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Too Many Words about Slay the Spire, Pt II — The Characters

This article, yada yada yada. See Part I for disclaimer. This covers the basic thoughts for each character, it is not intended to be “card by card complete” or cover all possibilities. Also, while I discuss strategies and archetypes, these are intended as a “Discussion” or suggestions, not as a crutch or exhaustive list. They are just archetypes. For the most part I am not going to get into too many relics in this discussion.

One more definition — A naked pick is picking a card that doesn’t do anything for you yet. (Like taking a Limit Break which doubles your strength bonus, when you as of yet have no way to get a strength bonus). Since this violates the “focus on the near term,” taking a card that is a dead load for the near future and potentially the game indicates that the card has tremendous upside.

And I realize I didn’t really talk about density as clearly as I could. It hurts that there are interrelated concepts, but one idea that a “dense” deck also has is the ability to dump all of its mana into Attack or Defend (as desired). As I mentioned, if you only have strikes or defends (and a five card hand) you will be able to spend three mana on either, but not both. (You may want to split it up, but if you want to go all the way with either, you can’t). If you have only two cost cards, you can (with three mana) only spend two mana. If you have one “attack two” and one “defend two” then its fine that you can’t necessarily play both, because you’ll play the one that matters (and then a one cost card to round it up). Iron Wave gives you attack and defense, but poor ones. Still, with an Iron Wave and two strikes and defends, you have some flexibility. “X cost” cards also let you dump as much as desired into them (with the caveat that it has to be the last card played, mostly).

Also — Something I didn’t mention in the prior article. Sometimes you pick a card knowing that is often dead-weight, but that really helps out in specific fights. Cards may solve a problem. I’ll try to note problems and the counters.


The basic deck is 5x Strikes and 5x Defends. Barely serviceable cards that you should (in general) despise. Ironclad’s bonus card is Bash, which provides two vulnerable and his artifact (Burning Blood) is your healing (at 6 HP/combat). Combined with a nice maximum health, this makes Ironclad a forgiving character. In the early game you block only insofar as you didn’t get any damage, effectively trading HP for murder. Ironclad’s card pool is loaded with big hits — grabbing a quick two-energy front-loaded damage (ideally Carnage) will get you through early Act I. Vulnerable means your attack this turn (and next turn) do 50% more damage, so even with just the starting deck Ironclad can deal out 44 damage in two turns (Bash+Strike/3x strikes) if you draw Bash in your opening hand.

One of Ironclads early problems is the embarrassment of front-loaded damage riches. There are so many decent 2-energy damage cards, you’ll be tempted to load up. But (with only three energy) they’ll simply block each other. (One reason why Ironclad was such a popular “Swap Boss Relic” option for Neow’s gift … Ironclad can exploit the fourth energy, although now with so many damage interactions the original healing relic is also more valuable).

Back before I started tracking, I would often die in late Act I because I’d rely on the healing, get a bit low, hit a bit of bad variance or a rough hallway fight (Gremlin Gang, Slime Gang), and then either die outright or be poorly placed for the boss fight, missing an upgrade or two, and then poof. The classic death spiral. Ironclad can’t totally ignore defense. The healing is a boon, not a crutch.

Once you get past the early game, Ironclad tropes that often work include:

Strength Scaling — Other classes can do this, but Ironclad has numerous ways. New players are enamored of Demon Form (indeed, at low ascensions its an auto-win for me), but the high cost make that suitable for slow fights only. A simple Spot Weakness or semi-scaling like an Inflame or two) is often good enough to handle scaling in Act II. Card coordination (via Headbutt) to re-use a Spot Weakness (or start this and re-use Limit Breaks) can lead to obscene strength. Any “doubling” card can lead to geometric scaling which is why if I lack any strength, I’m still tempted to take a naked Limit Break at the end of Act I, since a single later pick can turn into tremendous upside. With the recent patch, Rupture could be close to Demon Form, because Ironclad has a number of cards that cause damage (such as Combust), and then you also get strength . (Toss in Self-forming Clay and you have the damage synergy archetype). If you have a strength scaling deck, the typical problem is that is is slow (if you are hunting for a specific card, or draw your Limit Break before you have strength) and — particularly in Act III you can be hit very quickly for 40+ damage. You’ll need defense.

The “Infinite” combo — When the opponent is vulnerable, Drop Kick does damage, recovers the mana played and draws a card. It totally replaces itself (a “cantrip”). With a small enough deck, you can draw your entire deck into your hand, then cycle two drop kicks back and forth forever. Especially for slow fights like Champ that give you time to build up, you can take the time to shrink your deck by exhausting cards with Burning Pact or True Grit over a few turns, and then go infinite. (A Flash of Steel doesn’t hurt here, either). “Infinites” have problems with Time Eater and the Heart (who blocks all damage past a certain point on a turn, and has the Beat of Death for each card play) but often you can fall into a real (or semi-) infinite when using exhaust synergies. Infinite Combos are very vulnerable to status being added to the deck, so Evolve/Firebreathing as a counter is reasonable (especially since they don’t take up any space once played).

Exhaust Synergies — Exhausting bad cards is its own reward. You’d like to totally remove them in the shop, but getting rid of a relatively weak card in combat for a long fight is fine. Even better when exhausting a card provides a tangible reward. Compare uncommon power Feel No Pain to Metalicize. If you exhaust one card a turn, they both provide 3 (4 if upgraded) block. But with Corruption the Ironclad can exhaust all his skills the turn he draws them, for free, and provide bonus block. Even without the ability to retain block (see below), a few FNPs may provide 30+ block a turn (particularly against the heart if you can Sever Soul to exhaust the trash the heart gives you). MVP Relic for this is Dead Branch, exhaust, get replacement cards with some of them free! Corruption + Dead Branch is a meme for a reason.

(Sidebar — For a while I had a fear of Dead Branch giving me random bad cards that would clog my deck. I suggest you ignore it, as I learned to. Because the second time through the deck isn’t nearly as important as the first and even without corruption the weight of the misses is more than compensated by the great cards you’ll get. Paul Graham called the Stock Market “Mr. Market” because it would just say “Would you like to Buy X?” and you can always say no. Often Mr. Market offers you trash. “Would you like to buy” but sometimes he offers gold. “Would you like to buy this grossly underpriced commodity?”

The number of times that Dead Branch has a run into a cakewalk — even lacking Corruption — is high, and I don’t recall many fights where it trashed my deck. Obviously with a Runic Pyramid you have to be careful. I’ve bought Dead Branch as a nearly naked artifact, having only my Ascender’s Bane, and then built around it to good effect with all the characters. (That may be overdoing it, but it shows that its possible, even without corruption. With Corruption its gross).

Exhaust strategies are fairly robust, once they get going. But they are slow. Also, since you exhaust cards their is a psychological temptation to take “so-so” cards (because you can exhaust them) and your variance grows…

Status Synergy Evolve draws extra cards for Status, Fire Breathing does damage per status. and then you load up on Wild Strikes, take Mark of Pain, Reckless Charge, use Second Wind to get rid of them all to block. (Everyone like Immolate already, so that’s just a good pick, but this makes it better). This isn’t great and has the typical variance kills, because your deck might clog before you setup.

Block ScalingBlockade (or the Calipers) let you save block between turns. Feel No Pain can easily net you a metric ton of block. Entrench lets you double it. Headbutt lets you then put Entrench back on the top of the deck. Slay the Spire limits you to 999 block, but that’s good enough. (Body Slam does damage equal to your block, but is often not necessary if you can get to hundreds of block. Normally you need it when you have decent blocking that doesn’t carry over, then you use Body Slam/Juggernaut as extra, necessary, damage). You can also toss in Juggernaut to do damage each time you gained block, but again that is not necessary.

Take it then Dish It — Eat some damage setting up your strength scaling, then Reaper later end to recover your lost health. A Feed early in the run to meta-scale your Max HP helps, because you can’t recover from lethal damage. Duel Wield or Exhaust to play multiple Reapers (or just having multiples). This is the only type of deck you can really buy brimstone with, in my experience. Brimstone gives you and your enemies strength each turn. It took me many tries to beat the heart using Brimstone and this strategy, but it usually makes it fairly easy to get to the heart….

Of course, for any given archetype you may mix and match. If you have great block scaling, you don’t need anything. If you have great strength scaling you won’t need to block for long, etc.

The Silent

Silent adds Survivor and Neutralize to her basic deck and draws two extra cards on the first turn. She is much more into counter-punching than Ironclad. Weak isn’t great at the start, but gets better as the run goes on (as it knocks of 25% of the damage and that will grow. The Neutralize saves you ~30 damage against the heart if you’ve upgraded it and hit on T2, assuming you weren’t intangible). Silent has a number of reasonable zero cost cards (like Backstab for front-loaded damage), but still likely wants at least one early big hit card, like Predator, Riddle with Holes or Skewer, or Dash (which also does significant defense). Jorbs had a discussion where he points out that Dash is much better than two Iron Waves, because its density makes it more efficient). You also will need a heavy hitter card against Lagavulin, because many Silent 0 and 1 cost cards lose significant value with even a single strength loss.

The card that is now a near auto-grab is Blade Dance. 12 damage for 1 mana is already excellent (better than Ironclad common attacks!), but the list of relics that Shiv gets bonuses (or greatly improves) by itself is amazing — Kunai, Shuriken, Pen Nib, Nunchaku, Ink Bottle, Ornamental Fan, Dead Branch. (There are others, any strength bonus is great). There are a fights where the 4 tempo to play it are a penalty (Time Eater, the Heart) but by then you may have gotten an Accuracy (or some of those relics) and /or you may have a backup scaling and simply not play the Blade Dance during those fights. An additional use of Shivs is to draw them and then Calculated Gamble them away, trading a mediocre later draw to speed through your deck the first time.

Silent — having less damage than Ironclad — has to take more damage to beat the first boss and must also worry more about the Goblin Nob fight. Many of Silent’s better cards are skills, which trigger Nob’s rage. Poison scaling and defense will usually make the Guardian the easiest first boss (Silent is well placed to simply defend and not attack on any given turn), although doing enough damage to avoid the eating the first Fierce Bash may be a problem.

Silent also has decent card control with Well-Laid Plans to hold a card for the right moment. While Ironclad does have some touchy scaling (Limit Break wants to be last), the Nightmare card can scale whatever card you want, assuming you get them into the same hand.

Silent has the following Archetypes, and typically mixes one of the offensive types with one of the defensive types.

The Shiv Deck — As mentioned above. Finisher and Accuracy (and Phantasmal Killer to double damage) add punch. Ironically, Infinite Blades (a shiv a turn) isn’t a must add. I used to auto-grab it, but there are enough opponents who have thorns or punish tempo that now I consider it more carefully.

The Poison Deck — An early Poison Stab, Deadly Poison or Bouncing Flask can help against the first boss, because they are decent damage even if you only hit them every four turns or so. If you can hit them every three turns (or get out a Noxious Fume) you are scaling hopefully fast enough for Act I. Two decent poison cards are good scaling for Act II, and once you add in a Catalyst or two you can suddenly kill almost anything (if you draw them in the right order and survive). Typically the easiest wins for Silent are those with solid poison and defense to survive. Double Catalyst+ ends fights. (Catalyst is an acceptable naked draw, given the amount of poison commons and uncommons).

The Dex Deck –Stack a few Footworks (Feetwork?), and even plain old defends are large. Dodge and Roll provides block for multiple turns, Blur to carry over block. Cloak and Dagger for block + some small attack (and Shiv synergy). Escape Plan will hit more often than not (particularly if you remove strikes for Poison or Blade Dance) and is free. Even very slow scaling

The Intangible Deck –Any character can get Apparitions from the Council of Ghosts event in Act II, but with Wraith Form (and Nightmare) Silent can load up on Intangible Turns. Which is not to say that you need more. But a dozen+ turns of intangible are usually enough with even the most limited damage production. But Silent can (more so than other characters) use even the three turns that are more routine. Silent has discard for tossing unimproved Apparitions (which are Ethereal) to save them for a later turn. Silent has Burst to double the value of each Apparition, and Well Laid Plans to get the cards in the same hand. Nightmare copies cards (effectively quadrupling them!). Six intangible is usually enough defense against the Heart, although you’ll need block for the multi-attack turns and if you can’t avoid the Dexterity loss from Wraith Form that will be a problem (along with the beat of death).

The Shuffler — The deck uses Acrobatics, Prepared, Backflips, Tools of the Trade and Calculated Gambles to race the deck (discarding curses and trashes, but sometimes also Reflex and Tactician for extra cards/mana). The Shuffler shrinks the deck by skipping over the parts that don’t matter. After Image can provide solid block and free cards (Slice or Deflect) show great value. Sneaky Strike is free-ish once you get a Tools of the Trade in play. (And is a decent early pick before hand, to provide a decent punch to Nob or Lagavulin).

The Defect

Disclaimer — My win rate with defect is something like 30% of the other two classes. And its not that I’m dying late game. I just don’t have a handle on him.

Other classes have scaling. The Defect is scaling … sometimes. Defect wins fights by pressing the “End Turn” button after getting setup. Adding orb slots and focus (even just a bit of each, say one Capacitor+ and one Defragment+) then splitting slots between Lightning and Frost is 15 damage and 12 block a turn. More focus and slots provides full block every turn.

Defect suffers the problem of scaling — spending time setting up. Taking ~10 a fight getting setup wears you down over the act. I win much less with Defect than Ironclad or Silent, and looking up my notes, I see — “no healing,” “not enough fast defense,” “too aggressive in pathing,” and then there’s the “never saw enough scaling.”

Capacitor deserves mention as the only card that adds orb slots (Inserter — a homage to my beloved Factorio — and Runic Cylinder relics also provide them). If you see a Capacitor, its a near automatic take (even on floor 1). The runs you skip it and then never see it again will haunt you. Orb slots do have a downside if you want to play and evoke orbs quickly, but its fairly limited in application.

As with orb slots, “Too much focus” is a phrase rarely uttered. Consume is a reasonable early card (early Act I is the time when ‘less slots’ is usually a plus). Biased Cognition (with no way to remove the “lose one focus a turn”) is still a great card, and its existence makes Core Surge (one artifact charge, to hopefully counter the downside of Biased Cog) and Orange Pellets strong selections, even if you have no immediate use for the artifact. (Typically you skip the Biased Cog until you are setup and then the fight is over before the downside really kicks in. And if you you eventually get driven to zero focus, you probably were losing the fight earlier without it).

You don’t need orb slots, you can pump focus and that works (but that also takes card draws). Similarly, you don’t need focus if you have plenty of (full slots). But getting both has a multiplicative effect (there’s that “doubling” again!). But there are also some oddball plays, although rare. Hyperbeam is a powerful card that costs focus, and Plasma Orbs provide mana and aren’t affected by focus loss. (Even worried about Focus Loss, Hyperbeam and Biased Cog are still worth taking, as they end fights).

Apart from focus/slot scaling, Defect has still more. Loop triggers your first orb multiple times. A great pick because for one card and one mana you get double or triple value out of one orb for the rest of the fight. Echo Form doubles your first card play (the second one doubles your first two card plays). Creative AI is long fight scaling in a can, because the “one power a turn” you get will (eventually) give you other forms of scaling. Amplify doubles powers. Scaling, Scaling, Scaling.

Which can overwhelm the deck and then you die because of a lack of front loaded block. My last run was an early Runic Pyramid, Consume+, sustain with a Self-Repair (heal 7 at the end of combat), and access to Frost and Darkness orbs. Easy boss at Act I, grab a mana relic, and then boom, dead after the first 4 hallway fights when I drew no block against a 24 point attack on Turn 1. Boot Sequence blocks when you are most likely to need it, even though it slows the time to get to your good cards by a draw. As always, there’s a balance.

In reading the above, I suspect that my problem may be the following — I am too focused on the future and not on the next five floors, so I should focus on that and not scaling. And literally after I wrote that sentence, I won by getting — massive scaling. (I also got healing in an early Bird-Faced Urn (heal 2 HP per power) and a Creative AI (one power a turn), so once I set up my frost orbs and focus, I could fully heal). Even then it was touchy, because I decided (rightly or not) to lose half my maximum HP to take the apparitions, which made fights easy when they appeared early and near lethal when they didn’t. (I actually would have lost to Shield and Spear, but I had gotten the Lizard’s Tail, which saves you from dying once). So the lesson is — I don’t know. Sometimes you just get lucky.

The Defect Archetypes

The Thunderer — Lots of lightning orbs. Electrodynamics to handle multiple enemies. Static Discharge to add or cycle the orbs. A lot of my early (pre-ascension) victories used this, but as I increased the difficulty this was too fragile. (Thunder Strike as scaling isn’t really necessary, either, unless you have no focus). But I’ve found it more reliable to …

Mr. Freeze — … load up on Frost Orbs. Any archetype can suffer a bad hit on the first (few) turns, but frost orbs at least limit the damage to that time. You’ll need a way to damage your opponents, but with enough block, cycling through your front loaded damage may be fine (albeit slow), or you can have a single lightning (or darkness) orb.

The Cheapskate — Lots of free cards, some card draw and an All For One to grab the free cards back. Often you back into this with OK cards that help with the relics you’ve got (FTL with Shuriken, a Recycle to thin out a deck) and then get the offer. Hologram — already a reasonable pick to get back a Boot Sequence you don’t need on T1 or a Go for the Eyes for weakness — can be used to redo the All for One.

All The Powers — As mentioned above, Creative AI gets one power a turn. With Heatsinks, those get you cards. With Storm they get you lightning orbs (with Mummified Hand you get discounts). And the powers will get you more stuff. The obvious downside is Awakened One (who gets stronger with each power you play) but with some careful restraint you can setup and scale faster than she can, then wait for her to die before resuming. (And sometimes your combo just goes off, you play 20+ powers, don’t care that she scales, and wins).

The Multi-Darkness — Usually mixed with Frost orbs, you simply sit and wait for a darkness orb to get big, then dual- or multi-cast it (or even single cast).

I’m sure I’m forgetting stuff, but this is already nearly four-thousand words long.

Advice for Watcher — Take some overly powerful cards, do math, make sure you don’t get stuck in Wrath form on a turn you’ll die, win!

Next Time in Part III — The Many Deaths the Spire has to offer!

Written by taogaming

March 13, 2021 at 10:14 am

Too Many Words About Slay the Spire — Part I Introduction

This article covers my (evolving) thoughts about the Slay the Spire videogame. There are (much) better players than me (many can be found on r/slaythespire or on twitch). I’ve watched hundreds of hours of Jorbs (Youtube, Twitch) who is currently tied for the world championship at A20 heart kills. You could get better advice by watching him for a long time and osmosis. But that requires, you know, hundreds of hours. (While there are other good streamers playing, Jorbs’ entire vibe reminds me of my graduate school boardgaming club, so he’s my personal favorite).

I normally play at Ascension 15, because while I can win at Ascension 20 it’s an admittedly rare event and I like having a win rate in the double digits. (With my recent improvement I may up the level a bit). Also, I don’t normally play Watcher that much, which means that there may be some watcher-specific exceptions I don’t mention (and my watcher advice is less trustworthy). I play with the goal of “Killing the Heart.”

As always, I assume you are familiar with the basic mechanisms, rules, etc. Many of these examples will use numbers appropriate for Ascension 15 (enemies values vary based on Ascension Level).

Definitions and concepts

Deck — Often when I say deck, I mean “All your cards plus all your relics and the current potions.” Just assume the latter part.

Position — Deck plus current state (hit points, number on relics that count, etc). “Positioning” means trying to win the fight and also get all of your relics “set up” for the next fight.

Front-loaded damage — “How much damage can I do without setting up a particular combination?” There’s no exact measure of this, but a decent proxy is “How much damage could I do if I played all of my attack cards once?”. Also called “Fast” damage. Front-Loaded block is similar, but just for blocking. Improving your front loaded damage is generally first thing you want to do at the game. There is also front-loaded block.

Scaling damage — “How much damage can I do once I get my combos set up?” If you only have front loaded damage, when you go through your deck a second time, you can only double how much damage you’ve done. After Act I, this isn’t fast enough (typically) to kill the elites and bosses unless you have great scaling block, which lets you chip away slowly. Front loaded damage grows linearly. You do roughly X damage per unit time (turn or deck cycles). Scaling damage grows faster (sometimes only a little faster, sometimes much). The most obvious form of scaling for each character is Strength (Ironclad), Poison (Silent), Orb Slots/Focus (Defect). Typically to improve your scaling damage you are not playing some fast damage in order to setup your scaling.

Meta-scaling — Something that doesn’t scale in this fight, but makes your position better across multiple fights. Things like Feed (which improves Max HP if it strikes the killing blow).

Semi-scaling — A small one-time bump. Inflame (with +2 strength) is semi-scaling. It makes all of your attacks going forward bigger (which is nice) but it will never scale again. (Again, this is my own coinage, but I wanted to be able to differentiate between cards like Inflame and cards like Spot Weakness, which boosts strength and may do so multiple times.

All Out Attack (AOA) — An attack card that damages all enemies (useful for hallway fights that have multiple enemies, or elites that have minions). For some reason this appears to be called “AOE” often, but my blog, my acronym.

Variance — You could have a “good” draw (all the cards in the right order) or a “bad” one. You will hit some good and bad events, relics, etc. Consider the very first fight you might have versus a cultist as Ironclad. Basically, you need to do 50 damage and he attacks for 0,6,11,16, etc. If you get a good draw, you’ll bash+strike (17 damage on T1), 2x strike and defend (18 damage, take 1) on Turn 2, and then on T3, you can either hit for 18 (and kill) or defend x2, strike (6 damage, take 1) and then kill the next turn. You have ended the fight losing 1-2 damage. The worst possible opening is to draw all of your defends on T1, when they are useless. If you draw only strikes (not even your Bash! Its your bottom card) on T2 you do 18 damage and take 6. You will likely take 15+ damage for this fight.

“High-rolling” — “Getting lucky.” Jorb’s speak (and maybe twitch speak). When someone says “Maybe I just have to high-roll this next encounter” they mean “I need something good to happen, therefore I assume it will happen.” Usually this means hitting a good event, getting a good reward, having a great draw for a combat, etc. Bridge players should be familiar with this. Once your deck gets solid you worry about low-rolling (what if the one key card I need is the bottom card of my deck? what is the worst possible elite fight I can face)) Similar to a bridge “safety play.”

Density — If front loaded damage is “how much damage can I do once through the deck” density is that damage divided by number of cards. A “dense” deck is better because you are reducing variance, and on any given turn you will be more likely to be able to have the right cards for what you want to do.

Efficiency — How much damage can you do per mana spent on damage? (OR how much block do you get per mana spent blocking). Scaling damage is often very mana efficient, but slower than a comparable front-loaded card. If you drop a Noxious Fumes, your opponent will take triangular damage (1+2+3+4+…) with no further expenditure.

Conversion — On some turns you don’t get attacked, so you want to sink as much mana as possible into damage dealing (or setting up scaling, etc). Other turns you’ll want to block for as much as possible. If you have the wrong cards (due to variance) you may not be able to convert any mana to attack or defense. A basic deck (with only strikes and defends) will not be able to convert all three of its mana to attack every turn. If you had a card “2 Mana for 12 Damage” that is two strikes, but its denser and also means that (when you draw it) you are much more likely to be able to convert all your mana to damage that turn (and other turns).

Coordination — Some cards require being in your hand at the right time (or in the right order). I’ll call this “coordination.” (There appears to be no standard phrase for this). Watcher (who holds some cards) starts with a bit of coordination, but most decks don’t start with any.

(Density, Efficiency and Conversion are all related, but slightly different. I’m not sure my thoughts on these are clear, but I wanted to define them in case I use them).

Sustain –Another word for Healing. I’ll try to use Healing, but “sustain” appears to be a common phrase in the community.

Why Slay the Spire is addicting. Its not something you notice at first, but the enemies you face in the Spire challenge your deck in multiple ways. There aren’t nearly as many enemies as in (say) Nethack, but each Elite and Boss comes at you in a different way. (Even the later hallways fights). To take a concrete example from Act III — the Giant Head gives you a few turns of relative peace, then starts hitting hard every turn, starting at over 50% of your base health and ramping up from there. He (?) takes 520 points of damage to kill. You simply can’t defeat him without scaling (counting intangible as scaling block). AOA is no better than regular attack.

Compare to The Reptomancer. Her ~200 HP doesn’t need nearly as much scaling, but her minions are going to hit for significant, life ending damage on Turn 2. ~25 points of AOA by the end of Turn 2 are a god send. If not, you’ll need ~60 points of very fast damage or lots of block. The Nemesis is a coordination problem. Some turns damage is nigh-useless. (You can often beat it with scaling block but if your deck is well coordinated, the Nemesis is easy).

Some deck builds plow through one and die to the other. A good deck can reasonably handle either (and some bad luck, as well). Jorbs (in one of his videos I can’t remember) called these various ways the game challenges the deck “orthogonal.” You don’t just need “more” of one strategy to beat both of them. You need different combinations.

General Guidelines

A good deal of getting better at Slay the Spire is just knowing the game. If you know all the possible enemies (and their attack patterns), rewards, events, then you will do much better. Most of really high level play is thinking “well, what is coming up that I am weak against?” and “what events might I see, and do I want them or hallway fights?”

Take as many elite fights as you think you can. They provide relics (and improved card rewards). Also, hallway fights get harder as you go further in the act, but Elites don’t. They are also more predictable (fewer options you can face and they are generally more scripted than hallway fights).

Hit Points are insurance against bad variance. But like any insurance there are good and bad deals. If you have a rest then a boss, being able to model the fight in your head tells you whether you need to rest. What you have (etc) tells roughly how the fight will go. If you are 99% likely to win the fight, then resting is a waste if you could have upgraded (or grabbed the key). If you are only 10% likely to win the fight (but 60% with more HP), resting is great.

Floors are a finite resource. Don’t waste them. Ideally, every floor makes you stronger:

  • Hallway fights offer card rewards. Don’t automatically take them, but you’ll need to see a good number of cards to get offered those that improve your deck. Hallway fights also offer potions (sometimes). Especially in the first three floors of an Act, the hallway fights are “easier.” (But each Act ramps up the difficulty).
  • Elites provide a relic as well as the same rewards a hallway fight can. (And the card rewards are more likely rare cards). But they are difficult. Particularly in Act I an Elite will average 30+ damage against a deck with just a starting relic and a card or two.
  • Campfires let you heal or upgrade a card. In a perfect world, you’ll not need to heal and will upgrade a great card. But often you need to heal either to survive or to take an extra elite fight.
  • Shops let you buy better stuff and/or remove a card from your deck. If you’ve played Dominion (or any deckbuilder) you’ll know that removing a starting card is incredibly powerful, improving density and reducing variance.
  • Treasures (chests) provide relics.
  • The end of act boss will give you a rare card and a boss relic (although not at Act III).
  • Note that to get to the heart you must sacrifice one chest, one campfire and take a ‘super’ elite (who will get either metalicize, strength or regeneration).

Focus on the near term. Can you handle all the potential next elite fights (or most dangerous next elite?) Make your deck ‘good enough’ to deal with it, then turn your gaze to the next problem (the boss, etc).

Good Enough is good enough. Sometimes a weakness can be fixed with a single card, maybe two. Turning a “Good enough” into a strength often weakens other aspects. Adding a scaling card means you’ll draw one less card of some other category that turn. There are lots of areas you’ll need to improve –front loaded damage, front loaded block, all out attack, scaling damage, scaling block, healing, card draw, and mana to pay for all your new cards (Few decks need all, almost no deck needs all equally). Sometimes what’s “good enough” in one Act needs to be buffed again in further acts.

If you have a weakness, the right potion gives you more time to find a card/relic that fixes it. Before I would use potions whenever they seemed to apply, but now … if a potion fixes a key weakness, I hold it until I’m desperate fight or the end of act boss. If the potion is a strength I already have, I’m willing to let it go depending on how much health it saves me and how likely I am to get another potion soon, especially if I am already full.

Skipping cards is not a bad option! Adding a card necessarily increases variance. Take a deck with a nice balance of front-loaded damage, block, scaling damage & block, healing, card draw, etc, and then double it. Still the same balance, but the variance goes way up. (Any Race for the Galaxy Fans will remember the number of explore powers grows in each expansion in the first arc, to help compensate for the increased variance). Card removal is also very good.

Be flexible! I mention archetypes below but when a reward happens, examine what you have and see if there are good/bad interactions. You can’t force the game to give you what you want, so you’ll have to make do. (This is also the “good enough” mantra).

If you are losing, take risks! Hope to high roll, etc. If you are winning, then solidify your position, consider defending against low-rolling, etc.

Of course much of the above advice depends on being able to evaluate your position. Slay the Spire strategy is an evaluation problem. Being able to model (in an intuitive way) the likely outcomes of a deck versus a specific elite fight (average HP loss, variance, etc) is hard. Better players do this much better, and that is hard to teach. You’ll learn by being wildly over- and under-optimistic. This guide can’t really help with that. Only experience can.

The (Basic) Plan

No Plan survives contact with The Spire. Good cards can be bad in the right situation. Vice versa. There are no hard and fast 100% rules. But there are guidelines. Here’s the basic flowchart, focusing on the early game.

  1. You need more front loaded damage. That’s your first weakness to fix. Even early hallway opponents take 50 damage or so to kill. Act I Elite fights take 90+ damage to kill and will deal real damage. Your starting deck does ~18/turn (if you don’t defend and draw smooth). Not enough. In particular, you need a plan to deal with Gremlin Nob who scales his damage for every skill you play (punishing defensive cards). A potion can be a big part of this, particularly if you need to hit an elite on floor 6.
  2. You’ll want some all out attack, particularly before Act II (where two of the elites and many of the hall way fights have multiple targets). But good AOA should be grabbed as early as it shows up, because its also front-loaded damage and the Sentinels elite fight is possible on Act I.
  3. Don’t just grab every single damage card you see. You want efficient cards. If you take five “slightly better strikes” then your deck will bloat and you’ll need to take more cards to block and scale just to be equal. Your variance will shoot through the roof during Act II, and you will die, and your parents will mourn you.
  4. Campfires — Upgrade key cards as possible. Rest if you are likely to die before the next campfire.
  5. Once you have a steady enough source of damage, start improving defense. Ideally this is after Nob. You can start in the middle of Act I, because the early hallway fights in Act II can hit for 20 points on the first turn. Its common to have enough damage to take out the first Boss, get a mediocre card and relic, and then get slammed right away in the first few floors of Act II and be on the ropes heading into your elite fight — a downward spiral that requires a high-roll or you die.
  6. As soon as you can, start removing cards (unless there are better options of course). As I mentioned in a comment on an earlier thread, when I win it seems like I have (on average) removed at least half of the starting strikes and defends from my deck. This reduces variance and improves density (etc).
  7. You need to be able to deal with the first Boss. Obviously which boss you face will determine how much front loaded damage versus block and scaling.
  8. By the end of Act I you should have a vague idea of what your decks strengths and weakness are, and an idea as to which relics/cards/etc “fill in the gaps.” (Your Boss Relic and Rare Card will further define your deck). By the end of Act II you’ll need almost certainly need scaling (either scaling damage or block) to deal with the Boss (and later enemies). Your deck may have an archetype … you shouldn’t force it into those, but as in Chess (or any game), if you recognize a position you will probably play it better. There are plenty of “weird” wins, but — at least for me personally — being able to say “My deck is an X type” lets me easily make the jump to “And when I’ve played X types before, I need to do A/B/C to win”.
  9. In Act II you must pick up scaling (if you don’t already have it, or have some insane front-loaded damage) and generally improve for the Act II Boss. But other weaknesses will become apparent and must be address. (Defect often needs healing by Act II).
  10. By this point you have probably added enough cards that you’ll need some card draw and/or searching to get to key power(s) or any lynch-pin cards you have. Again, you don’t want to overdo it, like the Dominion Village Idiot (the deck that adds a bunch of cantrip card draws, but has nothing really important to do with any of the cards drawn). In Act I you often play your deck a few times (especially in Elite fights) but now in Act II the second time through your deck isn’t nearly as important as the first time. You might get lucky and get all your setup cards on Turn 1, but if you low roll then being able to cycle through the deck the first time is very important.
  11. Act III is more of the same — now hallway fights can hit for 40 and the Elites are tougher, but you should have powered up to compensate. Scaling block (and being able to draw and play more cards than you could in earlier acts) really come into play.
  12. As you have more combos and items, specific circumstances likely dominate general advice. But you fix weaknesses, try to push strengths. Even by the beginning of Act II you’ll (hopefully) have relic combos, so now you are trying to find things that really work well with multiple cards (or across multiple aspects of your deck). The Elites/Boss can still kill you, but now is also the time to figure out how you are going to deal with Act IV (The Shield and Spear and the Heart). If you are doing well you may have “locked in” your potions for the heart fight. If not, you’ll have to use them to survive.
  13. Also in Act III you’ll need to pick up any keys you’ve missed.
  14. Finally, beat the Act III boss, then go onto Act IV. Last chance store for that key missing item or potion.


Here’s an great act one path. Three easy hallway fights (to get damage and a potion), an event or two, a campfire to upgrade (or rest), an elite fight, an event, the chest, a rest, an elite fight, a rest, an elite fight, a store (to spend all that money) a rest and then a boss. I’m always looking for campfires and elites, and sometimes stores.

Upgrades are your friend. Need front loaded damage? Upgrade a damage card. Need block? Upgrade a block card. Your variance is never hurt. And by the late part of the act, Elites are often better than hallway fights. Late Act hallway fights may hit for more than elites. They get tougher as the act goes on (and you see more of them). A floor 6 Nob and a Floor 14 Nob hit for the same. A floor 14 hallway fight is more dangerous than a floor 6 hallway fight (and before you hit it, you are less likely to guess what will be there). And of course you want the Elite rewards.

So I simply look for the most campfires and elites. The hard questions are: should I take the super-elite now? Is your deck ready for it? I try to take the super elite as soon as my deck feels like ahead of average, because leaving the super elite for Act III forces you on pathing that may be terrible. Question marks are more random and could still be fights, but could also be a chest or event or store. Events are generally slightly better for you than not (“Spin the Wheel” is 66% good, 33% bad, strictly by outcomes. That’s typical), but can be bad. Hallway fights are more consistent. A lot of whether you want a late hallway fight is “Is your deck ready for the boss?” If not, a hallway fight is a necessary risk to get a good card reward and/or potion. The “Fight vs Question Mark” is definitely an area where knowing all the possible outcomes (and technical details like which events can show up where) and a good evaluation function help.

Coming In Part II, discussion of the main characters, typical deck strategies, and another few thousand words!

Written by taogaming

March 6, 2021 at 3:01 pm

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

Too Many Words about Shards of Infinity

This article covers my evolving thoughts about Shards of Infinity. No doubt there are better players, but they appear to not be writing, so it falls to me.


  1. I have only played two player, and only with the TaoLing. Group think is possible.
  2. This strategy applies primarily tor duels. I suppose for 3 player I’d play the variant where you damage all opponents (to prevent kingmaking) and with four player you could do teams. I have no specific insight into those games.


  • Early Game — Until someone has approximately 10 Mastery.
  • Mastery Victory — Winning by doing infinite damage (requires thirty master).
  • The Offering — The cards available to buy.
  • Recover — Put a card from discard into play
  • Unify — An ability that only triggers if you’ve already played another card from the same faction (or can reveal one from your hand). I sometimes refer to this a double-teaming or doubling up.
  • Dominion — A power that can only trigger if you’ve already played (or can reveal) at least one green, brown and purple card. (Only Blue cards have Dominion powers).
  • One-shot — to buy a mercenary for a single immediate use instead of putting it into your deck. (Also “Burned”)
  • Cantrips — Cards that draw a replacement card after playing.
  • The Bonus — A cards secondary ability that only triggers at a certain mastery level.

Healing vs Damage, and the ‘tone’ of the early game

As we’ve gotten better, the game ends earlier. Fewer mastery victories, many more victories when both players were around 10-15 mastery. Initially I felt guided by the Star Realm inspired “Wheel of Dominance,” (healing beats damage, damage beats deck thinning, thinning beats healing), but Shards modifies this in subtle ways.

Healing and Mastery gain beats damage in the long run … negate your opponents attacks and win the race to 30 mastery, then you’ll win. But ….

There’s more damage available than healing. You start with 3 damage per deck cycle, and no healing. Most Wraethe (Purple) cards damage, none heal. Some Homo Deus (Brown) champions damage, none heal. Order (Blue) cards neither damage nor heal. Only Undergrowth (Green) provides healing, but also a fair amount of damage + heal.

Star Realm’s “Wheel” is an unbalanced tire. You do have ‘indirect’ healing. Shields (which Order does provide) block damage, unless you draw them at the wrong time.

Champions also absorb damage, getting killed. (Usually this is the attacker’s choice). There’s a mild negative synergy between them. Shields + Champions can work, but I can track a few shield cards (or the recover a Champion cards) and decide where to assign damage accordingly. (Although sometimes its just a guess).  But the cost is mild. Mostly I try to buy good cards, and ignore the implications.

Given two types of “pseudo-healing” cards you might say healing balances damage, but I just don’t believe it. We’re now quite keen on buying a Nil Assassin (a two cost, five damage Wraethe Mercenary). On the first two turns, that means your deck is now doing 8 damage/cycle and cycling every 2-3 turns. If you just stopped buying cards (and used your money for one-shotting mercenaries), you’d kill your opponent around T13-15. Assuming you didn’t get a second damage card.

Obviously your opponent will try to stop you (or damage faster) but this means that if you see lots of damage on the opening board, you’ll be hard pressed to get to thirty mastery.

If the initial offering shows healing and mastery and banish (and no damage), then you are likely to see a Mastery Victory.

If your opponent ignores damage for healing, try to buy mastery gaining cards (and healing) and only get enough damage to smoke enemy champions. But in general, kill kill!

Some cards swing both ways  (Healing yourself and damaging your opponent). If you are both in the 30-40 range then healing 3 and damage 3 is better than just damaging 4 or 5, and roughly equivalent to damaging six. There are breakpoints, of course. In the very early game healing can be wasted.


Apart from mastery victory, bumping up in mastery has a nice bonus in that there a good number of bonuses you can earn. In particular, a fifth point earns another $1 each time through the deck. At ten points there are a fair number of cards that trigger bonus effects. Cards that trigger at higher levels have increasingly good bonuses, such that for many decks getting to 20 mastery is practically as good as 30.

But Mastery isn’t actually required to win. (In particular if your opponent opens with Venator of the Wastes (the only card that “drains” mastery) you can just ignore mastery and try for a fast win. (This happened in my last game. I won with 3 mastery, only because of turns where I had nothing else to do with my spare $1, so I’d buy it every now and then in case I could get to 5 Mastery to earn the extra $ for the Shard Reactor). If you are sure you won’t get to 30 Mastery, it could even be right to banish your Infinity Shard (for a more damaging card, of course).

Take advantage of the free form turn order

One fun aspect of the game is that the turn order is free form. You can sometimes gain a small advantage by buying a card before playing actions (to get it in before the reshuffle, or use a recovery card on it, or to trigger a Unify or Dominion power). Don’t just blindly follow the ABC’s of Dominion. The ability to buy cards before actions means that cards that recover are quite reasonable purchases (if they have OK other powers) even if you don’t currently have any cards worth recovering. On the next time through the deck maybe there will be a card you can buy.

One Shots

The tension of one-shotting is between a single benefit right now and getting that card in your deck forever. Sometimes its obvious because its a break point — you need two mastery now (to trigger a bonus) or a few extra points of damage to nuke an enemy champion or just a bit more life to survive until you draw your shard.

But often there’s no tension because you really don’t want that card in your deck. If your opponent has bought heavy damage to win before your Healing +Mastery Victory, adding damage to your deck is counter productive. It slows down your healing and mastery cards. You want some damage (maybe to kill a champion) and you’d like to deny it to your opponent, so you one-shot it. But you’d buy healing cards.

Similarly, your opponent may one-shot healing cards (to deny you and get a bump without slowing down his faster pussycat strategy).

Deck Size

There’s not much banishing (trashing, etc) in Shards, but plenty of pseudo-banish. Over ten percent of the cards are cantrips, and a quarter to a third are mercenaries (which can be one-shot). You can  power for a mastery (once per turn). Which means that decks can grow slower. Unlike Dominion’s Chapel, most banish cards trash only a single card (in hand or discard pile), but its reasonable (particularly with some offerings) to decline a purchase, because:

  1. It slows your deck down
  2. You risk revealing a great card you can’t afford. Many strong cards cost $3 and if you buy a mediocre card the next player may win the jackpot. (This is my problem with Ascension style games in general, and it bothers me a little in Shards. Since Shards plays much faster, I just label it as ‘strategy’ and move on).
  3. You don’t want to dilute your purchasing power.


Cantrips are almost always worth getting. They don’t take up hand size (since they draw a card afterwards), so they don’t dilute your deck. They make it easier to Unify and reach Dominion. If you always bought available cantrips, you wouldn’t be going far wrong. But there is a downside: Shields. Shields you draw in the middle of your turn are worthless. (However, since most shield cards have another effect or are themselves cantrips, its not a huge loss). If you purchase many shields, its possible that a mining crystal (etc) will hurt your overall chances and cost you 8 points of shield each time through the deck.

But that’s a rare thing. In general, buy them.

Purchasing Power

Your starting cards are the 7 Crystals ($1), The Shard Reactor ($2, increasing to $3/$4 at 5/15 Mastery), the Blaster (1 damage) and the Infinity Shard (2/3/5/∞ damage at 0/10/20/30 Mastery). This means that you have $9 at the start, split 5/4 or 6/3. You’ll probably want to get a little bit more money. If you just buy 4 damage/healing cards (not cantrips) your deck quickly drops from $4.5/turn to  $3.2/ Cards cost 1-7, with a big ‘bulge’ of three cost cards (just under 1/3rd of the cards cost 3). Average $4 a turn, you can get a three cost card and a mastery. With $3, it’s either/or.

Every non-money card cantrip lowers you density. You’ll naturally have variance … the Shard Reactor will be worth $3 pretty fast. And a $1 turn is just a mastery (or one of the rare $1 cards).

It’s possible to go full damage and banish out all your money (possibly keeping the shard reactor) and hope to win by KO. Once your deck falls under the $3 average, that’s not a horrible idea (assuming your opponent isn’t out healing you). Big Money can also work. The $7 cards are a mixed bag, but $7 is also two $3 card plus a mastery.

Unify & Dominion

Technically only the Undergrowth has Unify (as a power that triggers if you’ve played or can reveal an undergrowth card), but the Wraethe and Homo Deus also have some bonuses for other cards.  But the Wraethe/Homo Deus bonuses turn out to be pretty spotty. And the Undergrowth not only has many more Unify cards, but a large percentage of Cantrips. Its much easier to get 2+ undergrowth cards when your hand size is effectively 6 instead of 5. As a practical matter this means that a “mono-green” deck (as much as you are able to purchase) can roughly go up against a mono-purple. Purple has more damage but Green has a high swing.

The Order’s Dominion strategy doesn’t require as much as you might expect. You can easily get a few green cantrips (never bad cards) and pick up some purple for damage and/or banish. a Korvus Legionnaire is Homo Deus card and can recover a champion (which may or may not be H.D.). So you can naturally have a deck with 2-3 good cards of each faction and then possibly get Dominion bonus.

Now — it does require effectively 4 cards (assuming your Dominion card is not a champion), so its going to be tough to do, even with a cantrip or recovery. To really trigger a Dominion effect you are likely going to need to get about 7 cards. That’s not a huge barrier (given cantrips), but its not something to really expect. But, typically you get 2-5 mastery for Dominion, so if you can setup a deck that can reliably hit that (maybe once per cycle) it will speed you towards a mastery victory. But in general I evaluate cards assuming that I won’t earn dominion often. It’s a fluke-y bonus in most decks.

Champions, damage breakpoints, and who to damage

Champions have a lot going for them. If they never die, then they don’t count against your deck size, and they increase your effective hand size (except that previously played champions don’t count for Unify &/or Dominion). All of which means ….

You need to produce enough damage to kill a champion or two every now and then. Three damage is enough to get rid of nuisance champions, but that means getting a bit lucky with your starting cards, so reasonably you’ll want at least one more damage card.

Letting champions live gives your opponent a long term advantage.  Whether to damage your opponents champions or just go for the kill depends on your long term strategy (healing+mastery kills champions). Also consider if your opponent can recover champions, how soon it will be towards the reshuffle, and how many shield cards your opponent has (that you haven’t seen). Sometimes its totally a crapshoot — kill the champion and you’ll find your opponent sitting on his recovery. Don’t kill it? That’s the turn he had a big shield. It’s a card game, but you can play the odds.

Champions defense number is a psuedo-swing value (like a shield that will usually work). Damage they eat is damage you don’t. BUT … if you also have shields then that somewhat cancels out. This is definitely an area that’s fuzzy.

Card by Card

Format: Name ($Cost, #in deck, Ally or Champion (defense)  or Mercenary, which is a one-shottable of ally)  [Effect. #M is a bonus that triggers at a mastery level] — Commentary

The Wraethe

Almost every wraethe card packs a punch, and they also have a monopoly on banishing effects, with a splash of mastery gain.

Wraethe Skirmisher ($1, 3x, Ally)  [Gain 2 damage, or 6 if there is a Wraethe in your discard pile.] — Two damage isn’t great but six is good. This card can often take advantage of turn order to buy a Wraethe card, then hit for six. Will be good in a focused Wraethe deck, obviously, but often a decent finisher card. Buy it, and then buy another wraethe when you use it. If these come up together, purchasing two (or all three) is brutal.

Nil Assassin ($2, 3x, Ally) [5 damage]. — Often burned as a one-shot, but a solid addition to any deck. This is 10% of a KO!

Shadow Apostle ($3, 3x, Ally) [2 damage and banish a card]. — A solid addition to any deck, assuming its early game. Banish and a spot of damage to help with champion-control.

Shadebound Sentry ($3, 2x, Ally) [3 damage and recover a mercenary]. — As mentioned in Recovery, buying this card on T1/T2 is fine, even if there aren’t any mercenaries. Often on a later turn you can buy a good mercenary, then play the Sentry to recover it. There are some great mercenaries in the deck, the ability to use them twice per deck cycle (if a bit lucky) is nice. If you have a really heavy card-throughput deck this won’t be useful (since you don’t discard played cards until the end of the turn) but overall this is usually worth buying.

Umbral Scourage ($3, 3x, Ally) [+1 Mastery and banish a card]. — Did I mention that the 3 cost cards are good? Assuming you don’t suffer an early KO, this will do wonders for your deck, but you’ll have to survive to mid-game.

Li Hin, The Shattered ($3, 1x, Champion(1*))  [Tap for 1 Damage, Li Hin can’t be attacked with damage]. — While not really a cantrip, he effectively doesn’t take much deck space since he’s nigh invulnerable. So you’ll only need to pay him once. Yes, only one damage, but over the course of the game it adds up. And if you get any cards that combo with a champion in play (like a Kiln Drone) it will always trigger.

Aetherbreaker ($4, 2x, Merc)  [4 Damage, 10M: 4 additional]. — Lots of cheaper cards are better (more damage or banish effects), but once you get out of the early game 8 damage is significant.

Fao Cu’tul, The Formless ($4, 1x, Champion (4)) [Tap for 2 Damage, 20M: Double all damage]. — In many decks, Fao makes it possible to KO even a high health opponent at 20 mastery. It’s relatively simple to get 10-15 damage, then double it, which is often a finishing move (or enough damage to get close). (In particular, if your opponent is going heavy healing and mastery, you may be able to drop one or two other damaging champions and have them survive a turn). Two damage a turn isn’t bad, but if its early he’s a six-swing play (assuming your opponent won’t want you pinging him for 2 a turn), so reasonable. And as the game goes on …

Scion of Nothingness ($5, 2x, Merc) [3 Damage + 2 for each Wraethe in your discard pile] — Very underwhelming, even in a focused deck. After a reshuffle this is worse than a Nil Assassin. Often one-shotted at the right time (or to deny an opponent in a big-purple deck).

Zara Ra, Soulflayer ($5, 1x, Merc) [4 damage and 1 mastery, 10M: Banish two cards] — A great card, solid damage, mastery gain and the ability to banish two cards will kick in pretty fast. This hits pretty much everything in the wheel of dominance except healing, so it works in most strategies. Even if you aren’t going pure beatdown, you’ll need some damage to clear out champions.

Zen Chi Set, Godkiller ($7, 1x, Champion(5)) [Tap for 3 damage and recover a Wraethe card] — Expensive but good. Eight swing, and if he stays alive you can recover a card every non-reshuffle turn (and even then you may be able to buy, recover).

The Undergrowth

The Undergrowth have the most unify powers. Sure, some of the Wraethe cards give bonuses for having a wraethe in a discard pile, or recover them, but the undergrowth and chock-a-block with it. They are also helped because they have a fair number of cantrips, which means a mostly-green deck can often play 3-4 greens in a turn. While they don’t have as much damage as the Wraethe, they do have a fair chunk of healing, so are a decent match for an all purple deck. They have good swing,

Undergrowth Aspirant ($1, 3x, Ally) [Heal 3, Unify for 5 damage] — Seriously good for a single dollar. Heal 3 isn’t great, but that stops the starting damage of your opponent once through, but if you unify you also do five points. Not to say this is a great card, but since so many undergrowth cards have unify, this is often worth picking up just to trigger their unify ability …. which means its also an eight point swing for this! Compare it to….

Spore Cleric ($2, 3x, Merc) [Heal 4] — For one more point of healing you lose the possibility of five points of damage. This is often one-shotted. (Sometimes just to trigger a unify/dominion card, with the healing incidental)

Le’shai Knight ($3, 3x, Ally) [3 Damage, Unify for +3 damage] — A solid damage card, but again the Aspirant is any 8 points swing if unified, and this is only 6. Again, often one-shotted.

Thorn Zealot  ($3, 2x, Ally) [3 Shield, Draw a card, unify to destroy an enemy champion] — Three shield is solid, not as good as three healing. This is a decent enough card to get just for the shield, since it’s a cantrip. It effectively means you get an extra chance for the unify power to trigger (for this or another undergrowth). Destroying a champion is a nice unify power.  Which means that even if its very early and the opponent has no champions, its not bad, and it can be monstrously good in a mostly undergrowth deck.

Fungal Hermit ($3, 2x, Merc) [+1 Master, 10M: Heal 5] — If you can survive the early game (and a heavy-green deck has a bit of healing) this can help power you towards a mastery victory.

Shardwood Guardian ($4, 3x, Ally) [2 Damage, draw a card, unify to heal 6] — “Sherwood Forest” is a cantrip for damage, but a swing of 8 (assuming you unify). Great card.

Ojas, Genesis Druid ($4, 1x, Ally) [Copy a non-champion card, 20M: Copy it again] — This can get gross. There are plenty of great cards, and this can be a game breaker. But in a non-banish deck we’ve seen it forced to copy Crystals. A very swingy card but if you have any banish this will likely be great, even before you get to 20 mastery.

Ghostwillow Avenger ($4, 1x, Merc) [4 Damage, 15M: Destroy all enemy champions] — Situational, obviously. A player with lots of champions will likely burn it (if possible).

Additri, Gaiamancer ($5, 1x, Champion(5)) [Tap for 2 Damage + 2 for each other Undergrowth ally played this turn] — Decent. He can have some big turns, which means he’ll get killed fairly often. Since 7 of the 22 undergrowth cards are cantrips, he gets into double digits from time to time. Also, the only undergrowth champion, so if you are looking to go Dominion, snap this up (along with Korvus Legoinnaire) even though he’s low damage.

Furrowing Elemental  ($5, 2x, Ally) [Heal 4, Draw a card, and if you are at 50 life gain six damage] — Basically a 4 healing cantrip. It’s rare that the damage kicks in. This card can be gross if you get it first turn, since you may draw it before an opponent is capable of doing four damage. Unless your opponent has forgone damage, a four healing cantrip. It’s always better than not buying it (actually, that’s not true if you have shields, but usually) but there are often better cards to buy (and gain a mastery with your leftover money).

Root of the Forest, ($7, 1x, Merc) [Heal 10, Unify for 10 damage] — Look, a twenty point swing is big and even if you don’t unify, heal ten! Also, this is one of the reasons that the Shadebound Sentry speculative opening is good.

Homo Deus

Most factions have a champion or three. Homo Deus has nine. For reference, there are 88 cards in the deck, 22 of each faction. They are also the “big money” faction, with over half their cards (12/22) providing money. They have no unify powers, but they do have a few champions that get more valuable with other Homo Deus champions in play.

Kiln Drone ($1, 3x, Ally) [$2, or $4 if you have a champion in play] — $4 is big. With that one card its easy to luck into a $7 card (if one is available) or a solid card + a mastery. If you have a few champions (or Li Hin, or Korvus Legionnaire) you’ll often get the full value for this. But $2 isn’t bad, and this is a $1 card.

Mining Drones ($2, 3x, Ally) [$1 and draw a card] — A cantrip crystal, see above.

Primus Pilus ($2, 1x, Champion(6)) [Tap to draw 2 cards if you have 3+ Homo Deus champions on play] — When he’s big he’s great, but there are only nine H.D. Champions. Often this is just a dead card. But if your opponent has many H.D. champions, you may have to buy this and then hope to banish it.

Korvus Legionnaire ($3, 3x, Ally) [2 Shield, 2 Damage, Recover a champion] — Like Shadebound Sentry, worth getting early because it may let you recover a champion later on. Even if you don’t, two damage and two shield is OK (not great). A swing of four if you didn’t have any other shields. If you happen to get a Wraethe/Undergrowth champion, this card is 2/3rds of the way to Dominion by itself! When your opponent has Legionnaire you should (as a general rule) stop trying to kill champions and just focus on killing them. There’s nothing more annoying than doing 8 damage, using five of it to kill their champion, and then see them flash this to shield two of the remaining three and then return the champion into play. Far better to have just pounded them for six. The Legionnaire is enough of a game changer to make it a decent speculative purchase….

Reactor Drone ($3, 3x, Ally) [$3] — Basically your big money strategy. More stable than a Kiln Drone.

Numeri Drones ($3, 2x, Champion (5)) [Tap for $1 and put the next Homodeus Champion you buy into play] — These are … interesting. They are crystals ($1) …. but they stick around. If your opponent kills them they’ve basically shielded you five damage. And if not, then you get the money multiple turns. The putting a Homodeus champion into play … well, 10% of the deck is H.D. Champions. If your opponent is trying heal/mastery these guys can be amazing, which is why you always want to have at least a little damage.

Venator of the Wastes ($4, 1x, Merc) [4 Damage and your opponent loses 2 mastery if you have a champion in play] — The only card that can reduce mastery in the game. Often this isn’t about the final race, but keeping someone below 10 or 15 for an extra turn, and four damage is a big enough burst to be worthwhile in most cases. Expect this to go pretty fast, or get burned. Ironically if you buy this early your opponent can often recover by just going for a fast beat down and ignoring mastery. A very swingy card who can change the game by appearing at the right/wrong time.

Evokatus ($4, 2x, Champion (2)) [Draw a card when you play this, Tap for 1 Damage per H.D. champion] — He’s fragile, sure, and he doesn’t do much damage or take much to kill. But he’s a cantrip so who cares if he dies? Absolutely don’t target this guy if your opponent has a Korvus Legionnaire….

Optio Crusher ($5, 2x, Champion (4)) [3 Damage, 10M: +2 Damage] — A solid brawler. Usually he’ll eat a Wraethe card for you, so this effectively makes him a seven point swing, nine once you are 10M.  But if you get a lucky turn or two where your opponent only does a few points of damage, he adds up.  And 10 mastery can happen pretty fast. Again, a Korvus helps you out. Your opponent will anguish over killing this or eating 5/turn.

Drakonarius ($6, 1x, Champion (2)) [Tap for 6 damage, cannot be attacked if you have General Decurion in play] — Uh, OK. Six damage is nice, but this guy is a creampuff. (On the other hand, eight swing). Sure if you get another single card in play he’s immune, but that is specific. If you already have Decurion, then he’s an easy purchase (or if you have a Numeri Drone, sure.)

General Decurion ($7, 1x, Champion (7)) [Tap for $3, 20M: Copy the effects of all Homodeus Allies you play or have played this turn] — Look, this guy is $3 that will often attract 7 damage right away. If you get to 20 mastery and can then copy a few Drones for extra money, cards great! The rule for all the $7 cards is “If you can get them, its probably not a bad idea” but this guy is glorified reactor drone. But still, you may get multiple turns, he has synergy with cards, etc. He’s good.

The Order

Look, there’s a reason the Order cards are blue. They are Dominion cards. Metagaming effects. Mastery. They aren’t damage or healing. I keep seeing that they are ‘broken’ but you can load up on too many of them and lose easily enough.

Order Initiate ($2, 3x, Ally) [Gain $2 and 2 mastery if you’ve made Dominion] — These can be great, if you started early banish you’ll want to get these to replace some crystals at extra money. Grab a few cantrips from undergrowth and dominion isn’t that hard. But you have to have it when you play them, which means you can’t use their $2 to one-shot the last thing you need. If you aren’t really threatening Dominion, you’d prefer kiln drones for the shot at $2 extra or the Mining Drones. I do buy these if I have banish effects, because a) I’ll be banishing crystals and need the money b) my deck will be much closer to dominion-density.

Cache Warden ($2, 2x, Merc) [Gain 1 Mastery, 10M: Draw a card] — These get snapped up (or burned, if its early or the buyer is desperate right now) right away. Cantrips starting in the mid game, so good if its a low-damage start. A trap in a high-damage game.

Giga, Source Adept ($2, 1x, Champion (4))  [Draw a card when you play this, Tap for 3 mastery, but you must have dominion to use it.] — (aka “Gigasaurus”) A two cost cantrip that may get you 3 mastery? His only downside is to make your shields slightly worse. This card feels undercosted, and I can see why people complain about the Order. But there’s the opportunity cost of buying him. If you get this and your opponent gets an Umbral Scourge (for example) by the time you are threatening to score a dominion he’s banished 2-3 cards and gotten that much mastery. But if the offering is weak and there’s no opportunity cost, snap him up.

Shard Abstractor ($3, 3x, Mercenary) [+2 Mastery] — This is burned surprisingly often. 2 Mastery is fine, but you won’t get it until your next time through the deck, and banishes or cantrips are fighting for position. But this is a solid opening card, aiming not necessarily for a mastery victory, because even 10M gives you lots of options for cards.

Data Heretic ($3, 3x, Mercenary) [Draw two cards] — A thread on BGG calls this the best card in the game. That may be an overbid, but not a gross one. A six card hand makes unify and mastery easier. It makes a big money turn easier to snatch up a great card. It helps your damage get towards a breakpoint. One standard deck archetype is the small deck that cycle most every turn. Of course it can be wrong to buy it if the game is close to the endgame when you might want to boost your mastery that final oomph or burn that last damage, but as an opener or mid-game card? Great.

Systema A.I. ($3, 1x, Champion (4)) [Tap for 1 Mastery, 20M: Draw two cards] — Certainly great if are at 20+M. Early on. Well, this is basically a half shard abstractor that will soak some damage. Fine. (And yet another reason why Korvus is a great speculative card).

Portal Monk ($3, 2x, Ally) [Recruit a card of cost 1-6 for free, 15M: Put it into hand instead of your discard pile.] — Another card that I see in ‘best card’ lists … but I’m not sure. Deck bloat is a real game killer. Even if you already have 15M, there are times when you just wont want to put a card into your hand. (i.e. The offering doesn’t have a cantrip or anything you like). In those cases, your hand size is negative one. And early on the opportunity cost of getting this, waiting for it to cycle, then getting a card, then waiting for it to cycle … ugh. Sure, this can be great, you could luck into a great draw, and if you got early mastery bonus, it may definitely pay off. But unlike Data Heretic, this is a high variance card.

Command Seer ($4, 2x, Ally) [5 Shield, $2] — Perhaps I’m overly down on this, but we almost never buy it. I think that is wrong. $2 isn’t horrible, and 5 shield is great. But in practice I always want to buy something else, like

Cryptofist Monk ($5, 2x, Ally) [8 Shield, Draw a card] — Now that I think about, the card you will draw will often be a crystal, which means that perhaps I should take the Command Seer more often.

Zetta, The Encryptor ($5, 1x, Champion (5)) [5 Shield, Must be attacked before you and the other champions] — A pure damage sponge. Against a heavy attack deck, he’ll stop 10 damage (five as a shield, and five since he must be attacked first). Against lighter decks that can’t always muster 5 damage, he may keep some of your other wimpy champions alive an extra turn or two. If you are both forgoing damage and are in straight race for a mastery victory, he’ll slow you down. (Cards like this are part of why Thorn Zealot is an OK purchase. A 3 shield cantrip could blossom into a “Oh, let’s kill Zetta” moment … even if you aren’t going to kill your opponent, you slow his deck down].

Omnius, the All-Knowing ($6, 1x, Merc) [Draw two cards, Dominion for 5 mastery] — A Data Heretic that may explode for five mastery. Very good card, but very expensive. (If this is on the board then getting a Portal Monk or a Reactor Drone to try and snag this after your reshuffle is worth contemplating). If you already have a few cantrips and/or banished a few cards this isn’t that difficult to hit Dominion with.

The Grand Architect ($7, 1x, Merc) [Gain 5 Mastery] — Surprisingly, this is often burned, because five mastery now usually trumps 10 mastery later.

Written by taogaming

October 9, 2018 at 6:00 pm

Posted in Strategy

Tagged with ,

Too Many Final Words about Mage Knight (Part VII — Miscellania)

This is blah blah blah. You know the drill.

So, random miscellaneous thoughts that I’ve had when playing way too much solitaire MK. First of all, I’ve been upping the power level a bit. I can now somewhat routinely win at 11/11 cities, and I’ve had a few wins at 11/16, but have not (yet) won at 11/22. Still, some things jump out at me.

Games where I load up on followers go much better. I think this may be unique at high levels, because you can so rarely keep your hand against a huge city. An army lets you block (and a few ranged/seige) and then still do great damage. At typical levels, you don’t need as much, but at higher levels you want Altem Mages (to make everything siege) or Disease or some combination of great spells, and you still want followers.

Don’t sit around. I’m guilty of this, mainly on the second night when my usual plan is to wait and build up Sparing Power (one card a turn) and then attack on the last turn. That’s not a bad plan, but it’s still better if you can sit on a glade or mine, and I suspect that taking a detour and killing a spare Mage Tower (etc) would be better, even if I had slightly fewer cards. You can take out an 11 city in one swoop, but its tough. For a bigger city you really need to attack it twice (towards the end of the final day, and then in the final evening).

Some open questions I’ve been mulling

How many wounds is too many for your first combat? You go to a nearby hidden target, reveal it, and have your choice, take X wounds and win, or throw everything and block. Where’s the breakpoint? I suppose it matters on what you were attacking on how likely your remaining hands will be useful. Sometimes you don’t have a choice (I’m looking at you, Werewolf … stupid swift attack seven) but even four wounds seems … feasible. You can take six from sorcerers (which don’t KO, since three are poisoned wounds) but that’s difficult to recover from. At that point, unless you are getting Cure / Disease (which I’m liking more and more) and you go sit on a glade for a turn, I’m not sure it’s worth it. Three wounds is totally acceptable.

Is motivation really a top skill? I find myself passing on this more often than my earlier strategy guides would imply. Its still good, but I think I may have over-rated it.

I’ve also been playing co-op with the TaoLing, and he seems obsessed with finding cards that give him more advanced actions (or spells). Training, Learning, Blood of the Ancients, Book of Wisdom. That kind of thing. Its not bad, but at some point it felt like a waste of time. But I noticed that he’s routinely outscoring me in many categories while doing it. As a counter-balance, he’s also much faster to pick up cards that discard cards permanently from his deck.

And he loves Time Bending and will go well out of his way to grab it whenever it shows up. Which — given that there are only something like 24 spells, is often.

Anyway, I think I’ll leave it here. 20k words seems like enough, for now.

The full “Too Many Words about Mage Knight” series:

  1. Introduction — General Concepts
  2. Part II — Followers and Enemies
  3. Spells
  4. Artifacts
  5. Advanced Actions
  6. Characters
  7. Miscellenia (this post)

Written by taogaming

October 1, 2017 at 6:00 pm

Too Many Words about Mage Knight (Part VI — Characters)

This series of articles cover my (evolving) thoughts about Mage Knight strategy, tactics and planning. The first article enumerates my typical caveats. This section covers character skills and improved starting cards. I’m not going to talk about competitive (“hose your neighbor”) skills; I play solo/co-op, but as of this writing I have gone 1/3rd of the way to a thousand games. I doubt I’ll ever make it, but 500 may still be in the cards….

General Notes

Mage Knight is a deck builder, But you cycle your deck ~5 times. Given a vast, random array of options you rarely build the same deck twice. Of small differences do histories diverge. A deck with spells and Crystal Mastery should not be played the same way as a deck with Into the Heat and Banners.

Character doesn’t control destiny, but affects it significantly. Your character provides two upgraded cards and the vast majority of your skills. You could choose to take another character’s skill when you level up, at the cost of having no choice of advanced action cards. If you were selecting the bottom Advanced Action card in any case, then there’s no cost to selecting another player’s discarded skill. In solo or two player game, that’s usually not great. But with 4 players, which the TaoLing and I sometimes do, then you’ll likely have an excellent skill choice from another player, unless this is your first level up.

The interesting decision is when the lowest AA card isn’t your preferred choice. In that case, I’ll still consider taking it for the skill under several circumstances:

  • If the skill reduces multiple rest turns into one, take it. The only exception? If the round is going to end anyway. But even then, consider it (because at that point you’re carrying enough wounds to need this again). If you are playing cooperative, sometimes the right play is to accept way too many wounds in order to kill some units to soften up a city / Volkare. In solo you can’t do that (well, perhaps once).
  • Ask the standard economics question — as opposed to what? Sure, the bottom AA may be your least favorite, but how big is the difference between it and your favorite option? Similarly, how big is the gap between one of your skills and the best opponent’s skill? Mind the gap. If it’s close, prefer your own skill because next time the gap may be bigger. (If you take an opponents skill now, that’s one less potential option for next time).

The skill common to all base characters is Motivation, and so deserves extra talk. Motivation lets you draw two cards (once per round) and gives you a mana token if you are at the lowest fame. Good news: in solo you are! Motivation offers two standard uses — bulking up your hand (and mana!) for a key turn and recovering from a big battle. Usually, the better choice is to take the big turn and use it to avoid suffering a loss big enough that you can only discard one wound. But (particularly against cities) that isn’t an option. In that case, use motivation the turn after you get knocked out to draw two cards and pitch one plus all the wounds you’ve got.

Motivation probably isn’t good enough to getting a second copy (the rare times that’s possible). You can’t use them on the same turn. You have to wait until the end of your next turn to do a second. Sometimes motivation doesn’t help in a round, but it often does. It lets you take risky plays like entering a dungeon when you can handle most things. If you get a reasonable draw, fine. If not, you can gamble that the next two cards may help you enough. Good early. Good late. If you already have massive hand size improvement you may consider passing on it, but you’d have reasonable games just selecting it all the time. A solid B, at least. But sometimes motivation fails you. You pays your money and takes your chances. That makes a reasonable choice, but not necessarily the best one. I think it falls in above average for all characters, and if you run a really heavy wound style, that may make it better.

Skills that provide attack (ranged or not) are good, although I’m more fond of attack two than siege one, because seige one only matters if its a break point, and if it isn’t you just have less attack later one.

For each character I’ll put their skills in rough order for the first level up choice. Late game will be more specific to your current needs.


Arythea has good cards. Battle Versitility — which replaces Rage — gives you 1 ranged attack as an option, and if you power it, you can choose from (ahem!) attack 4, block 4, fire attack 3, fire block 3, ranged attack 3 or siege attack 2. Versatile. With Lost Legion blocking with a powered Rage becomes useful; converting this to fire or a ranged attack is the typical usage. In any case, great.

Mana Pull’s basic ability to use a second die and to treat a black as any color (during the day) unlocks a stuck source die. The advanced ability to set two dice and get two different crystals is a nice boost past basic mana draw; but the basic version is quite good. As for the skills:

The Power of Pain — Play a wound sideways for 2 points? Yes, please. Your score goes down with wounds, but your ability goes up, way up. You may take the final city a turn or two faster, and that’s good. You have the option of not blocking a token to get a wound or two to finish it off. Then you worry about the wounds later. (Use a wound to get +2 to walk into a magical glade… done and done).

Dark Fire Magic — A red crystal and a red or black token is good. “Black on demand” is always welcome; this skill singlehandedly powers Fire Storm or Sacrifice or Flame Wave. Using the black for non-red spells is just as good. Even if there is black in the pool, sometimes you have two spells. And (during the day) you can get a red crystal while still powering something. Poor Goldyx, he got three Crystal + Token skills, none this good. If you don’t have any spells, then yes, this becomes mediocre, but red+red is still ok.

Hot Swordsmanship — Attack two or fire attack two is Ron Swanson. Kind of a big deal.

I won’t say the above skills are better that Motivation, but …. they are are great skills. And yes, probably better.

Dark Invocation — First of all, another way to get rid of wounds? Delightful. And it gives black mana!? Great. But the ability to chuck a card for green or white is also good (usually better than playing a card sideways).

Cooperative Skill — Healing two is good, and then the ability (on the next turn) to use a wound sideways for 3 points is also good. (And, if you have Power of Pain you can use two wounds sideways).  If you are playing an actual co-operative game (as compared to solo) this may be good to let go, just because other people will probably need more help dealing with wounds than you will.

Dark Paths — Movement is always fine.

Polarization — I rarely take this, although the ability to use gold as black (at night) and black as gold (during the day) means you’ll rarely got a locked source. In solo (three dice pool) that’s a big deal. But Athyrea already has two other ways to get black mana and Mana Pull to clean up the source during the day. This isn’t bad, just overkill.

Burning Power — Siege one is a weak skill, and Arythea has so many better combat skills (counting Power of Pain and black mana gaining as combat).

Dark Negotiations — Influence 2 (three at night) is good, not great. See Norowas’s Bright Negotiation for more details.

More than any other character, Arythea’s skills shine. Even the bad ones are solid. You can play it totally safe, but that’s not winning Mage Knight. You shouldn’t let your skills goad you into accepting excess wounds; but a few ar fine. Athyrea turns that negative around. Multiple skills that directly boost combat, excellent access to black mana, the ability to shrug off wounds, mana source unlocking, and versatility. When I increased the city levels to (11/16), I struggled mightily with Goldyx  game after game, then cruised with Arythea. Perhaps I got lucky. It may be she is suited to my style of play. But one character has to be best — I think it is her.


Goldyx two cards are the whelming Crystal Joy and the excellent Will Focus. Will Focus improves Concentration — already great — by having the powered version pump up the follow-on card by three points instead of two. Given the nature of breakpoints, that means you have six ranged attack (instead of five), or whatnot. The unpowered version can get a green crystal (concentration can get tokens of any non-green color), which means on the off chance you don’t find anything to do with your Will Focus, you get a crystal for next round.

By contrast, Crystal Joy is fine. The ability to crystalize over and over sounds great, but typically is only useful if you were already planning on spending a turn or two at a crystal mine (or magical glade) for other reasons. Crystal Joy makes some bad turns suck less, although the ability to chuck a wound with the advanced power is good. Sometimes its worth it to power it with a blue from your own crystals, just to toss a wound and get it back. Doing this when you attack a city and expect to get knocked out is great. Like a mini-motivation recovery.

Universal Power lets you use spend mana from the source for plus two (or maybe three) even when you don’t have a card that gives you what you need. Red mana turns attack two to attack four … if you hold rage. Universal Power turns <something> 1 to <something> 3 or 4, pretty much no matter what. The worst case is you play your rage sideways and a non-red mana for 3 attack instead of 2. For a long time I consider this wasteful, but Universal Power combines flexibility with might. If you already have the right mana and cards, this isn’t great but you don’t always have the right mana.

Flight is Goldyx’s signature skill. Bounce a space for free or two spaces for two points, and ignore rampaging. Simply great. Either this or Universal Power are worth considering instead of motivation, although your needs may very.

Cooperative Skill — Re-rolling a die in the source is ok. The cooperative part of crystalizing a second die is pretty good. So this is OK in solo, so-so in co-cop.

Glittering Fortune — 1-4 influence during interaction is fine (although you can’t use it during peaceful moment, etc).

Freezing Power — Siege 1 or Ice Siege 1 isn’t great. This would be the worst skill for many other characters (like Tovak), but Goldyx has a distinct lack of firepower, which turns this into a reasonable choice for him.

Colour* Crystal Craft — Gain a blue crystal and a token of the (non-blue) colour. [*Goldyx is British, obviously]. In general, the colour of the token matters more to me than how many blue cards I have, because you can save the crystal from turn to turn. It’s worth remembering that there are three of these, because its quite possible to get two of these the same level up.

Potion Making — Healing two is useful, see comments on Golden Grail. That being said, this isn’t a great skill to take. Crystal Joy already provides some wound amelioration, but if you find yourself wound heavy it’s reasonable. Still — I’d rather get something that helps me in the end game, and that is probably anything else.

Putting it all together, Goldyx has lots of ways of gaining mana and crystals, some movement, some healing, some influence. He lacks punch. Ironically, that kind of means that Freezing Power should be taken more than I suspect, because one (reusable) attack is better than nothing. You need to go out of your way to some attack as Goldyx, as a string of recent losses re-iterated.  Whereas the other three characters have a sharp glittering arsenal, Goldyx basically builds up a bankroll of extra movement, influence and mana. You need to turn that into something useful.


Norowas’s cards are Noble Manners and Rejuvenate. Noble Manners replaces influence and gives you a bonus to rep and fame. OK, not great. Rejuvenate (improved tranquility) adds the options to get you some green mana or  ready a unit (instead of just drawing cards or healing). Again, nice not great. Actually, the improved Rejuvenate’s ability to ready a level 3 unit is fairly powerful, but obviously a late game card.

Bonds of Loyalty — Arguably Norowas’s signature skill, and truly great. This gets you an extra follower slot and more choices (which could be picked off, but in a solo game not an issue) and a five discount. Yes, you can’t fire that person, but you can have them step in front of a paralyzing unit.

Inspiration — Heal or Ready a unit is big. Units are nice because they are always “in your hand,” even a lowly peasant is pretty good if you can use them twice. Yes, you can’t do this in combat, but taking an Utem Guardsman and having them block four, eat up to five points of attack, then heal them and have them eat another attack. That’s up to 14 points of attack you just ignored. Then you toss the unit away and repeat next round.

Those are the two that are better than Motivation.

Day Sharpshooting — 2 ranged during the day (1 at night) is pretty good. But it’s more often night than day (for final battles, underground, etc).

Foward March — Movement is nice, but this is variable (You get 0-3, based on readied units). This may let you fly across the board by midgame, but is highly conditional on your opening. If you can’t get an early peasant (etc), pass on this.

Cooperative skill — Lowering movement costs by two (to a minimum of one) can let you get through some nasty forests or swamps, and the secondary effect only lowers by one, but again to a minimum of one, so its always useful.

Leaves on the Wind / Whispers in the Treetops — Green Crystal + White token (or vice versa). OK, not great, typically taken if you are short on mana.

Bright Negotiation — 3 or 2 influence is again OK. You could get lucky and camp out in the green city and just take a free advanced action every turn, but honestly that’s not great unless you are tuning your hand anyway. If you really get lucky you’ll camp in the red city and get 2 Influence + 3 or 4 for city tokens + 3-4 for rep + a few a turn and get an artifact every turn. But for every game that happens Bright Negotiation turns out to be ok not great. Now, if you have heroes and have to pay to use them in an assault (a rule I just now realized I forget in my last game) then this comes in pretty hand. And influence does equal healing. So, a highly variable power one that can shine with the right setup but is mediocre otherwise.

Leadership — +1 Ranged or + 2 attack or +3 block each combat, with a follower. Awesome in theory, but in practice you only get to use this once or twice a round (even if you have 3-4 followers, because you often spend them all during a big attack in the endgame.

Norowas’s style of play is pretty obvious — followers. Some games he raises an army that makes the world tremble, but it does leave yourself open to getting a bad draw (especially in Solo Conquest where there are only 3 followers/round). He — more than other characters — suffers from feast or famine.


Tovak’s two cards are Cold Toughness and Instinct. Cold Toughness is improved Determination, and is a big deal. Ice Block 3 instead of Block 2 is nice, a point better block and against some opponents four points better. But the powered version of Ice Block 5, plus one per ability or color of attack allows Tovak to block damn near anything with one card and one mana, unless they have magic resistance (which turns off the +1/per) or swiftness. In the late game, this + a blue mana typically blocks the most annoying thing you face.

Instinct improves Improvisation by giving you the option of not discarding a second card (at the cost of that cards +1). Since you can always discard the card anyway, that’s nice. Sometimes you only need two or four points instead of three or five, or you don’t have a card, or you don’t want to waste a card. Early on, its not much of an improvement, but again in the late game you’ll appreciate the option of not discarding. As for Tovak’s skills:

Cold Swordsmanship — Attack 2 or Ice Attack 2, once per combat. Excellent. The problem with blocking is it doesn’t kill stuff. You don’t win wars by not dying, you win them by killin’. This or Motivation is Tovak’s best skill.

Double Time — Move 2 (1 at night). Remember, this list is for your first skill. On Day one, great, but this drops quickly.

Night Sharpshooting — Range 1 (2 at night).  In Solo Conquest, ranged isn’t great, but you’ll often want to take cities at night, so its still attack two then. Ranged 2 underground is useful. This is at least a half grade better than Norowas’s Day Sharpshooting.

Cooperative Skill — This gains black mana, or gains you a token and then later (in solo) a bonus.

Shield Mastery — A great early skill that commands some value in the late game. Block 3 (or Fire/Ice 2) lets you gamble a lot more on dungeons/tombs and multi-chit draws like Spawning ground.

I Feel No Pain — Turning a wound into a card will let you recover much faster (mostly). This can be a game saver, if you had to attack and got a bad draw or are just playing at insane levels of difficult. Even without that, it may improve your hand a little bit each turn.

I Don’t Give a Damn! — Once a turn play a card sideways for +2 instead of +1 (or +3 if its a non-basic card).  I have mixed feelings. A nice boost, but using a card sideways is not great. This goes up with hand size boosts and late game (where typically you’ll have extra movement and be short on block or attack, or even just spend a round at your city and turning cards into influence).

Resistance Break — Late game, this moves up. Early game, its not as worth it (remember, its only once per combat). Reducing fire/ice resistance is minor, since odds are you’ll have physical attack. Reducing physical resistance is great. For the end game this can effectively give you six attack, but in the early game its often zero or one.

Who Needs Magic? — Inferior to IDGaD, because want to use the source. Not using it is gaining +1 by giving up +2 (or a spell!)

Tovak’s many good battle skills dish out or block damage. Complement that with movement to reach the scenes of carnage you’re trying to cause (one reason I rate double time so highly for him. By comparison Wolfhawk already has movement …. so it would be marginal for her).


Swift Reflexes improves swiftness, and lets you play it (without mana) for ranged attack one, or reduces an enemy attack by 1 (2 if powered). Reducing an attack can function is slightly better block, since you can reduce a swift or ice attack. It can make the Storm Dragon’s 4 Ice/Swift attack blockable with a mere 8 regular block instead of 16. Tirelessness improves Stamina, but not by much. Adding one to your next move isn’t nearly as good as move 3, since to get any benefit you must spend another card. The advanced power adds one to every other card, so its possible to make it move 8. Wolfhawk likes Mazes, Tirelessness + any card is 6 movement.

Dueling — +1 Block and +1 attack isn’t bad (though they have to go the same enemy. A bonus fame (if you don’t use a unit against that enemy) is the icing on the cake.

Know Your Prey — I used to pass on this, because its once per round, but what an ability. Removing physical defense can save you 7+ attack. Removing fire or ice can let you target a spell.  Summoning is an ability. Know your prey is 5-6 “I am not left handed” moments. It’s a toss-up between this and dueling for best skill. These are both better than motivation, IMO, but Wolfhawk’s motivation gives some fame, which is intriguing.

Cooperative Skill — A card sidewise for 4 points (not for interaction) is not to be sneezed at. A bonus for each unassigned command token can be gross, but typically you want followers anway. Still, sometimes they get paralyzed away, and 4+ points of block or attack or move is not swiss cheese. The -1 attack and -1 armor secondary ability aint bad either.

Taunt — As discussed on the Swift Reflexes, lowering an attack is sometimes better than block because of swiftness or fire/ice. It also may let you just let it through for one less wound. Taunt also has the option to increase the attack and lower armor (after the ranged attack phase) which turns extra block into attack, or may just save you same attack (at the cost of a wound, or not).

Hawk Eyes — 1 Movement a turn is nice, and the bonus (exploring for one less at night, revealing from two tiles away during the day) are nice kickers.

Deadly Aim — Adding +1 ranged/siege or +2 attack to a card isn’t as good as just providing it — you need a card, but that does mean you can keep any modifiers (fire or ice).

On her Own — Influence 1, 3 if you don’t use it to buy a unit. A decidedly inferior influence skill.

Refreshing Bath / Refreshing Breeze — Get a blue (white) crystal and heal one. I’m not sure how I feel about this instead of a crystal and a token. I guess healing is slightly better on average, but the token can be huge with the right comination.

Wolfhawk has a fun style of play, and her skills provide some compensation if you don’t happen to get followers. Don’t fall into the trap of ignoring followers (they are almost always useful), but Wolfhawk suffers less from their absence. A dueling, prey-knowing Wolfhawk is a force to be reckoned with, but a city is still a city.


Savage Harvesting is  a march that lets you chuck a card to gain a mana (multiple times, if you pay for it). It is often useful in the first turn to get rid of an unwanted tranquility or influence. Ruthless Coercion ‘improves’ intimidation by adding influence and (when powered) the ability to ready spent units, but costing even more reputation. Krang often falls harder, faster down the reputation track. Note that you can influence away from a village/keep/etc and not deal with the reputation effects, so Krang can still coerce his followers, so long as their are no witnesses to restrain him.

Also note that Krang doesn’t have motivation!

Battle Frenzy — I won’t say I’d always take this and ignore the other skill, but it may be true. +2 attack, and +4 attack on your final battle each round (or if you are desperate) is great.

Master of Chaos — This does great things, but the timing is hard to control. You can get something every turn, and if what you want lines up with what you are doing, its great. Worth taking if you can see the next few turns and line up your starting position, and about once a round you can choose what you want. Not as good as Battle Frenzy, but probably the ‘signature’ of Krang.

Spirit Guides — 1 move and 1 block every turn. Solid.You may not use it either turn, but this is a good amount of both.

Puppet Master — Either take a token each combat or spend a token each combat for half attack or block, keeping the type. So, this is free-ish, attack or block, but only half the time. As apart from that you get some flexibility, assuming you’ve been rampaging properly.

Arcane Disguise — As noted above, 2 influence isn’t huge. But the ability to cancel a -5 (or X) reputation can be a big deal. That means getting a follower in your first city, even after you’ve burned and pillaged your way across the board. It means ruthlessly coercing your followers and still getting more.

Regenerate — Spending mana to heal is ok. It lets you use something from the source each turn, and a red mana may get you a card for a full heal. But this isn’t up to Athyra or Tovak’s skills. Mediocre but sometimes great.

Curse — Reduce an attack or armor by one. You can use this in ranged attack phase against unfortified opponents, which is nice. At worst this acts like attack one.

Cooperative skill (Mana Enhancement) — When you spend a mana (however) gain a crystal. And then someone can get a free token of that color. So this is basically two mana, making it roughly equivalent to all the “Crystal + Token” skills. BUT, you need to have the mana (either source or other means) to get it. On the plus side, you can take whatever color you need.

Shamanic Ritual — A mana token of your choice is good, and giving up an action to reset is OK but will be done rarely. The issue is that with Savage Harvesting Krang usually isn’t desperate for mana, and his other skills are great.

Battle Hardened — This lets you ignore some damage, and may save you a wound (see thread for details). In that sense, its better than block because you can use a bit, but rarely is taking one less wound taking zero. It could really help against paralyzers that you sacrifice a follower to, but that lets a little bit left. I may be undervaluing this, but I hardly ever take it.

Krang is whatever he gets. If you get battle frenzy, he’s a murderchine, if you get master of chaos, he’ll try to tap dance the best he can. Roll with the punches.


The newest mage knight has two movement based improvements. Druidic paths reduces a terrain by one (min of 2). Unpowered, this is better than Tirelessness, assuming you aren’t going only on plains. It lets you get into a hill (or woods/desert at the right time) for one card. If you are only going through plains, useless. The powered version lets you reduce all of one terrain, which is probably only one or two points of movement. One with the Land can be used for heal 1 or block 2 instead of movement (or heal 2, block X, where X is the cost of the land you are one). That’s nice. Towards the end game you often have too much movement and an emergency heal/block is nice. Flexibility is always appreciated.

Braevalar has a few good skills and a lot of OK ones.

Forked Lightning — +1 Ranged Cold Fire attack against up to three separate targets. Yes, you’ll often be saving this to the regular combat phase, but its 1-3 attack, and great against physical resistance.

Shapeshift — Turn movement into block into attack, but for basic cards only! Flexible, flexible, flexible.

Feral Allies — + 1 attack or reduce an attack by one is good, not great. -1 to explore costs provides a little bit extra.

Secret Ways — +1 movement is fine, and the mountain or lake movement can save your bacon, but its tough to tell early.

Cooperative Skill (Nature’s vengeance) — Reducing an attack by one isn’t great, but making it cumbersome (so you can spend movement to reduce it more) is intriguing. This can let you partially block, and sometimes (I’m looking at you, Storm Dragon) its a god-send. And someone else can do it agian.

Thunderstorm / Lightning Storm — Token + Token instead of Crystal + Token, but you get some choice (Green and either blue/white or blue and either green or red). OK.

Regenerate — As with Krang, but made somewhat better by the storms, which may find a use for a ‘wasted’ token.

Beguile — Like most influence items, usually 2 influence, the 4 at a the circle or 3 at a village is a mild kicker.

Elemental Resistance — As with Krang’s Battle Hardened.

Maybe its just lack of experience, but Braevalar appears to be the weakest Mage Knight. Lots of OK, nothing crushing. He can do just fine (Shapeshift and Forked Lightning are quite good), but often has to choose between two mediocre skills.  One may be much better in the current situation, but wouldn’t it have been nice to draw a rock crusher. Also note that Braevalar (like Goldyx) is somewhat short of attack, so grabbing those advanced actions is a priority (although with shapeshift you can grab whatever and then use the basic card you doubled up as attack).

Written by taogaming

July 29, 2017 at 10:40 pm

Too Many Words about Mage Knight (Part V — Advanced Actions)

This series of articles cover my (evolving) thoughts about Mage Knight strategy, tactics and planning. (The first article has my typical caveats). This section covers the advanced actions (AAs).

The Bolts

The four bolts (Fire/Ice/Swift/Air) all either get you a crystal or give you a ranged attack 3, with some bonus (the fire/ice have the approrpriate element, the swift bolt is ranged attack four, and the crushing bold is siege attack 3). The bolts are always useful. If you are mana poor, you get a crystal. Mana rich, you get an attack. Granted, in solo conquest the attack won’t necessarily be useful (although Siege will be), but even if you wait to the regular attack phase, attacks that change element are nice ways to deal with physical resistance. A bolt is rarely a bad pick, although there may often be something better. Solid citizens, the lot of them. B+

I’ve separated the rest of the cards roughly by type, although some cards live in multiple categories.

Combat AAs

The weakness of (non-ranged) attack cards is the necessity to not throw them away due to paralysis or getting knocked out. But other than that, attack cards are always in style. Block cards also due some heavy lifting, it’s rare you’ll block nothing (unless you cancel some attacks, or just plan to heal as much and have your followers do everything).

Blood Rage is just super rage, where you can take a wound for an extra +3/+4. Killing stuff is always good and worth a wound. B+

Chivalry gives you solid attack numbers, or lets you reduce them a bit to gain some reputation, which (in turn) may help you recruit. B+.

I’ve mentioned my love of doubling. Well, in some ways Counterattack is a doubler. Attack 2/4 and an extra attack 2/3 per unit blocked. That’s not a strict doubling, but against Volkare it can often come close (especially if you have a few elusive units where blocking also lowers their armor). Even against a regular city assualt you can often see this boosted to 10 or 13 easily enough.  A-

The more I play, the more I like Dodge & Weave. In some senses another doubler — it lowers attacks and gives you bonus attack if you take no wounds — but against a large army you’ll likely forfeit the bonus. But even ignoring that — lowering attacks beats blocking. Reducing is always efficient (unlike swiftness or elemental attacks). You can’t partially block, but can partially lower (to maybe let a resistant unit bounce the rest). Lowering a 5 cold-fire paralyzing attack is a good deal, even if you never get any attack bonus. A-

With a big enough unit Force of Nature absorbs a decent attack. (A problem with resistant units — albeit a minor one — is that each can only bounce one attack. If you can already bounce 3-4 attacks, you don’t have many worries). And you can power it for block (for pesky assassinating enemies) or siege attack (always nice). B+.

The Ice Shield (which provides Ice Block 3 / & Reduce Armor of the blocked enemy by 3 if you power it), is an OK doubler. Ice Block three isn’t enough by itself to fully block lots of your more annoying enemies, and reducing armor by three is fine. It really helps if the unit is resistant. Still, there are often a number of good targets, but typically you have to power this to really get value, so call it a B-.

Intimidate provides a strong attack at the cost of reputation or a bushel of influence at the cost of reputation. Attack and Influence? Both good. Yes, your reputation will spiral down. Grab a few followers ASAP and embrace the decline! A+, but it may require some finesse and if you have no followers and are already dangerously low on reputation beware.

Into the Heat provokes mixed results. If you have built up an army and have lots of ranged/seige attacks, this just destroys opposition. The downside — being unable to assign wounds to followers (or block with resistant ones) is a big deal — but this card can provide twelve to fifteen points of oomph.  On the other hand, if you draft this without a plan Into the Heat is one of those cards most likely to cause you to go “Hm…” and eventually discard it. You need ranged attackers (or Altem Mages) to make this work, or some plan to just eat all the wounds in the world, then unleash hell. (Sword of Justice goes well with this). I wouldn’t draft this early (until I knew my setup) but late game this can be anywhere from an A+ to a pure Failure.

Ritual Attack — Another mid/late game card. You don’t want to discard 6 cards (one per round) from your deck, no matter how good an attack you get. Still, discarding a red card (intimidate being the logical choice) for attack five or fire six (if powered) is a good deal. You do also get to choose what cards you get rid of, so you can make an assault time decision on what you need. Downsides — you spend two cards for one attack, so its anti handsize. Most decks can’t afford to give up many cards, but some cards do lose value over the game (people with X reputation don’t need influence cards, you may not need much movement in the late game, crystalize and tranquility are often redundant towards the end). Still, not a frequent target, unless I’ve drafted a card that adds cards to my deck. Then absolutely draft this, to reduce the variability of your deck a little. C+.

Unlike Ice Shield, Shield Bash finds decent targets. Swiftness shows up early (more so than fire). The armor benefit for the powered version isn’t as good but — depending on who you fight — you’ll get more block out of this. And you can tune Shield bash or dump extra cards into it. So — better than Ice Shield, but it depends on what you find and you can’t necessarily plan for it. Still a B-, though.

Movement AAs

Agility gives you movement, then lets you spend movement points as attack (or ranged attack with the powered action) during combat. Note you lose movement points when you start combat, but (unlike ranged attacks or blocks) movement can be saved throughout combat. So if you are about to get paralyzed you can dump your hand as movement (or block) and still attack. B+

Given how much I love Concentrate, no points for guessing I like Ambush. Move to the attack, then boost it  (or a block). Sadly, ambush is a strictly arithmetic card … always good for a little boost, but never turning into a monster card. Early, it’s A, but its effect will down as the game goes on, maybe half a grade per round. At some point you’ll be happier with other cards.  In a siege, Agility may be much better, depending on what you draw.

OK, the real advantage of Frost Bridge is that it reduces swamps to one. The green city tile is filthy with swamps, and the powered ability to walk over lakes can be great. But typically you only take this if you know you’ll need it (or are absolutely desperate for move, or perhaps if you’ve taken another knight’s skill token, so you get no choice on your AA). D+ [After writing this, the very next day I bought Frost Bridge while in the green city, because I needed to beat feet over some swamps to the white city, which the TaoLing had discovered. So –rarely useful, but otherwise ignored].

Unlike a lot of other skills, Mountain Lore gives you 3 or 5 move, instead of 2/4. The bonus of 1 hand size if you end in a hill is nice, but highly conditional. The powered version also lets you stop on a mountain (and get two hand size). Hand size is nothing to sneeze at, and this is a big movement booster, although other card’s discounts make them just as good. But again, you’ll likely only draw this if you see a mountain you want to cross. C+.

Path Finding is the ‘rush across the board’ card. You want to play this with lots of movement to take advantage of the big discounts. Particularly on core tiles, a powered path finding can let you race to your next target. B

I frequently take Refreshing Walk because movement is good, and healing is good. You use something else to walk into battle, then can heal (wasting the movement) or perhaps move/heal the next turn (particularly good when you are heading for a glade or mine, and don’t really need the handsize right away). A solid B.

Song of Wind discounts some spaces to one and zero, and in theory lets you shoot several spaces across the board. But here’s the thing. Those spaces weren’t noramally that difficult to get through anyway. (OK, deserts and wastelands are, but plains aren’t). And moving through lakes isn’t bad, either. Perhaps I’m undervaluing this, but this feels like the worst movement card. D+

Steady Tempo feels … steady. It’s a solid movement card. If you play it, you’ll draw it again at the end of the round, for more movement (or just one more card to chuck to something). If you are desperate, you power it and get it again ASAP. Not flashy, but useful. B-

Influence AAs

In some extent, how much influence counts depends on your scenario. In Solo Conquest, you’ll typically have a turn or few loading up in your city. If your reputation is around zero, then you’ll get 3-5 influence for city tokens, so a few more actions to bump that up (or skills) can make a big difference. I’ve already said how much I love Intimidate, so let’s discuss the others.

Also, many of these skills go up in value when you buy them at a monastery, because you can then (next turn) use these AAs to buy another unit (assuming one is available).

Finally, these cards go in up in value if you have heroes and/or thugs (unless you have a skill that provides influence) since you’ll need to pay them off to attack a city or absorb a wound, respectively.

Diplomacy lets you spend influence for block. Not a big deal (unless you have an influence skill), but the powered version can talk some heavy hitters out of punching you in the face. So, you get slightly less influence than the other skills, but you can use it combat. Flexibility like that is often useful. B+

Despite the fact that Heroic Tale pays out 3/6 influence, it’s not my favorite. Yes, the bonus reputation and fame are nice (and can stack up fairly quickly), but all you can do is get influence. Typically you’ll only take this if you are going to use it next turn. B-

A literal feast or famine card, In Need provides munificent bounties of influence, all at the cost of having been beaten like a red-headed step child. Still, at a monastery this single card can heal your entire hand (or army of foresters and peasants) single handedly. Not the sort of thing to draft without a plan, but often when you draft it In need will pay dividends. B.

You can use Learning outside of interaction (which means your rep/city tokens don’t matter) to draft another card. You can also use it inside interaction, which will be useful if you have reputation or are at a city. The ability to use this outside interaction (which takes an action) does mean you can do some interesting things, like chuck your soon to be paralyzed hand to improve your deck for next round or possibly take a great advanced action right now. Remember that you can’t power the card then use the basic ability. That fact drops it down to B-.

Remember that if you use Peaceful Moment for its action, you aren’t interacting. Which means after a hard day of burning down monasteries and being shunned like the Pariah you so obviously are, you can still heal three wounds or ready some units with this bad boy. Often in the end game I’m taking a turn or two waiting next to the city, either building up my reserve underneath Sparing Power or I simply have to trek from the first city to the second and have nothing to do. So, a useful action is nice. Even readying one unit can mean taking out an additional Draconum or some such.

AAs that gain cards

Is I’ve mentioned before, it is possible to bloat your deck too much. (I just played a co-op game where I spent the second night waiting for Sparing Power to build a huge assault, but because we didn’t control the mana pool I absolutely needed Mana Draw to set a die to black. The dummy rushed so I had to assault with a few cards undrawn. This time I got lucky).

I just read a session report of one player versus the world where the one player (who seemed quite good) called Magic Talent “The best first Advanced Action.” I concur. Even ignoring the spell gaining ability, the option to chuck a card to use one of three is spells is highly flexible. Obviously whenever you go a spell route you want to get a good source of mana, and you can have too many spells, but unless I’m totally dry I’m happy with this. Even then, the source will power a basic spell action, and the offer normally has some spells that are situationally useful. And you don’t have to take this early for it to be useful. A single shot of a spell can game changing. A+.

Blood of Ancients costs a wound (tolerable) and a mana to get a card into hand. The advanced action doesn’t get you the card, but lets you put the wound in the discard pile (or not). It’s a decent first draw, because you’ll get another card next turn, but don’t go crazy. The nice thing about BoA is that you can grab the card you need right now. B+

Training lets you improve your deck by chucking a card to get a better one. Unlike the advanced Magic Talent, you still need to a chuck a card (instead of spending a mana) which sometimes means you lock up and don’t get to use it a round, but that’s fairly rare. Still from time to time I find myself carrying this for a few turns waiting to draw the right color and then it is somewhat of a load. Also, it doesn’t have the late game punch that Magic Talent does, because Magic Talent converts an Advanced Action into a spell usage, and with Training you could presumably have just taken the right card. There are exceptions (the skill forced you to take the bottom card, or all the cards are terrible but you hope to turn this into the new top card or wait for someone else to level up). But this is still a quite reasonable. A-.

Mana AAs

I’m blase about wounds, so Blood Ritual strikes me as a good card. A wound for what you need right now is good, and the advanced action lets you crystalize. The ability to take Black Mana can be — the non-judgemental necromantic equivalent of ‘godsend.’ Note that the only other card in this section that can earn you a black die is Mana Storm, and that’s based on Lady Luck. A-

The TaoLing loves Crystal Mastery, and it does have turns where it lets you go hog wild (particularly with spells) and not spend anything. But — it can’t gain you a crystal you don’t already have (which Crystallize sometimes can). Still, if you ever get a fair amount of Crystals, this can save you a mitt-ful. B+

Not all decks have Chaff, but towards the mid game most do, and Decompose  lets you trim it out and gain some crystals to boot. Typically by the second night (assuming you’ve set your layout) you know if movement is overvalued and you’ll know if you’ve toileted your reputation, so you’ll have some target for the card. (In solo conquest — Swiftness is often reasonable to get rid of by mid-game). I’d rarely take more than one card that throws away cards (not counting those — like Training — that replace them), but this one is pretty good. B-

How good Mana Storm is depends on number of players. Pure Solo, the source only has three dice, so if you use one to roll the other two, its a literal crap-shoot. Again Volkare, you have another dice. With co-op, the pool goes up as well. In a four player coop, brilliant. The ability to grab a crystal and force a re-roll — without using a source die — is solid. But in pure solo, the source is a bit too small. B- in a four die source, and adjust based on the number of dice.

Spell Forge is super crystalize. You gain a crystal, and it will always work (unless the spell offering is only spells you are maxed out on, in which case you instantly gain a token), and if you spend a blue (from the source) you get two crystals. Solid and efficient. B+

Misc AAs

As I stated in the first section, Mage Knight is a game of brutal bombs, so I’m reasonably pleased to take Maximal Effect once we’re into the second day or so. It makes your hand denser — blowing up a Stamina to move six now may be much better than being able to move four. Blowing up Determination for block ten will stop a lot of things, and almost stop the rest. And you can tune it for what you need. Blowing up another Advanced Action costs you a point, but you get a lot more out of it. But unless your deck can already do what you want, this won’t help. B

Flexibility powers Pure Magic, but at the cost of mana. If you’ve got mana, then this is a great card. In particular, if you have a lot of mana but not mana spells — you’ll be flush and the ability to swing this card from block 4 (or 7) to attack or influence or move is great. B

The ‘super-tranquility,’ Regeneration has the flaw that it doesn’t replace itself if you don’t draw wounds, but the ability to ready a unit is pretty nice. If you are totally unit-less, then yes, this could become dead weight. But if you’ve got this in your deck, use those guys to block and wound, and then by the end of the round they are ready for the next day. B.

I prefer Stout Resolve to Pure Magic even though the latter gets more oomph, because Stout Resolve costs less mana and lets you discard a wound without resting. Assuming you can keep your hand, Stout Resolve turns that wound into two more attack during a city assault (as well as making any other useless card a bit better). Never a great draw, but never a bad draw, and that earns this an A-.

Granting movement and handsize at the cost of an action, Temporal Portal was one of those cards I didn’t draft for many, many games, because the action seemed big. But moving two spaces — even one — can be a hurdle in the early game, and many sites that look daunting with five cards seem trivial with seven. As I’ve stopped trying to sweep the board clean and (in particular) try to skip past rampaging orcs that give nothing but fame except after my first level up, and as I’ve lost game after game getting pinned by some dragon or trying desperately to route around lakes and mountains, I’ve grown to appreciate this. It still has limitations, but I think this is a solid B.

Written by taogaming

June 17, 2016 at 6:04 pm

Too Many Words about Mage Knight (Part IV — Artifacts)

This series of articles cover my (evolving) thoughts about Mage Knight strategy, tactics and planning. (The first article has my typical caveats). This section covers artifacts.

Aah artifacts. Even the ‘basic’ action is usually great … and nary a mana to be spent. A dungeon near the portal is always a welcoming site — with a decent hand and non-abysmal luck you level up and likely get an artifact. A fair price for a few wounds.

And early on, any artifact is good. Later on you may get unlucky and draw two artifacts that are both mediocre or affect areas you can’t use much of. But even in the mid game an artifact is not to be shunned lightly. The two points for the artifact is the least important part of it. You can make your destiny without breaking a few artifacts, but its much easier if you do.

A Sidebar — The Power of Doubling

I mentioned the Disease spell’s power derived from the fact it turned Block into Block + Attack. In effect, it doubles what you’ve got. Geometric progressions grow so much faster than arithmetic. These are combos to look out for. Successful ranged attacks effectively double, counting as attack + block (since they kill the target before you have to block).

So, if I say something “Doubles” in value I may not mean it literally, but that the effect grows quickly.

The Rings

All four rings either gain you token plus a crystal and 1 fame, or you destroy it for infinite tokens of the appropriate color (and black!) and +1 fame per spell of the matching color. Black man on demand means that selecting a ring is always a reasonable choice. You can power 2+ spells (even if they don’t match the rings color, you’ll probably have a few crystals by the second night, when you might reasonably break a ring).

If you happen to have spells of the right color, that’s a bonus, but I don’t worry too much about it.

Mid-late game, you may know that the ring isn’t that great if you lack spells and are mana rich. In that case you’ll snatch the other card, but first day? A ring is a safe choice. (Maybe not the top choice, but good). You’ll earn 5-6 fame, load up on crystals, and some spare mana. I don’t worry if I waste the token the turn I play the ring, although of course its nice to get full use. Early on, a ring is a B+ grab. Maybe A-.

I consider the Endless Gem Pouch a psuedo-ring; not quite as good, decent. You’ll get less fame, but you keep everything you can’t use right away. If you break the bag, you’ll get 5 tokens (one of each), which gives you a single black (assuming you break it at night) plus a variety. When you roll gold you’ll get the crystal you want most, and when you roll black you’ll get fame. So — More variety, two crystals a round (instead of a crystal + a token), less fame, no infinite black. Call it a B-.

Always Useful

To make this category a card should be generally useful and/or have a huge upside.

The Horn of Wrath is great in conquest. Siege attack five can usually pierce out a cities minor unit, and if you break it you can take out a non-resistant major unit. Sure, you may eat a few wounds, but you probably would have anyway. Even when facing Volkare (where you’d prefer ranged) the horn works fine. You get a free Concentration + Swiftness that you always draw together (and a bonus card). If you always took the Horn you’d be wrong some small percentage of the time. A+

The Banner of Fear has a place in my heart. Drafted early, give it to your peasants (whoever) to wave at your enemies. Then (before the second night) you shuffle it back in and during your first city siege you cancel three units. (If you don’t need to do that, then congrats! You’ve got a great game). This lets you hit your first city taking almost no wounds (assuming you hold a heaping helping of Murder, which you should because you just cancelled three units for one card). The time/wounds you save will pay you back. Sure, this is only a one-use card, but what a use. A+

The Bow of Stardawn shines against Volkare (who tends to not be fortified) but the ability to break it to turn ranged into seige is also good, or doubling seige to ranged is going. Its either a literal or figurative doubling, and also great early (when tramping down into dungeons, etc).  A- only because you need a few combos with it in solo conquest.

The Sword of Justice is a literal doubling when you break it — you double your physical attacks and remove physical resistance (from the non-magically resistant). So — a sometimes quadrupling. You can’t save attack from phase to phase, so you can’t play your attacks prior to block, lose your hand, and then do this, but you can still break it prior to losing your hand, then double your followers/skills/etc.  A-

The Amulet of Darkness is a stretch for this category, because you don’t always have spells. But when you do — man, playing an advanced spell during a daytime round can be huge. B+ in general, but in the right deck this is an A+ card.

Conditionally Useful

The Circlet of Protection (aka the “Chiclet” of protection. I don’t know why I started this). I rarely own the Chiclet, I just rent it by breaking this the following turn. Skills are great; taking a skill — even one someone passed on as the weaker of the two — rocks. Keeping the circlet provides flexibility (maybe you want one skill this round, and a different one next round) and using a skill twice during a battle can be amazing. But not breaking this risks the timing, and usually the flexibility isn’t worth it. So — as I said — I typically posses this for one turn.  This goes up a fair amount as you add players, because the number of skills to choose from grows.

The Golden Grail. You say you have no wounds so you shouldn’t draft this? I say go forth and attack your closest enemy then (airquote) block (airquote) it for free and earn two bonus points to boot. If you draw it with wounds its obviously valuable.  And if you have too many wounds.

Because it’s useful with a wound free deck, the grail is actually weakest when you have a medium number of wounds. Enough that you might draw it with a single wound and not be willing to take one more. This also gains value the earlier you draw it (like a ring). Solid A- on day 1 (especially as you are almost certainly staring at 2-4 wounds from earning it) and drops a half grade (or more) each round. It can also be a late game life saver, letting you flush out wounds redraw and attack right away.

The Banner of Command works great because its a one time Call to Glory. Typically there will be an early city unit you’d like to recruit before you conquer the city, and breaking this gets you the unit (and the two fame you’d lose by breaking it!). If you get to use it for influence a time or two prior to breaking, that’s a bonus. In contrast, the ability to have an extra unit is sometimes amazing, but typically the units run low fast. But sometimes you get hosed in the unit draw (particularly solo). B

Book of Wisdom — As an early pick, this can really make for a monstrous deck. In many ways, its nice to trim your deck out as you improve it. Just grabbing a bunch of new cards (with Blood of the Ancients, or Learning, or buying everything when there are multiple monasteries) can get you a theoretically awesome but practically too-variable deck. Using Book of Wisdom to toss base movement for advanced movement (like Steady Tempo or Pathfinding) and Rage for better attack isn’t flashy, but its solid. And if you find you no longer need influence, you can turn those cards into something better.  B

[TaoLing particularly enjoys cards that net more advanced actions and often drafts them. Sometimes this works spectacularly, but I’ve seen him struggle with bloated decks increased variability. He draws no movement or all movement no attack and then flounder the final day or two. It’s a grueling way to lose].

Tome of All Spells –Any spell can huge, and I’ve already sung the praises of casting an advanced spell during the day (with the mana paid for). Still … the tome is an anti-hand size combo in that you are giving up two cards (and one must be the right color) for a spell. If you have hand-size-boosting, that won’t be a problem. But a knight with six hand size (and say, a wound) will find this dead weight from time to time. B

Druidic Staff — The nice thing about the staff: flexibility. You get what you need (at the cost of a card). But typically I use it for the white (move up to 2 revealed spaces) ability. The staff is the only movement-granting artifact, but it’s good. Readying a single unit can help take out a dragon, crystals are nice and healing is nice. But nothing is great, although the advanced ability can often prepare an assault by teleporting to the right place and giving you some crystals. B because its usually useful.

The Amulet of the Sun doesn’t have near the power of amulet of darkness, but its minor powers are good. Using a gold at night can really reset the mana pool, forests are much more common than deserts and two move is not to be scoffed at, and revealing garrisons is great. B

Look, the Bag of Infinite Gold gives you fame and influence. What it doesn’t give you is time. I’d much rather have less fame and some mana (like say, a ring). Repeated four influence is nice, but you can only recruit so often, and by comparison the Banner of Command just lets you nab that great unit (without requiring an action or being in the right place). B-

Sad Trombone

Soul Harvester — Attack 3 and gain a crystal. Nothing wrong, but not sexy. The advanced ability (attack 8 and one crystal per defeated unit in the phase) can actually gain you more points than you lose from breaking it in the right situation, but the Soul Harvester is purely additive. Even the (terrible) banners may have a right situation come up where they are game changers. With Altem Mages or some other combo you could gain massive crystals with this, but that makes the Harvester icing on an already delicious cake. C+

Shield of the Fallen Kings — Block improved in Lost Legion, but this isn’t enough block to shine. Block six with no special powers is just barely better than determination, although you have the option to block four twice. If the shield doubled against swiftness that would be something, but “one point better than a powered card you start with” isn’t much to write home about. Breaking this isn’t great either (Cold Fire Block 8 or three cold fire block fours). C

Most Banners grade poorly because they require a parlay. You need units that match the banner. (The Banners of Command and Fear are great because they don’t require units. Command gets you units, and Fear stops enemies). That’s why most of them are listed here.

The Banner of Protection grants Armor +1 and all resistances. This (typically) turns one unit into a tank, able to bounce 1-2 wounds a round. (An Utem Guardsman works well with the Banner). The advanced ability (“Throw away all wounds you received this turn”) is ok; but hard to time. Typically that means you throw away five wounds, and if you had it in your hand, you could have used it to bounce some wounds. C+

Banner of Fortitude is here because ignoring one wound a round isn’t bad, but it’s no Grail. If you have it you can end a round (the second night, say) by assaulting a city/volkare and wounding every unit, then reshuffle it and break it the next day to heal them all your units. Particularly against the green city (which poisons) that can be huge. But … still a parlay. C-

The Banner of Courage lets you ready a unit (except during combat) or ready all units. The advanced action can be great, attack a city (etc) and discharge a massive volley, trash the Banner, repeat. But …. You have to have enough units to be worthwhile, and either be weak enough to not take out your target the first time, or have another target(s) that really need the units the second time. And you have to get the Banner at the right time. It clogs your hand. But if you get an Altem Mages (etc) good. C

The Banner of Glory (Armor/Attack/Block + 1 and +1 fame per attack or block) is a minor boost, really only efficient on a resistant unit (to boost the repeated block) and a small fame bump.  If you’ve got a Guardian Golem, it’s fine (if you get them both really early, especially) but the number of times its fine is way too low. If you quickly get a healers + a unit, you can pop this for 2 fame a round, and I’ve done that, and I’m still underwhelmed. C

Written by taogaming

June 12, 2016 at 10:43 pm

Too Many Words about Mage Knight (Part III — Spells)

This series of articles cover my (evolving) thoughts about Mage Knight strategy, tactics and planning. (The first article has my typical caveats). This section covers the spells.

I don’t always get spells, perhaps incorrectly (ignoring the times where none of the mage towers are on my path of destruction). Spells aren’t as good as artifacts (they cost one or two mana) … but you’ll pick from three known choices (instead of two unknown). ‘Known’ counts heavily. Timing when to attack a Mage Tower or buy a spell at a tower or blue city before a round ends (to grab a good spell) or just after a round begins (to hope for a better one) is an issue.  If you get a consolation prize in a dungeon, well — sometimes tough luck.

In theory you can time your Advanced Actions, but there roughly twice as many AAs and it’s rarely worth it to time your level ups. In general, the right time is now. Hit Level 2 ASAP. Maybe wait a turn for an AA (if another player is about to level up). It’s certainly not worth waiting for a round, since you’ll cost yourself a skill use. In solo the spell deck is the most consistent, game to game. (For large co-ops you’ll see most of each deck, since the AA deck cycles faster and you’ll likely hit several monasteries fast).

Format is spell name / advanced name [Description] — Thoughts, and final Grade (overall).

Good Spells better in Solo Conquest than vs Volkare’s Return

Fireball / Firestorm  [Ranged Fire 5 or Siege Fire 8 + take a wound]. — Solid attacks. Quite good in Conquest (where Siege is valuable). (Snowstorm/Blizzard are the same, except ice). Solid B.

Expose / Mass Expose [Target loses fort/resistance, ranged attack 2 / All enemies lose one or the other, ranged attack 3.] — Note that the two effects (cancelling and ranged attack 2) do not have to be the same target. A in conquest, B vs Volkare.

Mana Bolt / Mana Thunderbolt — For this you should be flush with mana. This costs two (or three). You can tune it to what you need, but it’s not as tuneable as you hoped. Unless you pay red, it’s an ice attack (red makes it cold fire). You can really just tune its type. Green makes it siege, white makes it ranged, blue makes it large (but only a bit) and red makes it cold fire. Generally not as good as Snowstorm. C+

Underground Travel / Underground Attack — Turn one green into 6-14 movement. Note that underground attack de-fortifies the site, but you’ll withdraw back to your space if you lose. I originally rated this a terrible spell, but it’s grown on me as I’ve been writing the series. That’s a lot of movement for one spell, and I often find myself using Magic Talent to cast this if its a legal target. B- [But note that in Volkare’s Return you have to find a single city and then defend it. Not much movement. If you are playing Volkare’s Quest (where you have to go out and back) this goes up to at least a B+.]

Wings of Wind / Wings of Night — This can move farther than underground travel (good!) but you have to pay (bad!). At night, you can stop a large number of enemies (3 moves points stop 3 enemies). As a white spell, it affects anything not-magically resistant. Honestly, I should take this more often. This + Improvisation or a powered March practically stops a Level 5 City. You’ll want to bump hand size with this (b/c you’ll need to move into the city, and can’t store movement) and you’ll need followers with attacks. But even if you don’t use the night action, this will also let you jump over to a wrongly placed city in cooperative games. B-. (When it works, amazing, but takes effort to work. I may be undervaluing this).

Demolish / Disintegrate — Armor – 1 and either ignore fortifications (Demolish) or destroy a (non-fire resistant) enemy (disintegrate). The basic ability makes attacking cities in the daytime much easier. This is also a good spell to pick up and go hunting in Tombs (where it’s always night) as long as there’s a black mana showing. Yes, Yes, you’ll suffer when you draw a Summoner Dragon. That’s kind of a theme. [FAQ — The ignore fortifications part is versus a site, so fire-resistant creatures may still be ranged attack. But they don’t lose the armor bonus. See this thread). A-. This isn’t terrible against the Big V, because he’ll have so many units.

Call to Arms / Call to Glory — I’ve loved Call to Glory (recruit a unit) for a long time. It’s the “get out of reputation hell free” card. I’m not sure it’s the best spell, but it’s pretty good. Call to Arms goes down in value the more players there are (because you go from 3/4 followers for one player per turn to 4/5 for two players, etc). Volkare also sucks indecisive units away, so better when playing Conquest. B+, but drop this with more players.

Good Spells better vs Volkare

Flame Wall / Flame Wave — The advanced attack (with +2 versus each enemy) can get huge against Volkare, if you can save this one card (using your hand and units to block), you can often unleash  an 17+ point Flame wave. IF. B

Tremor / Earthquake — This lowers value, and the advanced version lowers value of fortified units more. That could make it better versus cities, but Volkare has more units (and the daytime version doesn’t care, so Volkare affects more). B+

Offering / Sacrifice [Discard cards to generate mana / turn crystals into tokens to generate ranged/seige fire/ice attack] — The spell I’ve gone back and forth over the most. For a while I grabbed this every chance, but too often sacrifice isn’t great. Siege 8/12 isn’t huge. Ranged 12/18 is better, but 18 will usually be ice. And then you typically waste some of the converted tokens. Some very good PBEM players call this “The best turn 1 spell.” So consider grabbing early (especially if you’ve gone hard negative in rep, because then you can still spend your influence cards on this). However you value this, it lowers in value as the game goes on, although if you happen to be mana flush its a solid late game pickup for Sacrifice. This is probably a B+ card on day 1, and gains a bit vs Volkare.

Equally Good Spells

Equally good mainly because they affect a single enemy.

Whirlwind / Tornado [Cancel an attack / Destroy an enemy] — The advanced version is great against Altem Guardians (which require 14 of any attack to kill) or any non-magic resistant unit that has too much armor and especially physical resistance. (Storm Dragons, etc). The weaker version is good against your must-block creatures (paralyzers or those that deal out too much damage, like Familiars). Since this only affects a single unit it’s not an instant game winner, but typically in either game there will be that one annoying unit this takes care of (either attacking or defending). Sadly, it doesn’t work against Summoner Dragons. A-

Burning Shield / Exploding Shield — Fire Block 4, and either turn it into Fire attack 4 or destroy the enemy (if successfully blocked).  Against weaker enemies (that aren’t fire) this is a superior whirlwind/tornado because it blocks and kills (instead of either or). But against better enemies or fire resistant, it’s inferior. So a good early game spell, and Whirlwind is better late game. A if you get it in the first day, but drop a grade each day.

Chill / Lethal Chill — Again, a lesser whirlwind. Chill does remove fire resistance, but doesn’t work against Ice resistant creatures (a fair percentage of those you’d really want to stop, Delphana Masters and Ice Dragons, all of which paralyze. Interestingly, Freezers have an ice attack, but are fire resistant, so it works against them). B

Restoration / Rebirth — Heal 3 / 5 (in forest) and rebirth readies 3/5 levels of units. Never get this, unless you are just swamped with wounds. Although the nights ability to ready 3 levels isn’t bad, if that gets you 2 units back (foresters and something else). I suppose you can use this to attack, use your units to block and soak wounds, then re-set them. Perhaps I’ve been ignoring this, but it’s probably the worst spell. D. (I’m willing to listen to arguments. It does let you resurrect units).

Meditation / Trance — Another spell I don’t use much. Reshuffle two random cards and two handsize? That’s actually not bad, but its random. This works well if you’ve been using Training (etc) to make your deck better, or have a lot of artifacts, etc. If you use Preparation to grab an early artifact, then (since its night) you can use it twice. Note that Trance isn’t an action. You can do this and other things. C+

Space Bending / Time Bending — A feast or famine spell. Space Bending is a minor Underground Travel … but Time Bending? Woah. Take back all the cards you have and do another turn right away? With a large hand size that’s monstrous. If you take Sparing Power and put one card a turn under it, and happen to get Space Bending late, you can take a turn with 10+ cards (more with Motivation) and then re-use them. I’ve upped my opinion about this after seeing some examples but often it’s merely “good not great.” But if you grab this early you can cater your deck to it, and if you just space bend on a night or two, that’s usually great horrible. B

Mist Form / Veil of Mist — [Move 4, all terrains are two, but you can’t go up hills or mountains for the entire turn. But you can cross lakes. / All units gain resistances, ignore the first wound and any additional effects.] Another spell I almost never take, although looking at it I’m not sure why. The Veil would let you effectively block a number of tokens equal to units + 1 (assuming the +1 was relatively small), and move four / ignore terrain isn’t bad. I’m going to make a concerted effort to look for ways to play this. If nothing else, this stops the annoying lakes. (I don’t often play with random orientation….). C+? based on my actions, but what do you know.

Charm / Possess — Influence four with either a discount or a bonus crystal (often a rebate), and the advanced ability is a combined block and attack. Another spell I’m always happy to see. A- only because sometimes during the day you just chuck it because you have no place to recruit or no good targets, but possession is always worth it.

Cure / Disease [Heal 2 with a bonus, or all blocked enemies have armor reduced to one] — Another spell I’ve been grabbing more and more often over the last month. Disease effectively turns your blocks into block + almost lethal attacks. Combines really well with Utem / Altem Guardsmen (both of whom double their block against swiftness). Heal 2 (during the day) is often just enough healing to be useful to pick up a few spare wounds and redraw right away, or reset a damaged unit. Honestly, during the day I’d be looking to go underground with this, unless you had a lot of wounds. Still, this is only rated B, mainly because the day effect is only so-so.


Written by taogaming

June 7, 2016 at 7:04 pm

Too Many Words about Mage Knight (part II)

This series of articles cover my (evolving) thoughts about Mage Knight strategy, tactics and planning. (The first article has my typical caveats).

First, a comment on the first article, D. F. says “it’s all about the level ups,” (in reference to the Shades of Tezla expansion). I don’t disagree, but —  I think “it’s all about the first level up.” You certainly want to get level five (for the sweet hand size bonus) eventually, but I’ve had very good games where I sat at level two for a long time then jumped up, and very bad games where I hit level 5 quickly. But typically yes, your power is tied to your level (even getting better followers tends to require power ups, and getting artifacts will naturally increase your level).

D.F.’s point that Tezla makes the timing much more chaotic is absolutely correct. My comment is more of a nit.

Some General Point I Missed in the Previous Document

I know I stated not to worry about taking wounds, but even after playing so many games I am personally still too cautious. I’ve been experimenting with new styles as I write this (see, for example, my latest session report) and reading other session reports and PBFs it became clear — still too cautious.

This affects my comment about tranquility. Earlier I said (in regards to drawing tranquility) “If you just have a single wound, well, that’s not likely. If you have lots of wounds, that’s its own issue.” But if you have, say, 4 wounds then when you draw tranquility you’ll probably get rid of a wound or two, and if you draw them all in the same hand, you rest. The problem with wounding a follower: yes, your tranquility will always have a target, but you can’t use your follower. Followers (like skills) are always “in your hand,” so a wounded follower is always “in your hand.” I’ve been experimenting with wounding followers much less (unless I know I am going to drop them) and it’s paying off. (Obviously I wound any followers I intend to dump soon in preference to taking a wound).

So I’m rushing more. Moving slightly farther than convenient; attacking with less in reserve. Offensive à outrance. The result? A solid improvement of my scores.

Anyway, more specific notes:

Ruins — I also forgot the Ruins! These are sort of super-spawning grounds with some combination of monsters for some combination of rewards, plus the ruins that let turn 3 identical mana (or one of all four) for seven (ten) points. If one of the five ‘mana-ruins’ show up in the first opening that’s likely a good game. There’s only so much murder you can do Roune One, but you can often scrounge 3 identical mana (using Mana Draw, Crystalize, Concentration and possibly the Mana Steal tactic or a magical glade) and still murder quite a lot (leveling up helps). Pretty much all my games of hitting level four before nightfall involve mana-ruins.

The other ruins are tempting targets (mostly), but best avoid early dragons. (The follower gaining ruin are much better late game).

Early Followers

In most games, the guideline for early followers matches everything else — take what you can. You’ll spend time for followers, and sometimes the choice is obvious because there are only towns (or only keeps) the direction you are going, and there’s only one matching unit.

When you have only one choice, it’s probably the best one. It could be worse, sometimes everyone is hanging out at the undiscovered monastery. That being said:

For the early (Level I/II) followers, I’m a sucker for the Foresters. Movement 2 (really three, because they’ll reduce costs for forests and hills) and Level I means you can heal them with tranquility without spending mana (or heal them + a wound from your hand spending a mana). (And at four body, they can often eat a wound that would cost you two wounds).

5 Influence is only a powered Threaten (or Improvisation or Influence + 1 card). The advantage of an early follower is the ability to soak up a wound or two, and these guys are great. You can use them to move then take a wound, or block one attack and eat another. You’ll probably abandon them late game, but hopefully that’s true of all units.

They have no attack, you say.

Early on, rarely a problem. You may have to stretch to get to attack 7 or 8 (for Guardsmen or Golems) but most of the time you can do it if you have 5 cards (assuming they include a rage or improvisation, and if they are all movement, perhaps attacking wasn’t a great idea? Brown units tend to require more attack, but typically (except at spawning grounds or when facing Orc Summoners) you can’t use units against them anyway, and in those cases bonus move you can use is better than attack/block you can’t.

Late game you absolutely want attacking units. Those let you attack Volkare/City, spend your hand blocking or range attacking and you still dish out damage even if you lose your hand. You may still block with some units (particularly to save your hand). Blocking also lets you block and then soak a wound or two…double duty. But units w/attacks offer the option to just soak 6+ wounds or eat a paralyzing attack.

But these guys can last a long time. And if you pick up the Banner of Fear (spend a unit to cancel an attack) they work as good as anyone.

For cheaper follower (3-5 influence):

Peasants — Flexible, you can get them and later spend them for influence. Fine.

Herbalists — More to get a green token and then eat a wound, in my book. I liked these quite a lot when I started out, but now I pick up Herbalists when I have nothing better.

Thugs — Often taken since they ‘reverse the polarity’ of reputation (for the entire turn you buy them). Thugs can attack, block or influence (with some rep penalties) but their inability to soak a wound unless you spend influence is a significant downside. (That, and they often finish your death spiral of reputation by use). Still, you take them when you’ve been torching the landscape. Ideally you take them and a powerful keep unit at the same time.

Scouts — Siege/Ranged attack 1 isn’t too useful (unless you’ve already got some). I mainly use these guys once to peek at the next purple/brown token or to explore far away (and move). Those abilities are nice.

Utem Guardsman — Let’s compare to a Forester. Block 4 isn’t much better than Block 3 (although doubling vs swiftness is nice). Attack 2 versus movement … early on I typically want the movement. The Guardsman can soak up to 5 damage instead of four, but then takes two heals to heal (as he’s level two).

The followers that cost 6 (or 7) require a serious investment, at least two cards + mana (unless you have a decent reputation … which can happen even on the first day, but often not). But they are good.

Utem Crossbowmen — Ranged Attack 2 (when it helps) effectively gives you a bonus Concentration to your swiftness, and attack/block 3 is significant.

Utem Swordsman — The ability to attack/block 3 or attack/block 6 (at the cost of wounding the swordsman) is powerful. Yes, that means they are one-shots. Consider these guys barely sentient hand grenades, and if you get more than one use out of them, great!

Shocktroops — Terrible, except that the ability to lower an attack by 3 (and redirect it to the troops themselves) is great against many late game enemies — swift, cold fire, assassinating attacks and the like. These can save your bacon against Delphana Masters (5 Cold Fire Assassinating + Paralyzing), Storm Dragons (Ice 4 Swift with 7 points of Elusiveness. Cancel 7 points of armor with 4 points of block instead of 16!). Shocktroops are insurance (unless you have lots of ranged attack units, at which point their ‘bump all ranged attacks by one’ is OK). The issue is, you don’t know ahead of time what you’ll need.

Magic Familiars — Recruiting Familiars is not interaction, so negative rep (even X) is fine. But the price is hefty — mana (in addition to getting to 6 influence). If you recruit them from a glade during the day, the site will provide the mana assuming you started there. You buy a lot of flexibility. Don’t be afraid to use one of the non-boosted powers, as long as it’s the right time. (Don’t be afraid to buy them even if you have to boost the wrong power). Still, you’ll want a decent mana supply, or just plan on recruiting, using, wounding, and then discarding at the start of the next round before you have to re-up your contract.

Illusionists — Influence is fine, white crystals means if you don’t use them earlier you can always get some benefit. A low armor, but physically resistant means that they can absorb some strikes from Golems or Heroes (saving you a block), but their real ability is to spend a white many to prevent an unfortified enemy from attacking. Respectable late game units against Volkare, they can shut down a white (city) or red (dragon) token.

Guardian Golems — Armor 3 and Physical resistance means that Golems bounce one attack per round. That’s their job. Block/Attack 2 is a bonus. Being able to spend a mana for Fire/Ice Block 4 is a bigger bonus. But ‘bouncing one attack’ is not to be discounted. (Particularly against Volkare, who will have a number of Orc and Keep tokens ….)

Foo Monks — At 7 influence, OK not great. Attack/Block 3 or spend a mana for Fire/Ice/Siege attack (or fire/ice block) four. In Solo Conquest, Siege is by far the best version. Not an early game purchase, but often bought towards the end game when the advanced units are ‘wrong.’ (Monasteries don’t have many recruitment potential, so if that’s where you are, you often get a monk by default.

The Second Follower Deck and the Late Game

Early on, focus on the first level up and acquiring power.  Most paths are fine, assuming you don’t completely overspecialize and neglect multiple components. Later, get more selective. Hitting a random Green token for 2-4 points is typically an orgy of waste (unless you need to clear a path). Once you hit level five, you could try to focus on points to level up. But it’s more efficient (power-wise) to grab better followers or spells or artifacts. After all, your first skill + Advanced Action took three fame. Late game you need 20+.

What you want in the late game depends (somewhat) on the scenario you face.

Playing Solo Conquest (“Conquer two cities”), you’ll face ~3 units in your first city and ~4 units in your second (with typical levels). With few exceptions these units will be fortified.

Playing Volkare’s Return (“Conquer a city and defend it against Volkare”) you’ll face ~3 units in the only city, and then face ~6-11 units in Volkare’s army. These won’t be fortified. (If you are playing Volkare’s camp as a possible city on Solo Conquest, then you’ll have less certainty in conquest).

Similarly if you are playing Volkare’s Quest (“Kill Volkare before he gets to the portal,”) I typically never even get to the city, since it’s at least four tiles away and you have to double back to fight Volkare. (IMO, the hardest of the solitaire scenarios. I lose more often than win at Medium/Medium settings).

In Solo Conquest units with ranged attack aren’t great. You have to block (with your hand) and keep the unit undamaged until the regular attack phase. You’d prefer heavier punching non-ranged attacks (or even just block). Siege attacks are golden. Killing units first saves you from blocking and you can have your now-spent unit eat a wound or two, if necessary.

Versus Volkare, prefer ranged attacks (which tend to be bigger or fire/ice to avoid physical resistances). There will likely be some fortified units, but if your arrows blot out the sun you can pick up the stragglers later. (And Orc Diggers aren’t a huge threat).

Against cities, take units that siege, or block / punch. Against Volkare, take ranged attacks.

This doesn’t just apply to followers, but also to spells and advanced actions. You are always constrained by what is available, but playing Solo Conquest after your first city snap up any Catapults, because those will be useful. Amotep Freezers (with attack/block five, or cancelling attack and lowering armor) are more useful than ranged attack. Against Volkare the Freezers aren’t bad, but if you can kill a unit with Ranged attack, you don’t need to block. Prefer the white (ranged) Heroes, or perhaps Sorcerers (with their ability to cancel resistances).

The grand daddy unit in both campaigns are Altem Mages, with their “spend a black Mana to turn all your attacks into siege attacks.” You turn Rage and Improvisation and +2 attack skills into sieges. If you play against cities at exceptionally high levels (or Megapolis), then you’ll want some trick like this. As others have pointed out on BGG, some tricks do not scale, but a few do.

Level III/IV units often posses some resistances, these work as pseudo-block. A unit that ‘bounces’ an enemy token is helpful if it takes you multiple attacks to finish off an enemy.

Beyond that, you get what you can.

The late game is also all about Synergy. If you have Bow of Stardawn (which provides ranged attacks or doubles existing ranged attacks and/or make them seige) then Ranged attack units are good, and Expose (always a good spell) becomes amazing. And if you have ranged attack units, Into the Fire (give your units +2/+3 attack/block, at the cost of not being able to declare them as damage targets) is great.  But if your units are mainly there for physical resistances, Into the Fire is a dead card, you can’t declare them even if they would be undamaged). So, as much as possible, synergize.

But you often don’t have much choice.

Hidden Enemies

If you know what you face, you know if you can defeat it or not (or if you may have to spend your Motivation skill to draw a few more cards). Against Cities you’ll see what you face when you step up next to them. Ditto Keeps/Mage Towers during the day. It’s more important to focus on the tokens you can’t see, and early on that means

Brown (Monster) tokens

If you are level one, you can still go into a dungeon or monster den. Typically the worst case to see there are Medusa (6 paralysing attack) or Minotaur (5 Brutal attack, which is enough to knock out a Level 1 or 2 mage knight). Unless you draw one of those, if you have Rage + a few cards (and red mana) you can eat 2-4 wounds and dish out retribution. Those two you have to block. Unless you have Concentrate + Swiftness. In which case you hope to draw them and not the Crypt Worm (fortified 6 armor) or Gargoyle (4 physical resistance) or Shadow (4 Armor + 4 Elusive).

If you have 8 attack you can handle a random brown, but when you draw Medusa/Minotaur abandon your plan to save your hand. That’s not disaster, but it does slow you down. (The rewards are good enough that if you do that and then attack again and win, you are often in a reasonable position). If you are in a Labyrinth maze you can adjust what you are going for to keep cards in your hand (and presumably have a follower to help block/eat wounds).

One reason I dislike the Tesla expansion — the new brown tokens now have a few super kickers, where 10+ damage is necessary to kill them, (even worse specifically block 5 + attack 5 against the Vampire, or a ridiculous attack 13). When crunching the numbers Lost Legion made brown tokens a bit more palatable to early characters (only Shadow required 8 damage to kill, but at least you only took two wounds) and perhaps Tesla is just rectifying this. But it’s a real pain that the tokens are a different size and not just color, so I can’t draw from a bag. Perhaps I should make a deck of cards for the tokens. Hm…

Tezla adds a lot of variety in tokens, there will always be a lot you can’t handle, unless you have a super flexibly hand and mana pool.

Purple (Magical Defenders) Tokens

These are the …. guys … you face when you go after a Monastery or Mage Tower. Again, a starting character can usually take these out if you are willing to eat a few wounds). And again there are two tokens that will typically require blocking … the Magical Familiars (two different 3 attacks, each brutal) and Ice Golems (2 cold paralyzing, and also physical resistance). So the Ice Golem is the token to watch for. Unless you happen to have fire attack or fire block, you’ll need 4 block then 8 attack to deal with this. Thankfully, there’s only one. The Illusionist also summons a brown token, so it has all the considerations. But again — 8 attack is usually enough.

And remember — you can use followers against Mage Towers (and see the token early, during the day), but they are fortified. Monasteries aren’t — they showed you hospitality, you monster! — but your units won’t help. Also of note for Purple are Sorcerers, which are immune to magic, six armor (so no concentration + swiftness without a boost) and poison. Three wounds + three in the discard gets to the point where I consider just blocking and failing. (Depends on who I am, what spell is in the display if I’m attacking  a mage tower, etc).

Red (Draconum) Tokens

As Rampagers, you always see these guys coming. But when Lost Legion came out, people stopped going into Tombs. In general, you always had to be careful … because the Ice Dragon (6 Cold Paralyzing + 7 Armor with cold + physical resistance) meant you either needed a massive hand to deal with them, or a spell. (Like, Destroy Target Enemy). You drew a dragon and destroyed it. Or you used your Illusionist to pacify that rampaging dragon.

But the Summoner Dragon … oof. Magical resistant (do, no disintegrating or destroying them) and 8 physically resistant and summons two brown tokens, which can ruin your day.  Even for high level characters, having to block a medusa may leave you short of the sixteen(!) damage required.

The Storm Dragon also ruins picnics. And (like the white token Altem Guardians) you can find yourself short of the 14 attack necessary. Tokens like those require a cauldron of whup-ass to kill, unless you have the right combination of fire block or ranged fire/ice attack or an insta-death spell.

Written by taogaming

June 6, 2016 at 4:40 pm