Welcome, dear reader. Some of you may recognise my handle from our sister site – ATGN. For those of you unfamiliar with my work, the first thing you should know is that I’m a big fan of TCGs, with my passion being the Eternal formats in Magic: The Gathering. What I haven’t let on in my writing is that I’ll take on any game with cards. Hearthstone, YuGiOh, Android: Netrunner, Chronicles Runescape, you name it. So when our esteemed editor brought a new Online Card Game called “Eternal” by Direwolf Digital to my attention, I was interested, to say the least. This article is intended for first-timers or prospective players, and goes through what you can expect from the tutorial and your first few games. If you’re unfamiliar with MTG, I’ll have to apologise, this article uses a lot of MTG terminology, though I’ve tried to keep it fairly self explanatory throughout.
The first thing I noticed was that the game was small by OCG standards. At 250MB to download I was only able to finish five games of Pirate Warrior while downloading. Simultaneously, I was researching the game, and the list of developers actually got me a little excited. It boasts of MTG royalty such as Luis-Scott Vargas, Craig Wescoe, Patrick Chapin, Brian “Brian Kibler” Kibler and Jeff Hoogland (who I am already a fan of), some of whom are already successful developers and designers in their own right. (UPDATE: Hoogland and Wescoe assisted in various ways but are not affiliated with Direwolf Digital)
So, into the game I plunged. The art style is great, for those who enjoy steampunk-cross-grimdark-cross-fantasy, with lots of glowy effects, swords, laser shooting revolvers, paladins and mystical beasts. Most of the animations do not suffer from the Hearthstone problem of taking more of the turn than your actions. The most gaudy and out of place animations, like a spell that generates little purple whirlwinds, are few and far between and only last a couple of seconds at most.
Even the card drawing animations take less time and are more seamless, whereas in Hearthstone every card you draw is plastered on your screen like it’s some Yu-Gi-Oh! Anime heart-of-the-cards topdeck. For those of you, like me, who like to diddle the objects on the Hearthstone game boards, Eternal has you covered. After completing the tutorial, you choose a Cairn Stone. This does nothing mechanically, but you can click it to produce cool little graphical effects. If you have the appropriate setting turned on, you can even see when your opponent does the same!
The basics of the game are very easy to pick up. There is a random-resource system, and I’m going to be honest with those unfamiliar with MTG, this is going to occasionally suck. You are going to draw too many/too few Power cards and you’re going to get salty and upset. Unfortunately, to stop a game devolving into Rock-Paper-Scissors, it has to have a random element other than random card draw. Yu-Gi-Oh! has no other random element, and the current meta is essentially nothing but searching the library and playing every game the same within one or two cards, with the winner being obvious after a turn or two. Hearthstone solves this issue with cards with random effects. The resource system in Eternal just happens to be a tried and tested system that is adopted for a reduced learning curve. As with MTG there are five elements or colours of “Power” and, while they are not the same as MTG, there are again obvious parallels to be drawn. Shadow/Purple focuses on sacrifice, Justice/Green on resilient threats and weapons, Primal/Blue on fliers and reactive or end of turn plays, Time/Yellow on mana acceleration and big dudes, and Fire/Red on many little Units, face damage and direct damage spells.
The anatomy of an Eternal card
Mechanically, the game is aimed at MTG players. Handily, if you mouse over a unit, equipment, or spell with a keyword ability, reminder text will appear beside the floating card frame. Many mechanics will be familiar and other have a slight tweak on the known, usually to ensure that no one card or keyword wins a game on its own. In addition to the mechanics and abilities players are familiar with, come a couple of new ones that take advantage of the digital space in a way no tabletop card game can. Both of these manipulate the cards already in your deck; Warcry gives stat bonuses to the topmost Unit (like a creature/monster) or Weapon (similar to equipment/enchantment) of the deck, and the other, Echo, gives you an extra copy of the card when drawn (like Chromaggus for HS players). The game utilises the digital space in other ways too, improving the depth of gameplay and deck construction. For example, cards which are sent to the Void (graveyard) maintain their last known information outside of equipment attached to them. So a spell that reanimates or returns a card from the Void to hand will be as it was at its destruction. This is not always beneficial, as cards that Polymorph or Silence will remove the abilities on the Unit even if it is returned from the Void. Along a similar design is the fact that tokens go to the Void and are not removed from the game or disappear, a blessing when there is a three mana spell that gives you a 1/1 Lethal (deathtouch) creature, plus an additional one for every three Units in the Void.
My favourite inclusion in this game has to be the priority system. The amount of times I have sat there and watched Patron Warrior or Token Druid (in Hearthstone) play a game ending card that I can do nothing about is staggering, and it leaves a bad taste in the mouth for new and established players alike. Being able to remove a creature in response to a spell is so liberating, it opens up a whole new world of bluffing and counterplay, making a victory that much more satisfying. To facilitate this, there is a subclass of spell, called “Fast Spells”, which can be played in response to another spell or ability. Some of these are buffs, some damage, and some use the keyword “Freeze” which prevents an attack and exhausts the unit for the opponent’s next turn. There are, however, a few things that do not allow a response, such as the playing of equipment, which are not obvious at first. While this can be frustrating, I chalk it up to a learning experience and try not to make the same mistake.
The tutorial is much the same as any tutorial. You play one campaign for each colour, each with five games. The opponents are fairly easy and designed to give you a feel of how the colour interacts with the others and the strengths and weaknesses of the colour you’re playing. At the conclusion of each campaign, you receive a basic deck and Legendary rarity Scion Unit for that colour. Once you’re finished with the campaign, you can then play ranked, construct your own decks, and play any of the other three game modes on offer, each with their own rank system and cool prizes. I will go into more detail about these in my follow-up article.
All in all, I feel Eternal is absolutely the OCG we all wanted. The depth of MTGO (or MODO) without the terrible, awful, horrible bugs and interface, and the lovely streamlined feel of the Hearthstone interface without those annoying triggers (Acolyte of Pain + Magic Missiles anyone?) and the occasionally frustrating random spells. At a whopping $0, its totally worth a download, just to try, and if you hate it, you’re allowed to be wrong.
Stay tuned for Part Two, where I examine the game modes and how to best work towards a constructed deck.
You can play Eternal for free on Steam, or download the app for Android via the Play Store.
For those of you looking to chat with other Australian players, perhaps share deck ideas, strategies, add friends or even organise tournaments, we’ve also made a Facebook Group, feel free to join us.
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