Limited formats like the Bear Draft present a particular challenge to designing a balanced metagame. The card counts are skewed significantly by the overall size of pool and constraints on deck size. Common cards have only 3 copies in the draft so it is difficult (often impossible) for a player to to include multiple copies of staple cards like A Test of Will or Gondorian Shield in their deck. Moreover, some of the most powerful heroes in a constructed format simply do no work well in a limited format like draft.
One of the best examples of this is Erestor. Noldor decks rely on discarding cards to trigger various effects, as well as interacting with cards in the discard pile (see Elven-light). Erestor is arguably the best engine for a Noldor deck as he gives incredible card draw from the first turn, and his forced effect guarantees that cards like Elven-light and Lords of the Elder will be the discard pile. This is all well and good when you can construct a deck with 3 copies of staple zero and 1-cost cards, and lynchpin attachments like To the Sea, To the Sea!. A quick look at RingsDB will confirm that Erestor features in some of the most powerful decks the game.
Unfortunately, his power does not transfer so easily in a limited format like draft. It’s simply not practical to include multiple copies of critical Noldor attachments in the main draft pool. Even with signature cards it remains likely that a draft deck featuring Erestor lacks the essential ingredients which make a Noldor deck work. Add to this the problem that draft decks are smaller than their constructed counterparts and you introduce the problem of a draft deck built around Erestor running out of cards. Obviously, Will of the West can solve this problem, but that card is not generally useful enough to include in the main draft pool. A single copy as a signature card is probably too risky for most players to consider Erestor.
The above is supposition on my part, but I included Erestor in earlier versions of the draft pool and no one ever chose him as a starting hero, so it’s a reasonable conclusion. Since I’ve started tracking the deck lists that each player drafts, a general trend has emerged which is concerning. Lore is, by far, the least popular sphere in draft decks. Aside from Beravor hero, and staple cards like Daeron’s Runes and Warden of Healing, very few Lore cards end up in players draft decks. I can even see cases where players have drafted a few popular Lore cards early, then pivoted away from Lore and into other spheres as the draft progressed.
Even in a limited format like draft, the metagame for a game of this size is inherently complex. It would be disingenuous to say I understand all of the reasons for Lore’s lack of popularity in draft, but a thorough analysis of past deck lists does provide some clear patterns. Players like staple cards; cards with a clear purpose and consistent usefulness in the kinds of challenges a quest can present. This is why cards like Sneak Attack, Armored Destrier, Defender of Rammas, Feint, Steward of Gondor, A Test of Will, and Unexpected Courage are always drafted. To be fair, Lore has cards in the tier of staples, they all just overlap with each other. Looking at past draft decks, the only consistently drafted Lore cards feature two effects: Card Draw and Healing.
These are both powerful effects, to be sure, but they are both much closer to support effects and core pieces of a decks strategy. For those who would argue that card draw is not a support effect, remember that a draft deck is allowed to be 30 cards. With a six card starting hand, a player has already seen 20% of their deck before they even take a turn. This means that many powerful draft decks feature little if any card draw. Certainly, there are powerful draft decks built around repeatable draw effects like Beravor and Galadriel, it’s simply not as critical to making a powerful draft deck as it would be in constructed where the large deck brings different challenges.
Sphere balance issues were discussed in previous metagame articles on this site, and I’m not going to belabor the point any further here. Suffice it to say, Lore’s relative dearth of lynchpin strategic cards is only exacerbated in a format like draft. To that end, and inspired by my recent design of Seal of the Steward, I’ve decided to try to remedy the situation with a few custom cards. Unfortunately, there won’t be time to playlets these designs before this year’s Lure of Middle-earth, so they will have to wait until Con of the Rings in the fall, but I’m excited to use the Bear Draft to test out ideas on how to rebalance the card pool so that Lore is not left as the forgotten sphere.
Each of these cards is intended as a common card in the draft (3 copies each). I’m curious to hear the opinions of other players on these designs. Are there other effects you’d like to see Lore receive in a draft format? A reminder for those who would criticize these as overpowered, these are only intended for Bear Draft, so the balance issues that could arise from introducing them to a constructed environment simply don’t exist. That said, I tried to keep them in the spirit of the power levels of the official cards, and I’m fairly confident I’ve accomplished that goal.
I agree that the power level of these seem pretty consistent with the official card pool. That said, I don’t see how they accomplish your stated goal of making Lore more attractive in draft? None of these stand out as a must pick to me.
The Woodmen’s Axe is the one that stands out the most to me and it’s only +1 attack on a restricted attachment. The ability is nice but still seems situational.
The Dunedain Guard is just a slightly modified Dunedain Lookout. I really can’t tell if it better or worse because stats are the same and the ability can cancel any when revealed but takes a new card. 1’s down the board is pretty much repeating the problem with many Lore non-unique allies and is lack of efficiency. Many cost 3 to get 2 willpower or 2 attack or you need an unique character.
Looking at bear draft 8, Spirit and Tactics have some very efficient common allies like the Galadriel’s Handmaiden, Ethir Swordsman, Knights of the Swan, and Derndingle Warrior for example. Leadership and Lore basically focus on the utility of the allies’ abilities at common. If heavy into Lore you’re basically banking on heroes, uncommon and rare picks to bring in raw stats. Uncommon only has Emyn Arnen Ranger and Mirkwood Explorers for willpower. One is expensive and the other requires traps and set up to be effective. No Lore hero has a starting willpower above 2.
Blessing of Nimrodel with 3 healing for 1 and emergency readying seems like a slighty worse Lembas. I guess it’s not vulnerable to attachment hate that is less prevalent than discarding cards from hand. It isn’t giving Lore much more in the way of readying like the popular Destrier or Unexpected Courage.
Gatekeeper is fine as 1 willpower for 1 cost. I don’t see it making that much of a impact in making up for the lack of efficient willpower in Lore.
These all just feel like filler cards. I get these would generally work for a lot of decks. I’m just not seeing them bring enough raw power to pull Lore out of a secondary utility role.
I think the question with these cards is why would someone pick them over the common alternatives in the other spheres? Dunedain Guard or Test of Will? Blessing of Nimrodel or Unexpected Courage or even Feint? Over Sneak Attack? Woodman’s Axe or Valiant Sword? Gatekeeper I’d probably take over Silver Circlet, good job on that one.
I think you went too conservative if the goal is to make Lore attractive. If you want Lore picked you need staple level cards to compete against the staples in the other spheres. That or the staples like Test of Will need to be moved to higher rarities.