End of an Era Part 1
Well this sort of crept up out of nowhere.
So I’ve rambled quite a lot about Summoner Wars on this blog. Mostly because it’s an easy thing to ramble about on a day when I don’t know what else to write. So when I’m neck deep in work I can riddle off several paragraphs about this fun little board game and not have to worry too much that I’m making a lot of sense. Well, these simple, lazy days will soon be coming to a close. Plaid Hat Games have revealed the last of their second summoners for the game. This rounds out the product (to my knowledge) and caps off the game with its myriad of rules and characters. Most of these last summoners are the second options for the Master Set – the natural jump off point for new players – so it’s good that they’re finally releasing additional deck building options for the armies that most players are going to own.
There’s also eight of these little guys and gals coming out which, conveniently, happens to be the exact same amount that was in the large Alliances box that came out last year. So, you know what that means. Baseless speculation ahead! And just like Alliances, I thought I’d give my initial impressions based off the previews Plaid Hat put up and try and rank them in order from best to worst.
A few keynotes should be stated, however. Firstly, I am judging these decks solely on their base components. Much like Alliances, these second summoners have definitely been designed with deck building in mind. Farrah in particular stands out as a remarkable example of a deck created around the entire game’s release line. However, it has been and continues to be my opinion that base decks should stand on their own partly because it feels a little disingenuous to tell new players that a deck is good only for them to go out and purchase it and realize they need supplementary purchases to get it to work. Also, the way the game is designed with its very restricted deck building rules makes it feel more natural to judge decks by their initial release. A good third of the deck is unchanging and the parts that can change are pretty narrow.
This isn’t to say I won’t make mention of deck building but that my ultimate opinion is derived from what you get out of the box.
Secondly, these decks are being judged amongst themselves. As an overall observation, they are much better designed than earlier releases. Nothing appears to be as poor as Vlox, for example. Or Melundak for that matter. So even the worst ranked deck does hold some potential, just not nearly as much as its brothers and sisters.
Finally, I haven’t actually had any chance to sit down and try these decks so I don’t know how they actually play. I may overestimate how bad certain negatives are and not give enough credence to the positives. See my early speculation on Endrich in the Alliances for that. While my early assessments of his drawbacks were dead on, it turns out that the things that were good in his deck were really, really good that they made up for his short comings. Consequently, I undervalued the weaknesses of Hogar and conservatively ranked him higher based on my uncertainty.
That is to mostly say I’m not a soothsayer and it’s mostly fun to see how my early impressions line up with some experience. And we are, after all, here for some fun, right?
So as an overview, here are the last eight Summoner Wars decks being released:
- Shadow Elves – Saturos: Selundar has been a rather inconsistent and underestimated deck in our experience. Focusing on quick engagements and striking with lots of weak but strong units, Selundar shows a flawed approach to assassination and being aggressive. Saturos takes this design of aggression and ramps it up to eleven while drawing heavily on Melundak’s Shadow Weave ability and the Shadow Elf Hunter design.
- Swamp Orcs – Natazga: The often horribly named Swamp Orcs are a rather disheartening faction to face. Their vine walls slowly dominate the battlefield, choking out avenues and options from their enemy before they can overwhelm them from the safety of their swamp. Mugglug has proven quite effective in his games with his high attack Hunters and Savagers being able to appear right on his enemy’s doorstep. We’ve seen just about every manner of vine wall generation from killing units beside walls to killing enemy units with Glurblub and now Natazga gets them for attacking enemy walls themselves.
- Mountain Vargath – Malenatar: The goats have had an unfortunate run in Summoner Wars. Sunderved was meant to be the counterpoint to the Cave Goblins: a rush down aggressive common focus deck that had more survivable units at a higher cost than the swarming goblins but hit like no other. Sadly, it has been a struggle for Sunderved to cinch victories combating the natural defensive advantage of enemy walls, though Moyra did offer him a number of tools to overcome his weaknesses. Malenatar returns with strong, aggressive units but brings with him something the Vargath desperately needed: good champions.
- Sand Goblins – Scraven: Krusk had some of the best commons in the game with some of the cheapest champions. He’s a pretty solid deck whose biggest weakness has been a mediocre to poor event suite and a really horrible common with few options to replace it. The Alliance deck had very little for the original Sand Goblin faction with Marek introducing a new type of event and having most her forces based around them that made exporting into Krusk’s formations pointless. Scraven builds upon some of the ideas that Marek introduced while also bringing to the table an ability that outshines Krusk’s situational Sandstorm.
- The Filth – Little Meda: The Filth are a fun but weird faction that rely on a special type of common known as mutations. The Demagogue has been a consistently strong opponent with a weakness to early game rushing but an absolutely dominating late game with his not quite champions but far stronger than commons deck composition. Prior second summoners for very strong performing decks have always seemed to err on the side of caution towards making their original release even stronger. Does Little Meda simply make Demagogue impossible to handle? The Warden skirted that issue by utilizing a Prison mechanic but Little Meda is pure filth chicanery.
- The Benders – Shiva: Like the Filth, Tacullu has also been a rather dominant force on the Summoner Wars board. He even benefited strongly from Endrich’s Alliance, giving the passive Bender summoner some defensive pressure to force his enemies to his side of the board – exactly where he wants them. Are the Benders simply destined to win the wars or does Shiva take the faction in a different direction that is both effective and fair?
- Deep Dwarves – Brath: And the last of the big summoners, Tundle of the Deep Dwarves has done very well for himself with a strong common unit, a powerful ability, great events and some of the best champions in the game. All his units require additional magic to use but Tundle can generate magic like no other – assuming he gets enough space to create this advantage. Magic generation seems a core concept of the Deep Dwarves but a powerful one too. Brath certainly tries to take it in a different direction but will it be as good?
- The Mercenaries – Farrah Oathbreaker: You don’t see much talk about the Mercenaries. I absolutely love Rallul but he is a peculiar nut. He’s sort of passive, sort of aggressive with an equally strong economic game and strong units to support his style. I think his strong ability and events were overshadowed by the fact that everyone could poach his very good, if oddly internally incoherent collection of commons. So, in a sense, Rallul was the quintessential mercenary in that his forces quickly abandoned him for higher bidders. Farrah turns this on its head and instead restricts her commons from other summoners but gets to take whatever she wants from her enemies’ ranks. The possibilities are truly endless with the Oathbreaker.
After showing our highly trained team of analyst monkeys and promising them an endless supply of bananas, we at somewherepostculture.com have determined the “Very Most Reliable Ranking of Last Second Summoners.” It’s taken us months, mostly as we figure out to chain monkeys to desks, to produce this ranking. Our data is both mountainous and incomprehensible so I’ll spare you most of the details. I have sifted through their mad ramblings to produce a short blurb on why they are where they are and what to possibly expect when these decks hit the commercial shelves. So here we go!
8. Get off my lawn! (Swamp Orcs – Natazga)
Yeah, we’re doing it in reverse order this time.
I feel that Natazga suffers from a rather disjointed direction. Her ability is the least reliable of the three vine wall conjurers. She needs to score at least two wounds against a Wall without destroying it to make a vine wall. This, inherently, is a less efficient manner of generating a swamp. Both Mugglug and Glurblub can kill enemy units and earn magic on top of getting their wall out. They gain far more board presence through creating their wall while also (potentially) eliminating an enemy unit. Glurblub can be stifled slightly by the opponent not playing any commons for him to kill – though the opponent will invariably have targets at the start of the game for him to murder. Mugglug can always resort to killing his own units.
Natazga, however, needs to ignore the enemy’s forces to get her walls out. Granted, she gets advantageous walls immediately – they’re both on the enemy’s side and cutting off a summoning point – but she misses out on that magic and board positioning. It also reduces the number of attacks she can use against her opponent’s units. Consequently, misses seem like they’re even worse for her than normal especially since it’s unlikely you could position multiple attackers on walls and not put your own forces at a monumental risk. To compensate, Natazga been given a number of units that can produce vine walls on their own but at a cost. Skrub poops vine walls intead of attacking. Zur Lak bleeds vine walls while he’s dying. Zealot’s both eat an attack and die to make their wall. That’s three different units devoted to something that Natazga’s brothers did on their own. Her events for producing vine walls – Erosion and Quagmire – are likewise less efficient than Mugglug and Glurblub’s events. Quagmire requires you to pay two magic to produce one vine wall and only if you’ve already got one that’s about to be destroyed. Erosion only works against generic walls and gets better the more you devout your units to attacking the walls and nothing else. So both Erosion and Natazga’s Overgrowth have anti-synergy with Skrub and Zealots.
Sklursh and Zur Lak returned to Swamp Orc champion form of being incredibly expensive. The Skull Taker/Battle Champion combo to get them out “cheaper” isn’t actually any cheaper. It produces the champion at cost assuming you have all the pieces of the combo and your Skull Taker survives a round of being worth extra magic when killed. And while the Skull Taker is nice for being a strong, deadly unit that’s cheap his drawback of preventing you from generating magic off his kills is a rather significant drawback.
All that said, Fury of the Fen is an amazing event if you manage to get your vine walls to the board. Unfortunately, Natazga is a common focused deck so the Fury is most efficient when you have no other units on the board. Otherwise, you’re angling it for a surprise two or so attack on an entrenched opponent.
And while Swamp Archers are the unit that Mugglug has always wanted, I have to wonder how effective they will be in Natazga’s more sparse swamp.
There just seems to be a lot of anti-synergy amongst Natazga’s cards and a deck that is more focused on trying to shore up her lackluster Overgrowth that it stagnated her potential overall.
7. Children are disease factories. (The Filth – Little Meda)
Here’s a controversial opinion, I think Little Meda is nicht zehr gut. I do think there’s a lot of interesting design going on with her. I simply feel the execution results in something a little too chancy and inconsistent. Specifically, I recognize the problem of designing a second summoner that doesn’t simply make Demagogue a demigod. Demagogue can use Mutagist to recycle mutations endlessly, creating an infinite economy so long as he possesses things to spend his money on. It’s a late game engine where he can put out mutant after mutant until he overruns his enemy with super commons. But it comes with a negative and that’s the Demagogue’s weakness to early game pressure while he tries to get his little money printing machine working.
Little Meda appears to twist this Filth tempo on its head. With three ranged attack and a champion on the board at the start, she (probably) has the strongest first turn setup in the game. My guess is that Little Meda is a powerhouse in the early to middle game with painful events (3 wounds from Daddy Doesn’t Like You!) and a large health pool to soak the initial retaliation the opponent can cobble together. Her ability drains her economy, however, but lets you react to an opponent’s counter play immediately instead of requiring the prediction from the Demagogue. Her magic generation options are, however, limited. She has a single “magic drain” and a mutation that feeds her ability and early game pressure.
Unfortunately for Little Meda, her commons are worse than the Demagogue’s. This isn’t usually an issue since Filth commons exist solely as mutation platforms but with Little Meda’s focus on that early game, having 0 cost units that could support her aggression would have been wonderful. The Herald is way less consistent than the Zealot though if you’re lucky he is better. But good luck getting doubles. Deathseeker is poor since she’s ranged but her ability is meant to be used for blocking. Even worse, she only stops movement so she can’t even block a ranged unit from getting into position. Then she dies without even eating an opponent’s attack.
Then there are the mutations. Nearly half of them are… well… not that great. Gas-Filled Mutant is cute but a worse Barbed Mutant and really expensive for a girl that doesn’t have the spare money that her kin possess. Leech Mutant is a high priority target with little health and a melee attack which makes him easy to hunt down. Blade Mutant is a more niche Claw Mutant. Drool Mutant is niche and expensive with an ability essentially under the opponent’s control. It at least has four attack.
That leaves Springy, Tusk, Amoeba and Bloodspray Mutant. Little Meda has poor options for tutoring these cards from her deck, however, and is reliant on the luck of her draw. As her opponent, I’d see any moment she plays Daddy Loves Me for card draw as an opportunity to try and murder Nanny since Little Meda is going to be hesitant about putting those wounds on herself. It also means that when these guys go down, Little Meda has few options left to close out a game. Though Amoeba does give her some magic generation like the Demagogue, I see this more as a way to off-set the cost of her Gifts from Daddy ability than a true economic engine. It is great that he can keep coming back to the table again and again (assuming you have Deathseekers and Heralds to mutate) so long as your opponent spends their magic.
I feel like Little Meda is under her own pressure to close out a game within five turns or so. After that, her effectiveness looks like it drops off rapidly as she accumulates wounds on Nanny and your enemy can pull out answers that can deal with her mutants. But it does look like she can make those first five turns pretty terrifying.
6. They dug too deep! (Deep Dwarves – Brath)
Yeah, there’s a trend appearing. The second summoners to strong first summoners look like they’re less powerful. Brath, like Little Meda, has an ability that is much weaker than her colleague’s. Deep Magic pulls a card from your Draw or Hand at any point in your turn, turning it into magic now instead at the end of that turn or the next. To me, this suggests that Brath is – once again – a deck that wants to leverage her immediate advantage before she burns out by the end game. Unlike Little Meda, however, I don’t feel like her early game is all that great.
But let’s rewind a little and talk about Tundle. The Deep Dwarves are known for two things: being defensive like hell and crazy combo turns. With units that all require magic to activate, Tundle needs to build up a bank of money to summon his units and pay for their abilities or drop a Wake the Father Gem. He then wins with powered Gem Mages striking at targets beside Scholars while Kynder and Lun wreck havoc on the opponent’s formations. Tundle’s biggest fear is getting overrun before he has all his units on the board and in position but he can rely on Magic Stasis, Summoning Surge and Illusionary Warrior to alleviate some of that pressure.
Brath is similar in that she has some crazy combination potential. Her ability to survive until those perfect moments, however, look like they’re less powerful. Her pieces revolve around Gem Golems and Gem Archers. Both of these are pretty uninspired units on their own. The archer is a basic one attack with one health. The golem has no attack unless Brath risks burning an important card from the top of her deck to empower them. Consequently, Brath’s power is the opposite of Tundle’s. Tundle wants to meditate as much as possible until he’s under pressure and has to perform. Brath doesn’t want to touch Deep Magic until she has her important cards on the field and in her hand. So it isn’t even an early game power but one that’s mostly for improving her golems.
That said, if you manage to pull off Brath’s combination, it is far scarier than Tundle’s. Gem Archers in position and strengthened through Call of the Mother Gem are hitting for two ranged attack and allowing the Gem Golems to shift one space and make a free 2 melee attack. With just two archers and a golem in a good position, you can get 8 dice with two attacks. With three gem archers, that can turn into 12. With a single Gem Mage, that can be 12. If you somehow work a Scholar in there somewhere, you can roll 17 dice! Throw in a Magic Strike to place wounds on anything within two spaces of your golems to soften them first. If you have a Will of the Mother Gem you can have your golems attacking diagonally too! Use Back to the Deep to recycle those Call of the Mother Gems to repeat the process multiple times. You can blow up walls, vapourize champions and blast summoners hiding in positions they originally thought unassailable.
Sadly, without the preparation, Brath is a lot less threatening. Gem Golems are rather pricey for their base statistics and until you have your pieces, you’re risking a lot to get them to attack with a pathetic one attack. Drek can stall but he isn’t hitting hard either. Aurora can substitute for a Call of the Mother Gem but she’s rather an expensive back up compared to an event plus eats into your attacks. Noa’s there to try and fix the Gem Golem cost. Finally, Geomancers are a poor man’s Gem Mage since they’re trading the potential for a third attack in order to assure a second wound on their target. Good against Baldur though.
And the more you have to use your units prior to getting your combo, the more you risk burning yourself out with that complete lack of economy engine. If the stars align, Brath looks frightening. But consistent pressure should see her draw reliant strategy fold more often than not. Perhaps the best she wants to see is a passive summoner that’ll dither and let her build up to her crazy potential.
5. United we stand. Divided we fall. (Mercenaries – Farah Oathbreaker)
I… don’t know what to think about the Oathbreaker. Mostly because she’s so weird. So, she’s built all around the whole faction symbol that’s been on cards but has done nothing for years other than be pretty.
So, let’s get it out of the way. I think Farah has some severe weaknesses in her design. I think she also has some insane overpowered elements in there as well. She’s a combination of extremes. First, let’s talk about the good because everyone likes good.
Undercover Agent. Wowzers. That’s an event. Assuming you can meet its requirements, Farah gets an invulnerable unit that reveals her opponents hands. First, the revealing is pretty minor. It may seem strong and powerful and whatnot. People will talk about the advantages of a whiffed Mimic giving you insight into your opponent’s hand. However, unless you’re Rallul, hands change pretty quickly in Summoner Wars. Deck knowledge is better than hand knowledge as most opponents will burn through their hands the turn they draw them. Barring combo decks (like Brath) or insistent champion play, the reveal isn’t likely to spoil too much that you wouldn’t know. It’s good – I’m not saying otherwise – but it’s hardly a gamer changer.
But that invulnerable unit? Phew. That’s a blocker your opponent can’t remove. That’s a summoning spot you can just stuff for as long as you want. That’s an assassin that the enemy summoner can’t escape! Slap this on a three attack unit and just stalk Elien all around his house scaring the living daylights out of him. There is literally nothing that the enemy can do about this. That’s a game changer.
Now, unless you’re one of the original six factions, getting that Undercover Agent is going to require some work. You either need Mingle or Disguise which means that Farrah is a bit of a combo deck herself. No accelerated draw, however, so you’re going to have to dig for those events.
And now we get to the massive negative of Farrah: 3 commons. That’s huge. One of the largest problems with Selundar is that he only has 3 swordsmen in his deck. I make mention about consistency and draw luck and Farrah is at its mercy. You don’t put six of a common into your deck because you plan on summoning all of them. You put in six so you can build most when they wouldn’t be helpful and summon the ones when they will be. Farrah…. can’t. Not really. Every unit she builds as magic is decreasing her chances of getting use of that unit. On top of that, she starts with a whole mitt full on the board which means she only has 2 of those commons in her deck. Really need that Heavy Knight now? Too bad you built one and lost the first one. The final is probably the last card in your draw. Good luck!
One way Farrah combats this problem is by having a whole whack of commons worth summoning. So you may only have 3 Rune Smiths but at least the Heavy Knights aren’t that bad of a draw. Farrah’s commons are pretty great across the board. The only one that seems lacklustre for Farrah is the Augur who would mostly serve as an Undercover Agent against the Fallen Kingdom for her than using its ability. One magic to save one wound is meh for having to keep him beside Farrah. Otherwise, Heavy Knights, Rune Smiths and Invaders provide a decent stock of attack in the deck. Changelings are perhaps the best 0-cost common in the entire game though for Farrah the cost of transforming them is a bit of a hit. Lurkers are meh but at least they’re free. And the more junk Farrah throws to the ground, the more her Unity improves her attack value. And Rune Smiths can make a really awkward economy engine between returning disguises and recovering undercover agents but it’s not really great.
Sadly, there’s not a lot of attack in Farrah’s base deck. Fortunately, her champions are relatively cheap. I didn’t expect to see another Khan and his ability can be nice given Farrah’s numerous 0 cost troops. Lukestor provides a bit of ranged fire power too and Soar is a decent survival ability. Pity you have to pay extra for it. So while I think invulnerable units are likely to be really good, the generic attack spread of Farrah’s deck means she’s reliant on that trick in order to get her victory. Getting your agent looks like it’ll be a bit of gamble, however, especially against the Alliance or Master Set factions. And Inside Information can be pretty crazy if you’re lucky and snatch a strong event or champion from your enemy’s deck.
There’s a lot of cutesy tricks Farrah knows. But like Vlox, I don’t know how often those tricks will lead you to success.