An article by Calebovitsch
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1. Historical notes

Collectible card games come in all shapes and forms. I have played my fair share of them over the years, both casually and competitively. They all have one thing in common – you have your own deck and play against an opponent’s deck. Either you build yours beforehand or right on the spot in case of the so-called limited events such as drafts, sealed decks, arenas etc. There are restrictions for deck construction, whether it is the minimum and/or maximum number of cards in your deck or the types of cards you can play. More than twenty years ago, after a short stint with Doomtrooper and Dark Eden, I stumbled across a game called Magic: the Gathering and was instantly entranced by it. After a couple of years of playing it with friends I went on to take part in my first local tournament. There I learned about a new mechanic related to deckbuilding for this type of play – the sideboard.

Given that tournament play in Magic consisted of best-of-three rounds, players were able to modify their decks between games in a round by accessing their fifteen-card sideboard and swapping cards between their deck and sideboard on a one-to-one basis. For me that opened a new well of ideas, strategies, plays and counterplays when it comes to deck construction. The funniest of those was the transformation sideboard, where by tagging in all fifteen cards your deck became a new entity, with other win conditions and game plans.

Sideboarding strategies changed in the middle of 2002 with the introduction of the Judgment set and the Wish mechanic. This cycle of cards allowed you to exchange them for cards that you own outside the game, with the tournament reference being – cards exiled from play or those in your sideboard. It meant that you could be running ‘additional’ copies of key cards by having three of them in your main deck and four wishes to fetch the last copy, or that you could be running a ‘toolbox’, allowing you to answer certain strategies as soon as game one.

2. Eternal market

Let us now hop on over to the topic near and dear to our hearts – how does it all affect Eternal Card Game? Last year, when Argenport fell, we were introduced to a new cycle of cards called the Merchants. A unit in each of the five colors allowed us – upon being summoned – to swap a card from our hand for a card of the Merchant’s color in our Market. Now, Market is a special addition to your deck that contains up to five cards, cannot contain more than one copy of each card and cannot contain fifth copies of cards you are already playing four-of in your deck. This mechanic was well received by most players and prompted the developers of the game to one-up themselves and give us a half-cycle of five two-color Smugglers in the following set. Now, although both Merchants and Smugglers have the same unit type, the new ones work a bit differently. Although they allow to swap cards between your hand and your Market as well, they have a better stat line and give you access to cards from two colors in your Market. To balance this, your Black Market – as it is called when you are playing Smugglers – has an additional restriction, that is it cannot contain any cards that you already have in your main deck.

Both cycles were met with an enormous hype. Currently almost every deck is using this mechanic. In fact, these units were so good that to this day three Merchants and two Smugglers had their stat lines nerfed – and still see a lot of play! Back in Fall of Argenport most decks used just four Merchants, but later some started using even more, given that e.g. two Merchants can get the same two-colored card. Now with the Smugglers you can quite often see decks running eight Smugglers or four Smugglers and four Merchants, which makes all your Market-building decisions even more crucial.

3. Market card categories

In the last couple of months, I have brewed a lot of decks of my own, as I prefer doing that to just netdecking. Most of the Markets I made had cards that filled specific roles. That is why I usually divide cards I put in the Market into following categories, as it makes my decision making easier:

a) Combo pieces

These are the cards that are crucial to the success of your deck and you want to run as many of them as you can. By running three copies main deck and another one in the Market you can effectively increase the accessibility of that card. Also, if you do not play that combo piece in your main deck, but have access to it via eight Smugglers sharing a color, you have a higher probability of getting it as well. Examples of such Market cards are Combustion Cell in Kennadins, Talir, Who Sees Beyond in her namesake combo deck, Calderan Cradle, Talir’s Unwinding, Haunting Scream or even a combination of Madness and Combust.

b) Unit removal

This category is easy. Given that Eternal is usually a unit-based game (even control decks usually win with units), having access to a single piece of unit removal in the Market is crucial. Whether it is Signal Flare, Xenan Initiation, Vanquish, Permafrost or In Cold Blood, there is usually at least one such card in every Market. This category also includes mass removal, such as Harsh Rule, End of Story, Hailstorm, Devastating Setback or even just a Torrential Downpour powered by a Howling Peak Smuggler.

c) Attachment removal

Most Markets usually tend to pack at least one piece of attachment removal, especially if they flat-out lose to big stuff like Martyr’s Chains. These answers are usually Bore, Disjunction, Burglarize, Kaleb’s Choice, Vision of Austerity, Ijin’s Choice or Banish.

d) Finisher

What if you draw a Merchant late in the game? You probably want to have access to a big-ol’ finisher, right? Well this category is for you, as most decks usually have at least one. Mind you, finishers in aggressive decks cost a bit less, e.g. Mindfire, Obliterate or Deepforged Plate, while finishers for midrange and control decks are the cream of the crop, expensive cards costing seven or more power, such as Pit of Lenekta, Martyr’s Chains, Vara Fate-Touched, Moment of Creation, Knucklebones, Molot & Nakova, Azindel, Revealed or Zal Chi, Herald of War.

e) Follow-up

In my opinion each Market should have at least one card that can be played on the turn following a Merchant, which is usually turn four (turn five if you play an Auralian Merchant). These proactive drops are usually cards that you want to play specifically on turn four or five. The best example of this is Regent’s Tomb in an eight Smuggler version of FJS control deck. If you do not have a card you can play early as a follow-up to your Merchant, you usually do not want to draw these Units early. I had this problem when I was running my Xenan Millrange deck. The Market did not contain any cards I wanted to proactively play on turn four, which made me always cringe when I had Merchants in my opening hand. Good examples of follow-ups are Jotun Feast-Caller, Chunk Chunk, Vicious Highwayman, Xenan Temple, Inquisitor Makto and Tavrod, Auric Broker.

f) Vs cards

This category includes cards that are here for specific matchups your deck has problems with. For example, if you scoop to a turn five Grasping at Shadows for Vara and Azindel, you might want to play some Void hate in the form of Adjudicator’s Gavel, Steward of the Past or Lumen Reclaimer. If you are weaker against control decks you might bring in Rain of Frogs, Unexpected Results, Factory Quota or an Unseal.

g) Power

In the beginning each Market usually contained a Power card. Nowadays this is more the fringe case, but some control-oriented decks with heavy influence requirements are still running a Token or a Banner in there. You might also find some more specialized cases, for example the Aggro Elysian Nightmaul decks are sometimes running a Cobalt Waystone – these decks usually have low card costs, but they are running six-cost Mauls and want to play at least one of those each game.

4. Market composition

Most Markets contain up to one card from five of the above-mentioned categories. There are obvious exceptions to this – aggressive decks tend to pack more low-cost finishers; control decks tend to go with more high-cost finishers etc. Let us look at a couple of examples, based on Team Rankstar’s latest metagame snapshot.

FJS Control:

Regent’s Tomb – Follow-up

Siege Breaker – Attachment removal (and potential Follow-up)

Deepforged Plate – Finisher

Harsh Rule – Unit mass removal

Martyr’s Chains – Finisher

Skycrag Aggro:

Signal Flare – Unit and Site removal

Urn of Choking Embers – Vs Haunted Highway

Kaleb’s Choice – Attachment removal and Vs control

Chunk Chunk – Follow-up

Obliterate – Finisher

Jennev Peaks:

Kaleb’s Choice – Attachment removal and Vs control

Torrential Downpour – Unit and Site mass removal

Rain of Frogs – Vs control and combo

Howling Peak – Finisher

Praxis Banner – Power

Argentport Midrange:

Vanquish – Unit removal

Harsh Rule – Unit mass removal

Azindel’s Gift – Vs control

Vara, Fate-Touched – Finisher

Token of Ambition – Power

5. Market in draft

Okay, we have already established that Merchants and Smugglers are good in ranked. Are they good in drafts though? If you look at the draft ratings list I made recently you can see that I have rated these cards between a 3/10 and 9/10. Honestly it is more about the stat line than the ability itself, despite the ability being a great one! Ebon Dune Smuggler and Howling Peak Smuggler have low stats and their abilities do not matter that much and the Aurelian Merchant, although it is very defensive and ramps you up, does not do a whole lot more. The other seven cards are rated somewhere between a 7/10 and a 9/10.

Now, just the fact that there are Merchants and Smugglers in the draft pool, combined with the fact that they are so effective in what they do mean you will likely pick them up when you have the chance. This also means that you have to keep a potential Market in mind during the drafting portion. When you are left with bad or mediocre cards to pick from, try to pick the cards in your colors. It is better to get a random Gift of Battle or Mass Entomancy that could help you win the game in marginal situations, than an uncommon for a wee bit more Shiftstone.

The funny thing about Market is also that the Merchants are a very good splash material. If you were to splash for five Fire cards or just one Fire card and an Ixtun Merchant, with the remaining staying safe in the Market, which version is easier on your influence requirements? Also, once you do get to play the Merchant, influence-wise you are very likely to be able to play the card you are getting. Do not forget the fact that just having a power card in your Market (reminder – you cannot have Sigils in a Black Market if you are playing them in your deck) and getting that boost when you are stuck at three power can make all the difference.

There are some usual suspects that keep getting overlooked while drafting, usually because they are a bit weaker than other cards or because they are much more situational. You can usually get them in the later picks, but it is good to have them just in case you snatch a late Merchant or Smuggler in pack three or four. Below you can find some examples. These are by no means good cards, just ones you can be picking over other unplayable stuff if you are playing these colors.

Fire:

Barkeep’s Friend, Magmatic Sentinel, Melt Down, Plunder, Reforge, Spitfire, Twinbarrel

Time:

Belching Behemoth, Confiscate, Cryptic Etchings, Dissociate, Dormant Sentinel, Dune Phantom, Excavate, Runic Protector, Sustaining Harp, Unearth the Past

Justice:

Aerialist’s Khopesh, Copperhall Recruit, Kosul Diplomat, Oathkeeper’s Hammer, Pistolwhip, Protect, Sheriff’s Hat

Primal:

Aerial Battle, Backlash, Brilliant Idea, Campfire Watchman, Cloudsnake Hatchling, Galeprowler, Gift of Battle, Gruanform, Icequake, Jump Kick, Mass Entomancy, Reinforced Towershield, Savage Denial, Violent Gust

Shadow:

Amethyst Ring, Banished Umbren, Blood Quill, Breathstealer, Devour, Fangs in the Dark, Ghostform, Grasping at Shadows, Holdup, Horrifying Helm, Improvised Club, Inspire Obedience, Mug, Sabotage, Sadistic Glee

Multi-faction:

Sadistic Ritualist, Xenan Augury

6. Divination

Given the developer’s history with half-cycles in this game we can all fathom that we are going to get the rest of the cycle, i.e. Praxis, Combrei, Hooru, Feln and Stonescar Smugglers – probably in the next full set (not in the campaign). People all over the internet have already started predicting the stat lines and abilities of these units, but I still hope the developers will have a surprise for us as well. Okay, but is that it? Or are we going to get any other Market interactions, like Marketbound (based on Voidbound)? Or will we get other interactions, like playing a card straight from the Market? Or swapping a random Market card with the one on the top of your deck? Or other types of Markets? Or …? Only time will tell.

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