Quintivarium's guide to UNDERWORLD

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Quintivarium's guide to UNDERWORLD

SteveGoblin
UNDERWORLD FACTION

Feel:  The darkness breeds fearsome creatures of secrecy and nightmare.  Some are powerful, just waiting to gobble you whole.  Others are subtle, up to no good in the periphery of your consciousness.

Characteristics:  Underworld is a very well rounded faction, containing a little of everything from might, to barricades, to neutralizers, to theft cards.  It has good cards to deal with spells (mesmer), auras (essence exchange and essence eater), items (darkling snatcher, tentacle from below), barriers (kobo tunnelrunners), and minions (taken under).  These cards together with darkling slavers ominious eggs, and narrow tunnels, give underworld a definite counter-punch mentality.  Underworld makes it easy to wait, see what your opponent does, then use it against him.

Signature Cards:  Unlike some factions, there are no underworld cards so dominant that they almost always make an appearance – but there are a number of cards that definitely deserve mention.
Underdark worm – as the only common strength 4 card (so far at least!) the underdark worm is easy to acquire and provides a good backbone of strength.
Darkling assassin – A quick card with a powerful special ability makes darkling assassin excellent both in initiating action and responding to opponents.  Its two strength is not overwhelming, but it is still very difficult to counter.
Deepspawn – a card whose growth can be very problematic for an opponent.  Like any card which gains health, deepspawn must be dealt with quickly or it gets out of control.  Unlike most cards whose growth is hard to trigger, deepspawn only requires power – and works well with cost 3 minions deployed as the spawn grows.
Primeval ooze – At least one player I greatly respect claims the ooze is the most over-powered card in the game.  While I disagree with this assessment, I do believe the ooze is an excellent defensive option against minions or barriers with nasty special powers.  Beware of it being used against you to neutralize a card’s negative feature (e.g. jungle’s ravager).
Taken under – With the guaranteed ability to remove any non-magic immune minion, taken under can remove an enemy lynchpin at the most critical moment.
Mesmer – The cheapest way possible to stop an enemy spell.
Darkling slavers – If you can’t fight it, steal it!

Other Important Cards:
Shadow dragon – Shadow dragon is something of a risky card – unless it picks up a useful power, it is a little pricey for its stats.  But it can also be devastating when it picks up a good power.  Be aware that it also copies powers of barriers – I love to play it opposite a spore farm or necropolis.
Phantasma – the only strength 4 card that does not cost 5 power, phantasma is balanced by low health and a short timer.
Dark fey – Its powerful debuff almost forces an opponent to “waste” resources, either by suffering drastic drop in strength or by destroying the fey outside combat (e.g. with a spell)
Kobo summoner – Kobo summoners are the only card able to bring more minions onto the board automatically.  Unfortunately, kobos are not powerful enough to work well as a rush tactic – but they do have enough summoning power to work in combination with other threats.
Kobo miner – As the only card capable of summoning items from one’s deck, kobo miners are a valuable addition to any deck relying heavily on items (e.g. blood orb decks).
Barriers – Although forest is often thought of as the barrier champion, underworlds quartet of barriers are, in my opinion, the best available.  Deeper darkness not only has strength and regeneration to help its survivability, but it is the only elusive barrier in the game – which means you can play it when you have spare power and later move it where needed.  Spore farm’s ability to damage opposing minions, as well as its health growth make it formidable to oppose – it is great for closing off lanes.  Wall of stalagmites not only has enough health to last, but it’s one damage comes in quite handy.  And ominous egg presents a very cheap means of bringing a minion onto the board, often with favorable timing.
Cave-in – Direct damage is always very useful, and cave-in is cheap if somewhat restricted.
Burrowing under – An almost unstoppable way of dealing damage to an opponent can be extremely useful.
Safehole – Safehole can be used to buy a little time to either catch up on the board or to erode an enemy’s life while being protected yourself.  It can also enable free use of otherwise life-draining effects (e.g. air’s brainstorm)
Psychic vortex – Psychic vortex is a game changing card, but one rather difficult to use effectively.  A deck designed around the card often does not play well if psychic vortex is not drawn, and a deck not designed around the card derives little benefit from it.  There is strong potential in this card – but I haven’t found it yet.
Underworld elixir – The evasive trait is easily underestimated.

Combinations:  Most underworld cards stand well on their own; combinations are not a major component of most underworld decks – although synergy is important.  The most important combinations I have observed include:
Timer manipulation – Many underworld cards are balanced by very short timers.  Cards like aetherfish and chronochime are very impactful on phantasma, burrowing under, delusion, telepathic link, and safehole.
Barriers in narrow tunnels – Narrow tunnels does not reduce the strength of barriers – it is great fun to play narrow tunnels and deeper darkness opposite an enemy bone dragon and watch the dragon slowly destroy itself in fruitless attacks.

Secondary Factions:
Air:  air has potential to drastically extend many of underworld’s short timers.  It brings some blitz possibilities (combining aeromancer with taken under and/or lost), energize can add effectiveness to deepspawn and darkling assassins, wild mage can create copies of underworld’s very utilitarian spells, overload gives a big might boost (and can be assisted by aetherfish removing a timer), astral armor protects a developed deep spawn from most means of destruction, null wand can assist with combat or magic immunities.

Fire: fire offers three potential combos with underworld (none of which are real strong), but fire can impressively support many of underworld’s strengths.  Pyrosaurs can be freed to wreck more havoc with taken under and burrowing under (but fire hardly needs those cards to free the pyrosaur).  Underdark has access to a number of cheap forces that work well with inferno (but I have, and have seen, no successful examples of decks exploiting this).  And kobo miners can summon lava bombs – hopefully fast enough that the bombs make a difference.  Otherwise, fire damage spells enhance the removal ability of underworld, strong minions complement underworld’s, fire shroud is great for shadow dragons, underdark worms, deepspawn, and albino cave slugs (if you should choose to use them).  Primeval flame is probably the most dangerous barrier and enhances underworld’s already impressive barriers, but nothing about underworld actually makes flames any better.  Cinderlings popping out of an ominous egg could be a nasty surprise.  And, unlike most factions, underworld has a large number of junk minions suitable for living bombs.

Forest: in my opinion, forest tends to duplicate rather than substantially expand underworld’s capabilities.  Despite nice quick units, forest does not offer the same tempo advantages that air does.  It has no minions that I find preferable to underworld in terms of firepower, and underworld does not really need forest’s anti aura or anti-item capability.  Forest barriers are not really necessary or even desirable over underworld’s.  Forest’s life granting ability is nice, but I usually find that extra life does not save me when I actually need it at all.  There are a few forest features that are nice: wild strength, wild growth, and barkskin auras are almost always welcome.  Living essence is always powerful, although all underworld forces simply become more durable – not necessarily more dangerous – because of it.  And underworld has lots of cheap minions to synergize with heart of the forest.  Faerie enchantress can be used to summon psychic vortex – about the only way I see a psychic vortex deck to be effective – but I have not succeeded even with this combo.  Nobbling tricksters can substantially drain an enemy, but underworld then has no effective way to finish it off.  Nobling tricksters do add defense against traps, but I find underworld usually has plenty of sacrificial units , which is probably as effective as attempting to keep a warden in play.  Deepwood fey do offer means of removing immunities (especially combat immunities) without having to directly oppose the problem unit (a drawback to primeval ooze).

Jungle: perhaps the most obvious benefit of jungle to a faction like underworld which relies heavily on minion superiority is jungle’s numerous traps that hinder opposing minions, as well as the very effective stranglevines aura.  Kobo summoners (if they can be kept alive) have great synergy with ravagers (although I think a ravager deck is ill-advised).  Savage blooddrinkers benefit from underworld’s ability to clear lanes.  Otherwise, jungle offers any number of useful cards, but they are useful more because they are good cards than because they are cards good for underworld.

Ocean: ocean may be the most natural accompaniment to underworld.  From deepsea things, razor sharks, and sea snakes that benefit from underworld’s lane clearing abilities to sea dragons recalling taken under spells, ocean minions harmonize well with underworld’s abilities.  Liquify neutralizes unpleasant specials primeval ooze cannot reach, and sink grants worms dominance.  Numerous other ocean cards have general applicability, but not necessarily any special applicability with underworld.

Swamp: swamp shares with ocean cards for theft (bodyswap), and excellent hand attack cards (screaming skulls, miasma, accursed).  Swamp’s many high health minions supplement underworld’s high strength but low health units.  Screaming skulls and skeleton crew benefit from cleared lanes / removed opponents, necropolis adds a new dimension to available barriers, and body swap and lich touch are both attractive with dungeons cheap minions.  Rise again is nice with deepspawn (which quickly overcome the lost strength).  Cull combinations can restore life if needed, and blood orb decks generally also need kobo miners.  Once one owns sufficient rare cards from the two factions, Underworld/Swamp is a nice tandem.

Underworld as Supporting Faction:  Because of its numerous “response” cards, underworld can beef up defenses of almost any faction.  Kobo miners (often with kobo summoners) speed the retrieval of items and are often used in item based decks.  Taken under and lost are valuable additions to minion removal strategies, and darkling assassins are “killer” cards worth adding to almost any deck.  “Theft” cards can add interesting twists to a match, and psychic vortex has potential when used well.

Representative decks:  My intent is not to give all decks, or even the strongest decks, but rather, to give a broad sampling of possible underworld decks.  All of these decks are decks I either use or attempted replicas of decks used against me.  Some, however, are special purpose, intended for example, to be fair against an opponent whose card holding is limited.

Deck 1 (Underworld/Ocean):  A classic “taken under” deck.  Ideally, taken under is used to “free” a lane for a unit like deepsea thing with a special invoked by damaging the opponent.  Can also be used to protect spawn or aquamancers until they have a chance to grow.
   4  underdark worm
   4  deepspawn
   4  primeval ooze
   3  albino cave slug
   2  kobo miner
   3  deeper darkness
   4  taken under
   2  underworld elixir
   4  deepsea thing
   4  sea dragon
   4  razor sharks
   2  triton aquamancers

Deck 2 (Underworld/Jungle):  A roadblocks deck.  This deck is slow, intending to entrench until the deepspawn, constrictors, and strangle vines can triumph.  Although generally a good deck, it, like most slow decks, is vulnerable to aquamancer decks, fire prism decks, and other strategies that destroy minions as quickly as they are played.
   4 deep spawn
   2 phantasma
   2 primal ooze
   2 dark fey
   4 deeper darkness
   4 spore farm
   4 ominous eggs
   4 narrow tunnels
   3 mesmer
   4 giant constrictors
   4 razorweed
   3 stranglevines

Deck 3 (Underworld/Swamp):  A classic blood orb deck.  Be sure to exploit you enemy’s strength by bodyswap and darkling slaver, while killing him with blood orbs.  Note that no cards have strength greater than two, but the deck is very formidable.
   4 kobo summoner
   4 darkling schemer
   4 kobo miners
   4 kobo tunnelrunners
   4 ominous eggs
   4 darkling slavers
   4 undead tritons
   4 bodyswap
   4 cloud of bats
   4 blood orb

Deck 4 (Air/Underworld): A nasty spellstorm deck highlighting underworld as a supporting faction.  Note how one safe hole can be extended to provide many turns of protection, while the spell storm and burrowing under free you from a need for minion domination.
   4 archmage
   4 aeromancers
   4 chronomancers
   4 aetherfish
   4 mage tower
   4 spellstorm
   4 chronochime
   4 delusion
   2 burrowing under
   4 safehole
   2 psychic vortex

Beginner Decks:  
     Players just beginning to play the game will obviously not own all the cards required for these decks; it takes a considerable investment of gold to get four copies of several rare cards.  Since purchasing booster packs is much, much more cost efficient than purchasing individual cards, I strongly discourage the purchase of individual cards unless: a. a card is absolutely necessary to create a deck able to advance or b. a player really wants to try a card and foresees using it in several different decks.  I also suggest that players build on at least one of their starting factions as otherwise it takes two or three boosters to hope for a viable deck.
     As I look through the common underworld cards (which will form the backbone of any beginner deck), I make several important observations.  Common underworld minions include the fearsome underdark worm, the cheap and strong (but vulnerable dream feeder), the innocuous albino cave slug, and three very cheap, weak and vulnerable cards.  Thus underworld has some real strength backed by weakness, and little in between.  For support cards, I observe good blocking power (2 excellent barriers and narrow tunnels), good removal cards (lost, cave in), and cards to bypass opponents (burrowing under, underworld elixir, and wrong tunnel).  There is also the trap unnatural gas to accentuate underworld’s strong minions.  And there is little spectacular beyond this.
     Thus I am inclined to think the best underworld strategies will involve either blocking off some lanes while dominating others, or generally stalemating the board, with plan to slip past one’s opponent’s defenses often enough to win.  Both strategies involve a careful mix of aggressive and defensive tactics – something I find quite characteristic of even advanced underworld decks.
     A quick look at the uncommon underworld cards (cards relatively easy to acquire unless one wants high multiplicities of the same card), find a lot of cards that support the above strategies (more cheap but vulnerable minions, more excellent barriers, mass collapse, taken under, etc.) as well as cards that enhance defensive countermeasure opportunities (darkling snatcher, mesmer), and the difficult psychic vortex.  Little suggests important shifts in the strategies suggested above.
     With its rare cards, underworld finally gets significant numbers of very dangerous minions, fully develops its ability to negate creature specials and auras, and acquires its propensity for theft and mimicry.
     Beginning players will acquire a few rare cards, but probably not more than one or two copies of a card, and not necessarily cards of the type desired.  While players should certainly incorporate relevant rare cards into their decks, it is extremely unwise for a beginning player to design a deck around one.
     Finally, let me discuss how other factions might support a beginner underworld deck.  While it is always most efficient to utilize what one already has in their starter deck, players often want to branch out.
     Air: although I usually recommend against players acquiring air cards until much later, I actually think air has perhaps the best supporting cards for underworld.  The main attraction for me is air’s timer manipulation cards: aetherfish and chronochime.  Combined with underworld’s often short timers, these cards can be invaluable.  And while doomcloud is not overwhelming, it is a decent, common, midrange minion to fill one of underworld’s big weaknesses.
     Fire: fire has good mid-range minions as well as good blocker removal spells.  Both are very useful supplements to a beginning underworld deck.
     Forest:  forest is a great supporting faction to underworld.  It enhances underworld’s defensive ability by bringing potential health to underworld’s otherwise frail units.  Wild strength makes underdark worms particularly dangerous, or it can make weak units more formidable.  And deepwood spiders are a great addition to underworld’s available minions.
     Jungle:  jungle is presently the last faction to unlock – making it a little awkward as a beginner deck secondary faction.  It is not a bad match for underworld.  Cards like ferocity and huge are always handy, and certain jungle traps  will definitely facilitate underworld forces slipping through enemy defenses.  On the other hand, I don’t find a huge number of synergies – especially at a more advanced level – that suggest this as a great combination.
     Ocean is a formidable addition to underworld as well.  It adds good midlevel minions with a powerful punch (razor sharks and sea snakes).  It adds opposition moving capabilities to supplement wrong tunnels, and the debuff units accentuate underworld’s strong units.
     Swamp:  swamp has no common minions that are not very weak, and very little damage potential.  While it does have a few good support cards (decay, horrify, undead tritons), until one gets significant quantities of rare cards, it is probably not the right supporting faction for underworld.

Summary Comments:  
     Because it contains a common strength 4 minion (underdark worm costing only 10 gold to purchase outright), underworld is a great initial faction for players to purchase.  Eventually, there are better cost 5 minions that will become available, but being able to acquire 4 strength 4 minions will enhance almost any beginner’s deck.  Since underworld also has cards related to almost every facet of the game, it is a good faction to learn from.  And because most cards are effective in their own right, underworld does not require a lot of finesse or combinations.  It is a great starting faction.
     Underworld also features an incredible balance of good cards.  It is well suited to both defensive and aggressive tactics – a good, tough faction for almost any player and any playing style. Quintivarium's guide to