Is Excelsious Indicative of a Larger Design Problem?
I’ll be arguing the affirmative to the title proposition. I’ve come to believe that this newly revealed Lyonar Legendary for Rise of the Bloodborn highlights the ways in which CPG has (so far) failed to create a gaming environment where big cards like Excelsious can effectively be used.
Look at this thing:
It’s absolutely gigantic; it’s a big beatstick that will win a match almost guaranteed the turn after it’s played. Players should be recoiling in horror and shock at the prospect of this reveal, cowering at the prospect of Healyonar decks with such an imposing win condition. Yet the reveal thread is overwhelmingly populated by calm and even relaxed attitudes towards Excelsious. The consensus is very clear: this card isn’t good enough to see serious play, especially at higher ranks.
Isn’t that weird? Such a huge, imposing, powerful Minion getting greeted like a non-issue?
Reading the comments things become clear very quickly: there are tons of hard answers to a card like Excelsious, many of which are already exceedingly common in the current meta. To boot, an 8 Mana card like this is very likely to come into play well after it’s able to do any good because the game currently plays so fast. Control decks better have a win condition that’s só strong that you’re almost guaranteed the win if you can stay alive long enough. Excelsious, sadly, doesn’t seem to be that.
The issue isn’t one of stats or Keywords either; it could be a 100/100 with Airdrop and Berserk that destroys all minions on the board and it still wouldn’t be good enough. The card just lacks an immediate impact, it needs a turn to recover from Exhaustion, and in this game that’s just not good enough. Duelyst has so many counters to cards like these that are commonly played that you’re wasting your turn playing a card like this: it takes up áll your Mana for the turn and is unlikely to pay that investment back. And even when it doesn’t get countered most opponents are just going to concede because there’s no way they’re surviving their next turn anyway (in most cases) so it’s not even a fun card to play most of the time: it either gets countered or the opponent concedes, I don’t think you’re likely to see a lot of matches where the opponent tries to stick things out or at least let you make the big victory swing.
A list of things that hard counter Excelsious
- Punish (2M) (most of the time) <-- just revealed for RotB
- Ritual Banishing (3M)
- Dark Transformation (5M)
- Sun Bloom (2M)
- Martyrdom (3M)
- Sky Burial (3M)
- Decimate (4M)
- Natural Selection (2M)
- Thumping Wave (3M)
- Egg Morph (4M) + any damage
- Metamorphosis (6M)
- Deathstrike Seal (2M)
- Onyx Bear Seal (3M)
- Pandamonium (4M) + source of 2 out-of-hand damage
- Aspect of the Fox (1M)
- Altered Beast (2M)
- Chromatic Cold (2M)
- Hailstone Prision (2M)
- Aspect of the Drake (4M) (not ideal, but still)
- Aspect of the Mountains (6M)
- Siphon Energy (0M)
- Sand Trap (2M)
- Entropic Decay (4M)
- Dominate Will (7M) (Can you even imagine…)
- Circle of Dessication (8M) (Not currently played, just being completionist)
- Zen’Rui, The Blightspawned (6M) + Blindscorch (1M)
- Ephemeral Shroud (2M)
- Lightbender (4M)
- Ironclad (5M)
- Hollow Grovekeeper (5M)
- Sunset Paragon (5M)
And these hard counters (we’re not even counting soft counters like Repulsor Beast) have the same effect on a ton of the big cards that are similar to Excelsious, or that might be released in the future. All these cards punish the use of expensive single threats, and punish them more the more expensive they are! Getting a Silverguard Knight Natural Selected is fine, the same to an Ironcliffe stings, the same to Excelsious and his ilk loses you the game for 2 Mana. These spells and effects have been designed in such a way to expensive cards that dón’t have an immediate or guaranteed impact are effectively unplayable. You need cards with for example Opening Gambits or cards that spawn multiple threats instead. Even when comparing Excelsious to another Lyonar 8 Mana card–Sky Phalanx–it comes out the worse card because 3 minions are more likely to get something done than one giant one in this game. And Sky Phalanx hasn’t exactly been breaking the game.
All this means that Excelsious pretty much nééds to be played with an Aegis Barrier to circumvent a huge portion of the counters this game packs. But that further delays the summoning by a turn (which is horrible for a card that already comes in very late) and is unlikely to be sufficient protection regardless. If Excelsious sees play players will know to reserve one of the Neutral hard counters (some of which–coughEphemeralShroudcough–are very commonly played already) when they’re facing a (Heal)Lyonar deck. Dispelling Excelsious leaves a 6/6 body, but that’s very unlikely to win you the match after you gave the opponent an unopposed turn while you were busy summoning it.
Should Excelsious be redesigned? Well, Rise of the Bloodborn may change things around, and maybe Lyonar gets additional tools that somehow circumvent these issues (although they wouldn’t help other big cards), but yes, I think that–if all other things remain equal–Excelsious should be redesigned from the ground up to see serious play even in dedicated Healyonar decks. It needs an immediate effect if it’s going to see play.
But honestly, I think CPG should take the grander approach and overhaul the way they design their hard counters. What these cards lack in general is “conditionality.” They’re way too easy to use and can’t be effectively played around! I’ll be taking a look at ‘destroy’ effects and dispel in particular here, because they’re the big offenders.
“Conditionality” & Dispel
Everyone should know that Vanar has the largest and strongest array of spells that punish big enemy threats. Aspect of the Fox is a 1 Mana spell that lets Vanar players neutralize ANYTHING on the board; other examples include Onyx Bear Seal and Sun Bloom. The ubiquitous Ephemeral Shroud turns big things into just a pile of stats at a meager cost at very low effort (positioning does matter). These cards don’t distinguish between small and large targets, and they require very little (positional) investment to use. I think you’re all getting what I’m trying to say: as long as these kinds of cards exist it’s very unlikely we’ll see big minions stomping around unless they have access to Shroud (why isn’t there a keyword for the effect?). But what to do?
The answer lies in conditionality: these hard counters should have more specific conditions that need to fulfilled for them to be effective. Some of the removal cards I already listed are actually excellent examples of this principle: Martyrdom punishes the player for removal by healing the opponent, Egg Morph can be played around using effective positioning (although Rush mostly ruins this) and Entropic Decay is also dependent on smart positioning! Good removal cards have these kinds of conditions that clever players should be able manage through clever counter-counter play. There are a great number of ways to implement these kinds of conditions for existing removal cards to boot: Add a range limit, add a Mana limit, increase the cost depending on the cost of the target, base the effect on card properties (like Natural Selection does) etc. Whatever you say about Natural Selection’s power level I do think the card is well designed in principle, whereas Aspect of the Fox is a poorly designed (or costed) card that should be limited in terms of how big its target can be.
But these kinds of changes mostly apply to the non-dispel side of things. For dispel I think CPG should go even further by changing the way dispel works overall. Instead, I believe a single burst of dispel should only be able to get rid of a single effect on a target i.e. dispelling Excelsious once lets the player choose to dispel EITHER Provoke, Celerity, or the Purity buff: not all three. The dispel could be random as well, but that wouldn’t have my preference. I believe this would be the simplest way of changing dispel to allow for big minions in Duelyst without redesigning the effect from the ground up.
Part of me wants to talk about how Rush ruins the game’s potential for backfield support minions but then I’d have to talk about Mechaz0r! and I should restrict this particular thread to big minions anyway. So let’s leave that aspect out of this please.
That’s me done for now, what do you think? Am I on to something? Am I completely off base? Is there a problem at all?