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  1. #1
    Senior Member kamman13's Avatar
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    Mage Strategy and the art of death racing

    This article will be cross-posted on GDC's awesome website.
    Also, a lot of the reasoning for this deck comes from Hit em with all you got and card damage strategies. The concept of "race" and "control" type decks comes from He-man's post.

    --The powerful mages

    So, what do mages have going for them? The answer is easy, offense. Their class specific cards have the most powerful, damage efficient spells in the game, and those spells can't be mediated by armor, or really defended in any way. I should mention that by damage efficient, I mean they do the most damage per resource.

    This means, of course, that mages are masters of the art of death-racing, and excel at race-style gameplay. They have the spells needed to drive an opponent right in the ground. Additionally, Portal grants allies haste, allowing them to attack faster, further complementing a race-style gameplay.

    But can mages run a control style deck? Short answer- no. Snow Sapphire, Voice of Winter, and Freeze are great controlling cards. Portal can also double function as a way to win back board control, and Supernova is a great board clear. But most of these cards function primarily as delays, giving you a few more turns to do damage to your opponent while they can't do damage to you. Delays don't win you games, they prevent you from losing games for a few turns.

    Mages are missing several key elements that allow a control deck to truly succeed. To run a control deck, you need cards that counter strategies, control the game, or heal you significantly, allowing you to wait out your opponent until your late game win condition kicks in. Mages have few counters, no heals, and no late-game win conditions. The only dependable late-game win condition for mages is a direct damage death race with Fireball and Lightning Strike, which only works if you've done enough damage to the hero from early game allies and spells. But if you're playing a control-type game, you're spending your early turns attacking their allies instead of the hero, eliminating this source of damage. The only answer here is death racing from start to finish.

    --Card draw

    Now that we've established that the mage's bread and butter is their direct damage abilities, we run into a problem. Although these spells are really efficient sources of damage per resource, they are not efficient sources of damage per card. Allies are the most efficient source of damage per card, as they are a neverending source of damage if never killed. But a Fireball, at 4 damage for 3 resources, still only gets you 4 damage for one card when it's all said and done. To run mages effectively, you need lots of cards.

    The mages have a nice unilateral draw engine in Research, but Research has problems. It's a slow draw, since it takes 4 resources to get 1 card, and 6 to get 2. This means research doesn't get you cards until you can safely afford to donate resources to it, which is turn 5-6. Not great. Additionally, Research does not complement the art of death racing. In death racing, you want to be dedicating your resources most efficiently to damage, not to card draw. This means you are better off relying on the two cheapest draw options in the game, Bad Santa and Bazaar. When a control-type mage deck becomes viable, then so will Research. Till then, put off your studies and hit the market.

    --Human vs. Shadow

    So now the question, which mages to choose, shadow or human? This question comes down in large part to card draw. As was noted, card draw is a major problem for mages, and the choice in large part has to consider this. The shadow mages solve card draw with their abilities, only requiring a small number of bazaar/bad santas (or even just Belladona and Shadow Knight). The human mages trade natural, unilateral card draw for more effective board controlling maneuvers.

    In my mind, death-racing is even more critical for human mages than shadow mages. The human mages need a lot of bilateral card draw to keep their hand flush with cards, but will by consequence keep their opponent's hand flush with cards too. This means a human mage should always assume that their opponent will have all the cards they need, and will only be resource- and turn-limited in implementing them. With enough time, their opponent can implement their strategy and win, which means human mages need to make sure their win strategy kicks in first, i.e. by death racing.

    --The Art of Death Racing

    Death racing, although a seeming simple-minded strategy, requires a fair bit of good decision-making to be effective. The idea is simple- bring your opponent's health to zero before he does the same to yours. To do so requires knowing when to attack the hero or the opposing allies. A good rule of thumb is looking at your allies' attack relative to your opponent's allies' attack. If they can do more damage to your hero per turn than you can do to them, then it's time to take out some enemy allies. Another rule of thumb is to be efficient with your attacks. If an enemy ally only has two life left and you have an ally with four attack, probably best not to waste the damage on that ally.

    Another concern is board clears (Supernova or Nish's ability). If you can clear the board on the following turn, then go for their hero rather than the allies. Chances are their allies will "waste" their attacks killing your allies instead of attacking your hero, allowing you to wipe them the next turn. Here "waste" means not converting ally attack into hero damage, the primary concern in death races.

    Portal is key in death racing because it does two things. First, it allows you to attack with allies as soon as they are summoned, meaning you can directly convert attack to hero damage without a chance for your opponent to kill your ally first. Second, you've created a threat on the board that your opponent must deal with before it translates into further hero damage. This means your opponent has to use resources or ally attacks to destroy your summoned allies, meaning they act as a sort of "meat shield," soaking up damage your hero might otherwise take. Thus, death racing has some defensive perks, when run well. Besides allyless mage decks, every mage deck should be running 2-3 Portals for its versatility.

    The main idea in death racing is that any attack which does not attack the enemy hero must have a very good reason, as that is a "wasted" attack, damage that could have got the opponent's life down faster was instead spent somewhere else. The only real reason to attack something other than the opposing hero is if you save more damage to your hero in the long term than you would have done to your opponent. Making such a decision involves your current hand, knowledge of what's left in your deck, and knowledge of your opponent's probable counters and allies.

    My thoughts and ramblings:
    The art of death racing
    Hitting em with all you got
    In defense of bazaar
    Card draw engines and card draw advantage
    Damage Strategies in SE

    A1's resident Mathemalogian
    A1 : Evolution in Theory.
    Member of the PFG, and guest article writer for GDC's website

  2. #2
    Senior Member kamman13's Avatar
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    Thoughts on 1.28-

    Some changes coming- basically wanted to say I don't think that the changes are going to change the fact that mages are more race than control oriented, even though most of the new cards are control type cards. Misplaced and the newly-nerfed shriek can only take out low cost items, basically removing the one semblence of control that shadow mages had. In place of that, We have some cards that aid with armor-weapon removal, which is nice, but poor-quality relies on ally damage, which either means you need to have board control to utilize it, or use it in combination with portal+ally, an expensive, 3-card combo (or poor quality +kris, looks a little better). The ascendants are interesting, and I think can be used for an additional boost to control style decks, but isn't enough on it's own to convert the mages over to control.

    What the developers did was basically give complicated and combo-dependant control manuevers to all classes, thus making counters available to all classes if you want it, but ineffective counters at that. Although I applaud the move for balance concerns, it isn't going to make mages effective control decks yet, in my opinion, though time will tell on this one.

    Concerning hero ability changes, Eladwen and GB just got abilities that further favor race style gameplay in my opinion. Nish is unchanged, and Majiya, well, goodbye Majiya, your reign seems to be over. Her ability became more control oriented, but too weak and expensive to be useful. Shadow mages lose their unilateral draw, and now like human mages will have to rely on bazaar and bad santa for draw.
    Last edited by kamman13; 10-19-2011 at 10:39 PM.

    My thoughts and ramblings:
    The art of death racing
    Hitting em with all you got
    In defense of bazaar
    Card draw engines and card draw advantage
    Damage Strategies in SE

    A1's resident Mathemalogian
    A1 : Evolution in Theory.
    Member of the PFG, and guest article writer for GDC's website

  3. #3
    Senior Member Gellidus's Avatar
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    Hi Kamman,

    Nice Insight... Thanks for sharing

  4. #4
    Member ivoeusebio's Avatar
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    Great words man... alot of info inside of it!

  5. #5
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    Everything you stated is quite true, specifically when playing Nishaven.

  6. #6
    DP Visionary Atomzed's Avatar
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    Insightful post.

    GDC may want to consider saving the article.
    A1's Mustard-Seed Knight of Hope (IGN:A1 atomzed)
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  7. #7
    Senior Member Harakhte's Avatar
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    Having watched a few of your recent games I would say you have the "race" style down to a fine art, my friend. Great article, as always!

    Cheers,
    -Harakhte
    Harakhte - A1's Esoteric Egyptian Enigma
    www.a1-alliance.org - "Evolution in Theory"

  8. #8
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    there are some good points here but also some misconceptions...mainly that mages can't run a control deck. also, spells can be defended in many different ways - holy shield, into the forest, full moon...
    in the end, not all mages are best suited for this style play - only maji because of her draw engine. Nish is geared more towards control (with his ability) as are GB and eladwen.
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    One who pwns noobs with feces or dung.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by poopster77 View Post
    there are some good points here but also some misconceptions...mainly that mages can't run a control deck. also, spells can be defended in many different ways - holy shield, into the forest, full moon...
    in the end, not all mages are best suited for this style play - only maji because of her draw engine. Nish is geared more towards control (with his ability) as are GB and eladwen.
    I can speak for Nish. He doesn't have the ability to play control. You can stall but you can't really go for control unless you had ways to counter items as well. Even with the upcoming Human Poor Quality you can only, at best, deal with weapons and armor. So Nish doesn't have the luxury to go for control. His game has to revolve around burning the opponent before they achieve any real advantage. Even running allies doesn't give you control, they are mostly another source of damage and 'meat shields', while you wail on them with burn spells.

  10. #10
    Senior Member Harakhte's Avatar
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    GB is best suited for swarm (not necessarily rush, weenie or fatty, or late fatty bomb) tactics, in which the goal is simply to overwhelm the opponent with the constant playing and re-playing of allies, until they die from it.

    This can be supplemented with burn, of course, but GB doesn't recurse burn spells, he recurses allies, so including too much burn in place of allies can be detrimental, especially versus faster card draw and board wipe-capable opponents. In those match-ups making the best use of each ally you play, and support spells like Bloodlust, along with LS and Portal as GB spell standards, is imperative. Debate still exists on the best answer to Crippled/Captured allies, but with GB it is still possible to overcome four useless, non-dead allies as long as you have some small amount of draw boost that doesn't rely on Bella. While I am not a fan of Research in general, it can be used for this, as can Bad Santa or Bazaar, though it is always a risk to provide extra draw to your opponent it is often necessary to do so when other options aren't available.

    I would personally like to see.a shift in thinking away from the apparent consesus that bilateral draw is simply "bad" to being considered "a matter of viability and circumstance". But that's just me...

    Cheers,
    -Harakhte
    Harakhte - A1's Esoteric Egyptian Enigma
    www.a1-alliance.org - "Evolution in Theory"

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