TaKtiX: Chris Dyer

Chris Dyer is a lead playtester for Warlord, has been UK Champion in both Open and Campaign formats at the same time; he placed 2nd overall at his first KoHIT (2004) and highly in the second KoHIT (2005).

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Cards that Defined Campaign: Arra'dann

Remember when Campaign was just released? All of a sudden everyone, their mother and their dog was playing an Uthanak deck. There was nothing complicated or tricky about these decks: they just threw big, multiwounding Nothrogs at you faster than you could handle. And the biggest and nastiest of those was Arra'dann.

You have to understand that the game was pretty simple back then. There wasn't much subtlety about; the other top decks were Sorscha flinging a bunch of spells, Yscar the Elder morphing in to a Roc and stabbing things repeatedly, Krun doing what he does best, and Garn Hearthstone, who the experience of playing against can be likened to banging your head against a particularly large brick wall. In that environment Big won, be it big spells, big attacks or big healing.

And boy was Arra'dann big. Horrendous AC, inbuilt multiwounding and an ability that could decimate a rank in the blink of an eye. And then he'd ready and do it again. He was so good that it didn't matter if Uthanak was playing fighters or monks; Mr Cowhead was the first card in the deck. He was particularly adept at two things that made him shine. One was the ability to deal with Astrals and Ethereals by whaling on their neighbour, an area that Nothrogs were otherwise distinctly lacking. The second was the ability to ignore the 20AC warlord, whomp the Stirges standing next to them and put easy wounds on.

Things got better for everyone's least favourite monk before they got worse. The release of Monkey's Paws in Sneak Attack gave Arra'dann third attack and two wounds of splash damage all over the place, as well as a slew of new monk items and actions to play with. Uthanak decks were still abundant. Thankfully Inquisitor Chyre's rise to prominance with Counter Attack corresponded with a slump for the Nothrogs, and Arra'dann has faded from the tournament scene ever since.

For the first months of Campaign, however, he'd dominated the scene, prompting gritted teeth and groans of foreboding whenever he hit the table.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Deckbuilding 101

I was chatting to Mat over the weekend and he mentioned that we didn't have an article about the basics of deckbuilding up yet. So here it is. If you're already an accomplished deckbuilder then skip this one and move on. If you're starting out, or struggling to build solid decks then read on.

First off, there's a couple of articles that cover this elsewhere on this site. Pete has an old article here about decksize that is well worth a perusal, and Malexin's guide to tournament calibre play has some decent tips as well.

That dealt with, here are a series of logical steps to building decent decks.

1. 50 Cards

As a rule, your deck should contain 50 cards. No more. Think about it like this. You want your deck to contain the best cards it can. So, for your deck, you choose the best 50 cards that you can get your hands on. Now imagine you were building the same deck, but 60 cards instead. The extra ten cards you've added in to your deck are not as good as the fifty original cards. They're flat out worse. If they are as good as the cards in your deck then put them in and replace them with the worst cards in your deck.

2. 25 Characters

This is the second basic rule. With a couple of exceptions all decks should be 50% characters. (Again, Pete has a very good old article on this point here.) Characters win you games. They guarantee you srikes and they give your opponent something to hit apart from your Warlord. Characters are the most useful card type in the game and to reflect that alsmost all top decks play half characters.

3. What Characters?

So, what should should those characters be? Six of them are your starting line up. I give some advice about choosing this here, so I'm not going to retype it all. To summarise, look for a solid Atk and AC for your rank 1 characters, and ranged strikes or other effects that reach two ranks for your rank 2 characters. That alone should give you a decent start.

What about the other nineteen characters? First of all, you need to decide two things. One is what class the deck will be focusing on, and the other is what level characters you want.

3a. What Class?

Usually this will be the same class as your Warlord. For example, if you're playing Lord Gahid Rellion then you're probably going to be playing a deck focused on fighters. So, your characters should mainly be of your chosen class. It's okay to have some characters of other classes (for example, a lot of Gahid decks will play Xaros the Mist, a wizard) but make sure that the majority of your characters are right.

3b. What Level?

Now, a lot of this will depend on faction. For example, Devernians and Dwarfs have better high level characters than low level. For Free Kingdoms, Elves and Nothrogs the opposite is true. You should consider that before you choose what level characters your deck should play. Similar to the way you've chosen a class focus, choose characters with a suitable level. To continue the example above, let's say that in your Gahid deck you've decided to play level 3 fighters. Most of your characters should fit that description; it's okay to have some non fighters, and it's okay to have some level 2 or 4 characters.

Choose your characters mainly from your faction. If you're short of good characters then consider using Mercenaries, but be warned that in geeneral they won't fit in to the deck as well. Don't bother playing characters from any other faction: the cost of putting them in to play stunned is too expensive. How many of each character should you include? That leads me on the my next rule:

4. 3 of a Card

This should almost always apply to your characters. It's similar to the arguement about deck size. If a character is good enough to have one copy included in your deck then he should be good enough to have three copies; find two characters worse and take them off. The exception to this rules is Unique characters. A basic rule for them is only include one copy of each in your deck. The 3 of a card rule also applies to Actions, but it does not apply to Items: more on that later.

You should now have 25 characters chosen. The rest of the deck will be actions and items. Which of these are better? Hard to say really. Actions are generally more powerful but are one use only. Items are slower and less powerful but are useable every turn. Generally speaking, a healthy mix of the two should see you through.

5. What Items?

Almost every item in your deck should be for the class you chose to focus on. They should also be of an appropriate level: in our Gahid deck that we're building the items shouldn't be level 7 or higher because your level 3 fighters won't be able to equip them. Beyond those two baisc rules, there's a few more points to consider.

5a. One of a Kind

Characters can only have one weapon, armour, shield etc. With that in mind don't overload your deck with too many of one card. A good mixture of the different types of items will let you get bigger bonuses for your army.

5b. Not three of a card

The rules let you swap different items of the same type, as long as it hasn't got the same name. So you can swap a used Griffon of Misear for a War Horse, but not another Griffon. Bear that in mind. It effectively means that different items are better than lots of the same. As a rough rule I don't play more than two of any item in a deck.

6. Actions

All that's left for you to chose is your actions. Follow the same basic guidelines for items: choose actions of the same class as you're focusing on, and choose actions that your chosen characters can play. The only other advice here is not to go overboard on Spend Orders or Spend Reacts, because they might clog up your hand. More on that can be found here.

Right, that should leave you with a decent fifty card deck. There are a few more points, so bare with me.

7. Movement

Some warlords, especially fighters, need to move to the front to be good. Make sure your deck has enough movement cards in, whether they be steeds or actions. Relying on drawing one of three copies isn't going to work. The easy way to find out is to play a few games and see if you're getting stuck in rank 2 a lot.

8. How do I know what's a good card?

Er, good question. To be honest, you'll have to work this one out yourself. As a rule, if it has good stats then it's probably a good card. Other than that play some games and see how well it works. If it's not much good, try something else. Alternatively have a look round the net for top tournament decks and check out the cards in there. You'll become a better judge of what's good as time goes on.

9. You said X but in my deck Y

Rules are there to be broken. Everything I said above can be ignored in the right circumstances.

10. Play some games!

All my waffle here is no substitute for getting out there and building some decks and playing some games. That's the best way to gain understanding. So get to it!

Well done if you've read this far. I hope someone somewhere finds this helpful. Any questions or comments just leave me a note.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Bluffing

A lot has been made in a number of posts on this site about the mental side of the game. (So many that I'm not going to bother linking them: trust me, they're there.) The gist of all those articles boils down to this: You're not just playing two decks against each other, you're playing your opponent as well. This is an incredibly wide topic, and there's a number of ways to use the mental side to give yourself an edge. For example, I'm fairly sure I've won a couple of games based purely on reputation.

Anyway, I'm going to focus on one specific side of the mental game: bluffing.

Now, I'm going to get a bit Rumsfeld here. In any card games there are known factors and unknown factors. Bluffing relies on convincing your opponent that one of the unknown factors is something it's not. Looking specifically at Warlord, there are two factors that could be unknown. The first one is playstyle.

Think about it. You're at a big tournament, and sit down opposite your opponent. You've never met him before, so you've got no idea what his playstyle will be. Does he like to take risks, or is he very calculating? Is he impulsive or not? Those factors will affect how he plays, and consequently, affect how you should play him. However, if you don't know how he plays you should try to play your natural game. On the flip side, you can try and stop him playing his. Make his choices hard. Make him believe you're willing to run your Tepheroth to rank 1 to slap his Warlord if you need. It doesn't matter if you're far too a cautious player to do that in reality: if he believes you might then it'll make his game harder to play.

While there is an element of bluffing in the above, the big part of it is in the second unknown factor: your deck. This works two ways. First of all, all your opponent sees at the start of the game is your starting lineup. Imagine that you sit down and see Caitlyn the Free behind two copies of Amadousi's Wrath and three Brine Fiends. From that start it's almost impossible to deduce what the deck does. It might be spell blitz. It might be a Medusan Lord's Gambit deck. It might even be dragon ranching, or a mixture of two tactics. The way you play will always be affected by the deck you're playing against, so keep your opponent guessing if you can. Keeping him off balance is enough to give you an edge.

Right, I've dallied around the fringe enough now. The big area that you've got the potential to bluff in is what you hold in your hand. Rather than plunge in to a rather large theoretical monologue, I'm going to throw out a couple of examples here, as is my habit. Hopefully, they'll illustrate my point.

First one is from Gencon UK 2004. I was sitting at a Morrigan challenge against Vince Turner with my latest Jacqueline Windson Great Crossbow sniper deck. I play a lot of challenges against Vince and we'd been through this game a few times. In previous games he'd played Blink to cancel my three wound shot. In this game I'd constructed my first shot and seen it cancelled in the same way. Fair enough, I thought, I 'll just have another shot later on. But Vince held a card at the end of the turn. Not obviously, in fact I asked to make sure. And he held the same card at the end of next turn. I'd convinced myself it was a Blink, and so I waited until I could find a copy of Countersong. About four turns later I finally got the shot off, Countersonged his Blink, only to run straight in to a second copy. I lost pretty soon afterwards. After the game, Vince mentioned that he'd drawn in to both copies that turn. He'd spent four turns holding what turned out to be a copy of Shatter, accurately guessing that I'd believe it to be a Blink. That bluff cost me a Dragonlord.

The second example is from KOHIT 2005, where I was playing with Vince in the World Doubles Championship. We were playing the latest version of our double Deverenian fu, Inquisitor Chyre and Karkos Tzin. In the third round we came across Ar'tek and Dezi'crah. We took Ar'tek out pretty quickly, but then my Chyre got hit with a Zaina's Treachery and Black Steel Dagger strike, leaving just two players left. Karkos had a wound on him from an exploding Muddflekk or something, and was sitting in rank 2 with a steed, while Dezi'crah was spent on rank 1 with one card in hand, as well as one wound. (At this point I'm going to throw out a big up to Vince, who is a highly accomplished Doubles player. When we play together we can communicate very easily without saying very much at all, which definately helped in this situation.) Vince couldn't move forward and attack, because if that card was a second copy of Zaina's we'd lose the game. We were prepared to sit it out until next turn. Then the player made a big mistake. They played the last card in hand, which turned out to be an Ac'vuk. Vince waited for him to attack, moved forward and killed Dezi'crah, confident that we couldn't lose that turn. The smart move would have been to keep that card in hand and bluff: failing to do that cost the game.

So what is there to learn from here? Firstly, it's easier to bluff that you're holding a card and make your opponent worry about it if he's already felt the ill effects of it being used against him. Once you hit Ar'tek with your first Infinties End he's going to worry about the same happening next game. Who knows, if you've spooked him enough and you bluff well enough he might not even move forward twice that turn.

Secondly, knowing someone better can make it both harder and easier to bluff. It's a lot easier to get inside the head of someone that you know well and have played multiple times. For one thing, they have more awareness and thus will worry more about the cards in your decks, and secondly you should know what cards or strategies they find difficult to cope with. At the same time, however, they're more likely to be able to deduce what's in your hand after multiple games against you.

And most importantly, bluffing is a very important weapon in a Warlord players arsenal that can help win games. Use it wisely, but watch out for it being used on you as well.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Rose tinted nostalgia

You'll forgive me (I hope) if I get a little sentimental during this post

So, Epic is on the horizon, and before too long we'll be waving goodbye to Campaign edition. I feel kind of sad about this. See, I started playing the game with the release of Siege, and by that time there were already a lot of cards in the pool, well known strategies and a very strongly established environment. Then Campaign rolled around and everything was new. All of a sudden everything was so basic. I can remember one of Laurence's first Campaign legal decks, Lord Kestrel. The card choice was so limited then that the deck started a Bishop Koenrad. One of the focuses of the deck was to boost the starting copy of Storm Crows with Kestrel's ability, before sending them forward to attack with either Ring of Vorn or Teleport. Back then, that was a viable and quite effective tactic. Nowadays it'd be swallowed whole by the relentlessy fast and brutal decks that have come to dominate Campaign.

I find that a little bit sad. But then, it's the nature of the game that decks will get better. In fact, looking back, I'm quite thankful that Campaign has turned out so well. No Warlord has ever had a stranglehold on the environment for any significant amount of time, all the factions have had a chance to shine and a number of different decktypes have risen to prominence before fading back to obscurity. The environment has managed to stay fresh and interesting over the course of the arc, and that's something to be thankful for.

So it's with heavy heart that I'll say goodye to Campaign. But I won't let it go quietly. From now until the start of Epic I'm going to write a sporadic series of posts rather pompously called:

The Cards That Defined Campaign

In which I'll look at favourite or reviled cards over the course of the arc that really changed the course of the game and the environment. If you've got any thoughts of what you'd like to see included then let me know and I might well listen to you.

Anyway, taking the rose tinted goggles off now, the next article will be about Bluffing.

Until then, good gaming!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Top 5 Influential Cards from EOTS: #1

Right, I've come home from a Bank Holiday weekend spent with my parents, shorn of hair but replete with ideas. However, before I get to those I'll finish off this section. My number 1 influential card from Eye of the Storm is...

Blind the Gods

Seldom has one card changed the game so much. Remember when Lord Winter first saw Excessus? We're talking that level of shake-up. Now, I don't have anywhere near the level of expertise in Open that some others, especially Jeremiah, possess, but I would expect that this card will make quite a splash in that environment, pulling Saunginel, one of the top Warlords, off his throne.

Why does this card harm Saunginel? Firstly it nullifies his advantage of having a six card hand. That's the minor effect, the perk of playing the card against him. Goat Boy's big problem is that, because of the text on his card that prohibits him from drawing, he can't use the Order on Blind the Gods to draw. That's a huge disadvantage: it means Saunginel will have a maximum of three cards for his turn, can't get any more, and his opponent gets to decide when he gets those cards. Behlial or Havelin Tansiq, on the other hand, might be able to use those three cards to get his draw engine up and running, at which point the game is as good as over.

The above is why the card is so good in Campaign as well. Y'see, there's another Warlord that can't draw cards. It's such an unremarked part of his text that a lot of people will have forgotten it even exists. But, for the reasons outlined above, this Warlord will take a serious hit to his power. Now, if that Warlord was Garn Hearthstone, that wouldn't be much of an impact. But, when the Warlord is Raziel, who's been right at the top of tournamnets for some time now, you see why this card is influential. Blind the Gods is so good against the Nimbic that he now has little chance of winning a tournament before Campaign ends. Raziel with no cards is relying entirely on his three level 1 characters to stand a chance of winning, as his Isadras in rank two sit and look silly.

The bad news is that this card is yet another tactical missile in Tavis Jape's armoury. Tavis's starting army is significantly better than almost anything anyone else can field against him, so having less cards in hand is a boon for the current trendiest Warlord. Don't expect him to get any weaker post EOTS.

And that's it for my countdown. I hope you enjoyed it, but if you disagree with my choices or reasoning feel free to leave me a comment and tell me so.

I'll be back with something exciting and inciteful tomorrow. Hopefully.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Top 5 Influential Cards from EOTS: #2

On to card number 2, and Rod gets a point here. Actually, he gets two points, because I've cheated a bit. Y'see, I had two potential cards to go in this slot, and I couldn't decide which one better defined what I was looking for. And then I decided to stop worrying about it and choose them both, because this is my blog and I can do what I want. So, with that petulance out of the way, my number two cards are:

Volda's Mantle and Cast Asunder

So, what's so special about these two cards? One word defines them both, and that's Control. Now, many card games have an arechetype called Control. It generally means nullifying or cancelling all your opponents threats and laying down a small amount of offence yourself to gradually win. Warlord didn't really have any decktypes that fit this mold. The closest style was probably either Dwarf healing, or Raziel, whose tactical discarding and blanking do give you an element of control.

But worry not! The two cards above are enough by themselves to set up a whole new archetype. Attatch Cast Asunder to Antaelus and away you go! If you use this card sensibly it's quite easy to spend an enitre army. (It's even better if you manage to freeze a level 4 character in place with only the Warlord in rank 3, which can quite often lead to level 4 characters in hand that can't be played.) Add Shadow and Volda's Mantle in to the equation and you can stun any character on the table. If you're really cruel, you can add Withering Gaze in to the mix for an either better lockdown. To finish off, all you need is characters that can generate strkes while spent, like Kabyrr the Insane, and a few order spells, like Fiery Bolts. What you're left with should be a very potent deck, able to spend or stun any possible threat to you before gradually wearing them down. Best of all, every card I've mentioned above, bar Kabyrr the Insane, is Epic bugged, meaning this deck will continue to exist through the next arc.

Next time I'll give you my number 1 influential card from the set. I don't know when that will be: possibly Tuesday, but if my avid reader is good I may find time at the weekend.

Until then, good gaming!

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Top 5 Influential Cards from EOTS: #3

Card number 3 is one of those player designed ones. I really hope you like the art on this card, because it's going to be all over the place. I mean literally everywhere. This card is so amazingly useful in so many decks that you'll be sick of the sight of it. That's why I've chsen it as influential - it's sheer versatility is enough to have a considerable impact on the game.

I'm talking, of course, about Prolong the Fight.

This is easily one of the most powerful cards in the set. Now, I could wax lyrical about why I think this card is so great, and believe me, that would take a very long time, but I'm sure you can figure that out for yourselves. (Actually, if anyone is in any doubt why, ask and I'll explain.) Instead, I'll spare you that and explain just how many decks I see this popping up in.

First of all, virtually every Dwarf deck in the game will play this card. It's an automatic include for any Cleric Warlord in the stunty faction, and will provide a considerable boost for multiclass Cleric/Fighter's like Valhala Abyssbane and The Broken Earth (who, by the way, is getting a considerable number of tricks from this set, possibly enough to elevate him to the status of a half decent Warlord.) It's also going to appear in a lot of non-cleric Dwarf decks like Duty and Nitesh Imaran, both of whom would really appreciate being readied but have lower level characters out in case they haven't got a level 4 Cleric hanging around.

However, the reason that I like this card so much is that it fits in a whole bunch of other factions. Last Friday I got to face what feels like the millionth incarnation of Laurence's Ichaerus deck, which is starting a Yanthorine to cast Prolong the Fight to ready Papa Netheryn. It's also going to fit really nicely in a lot of Albrecht decks, many of which run backup level clerics to ready everyone's favourite angel. Basically, any deck that plays level 3 or 4 heavy hitters and has access to, or starts Clerics should take a long hard look at this card.

And everybody else, prepare to take an awful lot of looks at this card. It's going to be around for ages.