With the release of The Flame of Xulta in Eternal, Direwolf started the competitive season and reworked Expedition. For those unfamiliar, Expedition is Eternal’s newest format which currently is made up of The Flame of Xulta, Promises by Firelight, Dead Reckoning, The Trials of Grodov and a curated set of cards from the rest of Eternal’s sets. This gave players another way to play constructed, including a new ranked ladder and another format to test in order to help qualify for the Eternal World Championship. Since this Expedition began, we’ve had one major balance patch directed at Expedition, three campaigns added (including Promises by Firelight this week), and 40 new cards. Today, I’ll be reviewing this Expedition and all the changes that were made throughout the format, shaping it into what it is today.
Originally, this format was made up of just The Flame of Xulta and the curated set of cards. This excited many players and brought a lot of players back to Eternal due to how many options there are in this format. Early on, we saw Cultist, Elysian Midrange, Hooru Aggro and all the flavors of Stonescar being the top decks. But, many other decks continued to perform well such as Combrei Aggro or Argenport Midrange. This iteration kept players innovating, but as the first Eternal Championship Qualifier approached (which was the Expedition format) one deck began to stand above the rest: Xenan Cultist. Dominating both the qualifying stage and the day 2 playoff, BruisedbyGod took the event by storm and helped make sure everyone knew Cultist was the king. This deck had a lot of interesting play patterns, and rewarded players who put the time in to fully understanding this archetype. This was truly a good example of what a best deck should look like in the format if a best deck should exist. Some players wanted it nerfed, some believed it was beatable and the meta just needed time to adapt, but then came the first big decisions by Direwolf Digital: the nerf patch.
This patch targeted Cultist massively, sending three nerfs its way in order to try to topple this deck. Slumbering Stone, one of the best units for the sacrifice part of Cultist, was decimated and turned back into Shiftstone. This massive change forced you to spend power to play the 2/2 flying gargoyle instead of it immediately entering play. This was the most controversial change in this patch, as many Throne players enjoyed playing with Thrones off meta sacrifice decks, and without Slumbering Stone those decks essentially lost all viability. The rest of the patch was reasonable, we saw changes to Incarnus - losing 1 health - and Worthy Cause - going to 2 power. Both cards needed changing, but the question is, was it enough?
Well, we never found out the answer to that question. My prediction upon seeing these changes was that Cultist would still be a powerful deck but would require some rebuilding of its core and that Stonescar Mastery and Elysian would likely pick back up in the meta. We never got to find this answer out because shortly after, another patch hit Expedition, this time introducing 2 campaigns: Dead Reckoning and The Trials of Grodov. A couple of the cards in these campaigns were taken out as they were deemed too powerful for Expedition, but the biggest changes that occurred were the inclusion of more removal, and a surge in aggressive decks. Fire based Mastery decks both improved by Cultist receiving nerfs. Oni Dragonsmith and Yeti’s became real decks, getting both Yeti Pioneer and Pokpok, Rockpacker. Both of these decks we’re powerful before, but were struggling for certain parts of the curve. With these inclusions, both of these decks became much more powerful and consistent. At this point in Expedition, the meta is wide open, but with Cultist dropping off in power level there weren’t a ton of great anti-aggro tools. Around this point, some players began to move away from Expedition both because they weren’t enjoying as much anymore and because Throne was the next ECQ format. This means that there wasn’t enough effort being put into truly refining this format.
The last change that came to Expedition, seemed to be the one that took that special feel away - the addition of 40 new cards, including the cycle of 5 influence warp legendaries. Simply, this was an oops. For a long time, I’ve been saying that Vara, Fate Touched should be removed from Expedition and to this day I stand by this. But upon the addition of these cards, this problem was realized more than ever. For those unaware, this became such a big deal due to the addition of Tasbu, the Forbidden. The Forbidden should have said enough. With his inclusion, Shadow decks became the defining factor of Expedition. The Incarnus nerf did not affect its playability at all, and now almost every shadow deck played the exact same core of cards of Incarnus + Tasbu + Karvet + Smuggler + Market Vara + Removal + a couple of cheap value generating units such as Fernis. This made deck construction very easy, but made games repetitive as the shadow deck core was more consistent and powerful than anything else. So all flavors of Shadow showed up. These decks had anti-aggro tools, midrange threats and enough card draw and Vara to go over almost anything in the format.
This was truly the straw that broke the camel's back and was the point for many that they put Expedition down, but I believe this format is fixable. Promises by firelight has only been released for less than 24 hours at the time of writing this, but this Expansion does include another extremely powerful Shadow card in Eremot’s Designs that may make Shadow even better while pushing out some Aggro decks, especially those relying on the Mastery theme. With this in mind, how would I change current Expedition? It’s simple, I’d remove Vara, Fate Touched. This card dictates so much of the metagame, and very few decks have a way to answer this card. If this card is removed, then Shadow loses it's the best way to go over the top of decks allowing more control decks to show up in the format. Right now all the control decks really are just shadow decks.
Expedition is in a weird spot, and with the new set being announced to be at the end of January or early February, I wouldn’t be surprised if they start a new Expedition with this sets release, and use this one just as a learning experience instead of trying to fix some of the things players have been complaining about. Who knows, maybe Promises by Firelight will bring life back to Expedition, and help take down our shadow overlords?
That’s all for this breakdown, there’s been a lot of positives to this Expedition format, although with all of these changes that good feeling may have worn off, but maybe I'm wrong! Always interested in discussing balance further, and would love to hear any readers opinions on this. Thanks for reading!