scrapdorged-titan-featured

Strategic Leveling in Draft: Intro

by vandergus

One of the most unique aspects of Solforge, relative to other card games, is the extent to which you can adjust your deck’s strategy on the fly depending on how your opponent is playing. In a typical game you will see most of the cards in your deck in rank 1, and you will choose 7 or 8 of those to play. The cards you choose to level will set the tone for the rest of the game, determining the angles you will use to attack and the stances you will use to defend.

It’s important to realize how different this is from other traditional card games. Games like Magic: the Gathering, that start with a set number of cards and draw more each turn, will typically play everything they see. They don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing what to play. Dead cards are too costly. In Solforge, different parts of your deck can do very different things, which opens up a lot of room for play and counterplay. I want to explore what this means for a player’s strategy in the context of the draft environment.

ESTABLISHING A BASELINE

Before we get into how you would adjust your strategy in a particular matchup, it’s good to have a baseline to start from. Define what kind of cards you want to level in an average draft game and from there look at how things would change in different matchups. Here’s a rough guideline that separates cards into three general categories and recommends how many of each you should level at the start of a game.

  • Prioritize win conditions (5-6)
  • Play utility creatures as needed (2-3)
  • Avoid leveling spells (0-1)

PRIORITIZE WIN CONDITIONS

Your first priority should always be win conditions or finishers. To state the obvious, you need a way to win the game. Win conditions are often not very splashy cards at level 1 but their level 3 can put on serious pressure. The average game of Solforge is not won in rank 1 but in the later ranks with big powerful cards, so it’s important to make sure that those cards get into your deck.

forgeplate-sentry

A finisher could be a card with high attack and scaling mobility like Umbruk Glider. It could be a creature with big stats that is hard to kill like Forgeplate Sentry. Or it could be a snowballing threat that needs to be answered immediately like Necroslime. In very rare cases, a spell can be a win condition. When Death Current was in draft, many people would treat that as their long term game plan. While it doesn’t kill the opponent directly, it provides incredible board control at level 3 and essentially allows any of your other creatures to win the game for you. In a typical game, you should try to level 5 to 6 win conditions in rank 1. More is better but it’s not always possible when you consider having to respond to your opponent’s plays.

The type of win condition you level is just as important as how many you level. You want to choose win conditions that exploit weaknesses in your opponent’s strategy and avoid playing to their strengths. For example, if you’re piloting a UT aggro deck against an NU tokens deck, you need finishers that can get past a board clogged with small blockers. Leveling an Umbruk Glider is going to be much more beneficial here than leveling a Kadrasian Stoneback. Stoneback can be easily penned in with all of the extra bodies that NU generates while Glider can still connect for big chunks of damage with its breakthrough ability.

Or maybe you are playing a late game Onyxium deck against an aggressive Oratek deck. In this case, Necroslime isn’t the best win condition since it needs a turn to activate before it becomes threatening. Against an aggressive opponent, you’ll be more immediately concerned with blocking than with applying pressure. Leveling up a card like Ionic Warcharger will give you a much more flexible defense while still providing a potent offensive weapon once you’ve gained control of the board. Warcharger is more likely to block and survive combat, at which point it can either move to trade with another creature or to an open lane to get in damage.

If you are playing a deck that is heavily built around a particular synergy, this is also where you would level up your lynchpin cards. Mobility needs to level their Windborn Hellions and the poison deck levels their Torrent Soldiers.

Even if you aren’t leveling up a late game bomb it’s still important to establish a solid foundation of leveled creatures in your deck. It may just be a Fangwood Bear, or Volcanic Giant, but you need those big bodies in your deck to set the stage for everything else. Your underleveled utility creatures, combat tricks and spells will be much more effective if you have some leveled up creatures on board to work with. You can include average leveling creatures in the broadening category of win conditions.

PLAY UTILITY CREATURES AS NEEDED

magma-hound

Utility creatures are very effective in certain situations but are less generally useful than win conditions. The best utility creatures tend to have a broader application and are more useful most of the time. Think Magma Hound vs Chistlehearth Archer. Archer can potentially do more damage to a creature, even taking down a full health mobility creature at level 3, but Hound is guaranteed to do at least a little bit of damage to any type of creature. Magma Hound is the type of utility creature that you don’t mind leveling in rank 1.

The reason that you don’t want to level more than 2 or 3 is that they typically aren’t a big threat on their own. If your opponent passes the turn back to you with a clear board, it’s not that impressive to run out a level 2 or level 3 Magma Hound. You’d much rather have a high attack mobility creature or something else that is similarly threatening. However, the number of situations in which they are useful for turning trades or clearing key creatures make the occasional awkward turn bearable.

AVOID LEVELING SPELLS

Let’s be clear, spells are not bad. I’m a firm advocate of including spells in your deck because they give you more options and allow you to turn certain game situations drastically in your favor. However, it’s not always a good idea to level them in rank 1. While they can be extremely effective in certain situations, it’s unlikely that the same situation will present itself at the precise time that you draw your leveled spell later in the game. Chaos Twister, for example, can create huge blowouts in rank 1. Six damage to three creatures can devastate an opponent’s board. But it requires a very specific condition to be good, and it’s a condition that your opponent can easily prevent. The next time you play Chaos Twister it will probably be 8 damage to a single creature, not what we want from our leveled cards. Some decks can seize the early tempo advantage and ride it to a win, but I would recommend that most draft decks should level a win condition or utility creature instead of a Chaos Twister.

chaos-twister

Even less conditional cards like Aegis Wings can be risky to level. Pump spells in general are much better when you’re ahead on board and dictating the pace of play. If you get a little behind, you may not be able to afford to invest multiple plays into a single lane. You can create a big threat but if your opponent keeps pushing damage in other lanes, they’ll kill you before your flying, armored beast gets a chance to fight. Solforge is a very swingy game, with the roles of beatdown and control shifting fluidly as the game progresses. It’s hard to guarantee that you will draw your leveled pump spell on a turn when it will be supporting the beatdown role.

Once rank 2 hits, though, I have no trouble playing spells that help advance my board. Passing the same leveled spell later in the game is not as painful, since there are so many more leveled cards in my deck. I should have alternative plays that are equally powerful.

nanoswarm

The same rationale that tells us not to level spells early also helps explain why we don’t want level-gated spells in our decks. Spells like Dreadbolt, Nanoswarm and Uranti Bolt (sort of). When they’re not leveled, they are basically unable to interact with higher level creatures, which is a huge restriction to their playability. We either have to level them in rank 1 and risk drawing them on the wrong board or pass on them and have dead cards in our deck. Both situations are bad, which is why level-gated spells don’t make into many draft decks. Spells you do want in your deck are things like Frostshatter Strike, Ursine Strength, and Bitterfrost Totem. They are fairly situational but powerful enough at level 1 to have a meaningful effect on the board, even later in the game.

NEXT TIME

This is generally how I approach my draft games. Level my finishers, sprinkle in some utility creatures and save my spells for later in the game. If you notice one theme appearing over and over in this article, it’s that the beginning of a game is more about developing your deck than it is about getting ahead of your opponent. You don’t need to make plays that give you the strongest early board position, but rather set up your deck to be as powerful and consistent as possible in ranks 2 and 3. There are, of course, exceptions and that’s where the real interesting bits of play and counterplay come in. When is it a good idea to play that pump spell in rank 1? How should a late game deck adjust its strategy to survive an aggro rush? My opponent just leveled a Scrapforge Titan! What do I do now? In the next article, I’ll try to sort through these tough situations, as well a few more.