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.