This article will do its best to walk you through several concepts of game theory, not just in The Elder Scrolls: Legends (TESL) but other Trading Card Games (TCG) and Collectible Card Games (CCG). Explanations will be made whenever possible; pictures will be released to aid in visual references and to explain things that exist outside of the scope of TESL. However, if you are unfamiliar with other games or in-depth conceptions on card games in general, then some of this may be difficult to follow or understand.
This article is not being written to affirm the power level of ramp in any context of specific TESL decks. This article is not being written because of an “overpowered” ramp meta or because of the number of “ramp” cards prevalent to players in the scope of TESL.
What is Ramp?
In the most basic scope of TCGs/CCGs, ramp is the acceleration of resources, allowing the player to play powerful or costly cards ahead of their opponent(s). Often, the use of ramp comes at a cost, either in terms of tempo or card advantage. Some ramp cards provide a temporary gain; in the realm of TESL this type of ramp can be seen in cards such as Hist Speaker, and Brynjolf. Outside of TESL we can see example of this type of ramp in MTG’s Dark Ritual, or Hearthstone’s Coin.
These type of ramp cards allow the user to gain a resource advantage, but the gain is not permanent. It should be noted that just because the ramp effect is short term, or that it doesn’t come with prerequisites to achieve or come at the expense of card advantage, that these cards are any less powerful than long term forms of ramp gain.
Other ramp cards provide a more long-term or even permanent gain. Many TESL’s ramp cards fall under this category. However, these card types also exist in other games. Some examples of this type of ramp in TESL include Hist Grove and Thorn Histmage. In MTG, examples of this form of ramp card can be found in Darksteel Ingot and Mox Diamond. In Hearthstone, this type of ramp includes Wild Growth and Jade Blossom.
The main difference between short-term gain and long-term ramp effects is their duration. Notably, the investment of a temporary ramp gain is usually smaller than a long-term, with the exception to the above being Brynjolf. (Although it should be noted the exception of Brynjolf mainly lies in his attribute, with ramp generally being reserved for Endurance cards, and the size of the body attached to the ability. More on all of this later…)
Furthermore, ramp can be defined as an extension of first-turn advantage.
First-turn advantage refers to the inevitable advantage gained by a player going first in a turn-based game. Going first generates tempo (time) by acting first. This is sometimes also referred to as “initiative”. Every CCG utilizes some catchup mechanic to offset this advantage. Ramp is a continuation of this sort of advantage by utilizing cards to compound resources more quickly for the player in comparison to their opponent. In effectiveness, ramp’s extra resources provide gains in the same manner as first-turn advantage, but compounds the resource gains over multiple turns.
Ramp is not an Archetype
Basic TCG/CCG game theory revolves around 4 deck archetypes: aggressive (aggro), midrange, control, and combination (combo).
Aggro: decks meant to win the game as quickly as possible. Aggro decks typically feature low magicka curves with a lot of damage output.
Control: decks that typically play for the long game. These decks typically feature an inevitable win condition through (a) high-end card(s), or feature a win condition card that ensures the win over time. These decks strive to control the game with efficient removal and creatures to ensure the game goes long enough to win.
Midrange: decks that can switch roles between aggro or control, depending on the matchup.
Combo: decks that utilize highly synergistic cards, usually attempting to win the game in one collective play. Matchups for combo decks are dependent on the combo itself along with the supporting cards that exist to ensure the combo triggers.
Though exceptions apply, generally aggro, midrange, and control matchups interact like rock-paper-scissors with aggro beating midrange, midrange beating control, and control beating aggro. Combo exists outside of this scope. Matchups for combo decks depend not only on the combo, but also how it interacts with or is interceded by other decks, as well as what is needed to achieve the combo.
Ramp is not one of these archetypes. Decks utilizing ramp will fall into one of the aforementioned four categories, depending on a combination of the deck’s win condition and matchups against other decks. When someone refers to a deck as a “ramp deck,” it is done so to uniquely identify the deck based off several cards in the deck. The same thing is done in TESL when someone refers to a “goblin deck” or an “orc deck.” These decks are not identified by their archetype; they are distinguished by their synergies and grouping of several core cards.
The Benefits and Costs Associated with Ramping
Now that the definition, concept, and application of ramping has been examined, it’s important to discuss the risks and rewards of ramp for the player. Ramping provides a means for a player to gain a tempo advantage. To make a “tempo play” refers to a play that is superior for its cost or that costs more than what another player can rival. Typically, the tempo gain from ramp is offset by card advantage or a loss of tempo on a given turn in which the tempo benefits are paid dividends at a later point in the game.
Ramp cards that come at the cost of card advantage are usually in the form of disadvantage. An example of this can be drawn from MTG’s Dark Ritual.
Dark Ritual will cost the player 1 mana (henceforth referred to as magicka, for TESL) and gives the player 3 additional magicka for this turn. When Dark Ritual is played, the player is using the card as a one-turn effect (like an action in TESL) to play another card. Two cards are used in one turn: Dark Ritual and the card played from the magicka gain. This sets the player up in a huge tempo swing playing ahead of the other player at the risk of getting two-for-one’d. (Their two cards could be traded for one of their opponent’s cards via removal.)
Hearthstone utilizes a form of temporary ramp gain via the Coin, to offset first-turn advantage. In this scenario, the Coin acts like a “mini Dark ritual” without the two-for-one, as the Coin is given freely to the player going second. This form of ramp offsetting first-turn advantage can also be seen in a more powerful form in TESL’s Ring of Magicka.
Long-term ramp cards typically cost the player in tempo on the current turn in exchange for a tempo gain on following turns. These are typical of cards mostly in MTG and TESL. TESL variants of this form of ramp exist in cards such as Hist Grove and Tree Minder.
Counter-play to Ramp Strategies
Ramp, as powerful as it is, is not the be-all end-all of card games. As mentioned with the associated costs of ramping, decks that utilize ramp either give up card advantage or tempo for the turn playing out the ramp card.
Typically, a strong counter against ramp will pack a lot of removal against temporary ramp, or can go underneath the ramp player with an aggressive list versus long-term ramp gain. TESL ramp decks are typically of the latter variety and are usually beaten by fast aggro decks which kill them before their increased magicka becomes relevant in the game. For the infamous TESL Ramp Scout deck: the deck is the greediest of midrange lists, boasting an insanely high winrate vs control, while stumbling against aggro.
The Fall of the Dark Brotherhood expansion also released a “tech card” (a card typically played to counter an archetype, card, or specific instance) with Garnag, Dark Adherent. Although, our discussion of Garnag will be through the lens of how he performs against ramp, it should be noted he is also effective at limiting the magicka available to control decks to attack their top end threats and removal.
Garnag’s ability, while global (meaning it affects both players) is more damaging to ramp decks than the Garnag player’s deck. This card was designed to choke the ramp player out of their end-game tempo.
How Good is Garnag, Dark Adherent?
He’s not nearly good enough!
Firstly, looking only at his stats, a 4/5 breakthrough for 4 is pretty solid. Orcs in beta occasionally ran Stonetooth Scraper, a vanilla 4/5 for the orc synergy and the body. Garnag is a strict upgrade from this, also boasting the orc creature type with a keyword. However, Garnag isn’t typically played in decks because of his body. He’s played for his unique ability.
Speaking of Garnag’s ability, does it function well as a ramp counter, and does it work as advertised? Again, the answer is no. Garnag’s text reads “Players can’t have more than 7 max magicka.” Awesome, we’ve choked our opponent’s out of their ramp, seems good, right? To evaluate its effectiveness, Ramp Scout’s 7 magicka and lower threats should be evaluated. In most typical lists, 7 magicka still allows Ramp Scout to play the following cards: Nahagaliiv, Shearpoint Dragon, Shadowfen Priest, Leaflurker, Preserver of the Root. Lists running Soul Tear can also afford to cast Soul Tear and Giant Bat subsequent to Garnag entering play.
These cards do not represent a huge loss of tempo. Additionally, Shadowfen Priest can silence the effect of Garnag while still developing the board, and any damage dealt to Garnag (especially in the form of Curse or Drain Vitality) will allow Leaflurker to answer Garnag, even from the Shadow Lane. It should also be noted that Shadowfen Priest being an Endurance card makes him very effective against Garnag, since the majority of TESL ramp exists within the Endurance attribute.
However, Ramp Scout is not the only deck with clean answers to Garnag. Spellsword also gains access to Piercing Javelin and Edict of Azura. Warrior varieties can still activate Unstoppable Rage or use the Doomcrag Vampire package to outright remove Garnag, as well as gaining another silence effect with Earthbone Spinner.
It should be noted that Garnag can be used in a tempo play to push for the win the following turn by effectively shutting off Dawn’s Wrath. Overall, the tempo loss seems minimal, and the answers are too plentiful to maintain him on the board longer than a turn (with ability intact).
Another key point in determining the potency of Garnag is that his ability only persists while he meets the following criteria: Garnag is on the board; Garnag is not silenced. These stipulations do not apply to the majority of TESL ramp cards (Brynjolf, Palace Prowler, and Hist Speaker excluded). Note: these are the only forms of temporary ramp that exist in TESL outside of Completed Contracts.
This means the payoff for the majority of ramp cards is much higher than the answer to ramp that TESL has provided. Additionally, Garnag suffers from being a Unique Legendary, meaning that it is much harder to draw and subsequently play Garnag in comparison to the plethora of Ramp cards made available (in multiples of three).
Closing the analysis of Garnag, he doesn’t actually reduce a player’s maximum magicka. (In TESL magicka appears in X/Y form. X represents the players available magicka, while Y represents the player’s maximum magicka.) The following screenshot shows this in action.
Garnag is reducing the available magicka of the Ramp player to 7, although we see the player still has access to 23 max magicka. Thus, Pure-Blood Elder is still active, even with Garnag in play.
In conclusion, Garnag is neither the hero we deserve nor need, but without other answers to ramp, he’s the one we will continue to turn to.
The Problem with TESL’s Ramp Card Design
Ramp design is something that must be taken into special consideration. If the effect is too powerful, other decks become buried by it. However, no one will play it if the effect is too weak. The major problem with TESL’s ramp design is as follows:
1. Long Term Ramp is Unrestricted
TESL and Hearthstone utilize a similar magicka/mana system in which magicka gained is never lost. Cards showing this gain can be found in both games, examples are Hist Grove and Wild Growth respectively.
One core difference in how this system operates is in how these games resolve magicka gains after the player no longer can gain magicka at the beginning of their turns. Hearthstone caps a player’s [magicka] at 10. Any [magicka] gain beyond 10 is instead replaced with Excess Mana. This prevents ramp from accelerating past a certain point, but keeps ramp cards relevant into the later stages of the game. Put simply, Hearthstone focuses ramp on getting ahead earlier in the game.
Alternatively, TESL caps a player’s magicka gains at the beginning of the turn at 12, but any magicka gained thereafter can be accumulated. Some cards such as Hist Grove and Pure-Blood Elder reward continuing to ramp past a certain point (15 and 18 magicka respectively).
Although Hearthstone has shown the ability to destroy mana crystals (max magicka), they typically reserve this feature for only destroying your own mana crystals. Additionally, Hearthstone utilizes tempo plays allowing players to play under-costed cards at the expense of locking (removing for a mana crystal for only a single turn) in the Shaman class with the Overload mechanic.
The result of this difference is in how “big” a midrange deck can potentially go. TESL allows ramp players to play much “greedier” (more high-cost cards) than Hearthstone. The result has been the continually abysmal matchup between ramp and control in TESL.
2. Long-term Ramp is Permanent
TESL’s long-term ramp is a permanent resource. Hearthstone suffers the same design, however, as stated above, Hearthstone has created a cap to magicka in which the gain has reached a maximum. Other TCG/CCGs, like TESL, enforce no hard cap, but they do allow players to interact with one another’s resources.
Games such as MTG have no max [magicka] gain, but instead use a resource system where players may not obtain an additional [magicka] each turn and that [magicka] also always comes at card disadvantage (though MTG starts with a much larger hand size and far more ways to draw than TESL). The major contributor to a MTG player gaining [magicka] is in lands and artifacts (though others exist). Comparing these games in some regard is comparing apples and oranges but the general takeaway is, if it can be obtained, it should be able to be taken away!
It should be noted that, while these answers can remove magicka from the opponent, the answers listed above can also harass players in other ways. This allows tech cards to become much more dynamic.
Complexity will always be compromised for ease of access and attracting new players between MTG and TESL. However, having options to remove magicka is something that could be beneficial to TESL’s growth. Detractors will state it is “unfun” to destroy resources. I would argue it’s equally “unfun” to watch your opponent be able to play twice as many things as you are able to each turn.
3. TESL ramp doesn’t always come at a high enough cost.
Thorn Histmage in particular, still creates a 3/5 body (it boosts itself when it enters play from its magicka gain trigger) with guard, forcing opponent interaction, while continuing to generate magicka gain. There isn’t a true downside to the card. Other cards fall under this category such as Spine of Eldersblood,
These cards allow a ramp player to gain extra resources while still developing a decent on the board.
Good Game Design that Doesn’t Function in TESL’s Game Design
MTG players will quickly recognize the similarity between Llanowar Elves with Tree Minder.
However, there are several distinctions between the two that leads the former to being better game design.
- TESL is an attacker’s choice game, while MTG is a defender’s choice game. TESL allows the player making the attack to choose where the damage is going, while MTG allows the defending player to decided where damage will fall. This allows important creatures to remain in play more easily in MTG.
- Llanowar Elves’ ramp effect depends upon the creature being on the board while Tree Minder’s gains remain regardless to whether the creature remains on the board.
These fundamental differences makes Llanowar Elves more functionally similar to the TESL card Hist Speaker. However, this also shows why Hist Speaker is far inferior to both Llanowar Elves and Tree Minder in effectiveness.
Additionally, similarities can be found between cards such as Sol Ring and Hist Grove, while only the second part of the above differences apply.
What TESL Has Done Well with Ramp
While complaints outnumber the praise, TESL has shown the ability to test different ways that ramp can exist within the game. The problems developed by this try and error and plentiful and stated above, but several cards have been close to the mark.
- Hist Grove: Similar cost to Wild Growth in Hearthstone with added upside. Huge tempo loss with a decent reward for the cost.
- Hist Speaker: Would be a very well-designed card if it could stick to the board with more ease.
- Tree Minder- Solid Tempo loss for the play.
Additionally, the Fall of the Dark Brotherhood story introduced Completed Contracts to the game, which feels fair to both players. TESL game designers have excelled at developing strong short-term ramp effects that are impactful while avoiding the over powered nature of cards such as MTG’s Dark Ritual by not giving access to Completed Contracts on turn 1 or 2.
Potential Changes and Additions for Solid Ramp Strategies in the Future
Supports are an excellent source of ramp in TESL. These cards have their own form of counter play already built into the game in the form of support removal, and provide no immediate impact to the board. Tying the magicka gain of Hist Grove and future support ramping tools could also provide an effect strategy to prevent ramp decks from going too large.
Hist Speaker could be considered good design if the card was stickier to the board. Changes would require more testing from the developer end but possible solutions would be allowing Hist Speaker to remain covered or giving Hist Speaker more defense. Alternatively, Hist Speaker could become a support that provides a magicka that also places a small creature onto the board. This type of creature generation via support has already been used in supports such as Corsair’s Ship and Two-Moons Contemplation.
Another key change would be to continue to introduce more cards with Completed Contracts and to emulate the card design of cards such as Brynjolf.
In Conclusion, ramp is a strong tool in TESL. While the game design of ramp has flaws and some of the early cards have had issues in terms of balancing gain and cost, Completed Contracts show the TESL design team’s willingness to improve and innovate. Hopefully this guide has been instructive in helping you wield the power and stifle your opponent’s ability to ramp successfully.
A special thanks to piebypie for assistance in editing