The easiest way to reach #1 on ladder is to play very early on in the season where there is little competition. I did just that and reached #1 with monojustice. Later on in the season, reaching the top becomes more difficult as there is more competition (by then, more high-level people have played and have ranked). I have since peaked at #2, stopped playing ladder, and currently sit at #4.
One of the issues with ladder is that ladder rankings are highly sensitive to short-term winning and losing streaks. It is common to move 15+ positions in a day of play. Because of this, reaching the very top of Masters ladder has a huge luck component. The very top of the ladder has more to do with luck (as well as not playing once you’re at the top) than being the very best.
My thoughts on the highest level of play
To be honest, I think that I’m at least a tier below what’s possible in terms of raw piloting skill. My Combrei mirror play is not very good (they take a lot of experience); I am pretty sure that my Combrei is at least a tier below good Combrei players like Sunyveil (peaked at #1), Wafflez, and NeonBlonde (peaked at #1).
That being said, I think that the skill cap on Eternal isn’t that high. The skill cap is much higher for other games like Chess and Dominion (I reached top #100 when isotropic was around). Chess is obviously a game of pure skill so the skill cap is infinite for human players. I am not that good at Chess. When it comes to Dominion, I am good but not that good. I was one or two tiers below the best Dominion player in the world.
Dominion has a very high skill cap since the game is very broad; with more experience and study (computer simulations) I could have become better than just a top 100 Dominion player. To explain further… a guy who goes by Geronimoo wrote a computer program to simulate Dominion games. By testing theories about optimal strategy in the simulator, players started figuring out which of their theories were actually correct. They wrote blog posts and forum posts about Dominion strategy. It was getting to the point where being the best involved spending time studying the game (e.g. by reading posts and running your own simulations).
Eternal hasn’t quite reached the point where top players are crunching the math (except for a podcast by Neon on basic Eternal math) or running computer simulations. In my opinion, there is very little reward for running computer simulations on Eternal. In Dominion, a superior strategy might yield a 20-40% winrate improvement (for a very specific matchup). For Eternal, the winrate improvement is likely only a few percent. Most piloting decisions in Eternal have a very marginal impact on winrate.
Gaming the matchmaking
Due to the low numbers of people playing Eternal during the closed beta period, gaming the matchmaking actually has a very meaningful impact on winrate.
- Remembering what opponents play gives you an advantage in mulligan. I assume that certain players like Sunyveil and Finkel never play aggro, so I don’t need to mulligan for a hand that is good against aggro.
- Because the matchmaking will often repeatedly put you against the same opponent, it is a good idea to immediately re-queue if you just had a good matchup. You can also immediately re-queue with a deck that is great against your previous matchup.
- Choosing when to play can also make a difference. There have been certain periods in time where many top players will play jank. For example, the recent patch that buffed Ijin and Gorgon Fanatic meant that I was playing a lot of brews in the days after the patch was released. I did not abuse that period. (By the way, Ijin still isn’t great.) Reddit also has a huge impact on the metagame- Xenan Killers shot up in popularity once the decklist was posted on Reddit.
- It might also be the case that people play poorly on Friday nights after they have come home drunk- that one I haven’t figured out yet.
- Playing at odd hours means that I will get matched against weaker opponents rather than top players. I’m not sure if this helps laddering; I haven’t looked into the math of Eternal’s ranking system.
As it currently stands, gaming the matchmaking overshadows the skill difference between the #1 Eternal player and the #20 Eternal player.
The current metagame is very diverse, which suggests a very well-balanced metagame.
I consider 8-11 decks to be viable at the highest levels of competitive play. Deck selection largely ties into gaming the matchmaking system, so it’s hard to tease it apart from player skill. Arguably, I play suboptimally since I am not playing Combrei most of the time. Most of the time I play Rakano goodstuff armory because I enjoy that deck (e.g. Icaria).
Feeding, preying on streamers, and other forms of cheating
Yes, you could get a friend to feed you and increase your ladder ranking that way. Yes, you could ghost streamers and queue up at the same time that they queue up. But that’s cheating and I wouldn’t encourage that.
Unfortunately I suspect that ladder could be vulnerable to feeding strategies once the game leaves closed beta.
Should Direwolf Digital raise the skill cap?
Probably the answer is no.
I don’t think that a high skill cap correlates with commercial success or people having fun. Commercially, DWD is a business and I hope they turn a profit (so that Eternal will continue to exist). Now as far as having fun goes, I think that ladder rankings have corrupted me. Like many other masters players… I enjoy playing jank. I used to play unstable flyers because I enjoyed it, not because it was a good deck. Now I have stopped playing Eternal because I want to wait for the new season to start so that my rank will be cemented into place. I currently do not have an outlet for playing jank and brewing haunting scream.
I don’t really play Eternal for its skill cap; I play it because I find the game interesting and because wacky things can happen. I love playing against clockroaches, rakano pants (e.g. losing to a 12/12 flying lifesteal creature), etc. etc. I enjoy games with wacky combos, like the Bughouse variation of Chess as well as Dominion.
The tournament scene
Commercially, I think that the correct metric for the tournament scene is whether or not it attracts interest to the game.
In my opinion, the current competitive tournament scene (you can follow along on Discord) is interesting. Partly this is due to the undeveloped metagame of the tournament scene. The tournament scene is not infested with high-level spikes. If we saw high-level play across the board, then there would be a lot less deck diversity and everybody would be playing Combrei or whatever deck beats Combrei (e.g. Feln control). As the game leaves closed beta, this will likely change and the tournament scene might have a problem. So it remains to be seen as to whether or not the tournament scene will continue to be healthy.