Soo, what started out like a bit of a funny project ended up rather large. I decided to set out to assess how "good" (read: this is subjective!) the Alliance War as an expansion was for TESL. In general, it's been surprisingly good. It's fair to say the situation in which it was dropped was less-than-ideal, but all things considered the Alliance War had a decent impact on the metagame and did a good job of re-invigorating the game. Was it a flawless expansion? No. But it did a good job, it shows several good trends and it makes me excited for what's to come!
This post starts off with a TLDR and subsequently all the different subjects are discussed. I will post the "Tier List" later, I am still assembling exemplary decklists for it.
Hope you enjoy the read!
Because somehow I managed to ramble on for nearly 20 fucking pages!??!?!?!?!
Dark Ages are over, AW pretty good, some small things still turned out not so great but largely a pretty great expansion that makes me excited for the future.
The art is fucking phenomenal. Shout-out to the artists, whoever and wherever you are: never stop.
Alliance War Verdict:
New Mechanics: 5/10
Solving Existing Problems: 7/10
Final Verdict: 50/70 (72%).
Top 5 Cards
1. Varen Aquilarus, 2. Spoils of War, 3. Debilitate, 4. Clivia Tharn, 5. Jorunn, the Skald-King.
Ebonheart Pact: Control is the best archetype in the game, Veteran mechanic is Interesting albeit perhaps a little slow, good class cards.
Aldmeri Dominion: Very broad range of playable archetypes from aggro-midrange, but can’t compete in the lategame at all. Battlereeve is good, the rest of the class cards is meh. Empower’s strength appears to be hamstrung by Market proccing it.
Empire of Cyrodiil: Very fun to play, gameplan is a little different to conventional aggro or mid wide lists, but that’s fine. Has the broadest spectrum of archetypes available to it. Strong class cards. I fucking hate that the Empire mechanic has no keyword to conveniently use but besides that, the mechanic is easy to activate and rather interactive which I like.
The Guildsworn: My favorite class. It isn’t quite at the top yet but I absolutely see Guildsworn as the class with the greatest potential, both from new card releases as well as refined lists. The underlying dualclasses are just so powerful. Class cards are all slightly understated with very good abilities, but as Expertise is probably the worst mechanic of the expansion due to being too slow, their impact is limited.
Daggerfall Covenant: The disappointment of the set for sure. Midgro is very strong but not revolutionary. Has limitations on many fronts which restrict it from forming competitive builds in other archetypes. Luckily, the limitations are rather obvious and can be fixed in the future. Mobilize is probably the best mechanic in the expansion but sadly it’s better used in other classes. Class cards suck monkeybutt, Emeric has potential but the archetype doesn’t exist.
Tier 1: Ebonheart Slay, Crusader Aggro, Hlaalu Aggro.
Tier 2: Market Assassin, Telvanni Conscription, Daggerfall Midgro, Battlemage Mid, Dagoth Midgro, Sorcerer Midgro, Aldmeri Aggro, Guildsworn Aggro.
Tier 2.5: Tribunal Control, Redoran Aggro, Guildsworn Proactive Control, Crusader Proactive Control.
Tier 3: Dwemer Prophecy Aggro, Empire Aggro, Abomination Scout, Conscription ‘Anything’.
Tier 4: Dozens upon dozens of decks.
Tier ‘Y U DO DIS???’: Abomination Empire.
These are posted separately.
The Real Deal
After the ‘Dark Ages of TESL’ that indicate the desolate span of time between the Houses of Morrowind and the Alliance War expansions, the world took a grasp of fresh air and felt reinvigorated. A new dawn had come. All this time, the Hearthstoner 1337 kids made fun of us, but whose laughing now, XxXNoobslayer69xXx!!!! A fresh expansion every second month! YES!
The Alliance War took us to the world of The Elder Scrolls: Online. What is ESO, you ask? Well, imagine World of Warcraft but then with graphics less than 40 years old, and cute kittycats!! The Alliance War brought the five remaining triclasses into the game. This was not without controversy, but it’s fair to say the outcome was better than feared.
The Fire Alliances came with five new, cool mechanics. The Guildsword brought Expertise into the game, a mechanic that lets their creatures remain a constant threat on the board when unanswered. Daggerfall Covenant’s Mobilize provided players with the option to run decks with a higher density of items without running the risk of killing their on-curve plays. Empower allowed the Aldmeri Dominion to use their aggression for fuel and created the opportunity to generate large swings on the board. The Empire brought us
the greatest meme-account ever a mechanic that works entirely off building a board presence. Having gone unnamed for now, the “have a creature in both lanes” mechanic greatly incentivizes building a board and contesting both lanes, leading to a lot of active decision making! The last new mechanic was featured by the Ebonheart Pact. Creatures with Veteran had proven themselves in combat and their experience provided the players with large advantages.
Sadly, most of the new mechanics have seen limited play and have been overshadowed by a few outlier cards of excellent performance. Whilst new mechanics underperforming is nothing new to TESL, all of these seem to have great potential nonetheless. Their impact on the meta appears to be limited by causes of olden days and your author has no doubt those restrictions will be lifted in due time. This sounds a little negative, but the meta in Alliance War as a whole was surprisingly varied. It’s safe to say there are a handful of top-performers, but they are followed rather closely by an extremely varied list of strong decks in their own rights. A couple of small balance changes and well-designed new cards can do a lot to the current meta and there’s absolutely potential for something great to grow from this!
For now, please enjoy reading through my Tier List (it’s subjective, naturally feel free to flame me) and Top 5 AW Cards. I hope you have great fun in the last weeks of this expansion! Don’t forget to tune into the Last Chance Qualifier this upcoming weekend to see the almost-best players of TESL fight for glory!
Onwards, my friends, to the mythical lands of Elsweyr, to play with the cute kittycats!
Alliance War Verdict
In my opinion the balance in the Alliance War is largely very good. There are a few lists that stand out from the others quite noticeably, but as the meta had time to adjust, we’re seeing new decks contest the established top of the meta fairly succesfully. Tech cards are getting explored and lowering of the curves in general has forced most notably Ebonheart Slay to cut down on their topend. There are a lot of decks and more importantly, different archetypes that work very well in both ladder and tournament scene alike. I think this is a very good thing. It’s safe to say the meta at the end of Houses of Morrowind wasn’t the most exciting. Whilst Alliance War provided new challenges, the tools were in place for the greatest deckbuilders amongst us to work their magic.
I find this a little hard to assess, because on one hand naturally there was a huge impact by increasing the playable classes from 15 to 20. However, I think that the impact on existing decks had been fairly limited and even the new Tricolor decks were build largely upon existing archetypes. Nevertheless, several of the best decks in the game consist of these newer archetypes and several of the new cards are showing play and experimentation, so I rated this a nice and average score.
Most Alliance War cards didn’t necessarily impress with their potency. It continues a trend we saw with FrostSpark and Isle of Madness of cool, synergistic cards being printed over powerful curve plays. Given that a rotation to the format is at least half a year off, this is probably a good thing. If the powerlevel were to inflate with each expansion that’s a disaster waiting to happen. Furthermore, broadening options allows for cards to differentiate themselves based on their secondary effects, which also allows for more varied and stylistic deckbuilding. So, a relatively low score, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
I think the new mechanics are by-and-large well designed. Every single one of them seemed to incentivize being on the board. Expertise is creature-based and most of the effects empower an existing board. The Mobilize mechanic generates creatures and allows decks to run more items, which require creatures to be fielded. Empower theoretically allows the players to generate value off dealing damage (in a similar veign to Pilfer), though it sadly turns out Market based from-hand triggers were the way to go. Empire’s effect literally reads “have a creature in both lanes” (also, please give this a keyword T_T), and lastly, Veteran is triggered off creatures attacking. In other words, each and every one of these mechanics makes you want to be on the board to execute your gameplan.
However, pretty much every style based on these Alliance War mechanics was dead on arrival. Most of them are too slow (a good Expertise turn occurs after Defiler Rage most of the time) and cannot compete with the very fast aggro decks nor the control decks. All of them seem to slide into this Midgame “gap” that has been present since the Houses of Morrowind meta formed, where strategies that come to fruition around turns 8-10 really struggle to get foot on the ground because they can’t execute the strategy whilst maintaining decent-to-good matchups against Control and Aggro.
Solving Existing Problems
Going into Alliance War, there were arguably three large concerns on the meta:
1. Uninteractive Gameplay. This one largely remains there, with this time Ebonheart taking the place of Tribunal (which is still strong) as a deck that does most of their removing from-hand. Furthermore, there are now two combo-decks in existence that seem to literally not give a fuck about whether the opponent is actually there or not. The good thing today is that Ebonheart and the combo decks have a few more tech-options to answer them. Whereas Tribunal was mainly concerned about Cultists and Garnag, Ebonheart struggles with surviving against Wards noticeably more and the Market decks have answers available to them as well. As such, I personally think that uninteractivity/lack of player agency is still a bit of an issue, but it did get noticeably better in this expansion, most notably by Tribunal Temple Control losing popularity and there being more tech options available against the new uninteractive decks.
2. Lack of midgame. Also coined as “Midrange is dead”. Whilst this was never entirely true, the phasing out of Tribunal allowed Ward-based Midrange strategies to struggle their way back into the meta. Furthermore, Eyenie’s Mid-Rage archetype, developed at the dusk of HOM, is seeing more and more refinement and may stand the test of time. I wouldn’t argue Midrange is in a great spot yet and we still see excellent cards like Tazkad and sometimes even Ancano get cut for “being too slow”, but I’m personally seeing slow and steady improvement to my favorite archetype.
3. Lack of Diversity. Naturally, the first expansion after the Dark Ages is going to help resolve this, but it did it much better than expected. As you can see later in the “tier list”, there’s a host of decks across classes and archetypes that are very competitive, versatile and fun to play. A lot of HOM decks got a good pat on the back either through getting a Triclass or by receiving a few new cool cards to work into their arsenal. Furthermore, Tribunal Temple lost its title as top-dog which opened up a lot of space for previously-neutered decks. There is also a good word to be said for the new Masters Series, which inspired a lot of new and old competitors to really work their butts off, this naturally leads to more innovation and competition!
As you can see, I think the fact Tribunal Temple phased out was the best thing that could have happened to the meta. It’s still there, waiting to police our fun once more, and Ebonheart isn’t far off in how oppressively strong it is in the midgame, but things got noticeably better for sure.
Generally I think the meta shaped up rather well. There’s a few decks that I personally believe are a bit too good/consistent, namely Market Assassin, Telvanni Conscription and Slay Ebonheart, that sort-of set the parameters that the rest of the field needs to adjust to. Subsequently, Crusader-based aggro is very powerful because it has excellent matchups into all of these. However, the meta is still in flux and new archetypes pop up every week. The early-to-midgame has room for a lot of different styles and this has people messing around a lot with some of the faster synergies, like my personal new project, Scimitar Salvage Archer. Anything that looks to contest games after turn ~10 is highly restricted though, partially because of how low Aggro curves nowadays, and partially because of how hard it is to contest Ebonheart Control in lategame.
Generally I would say that for me, personally, Control still feels a little too good, but the extend to which is not as pressing of a concern as it was at the end of Houses of Morrowind. I do feel like there’s still a bit too much polarization between aggro (that is starting to cut into their 4/5 drops nowadays) and control, leading to a bit of rock-paper-scissors, but this appears to be getting better and I hope MOE can help us out a bit more!
Great effort, I’m glad Alliance War turned out the way it had as the fundaments it was released into were less-than-ideal. It’s probably (hopefully) not the best expansion TESL will ever see, but I’ll remember it fondly as “the one that changed the tides”.
As a sidenote, I know it’s not entirely fair in a meta assessment, but I am leaving Empire Abomination out of this. It’s a disgusting deck list that we all know is going to get nerfed, and I don’t want its ugliness messing with my article. It’s a bummer we couldn’t get the nerf in earlier but there was a good case being made for it to not get hammered during the expansion and we’ll have to accept that.
Top Five Alliance War Cards
- 1. Varen Aquilarus
I think it is fair to say this is the only card on this list of which the rank is undisputable. Varen finds his way into pretty much every non-Abomination Yellow deck because his matchup is strong against every archetype. The combination of a very strong on-curve body coupled with the passive ability that basically reads “You are immortal” forces aggro to deal with him, Midgro to carefully assess what they can get away with, and even against Control 4/6 (curving into Fervor!) is a statline that’s rather obnoxious to deal with without wasting scarce hard-removal.
If any card from AW is must-craft, my bet is on Varen.
- 2. Spoils of War
I couldn’t put Spoils any lower than this. It’s a very strong engine in both of the combo decks that plague the meta and it sees play even in the wider aggro decks. It’s simple to activate and any empower proc above 2 is great value. The weakness of the card is found in it being really expensive after losing the board, making it a little win-more in more regular gameplay situations.
- 3. Debilitate
Similarly to Spoils of War, the power of Debilitate to “buy a turn” for the combo decks is beyond insane. Furthermore, the threat it provides to wider aggressive decks outside combo matchups is very dangerous. Suddenly, those throw-away Thieves Guild Recruits might be able to ramp out the Debilitate a turn earlier. Furthermore, the -2 attack makes it incredibly potent, hamstringing creatures that survive the damage. Debilitate has proven to be powerful for control and combo decks alike and having a second very strong midgame AOE in the game will undoubtedly impact the meta for days to come.
- 4. Clivia Tharn
There’s a notable drop-off in the powerlevel from 3-to-4. Let’s be real here, Alliance War had a massive impact on the metagame with the new Triclasses, but the general powerlevel of the cards was not that high. Nevertheless, Clivia Tharn is a powerhouse. It was hard to predict her exact power upon being revealed, be it that the passive guard and consistent summon 2 1/1’s were both new to the game. I think we can all agree though that Clivia Tharn is incredibly powerful in almost every situation. It has defensive utility, it has consistent offensive utility and impacts the game the moment she is played. These are rare traits to have on a singular card.
- 5. Jorunn, the Skald-King
Jorunn is my pick for no. 5. Jorunn is just a very strong card that you never feel bad about having in your hand. He disrupts the opponents turn, most notably delaying on-curve Ice Storms or
Coined Ringed Mighty Conjuring’s from coming down. Furthermore, 5 5/5 is a good-enough body that it’ll require answers. Lastly, it provides the owner the option to cause a massive tempo-swing, dumping their counts with a 1 magicka discount and subsequently establish a large advantage over the opponent. Jorunn’s power is a little less sneaky than Clivia’s, but the fact that he is almost always a playable threat is what puts him as number 5 for me.
The control deck was expected to take the meta by storm, taking the insane value generation of Slay Warrior and the defensive early game from Lethal Archer to form an incredibly potent list. It did deliver. I put Ebonheart Slay as the best deck in the meta. That being said, it is a deck mostly build on old archetypes. Whilst I think the new Class cards (and the more aggressively inclined archetype they fit into) are probably the best in the expansion, they have failed to deliver thus far. The Veteran mechanic might just be slightly too slow and vulnerable in the early game which also hurts those cards.
Probably the most different iterations of a class are found in Aldmeri (tied with Guildsworn). We saw a true OTK form that was swiftly patched out. Midrange lists based on value generation with Leafwater Blessing were formed and looked promising, but turned out to be slightly too slow. Nevertheless, Aldmeri Dominion has access to a huge spectrum of aggression. It can run the best one-drops in the game, but it can also go slightly slower. Wilds Incarnate is a huge card for this deck because the anti-aggro matchup it has is really good. It is very unfortunate though that the deck can’t really go lategame with any reliability, because the lack of Support removal and access to the biggest value tools in this game (being Unstoppable Rage and Ramp/Recursion) does truly hurt the class, which is unfortunate because it has all the tools available to it to make really competitive lists for the late stages. Battlereeve is a very solid card, Ayrenn and her Chosen a lot less so, unfortunately. Empower has a lot of potential, but I fear that most notably Swindler’s Market provides a huge restriction to how much power the cards can possess.
Empire of Cyrodiil
Having access to all the silly Wide stuff a deck can have, but without the Red synergies was a very interesting proposition. As a result, the aggro and midrange versions play out a mid different from what we’re used to. Our favorite card and cosplay legend Empire Oathman comes out as probably the strongest Oathman in currently the game, tied only with Hlaalu Oathman. All of Empire’s class cards are good, though all of them come with a footnote. The “have a creature in both lanes without a convenient fucking keyword” mechanic is pretty strong, the cards supporting it interesting and it allows for interesting interactions and decisions between both players, which I am a huge fan of. Overall I think Empire is a lot of fun to play, the lists very flexible and it’s the only Triclass that managed to build a deck for each of the 4/5 main archetypes in TESL, which is pretty noteworthy :-D!
I went into Alliance War saying The Guildsworn had the most potential to be the best class in the game. Whilst Ebonheart stole its thunder a little, Guildsworn has found a place in the higher echelons of the meta due to the incredible combination of classes underlying it. In the good old days, Battlemage, Mage and Crusader were always somewhere near the top of the meta, and Guildsworn combines all that flexibility to form a very adaptable monster of a class. The class cards are decently statted and have good abilities, although it’s unfortunate that Expertise isn’t competitive. Expertise cards are a ton of fun to experiment with (I even build a 75% Yellow Expertise Guildsworn deck!) but sadly Expertise comes online just a tad too late, and without Guildsworn Oathman you’re kinda killing your hand for triggers too rapidly. In conclusion, I’d say Guildsworn is a very strong class and is most likely to climb the ranks with more cards being released, due to how adaptable the cardpool is and how strong the foundation upon which it stands.
Special mention to Master of Incunabula for being the prettiest lady in the game.
I’m a bit torn on Daggerfall Covenant. The midgro lists are plenty powerful but there’s fairly little innovation on that front as it’s mostly a combination of the three underlying classes and their Midro lists. Daggerfall hasn’t really build an archetype of its own and a large part of that is due to how mediocre the class cards are. In an age of Silences the Daggerfall Phantom is often a disappointment, The Masterpiece is anything but that and whilst Emeric, Covenant King is a powerful card, the archetypes in which it’d fall (slow mid or control) aren’t competitive. What DC really needs in my personal opinion is some form of lifegain in the midgame. I wouldn’t be surprised if some form of healing through breaking wards came into the game at some point, and else a midgame Purple Drain creature could suffice. Daggerfall seems to have all the options, but barely falls short on each of them. I do want to give a special mention to the Mobilize mechanic, however, because it’s probably the best of the five new mechanics. It flew somewhat under the radar for a while, but we’re starting to see how powerful combat tricks that can function as slightly understated curve plays are (and we didn’t learn with Charm3r’s bae, apparently)!
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