The Elder Scrolls

A Study in Stats: Why stats matter when creating cards

TheElderScrolls3 - A Study in Stats: Why stats matter when creating cards

Greetings citizens! You've decided to click on my dumb reddit thread and for that i am eternally grateful. I had this idea brewing in my head ever since seeing a specific post about the fan-made card Shadowfen Avenger, which you can see here

Now fair play to the creator, i like the effect. It might need some fine-tuning to be a card that could be implemented, but the concept is solid. However, part of that fine-tuning is stats, and it's something i often see botched whenever custom cards are created for any digital card game.

Stats, and stat balancing, is vitaly important when you consider creating a card. You might have an interesting effect in mind, but you can't just slap a set of stats onto it that you imagine might be good and then move on. Well, you could…. But your card would definitely be imbalanced.

To try and remedy this, I've decided to write down a small walkthrough of how you could try to assess the power-level of your own fanmade cards, or how you can assess the power level of future cards. Now, this will be done with examples throughout. I sincerely hope you enjoy.

If you're a busy man, woman, either or neither, then you can skip to part three where i give both the conclusion of the post and the other two points quickly summarised. If you choose to do this, i hope you spend your valuable time well!

  • Part 1, discern the stats based on cost

This is the beginning of all custom card creation. Now this might be a bit of a confusing when i tell you you aren't truly finding the "average," you're finding the absolute best for the specific magicka cost.

As an example, let's start at 1 magicka with Solitude Stalwart. Solitude Stalwart is the greatest amount of stats that can be gotten in a single minion for one magicka, with absolutely no drawbacks. The no drawbacks and no keywords point is important, because while Encumbered Adventurer is technically a beefier card, it has a detrimental effect. And while Morag Tong Aspirant might be a stronger 1 drop, it has a positive effect. Starting with a vanilla base, the strongest POSSIBLE base, is important for this process.

Now, sometimes you cannot do this. For example many would agree that the strongest possible "vanilla" four drop would be Bleakcoast Troll, despite it's positive effect. Same can be said for the three drop slot, which is typically championed by Young Mammoth, despite it's breakthrough making it ineligible for the criteria. In these cases you will need to discern which effects are minor enough to ignore, in order to balance properly.

  • Part 2, powerful cards and their relative stats

This is where the examples come in, because while you can try and discern the stats of your card based on it's stats, that's not exclusively why a card is popular. If it was, every deck would be running solitude stalwart as a three of, but that's not what happens.

Instead, cards have different uses. They can be put into categories. They have niche uses, broad uses, or they might just be awful cards all around. To make this easier I've made three kind of arbitrary categories that represent the extreme of what cards can and ought to do, with examples for each, those categories being Strong, Situational, and Weak.

  • Strong, represented by Hand of Dagoth.

Hand of Dagoth is a powerhouse of a card, capable of massive amounts of damage, sustain, and can single-handedly win you a game if the cards are in your favor. All it's power lies in it's stats and keywords as soon as it hits the board, you get all your investment returns as soon as you play it, and for that reason the card is super flexible but also weak to things such as hard removal. Other examples of card that fit into the category of Strong would be Hive Defender and the aforementioned Bleakcoast Troll.

Now a common critique of such cards is that they're just "piles of stats." They're chunky boys just meant to hit the face, and hit the creatures, and do da damage! Well yes, that kind of card has a purpose in the game. It's okay for these cards to be so beefy because of their other weaknesses. Strong cards are just that, strong. They're meant to be huge threats the enemy has to deal with or suffer, but they're meant primarily to fight for board, and be as threatening that way as possible.

  • Situational, represented by Praetorian Commander and Lilandril Hexmage.

WOW! The double whammy! Yes, i grieved over which of these to pick for this category so instead we get both, what an absolute treat. Praetorian commander is perhaps the polar opposite of Hand of Dagoth. It's weak, doesn't impact the board at all when played. It offers no meaningful damage or protective abilities, and if the opponent uses hard removal on this you laugh instead of cringe. Now the reason this is okay is due to the cards hilariously powerful effect. Giving +1/+1 to every creature in your deck is a huge boon, and depending on how long the game goes the Commander could in be a 6 magicka 27/27. There isn't any return on investment immediately like hand of dagoth, instead it's slow and requires that the game goes longer in order to have been worth it, even if it's effect is immediate. It's important to note that, while it's effect is strong it's also not always worth it. Unlike Hand of Dagoth where all it's powers lie in the board presence, Commanders power lies in it's effect, and to properly get value out of the card you need to plan your gameplan accordingly.


The other example, Lilandril Hexmage, is a different conundrum entirely. It's a 5 magicka 4/4, so it's effect has gotta be pretty strong and immediate right? But it's not, it requires ADDITIONAL work on the part of the player after it's put onto the board, and in fact requires specific cards to even work. Unlike both Praetorian Commander, and the previously mentioned Strong cards, Lilandril Hexmage requires some more effort beyond just playing it. You need actions, you need to get your return on investment by the way the card synergizes with the rest of your deck, which while a lot riskier than the Strong category, can sometimes be even more valuable in the right circumstance than a pile of stats and keywords.

The lesson to be learnt from the difference between the two categories, and more importantly between Hexmage and Praetorian Commander, is that effects can sometimes make up for a cards shitty stats, but it's also worth understanding which effects make up for the stats. Praetorian Commander with it's guaranteed summon and potential value, makes it impossible to make it a stronger minion or risk imbalance. Lilandril hexmage however, can stay just on the slightly weak side for it's cost, because it's effect is more situation and therefore less consistent, even though it is powerful.

  • The bad, represented by Lich's Ascension.

This is the category where your cards NEVER ought to be. This is the category where players come to die, and memers leave. This is where you're haunted by packs filled with Jarl Balgruufs and Spider Lairs, and login epics giving you Ancestors Battleaxe.

Cards within this category can still be fun. They can be interesting, have potentially cool effects, and sometimes be included in decks due to them just being cool. However, they're not optimal, and probably just reduce the overall effectiveness of your deck.

Lich's ascension is one such card. It has a powerful effect, high mana cost, and a vile drawback. For Lich's ascension to even have been worth the turn 7 tempo loss, you would have had to IMMEDIATELY play a card that would've cost 15 magicka otherwise, which is only one possible card by the way, and that's Alduin. Lich's ascension also limits your flexibility. No more can you javelin one creature and then play a creature to fight for board, no more can you both draw for cards and then play the answer you drew. It's too limiting for it's effect.

Now i chose Lich's ascension for this category not just because it's bad, but because it's bad in an interesting way. Jerall Forager is bad, so bad that Circle Initiate has the same stats but just has an effect aswell, and that Protector of the Innocent has two effects, and one more stat point, while all being in the same color. But Jerall Forager isn't bad for interesting or weird reasons, it's just god awful. Lich's ascension was a cool idea held back by it's limitations and drawbacks. The lesson to be learned here, is that some effects need drawbacks, but not to such a degree. An example of a cool card with a drawback that WORKS, would be Imprisoned Deathlord, which can be worked around through various means, including self silence or shackle immunity. When you try to create cards, either with effects, drawbacks, or just as stat piles, try your hardest not to make the next Lich's ascension.

  • Part 3: Conclusion

So, as a quick summary (For those who skipped to here, welcome, i hope the time you didn't waste reading the above is gonna be spent constructively)

  1. Cards ought to be statted based on the best statted minion within it's magicka cost, and then be adjusted based on it's effect.

  2. Cards can generally fit into one of three categories. Strong cards are those without immediate effects, that can be played at any time as powerhouse creatures, best example being Hand of Dagoth. Situational cards are those with either immediate effects, or effects that must be activated through other means, the examples given here were Praetorian Commander and Lilandril Hexmage. These cards can be poorly statted even in spite of their effects not being immediate, or their effect being slow, due to the power within the effects themselves.

The conclusion is the following: Effects are important, and they make cards truly cool. Nobody thinks much of Stonetooth Scrapper, but everyone loves Wood Orc Headhunter. But despite the effects being what makes a card, not giving them correct stats is what might break them. I implore you, all my fellow card creators, to think more about this next time you make your super cool unique build around legendary, because it might just make your card that much closer to playable.

Thanks for reading, and good luck on the ladder.

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