There Is No Spoon
And then there were two.
Most of the discussion of the Summoner Wars Alliances balance between my sister and me was focused on these remaining two factions. Today’s second place standard is the reason why I can’t boast about my predictions in August. I fully expected this faction to be nigh unplayable. While I recognized it had some good components, I woefully underestimated the power of these strengths. And while I was pretty accurate in identify the major weaknesses, this faction was our dreaded expectant winner of the whole tournament after the first initial two rounds.
I am, of course, discussing the Deep Benders. They had a strong 5-2 showing in the round robin and either they dominated their match or it was incredibly close. In fact, despite my sister’s protestations, the finals were incredibly close, dice-off nailbiters with two highly wounded summoners on their last legs madly scrambling for desperate victories. But when you have an alliance amongst the Deep Dwarves and the Benders, it shouldn’t come as a shock that they would perform well. And there is one major distinction about the Deep Benders which sets them above the other decks in the box.
The Deep Benders are defensive.
Nearly all other factions are geared towards offense and offer no advantages to playing back and slow. Many of them actually burn themselves out quickly–like Marek–or simply lack any way to properly defend which is Immortal Elien’s issue through his dearth of ranged options. Not so for the Deep Benders. They pack the ever impressive Geopath who has the range of a sniper without the movement restriction. They have the high life value of the Gem Priestess who is excellent at stalling ice golems. Gorgons are amazing through sheer intimidation factor. And then there are the Deep Dragons. Oh, blessed deep dragons.
But though all units are better on defense than offense since enemy reinforcement is harder to accomplish, a true defensive faction needs to develop some sort of advantage by sitting back that passively puts pressure on their opponent and goads them into crossing the middle line. And this is where Endrich stands unique amongst the other seven. He has the best economy game in the box. Unlock is magic drain levels of turn reversal. Follow it up with well timed Reclaim and you can both deny your opponent potential magic and make a killing return on your free reclaim token investment. Both Kendre and Owl Gryphon are entirely economy focused and provide very underwhelming combat contributions.
That said, defensiveness isn’t enough to get you into the upper bracket. You must also be able to rush down like the best of them if my sister is ever going to get a win. And since a lot of Endrich’s early economy options are based on burst turn events, you can do just that. Back to back unlocked deep dragons will do damage to your opponent’s line. More importantly, geopaths are amazing at locking down avenues and slowly advancing with the threat of four ranged, untouchable dice. When ranged options are so limited in the game already, giving these guys five space shots makes them really good at penning your opponent. And since the Deep Bender champions are so restricted to working the economy, they are anxiety free magic builds if your playstyle naturally revolves around heavy common pressure. Endrich’s low life is also less of an issue when so much of the deck can be used for blocking, too. Boosted gem priestess and summoned Gorgons are never considered key parts of an assaulting force and are quite content to sit about Endrich, fawning him with large palm fronds.
As for Endrich’s boost mechanic, it really has less impact than I initially thought. I did praise the versatility of being able to choose at the moment of play whether you needed a cheap, throw-away unit or a much hardier, scary common and that this–in effect–makes the Deep Bender commons two cards in one. However, given the few number of cards in the deck, the generally tight economy of the game in general and no ability to recurse cards that are spent means that this isn’t a true consideration in practice. Of all three commons, only deep dragons are worth summoning unboosted while in a pinch. Their inherent two attack can still be good when you’re under heavy siege even if it’s less desirable than getting them out with three health and swiftness. Geopaths are near useless unboosted so you’ll always throw the extra magic their way. And gem priestesses you never boost. They’re there for banking unlock tokens if you didn’t manage to get double dragons in your draw. And with all the ways the Deep Bender fret away your economy, the gem priestesses’ heal is pretty forgettable.
At the end of the day, even though I conquered them in the finals, I still have no solid solutions to playing against this deck. My best advice is to rush them and pray the draw and dice gods are in your favour. That said, despite their dominance in this tournament, I suspect they will hardly make a dent against the bigger Summoner Wars threats. They boast the curious trend of being weaker to their parent factions (Deep Dwarves can play the passive economy game much better and trying to use boosted units against Tacullu is a great way to see your economy advantage stolen for a penny). Mugglug can also advance beneath his root cover to protect himself from geopath barrages then choke the Deep Benders through the long game. And the Demagogue’s fall is always determined by how well the opponent can crush him in those first three turns and whether those early walls can rise to his defence. And in these situations, I don’t think the Deep Benders turtle as hard as the better turtlers.
Endrich (3R-4W-Geopathic Command)
While the faction may have done far better than I imagined, Endrich himself is as useless as I thought. He’s Immortal Elien levels of threat without the global presence. Don’t expect much from this guy. Ninety percent of the time, he’s a measly four health with no ability. You can’t afford Geopathic Command for much of the game and you’re either suicidal, insane or desperate if you’re using his three attack in most situations. He’s a pretty sort of uselessness that wants nothing more than to stalk the back row looking for knee-high walls to crouch behind.
More interesting is his event suite. Teleport is magic pile fuel. You never want to hold onto this card which makes it incredibly board and draw dependent. If you can’t use it immediately, it’s just going to uselessly clog your hand on the pretence of “maybe one day not being awful.” I won one game with it through a timely swap with a boosted deep dragon stuck on a swamp mercenary wall but I wouldn’t normally recommend such flashy maneuvers since they’re apt to lose you the game when you roll three misses and get slaughtered on the counter attack. It would have been a lot better if you could swap any units but then it wouldn’t be carrying its wonderful “requires boosting” restriction which plagues the deck.
Conjure Gorgon is a real steal. A one attack, three health for one magic is already a discount. The fact that they’re basically immune to melee attacks and common hating events and abilities is icing on a delicious, enemy infuriating cake. Tanky conjurations have never been a thing until now and this is when remembering that conjurations are only targeted by things that affect generic units makes you realize how uncommon that trigger is. And the fear of a death stare allows these weirdly adorned beauties to herd your enemy’s forces like enthusiastic sheep dogs. They’re great for crowding walls since your opponent has such a hard time dislodging them. And, of course, they’re essentially mini-walls which can offset the dependency of a defensive faction finding those two precious and impenetrable cards. Their real value isn’t in getting off their death stare but making your opponent worry that you will.
Reclaim is kind of meh. It’s not as good as the gorgons and it’s not as bad as the teleport. I have an unhealthy tendency for trying to set-up unlock/reclaim combos or trying to squeeze more value through Kendre-flinging. I wouldn’t recommend this as it’s apt to stuff your hand and slow your draw. Either throw it out when you don’t have the combo together or simply get rid of those near death boosted deep dragons and be done with it. I find I have a fifty/fifty chance of simply building this event for magic in my games.
Unlock is the real show stopper of this entire collection. I originally called it the magic drain that doesn’t piss your opponent off. Even better, your opponent is apt to dismiss its value and not react when you whip it out. Many a failed assault can be found from not reacting to those two free boosted deep dragons. And it is almost always two boosted deep dragons that get unlocked. I don’t think I’ve seen a single unlock not have a game changing effect on the board even when it only targeted a gem priestess and a geopath (because, once again, five space sniper shots are crazy). This is the event that Samuel Farthen and Spellsucker mutants exist to purge. If you can cut out Endrich’s unlocks then you’ve almost all but won the game. So just because it isn’t ripping two magic from your pile, don’t think that this card isn’t a big deal. It is.
My sister is far better at using these guys than I am. I mostly use them for boost token delivery systems of which Kendre serves as courier. That said, being on the receiving end of multiple boosted geopath lane lockdowns is not fun. Five spaces is enormous amounts of board coverage and essentially nulls their one health statistic. You’ll never see these guys show up outside of the starting setup without a boost token. Now, I’ve complained before about junk abilities and how they decrease card value. I feel that the Deep Benders are the one faction where this doesn’t apply because their boosting is so good. Most far shot abilities extend only four spaces, meaning that retaliation, especially on a miss, isn’t necessarily impossible. Cloak Snipers are the only other guys that get five (that I can immediately remember) and they can’t move to do theirs. When commented on this, Plaid Hat said they were designed to compete with Gem Mages and Controllers. Well, I think they’re definitely on par with controllers. Outside of Tundle, I’d say they’re better than gem mages too. Be wary of using them to shell walls, however. With the free space from summoning, it’s easy for the opponent to kill these guys off and the real advantage of their reach is staying out of harms way (and cutting down on the magic you need to spend in buying replacements).
As a side note, these are likely the only guys to get a Geopathic Command since they’re apt to be the only ones near enough to Endrich for it to trigger. If you want to see my rant on why Geopathic Command is bad, you can look up my preview post. Nothing’s changed of my assessment after playing them. It’s a bum ability.
Gem priestesses were the sort of card that you kind of look at on reveal and wonder if you’re missing something. You’re not. They’re pretty poor in comparison to the others. Sure, they offer healing to factions that traditionally don’t have healing but you’re unlikely to bother with that since it costs three magic for the first heal and two after (you need to factor in the boost cost as well). They make me constantly wonder why none of the boost units didn’t have an ability natively. These girls would be a lot better if they always had their heal and boosting served simply to give them more stats. I would definitely use them then. I’m sure it’s more balanced this way, however (because you’ll almost never use them). In fact, I’m hard pressed to think if we ever healed with them the entire game. Maybe it’s the pressure of the potentiality of a Gryphon fueled triage that makes these girls valuable.
As a side note, these girls have fun synergy with Tundle. Because Summoning Surge allows him to summon during the event phase, he can boost them for a measly one magic if he also plays a Wake the Father Gem. Which also gives him a free heal on that same turn. For that reason alone, I can definitely see them making a more consistent appearance in his decks (especially given the existence of bum miners and poor options in the reinforcement pack). Course, Tundle can use this trick for all the boost units–it’s just that extra one magic value point from the free heal that makes me mention it on this card. Also, the healing affects champions as well which does little for Endrich since his are so weak it doesn’t really matter but Tundle has hardier champions who would certainly love some free heals.
It’s a little late to mention but units that are boosted can not have their abilities nullified. This is an enormous boon against Sand Cloaks, Abua Shi and anyone else that can cancel abilities. I’m mentioning this now with the Deep Dragons because they’re the ones that the enemy wants to nullify the most. For cost, they aren’t that fantastic. Unboosted, they’re naked shadow elf swordsmen. Boosted, they’re like an expensive stone golem (though they can move farther and attack). The thing with deep dragons that makes them so powerful with the Deep Benders is that you aren’t paying for them. These are the cards you unlock whenever you can. If you can’t unlock them, you’re flinging tokens from Kendre on them. Only a desperate Endrich will have them out without a boost token. And when you can get a two attack, three health unit for one magic then you are inherently winning the economy game. Deep dragons are amazing because they win the most boring aspect of Summoner Wars. But they do it with so much attack and health that you’re having too much fun to even care how ridiculous it is.
Your opponent, however, is all too aware. And she isn’t happy about it. No, not happy at all.
I like Kendre. She’s the only Deep Bender champion that I can claim that statement. She’s cheap and I love cheap champions. She hits hard but, really, at three health she’s only hitting once. She isn’t an attacker; she’s the last component of your feasible economy engine. Step aside, Owl Gryphon, Kendre is the real star of making the Deep Benders ridiculously good. A few things to note about Kendre:
1) She has what should be Endrich’s ability. Do not be fooled. This is the Deep Benders true Summoner. Try and protect her as such and be sad when she dies. You killed the real force behind the Deep Benders–you monster.
2) She chews up a movement so you won’t be using her every turn. She also targets the donor after her move so you’re mostly moving her backwards and towards them if you are moving her.
3) She does not need to be within three spaces of the intended recipient for the boost. She only needs to be near the donor. This means she’s naturally positioned to be turning hard boosted geopaths into cheap deep dragon boosts on the other side of the battlefield.
4) She’s great at reclaiming boost deposits on gem priestesses. She’s also fantastic at setting up Reclaim for maximum magic return.
5) Cry a little whenever you draw her late in the game because she is near useless then.
Learn Kendre. Love Kendre. Mourn when Kendre inevitably dies because with three health, a stiff wind murders her.
Owl Gryphon is crap. I called it and it’s true. This card is bad. It’s an expensive three attack, six health. It saw one play in the entire tournament and all it managed to do was meditate once before being buried six feet under. The Deep Benders still almost won because the rest of their deck is just that good.
Seven magic is sillyexpensive for a deck that pushes common play. That’s the issue with it. Other champions that are so expensive are meant to be pivotal, game turning plays that can destroy at least their value’s worth if not more. You basically have to burn a fourth of your deck in order to pay for this sucker. That’s a quarter of your forces that you can’t bring out with the Owl Gryphon’s ability. It is a poor fighter and overpriced by one magic. So, even following the SSCF which doesn’t even evaluate the effectiveness of abilities, the Owl Gryphon isn’t worth the investment. Not to mention that it’s ability restricts your attack options which means when it does force your opponent across the middle line, you’re denied the whole point of the card and that’s to develop a greater magic advantage. And I’ve mentioned before how six health on normal contributing champions isn’t that much in a game where three and four dice attacks are fairly common. You can reasonably expect it to survive one round of aggression and that’s about it. Between eating two attacks a turn and not having any power to actually go toe-to-toe with other champions, it’s going to lose any confrontation it forces.
It’s bad for all the reasons why Etch is good.
Simply put, Etch is always a better choice to include in a deck over the Owl Gryphon. He’s four magic–half the cost–he only eats up one attack so your defence from the opponent’s reactive attack isn’t one third effective. He’s ranged so he can reduce the number of attacks he’d get when assaulted. He’s priced at 0 according to the SSCF. You don’t need to build half your force to play him. He doesn’t take seven turns to pay himself off. He can also stuff and damage enemy walls when you use his economy power. He isn’t some weird owl/lion chimera. Did I mention he was only four magic? And he works for Rallul and Rallul is one cool dude.
If you’re looking to include the Owl Gryphon in a deck then you’re deck building. If you’re deck building, you’d never take the Owl Gryphon over Etch. If you’re in a tournament or friendly agreement that doesn’t allow using mercenaries then you’d probably be better off not even using the Owl Gryphon in the first place. The only advantage is forcing your enemy into doing brash assaults on your side but Kendre can accomplish that on her own for half the cost (which means you start seeing the effectiveness of running that economic engine sooner). Also, your opponent may just assume you’re packing The Bird and rush you anyways accomplishing the exact same goal while not having to burden your deck with the card.
But the Owl Gryphon does serve a vital role: it fulfills the one bum card that seems to be required in every Summoner Wars deck design. Rejoice, Endrich, that your biggest bum is a champion and not a whole slew of commons like some others. That said, you might want to have a talk with your priestesses. They’re really not pulling their weight.