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Author Topic: Dominating Strategies  (Read 8212 times)

relknes

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Dominating Strategies
« on: March 29, 2013, 02:28:44 PM »
There are some games that have a strategy that will win every game against every opponent, or at least have a strategy that can't lose.  Tic-tac-toe is a simple example, but even chess falls into this category, theoretically.  But there are other games where there is no such strategy.  The children's game of "Rock-paper-scisors," for example, has 3 possible "Straategies" for a given round: rock, paper, or scisors.  None of them will beat all other strategies, which adds a cirtain dynamic quality to the game.  It is a game of guessing and psychology and avoiding falling into paterns.

One of the great things about Mage Wars is that it is a dynamic game; there is no one strategy that will win against all others.  Every strategy has a "Dominant strategy" that will beat it consistantly.  This is why flexability and unpredictability are so important; if you only used one strategy, any opoonent worth their salt will adopt a dominant strategy and crush you, but if you can adopt a second strategy that dominates theirs, then you will win unless they can shift gears... and so on, and so on.

The thing is, shifting strategies has a cost.  Often, it involves losing some of the rescources you put into your first strategy.  For instance, a Beast Master might have to let some small creatures die when Mordok's Obelisk hits the table, switching from a swarm strategy (now dominated by the opponent's strategy) to, say, a beatdown strategy (which often dominates a conjuration based strategy).  The Beast Master loses some of the mana and actions he spent summoning those creatures, but the switch makes the opponent's play sub-optimal as well.  

The Beastmaster might also try to directly refute the opponent's play, destroying the Obelisk for example, but that too will have a cost in actions and mana.  Considerations in choosing between these paths boil down to 3 questions:

1) How well can my spellbook put together a dominating strategy?
2) What is the cost of changing to that strategy?
3) What is the cost of directly refuting their strategy?

When putting together a spell book, you should keep these questions in mind.  If you are playing a fairly 1 dimensional book, you force yourself to directly refute whatever they throw at you, no matter the cost, while if you play a book that has too many different strategies you will force yourself to change strategies often, even when that is quite expensive.

I will refer to these as "Overcommiting" and "Undercommiting."

When you overcommit, it means you have invested so many rescources in a single strategy, be it spell book points, mana, or actions, that it is impractical or even impossible to change strategies.  However, when you undercommit, it means that you have not invested enough in a particular strategy to win even against a dominated strategy.

A good spell book will have several strategies that it can commit to, each of which dominates a different opposing strategy.  A good player will try to find the space between overcommiting and undercommiting.
One final note.  One of the things that follows from all this is that it is a disadvantage to be the first to commit to a strategy, because you will also be the first to have to pay the price of "Changing gears."  Thus, just as it is important to put together a spell book that allows multiple strategy options, I feel it is important to play an opening that leaves multiple strategy options.

Now, a question for the community: what do you see as the major strategies in the game, and what are the strategies that dominate them?

My current thought (very rough sketch):
conjurations (temples, mana crystals, Mordok's Obelisk, etc.) are dominated by Beatdown
Beatdown is dominated by Few Big
Few Big is dominated by Control
Control is dominated by swarm
Swarm is dominated by conjurations

Tacullu64

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Re: Dominating Strategies
« Reply #1 on: March 29, 2013, 07:27:07 PM »
An enjoyable read with a number of good insights. You lost me a little bit at the very end with the different strategies. Could you elaborate a little bit on them? I think it may just be a terminology thing, but I'm not sure what goes into a conjuration strategy and what is the difference between beatdown and big few?

Thanks for taking the time to write the article and keep up the good work.

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Re: Dominating Strategies
« Reply #2 on: March 29, 2013, 07:57:19 PM »
Midrange I think is the best definition for both big creatures and conjurations as they are both strategies that really take the tempo in the middle of the game as opposed to the end or beginning of it.
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relknes

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Re: Dominating Strategies
« Reply #3 on: March 29, 2013, 08:37:07 PM »
I was thinking, and again I am still pondering the categories, that Beatdown was those strategies that are focussed on ending the game as quickly as possible, while Few Big were the strategies that summoned a few big creatures and focussed on buffing them and the mage.  The Few Big strategy tries to keep the creatures alive, often casting defensive enchantments like "Regrowth" or "Rhino Hide" to preserve the long term atction advantage that those creatures provide.  The Beatdown strategy tends not to care if the opponent kills their creatures since that is damage that is not going toward their mage and the creature probably got a few atacks in as well, putting them ahead in the race to 0.  The Beatdown strategy isn't looking for a long term advantage, because they don't intend there to be a long term.
The "Conjurations" strategy is probably mis-named.  I was picturing it as strategies that made a sizable early investment that dosn't figure to "break even" for quite some time.  Multiple mana crystals/flowers, multiple temples, and mana-denial conjurations all fit into this category, which is why I originally labeled it Conjurations... but so do a lot of curses (magebane), equipment (mage rings), and buffs (like harmonize).  These are all things that are better and better from an "Investment" standpoint the longer the game goes on, which is why they are weak against strategies that end the game quickly.
I also didn't really touch on "Hybrid" strategies, which are arguably harder to counter than "Pure" strategies.  They can also be cheaper to change strategies with, going from, say, Few Big/Beatdown into a Few Big/Swarm is a lot easier than making a transition from a pure Beatdown to a Swarm strategy.  If people show interest in the thread, I may start another one on that topic.

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Re: Dominating Strategies
« Reply #4 on: March 29, 2013, 10:27:53 PM »
Very Good Topic!

I'd like to know, what do you mean by Control Strategy?  Mind Control and Charm?
There is a friend of mine that always begins with Few Big strategy, and I always have a hard time to put his creatures down (and that gives him time to summon other ones)...
Force master is great for these times, but how can I do a "Control" Strategy when using other mages?

Thanks!

relknes

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Re: Dominating Strategies
« Reply #5 on: March 30, 2013, 12:02:58 AM »
An Air Wizard is good for a control strategy, and to a lesser extent the Priestess.
Good things for this strategy are:
1) Conditions.  Stun, weak, daze, cripple, etc.  Lightning spells, light spells, and arcane creatures tend to do well at laying these on thick.
2) Walls.  Block line of sight, make creatures go around or take damage, etc.
3) Teleport.  Good for so many things... getting your creatures in position (especially those slow arcane creatures), moving your opponent's creatures where you need them, or just getting the %&#$! out of dodge.
4) force push and/or Jet stream.  If you are used to the Force Master, you should be well aware of the power of a well timed push.  Even more valuable with well placed walls.
5) Traps.
6) Poison Gas Clouds.
Basically, in a control strategy, you create a situation where you and your creatures can be wherever you need to be when you need to be there, and their creatures and mage are where you need them to be as well.  Then make a board with dangerous squares and safe squares... your men go on the safe ones, and their men go on the dangerous ones.  Control the distance, control the pace, control the movement.  Mage Wand is a virtual must, and maybe even an Elemental Wand in the other hand.  Familliars are good too.

sdougla2

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Re: Dominating Strategies
« Reply #6 on: March 30, 2013, 01:03:12 AM »
Nice topic. One of the major considerations I make in my play is how easily my opponent can make what I've played useless. This is why I like opening with a big creature before swarming for example.

I tend to think of different strategies in terms of mana investment and tempo. I'll use the Beastmaster for a few examples.

Opening with a pair of Mana Flowers is a small investment, but it puts me behind an aggressive opponent in tempo. I'm essentially 2 actions or 1 turn behind my opponent in applying pressure and defending myself. That's certainly a manageable position, but if you get too far behind in tempo, your opponent will just kill you.

The Lair is an expensive card, and a big investment. Playing the Lair is a pretty significant commitment to a creature play. That creature play can be a midrange play centered on Timber Wolves, a swarm of Thunderdrift Falcons, or something else, but if I'm not summoning creatures regularly, I'm wasting the action advantage I paid for. Using the Lair every turn will allow me to build a tempo advantage.

If I play a Lair, and my opponent makes summoning creatures weaker by playing Suppression Orb, Suppression Cloak, Mordok's Obelisk, Idol of Pestilence, and/or Poison Gas Cloud on the Lair, I'm going to want to destroy those cards so that I can take full advantage of my investment. At that point I'm committed enough to a creature play that I'll spend significant effort in a order to make it effective. If I was swarming, I would consider switching into a midrange play, or even holding off on using the Lair for a few turns if I couldn't destroy those cards immediately.

Playing a Steelclaw Grizzly is a significant investment, but a fairly safe one. It's hard to shut down a Steelclaw Grizzly long term with just one card, and it will generally take many attacks to kill it. Your opponent can mitigate the Steelclaw in a variety of ways, but doing so costs them resources, so that's fine.

I think beatdown is a misleading choice of term for trying to win as soon as possible. Rushdown is clearer. When I say beatdown, I mean hitting things with my mage, and buffing my mage so that they can hit things harder. Generally not a great plan by itself (except maybe for FM), but it can be a great followup to some sort of creature play.

Control is a term that basically means exerting influence on the board position to your benefit and your opponent's detriment. You can talk about control cards, which are generally cards that prevent your opponent from applying pressure to you or otherwise control the battle, whether though mana denial or shutting down a creature. Control cards tend to buy you time. There is also position control, which can be accomplished with cards like Teleport and Force Push.

Control strategies are strategies that try to build up an advantage over time and win in the late game. You're not trying to kill your opponent immediately, you're trying to setup a board position where your opponent will inevitably lose eventually. In terms of control strategies, the Wizard and Priestess have the most obvious control builds.

The Wizard can use Gorgon Archers and Stonegaze Basilisks to shut down their opponent's creatures with poison conditions and/or use Essence Drain, Mordok's Obelisk, Suppression Orb, Suppression Cloak, Drain Power, and Mana Siphon to prevent their opponent from applying pressure effectively. Voltaric Shield is nice for control builds because it makes it harder to effectively apply pressure to the Wizard. The Wizard also has the cheapest access to many control cards like Banish and Turn to Stone. That's not even getting into elemental school options.

A Priestess can use defenses backed up with Temple of the Dawnbreaker combined with attacks from Angel of Light, Angel of Lightning, Staff of Asyra, Temple of Light, and/or Pillar of Light to stack daze/stun conditions on their opponent's creatures. Stacking miss chances like this will prevent your opponent from getting damage through to you. You won't be doing as much damage as quickly as a more aggressive play could, but all of those failed attacks and missed actions will buy you the time to develop a dominant late game.

Wands are good for control strategies because they allow you to spam a spell that you would otherwise run out of. This costs you in the short term (you need to devote an extra 5 mana and an action to get the wand out), but you'll be able to Teleport (or whatever) every turn. This means that when your opponent runs out of answers to equipment, if you still have a wand left, you'll have a big advantage. You won't run out of that spell, and they may run out of answers while you can keep spamming it.
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ringkichard

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Re: Dominating Strategies
« Reply #7 on: March 30, 2013, 01:31:48 AM »
Note -- I've been thinking about this for a while, and this seemed like a relevant place to put this.
It's late and I'm gonna post this, but I may very likely come back later and edit it once I'm awake.


It might help to describe strategies by their resource plan re: the three major resources -- damage, actions and manna -- and the types of investments it makes.

Consider Piousflea's Lord of Terror Warlock build. Piousflea calls it a beatdown build in his writeup, but relknes would probably categorize it as a Few Big strategy.

That build spends a lot of actions in the beginning on movement to close the distance to the enemy, while saving up manna. It makes use of Cheetah speed and shift enchantment as cheep action investments with immediate payoff to fuel the initial movement action expenditure.
 
Then it dramatically makes a big manna payment and tries to end the game as soon as possible by efficiently spending all actions and manna on attacks or attack improvements. There are no long term investments in this strategy. All investments must pay off faster than any slower investments the opponent might have made while the Beatdown mage was moving.


I think we should describe this sort of Few Big strategy as:
[ul]
  [li]Near term damage payout[/li]
  [li]Minimal investment of manna or actions in manna generators[/li]
  [li]Efficient investment of actions and high investment of manna in action generators[/li]
  [li]No higher order investments of resources in action generator-generators or mana generator-generators[/li]
[/ul]

I'll explain. In this model, the most basic currency in the game is damage. Above damage are the twin currencies of manna and actions. Above those are manna generators and action generators. Above those are manna generator-generators and action generator-generators and so on. I'll give some examples:
[ul]

  [li]Manna generators are things like Manna Crystals and Manna Flowers. [/li]
  [li]Action generators are usually creatures.[/li]
  [li]Manna generator-generators are more rare. Fella casting harmonize on herself and your mage and your Lair would be an example of a manna generator-generator. [/li]
  [li]Action generator-generators are things like spawn points which can be used to create creatures, which themselves generate actions.[/li]
[/ul]

Note that Fellella is both an action generator and a manna generator as well as a potential manna generator-generator. Goblin Builders are action generators without being manna generators (no channeling stat). They're action generator-generators if they're used to build conjurations that can act (either attack some other action that can be converted to damage), and they could even be action-generator-generator-generators if they could build multiple barracks.  

All this generator-generator-generator talk is getting kind of complicated. Lets talk about these things as a "Order". Damage is a 0 order resource; it's what resources are ultimately converted into. Manna and Actions are 1st order resources; they're the things that are converted into damage. Creatures and manna conjurations are 2nd order resources. They're the things that produce 1st order resources. Spawn points and some familiars are 3rd order resources (Huginn is only a 2nd order resource, and so are the Psy familiars)

Your mage, of course, is the generator-generator-generator-infinity+1. Anything that you invest in comes out of your mage or some other investment your mage made. If some day they print an enchantment that spits out creature spawners, the mage will still be the impetus. Of course, the mage also generates 2 quick actions every turn and a tremendous amount of manna, and needs to be considered an exceptionally powerful 2nd order resource as well as a potential resource at order n+1.

As an aside, Spellbooks are not an investment type resource. It may be best to think of them as order 0, or as a top level n resource, from which all other resource generation comes from, or just as a completely orthogonal resource.  Cards in the spellbook are either depleted or preserved (and very rarely restored) but never generated. If damage is work, and manna and actions are solar and wind sources of renewable power, then spellbooks are a non-renewable fossil fuel like crude oil. Wands are a way to preserve the spellbook resource, so they're maybe a 1st order spellbook resource, too.

Enchantments that deal damage like Magebane or Ghoul Rot would be 1st order resources in this system (if that matters?) on a par with manna or actions. They create damage.

Anyway, why does all this 1st order 2nd order stuff matter? Generally, the higher order an investment is, the more powerful it is, and consequently (because Mage Wars is a well balanced game) the more expensive it is and the longer it takes to pay off. A 15 manna Lair is only going to create damage indirectly through creatures which will create actions, and so is less immediately valuable than a 5 manna Bitterwood Fox. But if you leave a Lair in play long enough it will create lots of Foxes which will create lots and lots of actions which will create lots and lots of damage.

To return to piousflee's Lord of Terror build, he's relying on the initial starting manna and the pre-existing 2nd order resource of the Warlock himself to build a very expensive action generator (Adramelech, Lord of Fire) because Adramelech is also one of the most action efficient damage generators in the game.

This explains why Few Big does so well against Beatdown. Few Big is efficiently more invested in actions than Beatdown (Beatdown hasn't got any action generators except maybe Battle Fury or Whirling Strike on a Mage Wand or Helm of Gothos). Because Few Big has an easy time recovering its investments against Beatdown, it tends to dominate.

As I see it, the reasons Few Big can recover its investments vs Beatdown are

[ul]
  [li]The investments are only modestly larger than the dominated strategy[/li]
  [li]The investments are efficient and take advantage of natural sweet-spots[/li]
  [li]The investments are well targeted[/li]
  [li]Actions are more scarce than manna[/li]
[/ul]

In this case, I mean that Lord of Terror only invests in one action generator, compared to Beatdown's zero investments. Avoiding over-investment is key. Further, the investments LoT makes are in good, powerful cards that are probably at the outer edge of the balance window. And finally, the investments hit the metagame at the right spot. High power flyers are valuable metagame pieces that have the potential to Just Win.

The important reason that high investment strategies don't always beat low investment strategies is that a low investment strategy can trade off its own low order resources for the opponent's high order resources. A creature can kill a spawnpoint. Manna and an action can be used to cast an incantation or attack spell (making that spell a transformed 1st level resource, because it's not going to stick around)  and that spell can have an immediate adverse effect on the opponent's investment. Trading low order resources for high order resources can be great because the high order resources tend to be more expensive (again, because that's how Mage Wars is balanced.)  

Finally, lets look at relknes's categories again:

Quote
conjurations (temples, mana crystals, Mordok's Obelisk, etc.) are dominated by Beatdown
Beatdown is dominated by Few Big
Few Big is dominated by Control
Control is dominated by swarm
Swarm is dominated by conjurations


Some of these interactions are just related to the balance of the different resources, but for example, the reason Control is dominated by Swarm is that Swarm makes a heavy investment in action generators while Control makes a heavy investment in manna Generators, and, in that matchup, actions scale faster than manna.

The control mage starts channeling 10 manna a turn, and gets 2 actions. That's 5 manna/action. 2 Manna flower equivalents and a Gate to Voltari will keep this ratio the same (15/3), or 5 manna flower equivalents will nudge it up to approximately +50%. This costs aprox 25 manna, and between 3 and 5 actions.

The Swarm mage scales much faster because each creature only takes 1 action to summon and pays for itself the next turn. Summoning just a single creature is a +50% increase in actions available.

Against a Big Few strategy, Control can use its lower order resources (actions, order 1) against the opponent's higher order resources (action generators, creatures, order 2) and because the Big Few strategy isn't equipped to take advantage of the superior scaling in creatures vs. manna, the Control player can live long enough to see a return on his or her more powerful investment.
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sdougla2

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Re: Dominating Strategies
« Reply #8 on: March 30, 2013, 01:44:01 AM »
That's an interesting way of looking at resources, and one that I hadn't considered before.
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piousflea

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Re: Dominating Strategies
« Reply #9 on: March 31, 2013, 01:44:13 PM »
1) I don't think it is proper to consider a creature as an action. A Mage with 10 channeling has 2 actions available, so if he casts 2 Tanglevines (5mana each) he will use up all 10 of his channeling. A Mage with 15 channeling and a Bitterwood Fox can still only cast two Tanglevines. He cannot cast a third.

In reality, most mages do not have the capability of increasing their spellcasting actions to more than 3 - a full action spell from the Mage, a quick action spell from the Mage, and a quick action spell from a Familiar. Deployment actions don't really count because they happen before the round and they are heavily restricted. (You can't teleport or dispel or reverse attack with a Spawnpoint)

2) All the talk about 1st order, 2nd order etc is mathematically fascinating, but Mage Wars is very difficult to math out due to the mind game nature of preparing 2 cards each round.

I prefer to think about things in terms of "timings": much like a RTS such as Starcraft:

A "Lord of Terror" build attempts to hit a Round 4 timing. His creatures (and mage) are in range to melee you at Round 4. You have to fight them with the creatures, enchants, equipment and Conjurations that you have on Round 4. Generators that might give you a ton of mana at round 6+ don't really help you.

A "Sniper Nest" has Grimson in a watchtower with enough range to hit nearly the entire board, starting on round 3. That makes it a faster aggro than even the Lord of Fire. You have to be prepared to handle him on round 3 or else you will take a lot of damage while setting up.

On the other hand, a Battle Forge first or Lair First aggro build usually doesn't hit its stride until round 6. This gives more "passive" builds a few more rounds to prepare for it. Still, if you are unprepared to handle aggression when the aggression comes, you will take a lot of damage before you stabilize. (If at all)

3) It is pointless to create an artificial category of "Mage only Beatdown". This would really only be the Forcemaster and no one else.

In fact, I think it's not very useful to use broad categories. Very small tweaks to a strategy can dramatically change what counters or doesn't counter it.

A very simple example is the Slow Creature Wizard that relies on teleports and Tanglevines + hydras. Agony and Force Push can counter Hydra for very low cost.

However, if the wizard decides to use Iron Golems as his slow creature, suddenly force push is totally ineffective and Agony is much less effective. However, lightning bolts become absolutely devastating.

Similarly - Quicksands can stop a Vampiress build cold. But if the same warlock had started out with Lord of Fire instead of vamp, Quicksand would be ineffective.

sdougla2

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Re: Dominating Strategies
« Reply #10 on: March 31, 2013, 03:06:01 PM »
I should try thinking about strategies more from a timing perspective. I do to some extent, but I don't always fully take into account how long it takes everything to get to my opponent when I'm thinking about it. Of course, for slower buildup strategies, it's reasonable to expect that my opponent will often move towards me before everything would get to them.

While I agree that there is a great deal of subtlety in each strategy, and a change from one threat to another can change the optimal counters, I think it's still useful to look at broad categories.

In your example the best cards to use as answers are different, but they're both essentially control plays, whether you're moving the creature out of the way and neutering it's attack or stun locking it. Arc Lightning and Lightning Bolt are good for preventing the Iron Golems from getting actions, but you'll end up spending a lot more than 13 mana on those cards if you want to keep an Iron Golem shutdown. Besides, that's what Earth Elemental is for.  :P

The counters to different threats vary, but slow powerful melee creatures are generally best dealt with by control plays. They're a big investment, and it's often better to bypass them as best you can than to try to kill them. Maybe that means moving it out of position. Teleport is a good card for dealing with slow threats in general. Then you can say that if you're specifically dealing with Iron Golems, lightning attacks work well to repeatedly stun them. Darkfenne Hydra is specifically vulnerable to Force Push and Agony. So while there are specific counters that work best against specific threats, you can also come up with categories that are all vulnerable to a specific card or tactic. Maybe there are exceptions to that particular counter, but it's useful to come up with a conceptual framework and classification for strategies and threats.

As for beatdown, I think of it as something I transition into once I have my initial creature(s) up and running. Okay, I have my Steelclaw Grizzly and some Bitterwood Foxes out, it's time to buff my mage and go hit things. So while only the FM should attempt solo beatdown, it's useful to think of beatdown as an important step in many builds. It's really a timing issue. Maybe with one build I'll summon creatures and get setup for 4 turns, and then I'll transition into beatdown. In another I'll just summong Vampiress first turn and go into beatdown from turn 2 onward. Of course, getting your mage into position may take time, but it's still useful to think about when you're switching gears.

As for your issue with treating creatures as extra actions, that's why I considered my mage's actions and cards that let me cast spells (familiars and spawnpoints) in terms of action advantage, and other creatures in terms of board advantage.

On the other hand, everything you can play that gives you extra stuff down the line is less versatile than a mage action. Even if a familiar is more versatile than a spawnpoint, you can only cast some class of spells. In that sense, playing a familiar is an investment in more actions to cast that particular kind of spell, while playing a Vampiress is an investment in guarding and attack actions. I can definitely see where ringkichard is coming from with that analysis.
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piousflea

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Re: Dominating Strategies
« Reply #11 on: April 01, 2013, 11:15:45 PM »
Hmm... I still think we have a problem with nomenclature. You are using the word "Beatdown" to mean "My Mage is meleeing". I am using the word "Beatdown" to mean "My Mage is attacking in the early game."

Those are two very different concepts.

I suppose I could honor my Starcraft background by using the term "Rush" for any strategy that sacrifices late-game viability in favor of more damage earlier.

sdougla2

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Re: Dominating Strategies
« Reply #12 on: April 01, 2013, 11:26:06 PM »
I agree, rush, rushdown, or aggro is much clearer terminology.
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Re: Dominating Strategies
« Reply #13 on: April 13, 2013, 08:28:36 AM »
A realy great topic :) a great perspective, but i agree with piousflea the mathematical point of view is hard to acomplish as thsi game has a lot of variables.

I myself, and this is only me, do not like to categorize different strategies in this game only, because Mage Wars gives players the ability to counter any strategy if they have enough resources ofc.
If i start thinking in terms of " i should play the beatdown / rush tactic now" and then commit to it i will find myself out of resources to change to a different tactic.

My style of play is more like, let's start with a generic strategy, then counter what my opponent does as little costly as i can  and also damage him with various things.

I like to play the many curses warlock this way, just spam his mage with curses then counter his strategies of atacking me, if he tries to get rid of the curses then i atack him instead basicaly i make use of what my opponent doese not do. It is all about timing ofc.

But all in all a very nice read, thx:)

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Re: Dominating Strategies
« Reply #14 on: April 16, 2013, 01:31:12 PM »
Added to the list or should be read threads.
This is getting a sticky.
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