Hello and welcome back once again to Path to Glory! I hope you’ve all enjoyed reviewing the upcoming Deathgorge contents over the last week or so! Getting right down to brass tacks, I think, if you’re active on the Discords, it’s likely you’ve seen or been a part of the conversations around Abasoth’s Avalanche. Regardless of where you land on that card in particular, I think there is general agreement amongst the community that there is far too much ping in the meta right now, particularly in the Championship format, but I would argue the amount of ping has gotten to problematic levels even in Nemesis. So, rather than asking the question of whether there is too much ping today, which I will take as a given, what I instead will ask is what do we think is the “right amount?” More importantly, in terms of game balancing, is there any way to “fix” the problem as it stands? In the interest of presenting another side to the argument, the Spent Glory blog recently posted an article concerning this very topic! While I happen to disagree with him on this topic, I do think it’s important to always keep these discussions in the appropriate context, which is that we are players providing feedback for how we feel about the current state of the game. We’re not trying to attack anyone and certainly not trying dissuade anyone from playing the game. I think there’s plenty of room to have a well thought out and rational discussion about these kinds of topics that ultimately leads to a healthier place for the game and community overall. With that in mind, let’s jump into my thoughts on the matter!
The Effect of Ping
Without tipping my own hand too much, the Underworlds World Championships (Nemesis format) are in November. In the current state of the game, I highly anticipate 3- and 4-fighter warbands (plus Pandaemonium and Soulraid, who are just good) to have disproportionately high usage rates at this event as players attempt to deal with this exact issue. While the aforementioned Abasoth’s Avalanche is a part of that (assuming Deathgorge will be out in time to make the cutoff date), I think the game has been trending this way since the start of Gnarlwood, as the ability to delete 2-Wound fighters in the power step has becoming increasingly more common as we get deeper into the new releases and particularly the re-emergence of magic as the dominant archetype.
This became most noticeably problematic with the release of Wyrdhollow, as we were handed Seismic Shock, which featured 2 extremely reliable ping gambits (on a deck with no plot card, for us Championship players) in addition to arguably the two strongest spellcasting warbands in the game with Pandaemonium and Stormcoven. In addition to accessing stats that are debatably too strong with too little effort, each of these warbands brought their own ping gambits to the party as well, in addition to casting consistency (each has a re-roll upgrade) and objective scoring to be had from simply casting spells. However, to paraphrase an old saying, if the camel’s back wasn’t broken after Wyrdhollow, it was absolutely shattered with Deathgorge, particularly with the Rivals deck of Thricefold Discord (which has some absurdly good pings in it) and the Force of Frost (FoF) Rivals deck, which I suspect will be the premier universal Rivals deck pairing in the Nemesis format, and is obviously plot-unlocked in Championship.
I think ping damage is a great thing to have in the game to offset dice luck and potential NPE of a stacked defensive fighter, but, in my opinion, we’ve far exceeded the threshold that can be tolerated by certain warbands (mostly hordes) and it is starting to skew game balance quite heavily towards casters and more elite warbands, as these are the most realistic ways of abusing the current game state and/or trying to survive within it. Not only this, but we’ve seen absurd scoring potential just for playing those ping cards in the form of casting surges and [Sudden Demise]. It’s a bit of a perfect storm. If there weren’t so much non-kill glory to be scored from pinging people to death, there would be less incentive to lean into this as a strategy (although it would still be strong). Similarly, if there were less pings, it wouldn’t be so trivial to access the high glory differential of scoring objectives off pinging people to death. Instead, we have both too many pings and too much “ping payoff.”
Where Do We Go from Here?
Honest question, and I’d love to hear some feedback from you guys on this, but I will try to take a stab at it myself.
In Championship, the most obvious answer is to look at the FAR list to tone down the ping (it would be nice if they finally updated the board list too!). For a brief moment (about one month between the pre-NOVA FAR and the Deathgorge embargo date), we lived in a world where ping was still strong, but no longer held an absolute stranglehold on the meta. However, the release of FoF not only replenished the non-plot locked ping pool, but brought it to greater heights than it had seen previously while also providing an unrestricted 2-glory surge for casting 4+ spells in a round (an effect Stormcoven just had restricted in-faction). In the universal pool, I personally think a good starting point here is to R Bitter Storm, Abasoth’s Avalanche (which may actually need an erratum even after an R because yeesh), and Freeze-thaw Finish. I do think you could put [Launch an Attack] on that list as well, although I might like to see where the dust settles on Thricefold Discord first. You cap that off with one more meaningful R to Stormcoven (personal picks are [Blaze of the Heavens] or [Master of Ancient Lore]) and you might be able to take the boot off the neck of horde warbands a bit. I don’t think this will “solve” the problem, but it would at least calm things down a bit to get an idea of where we stand. Given the most recent “Meta Watch” video, we can only hope such changes are in the works and will come more swiftly than what we’ve seen previously.
Notice, of course, that (outside of a potential Abasoth’s Avalanche erratum) this does nothing to balance the Nemesis format. Not too get too deeply into what I’d consider to be a separate topic here, but I know when the format debuted that there was a lot of “wait and see what happens when we have more Rivals decks,” but it’s plenty clear to me that something needs to be done in terms of format balancing. Given the system of deck construction, I’m not sure the FAR format lends itself well as a solution, so it seems like the team is leaning more heavily on errata for buffs and nerfs. This could very well be fine long-term, but will require them to stick to their stated desire for more frequent updates and require them to be meaningful ones.
One thing that I think hasn’t been talked about enough, however, is the design direction. As always, I want to be constructively critical here and I hope this is viewed as such. I don’t think it’s particularly hard math to see that there’s a disparity between the amount of ping damage in the game and appropriate counterplay to that ping, but I wanted to try to do it anyway. For fun, I turned on the UnderworldsDB filters for universal ploy and gambit spells and searched “deal damage” for every card in Nethermaze and beyond (including Essentials). I manually sorted through them and, feel free to check my math on this, but I found 27 gambits (of varying quality) that could be used by your opponent to damage one or more of your fighters. I then, using the same filters, searched “Heal” and found only 7 gambits (again, of varying quality). While I didn’t look at ping damage upgrades, there is exactly one universal upgrade which could prevent a single one of your fighters from being dealt damage by any one of those 27 gambits, assuming you’ve played it before said gambits: [Nine Lives], which only works 50% of the time. Yes, there are other cards that can situationally prevent you from suffering damage such as [Final Say] or [Faceless Mask], but [Nine Lives] is the only one that had the chance to stop all 27 gambits without additional card synergy or conditions. When you factor in that this slant, if anything, is further exacerbated by the card distributions for faction Rivals decks and Grand Alliance cards, it is clear that we have not been given enough ping counterplay for the amount of ping that exists. We don’t have even a single universal upgrade that says unconditionally “this fighter cannot be dealt damage by gambits.” Where is the universal [Light of the Stars]? [Lucky Hexbeak Foot] (maybe without the +Defence effect)? Where are the tools for somebody to build a deck that actually has a 1-to-1 response for even half of their opponent’s ping gambits? The FAR is nice to reign in the ping when it gets out of control, but the only way to stop it from doing so in the first place is to make sure there is counterplay whenever it is printed in excess. Maybe there’s more to come on this front going forward, but forgive me if the recent releases have not inspired a lot of confidence that this will be the case.
I feel like, if the goal is to be growing the game, this kind of NPE is some of the worst, as you have minimal agency to stop your opponent from just playing some cards and telling you that your fighter dies. Promoting a meta that actively disincentivizes the use of a high percentage of warbands (hordes) also clashes pretty heavily with the idea of just playing your favorites so you don’t have to buy multiple boxes and/or OOP ones. My hope in writing this has not been to “dunk” on the designers for the current state of the game. In fact, I think that, despite the prevalence of ping damage in the game right now, the game is in a cleaner spot from a design perspective than it has been since I started and it is a great time to get into (or back into) the game. However, John did go online and ask the community for feedback, so I hope they view this as an open letter from a dedicated fan trying to provide that feedback. Please either give us the tools to do something about the rampant spellcasting and ping damage or pump the brakes on printing those cards. I hope this didn’t come across too “rant-y” and that some positive things can be gleaned from it.
As always, thank you for reading and best of luck on YOUR…
P.S. Mark was unfortunately taken out of action by a gambit spell before writing “Path to Glory!”