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Subject: Card by Card. A review of all the artifacts in Res Arcana rss

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Alex Chen
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Microbadge: ProcrastinationMicrobadge: Race for the Galaxy fan
It’s been almost 10 years since my first card review, so let’s dive into Tom Lehmann’s new game. I’ve been obsessed with it since I bought it last week, and have been playing it non-stop every day. It’s a great game, and I have high hopes that it’ll eventually rank alongside Tom’s best stuff.

Disclaimers

- This is based on about 25 playthroughs and a lot of theorycrafting. The game is new, so I’m guessing this is enough experience to give some opinions.
- I’ve only been playing 2p games, so I’m limiting the scope to just 2p. Notably, I hear 4p is a lot more “crowded”, which could have some interesting effects on the theoretical value of cards. 2p is very “open”, so theorycrafting probably works better.
- Chime in if you think I’m wrong somewhere (I probably am!). I plan on updating ratings as I gain experience and get input.
- Value tends to vary wildly based on the other cards dealt. Does this make giving a star rating to each card pointless? Maybe, but let’s try anyway.
- I’ll be using a lot of rough heuristics that don’t stand up to rigorous scrutiny. These are mostly to give a rough idea of how good the card is. For instance, I approximate 1 Gold as roughly worth 2 Death. This isn’t going to be true all of the time, and even on average the Gold is probably worth a bit more. But for the purposes of rough evaluation, the approximation works okay.

I’m using this scale:

- 1st pick in draft, worth taking Divination to dig for it. Either a powerful flagship to always build a strategy around, or just always great in whatever strategy you choose.
- High pick in draft, fits in most tableaus. Either a powerful flagship to often build a strategy around, or flexible enough to play for value on multiple turns.
- Consistently low impact or inconsistently high impact. Solid card that you’re not sad to see in your deck.
- Only good with some help. Niche card.
- Unplayable except for strange corner cases. Would cause me to raise my eyebrow if I saw a good player open with it.

Abbreviations:

(with apologies to people that don’t play Magic the Gathering)
G - Life (Green)
B - Death (Black)
U - Calm (blUe)
R - Elan (Red)
Au - Gold (nerd)
Numbers - Wild essences. To save typing time, “Gain 1 wild essence (no Gold)” will be shortened to just “Gain 1”, since no ability that gains a wild essence can gain a Gold.
Tap - Turn sideways

Some notes on valuation:

- It's mostly all about the essences. Essences are just a means to the VP end, but a vital one. If a card gives “flexibility” but is a net loss in essences, chances are it’s a poor play.
- Every card implicitly costs 2 essences to play, since you can always discard it for 2. So when calculating the cost of a card, you should always add 2 to it.
- Drawing a card is worth slightly more than 2 essences, since the card gives optionality in addition to being discardable for 2. For rough calculations, 2 essences is a decent approximation.
- Gaining a Gold is also worth slightly more than 2 essences. There are multiple ways to convert at 2-1, including discarding a card. But it can be difficult to convert a lot of essences to Gold, and often you’ll need to play a card to help you do so. Again, for rough calculations 1 Gold = 2 essences is a decent approximation.
- 1 wild essence is obviously better than a specific kind of essence. But how much better? I’d argue not much, since you have plenty of ways to convert one essence to another. In many games you never need to take the Transmutation magic item, because you’ve found an engine where all the parts fit. This is maybe the craziest approximation, but in these posts I value 1 wild essence to be worth about as much as 1 specific essence.
- Expert games often end on the 4th turn. Chances are if you can’t get 10 in four turns, you’ll lose to the person who did.
- With this, we can estimate payoff by checking how much essence something generates over 4 turns (and 3 income steps) compared to how much it costs.
- Great cards pay themselves off after just 2 turns, while bad cards often take the whole four turns to make a profit.

And without further ado, the card review:

Athanor - AuR -
Tap, pay R - Put RR on this
Tap, pay RRRRRR on this, pay X - gain X Au


The first card is also one of the hardest to evaluate. Ultimately Athanor seems to ask a lot out of the person who plays it. Ideally you don’t want to play it early, since it’s a lategame card that does nothing until the final turn of the game. But if you don’t play it early, you’re going to need to find a way to “catch up” on its activations. Reanimate (the magic item) and Witch both work okay, but Chalice of Fire is probably the best fit.

Once you’ve done all of the work, you can cash out for a big Gold payday. This is hugely powerful, as you can often buy 4-5 artifacts if you’ve been focusing hard on generating one type of essence all game.

As a final note, definitely don’t play this just for the Elan income. It only gains +1 and collection is delayed a turn, so it never pays itself off.

Bone Dragon - BBBBG (1VP, Dragon) -
Tap - Attack for GG, discard B to ignore

Dragons are a bit of a puzzle, as when I started playing they seemed overcosted. After thinking about Tom Lehmann’s other games and the amount of “take that” in them, I think they were intentionally designed to not be great most of the time. Rather, they’re a niche strategy that always hangs in the background as a sort of passive threat, giving tension to games even when they don’t show up.

Overall, dragons seem to become playable with discounts and/or a sacrificial outlet to leverage their high mana cost. In particular, Dragon Teeth is a great way to cheat dragons into play, and Sacrificial Pit can generate a lot of Gold! In most strategies, the attack is just a nice bonus in a larger economic engine. If you play them at all, you should usually wait until your engine is already humming. Rushing out a turn 1 or turn 2 dragon is usually a disaster.

The Bone Dragon is the cheapest of the bunch, but that’s not exactly a plus. A lot of the synergy around dragons comes from sacrificing them to things that care about their essence cost. Moreover, the Bone Dragon’s ignore clause is just a single Death, limiting the amount of damage it can ever really do. All an opponent has to do is discard a card when they see you play it. Forcing your opponent to lose a Death is about as good as gaining one yourself, and a 5 mana card that taps for a single Death isn’t too impressive, to say the least.

Celestial Horse (Creature) - UUR -
Income - Gain 2 (not B)

Income only artifacts tend to be weak, since you don’t collect on the first turn you play them and the game often ends on turn 4. In this guy’s case, he only pays himself off on turn 4, when you get his income for the third time and end up at +1 essence. That’s pretty lame. He doesn’t even have a tap ability to synergize with Druid or sacrificial effects.

Like most creatures, Celestial Horse only seems playable when pursuing one of the two creature specific places of power. I don’t consider either to be a particularly strong win condition, so in general I rate the Creature type as low.

Chalice of Fire - AuR -
Income - Gain RR
Tap, pay R - Untap a card


The passive income alone pays the card off by turn 4, so the untap ability doesn’t have to contribute a lot for you to come out ahead. Near the endgame it can be amazing to untap your Place of Power, as some of them have really sick tap abilities. Early game it can be more of a stretch to find a way to gain value, and ideally you’ll want to find something that taps for 2 or more essences.

If you can find something, though, it’s a nice card. It’s particularly convenient that its income pays for its tap ability.

Chalice of Life - AuGU -
Income - Gain UG
Pay UU - Put UUG on the card
Tap - Ignore an attack


On one hand, you have a strong engine that sort of feeds itself. All Calm you pay into it will come out again next turn, and you can dump it back into the chalice to get even more Life. It can also ignore attacks! This is a bit awkward because if they attack you while you’re trying to dump essence into it, the artifact will turn off for the turn. But it’s still a great option to have on a card that’s already pretty good.

That said, the card isn’t quite as strong as it looks. The main thing holding it back is the available places of power. While this fits best with Sunken Reef, the chalice mostly generates Life. Sunken Reef requires UUG, which means you’re going to have to deal with a large Life excess. And Sunken Reef will only show up half the time. The other half the time, you’re going to have to figure out what to do with a bunch of Calm and Life.

Corrupt Altar - 3BB -
Income - Gain GB
GG - Put RRR on the card.
Tap, destroy any one of your artifacts - gain its cost +2


This card is way better than it looks. It seems pretty intimidating, because its three abilities pull you in different directions. What am I going to do with the random Death from the income step? How am I going to find lots of Life to dump into this? What do I do with all of the Elan I get out of it? And what should I be saccing every turn!? And did I mention this thing costs a ton to bring out?

But at the end of the day it doesn’t matter if you can’t use every part of it perfectly, or that it costs a lot. When you’re tired of it, you can simply sacrifice it to itself and gain a full refund! As long as you are able to generate some value from this thing, it’s guaranteed to turn a profit. Even waiting an income step, then saccing it will put you at +2.

So what we’re left with is a card with a steep initial cost, but with a lot of powerful abilities. And at the end of the day you get all of your money back. Sounds good to me! This card is strong every turn besides the final turn. Even on turn 3, it can sacrifice a useless artifact for some extra change, collect some income and then blow itself up on turn 4 for a nice profit.

The sacrifice effect has a lot of subtle interactions that make it quite powerful. Cards that aren’t normally worth the cost, like Mermaid or Hand of Glory, are now worth playing to activate once and then blow up. Basically anything that taps goes from being not worth the investment to possibly worth a look.

I predict as people get better at the game, this will become a near autoplay. It feels like the card would be playable with just the income or just the Elan generation, but having both in addition to the sacrifice ability pushes it over the top.

Crypt - 3BB -
Tap - Gain BB
Tap, B - Place one of your discards at -2 cost


If you discard something for two essence, then immediately resurrect it with the Crypt for the -2 discount, you’ve generated +3 essence in value. After three turns, you’re looking at +2. That’s pretty good, but the card also gives a nice amount of flexibility. On turn 3 you can grab an expensive card that was too pricey to play early, and you have a decent +2 backup ability if there’s nothing you want to resurrect this turn. Things can get really crazy if you also have a sacrifice outlet. You can play a dragon, use it, sacrifice it, then play it again and use the ability again.

Cursed Skull - BB -
Tap, pay G - Put 3 (no G) on this card

Pretty crappy, since you have to wait a turn to get the resources, and you only profit +2 each time anyway. You only break even after turn 3, so you’ll need to play it turn 1 to have any profit at all by turn 4. Even on turn 1, it’s hard to imagine a hand where this is really my best option.

Unlike other marginal resource cards, the fact that this can’t produce immediately means it’s not great with sacrifice effects. It’s still playable off of Crypt.

Dancing Sword - AuR -
Income - Gain RB
R - Ignore an attack and gain B


It’s fun to defend an unlimited number of attacks with this thing and never lose essence. That said, the income is on the low side. Played on turn 1, this gains 6 essences and will only be up +1 on turn four. You really need to defend some attacks for this to be worth playing over other cards. But the classic “reactivity” problem now comes up where if you play it, your opponent will probably not pursue a dragon strategy and instead switch to something almost as good. Or maybe she was never planning on playing dragons at all! In these cases, you’ll just have a low value card. But if you wait until after a dragon is played to plop this down, you’ll have missed out on early income. It’s awkward either way.

The reactivity problem, combined with the fact that dragons are not that scary in the first place, makes all of the defensive cards weak. But this one is pricier than other defensive options, making it extra bad.

All this being said, the card definitely improves in larger player counts, where dragons are more plentiful. If multiple people have dragons out, this pays itself off quickly.

Dragon Bridle - GBUR (1 VP) -
Dragons cost 3 less
Tap - Ignore a Dragon Attack attack


It’s worth a point! This makes it decent if your opponent plays a dragon or if you have a dragon you want to play yourself. If you have two dragons, this will actually generate a profit in addition to its point (disclaimer: it’s not easy to play two dragons!).

That said, even if you have this and a dragon, it won’t always be correct to go for it. Often you’ll have something better to do, or your opponent will just happen to play a defense card that severely blunts your attack.

Dragon Egg - Au (1 VP) -
Destroy this - Place a dragon at -4 cost.

The ability is a little disappointing. Since it costs a Gold (valued at 2) and a card (also valued at 2), you’re not really gaining anything besides flexibility when you sacrifice this for 4 cost discount. The Artificer can’t abuse this either, since it doesn’t cost any normal essence.

I think a more common use than putting dragons out will be to just play it for the VP at the end of the game. That’s not particularly glamorous, but a point for a Gold is pretty nice if you happen to have some left over.

Dragon Teeth - RB -
RR - put RRR on the card
Tap, pay RRR - Play a dragon for free


All of the cards that generate essence without tapping are good, but this one is maybe the craziest. Don’t for a second think that this is a “dragon card” that only works in combination with dragons. It’s cheap, its ability feeds directly into itself (allowing exponential growth), and it even has a secondary ability that can cheat 9 mana cards into play. Dragons normally aren’t playable, but they’re basically always worth paying 3 for!

A subtle thing that increases its valuation further is that it works great with both Dwarven Mines and Cursed Forge. Since these are two sides of the same piece of cardboard, you’re guaranteed to have a win condition to dump Elan into.

Dwarven Pickaxe - R -
Tap, R - Gain Au

Simple but playable turn 1 card. You gain +1 every turn, so this pays itself off after three turns. But Gold is a little better than two resources, so in practice you come out a bit ahead.

Earth Dragon - RRRRGGG (1 VP, Dragon) -
Tap - Attack for GG, discard Au to ignore

See Bone Dragon for general discussion on Dragons.

The Earth Dragon is one of the better dragons. It costs 7, which is on the pricier end, but its ignore clause is significantly more annoying than the cheaper dragons. Losing an essence is no biggie, but losing a Gold usually hurts.

Elemental Spring - RRGU -
Upkeep - UGR
Pay U - Ignore an attack


In this case you pay a pretty steep cost and are still +0 after three turns. On the fourth turn, you do get to +3, but it’s questionable whether it’s worth the large initial turn 1 investment. It’s very bad to play after turn 1.

The defense ability is bad. Most attacks let you ignore the attack by paying a single essence, so being able to pay U to ignore is mostly redundant. It will help against the stronger dragons, however.

Elvish Bow - RRG -
Tap - Attack for G
Tap - Draw 1 card


An interesting card. I loved the Rahdo rant on it! If your opponent is diligent at keeping either a defense or Life up, then it’s much better to draw a card than attack. You gain a little more than 2 resources by drawing a card, which is better than making your opponent lose 1. However, your opponent often won’t want to leave a Life lying around all the time, so this can constrain their play with not much effort on your part. You can just happily draw a card every turn while your opponent sweats, and severely annoy him if he spends the Life with this untapped. Try to wait until later to draw the card if you don’t need it immediately, for maximum agony.

Assuming you draw a card every turn, this is +1 after three turns. That’s normally worth three stars, but I think the opponent annoyance and the nice optionality of getting to cycle through your deck are worth an extra star.

Fiery Whip - RRBB -
Tap - Gain RRR, all rivals gain R
Tap, destroy another of your artifacts - gain its cost +2


Significantly weaker than the Corrupt Altar simply because it can’t sacrifice itself. Also, while Corrupt Altar generates income in addition to its sacrifice ability, the whip has to choose between one or the other. That said, at the end of the game there’s probably something else you can blow up, and the same general strategies as Corrupt Altar still apply.

This is the first item with the “all rivals gain” mechanic. Most of the time giving all your opponents an essence is about as bad as losing an essence yourself, so I count Fiery Whip’s first ability as roughly +2 net gain. That being said, you can sometimes mitigate the benefit to your opponent by waiting until late in the turn to activate this. If your opponent has already passed, or used most of his abilities, he might not be able to use the essence this turn and may have to wait until next turn. This is especially good if you’ve decided you don’t need the essence this turn anyway.

However, all of this is a pretty small consideration, and I still think the first ability evaluates to roughly a +2. This means it’s fairly bad for a four cost card, and you’ll want to use the second ability at least a couple times to make the whip worth the money.

Fire Dragon - RRRRRR (1 VP) -
Tap - Attack for GG, discard a U to ignore

At 6 essence and an easily ignorable ability, it’s probably tied with the Water Dragon for weakest Dragon.

Flaming Pit - RR -
Income - R
Tap, pay G - gain RB


An underwhelming but consistent turn 1 card. On turn 3 you’ll be at +1 essence. On turn 4 you’ll be at +3.

Fountain of Youth - UB -
Income - G
BB - Put UUG on the card.


Cards that generate essence without tapping are usually strong, but I think this is the weakest one. The passive income is a little stingy here. More importantly, the card doesn’t feed into itself like Dragon Teeth or Chalice of Life. You won’t be able to exponentially grow by feeding the output back into the input, and you’ll have to secure a strong independent source of black essence.

The card goes hand in hand with Sunken Reef, which lets you dump UUG onto it for 1 VP. When Sunken Reef isn’t in play, the card gets weaker.

Guard Dog - R (creature) -
R - Untap this
Tap - Ignore an attack


Not much to say about the doggo. It does nothing unless they play a dragon, or you need a creature for Sacred Grove/Sorcerer’s Bestiary. Disappointing synergy with Druid. Also, I prefer cats.

That said, the card is cheap, so if your opponent plays an early dragon I don’t see why you wouldn’t throw him out there.

Hand of Glory - GB -
Tap - gain BB, all rivals gain B

A pretty trashy card. Since your opponents get a B, your net gain every time you tap this is one measly B. Counting the cost of the card, this only breaks even after four turns.

This only becomes worthwhile is if you mitigate its cost. Artificer can get this to pay off a turn earlier. Fiery Whip can sacrifice it after a turn or two, recouping the cost. Crypt can play it for free from your discard.

Hawk - GU (creature) -
Income - U
Tap - Draw three cards, put them back in any order. (Can use monument deck)
Tap, UU - Draw a card.


This guy doesn’t really do anything. He has lots of “soft power” that will sometimes give you flexibility, but which is often worth 0 essence if your draws were already good. Drawing a card for 2 is an even trade unless you really needed to play that card this turn. Stacking a deck is fun but also often does nothing. In general, this guy’s toolkit seems mostly obsoleted by taking the Divination magic item.

What about stacking the monument deck, to either aid your Gold strategy or impede your opponent’s? This is sort of interesting, as the monument deck cycles slower in 2p than your deck, making the ordering more important. You might be able to gain (or deny) a point, which would help to justify playing the guy.

If played on turn 1, you’ll get 3 income steps, meaning you’ll still be down essence by turn 4. This means the “soft power” needs a few real gains to make the card worth it, and I’m not really seeing it. As such, I think it’s only playable as a warm body in creature based strategies that buy Sacred Grove or Summoner’s Bestiary.

Horn of Plenty - AuAu -
Tap - Gain 3
Tap - Gain Au


Played turn 1, this card is amazing. Its first ability generates about 1.5 Gold a turn, meaning it pays itself off after just 2 activations. By the end of turn 4, you’ll be up about +6 essences (!). Not only that, but the magic item Reanimate is not a popular option on the first turn. You can get very far ahead very quickly by taking it and generating +2 wild essence for the first turn. The optionality of the 2nd ability, while definitely weaker, is also nice and commonly used.

There’s not much else to say. It’s a clear surplus of essences, and fits into literally any strategy. It was the first card I noticed was clearly above average.

Hypnotic Basin - UURB -
Income - Gain UU
Tap - Gain U equal to the R of one rival


Hypnotic Basin (and its cousin, the Treant), are probably the two cards whose value varies most by player count. In order to pay off, you need a few good “hits” with their tap abilities to justify their cost. In 4p games, chances are there will be a great target available every turn, and your opponents can’t be bothered to block you when they have two other players to deal with. In 2p games, they’re only okay. Your opponent obviously isn’t that interested in giving you a large payday!

That said, often your opponent can’t really avoid having a lot of a particular essence. For instance, if you see a Dragon Teeth played, it’s time to slam this baby down, as nothing they can do will prevent you from getting a lot out of it.

Jeweled Statuette - AuBB (1 VP) -
Tap - Gain BBB, other players gain B
Sacrifice this - Gain AuAuR


The net gain from the first ability is about BB. If played on turn 1, you’ll break even by the 3rd turn. That’s pretty boring. What pushes it over the top is the sacrifice ability.

The sacrifice gives back roughly 5 essences. That means that a turn 1 Jeweled Statuette can net as much as +5 essences by the end of turn 4, which is almost as good as the mighty Horn of Plenty. You’ll even turn a profit if you use the first ability once, then sac it the next turn. This makes it worth playing even on the third turn.

The 1 VP is often a trap, as 2 Gold and 1 red is probably worth more when factoring in that a 4 Gold monument is usually worth 2 VP plus a small benefit. But it gives even more flexibility to the card, and makes it playable as a pure points play on the final turn. A card that is good on literally any turn can’t be looked down on. There have been several games (particularly with the Artificer or Crypt) where I’ve played it twice!

Magical Shard - 0 -
Tap - Gain 1

I’m guessing this basic artifact served as a benchline for all of the other artifacts. It nets you 1 essence by turn 3. Playable on turn 1 and sometimes turn 2, otherwise unplayable. Quintessentially average.

Mermaid - GGUU - (creature) -
Income - 1 blue
Tap - Add G, U, or Au to another card.


Sadly, I don’t think there’s a playable artifact combo with mermaid. Playing Mermaid AND Windup Man is too large of an initial cost, and leaves you with almost nothing for too many turns.

That said, Mermaid really shines when dumping VP onto places of power. To figure out if she's worth playing, I think it's instructive to look at the conversion rate of each place of power, and figure out how many activations she needs to outperform the conversion rate of the place of power you've picked. There are six places of power where she can legally use her ability. Click the spoiler for a nitty gritty breakdown, or just skip to the tl;dr at the end:

Spoiler (click to reveal)
Dwarven Mines: Tap, pay RRRBBB - Put AuAu on this

This converts at 3 essence per 1 VP, but you can only do this once per turn. This means that any additional VP the Mermaid can chip in is great, provided you can still afford to pay for the ability on the Mines.

Alchemist Tower: BRUG - Put Au on this

Alchemist Tower wants to be played quickly, sometimes even turn 1, so this is a good choice to pair with Mermaid. If you can activate her 3 times, you're paying 12 essence for 3 VP, minus any income she collected. If you paid an essence with Reanimate to untap her and played her turn 3, it's actually still a net wash. But if you can do better than that, she becomes worth playing.

Sunken Reef: Pay UUG - Put U on this

Sunken Reef has the best Essence to VP rate in the game, and has unlimited uses. So actually it's difficult for the Mermaid to outperform just dumping more essence into the Sunken Reef itself. If you can activate her 3 times, you're paying 9 essence for 3 vp, minus any income you collected. Similar to the forge, if you paid an essence with Reanimate to untap her and played her turn 3, it's still a net wash. But if you can do better than that, she's worth playing.

Dragon's Lair: Tap, Tap a Dragon - Put AuAu on this

You often won't have a Dragon to tap in dragon related strategies, and even if you do, it's a limited-use tap ability. This makes the Mermaid pretty much all upside!

Sacred Grove: Tap, Tap a Creature - Put G on this

This one is weird, because the Mermaid is a creature, which means you can just ignore her ability and tap both for free to gain a VP if you want. At that point, you sort of wonder if it was great to play a 4 mana creature just to act as a warm body. Still, the Mermaid has some interesting extra synergy if she can be untapped, or if you want to use the Sacred Grove's first ability, which taps and uses a Calm to make 5 Life. This one seems too context dependent to figure out, but probably Mermaid will go better with one of the other places of power.

Cursed Forge: Pay RRAu - Put Au on this

You usually want to wait as long as possible to buy the Cursed Forge, so the Mermaid is a pretty bad option here. That said, you might want to buy the Cursed Forge as a defensive play, in which case the mermaid can sneak VP onto this while it’s tapped. This has the same conversion rate as Alchemist Tower, so the same rule of 3 activations being roughly break even still applies.


The takeaway from all of this is that for the Mermaid to outperform the standard conversion rates, you'll want to either have her active turn 2, or have an untap ability to get her to activate 4 times after playing her turn 3. The two exceptions are Dragon's Lair and Dwarven Mines. Both of their VP abilities need to tap the place of power, so the mermaid can provide additional VP output and doesn't need to compete in conversion rate.

Having the Druid is the most obvious way to boost her into absurdity. Also, like other expensive cards with tap effects, sacrifice effects help a lot. It’s sad this can’t transfer Death, because otherwise it would be a perfect fit with Sacrificial Pit.

Many people below disagree with this analysis. After thinking about it for a few days, I still think she’s marginal, but you can see their comments below and judge for yourself.

Nightingale - GU (Creature, 1 point) -

Not too bad for a creature. It’s always worth a point, and can tap for Sacred Grove just as well as the other creatures.

Philosopher’s Stone - RRGGUUBB (1 point) -
Tap, pay X+2 - gain X Au

Wew lads, I did a doubletake when I first saw this card. It’s such a crazy commitment of essence, but there’s no denying the power if you have enough to feed it.

The card demands 8 essence upfront and needs 2 more to even activate. Every Gold you convert nets you roughly +1 essence, so you’re going to need to convert 12 Gold for it to pay itself off if you activate it once, and 14 Gold if you activate it twice. It’s a huge commitment, to the point that the card crowds out any other strategies you were planning on doing. It also requires a very powerful essence generator - usually a card that generates essences without tapping like Dragon Teeth or Chalice of Life.

You shouldn’t go for this every game, but on great draws, there’s no denying its power as a specialized win condition. I like it a bit better than Athanor. Even though it costs a lot more, you don’t have to play it until late.

Prism - 0 -
Tap, pay 1 - gain 2
Tap, pay X - gain X


This card compares very favorably to Magical Shard. Both cost 0 and generate 1 essence a turn, but Prism can transmute an additional color per turn. It can also be used in the lategame to transmute a ton of one essence, a great option that gets used a lot.

This won’t win the game for you, but it’ll make anything you want to do a lot easier while breaking even on essence.

Ring of Midas - GAu (1 VP) -
Pay GG - Put Au on the card
Tap - Put Au on the card


Paying GG for Au isn’t the best trade in the world and is technically break even, but provides a much needed niche of turning green essence into a win condition. Remember, no place of power really lets you focus on dumping lots of green into victory points. The closest is Sacrificial Pit, which only has a tap ability.

With Midas’ second tap ability, the card pays itself off on turn 3, so even if you don’t dump a lot of green into it, it’s still often worth playing simply because it’s worth a point.

Sacrificial Dagger - BAu -
Tap, pay G - Put BBB on the card
Destroy this and discard a card with cost X - Gain X


Dragons are usually not worth playing, so you’re happy to discard one to this thing for a huge bounty. It also has a decent ability to “kill time” before you blow it up. If you wait until turn 2, discarding a 5 cost breaks even. On turn 3, it becomes a +2 profit.

If you don’t have something that costs at least 5, this becomes very bad. If you have a very expensive (7+) card in your deck, this is amazing. Overall, it's a decent card.

Sea Serpent - UUUUUUGGG - (1VP, dragon creature) -
Tap - Attack for GG, discard an artifact to ignore

It’s the most expensive, but I think it’s the best dragon. It has one of the strongest ignore abilities (saccing artifacts is almost always terrible), and the creature subtype does a lot. Of particular interest is the easy combo it has with the Druid, who can untap it and let you attack people twice. Brutal! It also scores an extra point with the Sorcerer’s Bestiary - not a huge deal, but a nice bonus.

Of course 9 essences is NO JOKE (notice how the manacost sort of looks like uuuuugggh?) so all of the usual Dragon-related caveats apply. Still, if I were to give any of the dragons three stars, it’d be this one.

Treant - GGGRR - (creature) -
Income - Gain GG
Tap - Gain R equal to B of one rival


This card is worse than Hypnotic Basin (see there for more discussion), mostly because its cost is higher and more annoying. In exchange, you get creature synergy. That said, it’s easy to overrate the synergy with Druid. If your opponent lets you get a big payday, untap, and get another big payday, maybe they’re asleep and you would have won anyway.

Tree of Life - 2G -
Tap - Gain GGG, all rivals gain G
G - Ignore an Attack


Pretty typical stats. You net GG a turn (since your rivals get G as well), meaning you’ll be up one essence by turn 3. The reaction ability is weak and you’d prefer to defend with something that doesn’t cost essences, but it will do in a pinch.

Vault - 1Au -
Income - if there is Gold left on the card, gain 2
Tap - Put Au on the card.


Assuming max patience, you will play this turn 1 and wait to take 3 Gold turn 4. You’ll have generated about 10 essences (3 Gold + 4 wild essences), good for a nice +5 in profit. If you jump the gun and take off the two Gold on turn 3 (often a necessity), you’ll still come out okay (+1) and can grab 1 more Gold on turn 4 (+3).

Keeping in mind that Gold is a little better than 2 essences, I think this is good enough for four stars. It’s fairly flexible and turns a profit by turn 3 if you can’t extract max value.

Water Dragon - UUUUUU (dragon, 1VP) -
Tap - Attack for GG, discard R to ignore

Typical dragon with an easy ignore trigger. See Bone Dragon for more discussion.

Wind Dragon - 4UUUU (dragon, 1VP) -
Tap - Attack for GG, discard a card to ignore

Expensive dragon with a difficult to ignore attack. See Bone Dragon for more discussion.

Windup Man - RGUAu -
Income - If there is essence is left on this card, add +2 of each color on this card
Tap, pay 1 - put it on this card.


The final card is the worst of the whole bunch. This is a staggeringly expensive and slow card that takes way too long before you see any return. The fact that the extra resources go onto the Windup Man (and not into your supply) is a real killer, as it takes three turns before you can possibly see any return on your investment. Even then, you’ll probably be in the negative, so really you need to wait all the way until turn 4 or even 5. While you’re waiting for this guy to give you something, your engine is dead in the water since you’ve blown 4+ essence and 2 Gold on something that’s giving you nothing.

Most of the other expensive cards in the game give immediate return on their investment through their tap ability, so it’s puzzling to see this guy being so much slower.

Conclusion

Okay, that’s it. Thanks for reading, and please leave a comment below.

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Elad Yaakobi
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Thanks for the review!
I didn't understand on the Elvish Bow why you're +0 in the third turn,
the card costs 3+2, and three draws are 6.
I really like this card because it gives you, in addition to the resources, control on your game since you will see each card pretty quick.
As for the Mermaid, I am shocked. We find it one of the most powerful cards, and with the Druid it's a killer. While doubtless it fits certain strategies, in this game you must consider paths for victory and not just mere economical review. And Sunken Reef with Mermaid and Druid is a very powerful engine IMO.
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Whoops! For Elvish Bow, I originally had it at +1 and four stars, but somehow brainfarted while editing and miscounted, haha. I probably should have noticed I was confused and been more careful. Anyway I’ve made the edit, thanks!

For Mermaid I was kind of hoping someone would disagree. The card looks like it has a lot of potential, but I haven’t been able to get her to work yet in real games, and the numerical analysis definitely looks a bit iffy without Druid.

Druid + Sunken Reef + Mermaid is great for sure. Even in the weaker case where you’re playing her turn 3, you’ll be +3 after 4 activations and 1 income step. And maybe I’m overestimating the difficulty of playing her and Sunken Reef by turn 2. You’ll need 15 essence (4 for the Mermaid, 9 for the Sunken Reef, and 2 for each activation), which is definitely no picnic, but it’s maybe possible with an amazing early draw. And in that case you’re at +8, which is amazing.

Maybe that’s enough. I’ll bump it to 2 stars for now, and might bump it further if people find other places where it shines.

Thanks for chiming in!


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Great work, thanks!

One quibble:

Quote:
There are 9 cards that cost at least 5 in the deck (counting Windup Man, who costs a Gold and 3 other essences).
Why would Windup Man count as 5? Sacrificial Dagger doesn't give you back the specific cost of the item you discard, it gives you the number of essences in its cost in any mix excluding gold. So Windup Man can only give you four non-gold essences.

Quote:
You’ll need 15 essence (4 for the Mermaid, 9 for the Sunken Reef, and 2 for each activation), which is definitely no picnic, but it’s maybe possible with an amazing early draw.
You can get 15 essence by turn 2 even without playing any artifacts if you discard the other three cards, earn 2 from Druid and take 2 magic items that provide an essence!
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Easy combo: Duelist + Mermaid + Alchemist Tower

First generates gold, second places gold on the tower.

Very easy to start it from second turn. Also use alchemy or reanimate to support and faster this combo.

You don't need any other card so discard them for essences/gold/
From gallery of W Eric Martin
From gallery of W Eric Martin
From gallery of W Eric Martin

Mermaid is a beast!

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qwertymartin wrote:
Great work, thanks!

One quibble:

Why would Windup Man count as 5? Sacrificial Dagger doesn't give you back the specific cost of the item you discard, it gives you the number of essences in its cost in any mix excluding gold. So Windup Man can only give you four non-gold essences.

You can get 15 essence by turn 2 even without playing any artifacts if you discard the other three cards, earn 2 from Druid and take 2 magic items that provide an essence!
Nice points. I've deleted Windup Man from the Sacrificial Dagger blurb. Looks like it's only 8.

The 15 essence from that line will leave you with the wrong types of essence. But the point still stands that 15 essence is trivial. Getting 8 Calm is I guess the real tricky part.

NecRus888 wrote:

Easy combo: Duelist + Mermaid + Alchemist Tower

First generates gold, second places gold on the tower.

Very easy to start it from second turn. Also use alchemy or reanimate to support and faster this combo.

You don't need any other card so discard them for essences/gold/

Mermaid is a beast!
Nice! It looks like this can get ~8 points by turn 4 all on its own, so it doesn't need much help to form a winning strategy. I'm looking forward to trying this out now.
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Duelist + Alchemists Tower can get you 10 points by turn 4 on its own if you're really lucky! See Best four turn score with *zero* artifacts - currently 14VP and responses to it.
 
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Elad Yaakobi
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I have once had 10 points at round 4 from druid/mermaid/sacred grove and 1st player, I was sure I'm winning,
But two other players, one with the philosophers' stone and one with the oven, beat me.
 
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vivafringe wrote:

Sacrificial Dagger - BAu - (creature) -
Tap, pay G - Put BBB on the card
Destroy this and discard a card with cost X - Gain X


As long as you have a Dragon in your deck, this is great. Dragons are usually not worth playing, so you’re happy to discard one to this thing for a huge bounty. It also has a decent ability to “kill time” while you wait to draw your dragon. Discarding a 5 cost breaks even if you don’t use the first ability at all, so it’s pretty straightforward to make a nice profit.
How does discarding a 5 cost break even? If I start with BAu, and sacrificial dagger in my hand, playing the dagger and sacrificing the card leaves me with 5 essence, while just discarding both the dagger and the card leaves me with Au and 5 essence.

Quote:
If you don’t have something that costs at least 5, this becomes pretty bad, but that’s unlikely. There are 8 cards that cost at least 5 in the deck.
If I'm right that it needs a 7-cost to break even if you count gold as 2, so it needs Wind Dragon, Sea Serpent, or Philosopher's Stone to gain. It breaks even on Earth Dragon, which gives a lot of useful color conversion, but requiring one of 4 cards seems pretty specialized.
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“It’s all about the essences”

No. (But a common mistake that is easy to make). In Res Arcana all the essences in the world are useless unless you convert them to VP. If you generate twenty essences a turn but wait too long for your places of power you lose.

Despite that many of your ratings are correct but mermaid at two stars is insanely wrong.

Since one of the best uses for your first three cards can often be “pitch for a dragons lair” mid and late game is important.
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andylatto wrote:
If I'm right that it needs a 7-cost to break even if you count gold as 2, so it needs Wind Dragon, Sea Serpent, or Philosopher's Stone to gain. It breaks even on Earth Dragon, which gives a lot of useful color conversion, but requiring one of 4 cards seems pretty specialized.
Yep, you're right. I did the simple brainfart here of forgetting that the discarded card could have been discarded for 2 resources. After correction, with a 5 cost card, you have to wait until turn 2 to break even, or turn 3 to turn a profit. I've downgraded the card for now.

Bankler wrote:
“It’s all about the essences”

No. (But a common mistake that is easy to make). In Res Arcana all the essences in the world are useless unless you convert them to VP. If you generate twenty essences a turn but wait too long for your places of power you lose.

Despite that many of your ratings are correct but mermaid at two stars is insanely wrong.

Since one of the best uses for your first three cards can often be “pitch for a dragons lair” mid and late game is important.
Spicy post, and it gets at how I was underrating Mermaid as a card. It's a mistake to compare her to essence generating artifacts, where you then have to convert the essence they make into VP. "She doesn't pay off when played turn 3, so she's bad" is a nonsense statement in the same way that "Nightingale (the 1VP creature) doesn't pay off when played turn 3, so it's bad" is a nonsense statement.

A second mistake I made was only looking at a Sunken Reef, which has:
A) The best VP conversion rate in the game
B) Unlimited conversion per turn

The third mistake I did was just sort of forgetting untap effects exist, as she's obviously quite nice with Reanimate and other stuff.

Since she directly generates VP, I need to instead compare her to the VP conversion rates on all the Places of Power. I'll adjust to four stars for now and rewrite her blurb. (EDIT: actually after looking at conversion rates, I still think the Mermaid needs 3 activations just to break even. I'll stick with three stars for now, but might get talked into raising it yet again later, haha)

Keep the comments coming! I'm lovin' it.
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Actually, after looking at this again carefully, if you activate her 3 times, it seems like the Mermaid pretty much breaks even on all Places of Power with unlimited conversion rates. She's good with Dragon's Lair and Dwarven Mines, since those have tap abilities and she can give extra VP throughput. But if you want her to be noticeably good on any of the others with unlimited conversion rates, she needs to activate 4 times, or get sacced to an Altar effect.

Do people agree with this analysis? If so this still seems like a two star card, since getting her to tap 4x is no joke.

Here's some analysis of each place of power:

Quote:
Dwarven Mines: Tap, pay RRRBBB - Put AuAu on this

This converts at 3 essence per 1 VP, but you can only do this once per turn. This means that any additional VP the Mermaid can chip in is great, provided you can still afford to pay for the ability on the Mines.

Alchemist Tower: BRUG - Put Au on this

Alchemist Tower wants to be played quickly, sometimes even turn 1, so this is a good choice to pair with Mermaid. If you can activate her 3 times, you're paying 12 essence for 3 VP, minus any income she collected. If you paid an essence with Reanimate to untap her and played her turn 3, it's actually still a net wash. But if you can do better than that, she becomes worth playing.

Sunken Reef: Pay UUG - Put U on this

Sunken Reef has the best Essence to VP rate in the game, and has unlimited uses. So actually it's difficult for the Mermaid to outperform just dumping more essence into the Sunken Reef itself. If you can activate her 3 times, you're paying 9 essence for 3 vp, minus any income you collected. Similar to the forge, if you paid an essence with Reanimate to untap her and played her turn 3, it's still a net wash. But if you can do better than that, she's worth playing.

Dragon's Lair: Tap, Tap a Dragon - Put AuAu on this

You often won't have a Dragon to tap in dragon related strategies, and even if you do, it's a limited-use tap ability. This makes the Mermaid pretty much all upside!

Sacred Grove: Tap, Tap a Creature - Put G on this

This one is weird, because the Mermaid is a creature, which means you can just ignore her ability and tap both for free to gain a VP if you want. At that point, you sort of wonder if it was great to play a 4 mana creature just to act as a warm body. Still, the Mermaid has some interesting extra synergy if she can be untapped, or if you want to use the Sacred Grove's first ability, which taps and uses a Calm to make 5 Life. This one seems too context dependent to figure out, but probably Mermaid will go better with one of the other places of power.

Cursed Forge: Pay RRAu - Put Au on this
You usually want to wait as long as possible to buy the Cursed Forge, so the Mermaid is a pretty bad option here. That said, this has the same conversion rate as Alchemist Tower, so the same rule of 3 activations being roughly break even still applies.
 
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Nice work vivafringe! Your exhaustive review of all 40 artifacts sheds interesting light on the relative strength of cards. I'm looking forward to taking the time to read it more carefully and learning from your insights

Although I don't have nearly as many games under my belt, I thought I would share some initial impressions. Expert games can be as short as 4 rounds, but they can also be 5. As the rules mention, games may run up to 6 rounds. Many of your evaluations of cards (in terms of cost and returns) however are premised on a 4r game. Athanor, for example, rated only under your system, would be stronger in a 5-6r game, wouldn't it?

Also, isn't game length determined not only by players' experience and mastery, but also by the strategy they choose. My understanding is that some strategies entail a slower, constant accrual of VPs, while others can be faster and exponential. So an expert player's game might last longer than 4r with a different strategy.

The following point you made rang true to my ears:
vivafringe wrote:
- Value tends to vary wildly based on the other cards dealt.
Again, thanks for your contribution!
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Caylusboy wrote:
Nice work vivafringe! Your exhaustive review of all 40 artifacts sheds interesting light on the relative strength of cards. I'm looking forward to taking the time to read it more carefully and learning from your insights

Although I don't have nearly as many games under my belt, I thought I would share some initial impressions. Expert games can be as short as 4 rounds, but they can also be 5. As the rules mention, games may run up to 6 rounds. Many of your evaluations of cards (in terms of cost and returns) however are premised on a 4r game. Athanor, for example, rated only under your system, would be stronger in a 5-6r game, wouldn't it?

Also, isn't game length determined not only by players' experience and mastery, but also by the strategy they choose. My understanding is that some strategies entail a slower, constant accrual of VPs, while others can be faster and exponential. So an expert player's game might last longer than 4r with a different strategy.

Again, thanks for your contribution!
Thanks so much for the kind words! I agree that in 5 or 6 round games, the evaluations on a lot of cards change. Athanor is a good example of something that becomes pretty crazy!

I’m not sure I agree that experts will want to pursue a larger than 4R strategy. One issue is that all 4R strategies beat all 5R strategies. If I score 10 points on round 4, the game will end even if another player would have scored 100 points on round 5.

Also, people have found some minimalist strategies that can barely get to 10 on turn 4 by rushing a place of power and not playing any cards from their deck. One example is buying Alchemist Tower with the Duelist, then dumping all resources into monuments and VPs. This alone can score 10! So it stands to reason that expert play will pretty much always go out on turn 4. If they can’t, it would have been better to score 10 with a basic cardless strategy.
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vivafringe wrote:
I’m not sure I agree that experts will want to pursue a larger than 4R strategy. One issue is that all 4R strategies beat all 5R strategies. If I score 10 points on round 4, the game will end even if another player would have scored 100 points on round 5.
One question is whether one can pursue a longer game strategy and do something to hamper people from finishing in 4 turns.
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I wonder if the game would be "better" or "worse" if it were always exactly five rounds and the highest score wins at the end of five rounds.
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vivafringe wrote:
Actually, after looking at this again carefully, if you activate her 3 times, it seems like the Mermaid pretty much breaks even on all Places of Power with unlimited conversion rates. She's good with Dragon's Lair and Dwarven Mines, since those have tap abilities and she can give extra VP throughput. But if you want her to be noticeably good on any of the others with unlimited conversion rates, she needs to activate 4 times, or get sacced to an Altar effect.

Do people agree with this analysis? If so this still seems like a two star card, since getting her to tap 4x is no joke.
Again, if she works once in the game (when you couldn't convert VPs without her) then you are ahead. Even on an Alchemists tower (which is unlimited conversion) you may be hard pressed to balance correctly or you may just have a gold waiting around doing nothing on the final turn (and a spare blue+green). Leftover mana is a tiebreaker, so if you spend all of your mana for one extra point, you are ahead.

Also, if you lose the race for your primary place of power you are much better off with a Mermaid, because you probably aren't mana-color-optimized for your backup. She's not always a "draft first" card, but she often is.

Eric Brosius wrote:

One question is whether one can pursue a longer game strategy and do something to hamper people from finishing in 4 turns.
That's where Dragons (and the Bow) come in...a snipe that delays (not even denies, simply delays) the 10th point by a turn is a big deal.

My full thoughts on the cards (which I should update now that I've got more drafting play, but was mainly written for the non-drafting game) is at https://taogaming.wordpress.com/2019/05/04/too-many-words-ab...
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vivafringe wrote:
It’s about the essences, stupid.
No. It's all about the VPs. Essences are just a means to an end.

Quote:
Expert games often end on the 4th turn.
For 2P games, I'd expect "expert" games to last roughly:
45-55% 4 round game
40-50% 5 round game
5-10% 6 round game

(Of course, until enough "expert" players emerge, we won't know for sure.)

With only 40% of the artifacts potentially in play (in 2P games), it is quite easy to get a mis-match between artifacts and Places of Power, particularly if your places of power are more specialized ones such as Sacrificial Pit, Sorcerer's Bestiary, Coral Castle, Sacred Grove, and Dwarven Mines (one gives a fixed number of VPs, another needs lots of creatures and dragons, and the rest can't get 2 VPs in a round without some straightening power). Without a good fit or either player having a gold engine, this situation can often produce 6 round games.

(In games with 3+ Expert players, more artifacts are potentially in play, so the odds that someone has a good fit or a gold engine goes up, so the % of 4 round games increases.)

2P Expert play also means that one player might have a line to win in 4 rounds but be stopped by their opponent's plays (such as poaching the Place of Power the leading player is aiming for, adversely stacking the monument deck, denying them the Reanimate item, using life loss to pressure their essences, keeping 4 gold on hand to grab a valuable monument when it shows, or passing to deny them their 10th VP, etc.).

These tactics often turn what could be a 4 round game into a 5 round game, allowing more time for some cards you consider "marginal", such as Celestial Horse, to produce greater benefits.

Even given your assumptions, your math seems off in several places:

Quote:
Crypt - 3BB
Tap - Gain BB
Tap - Place one of your discards at -2 cost


If you discard something for two essence, then immediately resurrect it with the Crypt for the -2 discount, you’ve basically generated +4 essence in value.
Incorrect. The second power also costs B, so the net gain is +3 essences.

Quote:
Dragon Bridle - GBUR (1 VP)
Dragons cost 3 less
Tap - Ignore a Dragon Attack attack


It’s worth a point! This makes it decent if your opponent plays a dragon or if you have a dragon you want to play yourself. If you have two dragons, this will actually generate a profit in addition to its point (disclaimer: it’s not easy to play two dragons!).
Here, your emphasis on essences, not VPs, is overstating things a tad.

Place an essence value on 1 VP. Say, ~5 essences (this is consistent with most Places of Powers if you factor in both their fixed and variable costs).

With that in mind, placing the Bridle and a single 6-cost Dragon costs 11 essences (including 2 for each card) for 2 VPs. That's roughly average. The Bridle alone for 1 VP is 6:1, one worse than average.

You gain if either power is useful or if you have another discount. You basically break even otherwise.

Quote:
Flaming Pit - RR
Income - R
Tap, pay G - gain RB


On turn 3 you’ll be at +1 essence.
+2.

EDIT: sorry, +1 was correct. My brain-fart.

Quote:
Mermaid - GGUU - (creature)
Income - 1 blue
Tap - Add G, U, or Au to another card.
If you're placing a non-Gold essence on a Place of Power, it costs 7 for 1 VP the round you build it and nothing on the next round. 7 for 2 VPs is pretty sweet. If you get a cheap straighten and reuse for 2 more essences, 9 essences for 3 VPs over 2 rounds is quite good.

If you're placing gold, then it is 8, 9, and 12 essences for 1, 2, and 3 VPs over 1 round, 2 rounds, and two with a straighten ability. Not as good but ok.

[In your analysis per Place of Power, you're comparing marginal costs -- ignoring the fixed cost of each Place of Power -- so to be consistent you should not include the Mermaid's sunk cost either when considering just her power -- which is clearly good -- and not the decision to build or not build her.]

Quote:
Windup Man - RGUAu
Income - If there is essence is left on this card, add +2 of each color on this card
Tap, pay 1 - put it on this card.


The final card is the worst of the whole bunch.
Um... you are aware that you can place Gold on the Windup Man, right?

If you build it on round 1, place a Gold on it, and round 2 then place another essence (that you'll use for your intended Place of Power), then on round 4, you get 5 Gold plus 3 of the other essence. You invested 9+1 on rounds 1 and 2 for 13 on round 4. Not great, to be sure, but it can get you to a monument if you have no other good way of getting Gold.

If the game goes 5 rounds, the payoff becomes 9+1+1 for 22 on round 5, which is pretty good. This card forces expert players to really decide how long the game will be early on.
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Thanks to everyone for the great posts!

@Bankler:
Quote:
Even on an Alchemists tower (which is unlimited conversion) you may be hard pressed to balance correctly or you may just have a gold waiting around doing nothing on the final turn (and a spare blue+green).
I disagree with this Alchemist Tower example. If it’s the final turn and you have an extra UGAu, then you gain nothing from playing the Mermaid. You’ll have to find another UG to play the Mermaid, which will likely break up a set of UGRB for the tower.

Even under the more generous assumption where you have an extra UUGG and a gold lying around (and at this point the example is looking a bit contrived), it’s not worth playing the mermaid on the final turn. You can just discard the mermaid to complete a set instead, and have an extra UG lying around to maybe score a different way (or tiebreak).

Zooming away from the example, the Alchemist Tower generates 3 wild resources in income every turn. As a result I find it pretty easy to make sure you have balanced mana ratios when scoring it.

@Tom: Reply deeply appreciated! Thanks for taking the time to write it.

Quote:
It's all about the VPs. Essences are just a means to an end.
Yeah, this is obviously true, and I have been thinking about this since Bankler pushed back against it the first time. My response is a little complex, so bear with me.

On one hand, yeah essence is not everything, lol. You can see I don’t really believe essence is everything when discussing stuff like Dragon’s Teeth vs Fountain of Youth. Dragon’s Teeth always has a Place of Power that you can dump red essence into, while Fountain of Youth needs specifically Sunken Ruins (or some help from your cards) to really win with its large UUG output. This factors into why Teeth are a more consistent card.

At the same time, I think there is a dangerous sentiment in a lot of games to focus too much on the ends, and not enough on the means. Consider chess. For a long time the cached wisdom was historically that material (roughly the means) was not important, and positioning (roughly the ends, since your goal is to checkmate the king) was everything. Beginners were chastised for focusing too much on material. But these days, grandmaster players and engines seldom make big sacrifices of material for positioning, unless they specifically see a tactic where they can recoup material over the next few turns. Even pawn sacrifices in the opening game are becoming rarer and rarer. It turns out that material (the means) matters a lot.

I think people don’t like focusing on the means. In chess, at least, people romanticize the classic games with flashy queen sacrifices, the ones that prove material really isn’t everything. And they don’t really like seeing “engine” play, which tends to hoard material, play carefully, and not make a lot of big sacrifices for position. But if they really want to win, careful inspection of material is important. “It’s about the material, stupid” would not be a popular tip in the chess community (to say the least!), but IMO it’s a useful one for understanding what really makes the game tick.

I think the same is true for Res Arcana. An example of focusing too much on the ends would be planning ahead for a Catacombs strategy, then playing Hand of Glory on turn 2. From an ends-based perspective, this is good to do. You have committed to the “end” of using black to score points, and Hand of Glory makes black. But from a means-based perspective, this is a large blunder, because the Hand of Glory probably will not pay itself off once you factor in the black essence you’re giving to your opponent.

I admit that since the game is short, the ends are more important to consider than, say, a pure longterm engine game like Le Havre. But I still think inspecting means is hugely important for evaluating an artifact’s value. Mermaid is an important exception, and I recognize the goof, but hopefully I’ve fixed that one. And ironically, when switching from a means-based approach to an ends-based approach, my evaluation of mermaid actually didn’t change much.

Addressing the specific cards:

Crypt

Oops, I simply missed there was a B activation cost somehow. I’ll edit and adjust the rating. More importantly, I’ll have to apologize to my wife for cheating on yet another card, hahaha.

Flaming Pit

I can’t figure out how to get to +2. Maybe I’m missing something? I’ll spell out how I’m getting +1.

Turn 1: Play Flaming Pit (-4), tap and spend G (-1) to get BR (+2). Net gain so far is -3.
Turn 2: Collect income (+1), tap and spend G (-1) to get BR (+2). Net gain so far is -1.
Turn 3: Collect income (+1), tap and spend G (-1) to get BR (+2). Net gain so far is +1.

Mermaid:

I disagree that I should count the fixed cost of a place of power in addition to marginal cost. This would be true if the Mermaid could independently create VP. But since she needs a place of power to generate VP at all, it’s correct to compare the Marginal cost of Place of Power vs Marginal+Fixed cost of Mermaid.

Windup Man:
Given my record so far with misreading cards, it’s good to check that I know it can place gold, haha. But in this case yeah, I was aware you could place gold. This actually creates a little bit of a tactical annoyance, since you burn your starting gold to play the Windup Man. Then you have to discard another card to make a gold on turn 1.

Your discussion of “deciding if a game will go to 5” is great, and I think it definitely raises my evaluation of cards like Celestial Horse or Elemental Spring. Seeing you have a bad deck, then playing to win on turn 5 (hoping your opponent has a bad deck) seems like a sound plan. I will go back and rewrite the blurbs for a few of the marginal cards, saying they become playable if you judge your hand can’t win in 4.

Unfortunately for Windup Man, I think even if the game goes to 5, the card is still marginal. +11 after 5 turns is definitely impressive, but all of these resources cannot be used until turn 5. Most cards let you reinvest their essence immediately. You can buy a contested place of power, pour your resources back into your Chalice of Life, or convert them to gold and buy a monument with a useful ability. With Windup Man, this is noticeably missing, and you can really feel the pain of having so little to work with on turns 2 and 3.
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Tom Lehmann
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vivafringe wrote:
Tom Lehmann wrote:
Essences are just a means to an end.
My response is a little complex, so bear with me. [...]
I mostly agree but, imo, your original analysis suffers from not looking at VPs (by placing an essence value on them). It's why you have trouble accurately evaluating the Mermaid or artifacts with VPs.

Further, your use of "stupid" didn't help (despite it being a phrase) as it raises hackles and reader resistance for no benefit in a list where space limits nuance. Something like this might be more effective:

It's mostly all about the essences. Essences are just a means to the VP end, but a vital one. If a card gives “flexibility” but is a net loss in essences, chances are it’s a poor play.

Quote:
Mermaid: I disagree that I should count the fixed cost of a place of power in addition to marginal cost.
Sigh. In your reply to Brian you are *constructing situations* where the decision to play or not play the Mermaid is entirely marginal. Yes, those situations exist, but they are not the entire story. For example, if you place the Mermaid before you buy a Place of Power, then its total essence cost goes down 1 per round due to its income. If the Sunken Reef is not in play, you may well have some excess Calm and Life on hand, further reducing its effective cost.

Further, you state that the Mermaid is a poor fit for the Cursed Forge. In a game where you need to claim the Cursed Forge early (to prevent an opponent from taking it), then the Mermaid *can* be used to place Gold on it during a round when it is turned.

Quote:
Your discussion of “deciding if a game will go to 5” is great, and I think it definitely raises my evaluation of cards like Celestial Horse or Elemental Spring. Seeing you have a bad deck, then playing to win on turn 5 (hoping your opponent has a bad deck) seems like a sound plan. I will go back and rewrite the blurbs for a few of the marginal cards, saying they become playable if you judge your hand can’t win in 4.
Its not whether *you* have a bad deck, but whether the Places of Power on offer lend themselves to a quicker or slower game. In particular, evaluating this correctly can lead you to draft different cards (when playing with drafting).
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Sure thing, I've made the edit on the essence comment.
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1) love this thread and look fwd to digging into it
2) Athanor landed first and I think it's one of the most powerful cards in the deck. When I have it in my 8, my next scan is, "can I aggro pump a given essence with any of these other cards?" and I'll be looking to draw 3 / dump 3 with the barely-used item if it isn't in my starting hand. Same as Philosopher's Stone, it's easy to end games with this by buying the whole Monument deck.
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Alex Chen
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Yeah I could be super wrong on Athanor. I've tried it once so far, and it failed, but I think the execution was too derpy. I'll try again next time I get the card. Phil stone is definitely great with a resource pump.

Edit: Just drew Athanor plus Witch, which is maybe the ideal mage. Focused on making red all game, played Athanor turn 3, bought 5 monuments turn 4. Was pretty wet and wild. Good look at the ideal use case, now I've just gotta figure out how good it is without Witch.
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Paul Deffenbaugh
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Quote:

Elemental Spring - RRGU -
Upkeep - UGR
Pay U - Ignore an attack


In this case you pay a pretty steep cost and are still +0 after three turns. On the fourth turn, you do get to +3, but it’s questionable whether it’s worth the large initial turn 1 investment. It’s very bad to play after turn 1.

The defense ability is bad. Most attacks let you ignore the attack by paying a single essence, so being able to pay U to ignore is mostly redundant. It will help against the stronger dragons, however.
What am I missing on the ROI for Elemental Spring? Cost is RRGU. Income is UGR. Doesn't that mean if it's played in turn 1, the return is -1, +2, +5 as of turns 2, 3, and 4, respectively? I can't figure out how it could be +0 after three turns. Unless the ROI assumes the React Power will be paid for on every turn as well.
 
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Tom Lehmann
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calpauly wrote:
What am I missing on the ROI for Elemental Spring?
The opportunity cost of playing the card instead of discarding it for 2 essences. This increases the effective cost to 6.

-6 +3 +3 = 0 after round 3, +3 on round 4
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