Following up from the first interview from a former player of Elements is another interview, this time with a current Elements player. A lot of the Elements community felt the previous interview was missing a lot of information since there have been some major updates since the time Jeff, the previous interviewee, played. This week’s interviewee is Joseph, and a lot of what he discusses goes into more detail than what Jeff discussed previously.
Me: Alright, to start this off then, how long have you played Elements?
Joseph: I started in May 2010 but left for a while. I’ve been an active member of the game and community since November 2010.
Me: I see. Since you’ve been playing for almost two years now, have you participated in any tournaments recently?
Joseph: I entered one yesterday because I liked the rules. However, I don’t enter nearly as many as I used to, and I spend significantly less time preparing than before. Yesterday, I think I spent more time building decks between matches than before the tournament.
Me: Ah. Can you describe the meta as it is right now?
Joseph: That’s really a huge question. Do you mean unupgraded or upgraded, and in how much detail? Before or after the shard updates?
Me: You can feel free to go in as much detail as you like. Perhaps it’s best to describe how the meta has progressed since the rainbow meta described in the interview with Jeff.
Specifically, Jeff said he played when only two types of decks comprised the meta: rainbow and mono. What changes happened since then? From the forum responses, it seems more decktypes are supported.
Joseph: Jeff was talking about the pre-pendulum metagame. I believe he was referring to upgraded play, where hourglasses are much stronger. The rainbows he referred to were Timebows, slow decks that focused on a card advantage by using many hourglasses.
However, I don’t think there was ever a time when Timebows were overpowered, or even highly strong, in PvP. While it is true that Timebows used to be popular, the metagame was not developed at that time, and many of their counterdecks had not become popular or even used.
Me: I see. What are pendulums and how have they changed the game? Let’s stick to upgraded play at the moment. In regards to the 1.14 tournament, often times a change in meta can have an effect on a tournament that uses only ‘past’ cards.
Joseph: What I found was that speed rainbows were the dominant deck. However, I don’t think they were popular for PvP at the time. They were not effective against False Gods, and I suppose people never thought about using speedbows for PvP. Well, unfortunately, very little has stopped the power of Supernova speedbows in upgraded play.
Pendulums made duos much easier, but not many of the counters to Supernova rainbows are pendulum-based duos.
Me: So would you say the upgraded play metagame has made little change since 2010?
Joseph: Elements is a small game, and upgraded PvP is not popular. In 2010, from what I’ve heard, Discord/Black Hole speedbows were not actually very popular. This was not because they weren’t good, but instead because people had not heard of and tested them very much. From my experience in the late 2011 season of CL, the upgraded league, they were the dominant deck type.
There were a few counters to Supernova rainbows introduced, however. Sanctuary is a nice way of stopping denial from Discord and Black hole. Ghost of the Past caused GotP decks, filled with Rewinds that can hurt speedbows.
Shard of Sacrifice came out, and from what I’ve heard, it could be an effective answer to Discord/Black Hole speedbows. Still, the problems are not gone. Most of the counters to D/BH speedbows lose to Firestall, another strong deck, and Shard of Sacrifice is overpowered itself.
Me: What does Shard of Sacrifice do, and for how much cost?
Joseph: Shard of Sacrifice swaps damage and healing for the cost of 40 health (48 unupgraded) and all non-death quanta.
Me: I see. Wow. It seems as if the attempts to change the meta have further unbalanced it.
Joseph: Zanz doesn’t often nerf cards. This is probably because people complain when the cards they enjoy using are not as effective as before. I doubt zanz prioritizes the small minority that plays competitive PvP, however. Or if he does, he doesn’t know how to best effectively fix the metagame. Ideally, he would have never introduced overpowered cards. This requires less energy to add new cards that fix the metagame, and there will be no complaints due to nerfs.
Me: I believe nerfing is something all developers have to learn to deal with. I read Rosewater’s ‘Making Magic’ column often, and one of the things he mentioned is when nerfing cards, don’t nerf the ability (which the players often find exciting to use), but nerf the cost (raise it).
Joseph: I would agree with that. Many players want to nerf cards by adding counters, but this takes more effort than increasing the cost.
Let’s talk about the unupgraded PvP meta then. I figure it’s much more diverse than upgraded play, and possibly Zanz’s main priority.
Joseph: I believe zanz finds it more important because most players use mostly unupgraded decks. Even at competitive levels, tournaments and events are mostly unupgraded.
Me: Can you describe the unupped meta a little bit?
Joseph: I’m not quite sure what it’s currently like with the introduction of shards, but I’ve entered two BL seasons, and I will describe the metagames at those times.
In early 2011, Graboid Rainbows were the most popular decks. While there were many counters available, the majority of the players did not know how to effectively counter grabbow. At the lower levels, I think the serious players mostly used Grabbows and attempts to counter Grabbows. However, the metagame was more developed at the top levels.
When I say serious players, I mean players trying to win. Some players enter the leagues just to try original or fun decks. At the top levels, Grabbow wasn’t really quite as effective, since the best players knew how to reliably beat it. There were many other decks used. Some that did not beat Grabbow and instead countered some of the counters to Grabbow. There was much more variety than the upgraded league.
Joseph: Any questions about Season 1/2011?
Me: I’m not too familiar with the meta as a whole, since most of what I know stems from Jeff’s comments about the upgraded meta. I don’t particularly have many questions about season 1 unless the meta hasn’t changed since then.
Joseph: By season 2/2011, grabbows were neither as powerful nor as popular. New counters had been introduced and more players knew how to counter grabbow.
Patch 1.27 introduced Ghost of the Past and Sanctuary. While neither of those counter grabbow themselves, they are both key parts of decks that do. Ghost of the Past/Nightmare decks can use Reverse Times, which can beat grabbows when paired with an efficient source of damage. Sanctuary allows for Sanctuary Firestalls, which have the control to outstall the more common quantum pillar based grabbows.
In Season 2/2011, Grabbows were not as popular, but I wouldn’t really say the metagame improved. Grabbows were still very strong, and a new, equally powerful deck type was introduced, Sanctuary Firestalls.
Me: I see. Do you have any particular opinions about the unupped meta?
Joseph: The combination of Grabbow and Sanctuary Firestall was too strong. There were few decks that were capable of countering both Grabbow and Sanctuary Firestall. I think it is more balanced than upped play but still has flaws that could easily be fixed.
Me: You mentioned Zanz doesn’t really nerf cards, but instead introduces new counters that potentially cause the meta to become even more unstable. Do you believe the flaws in the unupped meta could be easily fixed with nerfs?
Joseph: Yes. A nerf to Graboid (or Nova), Fire Bolt, and Discord will greatly improve the metagame. Grabbows and Firestalls will no longer be the dominant force they are. I included a Discord nerf because Grabbow and Sanc Firestall are currently keeping Discord from being overpowered. Nerf Grabbow and Sanc Firestall and Discord then becomes OP. However, I don’t think these 3 nerfs will introduce anything that is as overpowered as Grabbow and Sanc Firestall currently are. As for Shard of Sacrifice, from what I’ve heard, it isn’t OP in unupgraded play, but if it is, it should also be nerfed.
Me: Let’s go back to the tournaments discussion. How are they organized, by the developer, community leaders, or anyone in the community?
Joseph: The Tournament Organizers create the rules and are usually the people making and updating brackets during the tournament. Zanz creates reward codes to be given as prizes.
Me: I see. I read on the forums that the AI takes over if you disconnect during a game. Does this happen for tournament games as well?
Joseph: When there is a desync, both players are matched up against the AI. Depending on player’s preference, players can either rematch or both play the AIs.
While the rules technically state that there is a rematch unless one player can prove that they have a forced win, a player will usually forfeit the win if he or she is unable to beat the AI.
Me: Is the AI really strong enough to actually replace a human player in the case of a desync?
Joseph: Sometimes one player has a large enough lead that even the clumsy AI can manage a win, but often both players will beat the AI. In this case, they will rematch.
The AI won’t often mess up a clear win, however.
Me: What about desyncs in non-tournaments? Both players are matched against the AI, and if both win do they get a victory on each other?
Joseph: I believe both will receive a win, but PvP1 and PvP2 don’t really matter very much.
Me: I see. Is there any sort of ranking system?
Joseph: No. There’s score, but it is highly inaccurate for determining PvP skill because it is mostly based off of games against the AI. Competitive PvP takes place through the forums.
Me: Ah, so much of this game is community-driven.
Joseph: Everything that is fun for me is related to the community, except maybe Arena.
Me: I believe we’ve talked a lot about the meta and tournaments. What first brought you to Elements?
Joseph: I saw it on kongregate and gave it a try. I think the majority of the players found the game through kongregate.
Me: Makes sense. Kongregate is one of the most popular flash portals. Was there anything in particular you really liked about Elements when first starting it?
Joseph: I liked creating/improving different decks and trying to take on stronger and stronger AI levels and acquire upgrades. Now, I only play because of PvP.
Me: You mentioned PvP is driven by the community. Would a player who played this game but didn’t get involved with the community, in your opinion, have much incentive to play the game for more than a few months? I ask this because joining the community is never a requirement for gamers.
Joseph: In my opinion, no, they would leave within a few months. However, this isn’t the case for everyone. Many of the players in Platinum Arena, the ones with very high scores, are not active on the forums.
Me: What is Arena?
Joseph: Arena is an AI level that consists of decks submitted by players. Players can play against 4 Arena levels, each with different difficulties and payouts. They can also submit a deck to one of the 4 Arenas depending on their score.
Me: I see, so basically where you can play against other players decks controlled by the AI.
That’s very interesting. Having an AI that can utilize any sort of deck effectively is a challenge to create, unless the ways of winning the game aren’t too different from each other.
Suppose you were in charge of Elements. Is there anything you would change?
Joseph: I’ll group the improvements into PvE, In-game PvP, and Balance.
For PvE, I think more quests would be very beneficial for the amount of time it takes to add into the game. Quests give players incentive to play against the AI. There could be quests/achievements for many things, such as a certain amount of wins against each AI level, wins in a row against AI levels, winning with more than 60 cards in the deck, etc.
In-game PvP could be improved by a rating system for PvP1 and PvP2, which would not be hard to implement. Something like ELO would be fine. There could also be rating-related quests. If more time is available, I would like tournaments through the game. There would be far more players entering tournaments if the forum part is removed. This would take a long time to program, however.
PvP would also improve with fewer desyncs. If a player disconnects, I think he or she should have a couple minutes to return to the game. The servers would also have to be improved to prevent server-caused desyncs.
As for Balance, I’ve already mentioned nerfs that would improve the game. I would also like a system for the top players to vote on cards to nerf. There are also many cards that need buffs, but I find these less of a problem. An overpowered card hurts the metagame far more than an underpowered card.
Me: Yeah, I can definitely agree with that. Well, that’s all of the questions I have. Is there anything else you would like to mention?
Joseph: No, that’s all.
Me: Alright, well thank you very much for your time! Have a good night.
I’ve learned a lot more nitty-gritty details of both the game and the community from Joseph. He definitely has some very good advice regarding card game communities as a whole, and I will be sure to take his words into account in approaching the social aspects of Zems.
This interview will be the last interview with an Elements player. I’ve already gotten in touch with some Shadow Era players and will be interviewing them this coming week, so stay tuned for the next interview!
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