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Too Many Words about Res Arcana

This article covers my evolving thoughts about Res Arcana. (Admin note — I’ve decided to go ahead and make “Too Many Words” a category as well as a tag, I’ll go back and add the category to the older posts soon). Right now the vast majority of my games have been two player, with all that implies. After our opening burst we converted to Tom’s two player “tightening” variant (where three monuments and a place of power are removed at random at the start of the game). Also, this article was peer reviewed by the TaoLing (and sometimes I have noted when a comment is his versus mine). It may be a slight exaggeration to say the the TaoLing is the world’s second best player in the two player, random deal game in the world (behind Tom Lehmann) because I think there are probably play-testers who have more experience and games.

But he usually beats me.

How to Lose Res Arcana in one easy step

Res Arcana (like many of Tom Lehmann’s games) contains depth that I’m still exploring. But the trap so easy to fall into? You look at your opening hand and see “Ah, if I discard X then I can play Y, pass and take some magic item, then play Z and I’ve got a production engine going.” It’s a strategy as old as gaming: “Early on value money & resources, late game focus on victory points.”

The trap? Res Arcana’s (open) secret is that production doesn’t automatically convert to VPs. Compare with Race for the Galaxy. Earning a hand of cards a turn will see you draw a decent or even great scoring card every turn. (Some will be better than others), or a few worlds and trading can (with the right world) morph into a consume x2 engine. In Res, if you built an engine generating a monstrous twenty mana a turn (four in each color) you could — buy the Coral Castle. That’s three points. Next turn, you could buy … nothing. Now this assumes all the other places of power had been bought, but they will be by the time your nitro-burning-funny-car of mana generation gets going. You can buy whatever artifact you drew from your deck, but those are rarely points.

Most Places of Power (PoP) provide a path to convert mana into points (as well as some points). But spend too long setting up a perfect engine and your converter will be snapped up by an opponent’s “good enough” engine. It’s a short game. You can lose by racing for a PoP without adequate support to produce the mana you’ll need for VP, but most players err far too much in the other direction. I’ve been losing to the TaoLing more often than not, but a few recent games against new players showed that even making multiple lapse-of-attention mistakes while I’m explaining options to others, it was nowhere close, and always for that reason.

Res is about converting whatever you have into ten points, and while you might say “Ooh, I spend these three mana to get two a turn!” that also means “you are down three mana this turn from where you started” and “you could have tossed that card to get two mana or a gold.”

The Time value of mana is huge. If the game ends on turn four, then spending three resources on a “two per turn” card only nets you three resources in the entire game! Games probably average five+ turns, although I haven’t kept notes. And strong play will likely lower that by a bit.

So — to summarize — you lose Res Arcana by just focusing on your cards, building an engine, and ignoring the point conversion for a turn or two longer than your rivals.

As Tom notes, Gold is an easily grasped strategy for new players. Gold has — kind of — a pre-built conversion path in the monument deck (with bonus powers). Particularly in a two player (non-variant) game, a Gold engine almost can’t run out of opportunities before the game ends. (In a recent variant game, the TaoLing and I witnessed a massive gold engine lose when the other player scrounged up enough gold to buy two monuments leaving the gold engine only 8 VPs worth of monuments, four gold, and nothing better to do with it than convert it back to regular mana). If that can happen with gold, imagine how easy it is to wind up with a bunch of extra red, or blue.


Timing — Winning the Race

When you first play, you’ll stare at your artifacts. You should stare are the places of power. And watch your opponents. If you focus only on your tableau, you’ll be surprised when you converter gets bought and think “Now what.” Determine what each rival is aiming at. If your opponent has any cards in hand and is only two resources or one gold short of your convertor, take an action that puts you in a position to buy what you need on your next action — even if it may not be optimal. You might decide to risk it (if your plans are flexible enough, or you think your opponent isn’t actually trying for the same goal as you are, or you can read that they aren’t discarding their cards but playing them), but that’s a decision.

Ideally you’d buy an artifact, tap it for mana, then buy a PoP with the resources (so you get the mana next turn as well), but that may be one action too slow.  At times like this, Res Arcana is a short sprint, but overall its 1500m race. There’s a pace. (I guess a better analogy would be a bike race with intermediate sprint bonuses…) If you are close to the (intermediate) finish line — being first to pass or buying X first — you go fast. But if you shoot out when everyone is going slow, you’ll run out of resources and get overtaken by better engines.

Time is a resource, just like any other. I’ve focused on Places of Power, but you sometimes race for a specific magic item. Squeezing every single mana you possible can may not be as important as passing first for the right magic artifact to implement your plan (or victory point!). Especially in a two player game, both players may be trying to get Transmutation, Alchemy or Reanimate on the same turn to (respectively) fix a mana-color problem, get gold for a monument, use an important card twice. (In a three or four player game its much more likely that these will be locked up and you’ll have to dance around to wait at the right time).

Flexibility, Drawing things out and timing

Res Arcana also has zugzwang. (In Chess that means you can’t pass. Here it means, if you pass you are done for the round). Sometimes you’ll have an item your rival wants. That means they will try to wait until you pass. Many games revolve around jockeying for the Reanimate item as it lets you use a single “tap and convert X to VPs” power (or mana generation) twice. If you can take more actions (without destroying your position) and force them to pass before you relinquish it, you deny them that artifact again for another turn. And next turn you may be able to pass fast and grab it! (Again, this is often Transmutation, Alchemy or Reanimate, in my experience).

Many moves can’t be undone (the most drastic being discarding a card, which risks never seeing the card again). This has a number of practical (sometimes contradictory) effects:

  • You want to move towards your goal efficiently,
  • You don’t want to commit to one path/PoP unless you are likely to win (or its flexible).
  • You’d like to not make it blindingly obvious what you are doing, particularly if your opponent(s) can thwart you. If your opponent is convinced you are racing for their goal (when you aren’t) they may forgo some long-term growth to win the race. Particularly if you had no interest in their goal, that’s great.

Cards in hand are amazingly powerful

A thought experiment. You have a starting mage who collects a resource of your choice (but no other power) and three cards, all blank. But you can also can select a magic item. What can you do?

  1. You can discard all three cards for a gold a buy a monument. If you take Alchemy you can also turn four of your resources into two gold. If you bought Solomon’s Mines as the monument, you can then gain a gold this turn and next turn and buy a second monument (and you’ll also have drawn another card!).
  2. Dragon’s Lair costs twelve resources and provides two gold a turn. You can buy it on first turn by chucking cards — assuming your mage generates a mana and you got a mana via a magic item — then buy a monument on second turn (having used it on T1 and T2). If that gives you a few resources you may be able to play a cheap dragon (assuming you drew one) and now start banking two points a turn.
  3. Catacombs of the Dead costs nine black, which is a bit of a stretch …. you’ll need Transmutation to convert some of your other resources (or get the last black from a magic item). But its one point a turn (plus you can buy a few more, but lacking an engine that may be tough).
  4. Alchemist’s tower only costs three gold and provides three resources a turn. Now, it’s not worth any points, but if you can get a fourth resource you can buy them. You start turn two with four resources a blank card, and your next card.

You get the idea. Even with nothing but a single magic item and three blank cards you can get an admittedly ugly engine going on turn one. Cards are powerful. Flexible.

Why are all of those engines ugly? Because they are a single card engine. Imagine that you could pick the card you drew on the second turn (which, with Divination as your magic item, is highly likely). Imagine getting the Alchemist’s Tower and putting down the Elemental Stream on T2. Now you practically generate two points a turn, unless you have something better. Many two-card combos are ridiculously good, and getting them out can mean a fast route to ten points.

(Opening with a first turn Dragon’s Lair has a reasonable amount of success, especially with a Dragon or two waiting to be drawn and the right monument, because the engine isn’t really mana based.  Opening with the Catacombs can work, particularly with the Witch, but takes a bit more. The others need more oomph to accelerate, and are probably better suited to a turn or two later.)

The point is with an opening hand that doesn’t work together, you don’t want to just play random cards. Two (or three) cards that mesh well (one being a place of power) can generate points, while eight random cards often can’t. That’s the first reason you shouldn’t necessarily play many cards.

The other reason slapping down your opening hand isn’t necessarily a great idea? You’ve lost time and your starting supply of resources. Suddenly your opponent can see “Oh, it takes him X moves to be in a position to buy what I want. I’m in no rush, I can do it optimally.” Your opening hand and mana represents about three turns of reserves. (3 cards and 2 mana/turn). You only get to blow them once.

So, using this idea to continue on our list above:

  • Recognize when you are in a race and when you aren’t.
  • When you look at your eight cards, look for a combo. When you draw your opening hand, if you got a card that combines with many other cards (even ones you don’t have yet), its likely the one you want to play (particularly if it provides income while you are digging for the other card). Sometimes you are better off having only one card you want to play early. If you drew all three, what would you chuck to pay for the others.
  • Early gold is reasonable, but not for its own sake. If the monument you buy provides some income (either cards, gold, or resources), that’s at least starting an engine. If its just points, you’ll stall out.
  • If you have an artifact that gives you two or three mana while giving one to each of your rivals, hold off on it as long as you can. Perhaps they will run out of actions and decide to chuck a card for that mana. (“As long as you can” depends on other considerations, of course).
  • The Research magic item (spend a mana for a card draw) can be used to hunt for a card, or to turn one item into two mana or a gold.

Putting it all together — Pressure and Release

So, you want to build an engine fast enough to let you get a place of power (or gold to buy monuments). As Tom L. notes in a question on “changing strategy” experienced players buy places of power on rounds two or three, instead of rounds three through five. He attributes this to “pressuring,” which is a better term than I had. Let me provide an example from last night. I had decided to grab an early monument and leverage its ability into my engine (and gain a point). The TaoLing saw what I was doing and then waited until I’d used alchemy to convert all but one of my resources to three gold (I was planning on tossing a card for the final gold).

He then played an attack card.  (Elvish Bow — which can attack for a single life but has no built in reaction power to defend). I now had a problem. If I discarded a card for one gold, he’d attack and I’d lose my (non-green) resource and a gold. If I discarded the card for a life  plus another, he could make me lose my life or just tap the Bow to draw a card (its other power). The attack wasn’t really that damaging … but the threat was devastating. (“The threat is mightier than the execution” — Grand Master A. Nimzovich).

If the TaoLing had revealed the bow earlier or later, it would be no problem. Earlier, I’d have responded. Later, I’d have spent the gold and simply eaten the other resource loss.  But the pressure of having something big to lose at that time hurt. (As a comment on my play, I was trying to be flexible by not pitching a card until the last minute, since I hadn’t decided what card to keep. Now I know that my flexibility should have been on the side of “which single resource do I want to keep in case I’m attacked” in that situation).

At some point you may have the bright idea of putting down a very early Dragon via the Dragon’s Egg …  and if you do it at a random time you’ll discover its not nearly as good as you’d hoped. You hurt your opponent maybe as much as the time you lose by putting down an attack card. (And if you are really unlucky, they drop something with an ‘ignore’ power). If you could somehow magically start with it (paying all resources) it would only minorly inconvenience your opponent. Drop it at the critical time, when resources are tight? That’s good. An attack for a resource or two isn’t much compared to a threatened attack that delays your opponent by a turn.

A few miscellaneous thoughts before discussing specific cards

  • Collect powers are slightly weaker (in terms of mana) than cards that tap to generate them. You can use the tap cards the turn you drop them, and can re-animate them to use them twice.
  • Against that collect powers don’t take actions and are therefore faster. Faster can be better or worse (on the last turn, usually better….) (The tap cards sometimes give your rivals mana. If you give it to them at the wrong time, that’s not a huge deal).
  • “Check Victory” powers do several things. The biggest is when you can eke out ten points but — were you to wait until the end of the turn — they could get more. Of more interest you can also get a decent victory by passing early the prior turn to grab a point, earn your ninth (permanent) point and then win. (If your opponent recognizes this and passes to grab that, you can probably use the rest of the turn better to out-earn them next turn). Finally, sometimes you just want to wait without passing and that’s a valid “non-move-move.”
  • One gold a turn (starting at turn two or earlier) may not sound like much but its a monument unless someone gold rushes (and by chucking a card at the right time, may be a great monument). Repeatable two gold a turn is good and if your opponent starts doing more than that, grab monuments while you can to deny them. But if you have four gold and no way of generating more wait for the ‘right’ monument (or buy blind) instead of taking the first thing you can.
  • Because you can discard a card for gold, a “Draw a card” power should be considered slower, but otherwise superior, to getting a gold.
  • Cards that give you ‘wild’ (non-gold) mana or let you convert a large quantity of mana can surprise the unwary as to what you are actually doing (or flexibility to shift goals). And lest you say your opponents are always wary — sometimes that flexibility makes them nervous and under-optimize.
  • Having extra card draw (even at the cost of a mana) gives you an advantage at gold rushing, but repeated card draw also lets you be a bit cavalier in your discards and chuck a card you’ll definitely want to play, because the Divination magic item isn’t often contested mid-game in my experience.
  • I’m not sure how to value “ignoring attacks” as the player count increases. My theory is that the value of attacking goes down (as its harder to time a threat against both opponents), but you have more rivals and they may just attack on general principles or they may just attack you because you are a threat or attack your opponent when they are winning and so you get splashed. So my suspicion is that attacking is more often, and therefore the value of ignoring attacks goes up.

Finally, Res Arcana is a card game. You can get bad hands (non-drafting), and there are cards that are much more flexible. If that bothers you, play the drafting variant. Right now I suspect that 10-20% of our games have pretty lopsided battles (good hand versus bad hand). That doesn’t really bother me much, although I’ll likely try drafting at some point.

The Places of Power

Although I do have a mental ranking of these, the fact that they are setup means you have to deal with you see. Often your mage and hand will point to where you’d like to go….

Dragon’s Lair — Two points a turn with a Dragon, which is also a point. And it doesn’t require spending a mana. The big downside is that if you don’t have a Dragon you can never get one. Before you score you get gold, which means this can go pretty fast. Not worth buying if you lack dragons (or Mermaid), excepting perhaps a two player game where you strongly suspect your opponent has no backup plan and hasn’t started anything else. (The TaoLing points out that if you have Witch the lair is a monument a turn for two mana, and better with Reanimate). The lair being makes defense a bit less necessary …. someone with Dragons will likely be using them to power this at least part of the time. (A hit to you would have to be pretty big to be worth more than two points, and even someone with two dragons may be able to untap the lair to use both dragons).

Sorcerer’s Bestiary — The flip side of the Lair gives you one point per creature and two per dragon, which doesn’t require any tapping. Against that, this means that a single Dragon is two points, not two per turn. The ability to take cards out of other people’s discard? I’ve played nearly seventy five games and I’ve never seen it used. That may be due to the (mainly two player nature of my games). The four cost penalty for theft is large.

Alchemist’s Tower — Three gold for three resources a turn is an interesting choice. There’s a monument that does that (but costs four gold). Of course it provides VP without further cost. I’ve seen this bought first turn and I think that is usually a mistake, but an intriguing one. The power (convert one of each non-gold mana to a VP without tapping) gives you a final turn dump but requires more production (4 per point) than most of the PoPs except for Catacombs (which also gets a point per turn by tapping).

Sacred Groove –A point per turn (for turning an animal), but with a kicker of two base points no matter what. The cost at twelve is steeper than the Lair because it’s eight life. I underrated the ability to turn a blue into five green. It has some powerful combos with Ring of Midas, Alchemy, Philospher’s Stone, Athanor, etc. or buying the Coral Castle…)

Coral Castle — Fifteen mana for three VP, period (with a check victory power) makes this a late purchase, but anyone can use it for the final oomph if their engine is running. The ignore power can be worth a little income.

Sunken Reef — Relatively cheap at nine mana, collect a gold a turn, and buy VPs (repeatedly) for two blue and a green makes this an attractive buy. However, I always think I’m going to get one or two VP more than I actually get. Also, this (and the Tower) takes more actions to load the points onto it.

Cursed Forge — This costs a black or turns itself (“Cursed” you say?) but lets you spend two red plus a gold for a point. This isn’t a bargain at nine mana (six red / three black) and you are paying a chunk of what you need. It is worth a base point, though.

Dwarven Mines — A cheap place (four red, two green and a gold) and a gold provider. This lets you convert five red into three gold (and taps) and converts at six mana for two points (but taps). This makes for an intriguing (and likely wrong) rush buy.. With the right mage + starting magic item this could be a “single discard” purchase, but usually you’ll want a red production card or two and buy this on the second or third turn.

Catacombs of the Dead — Nine death/black for one point per turn (via tapping), the ability to buy points at five black per, and one black a turn. There are several “gain death” artifacts including two that give rivals (so that your opponents may get it). Buying this too early means you earn at a steady rate but likely have no growth, but its a solid earner. But we’ve seen multiple games where the turn one Catacombs won.

Sacrificial Pit — You need a big stack of eight red and four black to get this, and then gain points at a three (green) to one, but you have to tap it. To counter that, you get two base points.  One nice thing about this (as compared to the Sunken Reef) is that the mana you use to buy it isn’t the same as the mana you use to power it. So you don’t need a constant red/black engine. The ability to sacrifice a Dragon or Creature gives you a burst of 1-8 gold. (The TaoLing considers this the primary ability, particularly if you have a dragon discount card like the Bridle or Tooth). You buy the dragon cheap, sacrifice it for gold, and try to race an do it again. (This also works with the Crypt to recycle the dead). Eight gold means two monuments (even if you have to scrounge one or two) and that’s points and monument denial (albeit often at the cost of a VP for the poor dragon).

The Monuments

The monuments average 1.6 VP, with three bonus VP available the owner has three spare gold on the relevant turn. (This fact may be useful on a blind draw). Also — unlike the places of power — you don’t know which ones are in the game (if you remove some) or when they’ll be available. Often the two that are visible on setup may determine which mage you select and if you are going to try for a T1 or T2 monument.

Golden Statue (1VP) — Three extra VP for three gold makes this a dense chunk of VPs and a great midgame purchase. Early game you may get as much bang for you buck by getting an ability that you can use right away (‘time value of mana’), late game it depends entirely on if you’ll have the gold available.

Obelisk (1VP) — Six wild mana now can put you back into the race for a place of power or be worth 1-2 VPs by itself.

Hanging Gardens (1VP) — Three mana a turn is great on T2, and on the final turn this is likely the most useless monument. But you knew that.

Library (1VP) — A card is worth at least a gold, and maybe more (albeit slower than the mines)

Solomon’s Mines (1VP) — A gold a turn. Either this or the Library in the opening will start to entice me to a gold rush strategy. With Alchemy you can buy a “tap for mana” card (to also start an engine), tap it, alchemy (to get to three gold) and then discard to four gold and then use this/Library to get a gold on T1 and T2.  Without the mana engine its riskier, but still possible.

Colossus (2VP) — For the extra VP your gold is slower, but still an enticing early monument.

Oracle (2VP) — The ability to look and reorder the monument deck is reasonable. If everyone else is threatening to buy, you can put dreck on top until you have four gold and either time your buy or rearrange again. Looking at your own deck is also fine. (The TaoLing thinks that its only useful if you are gold rushing).

Temple (2VP) — One green a turn and a free “ignore attack” makes this situational.

The Mausoleum (2VP) — Obviously a player gunning for the Catacombs will love the free “convert everything to black” (at a delay). But this is also useful for other players. First, you could be missing black. Second, if you run out of actions and just want to wait to pass, you can slowly convert things to black (and there’s nothing stopping you from converting your existing black first).

The Great Pyramids (3VP) — Points! Is this worth buying as an early monument? As I mentioned in the thesis, there’s not always a path to convert to points, and the calculation for how much your forgone resources (for the other monument) are likely worth. That’s a hard calculation in the best of times

The Mages

You make your decision on mage after you see the Places of Power and two starting monuments (and after you know if you are going first, selecting magic items first, or somewhere in the middle). Of general note the mages that collect an income (most of them) need on less tempo than those that tap to generate it (the Alchemist, Transmuter and Scholar, assuming he just tosses the card). I am roughly ranking these from worst to best, but this order depends so greatly on the other starting conditions that it doesn’t matter much.

Druid — OK, untapping an animal isn’t great, so unless I have the Mermaid in my deck I’m probably starting my other card unless the Sacred Grove is in play (and an animal or two). She may eke out an extra point or two (the turns you can untap the grove) or give you a big mana boost (the turns you can’t). But even then I’d give a hard look at my other mage. Now, with drafting this doesn’t apply, but I’m prefer the “make soup out of lemons” deal and go. Also, you always collect green so no flexibility. (TaoLing sez –the Treant can get you huge amounts of mana and is a creature)

Healer — Ignoring an attack and collect a blue or green. Ignoring an attack has very diminishing returns (because if there are multiple attacks out there you can likely eat most of them or just pass, as long as you can ignore the wrong item/wrong time one). But some flexibility in mana collection and no ability makes him fast, so you can often pass early in the penultimate or final turn.

Seer — Collect blue and reorder a deck. The Seer means that if you are didn’t get it on your opening hand you have a sixty percent shot to get it on turn two (or plan accordingly). Manipulating the monument deck is nice (as discussed under the Library) but if you got the library you likely had a gold engine….

Necromancer — Nekki can net you two mana a turn, but very specifically. (Gain a black and convert two green to a black, delayed a turn). Obviously with the Catacombs, that’s a big deal. With an excess green production that’s also nice. Lacking that, you are better placed for Alchemy, mainly.

Transmuter — Tap to turn two mana into three is flexible, but the price you play is slowness. Still, she’s rarely a bad selection.

Artificer — “Speed is life.” With the right opening hand, this guy is brutal. With the wrong opening hand, he’s pointless. The ability to drop three generators early easily overcomes his lack of income. (I mean, mages that naturally collect one income a turn are likely earning only six over the course of the game, so giving up three income to frontload it is fine). Ideally you’d like to go last on the first turn to pick up a magic item you are short may need two of. But even if you can’t drop your full opening hand, the ability to get two (say) and save your third card for next turn (or just until you need it) may still be worthwhile.

Duelist — Turning a black into a (delayed) gold while still earning a (red) mana is solid. One gold a turn is a monument, and he’s got enough that  you should likely get two (with a few discards) during an average game and the Dwarven Axe in your opening hand gets you to T2 monument without breaking a sweat (since you already have the spare red).

Scholar — At worst, his ability is “Turn a mana into a gold or gain a mana,” because of the value of cards in hand. Since you shouldn’t be playing all your cards anyway, digging through your deck quickly for the cards you want and spending the rest is great. A built in research means you’ll see your entire deck by T3 (and you can still take research). Scholar can turn anything into a slow gold engine (and you can take research as well to speed it up).

Witch — If the Artificer is an early game mage, the Witch is the ultimate end-game specialist. I’ve mentioned that many games are fights for Reanimate, she has it built at (at one greater cost). She likely makes any tapping place of power worth an extra point or two, and spending two to untap an artifact may let you move mana around in the right colors, or build up an artifact that “explodes” (like the Athanor) a turn early. Honestly, if you wanted to rank her highest you might be right, but just for some reason I never seem to get dealt her and I’ve played her much less than the ones I rank higher.

Alchemist — Insanely flexible at tapping for a mana of your choice (when you are short) or converting mana to gold (when you are flush). As mentioned above, he can easily go for a first turn monument (or Alchemist’s Tower) without slowing down, and gold has a path to points (until the monuments run out).

The Magic Items

Reanimate —The king of magic items. Usually this provides a point (at least) in late game each turn you have it, and early game it can often net you two additional mana (with the right artifact) or one mana but moving colors around similar to Transumutation. It may convert a mana into a gold with other artifacts (Vault, etc), or ‘load’ an artifact that takes two or three taps before it becomes effective a turn earlier (Windup Man or Athanor). Sometimes its worth it just to deny your opponent (especially in two player). Early game you are less likely to be able to use it.

Alchemy — Gold usually has a path.

Transmutation — Converting three for three is often enough to get a place of power. Taking this the turn you plan on having enough for one, but may not get it first lets you survive if you miss.

Life/Death and Calm/Elan — extra mana (at no tempo cost) is fine, but these are mainly used early to make sure you can play what you need (particularly if you don’t want to discard a needed card). But often Research provides the same benefit (spend one to gain a card that you chuck for two, or vice versa) and lets you run through your deck a bit faster, or turn that spare card into a gold.  The decision depends on how you want your tempo.

Divination — Dig for a card you need or with a bad opening you take this and mulligan for something better. (A three creature opening, or similar late game cards). I’ve also seen this used to force a reshuffle after the Sorcerer’s Bestiary gets bought, or just recover an early discarded Dragon.

Protection — There’s diminishing returns, but sometimes you just have to take this. Particularly if your rival dropped his attack, hit you and passed. Part of the “pressure”/Nimzovichian element of dropping an attack is to force your opponent to grab protection and effectively denying them the mana gain (etc) from some other magic item. In a three-four player game, this is probably a much better “insurance” play. You have your mana in the right color, aren’t going for gold, Reanimate is gone and just want to make sure you can’t be disrupted. (But I’d still glance at the board again). Also, grabbing a Dragon’s own “ignore” mana via Life/Death or Calm/Elan (instead of protection) has the same effect and the bonus that you get to keep the mana if the attack doesn’t happen.

The Artifacts

Rather than go into each artifact, I’m going to categorize them (with a few exceptions). Some cards fall into two categories because of multiple powers. I don’t think there’s much point in doing a cost/benefit for each one, since the benefit will depend on your conversion plan.

“The Dragons” — Ranging from five to nine mana, the Dragons are mostly late game cards, especially with the Lair. But all of that changes if you have the Dragon Teeth (or Egg, to a lesser extent). Now all of them are potential early cards. Even so you’ll probably need to time it to really cause any pain, excepting if you have a sacrificial card that lets you then get rid of the dragon for mana. The tooth lets you hopefully convert two red to three, then buy a dragon on turn two, attack, then into seven to eleven wild mana. Granted, that’s a three card combo (but one that shows up fairly often, given the number of dragons) and you’ll likely be executing it over two turns, but it overcomes the weakness of the early dragon. As mid- to late- game cards they are worth a point. Their attack will likely be blunted, but an untapped dragon can force your opponent to always keep an extra resource or two, which is pressure.

Dragon support cards have some value even by themselves. The Dragon Egg converts a gold to a point, the Dragon Bridle converts four mana to a point and lets you ignore one attack. The Dragon Teeth let you turn two red into three (next turn). So even without a Dragon all are worth playing (the Teeth likely less so unless you are aiming for the Dwarven Mines or some other card that will consume lots of red.

The Elvish Bow is the other attack card, so it gets lumped in with the Dragons. It’s not worth a point and “only” attacks for one life instead of two, but its power of drawing a card makes it the premier attack card in the deck, and a great turn one buy. Since the threat of attack is often more valuable, dropping the bow may force a change of plans (see above) and then if your opponent defends, you have a great use for the bow …. drawing a card. This effectively puts the Bow as “Threaten an attack, then gain a gold or two resources or flexibility.” Quite the bargain at three mana.

“Tap for Mana. but share the wealth” — Interestingly, there are four of these but two for black (the Hand of Glory and Maltese Falcon Jeweled Statuette) one for green and red (the Tree of Life and Fiery Whip, respectively) and none for blue. I should probably look more into the asymmetries between mana colors, perhaps another time. All but the Hand of Glory gain three mana and give your rivals one (each), and all but the Hand have a secondary power. As mentioned elsewhere, much like attacking the timing of giving out free mana is important. If  you give it out and allow your rival to keep a card or grab a place of power first, that’s no good. But giving it to them after they’ve done it isn’t horrible. The Hand is really an odd card. You break even on your first turn and your rivals gain a black. On the second turn you are now even with them (up two black) and only really start to gain after that. However, with the existence of the the Catacombs and other cards that require a hefty supply of death, there’s always a time for it.

“Tap for Mana, based on a rival’s stash” — The Treant and Hypnotic Basin both collect two mana and can tap to gain mana equal to a rival’s color. (The Treant is also a creature). Sort of an anti-hoarding measure. If you drop this early enough, your rival may decide to change their plan to eliminate/minimize that color. (How quickly they can do that depends on the mage. The Alchemist or Transmuter can shift on a dime). However, in the mid-late game it will often be impossible to switch. The Treant, in particular, keys off black and if the Catacombs are being targetted it will be worth it. In those cases you want to get it out ASAP for the bit of extra mana it will pay back. The Basin keys off of red, which shows up in smaller quantities for the Dwarven Mines or Cursed Forge and a number of high-value artifacts that generate or really want you to have some elan in your pool. And it provides blue (both in collection and copying), which is a somewhat shorter supply than red. In a multiplayer game, these are probably going to be worth dropping quickly. Someone will give you a few mana.

“Convert some mana and gain, possibly delaying a turn” –These are true engine cards, particularly if they don’t tap and you can gain multiple times. The Chalice of Life turns two blue into a blue and a green (and lets you collect a green). Very nice for whoever owns the Sacred Grove (although since you don’t get any blue out of it doesn’t provide compound interest). Often there’s a bit of work involved in managing the colors (such as the Cursed Skull’s green to three non-green or the Fountain of Youth’s two death into two blue and a green), but often they are minimal. The Transmuter, in particular, won’t have much issue with that. A put the Magical Shard in this category, but it really just gives you a wild mana.

“Just collect some mana” — These get a bit less over the course of the game, but they are stable. The often have another power as well (or insane flexibility in the case of the Celestial Horse)

“The Creatures” — these will more matter for the Grove / Bestiary / Druid as they can trigger the effects. If you don’t have those, they are a mixed lot. The Guard Dog has an ignore power, so you’d like to hold it (and some red in reserve) just in case. The Hawk provides a blue and lets you arrange your deck (or the monument) and buys a card at the not-discount price of two blue.  The Nightingale is the cheapest point in the game.

“Slow Gold” — Card like the Vault or Dwarven Axe or Midas Ring get a gold per turn (roughly). (The Ring can speed up). Slow gold heads you down the monument path, but these are all cheap enough that you’ll likely earn two monuments (maybe with a bit of scrounging) over the game. The Vault also generates resources if you don’t take the gold from it every turn (which you likely wont collect until you need it). The Horn of Plenty is sort of an odd card out as it costs you two gold to get, so its one gold a turn isn’t great, but the ability to switch to three resources makes it a great card (and Reanimate target).

“Burst Gold” — The Philosopher’s Stone or Athanor (much like the Sacrificial Pit) can get you a burst of gold. With either one I’ve seen ten+ gold several times (depending on how early you get them set up). The Athanor needs to be played reasonably early, along with a card like Tree of Life to build a stack of Mana. Philosopher’s Stone is a late game pivot (I think it’s produced sixteen gold on turn five or six in one of our games). Burst gold is particularly good when your opponent’s slow gold is at three and you run through the good monuments (or exhaust the deck) the turn before he earns his fourth gold.

“Mana switching” — The Prism lets you move as many items as you want from one color to another. Usually this is done to prepare an Athanor or to buy/load a place of power or to change some or all of the mana you got from a Treant or Hypnotic Basin’s or Sacred Grove’s bounty as a super-transmute.

“Sacrificial Cards” — The Sacrificial Dagger, Corrupt Alter and Fiery Whip all let you destroy/discard a card to gain its cost in wild mana (plus two for all but the Dagger). These are big pressure card (pointed out by the TaoLing, but I knew it) in that you can suddenly burst the last five or more mana for a place of power. (You can sacrifice tapped cards).  As mentioned before with the Sacrificial Altar (which provides gold) you may be able to perform the sacrifices multiple times if you have the Crypt. The Dagger (which gets rid of a card from hand and itself) is a powerful opener if you have a Dragon or Philosopher’s Stone, although you are spending a gold and a black for eight(items) and you could just discard the two cards for four mana and keep the gold. But breakpoints matter.

Great opening cards

Some cards are just better than others. Here are cards the TaoLing and I like to play early. I won’t go and say these are always right (particularly the Athanor), but they often are.

  • Elvish Bow (pressure and then slow gold)
  • Vault or Dwarven Axe (slow gold)
  • Chalice of Fire (two mana and a built in Reanimate!)
  • Celestial Horse
  • Tree of Life (tap mana and repeatable protection)
  • Sacrifical Dagger (assuming you have an expensive card to throw, but it has to be something like Fire Dragon or Philosopher’s Stone).
  • Athanor (burst gold)
  • Horn of Plenty (slow gold or resources. Expensive but flexible)


You win Res Arcana by building a tight, fast combo. Good cards are certainly better than bad cards, but you need a plan as well as good execution!


Update (5/5) — After proofing and publishing this the TaoLing and I have played another dozen or so games, and we’ve been much more specifically discussing the strategy behind monument rush. And our thoughts are that the first turn Dragon’s Lair is completely viable on T1 even without a Dragon!  Look at it this way, Alchemy converts four mana to two gold. Dragon’s Lair converts twelve mana to four gold by the turn after you buy it — already a better ratio —  which buys a monument that provides gold or cards or resources, and then you will get at least four more gold from the Lair. Plus you deny points (and a discount to Dragon owners).  Frankly we’re beginning to feel that the Lair is under-costed compared to most of the other Places of Power (or rather, the tap for two gold is too good).

T1 Catacombs is viable with a Witch.

Written by taogaming

May 4, 2019 at 1:01 pm