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).

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.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Top 5 Influential Cards from EOTS: #4

So, on to card number 4. While this card is very strong and will fill out a number of decks, that's not why I've picked it. I haven't picked it because of the (possibly quite considerable) impact that it wall have on Campaign, and I definately haven't chosen it for the negligible impact it will have on Open. I think this card is influential purely on it's implications for Epic Edition. So, without further ado, let's talk about....

Roc Fletchings

It's definately a strong card, right? +2to ranged strikes, and then another +3 after the dice roll? Sign me up. Now, the reason I think this card is important is because it ensures an archetype in Epic. That archetype is, of course, Sniper. Now I'm pleased with this, because I've been messing around with Jacqueline Windson sniping with a Great Crossbow for ages now, and it's long been one of my favourite decks. The basic premise is to build up one big kill shot, whether it be via melee, ranged strike or spell, that kills the opposing Warlord, often leaving most of his army in one piece. Now, this isn't a very prevalent deck style in CE, simply because threre are so many counter cards and strategies available. But come Epic, some of those cards will inevitably cycle out. Now, I can't guarantee what will stay and what will go, but it's inevitable that ther'll be less options open to protect yourself with.

Wheras the sniper archetype now has both Roc Fletchings and Farglass guaranteed as going through to Epic. Those two cards are a really strong base for any sniping deck, and it could prove to be a very powerful tactic round about the start of the reset.

Cards 1 - 3 still to come. Anyone care to wager what they are?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Top 5 Influential Cards from EOTS: #5

So, I had this great entry all worked out in my head, then Pete stole it. That's okay, I'm not bitter. I'll just write something else.

Whenever a new set comes out the environment is bound to change a bit. For a start, there's six new warlords and 150 new cards to play with. Some of those cards will make older warlords better, some will make them worse. So, I figured I'd take a look at the five cards from Eye of the Storm which I think will shake things up most. Now, I'm not looking for the best card, although a lot of the ones I pick will probably be considered strong anyway. I'm looking for which cards are going to change CE the most, which will have the most impact on the coming EE, and I might even cast a quick look over Open, but don't count on it.

So, my number 5 card is.....

Glenn the Blaze

Remember, not so long ago, when the Free Kingdoms were considered among the weakest factions? By Dragon's Fury they had a decent spread of fairly competitive Warlords. Eye of the Storm, and especially Glenn here, may give them another leg up to leave them as the best overall faction going in to Epic. Why's he so good?

First of all, let's consider him purely on his abilities. Wizards are always the best class for a level 2 character, because they can cast spells from the safety of rank 2, including the excellent Fiery Bolts, and hold the ever popular Ring of Vorn. Add to that his ability to peform two ranged strikes, at react speed, and you've got a really decent starting character.

But it's how he fits in to his faction as a whole that gets him in to my top 5. First of all, in combination with Spencer Latham (who so very almost made it on to the list as well) the boys in gold can now field a massive number of strikes in their starting army, making it one of the fastest starts going. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Glenn fits the role of a level 2 wizard that so many Free Kingdoms Warlords have been craving up until now, a role previously occupied only by the mediocre Darso the Mad.

Jin Valford now has a level 2 wizard that he can start as one half of his Markapal Hag readying tricks, but who is still decent if the Hag doesn't show up. Captain Dukat also fully appreciates Glenn's talents, where the renegade is capable of throwing out considerable numbers of high value ranged strikes every turn.

Simply put, Glenn the Blaze ably fills a hole that the Free Kingdoms have had for some time, and his arrival will help his faction all through the rest of Campaign and long in to Epic.

Tune in next time for card number 4!

(I really need some kind of jingle for this, and probably a drum roll too. Disadvantages of a blog, I suppose.)

Monday, May 22, 2006

One Combo Does Not a Deck Make

Long winded title, huh? This could equally be called "Why isn't Bronwen the best deck ever?"

Let me break it down. Bronwen Tansiq is a Warlord so endlessly full of possibilities. When Altus Darkheart was first revealed a room full of players at Prince of the Storm all simultaneously reached for their new Elf Warlord, threw in three copies of Out of Step and Killing Strike and sat down and challenged. Awesome, we all said, this deck can stun the opposing Warlord first action!

The (by now, seemingly compulsary) outcry of Borken! went up on the Temple of Lore as soon as she was spoiled. A few weeks later I built a deck that could potentially force 5 DC 30's or so on the opposing warlord first action. Next week Laurence built a deck that could throw out 8 or 9 +6 strikes first action.

And then, two weeks later, Bronwen was returned to my folder with a head held low with shame, condemned to appear only in Doubles tournaments and in hypothetical situations. Why? Because she's rubbish.

See, having this awesome Combo of Doom is all well and good, right up to the point where you don't draw it. All you're left with then is a hand of cards that don't work together. Even worse, when you do draw the combo but you're opponent cancels it, you're left with a hand empty of cards and a resigned look on your face. Even worse is when you pull your combo but fail to kill the opponent. That adds a soaring feeling of hope as you look at your hand, followed by a soulcrushing moment of disappointment as you realise that, once again, you're heading for a loss.

The problem is that all the Bronwen decks that were flying around at this time were based around a single, combotastic hammer blow right at the start of turn 1. If that didn't happen then nothing happened with your deck either. You were just forced to sit there, toss off a few puny strikes, then watch your opponent kill you, because all the offence in your deck was centred around one combination of cards. Even the better decks that had at least some back up plans lost to opponents that just generated offence, and weren't relying on a combo to do it.

What's the lesson to be learnt here? First off, any deck where the basic premise is "Well, if I draw X and Y, play Z on character A, boost it with character B and then kill C to do D" is best left to late night drunken conversations or Medusan Lord challenges. That sort of thing is never going to happen consistently enough to even come in the top half of a tournament.

The second point is that you can't rely on any card in your deck turning up to save you. If your deck can only win by drawing a certain card then you need to take a serious look at it. I'm sure Pete can give you the exact maths, but the odds of one card showing up in any one hand isn't exactly reassuring. A good deck should be able to win with any combination of cards that it draws. (Within reason - when you're Tavis Jape draws 3 copies of Premonition and two Bascarite Marks then you'd be justified in feeling slightly aggrieved.)

I'll expand on this point another time, unless I find something more interesting to talk about. Of course, if you've got a world beating Bronwen just waiting to happen, or think that I'm talking absolute sprouts then tell me so.

Until then, happy gaming!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Tournament Tips: Choosing your deck

Every now and again I'm going to throw out a few tips that I think have helped me to acheive my tournament record. Jeremiah has already covered the mental side of a big tournament, (something that really can't be stressed enough: these are stressful, tiring events and keeping yourself in the right frame of mind will help you take a big step towards success) so I'm going to look at another angle: what deck to play.

So, how do you choose the right deck? These are a few of the things that I think are important:

1. Know your playstyle. Simply put, don't play something that you're not happy with. If you're a longtime Elf player then a big tournament is not the first time to pick up a Dwarf deck. If you're not happy playing build decks then don't take one to a tournament. Some players will happily play any faction and any style, whilst others restrict themselves to one faction. Either approach is fine, but if you're not used to playing a style, don't play it.

2. Pick something you're familiar with. Know your deck. Know every card in it, know the type of draws you get with it, know what are good matchups and bad matchups, know every trick yor deck contains. Basically, know your deck inside out. The last time I missed a cut in a tournament was Nov 2003 at KOHIT, where I played a Raylor Magicbane deck that I'd built shortly before the tournament. (Admittedly, the fact the deck was rubbish and it was my first big tournament didn't help) My worst recent tournament result was Prince of the Storm 2005, where I played an Ahdre deck that I'd made at 2am the previous morning. Conversely, my best results have always come with a deck that I'd been playing and tweaking for about a month prior ro the tournament.

As another case in point, let's consider the infamous Mat Bowles, who at some point about two years ago decided he was going to stop building decks and just play mine instead. Now, Mat's a diehard Dwarf player, and knows how to play the typical Dwarf deck fairly well. At KOHIT 2004 he borrowed my Nitesh Imaran readying deck, and did very well. (I think he was 8th after Swiss and Top Dwarf, or something.) Next year at KOHIT 2005 he asked to borrow another Dwarf deck. I told him I'd only got Priam Ironsoul, who, while being a decent deck, was very tricky to play, especially if you've got no experience with him, which Mat hadn't. Mat decided to play him anyway, and bombed. I put that down entirely to Mat's lack of familiarity with that style, and I reckon that if he'd played a deck that he was more familiar with he'd have done much better.

3. Pick something fun. This is probably the most important one. Pick a deck that you enjoy playing. You're far less likely to make mistakes if you're having fun. More importantly, the whole point of the game is to enjoy yourself. You're going to get a much more positive experience if you enjoy your games, win or lose. (Though obviously, you'd rather win, right?)

4. Pick something quick. Bit more controversial this one, and one that doesn't always apply. I'd define a quick deck as one that, on average, can play three games in thirty minutes. There are two reasons for picking a quick deck . The first is that if you lose your first game you'll still have time to pull back two more and win the match. (There is a collary to this: if you're playing a slow deck and win your first game you're more likely to get at least a draw.) The second reason to play a quick deck is your mental wellbeing. If your game finishes in half an hour you've got time to take a break, get a drink, and go for a walk. That'll leave you relaxed and refreshed for the next round. If every game you play goes to time you're going to find yourself exhausted by the end of the day, and each game will become progressively harder to win as you become more fatigued.

5. Know the environment. Tricky one this. Know what other people are likely to be playing. If you're deck has a serious problem with spell blitz and you think wizards are going to be popular at the tournament, then take another look at your other decks. If you've got a deck that handily beats wizards you might want to consider that one, even if overall it's not as strong as your first choice. What if you don't know what to expect? Then...

6. Play something flexible. By that I mean a deck that has no really bad matchups and can win in a variety of ways. Dezi'crah is the classic example of this: she can win by sniping or by melee, and has a pretty good game against a lot of decks. The more diverse a field you're expecting at a tournament, the more important this tip is.

If you follow all those guidelines then you should give yourself an edge for the tournament. Above all though, have fun! Tournaments are a great opportunity to meet other players and enjoy yourself, and that should always be your priority.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Luck of the Irish

Straight away, I want to quash any rumours that Warlord is a game about luck. It's not. It's a game involving luck. If it was all about luck you wouldn't see the same names appearing consistently in the cuts of tournaments: these guys aren't there because they're blessed with good luck, they're there because they're great players. By the same token, people who say "I never win games because I'm always unlucky" are most likely poor players, using a time-honoured excuse for their losses rather than actually look at why they're losing.

Now, all card games involve luck, because you have little to no control over the cards you draw from your deck. Warlord has another random element to it, the D20. In theory that means that luck may play a slightly bigger part in this game than others, but it's not that huge a differance. Why not?

It's all about probability. (Bear with me, I gave up Maths when it all became too complicated.) Good players tend to eliminate the dependence on luck from their games. It's why Ar'tek is a popular Warlord: when you're looking to hit AC 12 and have +14atk it doesn't matter what you roll, barring a 1. It's the same principle throughout the game: if you have 5 chances to roll 15+ to win the game you're going to have significantly better odds of winning than if you've only got 1 chance.

What you are going to come across is clutch dice rolls. These are literally dice rolls that can win or lose you a game. Often these will be initiative rolls, but many times it's something like a small attack against a Warlord who's about to kill you. Now, if you roll the 18 that you need with your Brine Fiend then it could be argued that you were lucky. However, if your opponent was truly on top of their game then you wouldn't have that dice roll to win. Similarly, if you miss are you unlucky? No, because if you were playing well you wouldn't be in the situation where you're relying on one 15% dice roll.

I'm going to illustrate what I mean here with three examples of my play experience over time. First of all, let's rewind to June 2004. I was at Midlander, the first UK CE championships. Only SK and CE was legal at this point, so it was all pretty basic. I was playing a Garn Hearthstone mega heal kind of deck, and had got through to the final, where I was playing Mat Ledgerwood's Uthanak. We'd split the first two games, and the third had swayed backwards and forwards. We arrived at a point late in one turn. I'd managed to kill a lot of Mat's big fighters, and the only real offence Mat had was a Kul of Clan Tergoth, who had a pile of items, sitting in rank 2. I had only a ready Cobalt Gargoyle and a Sky, Mat has managed to exhaust all my considerable healing for the turn. Mat moved Kul forwards, I attacked and killed him. That dice roll effectively won me the championship: I'd removed the last real threat to my army for the next two turns, and from then on I finished him off pretty quickly. Was I lucky? Not really. I'd built up a fairly dominant board position and the dice roll was only about a 6+. Moreover, if I'd missed I wouldn't necessarily have lost the game, in fact I still may have won, but it would've been a lot harder.

Fastforward five months to KOHIT 2004. Sneak attack was now legal, and I was playing in the semi final of the singles against Rich "Kerebrus" Carter, in a Dezi'crah mirror match. Again, the game had gone to 1-1. Rich got the better start to the game, and killed large swathes of my army, before I managed to stick two wounds on him late in the turn with a Sniper Shot. Next turn, Rich tumbled my ranks, but missed that I'd fallen a Yemat to rank 2, and left Dezi'crah rank 1. I took the shot and rolled the 14 I needed to kill him. So was that lucky? Yes. I had only a 35% chance of hitting that shot, and I was lucky to get what I needed. On the other hand, the opportunity to make that dice roll only came after a fairly serious play error from Rich, (To be fair, it was about 10:30 and we were both half dead from fatigue by this point) who should never have given me that chance. Also, I might still have been able to steal the game later on.

For my final example, jump forward a year to KOHIT 2005. I'm playing my Albrecht against Luca Corridini's Raziel in the round of 16. I'm 1-0 up, and in a fairly dominant position. However, I'd all but spent out for the turn, with only a Jiyacin Fret ready. Luca chose to stun Raziel forwards after my attacks, and play a Ciane from hand. I attacked and killed Ciane, needing a 10+, leaving Luca in an I formation, and proceeded to wrap up the game next turn. Afterwards, Luca showed me his hand from that turn, which contained 2 copies of Tresven and a Eirlas, none of which he'd been able to play because Ciane's death had crippled his rank structure. My dice roll had effectively robbed him of 6 potential wounds. Was I lucky? Again, not really. I was in control of the game, had cards in hand and was 1-0 up. The 1 dice roll had secured the game, but it was far from over if I missed.

What I'm trying to communicate with these three examples is that the dice are in your hands. If you're relying on slim dice rolls to win then you've only got yourself to blame. If you're allowing your opponent dice rolls to win then you're inviting the chance to lose the game. Clutch dice rolls only exist when you've created a situation where the entire game hinges on one dice roll. Good players and good decks try to minimise the number of times these situations occur.

One other point. I fully admit that some games are completely decided by luck. If your opponent rolls nothing less than 15 and you roll nothing more than 5 you're going to struggle to win. However, these games are few and far between, and shouldn't stop a good player making a cut in a tournament. That's why we have a Swiss system: it removes a lot of the luck from a tournament. Also notice that all three of my example occured in matches in the cut. That's because the cut is far more of a lottery than Swiss, and good dice rolls and good draws can actually knock people out. It's the getting there that counts.

So, to use a cliche, we make our own luck. Apart from Rich Carter, who makes his via some sort of probability warping luck sucking device.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The First Turn - Part 3

The third element in your first turn is the hand you've drawn. Now, this has a lot to do with deckbuilding, which may well be a topic I cover later. For now, let's just look at how you use your hand.

First things first. Barring any card draw, or warlords like Durin Kortouched or Saunginel, you're going to see 5 cards in your opening hand. To use that hand to it's maximum potential you have to end the turn with none in hand. Notice that this doesn't necessarily mean that you have to play the cards. Warlords like Rathe and Kara Wadreth, who have a discard mechanism built in to them, can pitch cards for alternate effects. That means they're far more likely to empty their hand every turn, because a card that would otherwise be dead becomes useful. Simon Abraxes has an edge here as well, as he's able to discard his dud cards and redraw. That's all okay: just like some Warlords have an easier time making themselves useful on turn 1, some have an advantage in using their hand.

But what about normal Warlords? How can they ensure that they use their hand? Take a look at what's in your deck. As a rule, characters are the easiest cards to put in to play (requiring only rank structure to be right), followed by items (which only need an appropriate character to equip them) and then actions (which require an appropriate character, and, in some cases, an appropriate trigger).

A while back I built a Dezi'crah deck. Among other things it contained Zaina's Treachery, Misear Diplomacy and Sniper Shot. I constantly drew a hand where there was at least one card that I couldn't use, because I either drew front rank cards with no solid movement or ranged cards without many ranged strikes, and especially a mixture of the two where I was forced to choose one strategy or the other, leaving me dead cards. That was a bad deck and I quickly took it apart.

Taking characters first, low level characters are always easier to play than high level characters. A level 1 character can almost always be played without problem. A level 5 character requires you to have a character in rank 4. Dragons and upwards are even harder, requiring two or more characters already in place before they can be played. (As an aside, level 3 characters can often be harder to play on turn one than level 4s. Should you lose two characters from your front rank, leaving you one in rank 2, you'll be unable to play level 3s until you somehow fill that void.)

On a practical level, that means that high end decks needs to think more carefully about their rank structure than low end decks. If you're playing level 5s, make sure you've got enough level 4s to support them. It's probably also wise to play a handful of level 3s as a precaution against your ranks crumbling. Similarly, decks focussing on level 3s should probably include a few level 2s for the same reason. Also, characters that have entering play restricions are bad unless you can easily meet that restriction with your starting army. Athril Gargoyle is the classic example here of a card that can easily be unplayable.

Items and Actions I'm going to group together. Both need you to have a character of the requisite class and level in play. Think carefully about including anything that can't be equipped or played by your starting army. Take our old friend Garn Hearthstone, who often includes a significant number of fighter items in his deck. You should ensure that you have plenty of fighters to equip those items. As a rough rule I would suggest a ratio of 2:1 (e.g. twice as many characters capable of equipping the items as there are items.) The same holds true of actions. Laurence has just finished reconstructing (for the thousandth time) an Ichaerus deck which plays Spirit Singing. Since that card can't be played by his starting army he should probably be playing at least 6 Bards in his deck.

A couple more notes on this. The first is about meta cards. These are generally actions (Rough Road, Certain Doom, Twist of Fate) designed to hinder specific decktypes. Now, unless you're playing against that decktype you're looking at cards that effectively do nothing in your deck. That's why top decks tend to shy away from meta cards. As a rule I only include meta cards if my Warlord has a discard mechanism, or if I feel strongly that I need to protect myself against a certain type of deck that my deck has little to no chance of beating without the meta and I'm confident that I'll be seeing a large number of those decks at tournaments.

The second note is about characters and items. Just because you play these cards doesn't mean they're effective. Playing Sedayah Rowan if she just sits in rank 3 is not a good use of a card from your hand. Similarly, equipping Duelling Sabre to Fasolt is no good if you don't get him to rank 1: effectively it's another dead card for the turn.

The final note on how to avoid dead cards is to avoid playing too many Spend Orders. Simply put, if you draw, for example, 2 level 5 Cleric orders in Garn you're going to struggle to play them both. In a 50 card deck 9 high level spend orders should average you out at drawing one a turn. Going over that number is asking for trouble. To avoid problems you should think about including back-up users in the deck: to contine the Garn example, think about playing Slate Gargoyle as an alternte level 5 Cleric.

If you want to test this in your deck do the old goldifshing routine again. Take your deck, play a few first turns and see how useful each card in your hand is. (This won't prove the value of reactionary cards like Too Fast to See which is why practical results are important as well) If you're playing all 5 cards from your hand on your first turn most games then you're on the right track.

So that's all on how to have a good first turn. If you particualrly like what I said, or you think I'm a moron please don't hesitate to tell me.

Next time I'm going to look at the most whimsical and often blamed element of any game: luck.

The First Turn - Part 2

In adition to your starting characters you have one very important asset on the first turn: your Warlord. That's the most important card you have in play: for one, it's by far and away the most powerful character on the table at the start of the game, and second it's crucial to the victory of the game. Utilizing your Warlord effectively without undue risk is crucial, not just to the first turn, but to the game.

So, how well do you use your Warlord on turn one? Try this. Take your deck and draw a hand, then play that hand out as if you were in a game. ( I call this process Goldfishing, I've got no idea why. But it's a pretty good way to test your deck overall, before you get in to actual games ). Then, see what your Warlord does on that turn. Take a note of it, and then repeat the process a suitable number of times. By the end, you should be able to see what, on average, your Warlord contributes to the first turn.

Now obviously, this exercise is going to be different for every Warlord. For example, Ar'tek will almost always get to rank 1 and smash heads turn one, both because he has inbuilt movement and his decks are usually centred on him. Durin Kortouched will almost always spend to search for a weapon turn one, and possibly do a little bit of healing or readying as well. That's fine, some Warlords have a natural advantage in this bracket because they are naturally effective turn one. If that describes your deck, pat yourself on the back, nod happily and move on.

If, on the other hand, your Warlord isn't doing a lot turn one, I'd take another look at your deck. Let's take Albrecht as an example. I see a lot of his decks nowadays that slap a couple of items on him and then spend him up to tank 2. Now, to me, that seems wasteful. You've got a powerful fighter with three attacks, and he's not doing anything first turn. Worse than that, he's equipped a couple of items from your hand, and he's probably not used them for anything. That means that they're dead cards as well. On your first turn, you've wasted 40% of your hand and a potential three attacks. The result is that you're naturally going to struggle to compete on that turn against, say, a Feyd Rowan deck that churns out 12 stikes a turn.

Let's take a look at a Garn Hearthstone deck. On turn 1, Garn moves some wounds off Defiance on to himself. Is that the best he can do? No. Let's say he also plays Scourge of Dythanus later in the turn. That still isn't maximum efficiency, because you've still got a level 5 Cleric unspent in your army. To be truly effective he'd have to cast something like Avatar of Faith or equip and use a Lightning's Iron. That's getting the most out of your Warlord. Similarly, Wizards should be looking to cast a big spell, and Figher's and Rogues should be looking to kill characters. (Or possibly ready another character, which could be considered killing by proxy.)

Now, clearly there are grey areas here. Sometimes you really are going to draw a bad hand that'll leave your Warlord stranded (more on that next time.) Sometimes your Warlord is going to do a bit, but not a lot. However if that sometimes is cropping up any more thatn 25% of the time, you may have a problem. And as always there are exceptions to this rule. The above mentioned Feyd Rowan deck plays only two Spend Orders (Magic Missiles and Tzin's Attention) both of which are intended to be cast by a level 2 wizard turn one. Meanwhile the rest of the deck is full of Order: Ranged Strike type cards, maximising the number of strikes you can acheive in one turn. This deck is still efficient because Feyd does a massive amount of potential damage on turn one, but breaks the normal mold that I'd use to test this sort of thing.

The final part to consider here is how your opponent can interfere with your Warlord's plans for the turn. Exhaustion is the definitive example here: Ar'tek's campaign of pain is suddenly a lot less daunting when he's spent. Consider what your Warlord is doing and how you can protect those plans with cards from your deck.

More on that in part 3: your first hand.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Some links

I possibly should have done this first, but whatever.

First off, you all know about the official website, right? Good.

The Temple of Lore is THE place for warlord information. If you're not familiar with it already, go and check it out

Jeremy Black, the lead designer, has a Blergh! here. It's like a blog but...different. He updates it sporadically, but it's well worth a read

The first turn

Warlord has always been a quick game. It's designed that way. Look at your deck, and then ask yourself how many turns a game usually takes. At this late point in the CE arc the average is probably somewhere around 3 turns.

Of those turns, the first one is the most critical. Why? If you're playing a blitz deck the first turn represents your best chance to do damage to the opponent. If you're playing a slower deck then the first turn is crucial to building a stable base from which your deck can unfold. Either way, a bad first turn can mean at best a long uphill struggle to recover, and at worst a quick loss.

So what makes a good first turn? First off, lets look at the different elements that can affect the turn. There are three of these: initiative, starting armies and the first hand.

Initiative is a funny one. It can prove to be vital, though that's less true on the first turn than in later turns. However there's not much that you can do to swing the balance in your favour, beyond some substandard cards like High Tide or incidental bonuses from a few characters like Taika the Disjoined. Generally speaking, you're going to have to accept that the initiative for the first turn is a straight dice roll and accept the consequences.

That brings us to starting armies. On your first turn, on average, you're going to be seeing eleven cards. Six of those start in play. As a result, your choices have a huge affect on your first turn, and it's really important to get this start right.

First off, look at what your deck is trying to do. Find, in one sentence, how your deck is going to win. Some examples would include "My deck wins by holding off the opponent at the start of the turn, then moving high level fighters to the front" or "My deck wins by creating lots of small melee strikes quickly, backed up by low level wizard spells."

After you've done that, take a look at your characters. Are they helping you acheive that goal? For example in your deck aiming to stall early on a low AC, 1 hit point character isn't likely to help, irrelevent of his attack profile. Take the standard dwarf start of 3x Defiance and 2x Will. This start is chosen because it provides you maximum stability, though it sacrifices offence to do it. Would you choose this line up in an Ahdi Akkhar blitz deck? No, because the strengths of your starting characters are totally the opposite of the strengths such a deck would want.

Having said that, it's often worth fudging your start slightly. What do I mean by that? Your deck won't be played in a vacuum: it's going to be matched against other decks. On a purely local level, if you know that your playmate is heavy on DC checks then choosing characters with high skill may become important, even if you sacrifice some offensive capacity. Similarly, if you know that your opponents are likely to be playing very fast aggressive decks a slightly more defensive start may prove beneficial. Llyr Militia is a good example here: that's a card that'll let you soak up your opponent's early offence and still mount a decent amount of pressure later in the turn. On the other hand, if you're opponent is starting purely defensive characers, like Shield Wall Knights, that start is ineffective. Basically, try and take in to account what your oppoinents will be doing when you design your start. As an extension to this, consider using your start to cover up any weaknesses that your deck might have. For example, is your deck weak against Astral characters? Maybe you should start Kun Iacob.

The last point to consider is how your deck interacts with your characters. Is your deck heavy on wizard spells? If it is you should definately consider starting a level 2 wizard. Intent on playing Veiled Passing? Make sure that your start contains some clerics. Basically, try to use your start to ensure that your deck contains as few dead cards as possible. That's something I'll look at in more depth in part 3.

Next time I'll look at the most crucial part of your starting line up - your warlord.

As always, comments are welcome.

Let's get the ball rolling

So yeah, I'm Chris Dyer. Mat has already explained a bit about me above (though he got some things wrong, never mind) so I won't bother doing that. Instead, I'll answer what might be a more relevent question...

Why bother doing this?

Well first off, I love Warlord. Seriously. I love the game, the people who play it and the places I get to travel to. I think it's a great game, both due to it's inherent simplicity and the surprising amount of depth that you can find. And that leads me on to my second point.

I have more fun playing against better players because it's more of a challenge. Moreover, playing against better players makes me a better player in return. Because I'm a better player I enjoy the game more, and the other players in my playgroup enjoy it more because they're better players, and deep down everyone would rather win than lose. People enjoying the game more means that my playgroup is healthier.

So, if I can make you lot better players as well, then your playgroups will be healthier too, and so the worldwide presence of the game will increase, which is surely a good thing.

To that end I'm going to post a mixture of strategy articles, deck ideas and tournament results adn reports. All and any comments are welcome - I'm more than happy to talk about anything Warlord related to anyone who wants to.

Anyway, enough of that. Pretty soon I'll get the first article up, which is going to be looking at the first turn and how well your deck uses it.

Introducing Chris

Chris Dyer is a lead playtester for Warlord, has been UK Champion in both Open and Campaign formats at the same time and he placed 2nd overall at his first KoHIT (2004) and highly at his second KoHIT (2005). The only reason he wasn't in the EU World Conquest team for 2005 was because he couldn't make enough qualifiers - I attended EL:ITE and took 7th place with one of his decks, if that had been him he would have been in the team.

He also designed the Free Kingdoms deck in the Champions set.