Elder Scrolls Legends 2018 – A Year in Review and a Look Ahead

2018 was a transitional year for the Elder Scrolls Legends. The community will remember 2018 as the year of the new Sparkypants client. A year that has given us confidence that Bethesda is in for the long run with Legends. They are investing into growing the game and it’s popularity. With the delay of The Elder Scrolls Blade, the issues surrounding Fallout 76, and the rough release of the new Sparkypants client, Bethesda’s reputation as a game developer has suffered.

For Legends, Bethesda has taken a huge risk by shifting the development team and rewriting the game from scratch. This strategy will pay off during 2019. We will see a more continuous stream of new card content coming our way. The client is now in a better state than ever before. A strong focus on release quality has stabilised The Elder Scrolls Legends for a core community of TCG players. Bethesda is currently segmenting the Legends player-base, looking to monetise with cosmetic items and to re-engage with their dormant player-base (see Festival of Madness – Let’s Talk TESL-Commercials). This cash is funding the investment into new content and the tournament scene, which will both grow the player-base. Let’s look at the year 2018 in review!

January – Is Black Hand Messenger any Good?

During the first days of 2018, many players are starting to build their first Assassin decks with Black Hand Messenger. Black Hand Messenger, one of the most powerful Monthly Reward Card ever released, was just made available on January 1. While initially many doubted the power-level of the card, BHM was getting stronger as new expansions were released during 2018. It is a great example of how card value can vary across time in a digital card game, heas new content is being introduced and balance patches address a net-deck-skewed meta.

The January meta is influenced by the release of The Return to Clockwork City story expansion which was released on November, 30 2017, as well as the last Balance changes from December 2017. Those had hit magicka ramp decks pretty hard. Nerfs got applied to Hist Grove and Thorn Histmage which used to be shining stars in Scout decks. Other nerfs reduced the power-level of Thieves Guild Recruit and Unstoppable Rage for Control Archer, while Aggro Crusader got re-adjusted by a nerf against Ulfric’s Housecarl and Northwind Outpost. The Patch also brought some bug fixes and New Life Festival Packs with premium alternate art playsets of Leaflurker, Master of Arms and Alduin.

The Elder Scrolls Legens Packleader
Pack Leader – Monthly Reward January 2018

Since late 2017, The Elder Scrolls Legends offers Daily Login rewards. This reward system keeps players engaged daily and ensures the Daily Quests are getting looked at and completed. The Elder Scrolls Legends has a long history as a fair Free-2-Play game. The multiplayer-part of the game requires a continuous engagement of the player-base to ensure speedy matchups can be found quickly. And it works.

The Monthly Reward card for January 2018 is the 4/4 Wolf Pack Leader, who buffs all other wolves by +1/+1 and summons a 1/1 Young Wolf whenever he pilfers. Still, Wolf decks are still lacking a little bit of something to be viable on ladder or in tournaments during 2018.

February – Forgotten Hero Collection

On February 1, Bethesda releases the Forgotten Hero Collection, promoting the concept of Singleton decks and adding several powerful cards that will shape the 2018 meta. Most prominent example is Tullius’ Conscription that players either love or hate (see How to Counter Tullius’ Conscription). But also Bleakcoast Troll, Namira’s Shrine, Cast Into Time, Doppelganger, Cradlecrush Giant and Ulfric’s Uprising have become staple cards in so many decks. Some of the cards certainly got a big push by the Houses of Morrowind expansion, that would be released later in April.

On February 16, Bethesda reveals that Christian van Hoose (aka CVH) has been appointed as the Legends community manager. This happens in preparation of the next expansion pack and the big news Bethesda will share towards the end of May and showcases a significant increase in their Legends investment.

Monthly Reward Card Steam Constructor
Steam Constructor

The Monthly Reward card for February is Steam Constructor, a 2/2 Dwemer that summons another 1/1 Dwemer token if you have a neutral card in hand. While not the best monthly reward card ever, it has become a staple in all Dwemer decks which continued to rise in popularity during 2018. Dwemer decks can be very explosive and are easily available in any class. December’s WarpMeta #44 saw the emergence of Dwemer decks as their own category in the tournament meta and they will certainly be something to watch out for in 2019.

March – Journey-Nerf and Frostscale Dragon

On February 28th (practically I shall put this into March, as otherwise this month would be awfully short), Direwolf Digital releases the game update 1.70.2. It brings a nerf to Journey to Sovngarde. Journey shuffles all creatures from your discard pile back into your deck and gives them a buff of +5/+5. Prior to the patch, the creatures’ magicka cost were also reduced by 5, which caused some really abusive strategies. Still, the card is not easy to counter (see How to Counter Journey to Sovngarde), but it shows how digital card games can easily correct slightly overpowered cards, that hadn’t been noticed during design or play-testing.

With the update, Premium Legendaries are offered for 1,000 gold for a very limited time. This was a unique deal that we only saw back once more during The Festival of Madness (in December). For all collectors of premium cards, this was a huge discount (see Premium Art Cards in The Elder Scrolls Legends). It also reduced the gold stack many players had acquired through continued play across the previous month, where no new content was released.

Team Rankstar launches The Elder Scrolls Legends content on their team’s website. Over the next months, Aphelion grows a Legends-team and a section on their site that establishes itself as one of the primary sources for community-created content and he connects many experienced, successful players of Legends.

The Monthly Reward card for March 2018 is Frostscale Dragon, a 9-cost 6/6 dragon in Battlemage that deals 4 damage to a single enemy and 1 damage to all other enemy creatures. Quite frankly, the card has seen extremely little play and appears totally over-costed for the effect.

April – Houses of Morrowind

On April 5, the second regular expansion set for Legends Houses of Morrowind (HoM) is released. 149 new cards spike a huge wave of interest in Legends. Three-attribute-cards facilitate the first three-attribute-decks, introducing House Dagoth, House Telvanni, House Redoran, House Hlaalu and the Tribunal Temple from The Elder Scrolls Morrowind. The maximum deck size is increased to 100 cards and five pre-constructed 75-card decks allow players to get a feel for the new cards and houses quickly.

The expansion introduces Ash Creatures, intimidating monstrosities hailing from deep inside the Red Mountain. Most commonly used in House Dagoth, these creatures benefit from creatures with 5-power or more.

In addition, we see the first Gods in Legends: Vivec, Almalexa, Dagoth Ur and Sotha Sil are among the powerhouse legendaries in HoM.

The new keyword Rally, buffs creature cards in your hand, whenever a Rallying creature attacks, paving the way for stronger and stronger allies to join the battle. This mechanic is most predominant for House Redoran.

The new mechanic Betray allows you to sacrifice a creature on the board to play the action twice. Betray is most prominent in House Telvanni decks.

The Plot mechanic triggers a special effect, when another card has been played on the same turn before the card with the Plot mechanic. It pushes Aggro House Hlaalu decks to cause burst damage that oftentimes wins games by turn 5. Aggro Hlaalu dominates the ladder from April until August, when Patch 1.72.4 is released and nerfs House of Manor that leverages this mechanic as well.

The Exalt mechanic, mostly accessible to Tribunal Temple decks, allow you to invest a little extra-magicka to buff your creatures and trigger abilities of other cards.

Houses of Morrowind also introduces Puzzle Sets. While Caius’ Training is granted to all players for free, Naryu’s Challenges and Divath Fyr’s Trials are available for gold and cash.

Completing the puzzles grants new cardbacks that are awarded for completing all 10 puzzles in the set. In addition to the puzzle-card backs, HoM also introduces card backs for each of the three Houses, a Morrowind card back and a Nerevar Reborn card back, awarded for collecting 100% of the HoM expansion.

If you are familiar with The Elder Scrolls Morrowind, you will have noticed that two houses are still missing from Legends. House Dres and House Indoril (see The Elder Scrolls Lore: The Tribunal and the Houses of Morrowind). This fact is causing wild speculation about a future release of these houses in a 2019 expansion. So far, Bethesda has only confirmed, that these Houses will not be introduced in Isle of Madness, but has neither confirmed nor denied any additional plans for the last two three-color combinations.

On April 7, Bethesda showcases the new expansion at the Bethesda Gameplay days and meets many community members, probably in preparation of some of the major changes that were coming up.

The April meta snaphot shows Aggro Hlaalu and Midrange Battlemage to be dominating the ladder on Tier 1. This is followed on Tier 2 by Midrange Dagoth, Midrange Warrior, Telvanni Conscription and several other new “Morrowind-adjusted” deck-archetypes.

The Elder Scrolls Legends Conjurers Spirit
Conjurer’s Spirit – Monthly Reward April 2018

On April 25, Balance Patch 71.2 nerfs Mantikora and Nix-Ox. Nix-Ox is nerfed to only gain 5, instead of 6 magicka. Still, the card can be abused by Ulfric’s Uprising, Dark Rebirth and other cards that re-trigger the summon effect. The Nix-Ox combo deck continues to be the strongest deck in Legends, frustrating many players on the ladder. Mantikora’s Guard keyword is being removed, painfully hurting Spellsword and House Tribunal control decks and giving rise to a meta dominated by Aggro Hlaalu and Conscription decks.

The Monthly Reward Card for April is Conjurer’s Spirit, a support card that summons a ghost wolf in each of your turns, where you have gained life. While the card also doesn’t push Wolf decks into viability, it allows for some nice combos with Necromancer’s Amulet and works well in life-gain animal decks.

May – Grand Melee, Blackwood Distiller and THE announcement

May 1st sees the publication of a Developer’s Diary by Direwolf Digital, where they explain a few design decisions for Houses of Morrowind. They cover a few of the cards that see a little bit less play on the ladder these days. They explain the Oathmen, Camonna Tong Heavy, the Morag Tong, Seyda Neen Courier and the three new Cliff Racers (Cliff Strider, Cliff Raider’s Onslaught and Cliff Hunter) that the community still hasn’t figured out yet. Re-reading this now actually maybe gives a few ideas to be tried, but possibly these cards will remain mostly unplayed, unfortunately.

Morkul Gatekeeper – Alternate Art

The Legends meta in May is still dominated by Aggro Hlaalu with Uprising Scout making an entry on Tier 1, followed by Strike Monk and Midrange Battlemage on Tier 2. May 2nd, brings game update 72 with only a few bugfixes and a new cardback for players reaching Legends rank in Ranked play on the ladder. The Grand Melee offers a premium alternate art Morkul Gatekeeper as a Reward.

Monthly Reward Card Blackwood Distiller
Blackwood Distiller

The Monthly Reward Card for May is Blackwood Distiller, an Argonian with magicka ramp for the Scout class or House Telvanni. Funny enough, the December 2017 nerfs had just downgraded Scout’s widely popular Magicka Ramp mechanism. But with the introduction of HoM, Direwolf probably felt a need to re-balance that mechanism a bit and give it another push forward.

Oh, and pretty surprisingly, on May 31, Bethesda announces Legends development and support is moved away from Direwolf Digital to Sparkypants Studios. Sparkypants is rewriting the game client from scratch. Here is a quote from their original press release:

So why the change? Dire Wolf designed and created a wonderful card game with The Elder Scrolls: Legends, one that we very much believe in and want to grow. We believe that this move allows us to deliver on the promise of Legends to our players in the best possible way under Bethesda’s guidance and direction.

This change is also a commitment from us at Bethesda to better support the game with regular updates, new features, competitive scene support and the other requests from our fans. We have heard your requests and believe this is the best path to continue improving the game.

Rest assured, the core game mechanics, modes, cards and everything you already love about the The Elder Scrolls: Legends will remain intact and unchanged. In addition, existing players’ Collections, including pre-made decks, titles and any purchased or earned content, will not be affected.

Quote from the Original Bethesda Announcement

In late May, a few Content Creators and Legends community members are invited to meet the Sparkypants developers and share their ideas and concerns for the game. In the following days, a lot of positive, exciting statements are made, that have

June – Expecation Management and Prophet of Bones

On June 1, Pete Hines and CVH explain Bethesda’s reasons and go-forward-strategy behind the shift in game developers from Direwolf Digital to Sparkypants. Here is the full video with a lot of Q&A that will drive a lot of Sparkypants design and development work in 2019. A major reason for the shift in developers appears to be the ability to be able to release content more frequently and consistently, giving Direwolf Digital the ability to focus their attention and resources on their Eternal franchies. The video contains a lot of improvements that the new client will enable Bethesda to-do. This includes more cosmetics, like more Avatars, Playmats, Cardbacks, but also more card expansions released more frequently and a highly sought-after tournament mode.

On June 10, at E3’s Press Conference, CVH announces that the new client will be made available on consoles, such as XBox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch later this year with true cross-platform game play. This is later adjusted, as PS4 does not support cross-console play. Possibly, this announcement was just made to put pressure on Sony. For sure, we are still waiting for the new client to make it to consoles. Maybe 2019? But we don’t know for sure, only that it will take still a lot of time. The new client is being showcased on PCs at the Bethesda booth and sparks great interest among E3 visitors. Viewers of the E3 Press Conference on Twitch were able to win a special cardback that was made available in the new Sparkypants client.

CVH on Bethesda’s stage at the E3 Press Conference

On June 13, the new card frames are revealed – the cards look like they have actually been played and used, with much more subtle frames around them. On June 21, Bethesda announces the Legends Master Series Championship, with Qualifiers held during July and the finale played at Quakecon in August. The prizes for this tournament add up to a total of $50,000, which is one of the highest prize pools for a digital card games.

The Monthly Reward Card for June 2018 is Prophet of Bones, a 1-cost 2/1 that allows you to fill a lane with 1/1 Skeleton guards for a +5 Exalt. The card provides synergy with Skeleton and Token decks, but suffers from the excessive Exalt costs and does not see much play yet. This will be the last Monthly Reward Card until October.

July – Master Series Qualifiers

Justin and Charm3r and The Master Series Qualifiers

July sees the qualifiers for the 2018 Master Series Championship being broadcast by You Tube content creators and Twitch streamers Justin Larson and Charm3r (aka Darik Oswalt). The qualifiers and the tournament bridge the fact, that no new card content and no balance patches are being released, which keeps the meta somewhat at stalemate across the summer months: Tier 1 is dominated by Nix-Ox combo decks, Midgro Warrior, followed on Tier 2 by Aggro Hlaalu, Tribunal Control, Midrange Battlemage, and several others. It is the month that let Conscription decks rise in popularity with Telvanni Conscription taking the lead over Hlaalu or Redoran Conscription.

On July 28, Patch 1.72.4 is released by DireWolf Digital. The balance changes involve nerfs on many Houses of Morrowind cards. Affected are Drain Vitality, Ulfric’s Uprising, Haunted Manor, Hand of Dagoth, Tel Vos Magister and Mudcrab Merchant. Duke Vedam Dren gets a slight improvement to his health. This patch was the last Legends release from Direwolf Digital.

At the end of July, Bethesda releases an update from Sparkypants on the progress of the new client. Sparkypants announces to “[…] incorporate a release calendar in our regular updates and [to] share new features in their early stages with influencers, garnering feedback to address what’s best for the game and for its players. Tournaments will be the first of the new features, and we can’t wait to roll them out later in the year.”

Retrospectively, this statement is a great forward-looking perspective on which the company has not yet delivered upon. A release schedule with a roadmap of new features and content is not visible and announcements by Bethesda and Sparkypants remain vague at best and happen on the week before. The tournament feature is also moved back to an undisclosed date in the future but remains one of Sparkypants top priorities.

August – Master Series Finale & Content Draught

The first Bethesda-backed Legends eSports tournament sees it’s showdown during the 2018 Master Series Finale at Quakecon, on August 9 and 10. The tournament was broadcasted on Twitch by CVH, Justin Larson (aka The Justin Larson), Darik Oswalt (aka Charm3r), Corey Gaudreau (aka Corey Milhouse) and John Utter-Leyton (from Sparkypants). Players from across the world engaged in an epic tournament with 16 players battling each other on Day 1:

and the top 8 Bracket competes for the Winner’s prize of $20,000 on day 2:

In the finale, Plzdonhakme wins 3:2 against Karakondhzul in a thrilling series of matchups. The decklists from this tournament have been go-to decks for many players during the following months and are still very influential on the current meta.

At Quakecon, Bethesda also announces Isle of Madness, a story expansion for The Elder Scrolls Legends without giving a release date.

The Blood Warriors Guild is formed by BloodDrunk007, a few content creators and dedicated members of the Legends community. The Guild provides members of the Legends community a vibrant, supportive, and creative space in which to develop their skills and flourish as players. The BWG competitive team “Team Syndicate” is formed and led by floWMega.

September – TESL 2.0 – The Sparkypants Client

On September 1, Bethesda reveals more details about the new look of the Sparkypants client on the Bethesda Game Play Days. The hype is growing and fueled by the ongoing content draught. With all the announcements across the past months, the expectations are high.

Then, the new client is released on September 25th. The initial release is full of bugs, has issues loading on certain mobile phones and is perceived as a huge disappointment. The first update, deployed a day later, brings the game into a stable, playable form for iOS and PC. However, compared to the old client, there are many bugs across the entire game. They affect card interactions, visual and sound effects. Players report login issues, loading issues and many other problems. Sparkypants had done an amazing job in migrating all decks and data, but didn’t migrate the match history, so the ranked ladder play for the month of September was not showing ranks anymore.

Justin Larson, one of the most active supporters and content creators of Legends records a YouTube video of his experience with the new client on day one, after the release. You can see his excitement in the first part of the video which turns slightly around, as he is discovering a few of the issues while playing.

Overall, the game is playable, though. But many players are frustrated and turn away from Legends. Reddit and Twitter are full of complaints and bug reports and the atmosphere is getting very negative. Justin issues a video “The Morning After” in an attempt to address the emotions and try to calm people down.

The Morning After the release of the new client

The new cardback, commemorating the release of the new client goes
almost unnoticed. But the crisis is managed professionally, and over the next weeks each and every bug report is seriously addressed by the dev team. A complete rewrite of an entire game is such a huge task in software development, and many might lack an understanding of the size of the task. By September 29, the first patch is released and by October 9, the majority of issues has been resolved. The magnitude of Sparkypants’ achievement during this project cannot be stressed enough. With a distance of three months, most players appear to have adjusted and are now very happy with the new client.

October – Patching-Season and the Dragonknight Returns

The Blood Warriors Guild issues a Community Statement to support for the game, also attempting to keep-up (and turnaround) the mood. The Sparkypants DEV and QA teams continue to work overtime and deploy patches in a matter of weeks, edging out most critical issues and bringing the game client to a level that is better than before. SParkypants QA is actually actively engaging with the Legends community on Reddit, which only mot many franchises do.

Altmer Dragonkinght – Monthly Reward OCtober 2018

The first Monthly Reward Card in the new client is Altmer Dragonknight. It marks the first new card content after the release of the new client. It brings a small push to Action Mage and Control Tribunal, and is complimented by a few cards from a new promo expansion that is first called Frostfall Collection. However, due to copyright issues, the expansion is renamed to FrostSpark Collection. The new cards are revealed prior to the release by Bethesda and some selected Twitch streamers and create a new positive hype within the community.

November – Frostspark Collection & Festival of Madness

The FrostSpark Collection is released on November 1. The meta is stirred up only a little bit. Warriors7 November meta snapshot still sees all existing Tier 1 decks where they used to be since the last patch was released: Telvanni Conscription and Aggro Hlaalu have been refined further and Aggro (Midgro) Warrior is still a safe bet, as well. The Sword of the Inferno pushes Ramp Warrior decks into Tier 3 of the meta.

The Festival of Madness launches on November 20th, and brings great deals every day, including a re-run of some premium cosmetic items, that had been released previously. Bethesda is monetising the game with cosmetics, segmenting the player-base and attempting to fund the increased investment into new content.

Frenzied Alit
Frenzied Alit

The November Monthly Reward Card is Frenzied Alit, a red 1-cost, designed for Aggro, self-harm or self-heal decks. The Alit sparks a discussion about the low power-level of 1-cost cards in the game. With FrostSpark’s Karthspire Scout, June’s Prophet of Bones, Legends is now seeing another new candidate for an interesting opening. However, due to the power-level of some 2-drops, the lane system and the ring of magicka they fail to make a big impact yet.

December – Cheesemancer and the Sheogorath Madness

While the Festival of Madness continues to bring a great offer per day, the Balance Patch 2.5 nerfs Goblin Skulk, Ash Berserker, Tullius’ Conscription, and Genius Pathmage on December 14. The patch attempts to improve the Exalt mechanic by reducing the cost of some Exalt cards. Namely Temple Patriarch, Temple Conjurer and Enamor’s Keeper are becoming beefier. Deck codes are introduced and integrated to the primary sources of net-decks quickly (legends-decks.com, teslegends.pro), allowing players to share their decks with each other much more seamlessly.

On December 18-19, the Festival of Madness deal is a new card, Cheesemancer. The cards provides a sneak preview into some of the card effects from Isle of Madness (see Cheesemancer – Uses and Synergies). As we approach the holidays, premium card backs are introduced in bundles of 50 card packs, as well as a new premium alternate art card for Golden Saint.

Ashlander Punisher – Monthly Reward December 2018

The Monthly Reward Card for December 2018 is Ashlander Punisher, a 4-cost 5/4 with Breakthrough for Archer, House Dagoth or House Hlaalu. Equipped with Breakthrough, Ashlander Punisher deals damage to your opponent when running over smaller creatures in the opening phase of the game. Ashlander Punisher is also able to improve its own power by using his pilfer and slay abilities, making him a good option for your next Unstoppable Rage deck. I certainly know someone who is very anxious to give this a try in the Slay/Pilfer Gutpuncher classic.

2019 Outlook for The Elder Scrolls Legends

Here are some hopes and predictions for Legends in 2019. Some are based on little tid-bits announced by Bethesda, others are purely my own speculation.

A Frequent, Consistent Stream of New Elder Scrolls Legends Content

Sparkypants have hired three new card designers to rock and roll on content in 2019. Isle of Madness will just be the kick-off to a fantastic year for The Elder Scrolls Legends. A few minor spoilers about new content have been confirmed by Bethesda or Sparkypants, thus far:

  • Isle of Madness will include about 50 new cards, similar to previous Story Expansions.
  • Isle of Madness will include new card types and new mechanics.
  • The Isle of Madness release date is not far out. Joey and CVH have already played it on dev builds.
  • The next expansion after Isle of Madness will be bigger than IoM.
  • 2019 will bring multiple regular expansion sets in a regular cadence of a few months. The expansions will bring new game modes and new lane types, as well as new card mechanics. There will be new single player and new Player-to-Player content coming out.

IoM is not far away! Bethesda’s marketing team will start the hype train soon. Joey Howell, the Legends Brand Manager has already revealed, that they will start with a trailer video, followed by some community card reveals, so “it shouldn’t be long”… Until then:

Isle of Madness Card Speculation

Pushing Tournaments

With Magic: the Gathering Arena in public beta and a prize pool of $10m in 2019 across digital and tabletop Magic, Bethesda and Sparkypants will need to deliver on their promise to deliver a in-game tournament feature. In combination with the tournament feature, Sparkypants is likely also going to improve the Spectator mode. In parallel, Bethesda will have to invest further in eSports with some giant tournaments. We will definitely see a bigger 2019 World Series Tournament. Most likely, it will be held again at Quakecon 2019 which is scheduled between July 25-28.

What’s Not Happening in 2019

Here are my personal predictions for 2019. I so much hope to be proven wrong…

Improvements to the Progression System?

The hero progression system currently runs to level 50. Once your character has reached level 50, there is no further progression. CVH has confirmed that this is a request he has heard frequently, however, it does not have high priority. For me, the progression system functions as a means to keep new players engaged with the game as they level-up and provide free content to them.

It probably would not be difficult to extend this system and improve other cards with it. It might actually be a nice mechanism to introduce balance patches, where cards need to be buffed up Instead of granting the buff immediately, one could let players play a few games to unlock these. For example, the Exalt card improvements could have been introduced through playing a few games (with Exalt cards).

Elder Scrolls Legends on Consoles in 2019?

Something that I predict will not be happening in 2019, is Legends coming to consoles. Bethesda has confirmed to be providing an update during 2019, but the actual release of Legends to consoles is most likely not going to happen. I hope I can be proven wrong on this one…

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