U are really great! U and Valentino can publish a book about spellcraft. As much as I want to chip in, I couldn't articulate most of my thought about playing Strategy. If one wants to improve his skills, just keep playing with other good players and observe how they play and why they play that way. Everyone can learn a lot from observing.
The most important resource to master is Life Points. That is what makes you win or lose in 99% of cases.
The highest priority in game is to understand when you can sacrifice another resource to keep inflicing damages to the opponent or when you have to keep a resource and be willing to take a damage.
Incredibly good analysis from you two, as always.
We’ve all experienced it – the sense that we could really take control of a match if we could only get time for that one move ... and we never get time. This article is my first attempt to tackle the topic of tempo: making/countering threats at a faster pace than one’s opponent. I say it is my first attempt, because I don’t think I’ve mastered the topic yet – perhaps writing this will help me consolidate my thoughts.
Let me start with a scenario: your opponent begins the game by playing a mantid. You decide to play a ruby dragon on an open lane – wanting to avoid taking damage by playing opposite the mantid, and thinking to later counter the mantid with a flamespike or fire rain. Your opponent plays a giant constrictor opposite your ruby dragon. The mantid inflicts 3 damage to you. You use the ruby dragon special to inflict two damage to the giant constrictor, then play a lava elemental on an open lane exhausting your power points. Your opponent plays a hungry crocodile opposite your lava elemental, with a savage kobo in an open lane. The giant constrictor inflicts its 1 strength / 1 health damage on your dragon and the mantid inflicts another 3 life drain. To save your dragon, you again use its power to destroy the constrictor. With nothing better, you play another lava elemental on an empty lane. Your opponent now plays a savage trapper opposite your newly placed lava elemental, plays an ambush spell opposite your dragon, destroys your dragon with a cave rats to trigger the ambush. He also plays a pit trap so the savage trapper destroys your new lava elemental. The crocodile destroys your first lava elemental with its attack, and the mantid does another 3 damage to you while the savage kobo does 2 more. At this point, you have taken 11 damage to your opponent’s 0. The board contains an enemy mantid, an enemy hungry crocodile, an enemy savage kobo, an enemy savage trapper, an enemy cave rats, and an enemy pit trap, while holding nothing of yours. On the bright side, your hand contains 5 cards, your opponent’s only 1. But you still have to shake your head and ask, “What happened?” You definitely lost a battle of tempo!
As it turns out, you are partly a victim of bad luck – your opponent held great cards, but there are several subtle flaws in your play, although your play certainly seemed reasonable on the surface. First, the dragon, if it even should have been played at all should have been played opposite the mantid – damage not withstanding. Basically, blocking the mantid prevents it from repeatedly damaging you every turn. Posing a counter threat (the ruby dragon) simply forces your opponent to respond to the threat while the mantid does its work.
Second, far too many resources were poured into the ruby dragon. Not only did it cost 5 to play, it cost another 6 power points countering the opposing constrictor to keep the dragon alive. Even worse, the lava elementals played in conjunction proved totally useless so you effectively spent 3 turns nurturing the one dragon. One of the things I have learned the hard way is that relatively weak (strength 2 or less) minions with no special ability to invoke in place of an attack and no evasive trait are sitting ducks for stronger minions played opposite. Unless played in conjunction with other threats (so the opponent cannot respond effectively to all the threats), or supported with spells, auras, or traps (to destroy or hinder stronger blockers), such units do not perform well on open lanes. Even though the elementals bonus damage is enticing, they would have been better utilized as blocking units.
Finally, the ruby special was poorly utilized. The first round opposite the constrictor called for a direct attack. One damage would have been inflicted on the constrictor (which would still be destroyed by the Ruby special next round), but the three saved power points would have been invaluable.
So let me replay this scenario, with the suggested changes. Opposite the initial mantid, play the ruby dragon. Your opponent moves the mantid to an open lane and plays a constrictor opposite your dragon. You will simply attack with the dragon, so you have 5 power points for playing cards. It would be wonderful if you had something like a pyrohydra, a second ruby dragon, or a deepspawn, but I’ll assume the best you have is a rather banal underdark worm that you play opposite your opponent’s mantid. Again, your opponent moves the mantid to an open lane. Rather than dooming the constrictor to the ruby dragon special, he moves it opposite the worm, plays his kobo miner opposite your ruby dragon (cheap blocking power), and the savage trapper into another open lane. It is hard to keep an analogous situation here – you again have 5 power points which can almost certainly be better used than playing 2 lava elementals. Suppose you play a magmasphere opposite the mantid and a lava elemental opposite the trapper (a somewhat pessimistic draw). You destroy the savage kobo and reduce the constrictor to 1 health with your attack. Your opponent plays the ambush, followed by a crocodile opposite the ruby dragon, and a pit trap behind the trapper. Your lava elemental is destroyed, leaving the trapper free to inflict 2 damage. At this point, you have suffered 2 points damage to 0 for your opponent. You have a 3/2 worm opposite a 3/1 constrictor, a 3/6 magmasphere opposite a 3/1 mantid, and your opponent has an unopposed 3/3 crocodile as well as a 2/2 trapper backed by a pit trap. You do hold 4 cards to your opponent’s 1. It’s still not a pretty picture, but it is nowhere near as abysmal as the previous scenario and could easily be turned around with a little luck – say by drawing a fire rain or detonation.
So how does one build a tempo advantage? The following is a non-exhaustive list of important techniques:
1. Block enemy minions when reasonable, preferably with stronger creatures.
2. Use direct damage spells to remove blockers from your minions – especially if that saves your minion or frees a particularly devastating minion (like deep sea thing, screaming skulls, or savage blood-drinker.
3. Use high trigger cost special abilities as little as possible, especially early in the game. Automatic triggers are usually better than tap triggers as the creature can then still be used for attack.
4. Plan ahead and anticipate – avoid wasted resources (both power points and cards).
5. Watch for plays that can serve multiple purposes. For example, playing a pit trap behind an unopposed aquamancer not only protects the aquamancer from most quick minions, it may prevent a strangle vine from moving to a lane that does not hit an enemy unit.
6. Avoid extreme vulnerability to certain cards. Be very wary of things like rows of strength 1 minions that can be destroyed by one card like fire rain or stormship.
One of the features of a tempo advantage is that it can be very transitory. Typically, one wants to turn a transitory advantage into a more lasting one. Usually this is an advantage in damage, but it could be an advantage in ease of safely entering minions (or spells, etc.) For example, one of my favorite decks uses pack attack to make it virtually impossible for my opponents to keep minions alive if I can once get a numbers advantage on the board. 4 hordes of animals with 4 pack attack can keep at bay an army of bone dragons!
It is hard for me to estimate the true importance of tempo – I have far from mastered it. I do think deck construction, deck match-up, and luck are probably more significant. But tempo is definitely an area where play can be significantly improved. I hope this essay helps.
As most players discover fairly quickly, there are six types of cards in Spellcraft: minions, barriers, spells, auras, items, and traps. There are sometimes subtle distinctions between these types of cards that I’ve found can influence their play. Those distinctions are the focus of this article.
Minions are core to nearly all decks for a few fairly obvious reasons: they are the most common means of inflicting life damage; they are the easiest tool for controlling the 5 attack lanes; and they are the most numerous type of card. But beyond the obvious, suppose you were to observe a match mid-progress and ask, “Who is winning?” What would you look at? Certainly life points, maybe card quantity in player’s hands. But ultimately, dominant minions on the board would be the most critical factor. It is this latter that makes superior minion strength perhaps the most durable form of advantage in the game. One goal in the game is to convert more transient advantages (say advantage in tempo) to more permanent forms.
I note also, two major play features of minions: first, while the aggregate power of minions on board is relatively stable, the turnover rate of minions is quite high – extremely high in some deck designs. Minions are targeted by more cards than any other unit, and destroying enemy minions is a high priority of almost every player. Second, there is very limited summoning of minions, and only kobos can be easily and consistently summoned.
The high turnover suggests that, while I may be content to have 30% of cards in the board being minions, I cannot be content with 30% of cards in my deck being minions. And a general inability to target specific minions means that I cannot rely on a single specific minion to be the core card for a consistently successful deck. Six or eight interchangeably viable minion cards are required to ensure a reasonable probability of drawing one early in the game, more if I expect to need to draw more than one.
Barriers play in the same positions as minions are very similar with one exception: while barriers defend – and can damage weaker units that attack them, they do not attack (excluding when the power card “living walls” is in effect). This has a couple of consequences. First, no barrier can inflict life damage so it is rare a player will target a barrier unless it is in the way. Except for primeval flame, there is little reason to play one on an open lane unless you expect the opponent to want to use that lane. Second, barriers block much more effectively than minions. A 1/5 giant urchin minion will last 1 round played opposite a 4/4 underearth worm – the worm attacks it for 3 damage, then it attacks the worm, taking another 3 damage to die. A 1/5 deeper darkness barrier will last 2 rounds: it only takes the damage when the worm attacks it.
Other than razor weed’s ability to spread, there are no summoners for barriers. But it is useful to note that there are cards which only effect minions and not bariers. Aquamancers cannot erode a barrier, bone dragons cannot destroy barriers with their special power, and narrow tunnels does not decrease barriers strength. This opens some interesting combinations. There are a few cards which effect barriers and not minions, but these are less frequent – and less frequently seen as barriers are rarely perceived as threats.
Spells play a unique role in Spellcraft. They are the only cards that take no position on the board, and the only card that, at least in many cases, requires an actual target to cast upon. Because they take no position, spells can be used in multiple copies on the same unit, or on a full board without sacrificing a previously played unit. On the other hand, because they have no lingering presence, they cannot be played in anticipation of future utility. And not all spells can even be played without a target present. Thus, it is not always possible to burn a spell simply to power another effect such as a sky hydra’s growth.
Because an aeromancer summons a random spell from ones deck to one’s hand, by choosing only copies of a single spell, one can guarantee getting one by drawing either the spell itself or an aeromancer. This shifts the probability of drawing that spell early to the point where it is possible to design a consistently good deck around a particular spell. And with sea dragon to recall a spell from the discard pile, one can conceivably get as much use from 4 copies of a spell as from 8 without the dragons. Of course, the limited number of summoning units can restrict faction choice. Note that spells are also summoned by mage tower and spell book, but these, like the aeromancer all belong to air faction.
Auras are based upon the interesting concept of influencing a space (which could be the entire board as well as a specific lane) rather than a particular card. They share play locations with spells and traps. They can be called from one’s hand by a faerie enchantress or an ancient turtle, and they cannot be recalled from a discard pile. They tend to apply an effect either continuously or repeatedly at the start of one’s turn. While spells can be limited by magic immunity, there is no “aura immunity”. Finally, auras tend to be the most static element of the game. There are relatively few ways to move/remove an aura and, with a few exceptions, auras are either permanent or very long lasting.
In terms of play, enemies will tend to avoid lanes with strongly negative auras; auras are best played where units already exist, or when it can be expected to draw units into the lane. Because auras cannot be turned off (although they can be covered with other cards), one needs extreme caution with auras like law of the jungle or rage that have adverse effects. Because of an aura’s typical duration on the board and the inability to use two auras on the same lane, the number of auras I place in a deck is controlled by my ability to actually use them more than by the need for other cards in the deck – unlike the situation with spells. And because auras are relatively immobile, their placement often requires careful foresight.
Items share many features with auras, except they are affected by different cards (kobo miners summon, triton pearldivers recall from discard), and they tend to be less permanent. Most items are either expendable (e.g. captured flame or sunken treasure), or have timers one strives to have expire (air pressure, lava bombs). Many others are useful only in small numbers (null wand, underworld elixir, siege cannon), so exhausted space is less an issue when adding items to a deck than when adding auras.
Traps are the final card type. Quite the opposite of spells, they must be played in advance, in preparation for a trigger that sets them off. Traps can be summoned by a savage kobo, and recalled by a triton hunter. Finally, traps are revealed as unknown cards to one’s opponent.
I have found a few tricks to effective trap use. First, if you invest in traps, you want them to have an effect, so choose traps that will likely be triggered. Second, an astute opponent can often guess the trap being played by its power point cost and your faction. Carrying different traps of the same cost – especially traps triggered by different types of events (e.g. spells and minions) can cause an opponent to be timid with both types of cards. Third, traps work nicely with cards like savage trapper that have powers invoked by the traps because traps are useful whenever played, as opposed to spells that are only useful when played on an appropriate target. Finally, traps have a great synergy with moving auras (such as dreadmarsh plague and strangle vines) as they can block lanes where one does not want the auras to move.
With the latest update, I noticed a great deal of parallelism between the savage trapper and the archmage. The trapper is a 2/2 elusive creature which inflicts one damage to an opposing minion whenever a trap is played. The archmage is now a 3/2 elusive creature which imposes one damage to an opposing enemy whenever a spell is played. I thus thought I could apply the template of a successful trapper deck I had been using to create a successful archmage deck. And it didn’t work well at all. Only after a lot of reflection did I realize that, despite the parallelism, there are even greater differences. First, there is the difference in power point cost. A trapper costs 2, an archmage 4. Thus, after playing a trapper, I had ample power left not only also to play a savage kobo to summon a trap, but to play a trap or two in the same round. The archmage cost does not allow the play of a spell summoner (aeromancer, cost 3), and even precludes many spells in the same round. Second, there is the difference between traps and spells. I never hesitated to play a trap to trigger the trapper special – any trap played at any time was rarely wasted. (Note: this is not strictly true in that certain minion effecting traps do not stack well – but it was not hard to avoid problem situations.) On the other hand, even when I had spells in hand and an archmage on the board, I often found myself needing to make suboptimal use of the spells if I wanted to trigger the archmage special. And finally, there is the principle that one cannot build a consistent deck around a single minion (in too many cases that minion is not drawn). My trapper decks used trappers to support of jungle faction’s incredibly effective big guns. In the archmage deck, the archmage is a big gun. I had trouble drawing from air faction compatible, but balanced, support. Now I know effective archmage decks are possible – I’ve had them played against me. But the tactical mechanic behind those decks seems to be different.
I also recall running pyrohydra decks, interchanging fire shroud and rage as well as detonation and volcanic eruption. In both cases, the second card mentioned has exactly the same effect as the first, except the second is an aura (which repeats for the aura’s duration) and the first is a spell. But there was a world of difference that went well beyond the repeated effect. The spells had immediate effect, the auras triggered at the beginning of my next turn. The spells were often a perfect response to a moment’s need. The auras felt sluggish and unpredictable, and often lingered beyond the point of usefulness. Ultimately, I opted for the spell version.
The point here is that there exists a fundamental difference in characteristics of the six types of Spellcraft cards. Attention to this difference will improve one’s play.
Classification of Threats
At some point, every Spellcraft player begins to identify cards and combos as either highly dangerous or as less dangerous. Doing so is invaluable in building decks (e.g. to be able to build in potent offensive threats) and during play (e.g. to decide which enemy units are top priority to destroy). This essay attempts to identify those characteristics that cause one to decide a card is “dangerous”.
As the canonical formation in Spellcraft is a minion on the board blocked by an opposing force, the most obvious threat is any high strength minion. On the other hand, since minion attacks are the modus operandi of most decks, almost any good deck will have some mechanism for coping with enemy strength – even if that mechanism is to ignore strength in favor of speed. Thus, I will focus my attention on features of cards creating threat beyond simply strength. I will also attempt, at least roughly, to proceed from most dangerous to least dangerous.
1. Cards that grow. In particular, forces able to gain strength, health, or both. The growth almost always makes these cards harder to destroy the longer they are in play; they usually force prompt reaction. Of course, the level of danger in the cards is also influenced by how the growth is triggered, and by whether the card is a minion (able to work offensively) or a barrier (effectively unable to inflict damage without help from an opposing unit).
2. Cards with unblockable powers. It may not be the ideal defense, but a card like underdark worm can be at least temporarily handled by throwing junk (say an overgrown forest) in front of it. This fails miserable against, say, a triton aquamancer. When facing cards with unblockable powers, one must either just endure the power or destroy the card – there are few in-between measures.
3. Cards able to be repeatedly triggered in one round. A fire prism is not dangerous because it inflicts 1 point of damage to a random enemy, it is dangerous because, with the right combination of other cards, it can inflict 1 point of damage four or more times a round. By the way, this makes cards able to grant multiple uses of a power dangerous as well.
4. Cards able, at any time, to affect any lane of the board. Both a necromager and a fire wolf have a power to inflict one damage on an enemy unit. But the necromage is far more dangerous because it can choose any target in any lane, while the fire wolf can only affect the minion opposing it.
5. Cards that act before a reaction is possible. There is no defending against a burrowing under aura because the card is used before a response is possible. Of course, all spells have this characteristic, as well as all minions with the quick trait.
6. Reversers, a term I use to describe cards like body swap or savage spite that enable one to use an opponent’s power against him. At least some reversers have tremendous defensive power as well, afflicting a formerly dangerous enemy with weakness.
7. Cards able to rapidly and drastically transform the board. I’m thinking of cards like catastrophe, or, in some instances, calm seas. Many of these cards can have deleterious effects on friendly forces as well, but players are often able to plan so the effects have far fewer negative than positive consequences.
8. Cards with immunities. Either spell or combat immunity can make cards much more problematic. These immunities drastically reduce the number of effective tools an opponent can play.
Upon reflection, I realize that many dangers – whether cards or combinations – revolve around over-riding typical limitations on cards or on capabilities. For instance, minion strength is typically limited to 4, with only a couple of exceptions – and those cards have some serious drawbacks. Cards able to rise beyond this (or cards able to help others do so) are dangerous. Typically, power points and card availability severely limit what can be accomplished in a single round. For example, one can only inflict about 4 damage to enemy minions per round via methods that avoid the attack mechanism (meteor does four damage, flame spike + magic missile does 4 total damage, etc.), and even this level of damage cannot be sustained since necessary cards get burned up. Incidentally, that amount of health is probably about the average of what one will play in a single turn (1 underdark worm, two lava elementals, or a deepwod spider together with a deepwood fey). Cards such as aquamancers, fire prisms, pack attack, etc. are dangerous because they allow the normal bound on damage inflicted to be exceeded. As another example, something like heat seeker cards or siege cannons can inflict about three points of life damage per round before one has insufficient power to use them. But power dive or spell storm could conceivably do 12 or more (with multiple copies) and have power to spare. Many cards are balanced by limitations: a ravager is overwhelmingly strong and healthy – but its tendency to destroy friendly minions balances it. Safehole, huge, and burrowing under balanced by their very short timers. Aquamancers are (arguably) balanced by their initial vulnerability. Wolf pack is balanced by the limit of 4 copies in a deck so it is improbable one will ever hold a large number at once. Meteor is balanced by its cost. Be aware of combinations that remove these limitations!
I do not know that I have identified every threat – odds are I have overlooked some. But I believe understanding the nature of threats will improve the quality of play.
10 Common Playing Errors to Avoid
1. Neglecting to use creature specials. All too often a new player will choose a deck full of creatures with very nice special powers – only to fail to use those powers. And experienced players surprisingly often forget to use powers like a cloud dragons’ ability to drain one life point or triton assassin’s ability to reduce opponent strength and health. Sometimes, it is nice to use a special power simply to avoid attacking – I have tapped an arcane thief even when my opponent has no power points to steal simply because it allowed the thief to survive long enough to block an enemy. Many players do not seem to realize that two giant octopi can hold off two underdark worms indefinitely – all the octopi need to do is use their evasive ability to swap places. The worms cannot deal damage faster than it is regenerated unless the octopi also attack.
2. Overlooking cards. If you have gone several turns without considering a spell, it can be easy to “forget” that your opponent has a mesmer trap in play. And I recently planned very carefully to let my nobbling trickster lose enough health that my implode spell would hit an enemy pyrohydra instead, only to be embarrassed by its destruction of my giant urchin.
3. Playing the wrong card. Especially on an i-phone or i-pod, it is very easy to grab the card adjacent to the one you intended to play. It is also easy to mix-up cards with similar artwork (e.g. murder of crows and cloud of bats). Aside from mechanical errors, playing the wrong card can be a strategic mistake, but often the correct card is far from obvious, and highly situation dependent. Deciding when to play a defensive blocker vs. when to play an attack card, when to play an under dark worm vs. a ruby dragon, or when to destroy something with a spell rather than block it with a stronger minion are subtle issues best left to a more focused essay.
4. Poor anticipation. Bourke Street claims he can often virtually identify the content of one’s deck by the time two or three cards have been played. Valentino claims often to not only know what you hold but to be able to entice you to play a card for which he already has a counter in mind. Both claims probably hold some truth, although I am not that good. But some things can be reasonably anticipated. For example, if my opponent plays ocean, I expect to encounter aquamancers. If I have a limited number of cards like flame spike able to stop one, I probably want to save those cards rather than “waste” them on a water elemental. I’ve actually seen players steal my burning world card with something like mind transfer – and then proceed to play it for me! It doesn’t take too much thought to realize my deck is probably designed to benefit from the card more than theirs is.
5. Poor planning. If anticipating what the opponent can do is vital, planning what you intend to do is even more so. I have made the stupid error of playing a toxipede, using an overworld elixir to ready it, but then not having enough power to actually poison the enemy! Playing a quick unit to block stronger enemy, but doing so before the attack phase so it dies on the attack is another example of poor planning.
6. Mis-locating cards. In many cases, it doesn’t matter which lane contains one’s cards – a bone dragon inflicts the same damage in lane 2 as in lane 5. But there are a few cases where position absolutely does matter. Most obvious is when a card affects adjacent lanes. Having giant voltas both in lanes two and four is very different than having them in lanes one and two. One ought to at least consider the optimal configuration before placing any card of this type (or any card you might want affected/not affected by such a card). One should avoid placing auras, traps, etc. that affect the entire board in lanes one might want to influence with some other aura, item, etc. And finally, resolution of effects is always left to right. Attacks are left to right, auras trigger from left to right, etc. (But minions and barriers trigger from left to right before auras and items trigger from left to right.) Thus cards like pyrosaur, essence eater, and time eater play better when located on the left side of the board (so they can clear cards before units to the right attack), while cards like necropolis and giant urchin are more effective on the right (so they can benefit from unit deaths before being involved in an attack. Likewise, cards like wild growth should appear to the left of cards like burning world or law of the jungle so health is granted before deleterious effects occur.
7. Mis-sequencing cards. Usually, if you play two cards in the same turn, it makes no difference which is played first. But that is not always true. Obviously playing a glade faerie last makes sense. Playing fire rain before magic missile makes sense if the enemy has one health units (guaranteeing the missile will hit cards that would not have been destroyed by the fire rain anyway). And choosing the right moment to play a dactyl hatchling can help increase the odds that the hatchling winds up in the correct lane.
8. Card mismanagement. This can be as simple as failing to tap one’s deck to draw a card when doing so is possible, to something as careless as playing sink when one has virtually no cards left, to something as subtle as playing a spell book when one’s hand is nearly full of expensive cards (so the three spells drawn are likely to overflow one’s hand and force discards.)
9. Neglecting the odds. Playing a burning world thinking you will have to draw a pyrohydra soon is usually a mis-judgment unless a large proportion of your deck has already been drawn. Placing a trap in a lane where you don’t want your dreadmarsh plague to move increases the odds that it moves to a lane you desire.
10. Excess timidity. It’s the game’s first move, and the only card you can play is a hungry crocodile. It seems a waste not to play it opposite an enemy minion to get that 3 strength, so you choose to play nothing instead. It also seems to make sense to withhold the play of an underdark worm opposite an enemy ruby dragon, choosing to leave the dragon unopposed, instead of eventually losing the worm. In both cases, the natural, timid response of “saving a card” is probably wrong. In the case of the crocodile, you probably hold several expensive minions or spells to counter anything your opponent might play. What’s the worst that can happen if you play the crocodile? If your opponent ignores it, you end up with a card in play you would not have had by skipping the first turn. If your opponent uses resources to destroy it, that effectively reduces the power points your opponent would otherwise have – you limit your opponent to a weaker play than would otherwise have been possible. Only if your opponent is able to cope with it while fully moving forward (say by opposing it with a stronger minion) do you not gain by its play. And even then, you can always replace the croc with the card you would have chosen were the croc not on the board – you are really no worse off than by playing nothing. In the case of the worm, it will cost your enemy 6 power points and 2 turns to destroy the worm by the ruby dragon special. That’s two turns to gain other advantages over your opponent, and 2 turns you are not taking dragon life damage.
This article examines the idea of generic decks, beginning with an explanation of what “generic deck” means, then proceeding to explain how it is useful to think in terms of generic decks.
I have observed the decks currently in vogue in PVP to be interesting, very powerful, and innovative. But they are often off-beat, often focused strongly on one aspect of the Spellcraft game, counting on that to dominate other aspects of the game which are nearly neglected. As a result, I am seeing some beginner decks that don’t consider key aspects of the game – neglecting them by oversight rather than reasoned intent. I believe these decks could be dramatically improved by considering how they would play vs. a “generic deck”.
So what do I mean by a generic deck? I am thinking of a deck that tries to balance and address core aspects of the Spellcraft game in general ways. These decks do not consider specific card combinations and only consider synergies as part of the balance (rather than focus) of a deck. Generic decks are not particularly inspired, but they can be quite effective. Any faction except possibly air is suited to a good generic deck.
Since the most fundamental mechanic of the game is probably minions facing opposing minions, the main focus of a generic deck revolves around effective minion vs. minion tactics. A generic deck will thus contain a number of minions able to win head to head minion battles. Usually this means high strength minions, but it could mean minions like pyrohydra (able to grow to oppose stronger minions) or giant constrictor (able to reduce stronger minions to quivering weaklings).
Because a typical hand strives to outmatch its opponent’s minions, a generic deck recognizes that there are times when its minions might be outmatched as well, and will build in mechanisms to deal with these cases (minion removal, de-buff, barriers, etc.)
Because another core mechanic is the way power points are allocated and expended, a generic deck will use cards with costs that utilize power points effectively (including the initial 3 power turn). It also recognizes there will be times when two minions need to be played in a single turn and will have cards that allow this.
Because lanes often deadlock with equal strength minions squaring off, a generic deck will have some means to move past deadlocks.
Let me look at a couple of examples. Because they give good contrast, I have chosen one to be underearth and one, forest.
Generic Underearth Deck (4 copies of all)
tentacle from below
Generic Forest Deck (4 of each except where noted)
The underearth deck has minion strength that, at least on a good draw, can match up with almost anything. It can also deal with problem units through taken under, cave in, and possibly primeval ooze, dark fey, or tentacles. It breaks deadlocks by growing deepspawn, removing blockers with either taken under or cave in, or it can use burrowing under for a good proportion of damage needed for a win.
The forest deck, is more defensive, and may rely on giant strength to gain minion superiority. Its means of dealing with troublesome units are more limited – hunt, especially with nobbling trickster is a good approach when it is available. Living maze will work under numerous circumstances, and deepwood ash could also help. Otherwise, living essence can help temporary blocks last longer. This deck deals with deadlocks both through wild strength and by deepwood ash (which do not usually deadlock for long). It is also quite capable of simply exhausting an opponent’s deck – deadlocked lanes are usually to its advantage.
Whenever I create a new deck, I ask myself how it would fare versus decks such as these: can it survive the strong minions, is it thwarted by the availability of inexpensive minions, does it handle deadlocks as well as these decks do? If I cannot see some possible path to victory, my new deck needs work. If I am defenseless against these “run of the mill” threats, I expect my deck to flounder against more clever strategies.
In a sense, generic decks are my baseline; a standard of comparison that is as universal as possible. There are certainly a large number of decks out there that will trounce my generic decks. There are numerous threats (e.g. powerful auras) that are addressed more by chance than intent with these decks. But a solid focus on a basic core of ideas give these decks usefulness as hypothetical competitors.
This post was updated on .
There are numerous times when certain averages can be useful. Let me share a few averages I have computed. Following the statistics, I will discuss possible uses of them. This data is valid as of October 25, 2014, after the introduction of unlockable cards. Later card changes or added factions will change the statistics.
Total number of minions in game: 139
Total minions at casting cost
Minions by faction and total cost:
faction total power point cost
5 4 3 2 1 0
fire 18 3 1 9 3 2 0
forest 21 3 5 2 7 3 1
ocean 23 5 3 6 7 1 1
underworld 19 3 1 3 8 3 1
swamp 19 1 5 4 7 2 0
air 20 3 3 7 2 3 2
jungle 19 3 4 6 6 0 0
Average minion stats (strength/health):
cost 5 3.33/3.90
cost 4 2.68/3.23
cost 3 2.14/2.14
cost 2 1.75/1.72
cost 1 0.93/1.79
cost 0 0.40/1.20
You might legitimately ask why any of this is relevant. And certainly one must be careful because there are a lot of factors these statistics do not account for. But there are several questions such statistics might help with. For instance, what can I expect for a stitched golem’s stats? What strength/health might I expect from a typical cost 2 card? Does a typical cost 5 card significantly exceed a typical cost 4 card in strength/health? Does playing a strength 3 minion plus a strength 2 minion really equal playing a cost 5 minion? If my primary faction has a lot of cost three cards and effects, what secondary faction provides the most cost 2 minions to support good power point utilization? Are cost 4 minions well balanced by cost 1 minions? How many minion health points does a player typically deploy per turn?
Of course, these simple averages do not reflect the behavior of cards like hungry crocodile (which is counted as a 1/3 creature) that typically change stats when played. It does not account for player preferences (some minions far more likely to be chosen for decks than others). It does not attempt to value other characteristics a card might have (an ancient ghost at 1/2 is far more popular than an equally priced eternal knight despite the knight’s whopping 3/5 – due to the ghost’s awesome powers). The statistics do not consider non-minions. And finally, these statistics do not reflect the distribution of cards actually destroyed when questions involve the discard pile. But as averages – especially for comparison purposes – I don’t think these omissions are critical.
So what are some things I easily conclude from these statistics? Fire, air and jungle are light on cheap (cost < 2) minions. Fire, underworld, and to some degree, swamp and air are light on costly minions (cost 4 or 5). There are not enough cost 1 minions to pair efficiently with cost 4 minions. There is significant decrease in stats from cost 5 to cost 4 and again from cost 4 to cost 3 minions. But playing a cost 3 with a cost 2 or a cost 4 with a cost 1 gives a higher total health and strength than playing a solo cost 5. The average minion health played per round should average less than 4 – even if all resources are poured into them. Thus a fire prism triggered 4 times a round (actually very easy to do) should leave most opponents helpless. Ocean and swamp have defense oriented minions, Fire, air, and underworld minions are geared to attack. Jungle’s minions tend to be strong and healthy (mitigate this by their high cost however), while air’s tend to be weak. A stitched golem built from 2 randomly chosen swamp minions would have 4/5 stats – very impressive for 3 cost. Fire is the least minion oriented faction; ocean is the most minion oriented.
Many of these conclusions are probably already known experimentally by experienced players, but these statistics lend credence to observational data. And they are only an example of how such statistics can be used.
Triggers and Why They Matter
All Spellcraft effects are “triggered” by something – it may be something as simple as playing a card or hitting the attack button – and understanding when these triggers occur and the consequences of them is critical to effective play.
I find it helpful to divide effects into three classes: one-time, repeated, and continuous.
A one-time effect is something that happens at most once, for example, playing a meteor spell inflicts 4 damage on an enemy unit one time. The effect of the quick trait – a minion played immediately becomes ready – occurs one time (although the quick label remains and has minor effect, e.g. opposite giant constrictors). A sunken treasure’s ability to draw three cards occurs once, as does a berserk djinn’s exploding damage, or a lost at sea trap’s destruction of a minion. Notice that while one time effects are usually triggered when a card is played, they can be triggered by tapping, by a game play event (such as a unit’s destruction), or by timer expiration.
A repeated effect is an effect that can potentially occur more than once, but that happens at discrete intervals: a howling banshee can screech when tapped, a fire prism inflicts one health damage whenever a card grants its player additional power, a pack attack inflicts one health damage at the start of a player’s turn if that player has the most minions in play. Repeated effects can be triggered by tapping, triggered at the start of a turn (perhaps only if an additional condition is met), or triggered by game events.
A continuous effect is one where the influence is ongoing; not noticed at discrete times. Examples include wild strength, barkskin, psychic vortex, drums of war, accursed, etc. They need no triggers.
I have already discussed different “triggers” for effects: on play, tapping, start of turn, timer expiration, and game events – I believe this is a complete list (although game event is a bit nebulous – with a subcategory for each possible event). I now want to discuss the significance of these different types.
On play triggers are very nasty in that they are basically “uncounterable”, the only way they are stopped is by preventing the play in the first place, for example, by stealing the cards, or denying the power to play them. (Actually, Mesmer and spell net do prevent spells from having effect but destruction traps do not have the same effect on minion and barrier on play effects.)
From a defensive point of view, timer expiration triggers are the among the nicest – while the trigger usually cannot be averted, they give time to remove the threatening card, or at least time to brace for the effects (and a predictable moment for those effects).
Tap triggers give the owner considerable control over when (or if) an effect occurs, which is nice, but exhaust a unit which can be disadvantageous. (Exhaustion can occasionally be advantageous, as when it prevents a suicide attack.) Generally minions enter the game exhausted so they cannot be immediately tapped while items enter ready. Energize and overworld elixirs can allow minions multiple uses of a tap power in one round.
Many “ongoing” effects actually only trigger at the start of their owner’s turn, and should be considered start-of turn effects. Note minion row effects trigger before item/aura row effects, and otherwise effects trigger from left to right (which can be significant). Note also, that some effects might appear to affect players equally, but because of timing, favor one player over another. For example, a tornado will send minions in its lane back to both players’ respective hands. But if both players have strength 2 quick cards, the tornado’s owner’s card can attack on the tornado’s open lane and remain to block the opponent’s quick unit.
Game event triggers can vary, but have the characteristic that they trigger the moment a certain event occurs (as opposed to events that trigger at some other time like the start of a turn provided a game condition is met). Many very devastating effects have this trigger. The level of danger posed is a function of what the effect is, how hard it is to remove the effect causing card, how much control the player has over the trigger, how frequently the trigger can occur, and the cost of the trigger to the owning player. There is a big difference between a card being destroyed, and a card being destroyed in combat. Much Spellcraft strategy is in facilitating triggers for friendly effects while denying triggers for enemy effects.
Using triggered effects well is often the difference between winning and losing, and recognizing the nuances of different trigger types is a start to using effects well.
The Problem of Power
Most people look at Spellcraft resources, and immediately conclude that power points are the most important. I certainly concur that power points are the most fluid resource – the resource most able to convert to minions on the board, unit health, unit strength, life, damage, cards in hand, etc. And certainly power points (and their utilization) are very important. But there are ways in which power points are problematic – and that is the topic of this post. In particular, I want to examine struggles I am experiencing with certain cards – namely, those that impact power points available.
The main issue, the main problem with power points is that they are worthless unless there is something to use them on. I’m sure we have all encountered that situation when we have 1 power point left after other actions – and nothing that costs one power to use it on. We have probably encountered those draws where we have no cards legal to play on the first (3 power point) turn, but drawing a card will only result in a discard. There are times when one has a full allotment of 5 power points, but the only possible plays involve replacing a card on board with an equivalent – or even weaker – card. And how many of us, at one time or another, hold back on playing a power generating card because the power generated would be useless?
Most good players deal with the issue of left-over power points by designing decks such that the distribution of card costs almost always allows full use of all power points. This is the issue of power point utilization – which has been discussed elsewhere, and which is particularly emphasized by Valentino.
Dealing with the issue of the initial 3 power turn is also a deck design issue. While it is still a rare deck that could never get a bad draw, one can generally avoid a need to pass the initial turn by building in a sufficient quantity of cost 1, 2 or 3 minions (or at least traps, auras, or items that avoid a complete loss of initiative). There is no great difficulty in doing this – it is simply a matter of awareness.
An essentially deadlocked board (where equivalent strength creatures oppose each other in every lane) is the primary reason that no plays are desirable in a given turn. A well designed deck will account for this possibility with a win strategy that prevents deadlocks, breaks deadlocks, or wins despite a deadlock. Even with such a deck, it is possible to have no desirable moves. (E.g. one could have 5 bone and ruby dragons in play knocking down barriers and just needs to wait for them to succeed. Of course, it might still be worthwhile to play something like waiting grave to help maintain one’s advantage – if one has it available.) But there are some deeper challenges – especially if the win strategy involves breaking deadlocks. One issue is that not all factions have much ability to break deadlocks (I’m thinking forest). But a bigger issue is timing. Usually cards that break deadlocks are best played in stages of the game where there are relatively few open lanes, and many lanes are deadlocked – which usually means late in the game. For example, even meteor, which would seem like a good card to kill a minion any time, is actually more impactful when the minion it kills also leaves a lane open for a friendly unit to inflict life damage. But the cards one wants early in the game are things like quick minions, aquamancers, or triton assassins – cards that are wonderful if established first in a lane, but are virtually useless if played to oppose a strong enemy. While it is relatively easy to control probabilities of drawing cards so that power points can be fully utilized, it is almost impossible to skew probabilities so the cards needed early in the game are drawn first. Summoning can alter this slightly, as can cards like fluidity, but generally luck will play a major role.
Finally, I come to the issue I am struggling with – the issue that motivates this article – cards that alter the power points available. I have made it no secret that I generally dislike cards like shimmer pearl. By giving up a card in hand, I gain one power point to use immediately. My objection is that I generally value cards in hand at 2 power (the cost of drawing a new card). Thus, the immediate use of that power point must be worth more to me than the card I gave up for it – something I claim is very rare. Even if I use the pearl to save a stranded power point (by allowing a card to be drawn) – which is by far the most common use of pearls – I have lost flexibility in the transaction. Rather than having a viable play option at the start of the turn (the card I would have had instead of the pearl), I get that card at the end of my turn and deplete my deck as well. The best case use of a pearl is to allow the play of two other cards, when I could only play one card without it. But even there, I am burning three cards from my hand in a single turn – not a sustainable practice – in fact, a practice I’m lucky to get by with it twice in a game. So excluding situations where the shimmerpearl has some indirect effect (like triggering a fire prism), the only reason I would want a pearl is in combination with a triton pearldiver that may allow me to re-use the pearl.
And now, I encounter a final challenge – the one which I still haven’t resolved. Even if I am able to achieve infinite re-use of my pearl, what now? If I design my deck to make efficient use of 5 power points, it will probably not make effective use of 6 – I will generally have the one wasted power point. On the other hand, if I design my deck around having 6 power points to spend, it will not play well until I establish my pearl combo. And even if I get 6 power a turn immediately, how will I use it? No card costs 6 power to deploy. If I deploy two cards a turn, I deplete my deck (eventually needing power just to draw cards). And after I have filled all lanes with good minions, I won’t really have anything useful to play. The very factions most able to generate cost efficient sources of power (ocean, air, and forest), are least able to actually use that power as the game advances!
Except in cases where power generation has a secondary effect (triggering a fire prism or arch mage, or allowing a card to do something other than attack a foe strong enough to kill it), I have not found it useful. However; many good players seem to use cards like storm core, power surge, even captured flames or shimmer pearls frequently. What am I missing?
I think the energy items like captured flame can give a big advantage if you have them in your starting hand. If you can cast 5 point of cards off in your first go instead of 3 then you are putting your opponent under more pressure,and the early few points of energy gained can have a snowballing effect as those cards continue to deal damage,although you will have less cards,this may not matter too much if you are busy casting the free ones you draw and using ability costs. Later on you may be gutted to draw them when you need a blocker ,but they are usually handy I find.
This post was updated on .
Very nice thoughts, but i'd add:
I think the extra power points can be a great versatility addition to a deck. It can allow you to bring useful cards on the board that cost more than five altogether. Also, they stay on the board for later use (in most cases) planning the same versatility advantage. Storm Core, for example, is a great addition to many Air decks and it's even a gift that gives twice!
Also, they are free! So... they are excellent triggers for Lost at Sea or Waiting Grave (Shimmershoal) instead of having to waste a high-cost card. You can test a trap, or trigger it at little costs. Shimmershoal can also be sacrificed to an attacking enemy.
Those would be good uses of these power-granting cards.
Edited to fix some typos and grammatical errors... Pardon my French ;)
Every card played in Spellcraft reveals information – both about a player’s hand and about a player’s deck. This article looks at how to make inferences from evidence available, what sorts of inferences are useful, how to use those inferences to plan one’s own play, and how to avoid providing information that can be used against you.
First, certain information is immediately available. You can identify your opponent’s primary faction by the color of the little beads that represent his power points. And human players must follow the standard rules of deck construction: at most 2 factions, at most 16 cards from the secondary faction, at most 4 copies of a given card. (The AI does violate these rules.)
Let me now jump to examples of drawing inferences. Suppose your opponent has the first turn, has primary faction ocean, and plays an overworld elixir, then taps his deck on his first move. What do you know? What do you think is likely? You should know you opponent’s other faction is air. Beyond this, you can make some inferences. What does it say about your opponent’s deck that he included overworld elixir with an ocean primary faction? I would expect a lot of cards with powers triggered by tapping (aquamancers, voltas, triton assassins, water elementals, chronomancers and the like), or a lot of cards like sea snakes, razorsharks, time eaters, etc. that accrue an advantage if they can hit for life damage before you block them. Perhaps even more helpful is to ask what that play says about your opponent’s current hand. Normally, playing a minion on the first turn is superior to almost any other type card as minions pose immediate threats, while other types of cards tend to inhibit your opponent’s effectiveness. Thus I expect that my opponent either has no minions playable on the first turn, or has minions like aquamancer that would benefit from an overworld elixir already in play. Moreover, the opponent chose to play only a 1 point card. While the deck tap is not inefficient, it definitely suggests that he had no playable cost 2 cards, although it is conceivable he is holding back an aquamancer to play when it can also gain health after being energized.
Suppose instead, your opponent, playing jungle, just ends his turn – no cards played, no tapping deck, no discard. Although you have no indication of secondary faction, you can surmise a lot about your opponents holding. First, he is not dissatisfied with the cards in his hand (otherwise he would draw and discard). This suggests he cannot afford to play his minions, as opposed to having no minions which would have led to a card draw. I also believe your opponent has no traps in hand – otherwise why not play one? In fact, of jungle cards, what could he hold? Cost 4 or 5 cards, spells (they would have no target), limited duration auras (e.g. huge) with no targets, lane specific auras (e.g. rampage), possibly colossal egg (which might be preferable deployed opposite something that cracks it), or zero cost cards (like pack attack) that would have no present usefulness. These inferences about your opponent’s hand lead to inferences about his deck. I very much doubt it would be a savage trapper type deck, or we would have seen a relevant card played. It is also obviously not a blitz deck (or at least not a good one). I have trouble seeing the deck as a gimmick deck built around cards like law of the jungle, cursed idol, pack attack, mortal wound, etc. or I think there would have been signs. In fact the hand – if not the deck as a whole – appears to revolve around big minions – very possibly supported by huge and ferocity.
Suppose this time, your opponent, playing air, opens by playing storm core, followed by archmage? You have a lot less to go on this time; you do not yet know the secondary faction. And an archmage on the initial play is a very natural – almost ideal – opening play. There are numerous directions a deck can take using archmage, but almost all decks with archmage are at least somewhat focused around that card. You could be facing a magestorm deck, maybe a clearance spell (e.g. magic missile) deck, maybe even a de-buff (e.g. sink) deck. But seeing the archmage, I definitely assume my opponent has a good number of spells in the deck – otherwise, why not choose an aerovore or a time eater instead? But let’s also not overlook the storm core. While it is not necessarily unusual, your opponent has supplied power enhancements for his deck – and with archmage, power surge would seem a more natural source. True, storm core provides an extra turn of power, but wouldn’t you rather have a card that triggers the archmage special? I would not be surprised if your opponent also had 4 power surge cards. Your opponent seems to have devoted a lot of cards into power enhancement – especially given he has probably also devoted a lot to spells. Why? I would guess your opponent wants the power to play two other cards in a turn. (It is conceivable he simply uses power to draw replacement cards, with power surge to fuel archmages, but this doesn’t really explain storm core.) As playing two cards plus a power generator in one turn quickly burns up one’s hand, I would not be surprised if the opponent also has cards like sunken treasure or brainstorm that re-fill hands. I also would not be surprised if a fire prism pops up. And I definitely expect to see some aeromancers.in the opponent’s deck. But before I leave this scenario, I also want to consider what I know of your opponent’s hand. True, a good play usually says a lot less than a weak – or an odd – play, but even good plays reveal information. If your opponent had an aeromancer in hand, might he have preferred to play that instead? Doing so would inflict 2 life damage and bring a spell to his hand to use with the archmage when it is played. And storm core can be played any time it seems useful. While I don’t encourage being timid about playing good cards, bringing the archmage into play this early does expose it to flame spike, darkling assassin, and a plethora of other hazards. My point is that I think I would have chosen an aeromancer play over what your opponent chose. And this means one of the following: your opponent evaluates the possibilities differently than I, has no aeromancers in his hand, or has some overriding reason to prefer the archmage. Your opponent having no aeromancer seems most likely. This is definitely information that affects your play. Suppose you are debating playing taken under on the arch mage, or opposing it with an underdark worm. The worm is definitely the stronger play – unless your opponent can destroy it. Without an aeromancer to draw spells, I don’t think the opponent can play enough spells to destroy the worm – I recommend that choice.
Not all inferences have to come from an initial turn. Suppose three lanes are deadlocked with equal strength, opposing minions. You play a bone dragon in an open lane. Your opponent (playing an air/fire deck) chooses to play a tornado opposite the bone dragon, and an aeromancer in the last open lane. To me, the move smacks of desperation. Your opponent allows a 4 life hit from the bone dragon – balanced by a two strength hit from the aeromancer True, your dragon is removed, but you’ll just play it opposite the aeromancer next round. Perhaps your opponent intended the tornado to keep open a lane for quick minions to use for life hits, but wouldn’t it make sense to save the aeromancer to make those hits? My guess is that your opponent really cannot handle a bone dragon, and is hoping to draw a spell that will assist – although he might also have two aeromancers in hand, and felt one could be spent. Or maybe he is hoping to hold your dragon back long enough for quick minions to win for him. A tornado and an aeromancer could reasonably suggest a quick minion type strategy behind his deck. Certainly his play on the next turn will be telling.
So how does one go about making good inferences? I think you can start by asking, after every enemy turn, “What did this move tell me about my opponent’s hand? Why did he choose that card (or those cards)? What do the cards played suggest about my opponent’s deck? Why would he choose to include the card in his deck? What other cards are likely included to help those played work better? Why haven’t those cards been seen?”
Useful inferences are inferences that help a player make good decisions. For instance, it is far more useful to know an opponent has body swap than to know an opponent has burning world – because if I know body swap will make a presence, I know not to raise the strength of units beyond what I can defend against and I know to destroy ancient ghosts as quickly as possible. On the other hand, about all I can do about burning world is hope to destroy really bad enemy units – like pyrohydras. Inferences that help me decide which card to play, which not to play, whether a particular card will be safe to play, whether a card needs to be played quickly, or whether a card needs to be saved to handle an anticipated problem later are all useful.
Finally, if I have a good understanding of the inferences I make, that can also guide my play so as to minimize the inferences my opponent can make about me. By the way, while most of these are play techniques, some are deck design issues. For instance, what do you conclude if your opponent, playing a fire/ocean deck, deploys a cost 3 trap? You immediately know it is lost at sea (the only cost 3 trap to which he has access). But if your opponent is playing swamp/air, the 3 point trap could be either waiting grave or spell net. Not knowing which forces caution with both minion plays and spell plays.
So how does one avoid telegraphing information during play? There are a few principles:
1. Do not reveal your secondary faction without compelling reason. The secondary faction reveals a lot about your deck and makes other inferences easier.
2. Given an equal choice, play the card that is least deck specific. If your opponent plays a lava elemental, what type deck do you expect? It could be many things. What if he plays a pyromancer? My money is on a fire prism deck.
3. Avoid playing revealing cards before they are useful. For example, do not play a faerie enchantress and a pack attack card on the first turn – it is extremely unlikely your opponent would be unable to match your number of minions in play, and the pack attack reveals your primary strategy. Far better to play only the faerie enchantress. You opponent will be expecting a game shaping aura, but that could be burning world, inferno, psychic vortex, law of the jungle, or a plethora of other possibilities.
4. Remember that discards are also revealing, and cards like pilfer, darkling snatcher, and miasma, and gargantula have value as information gatherers, in addition to their obvious purpose.
5. Misdirection is a viable strategy. Get your opponent wasting resources to address non-existent or secondary threats, and he becomes more vulnerable to the real threats.
Information is a valuable commodity – one that can be used both for you and against you.. Hopefully, this article will facilitate the type of awareness that helps information work more in your favor.
In economics, present value refers to the value a person would accept today in exchange for a commodity that would normally not be available until the future. For instance, receiving $100 in 3 years (even in the absence of inflation) is far less attractive than receiving that hundred dollars today. If a person would consider it an even trade to give up $100 three years from now for $90 today, the present value of $100 to be received in three years is only $90. Although I have not seen it previously discussed, I think present value is of high importance in the Spellcraft game.
For example, consider the captured flame card. By playing a 0 cost card, then tapping it, one immediately receives one power point (unless they are presently at maximum). Since it costs two power points to tap a deck in order to draw a card to hand, the ultimate net cost of using captured flame is one power point. But players still use captured flame – they find the present value of two future power points (needed to replace the card) worth less than the 1 power point immediately gained.
Let me present a second example. From about level 20 to level 55 in the campaign, I played a burning world/pyrohydra deck. Over time I discovered I far preferred detonation to volcanic eruption, and fire shroud to rage. The big reason was that I preferred the immediate effect of the spells (detonation and fire shroud) to the delayed effects of the auras (volcanic eruption and rage), even though the auras repeated the same effect many times. I.e. I prefer 1 immediate use of detonation or fire shroud over multiple later uses. Here, however; there is a complicating factor. I play detonation, volcanic eruption, fire shroud, or rage based upon the present board situation. By the time volcanic eruption or rage trigger (at the start of my nest turn), that board configuration might have changed. My pyrohydra might have taken damage, or an evasive enemy unit might have moved out of the lanes targeted. So some of the added value I place on detonation and fire shroud is not really that I value future events less than present events, but that I value certainty of effect over likely effect.
My ultimate (and probably unreachable) goal is to try to quantify present value – to discover a “fair” interest rate so to speak, so that I can balance future sacrifices with present gains. This would be helpful in choosing aqualid hunters vs. water elemental, ruby hatchlings vs fire wolves, or even betrayal vs. decay. Of course, it is one thing to be aware of present value; another, to compute it.
This essay discusses the first turn, a turn that can easily set the tone for an entire game. As most players are aware, the opening turn is different than all other turns, because it begins with only 3 power points rather than 5, and no card draw. In a sense, it is a half-turn that very much balances the game – there is very little advantage to going either first or last. But beyond its balancing effect, the first turn difference profoundly impacts the game – a slight perturbation in rules that necessitates a deck design consideration that induces power point utilization concerns that reverberate through the entire deck design process, and from that, into the game play itself.
Let me begin this discussion by emphasizing that the first turn should not be ignored: making no move (or a bad move) is more than the sacrifice of a half-turn worth of havoc, it is a concession of tempo that often leaves one scrambling for the entire remainder of the game. Let me illustrate this with a few examples.
You (on first move) do nothing. Your opponent plays a underdark worm. You oppose it with a bone dragon. Your opponent plays meteor to destroy your bone dragon, and then inflicts 4 life damage with the now unopposed worm. Next you oppose the worm with a worm of your own. Your opponent plays lost together with a lava elemental. You take another 4 life damage and now face an unopposed worm as well as an unopposed elemental. You replay your worm; your opponent plays taken under together with a fire bird. You take 8 damage (4 from the worm, three from the elemental, one from the bird). You now have 4 remaining health, and face an unopposed worm, an unopposed elemental, and an unopposed firebird. Your opponent is unscathed.
Another example. You, on first move again do nothing. This time your opponent plays a storm elemental, drums of war, then an arcane thief which steals your 3 unused power. With that, your opponent plays another storm elemental. The quick elementals, augmented by drums inflict 7 life damage. You now face an arcane thief, and two storm elementals, all bolstered by drums of war. Moreover, your opponent’s deck is almost certainly loaded with quick minions and power dives – you will be very lucky not to lose in the next two rounds.
Admittedly, these are extreme examples – but neither is unrealistic. The cards played are reasonable components of actual decks, and the probability of drawing those cards is also reasonable. In fact, events very similar to these have occurred in my games.
But before I leave examples, I have one more – to illustrate the importance of a good opening move. On first turn, you play a grizzlies. Your opponent plays a dragonfish opposite it. You play a wild strength behind the grizzlies (to bolster it one round and to prepare to play a ruby dragon next). You also play a flame spike on the dragonfish (not ideal, but suppose you don’t have other cheap minions). Unfortunately, your grizzlies card must attack and suffer damage. Now your opponent plays a deepsea thing on an open lane, and destroys the grizzlies when the dragonfish attacks. Already, you have a serious problem – you can’t stop both the dragonfish and the deep sea thing. And it will get worse as your opponent holds sink, tide caller, and aquamancers in his hand. My point is you will never get off the defensive as you continue to drift further and further behind.
Hopefully these examples convince you of the importance of a good opening move. Of course, it is impossible to guard against an occasional draw that leaves you no good play – as soon as you introduce 5 cards you can’t play on the first turn, you introduce the probability that those cards are the ones you draw for the first turn. But a good deck should usually offer good opening moves. And that leaves three questions for the remainder of this discussion: how many cards appropriate for an opening move should one include in a deck? What cards are appropriate for opening moves? What implications does the inclusion of these cards have for the rest of the deck?
The first of these questions is a simple matter of probability. What percentage of the time are you willing to have no suitable opener? The table below shows the probability of initially drawing at least one of your acceptable opening cards if you hold N of those cards in your deck. Of course, this assumes you are not looking at 2 card combinations.
N 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
prob .125 .237 .337 .427 .507 .577 .639 .694
N 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
prob .742 .783 .820 .851 .877 .900 .919 .935
Thus, if you are willing to risk having an acceptable opener only 50% of the time, you need 5 suitable opening cards; if you want a 70% chance, you need about 8 cards; an 80% chance requires between 10 and 11 cards; while a 90% chance requires 14 cards. There is clearly a diminishing return. As a relatively unlucky player, I tend to try for 10 good opening cards in my deck, fully 1/4th of my total cards!
So, what cards allow a good opening move? Obviously, they have to be playable – something I can afford with my initial turn power, and something that does not require an on-the-board target. But just because a card can be played does not make it a good choice – I could technically play the jungle aura huge, but doing so accomplishes nothing and essentially wastes a card. And clearly, there are levels of quality in an opening move. If I’m playing swamp for instance, I consider a howling banshee an excellent opening move; playing cloud of bats is OK; playing heart of fire followed by tapping the deck for another card is weak but better than nothing; playing a stitched golem is probably worse than playing nothing. And the quality of an opening move clearly depends somewhat upon the overall composition of my deck and the other cards in my hand. A cloud of bats is a far better opener if I can quickly follow with an undead giant that uses bat corpses to damage enemies than if I’m playing a blood orb deck and hope to sacrifice the bats as the bats will likely die before I get my blood orbs ready. This is an important point, as many general statements I am about to make have exceptions.
To me, an ideal opening move: 1. forces a reaction, 2. is hard (or costly) to counter, 3. efficiently utilizes resources, and 4. does not reduce the future potential of my hand.
By forcing a reaction, the opening move helps establish initiative in your favor. Many reasonable openings preserve power points – for instance, playing a rainbow pearl allows you to use the power points at a later time, but they don’t throw you opponent on the defensive and keep him on the ropes the way an ideal opening would.
It is also important that an opening move be difficult to counter, for early in the game, before the most useful cards have been played and hands are possibly somewhat depleted, your opponent most likely has the widest variety of responses. An ill-considered opening move is often countered to your opponent’s advantage (as in the earlier example of initially playing the card grizzlies).
Efficiently utilizing resources is always an issue – it applies to the first turn as well. Since cheaper cards are generally less effective, in most cases, I lose something by spending 2 rather than 3 power points. One lost power point is not necessarily a big issue in the span of a game – but I am discussing the ideal opening. Another waste of resources can be more significant – failing to use a card to its full potential. Playing an undead triton on turn one because it is the only available card is probably counter-productive. A 1/1 minion is not of much value, and to get it, I give up the potential to drain an enemy’s strength and the opportunity to have a 2/1 minion.
Finally, I do not want to reduce my hand’s potential. Given the choice between initially playing an aquamancer or a necromage, I will almost always choose the necromage – even though I consider it a far inferior card. I want to drain my opponent’s resources as he deals with the necromage before I play the aquamancer. Thus I preserve the aquamancer’s potential by increasing odds of it surviving the critical turn or two after it is first played. Given a choice of playing an aeromancer or a razorsaur in my air/jungle blitz deck, I will always choose the aeromancer – not so much because I expect to use the razorsaur special, as because the aeromancer really says nothing about my deck (many different air decks use them), while the razorsaur telegraphs lots of information my opponent might use to reduce my deck’s ability to blitz quick minions on open lanes.
I note that very few non-minion cards actually pose an immediate threat, that minions without the elusive trait (or at least a viable special power invoked by tapping) are easily countered, and minions with “when played” powers are less than ideal openers – which leaves only a small selection of remaining cards as appropriate openers. To place 10 good openers in a deck already shapes that deck substantially. And that leads to my final question, “What implications does the inclusion of these cards have for the remainder of my deck?”
Since opening move considerations almost force the inclusion of cost 3 cards, I now must balance those with appropriate numbers of cost one and two cards to ensure good power point utilization. Since the first move often sets the tone for the match, I want cards that help me follow up on a good opener, to sustain the initiative. And since good first move cards are rarely good counter cards, I must also balance them with cards able to counter my opponent’s threats – especially for the half of all games when I don’t get the first move. Doing all this easily accounts for over half (and probably 3/4ths) of a deck!
Thus I claim that opening move considerations dramatically impact the entire game. And that makes the opening move an important consideration for every player.
Exploiting the Opponent’s Cards
This post examines ways one can use an opponent’s cards to one’s own advantage. Individually, most of these do not occur very frequently, but collectively they are quite significant. Most of these techniques are not terribly deep – experienced players are probably aware of them. But consciously considering them, both in play and in deck design can make a difference.
One often devastating use of an enemy card is to derive benefit from its powers – and there are a few ways this can be done. A pyrohydra can easily benefit from automatic damage. They are wonderful when played opposite a deepwoods ash or a spore farm. They are also excellent to deter giant voltas from using the shock power or to deter play of cards like stormship, magic missiles, fire rain, etc.. And they nicely exploit a number of cards like burning world, pack attack, and the like. There are certain other cards that, while less dramatic, have potentially useful powers triggered by damage or especially destruction, e.g. berserk djinn.
Another enemy power easily exploited is the special ability negation of a primeval ooze. The ooze’s power is not discerning – it negates negative as well as positive abilities. Ravagers, dragonfish, magmaspheres, molten golems, and dreamfeeders are obvious beneficiaries.
Aerovores can be exploited to imcrease the effectiveness of cards that inflict timers on one’s enemy – as well on cards like lava bomb or air pressure that you want to time out. And speaking of timers, I once used a timer inflicted by my opponent on one of cards with uncontinue to destroy three of his of the same type but with no timer.
In fact, there are other cards like aerovores that affect both friend and foe – almost all of these can be exploited. For example, an enemy wolf pack will also strengthen friendly wolves.
Lane clearance, especially tornados but also volcanic eruption provide a place for quick minions to strike. Tornados also allow some unit’s special power to trigger repeatedly. Try an aeromancer, a cloud fey, a wolf pack, a blessed unicorn, a glade faerie, or other such units in the tornado’s lane.
In addition to benefitting from powers, one can sometimes benefit by stealing powers. Cards like darkling slavers, bodyswap, essence exchange and tentacles from below very much force an opponent to be prepared to defend against his own abilities. And cards like shadow dragon and shadow fiend can steal an enemy’s nice features. Shadow dragon also steals traits of barriers. Watch out for a shadow dragon / necropolis or shadow dragon / spore farm! But also be aware that theft/mimicry only goes so far. A good opponent will have other cards that support the special powers of each card played. Merely duplicating powers will not duplicate the synergy of an entire deck.
Another useful technique is to use the enemy’s forced attack. Unless a minion can exhaust itself, it must attack every turn. This is good for cards like cinderlings or dark fey that grant benefit when destroyed in combat. It is also nice when an opponent must attack your stronger minion with his weaker minion.. Did you know that narrow tunnels together with a barrier like deeper darkness (that has an attack strength) can kill strong minions? The minion’s strength becomes 0, but the barrier is not affected by narrow tunnels.
An enemy board filled with low health minions is a golden opportunity, not just for the obvious heart of darkness, but for cards like law of the jungle which now target the enemy rather than you and for cards like giant urchin that grow with enemy deaths. Enemy weakness can also assist in growing cards like ant swarm. Conversely, high health enemy minions is an opportunity for implode and for nobbling tricksters.
One of the most useful techniques is to shelter behind enemy cards. An aquamancer is great behind a nasty barrier (like necropolis) because the aquamancer can use its power from anywhere on the board. While the barrier can be replaced with a tough minion, it does prevent an opponent from moving a minion to the aquamancer’s lane. And it prevents shifting minions like pulsers or wraith soulcatchers from entering the lane. This can also be used with auras, traps, etc. Place a unit opposite an aura like wild growth to obtain effective immunity from cards like strangle vines or dreadmarsh plague.
The way a player’s own cards can be used against oneself is a fascinating feature of Spellcraft. It provides a number of interesting counterbalances, keeping games exciting even when one player has what appears a devastating advantage. Have I overlooked important possibilities?
Basic Spellcraft Strategies – Part 1: Might Strategies
Most Spellcraft strategies revolve around one of the following motifs: overpowering opposing forces (might strategies), selective removal of enemy units (removal), establishing a strangle hold where no enemy card survives/is effective (stranglehold), rushing to inflict 20 points of damage before an opponent can establish his strategy (rush), by-passing the usual means of defeating an opponent through unblocked minion attacks (by-pass), interfering with the opponent’s ability to play cards or implement strategy (interference), and delaying/persevering through enemy threats (stall). While I am not sure this is a complete list, every reasonable deck I know of utilizes at least one of these strategies; most decks utilize more than one. This series of essays will analyze each of these strategies in turn – discussing key elements to making them work (or to prevent them from working).
Probably the most obvious Spellcraft tactic is to oppose minions/barriers with units capable of eventually destroying them – and this is the heart of the might (or overpower) strategy. Actually, overpowering can occur in three ways, by deploying forces innately stronger than opposing forces (or capable of destroying enemy forces through special powers), by growing forces to be stronger than the enemy, or by weakening enemy forces.
At the most rudimentary level, one can implement this strategy by just loading a deck with the most powerful minions available. Constructing such a deck requires: 1. identifying the strongest creatures, 2. selecting an appropriate number of such creatures, 3. filling out the deck with appropriate supporting cards.
I find a good measure of creature power is to consider head-to-head matchups of a card with possible opponents. Often this depends upon which card was present first, so I consider it both if my card is played first and if my card is played second. So, for example, I might compare a giant constrictor to a bone dragon. Suppose the constrictor is in place when the dragon is played. First turn, the constrictor reduces the dragon’s health and strength to 3, the attack does nothing. On the dragon’s turn, the special power cannot be invoked as the dragon does not have more health than the constrictor, and the attack does nothing. On the constrictors turn, the dragon’s stats become 2/2 and the attack reduces the dragon’s health to 1. On the dragon’s second turn, it dies during the attack. On the other hand, if the constrictor is played opposite an existing bone dragon, the bone dragon invokes its special power to immediately destroy the constrictor. By comparing many, many cards in this way, it is fairly easy to at least crudely rank cards by relative power. Of course, there are a few cautions. First, relative power is not necessarily transitive: because card A defeats card B and card B defeats card C, I am not guaranteed that card A will defeat card C. For example, a pyrohydra will always defeat a darkling assassin, a darkling assassin will always defeat a giant constrictor, but a giant constrictor will always defeat a pyrohydra. Second, I have not considered the impact of interference from other cards. For example, a blood vapour played opposite a giant octopus will lose, but it will win if it has a barkskin behind it – even if the octopus also has a barkskin. Third, I have not considered other factors like the expense of invoking special powers, damage inflicted on the victorious card, or the time it takes for a card to destroy the opponent. A ruby dragon will defeat a bone dragon played opposite, but it will need to invoke its special power twice at a cost of 6 power points – more than the cost of the bone dragon. And finally, I have assumed that each card will remain in place until either destroyed or its opponent is destroyed. For example, if a triton aquamancer is opposed by a bone dragon, it is rare the aquamancer will remain in place to be destroyed, more than likely it will use its evasive power to move somewhere safer.
The number of big minions required depends upon the flavor of the deck desired. A deck intended to primarily focus on overpowering creatures will want to get every lane filled with big creatures as quickly as possible, but a deck loaded with only cost 5, tough minions has several issues. It does not utilize the initial three point turn well, it is ponderous and slow, it does not naturally handle combat immunity, it is very vulnerable to cards like lost, lost at sea, and implode – not to mention psychic vortex and bodyswap, and it does not use synergies to increase card value. Thus, such a deck will at best be inconsistent, and will probably lose pretty consistently to a lot of the better players. However, it is not necessary to have 40 big minions to create a deck utilizing overpower strategy. With 20 big minions one can expect to draw 5 in the first 10 cards drawn (which happens on turn 4 or 5 even without extra card draws). Thus, one will usually be able to play at least 4 big creatures on one’s first 5 turns, and will be able to play 5 as often as not. That leaves 20 more cards. Probably 8 or 10 cards should be chosen to allow a viable opening move on the initial three power point turn (usually a cost 2 or 3 minion). The remaining cards should be chosen to insure good power point utilization, to support cost 5 minions in play, and to provide flexibility to the deck.
An alternative way to implement a might strategy is to do so by growing creature strength. Several creatures allow this: pyrohydras, ant swarms, deepsea things, deepspawn, blood vapours, sky hydras, angry hornets. And other cards, auras or spells like wild growth, fire shroud, rage, ferocity, huge, and overload can grow the strength of almost anything. Finally, bodyswap, phantasma, darkling slaver, mind transfer, pilfer (with luck), and a couple of combinations (like gargantula and rebirth) can steal enemy strength. These strategies are more flexible than straight deployment of strong creatures in that they usually don’t require a 5 power point, up-front investment. They also tend to be more subtle, requiring careful timing, and planned combinations. Creature growth also tends to be slow as it takes time and often resources to grow creatures. For example, a deepspawn takes 3 turns (one to play and 2 to grow) and 7 power points (including cost of deployment) to reach strength 4.
Weaknesses of a creature growth deck include: a need to protect often vulnerable but high profile creatures until they grow enough to defend themselves; a need to hold out until the growing creatures start dominating the board; loss of significant investment if a grown creature is destroyed, reset, or returned to hand; the challenge of growing certain creatures; and a risk that overpowered creatures are stolen after you can no longer counter them; and often difficulty dealing with combat immunity. A well-constructed deck will need to account for these issues.
The third way to implement a might strategy is to systematically weaken enemies. Triton assassins, water elementals, giant constrictors and the auras strangle vines and gravity well can repeatedly weaken opponents. Triton hunters, shimmer squids, undead tritons, and the spells sink and horrify have one time weakening ability. Thus, options for this strategy are presently pretty limited, although future factions will likely expand this list.
Probably the biggest problem with de-buff strategies is that the mere act of diminishing your opponents does not necessarily position you to exploit their weakness. Shimmer squids don’t take effect unless destroyed. Horrify sends an enemy off to a random lane where you may lack a contesting unit. Undead tritons and triton hunters are usually not strong enough to even defeat the enemy they weaken (and undead tritons are very vulnerable with only 1 health). Even the eventually dominant water elementals and triton assassins, with strength 2, do not demand the immediate attention that a strength 4 ruby dragon does. A good de-buff deck will have to provide threats beyond mere de-buffing. Like a growth deck, a de-buff deck will tend to be slow. It is also innately ineffective against decks that do not rely upon strength – e.g. blood orb or fire prism decks – unless designed with such decks in mind.
Of course, no deck has to rely solely upon an overpower strategy; these strategies are fairly easily combined with other strategies – or incorporated into other strategies. And, to some degree, might should be considered THE basic Spellcraft strategy. It is almost always the first strategy beginning players encounter, it will play a role in almost every game, and ultimately, it provides the standard to defeat.
Spellcraft Basic Strategies: Part 2 – Removal Strategies
A second, rather effective strategy for Spellcraft is a removal strategy. In talking about removal strategies, I need to begin by making a couple of subtle distinctions. If I take one-time actions that destroy enemy units (for example, hitting them with a meteor) or an action (like playing tornado or lavapult) designed to clear a specific space, I am using removal; if I set up an environment where enemy forces take repeated damage across the board (such as from burning world) I am using stranglehold tactics – which will be discussed in the next essay. If I remove a unit as part of a systematic approach to inflict damage sufficient to eventually win the game (e.g. I load my deck with implode and meteor spells to remove opponents placed opposite my phantasmas to clear space for them to hit), I am using removal strategy. But, if I remove a unit because it solves a problem (e.g. I flamespike an aquamancer to keep it from repeatedly damaging my forces), I am really using tactics. While removal has definite value as a tactic, that use is largely outside the scope of this essay.
It takes only 4 hits from a razor shark or a dragonfish to win a game, 5 hits from an underdark worm or ruby dragon. A removal strategy can work directly, opening an opponent to these big hits. Other units such as deepsea thing, screaming skulls, or pyrosaur carry a nasty sting to their hits. Removal strategies can also work indirectly by exposing an opponent to these effects. And removal does not have to imply unit destruction: a tide caller can open a lane for attack just as effectively as meteor in many cases. Be aware that there are a few creatures with built-in removal characteristics: deepwood ash and giant constrictors come to mind. And, while at first glance, tornado may appear worthless as a removal tool (it also removes your unit preventing use of the open lane), it does work in conjunction with quick creatures.
Tempo is a definite factor with most removal strategies. By removing a blocker from in front of one of your big minions, you not only score a significant hit, but you force your opponent to react to the now open minion now threatening another big hit. But it is hard to afford the resources to blast a hole in a lane you have contained if you are yourself open to hits on two or three other lanes. Moreover, it is hard to avoid some “waste” with removal strategies – maybe your direct damage spells have over-kill, maybe it takes two spells to deal with one enemy, maybe you spend power and/or cards simply to move units, leaving them to actually be dealt with later. Thus efficient power point utilization is especially critical in decks relying on removal strategy.
Another big challenge with removal strategies is card balance. Ideally, you will have at least one dangerous minion (either because of its strength or its special power) in play and removal cards in hand able to clear that minion’s path. But you also need also not to cede control of other lanes while focusing on one or more dangerous minion. And your dangerous minions will be high profile targets so you need to expect some will be lost. Also, most removal cards are one-shot effects – they can easily be burned through if not used judiciously. Because removal cards work in different ways, and at different cost, a balance of types is important to avoid substantial over-kill or under-kill. As most removal cards are spells, one needs to be prepared to deal with traps like spell net and mesmer as well. Given the randomness of the draw, and variety of possible opponent responses, one faces a delicate juggling act.
A nice feature of removal strategies is their extreme flexibility. Even if you only use removal for one or two hits, doing so will be beneficial – unlike some strategies, removal does not require total commitment and focus. Moreover, removal can be used effectively for tactical purposes when needed – it’s not limited merely to destroying one’s opponent.
On the whole, removal is an effective strategy, one utilized heavily in many top-notch decks, yet one very accessible to players at almost all levels.
Basic Spellcraft Strategies – Part 3: Stranglehold Strategies
The third and arguably most powerful Spellcraft strategy is to establish a stranglehold where an opponent is unable to impose or maintain a viable board presence. There are two primary approaches to this strategy: establishing a board position in which any enemy minion played will be almost immediately destroyed, or rendering enemy cards unplayable. Of these, the former is far more prevalent and important.
Typically a deck is able to deploy an average of 3 to 4 heath points per turn; it is a rare deck that can sustainably deploy more than 4 health. Thus, if one can establish a position where three or more damage is automatically inflicted every turn, an opponent will be rendered helpless as any minion deployed will be rapidly destroyed. There are a number of ways such a stranglehold can be established: two or three aquamancers or related cards (possibly combined with energize or overworld elixir); fire prism with pyromancers, triton ritual, or other sustainable power generation cards; 3 or 4 pack attack with lots of minions on board; 3 or 4 law of the jungle with high health cards; and to some degree, burning world with regenerating or health granting cards. As other factions are developed, I expect to see more of these combinations. Once established, a stranglehold is very difficult to counter – either one needs sufficient health to outlast the effect, or one needs to remove the dangerous cards – without using minions which rarely survive long enough to do so. One vulnerability of such decks is that they often depend heavily upon one key card, which, if removed, renders the deck non-viable. But usually these key cards are only easily removed by very special purpose cards that become almost worthless against other decks – and hence are often not chosen.
Otherwise, the only weakness is the need to draw the necessary cards to set up the stranglehold quickly enough. Often the key to a successful stranglehold deck is efficiently drawing and protecting a few key cards, or else, in using the stranglehold as a background threat while other strategies are also implemented.
An alternative to destroying enemy units as they are played is preventing their play in the first place. Traps like spell net, mesmer, and lost at sea can be used, but these are usually only temporary blocks that give too short of a window to be decisive. Hand attack cards (screaming skulls, miasma, accursed, etc.) do this partially by potentially denying an opponent the desired card but in good decks, almost every card is useful and you cannot deny opponents all cards. And often, the hand attack threat requires so many resources that there are no other threats to exploit an opponent’s inability to respond. Psychic vortex can potentially prevent play of high cost cards, but most quality decks will have alternatives and psychic vortex affects you as well. Spell immunity can really limit many spell based decks, but spell immune creatures tend to be vulnerable to non-spell attacks. The best I know of this class of deck combines magic immunity with something like catastrophe to quickly remove enemy minions.
Stranglehold decks can be, and often are extremely impressive. On rare occasions where the stranglehold is never established, they can appear pathetic. Ultimately, their effectiveness boils down to how quickly and consistently the stranglehold can be established, how effective a partially established stranglehold is, and how easily the stranglehold is broken.
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