Eternal’s skill ceiling

I’ve reached the point where I feel like being a better Eternal player doesn’t have a meaningful impact on winrate.  At the top of the Eternal ladder, skill matters less.  I’ve fluctuated between #2-#25 on the Eternal ladder within a short time period.  It’s not like my skill changed within a few days.  Rather, luck is a dominating factor at the top of the ladder.

Why does the skill ceiling exist?  Partly, it’s because many nuances of the game have a very low impact on winrate.

Higher-level play that doesn’t matter much

  1. Looking at what sigils the opponent is playing can tell me whether or not they are stuck on X power.  If an opponent is stuck on power, it’s time to get a little more aggressive.  Having the game end early favors me since the opponent will have fewer chances of drawing their outs (more power cards).
  2. If the opponent plays a seat, it reveals whether or not they have an additional power/sigil in hand.
  3. If the opponent has no power open, I can play units before going to combat.  The reason for doing this is because the combat step reveals whether or not I have a fast spell in my hand.  Playing units before combat means that I do not leak this information.  (If the opponent has power open and can potentially play removal, then playing units before combat is probably not the right play.  Some opponents will hold off on removal until end of turn and take extra combat damage, because they want the information of what units will be played that turn.)

A lot of the time, I don’t pay enough attention to these details because they don’t make a meaningful impact on winrate.

High-level play that kind of matters

The current matchmaking system does matter at the highest levels of play.  Matchmaking tends to pit players of similar skill against each other.  Because the player pool is very small at the highest skill levels, it is common to repeatedly face the same opponents as well as playing the same opponent back-to-back.  This means that:

  1. You can counter-pick decks before immediately re-joining the queue.
  2. Against opponents that repeatedly play the same deck, it is possible to mulligan accordingly against them.  For example, Finkel typically plays 4f control.  Lightning Storm is mostly a dead card against 4-fraction control, so there’s a small edge to be gained when you mulligan with an educated guess as to the opponent’s deck.

At the moment, I haven’t seen a lot of this.  This suggests to me that the level of try-harding at the highest levels of ladder is not that high.  It also suggests to me that such a level of try-harding doesn’t matter that much.

There’s also something to be gained from playing other decks to understand their weaknesses.  The 3/4 faction decks have very fragile resource bases.  They typically mulligan for hands where they have all of their influence.  Those decks effectively have fewer answers than a 2-faction deck that also runs the same number of copies of Lightning Storm and Harsh Rule.

High-level play that matters

In my opinion, some Masters players are a tier above other Masters ranked players.  Some players are consistently above #25 while others are consistently in the middle somewhere.  (The ones at the bottom are probably messing around with fun jank like Clockroaches and aren’t trying to ladder, so we can ignore those players.)

The biggest difference in play that I see is deck selection.  I personally don’t think that Icaria Blue is the best deck choice (this is the deck that plays Icaria, Rise toolbox, the good Primal cards, and sometimes Eye of Winter).  The deck loses to itself a lot due to the influence base.  4-faction control is probably a better choice since Time has better influence fixing.  As well, the Combrei cards are much better than the Rise to the Challenge Toolbox.  Or, simply ditch the Primal splash and play Rakano armory.  Traditional armory and decks that play Armorsmith also strike me as weaker decks.  In my post on tier 1/2 decks, part of the skill is in figuring out which of those decks aren’t tier 1 in the meta that you are facing.

The other differences between Masters players are the piloting skills: knowing when to be aggressive, knowing when to play for value, sequencing, when to wait a turn before playing a sweeper, etc.  Piloting skill is most pronounced in Combrei mirrors.  However, piloting skill doesn’t matter as much with simpler decks like Bandit Queen variants and Rakano Pants/Warcry.  The current meta doesn’t have a lot of Combrei so these mirrors aren’t that prevalent.

If you master these skills then you too can peak at #1 on ladder.  You can join the 20+ people that are bumping up against the skill ceiling.

Time to hit the skill ceiling

I think I started playing Eternal on August 6 (that’s when I emailed my eternal password to myself).  In the August season, I think I peaked at #3 and ended at #16.  On October 2 and 6, I hit #1 on ladder early on in that season when there wasn’t much competition.  On October 23, I hit #2 on ladder.  So basically it didn’t take long for me to hit Eternal’s skill ceiling.


See the follow-up post “Game design and skill ceilings“.

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