A lot of people have been complaining about the random keywords and the fact that copied gates cost 0 mana, which, while valid complaints, don't get at the real reason why I (and probably many others) dislike gates. I think that random keyword generation and 0-mana cost is lazy design, but the my personal issue with gates is that they lead to games in which players don't have much agency.
The snowball effect that gates create results in very uninteresting game play. Generally speaking, either the gates player gets the snowball going and is unstoppable, or they can never get off the ground and are playing a bad limited deck. Because of this, the opposing player will either get steamrolled out of the game, or will slap the gates deck – either way, you're not getting those nail-biting games we all love. To me, this is reminiscent of decks like Tron from MTG's modern format, Field of the Dead from MTG's standard format, or Freeze Mage (from the beginning of Hearthstone and it's first standard format). Most decks that played against Tron/Field/Freeze Mage didn't have meaningful interaction; you would just play out your thing and hoped the Tron/Field/Freeze Mage player stumbled.
Furthermore, not every color has catch-up mechanics, and the colors that do have catch-up mechanics still have generally uninteresting games. The only two colors with real counter play are yellow and green through the form of hard removal (Execute, Grisly Gourmet, Javelin, etc.) or lethal creatures (primarily Territorial Viper). As long as the gates player hasn't put out too many Daedra with a high-level gate, this completely resets the gates deck, putting it pretty far behind. Once again, this doesn't result in close games with meaningful decision. Then there's the bigger issue: not every color has good interaction.
Purple has Mummify along with lethal creatures + deal 1 damage effects, but this shoehorns you into a more midrange/control deck. Red and blue have nothing to combat gates when behind and have to contest the shadow lane to try and close the gates, a tall task given how much that a level 3 gate has 8 health, which is easily achieved by turn 3.
I'm not a game designer, so I don't have any specific suggestions on how to improve the games, but from the perspective of a long-time ESL player who has played over 5 different TCG/CCGs, gates just feels like lazy design. Here are just some of my thoughts to make gameplay around gates more combat oriented so the games feel more like a war against the Daedra rather than hoping to draw Grisly Gourmet or Execute:
- Gates should have/gain less health to give red, blue, and purple a better shot at killing the gate with creatures
- Gates should move down a certain number of levels if killed
- This could depend on if the gate is killed by creatures or through a removal spell
- This opens up allowing gates to be silenced as a way to take it down a level (and if a level 1 gate is silenced, it is destroyed)
- Silencing/Bouncing/Destroying/Banishing could each reduce it a different number of levels
- Gates should spawn in the field lane for more interesting combat decisions (though this could make it too difficult for gates to get going)
These are just some options for changing gates and would likely require many of the Invade cards to be re-balanced. I think there is still significant potential for gates, Sparkpants just needs to do some work to unlock it. I'd love for a world in which gates leads to some extremely interactive, combat-based gameplay where the gates player can still summon extremely powerful Daedra at higher levels and successfully "win the invasion." I don't think the meta is ruined by any means, but I do think JoO is a pretty big miss unless they can fix this.
TL;DR: Gates, due to its snowbally nature creates games that lack meaningful decisions and are just not very fun to play. Sparkypants should look into making gates more combat-focused to give all colors meaningful ways to try to stop the Oblivion invasion.
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© Post "Oblivion Gates feel like the Tron, Freeze Mage, etc. of ESL" for game The Elder Scrolls.
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