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SolForge Module #18: Hunger for the Devourer

Today, we look at how to effectively play decks built around the card Grimgaunt Devourer. Periodically, I spend a column discussing gameplay considerations for specific archetypes of decks. (Module #12 covers general considerations for playing slow decks, and Module #13 provides some insight on fast decks.) The purpose of this column isn’t to explore the merits of particular decklists. I recommend you check out Forging the Deck #5 for one particular approach to building a Grimgaunt deck.

As anyone who played the Nekrium Starter Deck knows, when Grimgaunt Devourer gets huge it can take over a game. Decks whose primary goal is to maximize the effectiveness of Grimgaunt Devourer must produce a lot of deaths (e.g., using one card to produce multiple bodies) and/or carefully control the timing of deaths (e.g., creature removal spells, or sacrifice cards to produce pre-combat deaths). Obviously, such decks require an alternate path to victory for those games where you aren’t able to level-up your Grimgaunt Devourers. However, that’s an issue for someone else to discuss. Today, we are going to look at how to play effectively in those games where you are able to level-up your Grimgaunt Devourers.

Before we get to the dilemmas, there are several points to keep in mind when you play a Grimgaunt deck.The first point is that Level 2 Grimgaunt Devourer is incredibly strong. With only three creature deaths, Grimgaunt 2 becomes 13/11 and trades favorably with the vast majority of Level 2 creatures. After four or five creature deaths, there are very few answers* to Grimgaunt 2 and even double-blocking** Grimgaunt will often fail to kill it. By contrast, Level 1 Grimgaunt Devourer grows quite slowly. After three creature deaths Grimgaunt 1 is still easily killed by a wide variety of Level 1 creatures. Even after five or six creature deaths Grimgaunt 1 is not deadly enough to get your opponent to low life before it dies to a Level 2 creature.

The take-away point is that Level 2 and 3 Grimgaunt Devourers win you the game. Growing a Level 1 Grimgaunt can get you an early lead, and you should take advantage of Grimgaunt 1 when you can. However, growing a Grimgaunt 1 is much less important than putting yourself in a position to win with Grimgaunt Devourer 2 (or 3). In particular, it is vital to level up the cards that will allow you to win during Player Levels 2 and 3. For instance, if you have a choice between using Windcaller Shaman 1 to save your low-health Grimgaunt 1 or leveling a Scourgeflame Sorcerer, you should generally level the Sorcerer. Even at Level 1 Windcaller Shaman is sufficient to pull a Grimgaunt 2 out of a tough fight, but Scourgeflame Sorcerer needs to be leveled in order to kill dangerous creatures and grow your higher-level Grimgaunts later in the game.

The second point is that you want to play Grimgaunt 2 (or 3) with lots of creatures on the board. Ideally, you want there be lots of creatures on the board who are about to die. You don’t know when you will draw your Level 2 (or 3) Grimgaunt, but it is very important that you maximize the chances that when you do draw it, it is devastating. Therefore, you should play each turn as though you are going to draw your Grimgaunt 2 (or 3) on your next turn. When considering your possible moves, think about what the board is likely to look like on your next turn. Are you likely to have a good (safe) lane in which to play your Devourer? How many deaths are you likely to create on your next turn? You should avoid blocking when you don’t need to, since Defensive creatures in empty lanes are likely to be alive when you draw Grimgaunt next turn. (This allows you to generate deaths if your opponent blocks or perhaps to sacrifice to Grave Pact or Corpse Crawler if needed.) When you need to block (to avoid getting too far behind in life), you should prefer blocking with high-health creatures that will take multiple turns to trade.

When you are waiting to draw your Level 2 (or 3) Grimgaunt, you should be happy to play cards that generate multiple bodies (e.g., Echowisp) into empty lanes to maximize the number of creatures you have on the board next turn. Creatures with the Move ability also make excellent plays, since they give you the option of forcing trades (and generating deaths) even if your opponent doesn’t block. Additionally, you should avoid playing creatures with Swiftness. A Defensive creature in an empty lane is likely to be around on your next turn when you draw Grimgaunt, whereas an Offensive creature (e.g., one with Swiftness) creature can easily be killed by your opponent before you draw Grimgaunt.

The final point to consider is that once you have a Level 2 (or 3) Grimgaunt on the board, everything changes. Your highest priorities are keeping your Grimgaunt alive and generating deaths to maximize the amount of havoc your Grimgaunt can wreck upon your opponent and her creatures. Cards like Grave Pact and Corpse Crawler become important because they can generate deaths before combat (and thus cause your Grimgaunt to trade more favorably with whatever blocks it). Additionally, removal spells (e.g., Cull the Weak) to take out blockers or Windcaller Shaman (to avoid blockers) are useful tools for keeping Grimgaunt alive. Finally, Offensive creatures in other lanes  can force your opponent to make difficult choices. If she ignores your Offensive creatures to deal with Grimgaunt then you get free damage on your opponent, whereas if she chooses to destroy your offensive creatures then your Grimgaunt gets bigger.

FIRST DILEMMA

In this dilemma, you are playing an Uterra/Nekrium Grimgaunt deck against an Uterra/Tempys Growth deck. (You can find the decklist for your deck on the supplemental information page.) You are player 1 and on Turn 4 you are faced with the following board position:

Module 18 Dilemma 1

FIRST ANALYSIS

In order to keep the Grimgaunt Devourer alive and to clear your opponent’s side of the board, it might be tempting to play Vengeful Spirit into Lane 4 and then Grave Pact to kill both the Vengeful Spirit and the Spring Dryad. This gives you three creature deaths (i.e., the Vengeful Spirit’s special ability will kill the Magma Hound, and allows you to hit your opponent with a 10/6 Grimgaunt.

The problem with this approach is that your opponent is quite likely to block and kill your Grimgaunt (e.g., with something like Echowisp, Deepbranch Prowler, or Wind Primordial). You would then begin your next turn with an empty board, which is a disaster if you were to draw Grimgaunt 2 on Turn 5. (Indeed, drawing a Grimgaunt 2 with an empty board is particularly bad since passing up the opportunity to level an additional Grimgaunt on Turn 4 gives you fewer chances to see Grimgaunt 2 during Player Level 2.) In my opinion, the risk of drawing Grimgaunt 2 on an empty board is not worth doing 10 damage to your opponent with Grimgaunt 1.

Therefore, I prefer to pass up the chance to do damage with my Grimgaunt 1 and instead work to maximize the chances that to crush my opponent with Grimgaunt 2. To do this, your first priority is to level-up the Grimgaunt Devourer in your hand.

By playing the Grimgaunt Devourer, you have at least a 31% chance of drawing a Grimgaunt 2 on Turn 5 (possibly more if you managed to level your third Grimgaunt on an earlier turn). I therefore recommend making the board as favorable as possible for a Turn 5 Grimgaunt 2 draw. This means not blocking the Magma Hound. If you block the Magma Hound, you save yourself 5 damage, but you also generate two deaths on your opponent’s turn – before you have a chance to draw Grimgaunt 2! Given that you still have plenty of life, I strongly recommend leaving the Hound unblocked.

Therefore, I recommend that you play Grimgaunt Devourer into Lane 1***, running combat and then playing Echowisp into Lanes 2 and 3. This leaves you with three creatures on the board: a 7/5 Grimgaunt 1 and two Echowisps. In the best case, your opponent sets up a trade with the Grimgaunt 1 and blocks an Echowisp with something like Hydra 1. If you draw Grimgaunt 2 on Turn 5 (and block Hound), this would give you five deaths, a 17/15 Grimgaunt 2 and an Offensive Echowisp! Even in the worst case where your opponent kills Grimgaunt 1 with Uranti Bolt, blocks one Echowisp with Magma Hound and uses Hound’s ability to kill the second wisp, you still get 4 deaths on your turn 5 and a 15/13 Grimgaunt 2. (Not bad for a worst case scenario.)

The other play that you might consider is to level-up your Corpse Crawler. Level 2/3 Corpse Crawlers can be quite difficult for certain decks to deal with and as such Corpse Crawler serves as an excellent alternative win condition in a Grimgaunt deck (for those games when you have bad luck drawing your Grimgaunts). However, in this match, you have the opportunity to level (at least) two Grimgaunt Devourers, therefore you have (at least) a 90% chance of drawing Grimgaunt 2 during Player Level 2. This means that if you can set up good board positions to maximize the impact of your Grimgaunt draws, then you are unlikely to need Corpse Crawlers to win this game. Additionally, Corpse Crawler is a low-depreciation card in a Grimgaunt deck. In many situations, drawing Corpse Crawler 1 with a Grimgaunt 2/3 on the board will not only put a decent-sized body into play, but also allow you to grow your Grimgaunt before combat. All else being equal, I might prefer having Corpse Crawler leveled over Echowisp, but it is close and the board position from the Echowisp play is much better.

SECOND DILEMMA

In this dilemma, you are playing a Tempys/Nekrium Grimgaunt deck against an Alloyin/Tempys stall deck. (You can find the decklist for your deck on the supplemental information page.) You are player 1 and on Turn 7 you are faced with the following board position:

Module 18 Dilemma 2

SECOND ANALYSIS

Your opponent looks to have a strong deck going into the Turn 9 reshuffle (at the very least it includes Scorchmane Dragon 3 and Forgeplate Sentry 3). Fortunately, you have a Grimgaunt Devourer 2 in play. You will definitely need to get good use out of this Grimgaunt because if you don’t, things have the potential to go downhill quite quickly during Player Level 3.

One option is to play Death Seeker into Lane 5, then Grave Pact the Forgeplate Sentry in Lane 1 (and sacrifice the Death Seeker). This generates three creature deaths to give you a 17/12 Grimgaunt Devourer in Lane 1. However, if you take this route, you will also need to Move your Wind Primordial into Lane 2 to trade with his Scorchmane Dragon. If you don’t make the Lane 2 trade, she Moves Scorchmane Dragon to Lane 1 on his turn and easily dispatches your Grimgaunt with Firestorm, Magma Hound, Uranti Bolt or – if you don’t draw removal text turn – virtually any blocker. Making the Lane 2 trade generates two more deaths and gives you a 21/16 Grimgaunt, which is excellent. Your opponent will need to spend at least two Level 2 cards to dispatch your Grimgaunt, and the only way the Grimgaunt dies on your opponent’s turn is if she draws both Uranti Bolt 2 and a Level 2 creature.

Also, note that although Uranti Bolt gives creatures the Defender status—which prevents them from initiating attacks—it does not stop them from using abilities like Move. Therefore, plays that involve Uranti Bolt on the Scorchmane Dragon don’t help you protect your Grimgaunt 2. (For example, a play like Uranti Bolt on the Scorchmane then sacrificing the Magma Hound to Grave Pact the Forgeplate.)

I definitely like the Death Seeker play; however, in this situation I have a slight preference for playing Windcaller Shaman. I believe the best Windcaller Shaman play is to Grave Pact (sacrificing the Magma Hound) to make the Scorchmane Dragon 4/4. Then play Windcaller Shaman into Lane 5 to Move Grimgaunt into Lane 4. This play only generates two creature deaths, and leaves you with a 15/13 Grimgaunt 2. However, this play does do 23 damage to your opponent this turn, leaving her at 33 Life. Additionally, this puts your opponent in a very bad position on her next turn. Unless she kills your Wind Primordial, she takes at least 10 additional damage on your turn, and 23 Life is extremely dangerous when you have a Wind Primordial 3 in your deck. If she does your kill your Wind Primordial, then barring a lucky Brightsteel Sentinel 2 she takes at least 17 damage on your turn (from Grimgaunt). Even if she does draw Brightsteel 2 along with another card that can kill Wind Primordial, the Brightsteel only has 4 Health after blocking your Grimgaunt and so you have many Turn 8 draws (e.g., Magma Hound 2, or any Grave Pact or Uranti Bolt) that would allow you to dispatch the Brightsteel and get your opponent below 16 Life.

Overall, I think that both the Death Seeker play and the Windcaller play described above are quite strong. However, given that your opponent will be drawing from an extremely strong deck during Player Level 3, I would recommend playing Short and making the play that maximizes the chances that your opponent is below 20 life before she gets a chance to draw her powerful Level 3 cards.

FINAL THOUGHT

Decks built around Grimgaunt Devourer can be quite strong, but they take some practice to play well. With online play coming to PC next week, now is a great time to hone your Grimgaunt technique. I am the wrong person to ask which faction is the best complement to Nekrium when it comes to winning with Grimgaunt. Fortunately, online play should provide a great venue for experimenting with different decklists and getting the most out of your Devourer.

As a final thought, consider if it were Turn 3 instead of Turn 4 in the first Dilemma. A key reason that I recommend the Echowisp play in the first Dilemma is because you want to set up the board to take advantage of a possible Grimgaunt 2 draw next turn. However, if it is Turn 3, then any Echowisps you play are likely to be dead before a Grimgaunt 2 appears. Similarly, there is little reason to leave Magma Hound alive if you have no chance of drawing Grimgaunt 2 next turn. In that situation, is Echowisp still a strong play? Are you better off leveling up the Corpse Crawler? Or does it make sense to level Grave Pact and save your lane 2 Grimgaunt 1?

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.

FOOTNOTES:

*: After four or five deaths, Grimgaunt 2 can be killed by Nekrium creature removal (Cull the Weak 2, Blight Walker 2, or Scourgeflame Sorcerer 2) and if it is Offensive it trades evenly with Brightsteel 2. No other Level 2 card in the current card pool can eliminate a Grimgaunt 2 once it reaches 13 Health.

**: By ‘Double-Blocking’ I mean playing a creature across from the Grimgaunt before combat, then running combat, and finally playing a second creature across from the Grimgaunt after combat.

***: I have a very slight preference for Grimgaunt into Lane 1 instead of Lane 5, but that’s a subject for a future Module.

Module #17: To Stall or Not To Stall

In Module #6, we discussed how uneven creature trades could be used to generate Card Advantage. Today, we discuss even creature trades. Typically, it is clear who benefits from an uneven creature trade (i.e., the player with the creature left standing), it is much less obvious which player benefits from an even exchange of creatures.*

For simplicity, we restrict our attention to perfectly even, one-card for one-card trades. That is, I spend one of my cards to completely counteract (or destroy) one of my opponent’s cards and obtain no other benefit. For example, consider a situation where my opponent has a Bonescythe Reaver 1 on the board and I block it with a Wind Primordial 1. The expected outcome is that  both creatures die and so I have counteracted one of my opponent’s plays with one of my own. Such plays have no effect on the relative card advantage of the players. They serve only to protect the life totals of both players and to move the game one step closer to the next reshuffle. That is, even creature trades extend the game.**

At any point in a SolForge game, there is one player who is more likely to win if the game goes long. A player who, based on the cards she has played, will have the stronger deck going into the future reshuffles. That player’s opponent expects to lose the game the game unless he can find a way to end things quickly. Let us call these players the “Long Player” and the “Short Player” for convenience. Even card trades prolong the game and benefit the Long Player. If you are the Short Player, you should avoid even trades and seek out plays that reduce your opponent’s life, even at the cost of your own life. (This general concept is likely familiar to players of Magic or other TCGs, but plays out somewhat differently in SolForge due to the evolution in deck composition due to card leveling.***)

Most new SolForge players find it easier to play as the Long Player than as the Short Player.  When given the chance to take 10 damage in order to deal 8 damage to your opponent, it is natural to see this as a bad option. Indeed, this is quite often a bad option. However, if you are the Short Player, you should seriously consider making this play because you probably don’t have the time to wait for a better option to come along.

One aspect that makes SolForge particularly difficult to play well is that the identity of the Long Player (and the Short Player) will often change over the course of the game. In particular, whether you are the Long Player depends not only on the deck you are playing but also what cards you have leveled. Therefore, you will have games where you play cards early on that are strong at Level 3, and quickly fall into the role of Long Player. However, as you and your opponent play cards in the coming turns the composition of your deck changes and you need to be prepared to re-evaluate. In particular, notice that playing a Level 3 card does not improve your deck. Therefore, once the key cards in your deck are Level 3, there is a good chance that your opponent’s deck is improving faster than yours (that is, you are the Short Player or will be soon). In Module #5, I provide a concrete example of a game that I lost by missing an inflection point where I transitioned from being the Long Player to being the Short Player. (In the game in question, at the inflection point, I didn’t adjust my play appropriately and I lost the game.) Additionally, I discuss these Long/Short inflection points in general terms within Module #12 (on playing slow decks) and Module #13 (on playing fast decks).

FIRST DILEMMA

Today’s dilemma comes from a game in Community Tournament 5. You are playing a Nekrium/Tempys deck against your opponent’s Alloyin/Uterra deck. Decklists for these decks can be found on this supplemental page. (The supplemental page also includes information on what cards each player has leveled). You are the second player, and on Turn 7 you are faced with the following board position:

Module 17 Dilemma 1

FIRST ANALYSIS

In this scenario, it is somewhat difficult to determine who is the Short Player and who is the Long Player. Currently, you have Grimgaunt Devourer 3 in your deck and have the opportunity to produce a Corpse Crawler 3 and a Rageborn Hellion 3 with your current draw. Your opponent’s only Level 3 cards are Munitions Drone 3 and Matrix Warden 3, and so at the moment you appear to have the stronger deck going into the Turn 9 reshuffle. However, your opponent has five Level 2 cards remaining in her 15-card deck.  These Level 2 cards include Forgeplate Sentry, Brightsteel Sentinel and Scrapforge Titan; all of which are powerful cards in their own right and are particularly scary in a deck containing Matrix Warden 3 and Munitions Drone 3. If your opponent fails to draw any of these three cards on Turn 8, then it is probably safe for you to act as the Long Player (although you should be ready to reassess come turn 11 or so, based on your opponent’s draws). However, there is roughly a 75% that your opponent draws one (or more) of Forgeplate, Brightsteel, and Scrapforge, and in that case your opponent’s deck starts to look quite scary going into the reshuffle. Therefore, my advise in this situation is to play as though you are the Short Player, even though you don’t know precisely how strong your opponent’s deck will be during Player Level 3.

The key question in this scenario is whether you want to play your Corpse Crawler into Lane 4 to produce an even trade with your opponent’s Matrix Warden.  Your best play that involves blocking the Matrix Warden is probably to put Rageborn Hellion 2 into Lane 2, run combat and then play Corpse Crawler into Lane 4, sacrificing the wounded Windcaller Shaman in Lane 1. (Playing Cull the Weak on the Ionic Warcharger is also quite reasonable. Removing the Warcharger is valuable, especially since your opponent has two Brightsteel Sentinels in her deck, but the Hellion 3 is more likely to be useful late-game than the Cull the Weak 2.)  However, an even trade in Lane 4 benefits the Long Player, and so if you are playing Short, you should look for other attractive options.

I believe the best play that does not involve blocking the Matrix Warden is to put Rageborn Hellion 2 into Lane 5, run combat and then play Corpse Crawler into Lane 2 (sacrificing the wounded Windcaller Shaman in Lane 1). Assuming your opponent doesn’t draw Cull the Weak 2 or Brightsteel Sentinel 2, she most likely moves Warcharger into Lane 3, and play creatures into Lanes 3 and 5. (Setting up your Grimgaunt and perhaps your Hellion to die).  This leaves you with a full-health unblocked Crawler in Lane 2 (which will get a Hellion trigger when it attacks next turn!).  If she draws Cull 2, she kills your Grimgaunt, damages your Crawler with Warcharger and blocks your Hellion. In this case, your unblocked Crawler is at low-life, but still set up to do damage and get a Hellion trigger. The only situation where you may regret this play is if she draws Brightsteel Sentinel (which allows her to kill your Grimgaunt with Warcharger and still block both your creatures in both Lanes 2 and 5).

Note: I have a slight preference for Corpse Crawler into Lane 2 and Hellion in Lane 5,  instead of the reverse, because your opponent is very likely to move her Warcharger into Lane 3 (if she doesn’t draw the Cull she has no way to kill your Grimgaunt with a single card). Given that a full-health Corpse Crawler is a bit more problematic for my opponent than a full-health Rageborn Hellion, I like playing the Corpse Crawler into Lane 2 and letting the Hellion take the 4 damage. Note that with 8 Health the Hellion still trades favorably with any Level 1 creature. The wounded Hellion trades unfavorably with some Level 2 creatures (e.g., Forgeplate 2 or Titan 2) but this is true even at full health.

Leaving the Warden unblocked causes you to take 16 damage between now and your next turn. Trading the Warden for the Corpse Crawler causes you to take 12 damage before your next turn (you need to play the Corpse Crawler after combat or else the Munitions Drone becomes a serious problem for you). For most opposing draws, you pay 4 life and get a dangerous, unblocked Level 2 creature on the board in exchange for leaving his Warden alive. This is a good exchange if you are the short player. Additionally, if your opponent draws poorly and is unable to set up both your Grimgaunt and your Hellion to die, then you enter the turn 9 reshuffle with a dominant board position and are extremely likely to win the game.

SECOND DILEMMA

This dilemma also comes from Community Tournament 5. You are playing a Tempys deck against your opponent’s Alloyin deck. Decklists for these decks can be found on this supplemental page. You are the second player, and on Turn 2 you are faced with the following board position:

Module 17 Dilemma 2

SECOND ANALYSIS

So given that your opponent already has a Synapsis Oracle and two Brightsteel Sentinels leveled-up, it seems pretty clear that you are currently the Short Player. That is, your focus should be on doing damage to your opponent and ensuring that the game ends quickly.

The most obvious way to do damage to your opponent is to play Lightning Wyrm. However, given the deck your opponent is playing, she is likely to block with something like Synapsis Oracle, Spark Bot, or Ionic Warcharger in order to gain card advantage. Given that your opponent is still at 100 life, I think 4 damage is too small a benefit to give up a bit of card advantage early game. (In particular, your deck should have no trouble converting early-game card advantage to damage and so, as the Short Player, I like playing for card advantage in these situations.) Also note that Lightning Wyrm is most useful in this deck to trigger Rageborn Hellion or to close out the game later on, and it doesn’t need to be leveled-up in order to serve those roles. (A similar argument can be made against playing Uranti Bolt to kill the Lane 5 Brightsteel Sentinel. Even as the Short Player you don’t want to give your opponent card advantage for a small amount of early-game damage.)

Another tempting play is to use Uranti Bolt to kill the Synapsis Oracle before it can activate its ability to level an extra card. In many situations, it is valuable to kill creatures with powerful activated abilities (such a Oracle) before they get a chance to activate them. However, in this situation, I don’t like the Uranti Bolt play for several reasons. First, Uranti Bolt 1 is a low-depreciation card. Even a Level 1 Uranti Bolt can be useful late game if its special ability stops a Brightsteel Sentinel 3 or a Scrapforge Titan 3 from attacking and buys you an extra turn to draw the Ashurian Mystic 3 you need to close out the game. Second, Uranti Bolt is not very useful in this match-up. Your opponent’s deck is full of creatures like Forgeplate Sentry, Brightsteel Sentry, and Spark Bot (and others) that have more than 9 Health at Level 2. Leveling Uranti Bolt is much more useful if your opponent’s deck has Level 2 creatures that trade evenly with Uranti Bolt. Finally, and most importantly, you are the Short Player and you need the game to be over quickly. Your deck has no good answers to Brightsteel Sentinel 3 and Synapsis Oracle 3. Therefore, if the game goes too long, you are in serious trouble regardless of whether your opponent gets to use her Oracle to level-up an extra card.

Instead, Lane 4 is currently set-up to trade favorably**** and therefore I would focus your attention on setting up uneven trades or playing threats in other lanes.  Therefore, I recommend playing Wind Primordial into Lane 3 and Cinderfist Brawler into Lane 1. As the Short Player, blocking a Defensive Brightsteel Sentinel is unattractive (with a little luck you can kill off the wounded Lane 5 Brightsteel with Magma Hound next turn). In this situation, I would be happy to leave the Lane 1 Brightsteel unblocked if I didn’t have a creature that could trade favorably with it (e.g., if I had drawn a second Wind Primordial instead of a Cinderfist Brawler). However, since you have a favorable trade available, there is little reason to take the 8 damage from leaving the Lane 1 Brightsteel unblocked.

FINAL THOUGHT

Determining when you are the Long Player or the Short Player is often quite difficult, especially in games with inflection points that cause you to transition from one role to the other. That being said, knowing whether you are the Long Player or the Short Player is of little use unless you can play appropriately in either role. Hopefully, the above dilemmas provided a bit of insight on how being the Short Player affects gameplay decisions. I will be sure to include dilemmas in future columns in which you must play as the Long Player.

As a final thought, consider if you had drawn Flameblade Champion instead of Lightning Wyrm in the Second Dilemma. Flameblade Champion isn’t a good choice to block the Offensive Brightsteel Sentinel in Lane 1, but you could play it instead of the Wind Primordial (either into Lane 3 or Lane 5). Alternatively, if you like leveling-up your Wind Primordial, you could consider something like Flameblade Champion into Lane 5 and Wind Primordial into Lane 2. How do these plays compare with the Cinderfist Brawler + Wind Primordial play that I discussed in the analysis? Is it better to play Flameblade into Lane 3 to keep it at full health, or Lane 5 to ensure you can make use of Windcaller Shaman next turn? Does the fact that you drew two Uranti Bolts this turn affect your decision of whether (or where) to play the Flameblade Champion?

I encourage you to discuss the Final Thought in the comments, as well as to debate my analysis of the dilemmas. If you are new to the column, I highly recommend Module #6: Card Advantage and Module #10: Basics of Blocking. Until next time, I am the Noetherian and these are the SolForge Modules.

FOOTNOTES:

*: Long time readers of this column will recall that this is a topic that was discussed previously. That is,  the topic of even creature trades was discussed in Module #3. However, Module #3 predates the change from 40-card decks to 30-cards, and used the ancient GenCon Demo decks. I believe that these columns are no longer helpful to new players of SolForge. (Indeed, many current players are completely unaware that the GenCon demo ever existed.)  I have, thus, gone back and marked the three columns from the era of 40-card decks as ‘Obsolete’ and I will no longer be linking to those columns. The primary purpose of this week’s column is to move the important information from Module #3 into a column that is more accessible to current SolForge players.

**: For the purposes of this column, we will call a trade ‘even’ regardless of the levels of the cards involved. However, all else being equal, it is generally somewhat advantageous to trade a lower-level card for your opponent’s higher-level card. Typically, you and your opponent will expect to draw the same number of Level 2 cards during a given player level. Therefore, if you can spend a Level 1 card to counteract your opponent’s Level 2 card, you will often be able to generate an advantageous board position.

***: Mike Flores wrote a classic article on a related concept back in 2001: Who’s the Beatdown. In his article, Flores focuses on the importance of identifying which player benefits from a long game in Magic match-ups between similar styles of decks. In particular, matches where both decks are built to play aggressive. The key difference between what Flores discusses for Magic and what I discuss for SolForge is that in Magic, the identity of the “beatdown” (i.e., the Short Player) can be determined with near certainty based on deck composition and is fixed for the duration of the game. Whereas in SolForge, it is very common for the identity of the Short Player to be different in two matches depending on which cards are leveled, and more importantly, it is common for the identity of the Short player to change over time within a given match! For this reason, I prefer not to use Flores’ terminology, as some Magic players tend to associate that term with concepts such as “does this aggro deck win a race with this other aggro deck” which don’t translate directly to SolForge.

****: Obviously, your opponent could play a spell or a structure such as Ferocious Roar or Fangwood Field  to thwart your uneven trade in Lane 4. However, if she plays spells or structures, then she isn’t blocking your creatures and your will get damage through, which as the Short Player is perfectly fine outcome.

SolForge Module #16: Death vs The Elements

Previously, in Module #14, we looked at the match-up between the Alloyin Starter deck versus the Uterra Starter deck. Today, we take a closer look at the match-up between the other two Starter decks, in SolForge 2.0: Tempys versus Nekrium.

Tempys_Banner

The Tempys deck’s main advantage in this match-up is its speed. The Tempys deck has the potential to do a lot of damage early and force your opponent to play from behind. Powerful Nekrium cards like Scourgeflame Sorceror and even Grimgaunt Devourer are of little use if Nekrium player needs to block in order to stay alive. The Tempys deck’s game plan revolves around getting ahead in life to generate difficult blocking decisions and getting a bit of early card advantage to take advantage of “snow-ball” cards like Rageborn Hellion or Ashurian Mystic which can convert that card advantage into victory. Although Flameblade Champion is a powerful card in certain match-ups, I seldom play it against Nekrium; it slows the Tempys deck down and can hand your opponent early card advantage. (That being said, I do like Flamestoke Shaman in this match-up and I never turn down a chance to kill an opposing creature by playing my Flameblade Champion next to a Flamestroke Shaman.)

The liability that the Tempys deck brings to this match-up is it’s difficulty dealing with powerful creatures like Corpse Crawler. Therefore, the strategy of the Tempys deck is to ignore creatures it can’t deal with (Move is an excellent ability for avoiding large blockers). The best way for Tempys to deal with a big creature is to hope your opponent runs out of life before the creature kills you (or to wait for a higher-level creature to appear after the next reshuffle). Grimgaunt Devourer is particularly problematic because it is difficult to ignore once it becomes well-fed (i.e., Grimgaunts which are ignored tend to get bigger). Therefore, killing Grimgaunt Devourer quickly is of vital importance to the Tempys deck in this match-up. Facing off against a well-fed Grimguant is one of the surest ways for the Tempys deck to lose this match-up. Read More »

SolForge Module #14: Making Your Own Luck

The newly released SolForge 2.0 features a number of UI improvements, some small changes to existing cards and, most importantly, four new mono-faction Starter Decks. My next article will feature the new Starter Decks. Today, we return to the Uterra/Nekrium and Alloyin/Tempys demo decks, which remain available for play in SolForge 2.0.

Recall that in Module #7, we discussed the notion of card variance. High variance cards are those that are extremely useful in certain situations, but are far less useful if drawn in an unsuitable situation. For example, Cull the Weak is excellent if your opponent has a creature (of the appropriate level) on the board that you need to get rid of, but if a worthless draw if your opponent has an empty board.

If you choose to level-up high variance cards, you run the risk that you will end up “wasting” your valuable Level 2/3 draws later in the game when you draw your leveled-up high variance card in a bad situation. This is particularly a problem for cards with both high variance and high depreciation. Recall that high depreciation cards become far less valuable if you pass up an opportunity to level them. Therefore, if you draw a high variance, high depreciation card in a situation where it isn’t useful, you not only pass-up the opportunity to play the card effectively in the current player-level, but you also face a difficult decision of whether to play this card despite the unsuitable position. Playing the card in an unsuitable situation will typically require that you sacrifice short-term gain, but failing to level a high depreciation card significantly increases the chance that the card is not useful the next time you draw it. Note that high variance, low depreciation cards like Electro Net are somewhat easier to deal with, because if you draw Electro Net 2 in a situation where it is not useful, you at least have confidence that the level 2 version of the spell is likely to remain useful during the next player level.

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SolForge Module #13: Decks of the Hare – Quick and Deadly

This is the second and final part of a series on how to play decks of different speeds. In Module #12, we discussed slow decks that win through a powerful late-game. Today, we will discuss fast decks that attempt to win quickly.

For the purposes of this column, I am going to define a fast deck as a deck that attempts to do as much damage as possible during Turns 1-8. That is, deck’s whose goal is minimize your opponent’s life going into the Turn 9 reshuffle. It is possible that in the future even faster decks will be viable, but given the current card pool, the most useful way to think about fast decks is by focusing on damage dealt during Turns 1-8. Read More »

SolForge Module #12: Decks of the Tortoise – Slow and Steady

This is the first of a two-part series on playing different deck archetypes. The most basic dichotomy in SolForge decks is in speed: some decks win through a powerful late-game, and some decks win by establishing an insurmountable lead advantage early-on.* As SolForge continues to evolve, surely more nuanced deck archetypes will emerge, providing an opportunity to revisit deck archetypes in the future. Additionally, I understand that some SolForge players have had success with decks that do not clearly fall into either the ‘slow’ or the ‘fast’ category. However, the ideas of this column and its successor will apply to the vast majority of constructed decks used in Community Tournament 4.

Today, we focus on the play of slow decks (saving fast decks for the next installment).  This column isn’t about the details of particular decks — I leave that all the deck-tuning experts out there — but instead will focus on concepts a player should consider when playing a slow deck. Fundamentally, to succeed with a slow deck, you need two things.

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SolForge Module #11: Necromancy for Fun and Profit

Today, we will focus our attention on Yuru, Necromancer, one of the more interesting tools available to Nekrium. Since Yuru, Necromancer is not present in either of demo decks, the dilemmas in this column will use constructed decks. If you are looking for columns that focus on the demo decks, I recommend Module #10 (Blocking) or Module #6 (Card Advantage).

Yuru, Necromancer is a versatile card. First, Yuru can be used in an aggressive deck to keep pressure on your opponent.  If your opponent is attempting to make even one-for-one trades to keep the board clear and prolong the game, Yuru’s Zombies provide you with an advantage in what would otherwise be an even trade. This allows you to keep creatures on the board and pressure on your opponent. Second, Yuru can be used in a control deck to keep the lanes clogged and buy you time to play your late-game bombs. If your opponent has a threat (like a large Enraged creature) that you do not yet have an answer for, Yuru’s Zombies can buy you the time to need to draw your answer.

Yuru is also relatively high-variance card. Yuru itself has mediocre statistics. If Yuru fails to summon a single Zombie, then you payed a card to get a single sub-par creature. However, if Yuru can summon two Zombies during its life time then you received three creatures (with mediocre stats) for the cost of a single card. Therefore, playing Yuru onto an empty board is often a mistake.

When played in a controlling deck to generate blockers, Yuru has relatively low depreciation. That is, Yuru 1 can be a useful stall card, even fairly late in the game. However, when playing an aggressive deck that wants to use the Zombies to get damage onto your opponent, then Yuru has significant depreciation. That is, as the game goes on, it becomes much less likely that Level 1 Yuru Zombies will be useful anything other chump blocking.

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SolForge Module #10: The Basics of Blocking

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.
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SolForge Module #8: Do Not Fear the Card that will Defeat You

The dilemmas in this column are taken from a game of Community Tournament 3 featuring constructed decks. If you are looking for columns featuring the iPad Demo decks, check out the past two columns on Card Advantage and Depreciation/Variance.

When analyzing a potential play, it is useful to consider the cards that your opponent might draw. This is never more true, than near the end of a SolForge game. By the time you reach late-game, you will know what cards your opponent has leveled and, in particular, which powerful level-3 cards she has available to draw in the coming turns.

However, do not focus your attention on possible draws for your opponent that will surely defeat you. If your opponent draws cards that assure her victory, then it doesn’t matter what you play. In particular, there is no advantage in making plays that merely lower your opponent’s life total, or prolong the game, in cases where she is assured victory. Instead you must focus your attention on the possible draws that might — but might not — win your opponent the game.

Don’t spend time fearing the scary card that will assure your opponent victory. Focus on plays that optimize your position in the case that your opponent’s next draw is sub-optimal and her position is merely strong (as opposed to unbeatable).

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SolForge Module #7: How I Love Cards that I Don’t Need to Play

Today we discuss two axes along which I evaluate cards: Depreciation and Variance.

In the context of SolForge, depreciation refers to how well a Level 1 (or 2) card holds its value into the mid-game (or late-game). A high-depreciation card is unlikely to be useful to you unless you level it at every opportunity. A low-depreciation card is more likely to provide some benefit to you later on even if you do not level it. Depreciation is an aspect of a card that should influence your in-game decisions. When you have a choice between two similarly good plays early-game, you should tend to play high-depreciation cards over low-depreciation cards. Indeed, when you get an all Level-1 draw on Turn 8, you may be glad that you passed up the opportunity to play your low-depreciation cards early game.

A related, but independent, consideration is the concept of card variance. I first heard this term applied to SolForge cards by CerebralPaladin on the SolForge Forums. A card has high variance if the value of the card depends heavily on the board position when you draw it. A card has low variance if it is reasonably useful on just about any board. CerebralPaladin discussed Variance in the context of deckbuilding, however, I believe the concept is also relevant to in-game decisions regarding which cards to level-up. In particular, leveling-up exclusively high-variance cards is a risky strategy that increases your likelihood of getting a bad draw later in the game. (Although the payoff can be quite high when you succeed in drawing the right card on the right turn.)

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