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).

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!


At Monday, May 22, 2006 5:59:00 pm, Blogger Pete Vander Giessen said...

"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."

Heh. Specifically, the probability of one specific card showing up in your opening hand is 1 - 41/44 * 40/43 * 39/42 * 38/41 * 37/40 = 30.99%, assuming you're playing three of that card. That's odds of slightly more than 2:3 against.

'Course, even with Bronwen, you're usually looking for at least two different cards to show up to make things truly cool. Calculating the odds of that happening is a bit more of a headache inducing process (hint: simply multiplying 30.99% by 30.99% just doesn't cut it).

Thankfully, there is this wonderful thing called the Internet, which makes it easy to find people who have already done the headache inducing stuff in advance. :-)

If one visits The Amazing Combo Computer[student.nada.kth.se], for example, one finds that the probability of drawing at least one of each of two parts of a combo in the opening hand is 8.2%.

So yeah. Not winning any tournies any time soon with those odds ...

At Tuesday, May 23, 2006 4:35:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When Bronwen first came I to thought this is a great warlord... against dragon lords. As an experienced elf player I know it is important to have more than one trick in the bag. Bronwen can but it's harder to do with her than other elf warlords. Also keeping the combo's simple is important. If it relies on 3 different cards it's unlikely to happen too often. The best decks I have seen focus on using their warlord as the center piece of their deck stratergy and other characters as back up.

At Wednesday, May 24, 2006 9:05:00 pm, Anonymous Rod (Puzzlehunter) said...

Great articles Chris, this concept is a cornerstone of my deck building approach and I agree with everything you said. Here's some more examples to support what you've been saying.

I always try and have at a minimum three different ways to win a game in my serious tourney decks. I'll try if possible to make the methods as varied as possible, I can't stress this enough. Anyone waiting for a particular combo to win is putting to many eggs in one basket and is usually easily avoided by top players.

If I can I'll have a beat down blitz complemented by a surgical strike, since most decks have serious trouble countering both at the same time, though its also very difficult to make decks that can do both without compromising one or the other.

Some examples I've used are
Jackie can run blitz and great xbow madness and hurricane lockdown without too much interference.

Ran phantasm Blitz, Pull the strings (surgical strike) and rank disruption.

More recently I ran Albrecht, but despite repeatedly trying to put a stealth component into my Albrecht deck for the surgical strike it simply compromised the blitz and beatdown components too much so it doesn't always work.

At Thursday, May 25, 2006 9:37:00 am, Blogger Chris Dyer said...

Woah, three replies at once :-)

Pete - thanks for doing the maths. That's a really handy website too, thanks for that.

To Anonymous (which I'll guess isn't your real name) - Any deck that relies on combo has to be much more slick and well tuned than any other deck type. Especially Bronwen, who tends to orientate her start towards het combo (stuff like Cocoran and Naia Calix), which means that if she doesn't draw her funk she's already at a disadvantage compared to a standard deck.

Rod, thanks for the examples. It's true, more than one way to win a game is a great thing. It's why I always loved Dezi'crah so much - she could nail you with ranged strikes or pound on you with melee strikes equally well.

Thanks for all the comments, really appreciate them!


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