Let’s take a closer look at the three “shaper” cards: Flameshaper Acolyte, Lifeshaper Savant, and Darkshaper Savant. Shapers are creatures that (at level 2) produce a beneficial effect whenever you play a level 1 card. One way to think about shapers is that, in exchange for playing a Level 2 (or 3) creature with sub-par stats, they allow you to get almost as much benefit from playing Level 1 (or 2) cards as you would from playing a Level 2 (or 3) cards.
Shapers are high-depreciation/high-variance cards. They are high-depreciation cards because they require you to play low-level cards, and as the game goes on the number of low-level cards in your deck goes down rapidly. In particular, the opportunity cost of playing a Level 1 card for a Shaper 2 trigger is low during turns 5-8 (when you need to play level-1 cards with or without a Shaper) and is high during turns 13-16 (when you and your opponents will be drawing many level 3 cards). They are high-variance because they work best when you draw hands full of Level 1 cards after you play your Shaper. That is, getting a Level 2 Shaper as the only Level 2 card in your Turn 5 draw is wonderful. Getting a Level 2 Shaper as one of three Level 2 cards in your Turn 8 draw is not very useful. One final thing to consider when playing Shapers is that Shapers are stronger the more low-level cards you have in your deck. Therefore, every time you play Technosmith you are weakening your Shapers. (For this reason, I never include both Technosmith and Shapers in a constructed deck. In the demo, in any given match, I tend to play only one or the other.) On a related note, when using Shapers, avoid playing Level 1 cards without a Shaper on the board. In a previous column, I talked about scenarios where you might play a Level 1 in place of a Level 2 in order to reduce the number of Level 1 cards you draw later on. The logic in that column does not apply if you have leveled Shapers in your deck.
The first question is whether to play your Flameshaper Acolyte. When considering playing a Level 2 Shaper you should ask yourself the following questions:
1) How likely am I to be able to use the Shaper’s special ability at least once?
2) How likely am I to be able to trade my Shaper with an opponent’s Level 2 card?
In general, I am unhappy playing a Shaper 2 if the answers to both (1) and (2) are “not likely”. (Although, of course I will unhappily play the card if I lack other good options.) Conversely, I am very happy to play Shaper 2 if the answers to both (1) and (2) are “quite likely”. If the answer to only one of the questions is “quite likely” then I think about other considerations like “Could I get a second activation of the special ability?” or “How useful is the Level 3 shaper likely to be after the next reshuffle?”
Let’s look at playing both of your Level 2 cards. One option is playing Air Spirit to trade with the Zombie Infantry in Lane 2, and Flameshaper into Lane 5 to kill the Echowisp. I am reasonably happy with this play. First, here is a good chance that you will have to play a level 1 card next turn (you have drawn three level 2 cards since the last re-shuffle and you only have 8 in your deck), so if your Flameshaper survives until next turn you should get to use the special ability. Second, your Flameshaper will destroy half of your opponent’s Echowisp 2 and do six damage to another creature in the future, which is a lot like getting an even trade with a level 2 card.
The only downside of this play, is that your opponent might draw Enrage or Grove Huntress 2 and use it to prevent you from using your Flameshaper ability next turn. Therefore, since you are very likely to have to play a level 1 card next turn, I prefer playing your Flameshaper into an empty (e.g. Lane 1) and killing the Echowisp with a Flameshaper trigger next turn. Indeed, if your opponent has level-up both of her Grove Huntresses, then your Flameshaper is quite unlikely (roughly 1 in 3 chance) of surviving to get a trigger.
Regardless of where you play your Flameshaper, I like playing the Flameshaper and Air Spirit better than any option that doesn’t play your Flameshaper. In particular, the good chance of (at least one and possibly two) future Flameshaper triggers make the play better than your best play that doesn’t include Flameshaper. Namely, Air Spirit to Lane 2 and Forgeplate Sentry to Lane 5. Note that leveling the Forgeplate likely provides you more expected future value than leveling the Flameshaper, but not enough to compensate for the weaker board position.
Given that you’ve decided to play your Flameshaper, you should also consider playing a level 1 card instead of the Air Spirit. I believe the best of these plays is Flameshaper 2 into Lane 1 and Forgeplate 1 into Lane 2 (using the Forgeplate and the Flameshaper trigger to kill the Zombie Infantry). I also consider Flameshaper 2 into Lane 2 and Alloyin General 1 into Lane 3 (using Flameshaper trigger to kill the Lane 4 echowisp). This kills trades 11 damage for 8 damage (a good trade) and leaves an 11/7 Magma Hound on the board. In this scenario, you have a roughly 70% chance of drawing fewer than two level 2 cards next turn (which makes the sacrifice of your Shaper costyly). Additionally, I think leveling Forgeplate is a higher priority than leveling General (Forgeplate gains a lot from leveling, and you are more likely to find use for General 1 than Forgeplate 1 late-game). Therefore, if you are going to play a level 1 card, playing Forgeplate and keeping the Flameshaper alive is the better choice.
Having considered options involving Air Spirit 2 and options that use a Level 1 play to get a Flameshaper trigger, I recommend Air Spirit into Lane 2 and Flameshaper 2 into Lane 1. From a short-term prospective, this yields an identical board to the Flameshaper plus Forgeplate option. From a long-term prospective, I think leveling the Air Spirit is slightly more advantageous than leveling Forgeplate. To evaluate these types of situations, I find the following thought experiment useful: “Four turns from now, would I rather play Air Spirit 3 and Forgeplate 1 or Air Spirit 2 and Forgeplate 2”. In this case, I slightly prefer Air Spirit 3 for two reasons. First, as we move into late-game, I think the Air Spirit’s ability to get damage onto your opponent is incredibly valuable. Second, I am leveling Flameshapers this game and so I there is a chance that I will have Flameshaper 3 in play the next time I draw my Forgeplate Sentry. (As stated in the prelude, when leveling Flameshapers you have a slight preference for having more level 1 cards in your deck.)
SECOND ANALYSIS[Author’s Note: After writing this column, Shaper 3 was changed to trigger off both Level 1 and Level 2 cards instead of only Level 1 cards. Therefore, this analysis assumes that your Shaper 3 will not trigger from playing the Level 2 Grove Huntress.]
The obvious play in this situation is to play Cull the Weak on the Technosmith in Lane 1, and play your Grove Huntress into Lane 4 to give your Cavern Hydra +3/+3. This gets you 10 damage against your opponent and sets up 1-for-1 trades in Lanes 3 and 4 which will take place on your opponent’s turn. The primary advantage of this play is that it leaves you with a full-health Lifeshaper 3 in Lane 1.
However, unlike in the last module, keeping your Shaper alive in this scenario is not a high priority. You are about to enter the Turn 12 reshuffle and every time you reshuffle the likelihood that you play a level 1 card goes down. (Not only are you less likely to draw a hand with four level-1 cards, but you are also more likely to draw a hand containing two level-3 cards that you clearly want to play.) Additionally, note that playing Cull the Weak 3 does not improve the strength of your deck going into the Turn 10 reshuffle (since Cull the Weak is already at maximum level). Taken together, these two factor suggestion that you should seriously consider an alternative play.
The first thing you should notice is that while the Grove Huntress’s +3/+3 enhancement on the Hydra allows the Hydra to trade with the Alloyin General next turn, a +4/+4 enhancement from the Lifeshaper would allow the Hydra to kill the General on your turn and survive. A key advantage to killing the General on your turn is that when the Volcanic Giant attacks next turn, it will deal 5 damage instead of 9. Also note that the Grove Huntress’s +3/+3 enhancement is sufficient to allow your Lifeshaper to trade evenly with your opponent’s Technosmith on your opponent’s turn.
The option that I would recommend is playing Grove Huntress into Lane 4 (giving Lifeshaper +3/+3) and playing Enrage on your Lifeshaper (using the Lifeshaper trigger to give your Hydra +4/+4). As compared to playing Cull and Grove Huntress, this option passes up 10 damage on your opponent,** but gets you creatures in Lanes 1, 3 and 4. After combat on your opponent’s next turn these creatures are (16/5), (8/5), and (8/2), respectively. As this play leaves your Lifeshaper on the offensive with 5 health, there is no way that your Lifeshaper survives until your next turn. However, as previously discussed, you are unlikely to get a Lifeshaper trigger next turn even if the Shaper were to survive so the Shaper’s low health is not a significant consideration. The primary advantage of this play is that (barring a lucky scout drone draw) your opponent cannot block all three creatures and will take damage on your next turn. Additionally, as compared to the Cull the Weak play, this also levels your Enrage giving you an extra Level 2 card in your deck for the reshuffle.
You might also consider playing Grove Huntress into Lane 2 (giving Lifeshaper +3/+3) and playing Deepbranch Prowler into Lane 4 (using the Lifeshaper trigger to give the Hydra +4/+4). This also gives you three surviving creatures (this time in Lanes 2, 3 and 4). However, the creatures are slightly smaller (8/6), (8/5), and (7/2). Additionally, because the Lifeshaper is set up to trade with Technosmith on your opponent’s next turn, you run the risk that your opponent draws a Magma Hound (a 44% chance) and the Technosmith hits you for 15 damage. Although this play is inferior (if for no other reason than you would rather level up Enrage than Prowler), I mention it to point out that your low-health Prowler has little fear of dying to a Magma Hound (because your Lifeshaper is also low-health). This illustrates a general principle when playing against Magma Hound: if you must give your opponent a tempting Magma Hound target, you might as well give her two (since drawing two Magma Hounds on one turn is somewhat rare).
Shapers create interesting tactical options and difficult in-game decisions. Therefore, you can expect Shapers to make a prominent appearance in future modules. In particular, you will notice that neither of this week’s dilemmas focused on deciding whether to play a Level 1 Shaper early in the game. There is a reason for that, given the composition of the iPad Demo decks, I do not have a good understanding of circumstances where I should (or should not) be leveling my Shapers in the iPad demo. If you have any advice/insight into optimal early-game play of Shapers in the iPad demo, please post in the comments.
As a final thought, consider if the first Dilemma had occurred on Turn 8 instead of Turn 6. In particular, you are significantly more likely to draw four (or five) Level 1 cards on Turn 7 than you are on Turn 9. Therefore, having a living Flameshaper on the board is more likely to yield a future Flameshaper trigger on Turn 6 than it is on Turn 8. This makes keeping your Flameshaper alive more important on Turn 6 than on Turn 8. I recommended playing your Flameshaper into Lane 1 in on Turn 6; is this still the best play on Turn 8? Or are you better off your Flameshaper into Lane 5 (or even Lane 2 using the Alloyin General option)?
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.
*: Notice that the board position in the Second Dilemma is quite unlikely to occur. In particular, it requires that the Alloyin General has been on the board for several turns, and killed a Chrogias 1 at some point in the past. For this dilemma, I decided to use an unlikely board position because it led to an analysis that strengthened the overall article. In general, I prefer likely board positions over unlikely ones. However, I am happy to use an unusual board position when necessary to strengthen the overall article.
**: This recommendation to pass up an opportunity to deal 10 damage (to your opponent) in exchange for a stronger board position (and future damage on your opponent) depends somewhat on the relative strengths of the decks going into the Turn 12 reshuffle. If your opponent has gotten all of his strong late-game cards (e.g., Forgeplate Sentry, Scorchmane Dragon, Volcanic Giant) to Level 3 and your set of Level 3 cards is substantially weaker, (i.e. you are the Short Player) then you should give serious consideration to doing the 10 damage in an attempt to shorten the game.