Today we look at the question of when you should block opposing creatures. (That is, when you should play a creature into a lane that already contains an opponent’s creature). This issue has come up a lot in previous dilemmas, but I wanted to look a little deeper at factors you should consider when decided whether to block.
The reason to consider blocking is straightforward. If you don’t block your opponent’s creature you take damage, and if you take too much damage you lose the game. Note that blocking is particularly advantageous when your opponent’s creature is Offensive. An Offensive creature left unblocked will deal damage to you twice before you have another opportunity to deal with it.
However, there are also reasons to consider not blocking.
- You didn’t draw a good response to your opponent’s creature, and you have a reasonable chance of drawing a better response next turn. This is particularly significant if you are about to about to reshuffle your deck.
- You expect to deal more damage to your opponent in the coming turns by playing into an empty lane, than you would receive due to not blocking. This is particularly significant if you have creatures with abilities like Move, Swiftness, or Breakthrough which make it more difficult for your opponent to avoid damage from your creatures.
- You need the game to end quickly. This is particularly significant if your opponent will have a much stronger than deck than yours after the next reshuffle (i.e., you are the Short Player).
- You do not want combat to happen on your opponent’s turn due to spells or abilities that she is likely to use to influence the result of combat. All else being equal, you benefit from combat occurring on your turn, which is a reason to consider not blocking your opponent’s Defensive creature. This is particularly true if your opponent has a card like Darkshaper Savant or a Lifeshaper Savant on the board, or if she might draw that a card like Fangwood Field that provides a lasting advantage. This is less of an issue if your only concern is a spell like Enrage that provides a one-time advantage.
- You want to delay the death of certain creatures due to effects that trigger on creature death. If your opponent is playing cards that trigger on creature death (e.g., Grimgaunt Devourer or Yuru, Necromancer) it may be beneficial to delay the death of certain creatures until you can deal with the Grimgaunt or Yuru. Similarly, if you are playing with death-trigger cards of your own, delaying creature deaths can provide you with one more opportunity to draw a card that provides benefit when creatures die.
It takes practice to think through the ramifications of blocking and deciding whether any of the above considerations outweigh the damage you take by not blocking. However, if you get in the habit of thinking carefully about each blocking decision, you can learn to identify common scenarios where blocking is (or is not) advantageous.
This dilemma uses the iPad Demo Decks. You are the first player and you are playing the Tempys/Alloyin deck. It is turn 8, and your opponent has the following Level 2 cards available to draw on Turn 8: Cull the Weak 2, Grimgaunt Devourer 2, Vengeful Spirit 2, Zombie Infantry 2. After the Cavern Hydra regenerates, you are faced with the following board position:
The first consideration is that your Air Spirit 2 (with Move 2) is very likely to deal 10 damage to your opponent on your next turn if you do not block. Given that you have a significant life lead at this point, you should be happy to trade 8 life for 10 damage on your opponent.*
The second consideration is that your Air Spirit 2 will trade unfavorably with your opponent’s Fleshfiend, and you are likely to a draw better answer to the Fleshfiend next turn. That is, your opponent’s Fleshfiend will kill your Air Spirit and your opponent will be left with a Fleshfiend 1 in Lane 5. Additionally, it is turn 8. Next turn, you are drawing from a freshly shuffled deck and you are likely to draw a creature that provides at least an even trade with the Fleshfiend (e.g., Volcanic Giant 2).
The third consideration is that your opponent has a one-in-three chance of drawing Grimgaunt Devourer 2 next turn and if you block the Fleshfiend with Air Spirit your opponent will get between 4 and 6 creature deaths on her turn (depending on what you do with your second play). Four creatures deaths is enough to produce a (15/13) Grimgaunt Devouerer. Six creatures deaths is enough to produce a (19/17). Note that a 15/13 Grimgaunt can kill any Level 3 creature you might draw on turn 9 except Forgeplate Sentry, and the 19/17 Grimgaunt will kill even the Forgeplate Sentry. Since you are in a strong position to win this game, you do not want to give your opponent a one-in-three of obtaining a well-fed Devourer and thus you want to limit the number of creature deaths that occur on your opponent’s next turn.
For these three reasons, I recommend playing Air Spirit 2 into an empty lane (i.e., Lane 3). Let us now consider the other lanes and what your options are a second play.
In Lane 1, your Alloyin General is set up to trade evenly with the Cavern Hydra with both creatures dying on your opponent’s next turn. Your opponent could play Enrage 1 on the Hydra next turn to prevent its death, but you should not be concerned about this possibility. If your opponent spends one of her plays on Turn 8 to Enrage the Hydra, you are faced with an 8/2 Offensive creature on your next turn which you can deal with easily. You could play Electro Net on the Cavern Hydra to enable your Alloyin General to survive the trade. Indeed, this is the play that minimizes the number of creatures deaths on your opponent’s next turn, which could be helpful if your opponent draws Grimgaunt Devourer. That being said, I think keeping your General alive in Lane 1 is a low priority and you have better plays available.
In Lane 4, the Deepbranch Prowler is set up to kill your Magma Hound on your turn and deal 7 damage to you on your opponent’s turn. You could play Electro Net 1 on the Deepbranch Prowler, which would allow your Magma Hound to trade evenly with the Prowler (though you would take 1 Breakthrough damage). However, this would cause four creatures to die on your opponent’s turn (including the creatures in Lane 1) and as previously discussed you should avoid giving your opponent the opportunity for a 15/13 Grimgaunt Devourer. I believe using Electro Net to neutralize the Prowler is a reasonable option, but if you do so, I strongly recommend playing Electro Net AFTER combat. This would leave your opponent with a 2/2 Prowler (a creature that you can safely ignore given your life lead).
You could also deal temporarily with the Deepbranch Prowler by playing Scorchmane Dragon 1 into Lane 4 after combat. This prevents six damage from the Prowler on your opponent’s turn and gives you a Scorchmane Dragon 2 in your deck after the reshuffle. However, this also gives your opponent three creature deaths on her turn, and there is a significant difference between 2 creature deaths and 3 creature deaths if your opponent draws Grimgaunt Devourer. If your opponent draws Grimgaunt Devourer on a turn with 2 creature deaths, the Grimguant is 11/9 and you have the option to kill it on your Turn 9 with your Offensive Air Spirit 2 (depending on what else you draw this may be a valuable option to have). If there are three creature deaths on your opponent’s turn then you lose the option of trading your Air Spirit for the Grimgaunt Devourer on your Turn 9. Additionally, this Scorchmane play only temporarily deals with the Prowler. A (2/2) creature you can safely ignore for the rest of the game (given your life lead) where as a 7/2 creature you will probably have to deal with at some point. For these reasons, I prefer playing Electro Net on the Prowler instead of Scorchmane into Lane 4.
Your remaining options involve playing a creature into Lane 2 (be it Scorchmane Dragon, Spark Bot or Scout Drone). I do not believe that any of these options are good options. Playing a creature into Lane 2 gives your opponent an opportunity to play Grimgaunt Devourer into Lane 2 (protecting it from your Air Spirit on Turn 9). Additionally, playing a creature into Lane 2 makes it easier for your opponent to avoid damage from your Air Spirit. That is, if your opponent fails to draw the Grimgaunt Devourer, she can play creatures into Lanes 1 and 3 (after combat), and you then cannot move your Air Spirit 2 into an empty lane to deal damage on Turn 9.
Therefore, in addition to playing your Air Spirit 2 into Lane 3, I believe your reasonable options are: Electro Net on the Hydra; Electro Net on the Deepbranch Prowler after combat; and Scorchmane Dragon into Lane 4. Of these, I recommend playing Electro Net on the Prowler after combat is over. Given your opponent’s life total, I think that having a Scorchmane Dragon 2 in your deck is unlikely to make a significant difference in this game (especially since you have at least one Air Spirit 3 in your deck). Therefore, I think it is more valuable to ensure that your opponent does not get a large Grimgaunt Devourer, and to permanently cripple her Prowler so that you can ignore it and play threats into other lanes.
If you don’t block the Zombie Infantry with your Volcanic Giant, you take 10 damage and your Volcanic Giant is likely to only do 4 damage to your opponent. In particular, your opponent is likely to draw a Level 3 creature on Turn 9 that trades favorably with your Volcanic Giant. Given your relative life totals it is unlikely that you want to trade 10 life for 4 damage.
In this scenario, you are not particularly worried about your opponent drawing a Grimgaunt Devourer next turn. Your opponent only has a one in six chance of drawing Grimgaunt Devourer. Futhermore, your opponent’s Grimgaunt Devourer is only level 2. With two creature deaths on your opponent’s turn, the Devourer would be (11/9) which will evenly trade with many cards you might draw on Turn 9.
If you block, your opponent could use an Enrage (or a Level 2/3 Grove Huntress) to save his Zombie Infantry. I would not particularly fear an Enrage in this case, as you can deal with the resulting low-health Zombie Infantry easily, and it costs your opponent a card. Drawing a Level 2/3 Grove Huntress would certainly be advantageous for your opponent (allowing her to both save the Zombie Infantry and put a reasonable-size creature on the board). However, I think this is not so advantageous for your opponent that I would recommend playing around the possible Huntress draw.
If you choose to block, I would recommend also playing Lightning Wyrm 1 into Lane 5 to kill the Grimgaunt Devourer. The reasonable alternative would be to block the Grimgaunt with your Alloyin General 2. One reason I don’t like the Alloyin General play is because your opponent gains too much benefit from drawing an Enrage. Whereas in Lane 2, an Enrage on the Zombie Infantry turns an even creature trade into a situation where your opponent gets a low-health creature, in Lane 4, an Enrage on the Grimgaunt turns an exchange where your creature survives into an exchange where your opponent’s creature survives. When Enrage will both save your opponent’s creature and kill a creature of yours that would not otherwise die, then you should consider playing around the Enrage. Furthermore, at this point in the game, I think you get a bit more benefit from leveling your Lightning Wyrm instead of leveling your General. Lightning Wyrm gains significant benefit (5 extra Attack) from leveling, and the 9 damage from Lightning Wyrm is often useful in finishing off an opponent late in the game. Also, Alloyin General is a low-depreciation card, and Level 2 General is very likely to be useful the next time you draw it.**
If you chose not to block the Zombie Infantry I believe your best option is to play Alloyin General into Lane 5 and the Lightning Wyrm into Lane 4. This trades 10 life for 8 damage on your opponent, and gets you at least a one-for-one trade in Lane 4 unless your opponent draws Enrage 2/3 or Grove Huntress 3. This is a very aggressive play designed to end the game quickly. I would make this play only if my opponent’s deck at the Turn 9 reshuffle was much stronger than mine (e.g., opponent has Chrogias 3, and I have been unable to level my powerful late-game creatures).
Whether to block is a topic that has come up often in past Dilemmas. Comments from my readers suggests that I recommend blocking more often than some, but less often than most. I hope that going into more depth on the issues I consider when blocking (or not) is helpful in understanding my blocking decisions — even if you don’t always agree with them.
As a Final Thought, consider if you had drawn Lightning Wyrm 2 instead of Lightning Wrym 1 in the second Dilemma. This gives you the additional option of using the Lightning Wyrm to trade with the Zombie Infantry on your turn. In this case, you probably would play the Volcanic Giant into Lane 5 to block the Grimgaunt, although you could play Volcanic Giant into an empty lane. How does killing the Zombie Infantry with Lightning Wyrm compare to other options such as blocking with the Volcanic Giant in Lane 3, or perhaps using the Lightning Wyrm and Alloyin General to get 13 damage onto your opponent?
I encourage you to discuss the Final Thought in the comments, as well as to debate my analysis of the dilemmas. Until next time, I am the Noetherian and these are the SolForge Modules.
*: Note that if your opponent draws Cull the Weak 2 on Turn 8, she will surely destroy your Air Spirit and prevent it from dealing damage. But this should not affect your decision to block, because if your opponent draws Cull the Weak 2, your Air Spirit 2 will provide you with no benefit regardless of which lane you play it into.
**: In theory, you could perhaps Electro Net the Grimgaunt, but playing Net on an unblocked Grimgaunt Devourer when additional creatures are about to die is an exercise in futility.