TL;DR: Power creep is bad.
In the world of gaming, (any many sports), exists the idea of "taking turns." Turn-based games like chess, checkers, football, basketball, golf, etc. operate under the pretense that all participants will be given equal opportunities to prevail. However, there are certain contests that do not adhere to this format, such as boxing or martial arts. In these cases, the goal is to win at all costs, and the environment is more akin to a free-for-all.
While neither is necessarily better or worse than the other, turn-based activities possess an inherent sense of integrity–a universal assumption of fairness. That is to say, I will act on my turn, and you will act on yours, with neither of us interfering with the opponent's turn outside of the given rules. For example, in basketball, pushing an opposing player is a foul because it involves physically impeding an opponent's ability to act on their turn. You see, the responsibility of the defense is to protect the basket, not to attack the offense. Each side has specific roles, and once a player deviates from these roles, the integrity of the game begins to break.
How does this relate to the game? Well, basically the old "I play, then you play" philosophy has died. Now it's more like, "I beat you down with such an overwhelming offense that you can't possibly respond (think Mike Tyson), or I generate so much value and play so efficiently that you eventually stall out and have nothing left to fight with. (Floyd Mayweather)." Another example is a duel in which you're armed with a tactical nuke and your opponent has a handgun, or, perhaps you both have handguns, but you have infinite ammo and your opponent just has a single magazine.
These two examples are how I currently see ESL. There has been a failure to maintain its core integrity, with power creep being the primary culprit. Specifically, card draw, magicka management, and board state effects have reached critical mass. It's no longer a rarity to see players drawing 4+ cards , gaining 3+ max magicka, or playing 3+ powerful creatures in a single turn in very early stages of the game. Major landscape-changing plays like this that were previously reserved for late-game encounters are now taking up residence in the mid-range territories of turns 5 & 6. More cards are offering tremendous benefits, while requiring little to no setup or sacrifice.
For example, If you play a 6-cost creature, and I yeet it off the board with Belligerent Giant, then it's like you didn't even play a card. So instead of taking turns, I actually just played my turn twice and made you skip yours. And the only requirement was that I have 7 magicka and Belligerent Giant in hand. That is a complete breakdown of the basic philosophy of card games, and also one of the main reasons why OTK, heavy RNG, and from-hand combo decks are so hated: because they completely shun interaction and make player choice virtually meaningless. Basically, you feel powerless to decide your outcome and might even wonder what's the point of playing if the results remain the same regardless of what you play.
Belli G is just the easiest example to use though. There are tons of others. Obviously everyone is up in arms right now about Invade Combo, but before that there was Abomination Empire, Ebonheart Slay, Nix-Ox Telvanni, Paarthurnax infinite Soul Tearing, Rebellion General Support Monk, and Luzrah/Alfiq Conjurer, just to name a few. But ignoring combos, even something as simple as a Shrieking Harpy, Lightning Bolt, or Cloudrest Illusionist are all just single cards that can invalidate an opponent's entire turn or, worse, singlehandedly win games. There are tons of cards this is true for. I mean, Faded Wraith might be the most obnoxious card I've seen in ESL ever. While I'm sure several of you would contest that, I maintain that it's at least in the conversation.
So what's the solution? I honestly don't know. We've reached a point of having 2/4 statted 1-drops, so I'm inclined to say that ESL is officially past the point of no return. Sparkypants appears to be digging in their heels and doubling down on a "if everything is strong, then nothing is" approach and it has completely changed the feel of the game by making nearly every match essentially decided by who drew the better opening hand. I would suggest an increase in max health to 35, but this idea has been repeatedly shot down since it would inevitably increase average game length. I'll end by saying that I think the game is still fundamentally solid, but I've taken a break from ladder since this expansion dropped. Though, to be clear, if you like it, keep playing; this post is not a knock against anyone. I'd love to hear any thoughts whether you agree or not. The community is understandably concerned right now and I felt like throwing in my 2 cents.
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© Post "Card games are structured like basketball, but ESL feels more like boxing these days." for game The Elder Scrolls.
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