Greetings everyone, my name is Kurtis Kapahala and I’ve been playing competitive TCGs at the highest level for almost 20 years. I believe that mastering the fundamentals trumps all and that having a strategic philosophy over an Ideology helps gain the small edge that’s needed to stand out from the pack. Welcome to the first installment of my new series, Limited Level Ups, where I’m going to be teaching you how to ask the right questions to improve your play. Today, we are going to investigate Portals.
Portal was a mechanic introduced during Set 8 (Dead Of Winter) which shook up how limited games would play out. Whether or not the Portals come generated from Entity Unknown or just generated from your Swooping Gravitross and Verdant Rift, I’m going in depth to teach you how to get the most value at the correct time from each Portal.
The most important thing to keep in mind while playing a game of HEX is always how to win the game. Choosing what turn to play your Portal is one of those factors, so understanding when it’s better to hold is an important skill that can give you that extra edge needed to win that game three and secure your top eight. When it comes to making a decision whether or not to play your Portal, you need to ask yourself some questions.
For example, if there is a cluttered board state, sometimes playing that five costed troop won’t effect how players chose to do combat, so holding onto that Portal is generally the better idea as having that quick action to get tricky or waiting for something to draw extra cards with or removing that flyer attacking you for one every turn will have a much larger effect on the game long term. If you know that you have three Candle Crush that will win you the game, your focus should be on using your Portal on more defensive cards rather than taking the offensive.
On the other side of things, if it’s game three and you know your opponent has many top end bombs that you have no answers to, hoping for the best and playing as aggressive as possible is your only chance at victory, so filling out the curve with a weaker troop is fine knowing you need as much pressure as you can find in an attempt to out-tempo your opponent before they get their bombs on the table. I understand these are two extremes and it comes off somewhat vague, but there are always outliers to every situation and I want to give a general idea how to use the knowledge at hand to make the best in-game decision to victory.
Greed is not always a negative thing in HEX, understanding when you can afford to be greedy and when you can’t is actually one of the biggest strengths of a top player. For example, if you have a Temporal Exile in your hand and your opponent plays out a random four drop troop that won’t effect how players make decisions during combat, it’s usually a better decision to play your Temporal Exile for earlier knowledge and access to more Portal decisions that can potentially break the game open. It may be tempting to play your Temporal Exile for future value, e.g. potentially playing it during combat to stop a combat trick such as Blight Bestowed from giving a troop an additional buff (since you’re going to have an Uncommon Portal in your hand changing each turn), but this can be a trap.
A general rule of thumb for understanding which Portal to play is simply just to ask yourself, “How much will this card have an effect on me winning the game?” For example, if you know no matter what you draw that you’re most likely going to lose the game, the low chance your Common Portal will hit a Candle Crush becomes an out. Playing however you can to maintain those narrow outs is your only option sometimes, and the one in fifty times it happens can become the 2% edge needed to secure that Clash top eight.
On the opposite side of being greedy, sometimes you need to secure your Portal value whenever you have the option to. For example, if your deck is based around Illuminate and you have the option of playing a Lyvaanth’s Claw on turn five, but your common Portal happens to be a Flamelick without an obvious target, it’s usually correct to play the Flamelick with the understanding that your Portal is most likely not going to hit a better card, so cashing in your value for a slight negative effect on your tempo is fine given the game state. However, don’t let value distract you from your end goal. If the other option will have a large impact on the board state or how combat is going to be played out, you don’t want to “value” yourself out of a victory. This concept is difficult to explain without some amount of experience, but keeping your eye on the prize when it comes to making your final decision can help make the difference between victory and defeat.
The ability to play around a Portal is near impossible. A Portal can become anywhere from a resource to a combat trick or even a Speed Troop which can send in the last few points of damage, and you can turn this uncertainty into a psychological advantage against your opponent. For example, if your opponent plays an Exalted Pathfinder on turn five and follows it up with an Ice, you know they don’t want to lose their bomb, so attacking with your Mesa Wildspeaker or Cadaver Beetle into it before playing your Portal can give you free damage. It is possible a player might block, but this is generally a risk you want to take as most players cannot afford to lose their best card to a simple combat trick. The longer you can go on without playing your Portal the better, as Portal flexibility scales into the late game when a single card can decide the outcome or a match.
Portal rarity can range from Common to Legendary. Obviously rarity is one indication of scaling power, but as I mentioned above, Portals also scale with time. What I mean by scaling with time is that your ability to be flexible with your decision making when it comes to whether or not you want to play your Portal increases as the game goes on. What I mean by this is, you should not be throwing away your Portals just because they seem weak earlier in the game.
In the beginning portions of the game, both players are fighting for pressure or tempo to create openings for lethal damage (or to Bury their opponents deck in the Bury archetype’s case). It can be tempting to use your portals for this purpose, but dragging the game out favors the player with the flexibility of Portals. Now, I don’t think this means that the Portal player will always win the late game as draw steps and how powerful their top end is in the matchup matters, but in general having the ability to make multiple decisions rather than being stuck to one puts the ball in your court. To summarize the value of each Portal, I like to say that they go from being slightly below the average (adjusted for rarity) during the earlier turns in the game to around average to slightly above average late in the game due to the flexibility they have. Playing your Portals with an eye to evaluating the game state is key to maximizing your success.
For the last segment, I want to leave you all with some interactions that may be obvious to some, but which are important to remember. We can all sometimes forget about these cute little interactions from time to time, so I hope this proves to be a helpful refresher. The first one I want to speak about is how Portal and Revert interact.
Whenever a card with Portal becomes reverted, it will go back to its original state. This can be incredibly important since portals are normally actions, and actions cannot exist naturally in the warzone. So, if you were to play an Arcing Light targeting two of your opponent’s Candlekin and a random card in play with Portal, the Portal card would revert to its original rarity Portal and be voided. The same interaction happens when something is turned into a Mysterious Rune. When the Rune’s controller gains a resource to their hand and triggers the Rune, if that Runed card happened to be a Portal, it will be reverted and consequently voided.
Finally, I mentioned psychological advantages earlier. When playing with (or against) Portals, you should keep track of the number and rarity of each Portal in your opponent’s hand. Doing so can give you a rough idea of their potential options, and this can be great knowledge to your advantage if you use it wisely.
Portals are one of the more unique variance based mechanics in HEX that will favor you the more experienced you become with them. Understanding how to make correct decisions comes with time and experience, so don’t feel too bad when you hit a Well of Cunning with your rare Portal while your opponent got Primordial Sabretooth. The more you play and make the correct decisions with your Portals, the more you will benefit from being patient.
Thanks for reading!
KurtisKapahala is an experienced TCG player for over 20 years. He always enjoys Limited innovation and getting that small percent edge needed to take down top events. Find him on twitch at twitch.tv/kurtiskapahala where he spends his free time streaming limited gameplay.
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