In the wide world of trading and collectible card games, individual games emphasize different strategic niches through which mastery can be achieved. A skill of particular importance in The Elder Scrolls: Legends (TESL), more so than most other games of the genre, is the proper utilization of inaction.
While most games that use the power toughness (p/t) system: Hearthstone, Magic, Shadowverse, Hex, Eternal… will teach players that maximum efficiency should be prioritized in almost all cases, TESL is very different. Using Hearthstone as an example, generally if you have a one drop to play on turn one you will play it. If your opponent has no creatures and you have a creature that can attack you will hit face. If you gain a slight edge on board you can utilize that edge to start chipping in and ending the game without fear of the board being flipped on you as a result. In TESL these assumptions are questioned. The design of the game causes inaction to be a very legitimate option every step of the way, further complicating decision-making every turn.
The two lane system present in TESL makes overextension into a lane an issue of particular concern, and this concern begins from the very first creature you play. As an example, consider Fighters Guild Recruit:
Fighters Guild Recruit is one of the more powerful defensive creatures in TESL. Providing a low-cost lethal guard, significantly reducing your opponent’s trading options and itself trading with creatures of any size unless warded (or yes since people will surely point it out, the black dragon). However players, even in extremely high levels of play, utilize it in a far more proactive manner than is necessary or optimal. While in a single lane game it would generally make sense to deploy such a card on an empty board, in TESL should your opponent not want to interact with a card you play, they can always run to the other lane. As such, playing out a fighters guild recruit on curve when your opponent has yet to deploy can not only deprive you of a key defensive tool, but also, counterintuitively since you are utilizing your mana for the turn, put you behind on tempo as they can simply choose to ignore it and you are unlikely to have an equally mana efficient reactive tool in hand.
While overextension into a single lane is a TESL specific form of overdevelopment, forms of overextension present in other p/t system games also apply. The classic example of course is playing too hard into AoE (area of effect aka board clears) when you will win a game unless your opponent has a way to deal with many creatures at once. Examples of such forms of aoe common in competitive decks include Drain Vitality, Ice Storm, or Unstoppable Rage.
Delaying face damage:
The rune system in TESL fundamentally changes the flow of every game as players are actively discouraged from hitting face throughout the game. While most players learn early on that decks which lean in a controlling direction should often minimize the amount of damage they do to their opponents, keeping them on 26 or 21 health until winning the game in one turn, decks of all speeds must consider when and whether they should be breaking their opponents runes or even dealing damage that won’t break a rune.
As an aggressive player one must always consider how much damage it is necessary to deal in order to put oneself in a position to win the game. This is a very challenging skill to learn and can often take a lot of practice. As an example consider this position with midrange mage:
The two lines available that are likely to be the best are Daggerfall field or Cleric shadow putting the buff on Quartermaster and Steel Daggering the Wardcrafter. In the Cleric line I think we can pretty clearly see that as the aggressor hitting our opponent to 23 is probably worth breaking our opponent’s 25 rune, particularly considering that such a line is dedicating to a racing plan, sacrificing long-term control of field in favor of redevelopment shadow and maximizing damage. However whether we should break the 25 rune when we take the Daggerfall line is harder to tell. We’ll be hitting to 24 with this line which is obviously less different from 26 than 23 is, meaning it likely impacts the race math less, and we aren’t committing hard to the race yet, trying to regain some field control so that we will be able to push out more damage over time thanks to a more stable board.
This slower line incentivizes us to delay taking the risk of giving our opponent a tempo lead in board control through a prophecy since we aren’t giving up on board tempo yet. When I played this position I ultimately decided to take the Daggerfall line and that given the matchup it was still ultimately correct to break the rune as there weren’t any prophecies in my opponent’s colors that were too disastrous and my opponent’s end game was enough stronger than mine that I could only afford to play but so slow. However, were I in the exact same position in the mirror match, as an example, I would definitely still take the Daggerfall line but I wouldn’t break the rune as maintaining field control over the long-term would be a more reliable route to victory despite my deck being built to be somewhat aggressive.
Delaying play to gain information:
When you have less immediate concern about tempo, you may delay a play in order to get a better idea of your opponent’s deck (in a closed deck list environment), the contents of their hand, and what cards you will be working with this game as you will draw more cards on your following turns. For example, consider it is turn one and you are on the play playing shout scout with a hand as pictured below. What are your options?
The obvious line is to play the Scout’s Report immediately. However, you could also choose to wait to do so until your next turn seeing as you do not have another card to play on turn two in hand. If you are unsure as to how fast your opponent’s deck is this could be very significant. For instance if you played it now and saw a Sanctuary Pet it would be a hard call whether you want to keep it since you really want it if your opponent is aggressive, but it’s not very useful if your opponent is slower, particularly since you already have an Indoril to play on turn three. Whether or not your opponent rings out a threat on their turn one could drastically change what you would or wouldn’t keep off the report and might be relevant enough to cause you to hold it for a turn.
My favorite exercise:
Very frequently sometime during my first session with a new student I will give them the following exercise. It uses the same parameters as the last example with two cards different: It is turn one and you are on the play playing shout scout with a hand as pictured below. What are your options?
Most students will tell me that there are no options or simply respond “Pass?” And they aren’t wrong, the only thing you can do in this situation is pass. However, you get to decide when you pass the turn. As your opponent if I see you sit for 10-20 seconds before passing turn one as scout I immediately start to think about why. It could be:
- The classic ‘crying baby’ or ‘bad internet’ issue completely unrelated to the game. (This shouldn’t be discounted but obviously doesn’t influence the game.)
- Maybe you have a Word Wall and a shout to upgrade and are unsure whether you want to play it now. By default you should always wait to play a word wall until you know it can interact with the board (see the Fighters Guild Recruit example from earlier in the article) and are also incentivized to wait to see if you’d rather upgrade a different shout. Given this I don’t think an opponent would ever consider playing a Word Wall turn one unless they both already had a shout to upgrade in hand and had something to play on turn two already, making them worried that they might not find a good place in their curve to weave the Word Wall in. Frankly I’m not sure that playing a word wall on turn one would ever truly be correct but as your opponent I will still consider what you may be thinking about and what that can tell me about your hand even if I think your thought is flawed.
- As with the prior example, maybe you have a Scout’s Report in hand and are thinking about whether or not to play it, ultimately waiting until you have more information. I find this to be the most likely of the options and since you are unlikely not to play it unless you don’t have something else to play on turn two I would likely read from this play that you don’t have a two drop in hand.
So by waiting for a bit before passing the turn here I, as your opponent, find it likely that you don’t have something to play on turn two and have a Scout’s Report in hand although I recognize that something outside of the game could have caused the delay or that you could have been thinking through playing a Word Wall instead. Since you do have a two drop in hand this means that you have indicated false information to me as your opponent and gained an information advantage as I am likely to play as if you don’t have one which could bite me.
Now to be clear, this is a super minute play and is not the kind of thing that most players should aim to work on next. However, it shows just how far ‘waiting’ as a concept can be taken. In addition I find that it helps people open their eyes to parts of the game that they may have never considered. Regardless of whether or not you spend a lot of time with this concept in particular, if this helps you reevaluate your assumptions in the game then in my eyes it is a successful exercise.
Advancing to higher levels of play in TESL requires gaining an understanding of when to advance a position and when to wait. This waiting applies to many aspects of the game, be it board development, pushing damage, or even waiting to gain information or deceive your opponent. In your games try to think deliberately about the benefits and disadvantages associated with playing faster or slowing down. Doing so will enable you to gain a better grasp on the flow of the game and ultimately cause you to gain a much more sophisticated understanding of the way matchups can ebb and flow. I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. If you have any comments or questions be sure to leave them and I’ll do my best to answer them all.
Until next time -EndoZoa