many a game I should have lost because my opponent fixed my power with Decree. A similar logic follows for Backlash, and its ilk. Only negate a card that actually matters. One of the ways your opponent can get back into games you should not lose is if they can bait you into negating a card that doesn’t matter. Every game is different. There may be games where you don’t even care about Channel the Tempest or Harsh Rule despite the dramatic and game changing effects on those cards.
Doing nothing is in many ways paradoxical. It is quite rare that you are forced to pass the turn without any legal plays you can make. Hence, doing nothing is a choice like any other, and ultimately there is nothing wrong with doing nothing. If you were to make a decision tree diagram for your turn and your possible plays, doing nothing would be a branch like any other. We as players have developed an aversion to doing nothing and we must train ourselves to be able to make this decision as viable as any of our others. When you first play a game like Eternal or Magic you often want to play your cards as quickly and as seemingly efficient as possible. As you develop as a player you learn that you should have some more patience. You start to have more nuanced sequencing as you gain experience, but the biggest step is getting used to the idea of doing nothing and how viable that can be.
“I knew I could not kill them. More powerful men than me have tried. But, if I could get them to kill each other…” – Helmut Zemo
It may be even painful or frightening to pass the turn without doing anything. We are rightfully afraid of accidentally pressing the space bar and passing the turn when we mean not do so. But, I can tell you from experience, there is little more enjoyable than playing a long game in which your opponent’s patience breaks before yours and you win from many turns of doing nothing. If both players are playing well, board stalls are often determined by little more than the matchup, however, I have won many board stalls I had no business winning. I knew I could not beat my opponent if they played the board stall well, but I played the game out anyways knowing my patience may let me prevail.
Listen to Zemo. Use your experience to know what matters and have the patience to do nothing. Tusen takk for at du leser (thousand thanks for reading)!