Wednesday, September 5, 2012

[Stacking the Deck: Summoner Wars] Fortress of Ice

This is the first in a new series of Stacking the Deck articles, this time focusing on the game Summoner Wars. If you’re not familiar with this fun tactical card game you can read my Design Review here. In each of these articles I’ll present one deck, talk about my process in creating the deck, and some strategies for how to use it effectively. For my first article I’ll be building a deck with the Tundra Orcs faction. But first, let’s talk a little bit about how deck building works in Summoner Wars.

Assembling Your Army

Most games that allow you to build your own deck to play with, give you a bunch of cards and let you pick what you want. There are usually some guidelines, a few restrictions, or just some practical considerations that will shape the way you build a deck, but for the most part you’ll have free reign. Deck building in Summoner Wars is much more restricted. That’s not to say there isn’t room for creativity, though.

The factions in Summoner Wars each come as a preassembled deck. That deck will contain your all-important summoner, a selection of 9 event cards that are specific to that summoner, 3 wall cards, 3 unique champion units, and multiples of 3 different common units (a total of 18 common units). When building a custom deck, you can switch out any of the champion and common units in one of these preassembled decks for different champion and common units. You can’t swap a common unit for a champion unit, or vice versa, so you’ll always have 3 champions and 18 commons. Also, you can’t have more than 1 copy of any champion, or more than 10 copies of any common unit. You can’t use units from another faction, either, except for Mercenary units, of which you can have at most 6 in a deck. Another minor restriction (the one that I find the most annoying) is that there are a few common units that you must have at least 1 or 2 copies of. This is determined by your summoner and there is no way around it.

A Cold Start

Since Mercenaries are one of the foremost ways to add some new variety to a deck, when I thought about building some custom decks for Summoner Wars, the first thing I did was look through my Mercenary cards. I noticed that there were a few Mercenary units that had special abilities relating to walls. Walls are the only form of terrain in the game, and I recalled that the two Orc factions both make special use of walls. Three of the event cards in the Tundra Orcs deck are Ice Walls. Ice Walls count as additional walls, except that they only have 3 Life Points instead of 9. So, mixing some of these wall-specialist Mercenaries into a Tundra Orc deck seemed like a fun idea.

So now I pulled out the Tundra Orc deck. Their summoner is Grognack. He’s a pretty tough melee fighter with an Attack Value of 4 and 7 Life Points. His special ability, Walls of Ice Shard, lets you roll to do damage to each enemy unit adjacent to one or more of your walls. This makes him a pretty defensive summoner. You really want to lure your opponents into your territory where they’ll have to fight adjacent to your walls. Meanwhile, 3 of his event cards are the aforementioned Ice Walls, meaning you could potentially have a total of 6 walls out – twice as many as most factions can get.

Now because of Grognack’s starting setup (basically, each summoner comes with a few common units that are already in play at the start of a game), this deck must include at least 1 Shaman, 1 Smasher, and 2 Fighters. The deck comes with 5 each of the Smashers and Shamans, but I’m going to remove the other 4 of those 2 unit types to make room for some different units. Smashers and Shamans are both decent units, but they both have negative special abilities. These negative abilities are there to offset superior stats while keeping their summon cost low, but I’d rather avoid negative abilities where I can.

What will I replace my extra Smashers and Shamans with? To start with, there is a Mercenary unit called the Stonecloak. These guys have 3 Life Points, which is exception for a common unit with a Summoning Cost of 1. To offset this advantage, they have a negative special ability called Stolen Armor. Basically, it forces you to deal 3 wounds to a wall you control when you summon the Stonecloak. Because the Tundra Orcs will be fielding more walls than usual, this isn’t such a big drawback. I’ll replace the 4 extra Smashers with 4 Stonecloaks. The 4 extra Shamans will be replaced with 4 Thwarters – a very defensive melee unit that comes in the Tundra Orcs’ reinforcements pack. These units together are creating a very defensive deck. The remainder of the common units in the deck is 8 Fighters. These guys are cheap to deploy and can be pretty aggressive, with the ability to move and attack multiple times each round if the dice are in their favor. I’ll leave them in there because they’ll make a good counter point to the rest of the deck, just in case I need to go on the offensive at some point.

Last, but not least, we need 3 champion units to finish off our deck. I can include at most 2 more Mercenary units in my deck without breaking the 6 Mercenary limit, and I’ve been saving those slots for a couple of Mercenary champions.

Etch and The Seer have only moderate Attack Value and Life Points, but they also both have rather low Summoning Costs for champions. Their real advantage is in their special abilities. Etch allows you to wound a wall to move 1 card from the top of your discard pile to your magic pile. This lets you generate more magic in an economic way, effectively being able to use discarded cards twice. You can use this to damage enemy walls, but because you have more walls than usual, it’s also a viable strategy to keep Etch safely tucked away and have him wound your own walls to power his ability. The Seer only needs to be adjacent to a wall to use his ability, which lets you look at the top card of the draw pile for the player that controls the wall he’s adjacent to. You can then add that card to either that player’s hand, discard pile, or magic pile. Now, you could use this to mess with your opponent, moving a card from his draw pile to his discard pile without him being able to use it, but it is far better to keep him safe on your side of the board adding cards from the top of your draw pile to your hand or your magic pile. For our third champion, we’ll use Bragg. He’s a little bit tougher than Etch and The Seer, and as long as he’s on the battlefield, he enhances both your Ice Walls and another event card called Freeze. Another advantage of these champions is that they are all ranged units, something lacking among the common units we’re using.

Solitary Fortress

Now let’s look at our deck. I’m going to start by simply listing all of the cards in the deck, and then I’ll discuss how to use them.

Grognack (Summoner)

A Hero is Born (Event)
Freeze x3 (Event)
Ice Wall x3 (Event)
Reinforcements x2 (Event)

Wall x3 (Event)

Bragg (Champion)
Etch (Champion)
The Seer (Champion)

Fighter x8 (Common)
Shaman x1 (Common)
Smasher x1 (Common)
Stonecloak x4 (Common)
Thwarter x4 (Common)

Overall, this deck should be played rather defensively. Stay back and surround yourself with walls. Make it as difficult as you can for your opponent to approach you without getting adjacent to your walls and your units.

A lot of what you can do depends on the cards that you draw, but one thing to keep in mind is that The Seer will benefit you the most if you can get him out early in the game. So try to have a ready supply of at least 3 cards in your magic pile, so that you can play him as soon as he becomes available. If you draw the event card A Hero is Born before you find The Seer, go ahead and use it to search your deck for The Seer and add him to your hand.

You start out with a Shaman and a Smasher but these aren’t really essential to your strategy. It may not be a bad idea to defeat them yourself (attacking your own units is legal) in order to build magic early on. The rest of your common units have a Summon Cost of 1, so getting them out when you need them shouldn’t be too hard.

I would focus on summoning Stonecloaks and Thwarters since these contribute to your defensive strategy. Discard Fighters to build magic, and throw one into the fray only when you need to turn the tables on your opponent and go more on the offensive. Save your Freezes for when your opponent sends a particularly tough champion your way.

That’s my idea for a defensive Tundra Orcs deck. I haven’t actually played with this deck, but I would be curious to see it in action. Have any thoughts on how this deck could be improved? Is there a better way to make use of these cards? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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