Arcane Wonders Forum

Mage Wars => Strategy and Tactics => Topic started by: DeckBuilder on November 05, 2013, 06:44:14 PM

Title: Resources
Post by: DeckBuilder on November 05, 2013, 06:44:14 PM
This thread only aims to look at one aspect of this deceptively deep and multi-faceted game: the resources you trade if you view the game in the abstract. This article is inspired by recent discussion following the release of Meditation Amulet and ringkichard's comment below.

I've been thinking that strategically the real currency in Mage Wars is actions more than Mana (at least right now). I should write something longish about that, but for now-if you'll indulge me- I'm going to propose that whoever takes more actions wins. Yes, I know it's not true. I'm saying that it might be true enough.

The consequence of this model is that Mana is only important because it let's you take actions: Available mana limits actions, but actions almost never limit mana: it's rare that you'll have huge amounts of mana and just not enough actions to use it all. Usually you'll just use a more expensive spell, or a more expensive mode of a spell you already plan to cast (e.g Teleport for 12 instead of 6).

From this perspective, competitive agro books either have to play a cheep spawnpoint with cheep actions (usually Battle Forge and low cost equipment) or use free actions like the mage's melee attack to save Mana to power a more expensive spawnpoint. Usually they do both.

Firstly, I agree with this thinking. But only to a certain extent. I feel it is an incomplete view as it focuses on just 2 resources in the game (actions, mana) and there are more.

Most (all?) games can be deconstructed into resource management. So what are the resources in Mage Wars?


The first resource you balance in the game is when you build your book: spending your budget of spell points. You will create a coherent strategy and compensate for weaknesses when building a well-rounded book. This often requires compromising: everyone would like 6 Dispels, 6 Dissolves and 4 Teleports but not everyone can afford it (Charmyna's Watergate build is the epitome of spell points efficiency). This deficiency is sometimes alleviated by spell-binding cards, a trade-off of mana and extra action for the flexibility of being able to cast the same precious spell points repeatedly. Spell point cost is the interaction of the spell’s School and the mage's Training.

Linked to spell point costs are the traits Cantrip, Unique, Legendary and Epic. Cantrip lets you never worry about running out of that spell. Unique restricts abuse by having multiples in play, often making multiples in your book potentially a redundant spend of your spell point budget. Legendary enhances Unique constraint further by accepting that even your single copy may become redundant if opponent casts it first. Finally Epic are powerful cards that players may only have 1 copy of hence timing of its play should be optimal (e.g. Cheetah Speed 3 away from enemy's horde and cast Orb and Obelisk in adjacent zones 4 away). These traits all influence or hard limit how many copies hence spell points are spent on that spell.

Zone Exclusive is also a trait that influences spell point expenditure by imposing a constraint on the total number of all such conjurations. You need to balance your Zone Exclusive total in your book by the finite limit of 12 zones in the game and the ability of your creature base to establish control over that number of zones. A creature-heavy book with a spawnpoint could aim for more than half the arena. It is fine to have “spare” Zone Exclusive conjurations, especially at 1 spell point cost, for when other Zone Exclusives are destroyed. Balance must be made between a strategy of naked assets (tempo distractions) and the creature support that exists to make them stick. When some will pay 4 mana on a Block (Forcemaster pays 2 with 2 rings), a Wizard sees great appeal in dropping 1 spell point Crystals for 4 (with ring), naked as a distraction attracting 1 or 2 attacks not made on you or pay for themselves then generate mana if left alone. An Earth Wizard playing Pestilence, Deathlock, Suppression Orb and Mana Siphon would need to spread his 4 Iron Golems to protect them as they are all valuable assets. Distinction should be made between valued (often Epic) Zone Exclusive conjurations worth protecting and other assets.

Spell Points are most important in the longest of game strategies: Attrition. I win because you ran out of spells to counter my threats.


This covers manipulating your own and opponent's mana generation. If the spell points are the body's shape, then mana is its life blood. Without mana, all those spells are meaningless. This can be used both proactively (increasing your channelling) and reactively (reducing opponent's mana spend).

Increasing or decreasing Channelling, either directly or indirectly (via optional upkeep or cost to perform action) has a cumulative benefit, rather than a one-off burst benefit. The classic example of changing the valve, not the pool, is:

Assume all Wizards wear an Arcane Ring, cost 2 mana + 1 quick action (1 mana + no action with Battle Forge), hence:
2 Mana Crystals + Mana Siphon = 19 mana, 3 quick actions set-up, 5 spell points, 3 zone exclusives
Mage Wand + Drain Power = 20 mana, 1 quick action set-up + 1 quick action per use, 5 spell points

Drain Power transfers 8 mana on average between mages (so opponent loses 8, you lose 7 with Arcane Ring). Over 4 turns, this same transference occurs with 2 Crystals and a Mana Siphon (ignoring they would be cast in sequential rounds). It's obvious the conjurations, as a persistent effect, is better early game. However, later in the game when you have removed all threats and the opponent (depleted of Dispels) is in a Force Crush, the latter as a repeatable burst mana damage effect is a win condition, repeatedly casting it in First QC (at range 2 beyond Dissolve of Wand), preventing the opponent casting any creature threats without a Spawnpoint (or Quick Summoning). Here we have the greater efficiency of changing the rate of mana generation (early game) compared to the crippling repeated removal of mana (late game).

Generating more mana is always better and generating less mana is always worse. However, this benefit scale is not linear. Channelling follows a diminishing returns curve. The difference between effective Channelling of 1 and 2 (due to “mana burdens”) is far more than the difference between 15 and 16. The benefit of a change can be quantified as New Channelling / Old Channelling.  Your next Channelling upgrade (Crystal, Medallion, Harmonize, Flower, Familiar, Spawnpoint) is worth slightly less than the last upgrade (not counting the extra round’s benefit of being cast earlier) and every additional point of Channelling burden (Mana Siphon, Essence Drain, Suppression Cloak, Pacify, Mordok’s Obelisk,  Suppression Orb) is worth more than the last burden because it reduces a greater % of their remaining mana available. This relationship is key to understanding mana tempo, taking that calculated risk by ignoring a growing mana disadvantage in favour of aggression or slowing down tempo to narrow the growing mana gap with your opponent. Or early life loss for mana advantage.


Actions are a complex resource. There are many different types of actions. It is even hard to rank the value of these action types. Let us categorise action types.

Basic Actions

Creatures are the source of your basic action. Having equal actions with the opponent means that you both alternate in having a valuable resource, the action burst of consecutive actions (acting last in a round then acting first in the next). If you have 1 or more actions than the opponent, you deny him this action burst whilst gaining more action bursts yourself. Thus there is an arms race in the quantity of actions to achieve/deny this action burst. It isn't all quantity, quality plays a crucial part and there are ways to have action bursts with less actions.

All creatures can be measured on 3 dimensions: Mobility, Threat and Resilience (how long it stays around as a threat or guard). All those keywords and numbers contribute to these dimensions, sometimes more than one. For example Elusive aids Mobility to ignore hindering but also Threat as it bypasses guards. It is the interactions of the mechanics of these 3 dimensions that is the heart of the game.

Let's rank some Mobility-based keywords and conditions: Fast > Normal > Lumbering > Slow > Restrained > Incapacitated. You evaluate your actions in all 3 dimensions and find the Scissors to their Paper, the Rock to their Scissors.

Here's an extreme example from the Beastmaster vs. Warlock cover. The Beastmaster has Ring of Beasts and using Quick Summoning, he has spent 6 quick actions and 24 mana to summon 6 Bitterwood Foxes, costing him 6 spell points of his book. The Warlock has spent 1 full action, 24 mana and 6 spell points to summon Adramelech, Lord of Fire. With no mages around, the latter most definitely trumps the former, able to pick off 2 per round without worrying about being hurt back. But against unarmoured mages, those 6 foxes deal average 18 damage per round whilst the demon only deals 6 plus burn. Unable to race even with accumulating burn, the demon must cull the foxes before they kill its master then it has board control. This is very simplified as the game is too complex to quantify in metrics but illustrates the interaction of the inherent abilities of the actions you have available to you.

Quantity of actions is important but your actions having just the right qualities to defeat your enemy's actions is even more important.

Spell Actions

Without spell actions, you can't cast spells to improve your board position. However you pay a steep premium for them as they are below par in the traditional 3 dimensions. And there is only so much mana you can spend in any round so you can have too many spell actions. Hence you can over-invest in spell action generators as you only have mana to support so many at any one time.

Ranking Spell Actions is difficult as some are more versatile than others. A provisional ascending order ranking could be something like...

Wand Familiar: Thoughtspore is an example. It's like a living Wand with a bound spell you cannot change but casting it doesn't expend it, allowing for repetition. You need to wait and time its action in the alternating action sequence.

Category Familiar: Huginn, Felella and Goblin Builder are examples. They each cast different spells from a spell category, expending it. Again, you must wait and time its action in the alternating action sequence.

Creature Spawnpoint: These don't generate actions for action overlap and they telegraph what will be active next turn early in Deployment. But they save the mage's precious full actions. These are mostly stationary, the current exception can be destroyed by a Dissolve.

Quck Spell Spawnpoint: Battle Forge is an example. These are an alternate source of a category of spells and like other spawnpoints, do not generate action overlap. They only replace a quick action but do it at range, not static, hence its Deployment appearance, fully effective, can preempt a first action so this timing becomes an advantage.

Spell Ready Marker: The Quick Cast marker and Wizard's Tower are examples. Like spawnpoints, they do not generate action overlap but they are even more flexible in being able to string together action bursts. The Wizard's Tower is limited in its choice of spells but does not expend its spell, much like a hugely flexible but stationary Wand Familiar.

Mage Action. This is your most valuable resource. The reason why mages suffer less from Stun is because losing this resource, even temporarily for 1 round, is too debilitating. During your mage action, you can cast any spell you have prepared in Planning if you have the mana (unless keywords like Unique, Legendary or Zone Exclusive prevent this). If a quick spell, you can move before casting. Mobility of casting source point (protecting your Life resource by moving away from danger) and versatility of spell choice is why this is your most valuable resource.

Ready Marker Actions

Although they are not actions per se, they let you to string together consecutive actions at will, bypassing the reason to gain action overlap. This stacking of actions is open to abuse. The base set cards with this ability open to everyone, Hand of Bim-Shalla and Temple of Light, were adjusted down as this ability to time an action burst without a response action is too imbalancing. The other cards, Akiro's Hammer and Sacrificial Altar, are niche and restricted access. The latest set brings Flower attacks into this category, albeit localised to their zone.

Deferred Anytime Actions

Better known as "Revealing Enchantments", you pay a quick action up-front to have a surprise anytime action later, often with a persistent benefit. Any Magic player will view this as preparing a "Flash Aura" (while Attacks and Incantations are cast at "Sorcery speed"). The game elegantly requires a set-up quick action to gain this (almost) absolutely anytime benefit. This revealing can be freely sequenced (restricted only by mana cost) to create an action burst which is even more flexible than ready marker actions. This ability to string together deferred actions from nowhere is why Enchantment Transfusion was mechanically the most ground-breaking new card as it enables a no-action multiple transference of these effects at a cost of 1 extra quick action (as well as spell points and mana), the casting of that Transfusion.

Actions Summary: So what do all these different action types mean? Well, say 2 Warlocks rush at each other and just attack, using quick spells to augment their Mobility, Threat or Resilience (or handicap the enemy). However, one has cast Battle Forge in Near Centre in his first turn while other cast a corner Mana Crystal (generating the same 1 mana each turn). The warlock with the Forge has an extra quick equipment action every turn after the first so is far better positioned to beat his mirror. In this deconstructed example, it easy to see how extra actions could grant a big advantage, often worth the up-front investment. But not always. Substitute Forge with Pentagram and that warlock has actually sacrificed aggression tempo for dubious advantage in a longer game. Spending wisely on appropriate extra actions and being able to manipulate the "windows of opportunity"  that are well-timed action bursts is the path to victory.

TEMPO (Time)

Tempo is leveraging a temporary advantage for long-term benefit. This is best seen in an Aggro Rush strategy where getting a threat out earlier is more important than getting mana advantage. Because that extra action should undo the benefits of the opponent's extra mana. If your threat starts a round in the opposing mage's zone, it gets to attack any threat that mage summons (if you have initiative next round, a second attack). That mage summoning as late as possible with initiative next round is one way to minimise his disadvantage.

Rouse the Beast, Sleep and Banish are classic tempo plays. Rouse the Beast converts 1 or 2 spellpoints, 1 quick spell and target's level mana for 1 extra action. Spawnpoints trade tempo loss early game for tempo gains later. Meditation Amulet is designed to speed up this transition. Distractions like Mana Siphon can regain you tempo.

Tempo is related to timing. Casting Lord of Fire if surrounded by 6 Foxes with 18 life left and no armour is poor as opponent has tempo. Casting Lord of Fire in turn 4 after Beastmaster has cast 6 Foxes is good as it culls his tempo action advantage.

Tempo advantage is linked to action advantage and position but it is the cumulative benefit, the pyramid benefit of gaining accumulating actions over a beleaguered opponent. It is paying a premium (usually mana) to avoid or impose delay.


Position is also a resource, albeit a function of creatures' Mobility dimension. The game starts with this resource being least important, the mages as far apart as possible. But Position soon grows more important. When a Rush strategy mage double moves, he trades his mage's ability to cast a second spell to gain positional advantage. When a mage casts Force Push, Force Wave or Teleport, he trades a quick action, spell points and mana to gain a better board position. Position has value therefore is a resource that you trade in the game.

Position is the hardest resource to quantify (without resorting to Euclidean geometry). In some ways. as other resources can be easily quantified and trade-offs evaluated, the real skill of the game is how you evaluate the positional gain or loss ensuing from any decision.


Life is the final resource in the game. it is a function of your mage's (and guards') Resilience dimension and your opponent spell's Threat dimension. It is also the game's victory condition.

At the start of a game, Life is the least important resource. Generating more Mana, more Actions, gaining Tempo and Position advantage have higher priority. But as the game progresses, Life becomes more important. The objective of the game is to reduce your opponent's remaining Life to 0 before he reduces yours. It is a race, pure and simple, and every other resource is a means to this end. No matter how much greater mana generation and extra actions and positional advantage you have (you have destroyed every enemy non-Mage card in play), if your opponent has reduced you to 0 Life remaining with the last spell in his book, he has won. Checkmate.

Never forget that behind the smoke and mirrors of finesse, it is a brutal game of racing the opposing mage to the death. Spending actions to alter a mage's remaining Life via bursts (attack or heal spells) is rarely good play in the early and mid game as you trade actions, spell points and mana to simply change race positions, it does not help you get a better board position.

However, once your Life remaining crosses the "Finisher Threshold", this resource becomes critical. This threshold depends on board position (threats in play) and what you expect the opposing mage can play. If you are facing an Earth Wizard within range 3 with Initiative and 16 mana and you have 14 life left, you better First QC Heal or another defence. Else you may die to 2 Hurl Boulders cast at you. Your Life left is influencing your play, handicapping you further. So it is not advisable to let remaining Life get too close to this threshold.

Life as a resource trumps all other resources during end game. But you only need to have enough to survive. Anything more is excessive, it is "win more". The Priestess that wins with 60 Life remaining has subjected her opponent to an unnecessarily long and tortuous ordeal. Because your Life resource does not help you win. It just stops you from losing as quickly.


I hope this article helps some view the game in a new light and make better choices when building books and playing the game. When viewing the game, I hope some may see it like most games, sophisticated trade-offs, exchanging resources using different conversion rates at opportune moments. The skill in the game is evaluating which trades are advantageous and which are not.

There is so much depth to this game including the Lifetime Value dimension, central to business modelling and cost-benefit analysis.

This article is long enough as it is and limited to Resources. I hope it has helped change how you evaluate decisions in this wonderfully intuitive yet deceptively deep game.
Title: Re: Resources
Post by: sIKE on November 05, 2013, 07:27:40 PM
Very nice article that deserves a pin.
Title: Re: Resources
Post by: DeckBuilder on November 07, 2013, 02:30:17 AM
Thanks, sIKE, but there needs to be room for new posts in this section!

It's maybe a bit too abstract theory for some but you must establish the building blocks of the game first before getting into the mechanics.

Something The Dude said in the Meditation Amulet thread made me realise I'd missed a resource: Delay. Proximity to an event occurring has value.

I listed Space (Position) but not Time. I'll amend the article accordingly (iat max length so has to be culled  to add).
Title: Re: Resources
Post by: Shad0w on November 07, 2013, 07:04:35 AM
We need a better way to sort all the premier write ups into a separate section.
Title: Re: Resources
Post by: pixelgeek on November 07, 2013, 08:38:45 AM
We need a better way to sort all the premier write ups into a separate section.

PM or email me what you want and I can set it up. Maybe a sub category that is reead-only?
Title: Re: Resources
Post by: Laddinfance on November 07, 2013, 09:00:40 AM
Actually someone just needs to make a post that we can put the links for all these articles into. Then you just pin that post. Simple.
Title: Re: Resources
Post by: Wildhorn on November 07, 2013, 09:23:34 AM
We need a better way to sort all the premier write ups into a separate section.

PM or email me what you want and I can set it up. Maybe a sub category that is reead-only?

it would need to allow people to still be able to post into the subjects. Just not to be able to create new ones.
Title: Re: Resources
Post by: Shad0w on November 07, 2013, 10:23:32 AM
Actually someone just needs to make a post that we can put the links for all these articles into. Then you just pin that post. Simple.

As long as one of us keeps it updated that works
Title: Re: Resources
Post by: Shad0w on November 07, 2013, 10:26:58 AM
We need a better way to sort all the premier write ups into a separate section.

PM or email me what you want and I can set it up. Maybe a sub category that is reead-only?

I like the idea of a sub category. Just not read only that way we can keep the MW theory crafting moving forward. As more and more people come to MW the play theory behind it will also continue to grow and evolve.
Title: Re: Resources
Post by: DeckBuilder on November 07, 2013, 04:28:10 PM
Thanks Shad0w. for the pin: honoured. It was an unplanned musing as Meditation Amulet's explicit trade has been focus of much debate.

I've added the Time resource to it, best described as Tempo. Although the 20,000 character limit forced me to cull some of my rambling.

Thanks to Andy Glass who spotted the missing resource. 5 months after that BGG meet, I am a padawan to the master of deep analysis.