I Cast a Long Shadow
My sister and I have this wonderful tradition. Whenever we obtain a new box set of summoner wars factions, we immediately organize and play a comprehensive tournament wherein each faction plays the other with us rotating between them. In this manner, we’re able to objectively rank the factions and determine with accuracy a suitable tier of power amongst the pre-built decks.
Thusly, we discovered that the Shadow Elves from the Master Set are the fourth best faction in the game.
Alright, the system isn’t perfect primarily because we have no damn idea what we’re doing as it’s the first time either of us has played with the new cards. I feel that’s part of the charm and really this method allows us to get in a lot of practice with the cards while also encouraging us to discuss the game’s designs and theorize why certain things are effective and where the true power lies. Outside of our strange Shadow Elf performance (wherein they went 6-1 in their round robin before getting absolutely destroyed in the semi-finals), we found the usual offenders rising to the top of the heap. So our rankings are certainly influenced by personal performance and preference. To excel in our tournament, the faction needs to strike a chord with both players else they can get locked out of the finals if one of us really doesn’t get them even though the other plays them flawlessly (yes, I’m still weeping over the elimination of the Deep Dwarves).
So, why the long preamble? Well, I’ve been silent on the Summoner Wars front because we finally received the Alliances Master Box after waiting well past Christmas for the magical delivery truck to make it’s way across the Canadian border. I’m also cheating a little in this early discussion since we haven’t completed the tournament quite yet. However, one element is known and I wish to discuss that today. I’ve decided that I’m going to review each faction from the box individually because, hell, I can milk this content for a good month or so!
And since the tournament is still ongoing, the only real way I can organize this lengthy review is to start with the worst and work my way up to the tournament’s Grand Poobah. Thus, I present to you soft reader the worst of the Alliances: The Jungle Shadow!
But who are the Jungle Shadow? Their leader, Melundak, represents the union between the Jungle Elves and the Shadow Elves. One thing I do like about the alliances is that the faction design is a lot more focused than past releases. Specifically with the elves, the deck attempts to encapsulate the shared elements between its jungle (really savanna but I won’t dredge up that argument again) and shadow parts. Course, the Shadow Elves are kind of a terrible faction with no real defining traits and this is where we start to come into the Jungle Shadow’s issues. But before we get into that, let’s talk about the positives. The Jungle Shadow are fast, perhaps the fastest deck in the game. They take the jungle concept of rushing across the board to the extreme. Near all their cards have a way to increase the number of spaces a unit can move and Melundak possesses arguably one of the best summoner abilities in the game to keep pressure on his opponents. The ability to summon on the opponent’s board is incredibly useful and unlike the other factions capable of said feat, the Jungle Shadow need only to have one of their units surviving on that side to pull it off. The essence of the Jungle Shadow is to bring the battle to his enemy and overwhelm with superior mobility so his opponent is left with no quarter in which to retreat.
Unfortunately, the faction is rife with weaknesses otherwise I wouldn’t be talking about them today. While they possess the Jungle Elves strong mobility, they lack the damage of their wild counterparts. For better or worse, the Jungle Shadow commons are more akin to the shadow parent which is to say they’re weak, fragile and for the most part ineffective. Their heartiest unit has a whopping two health which is incredibly fragile in a game where two and three dice options abound in practically every faction. Furthermore, their strongest unit is the shaman who–while being a two attack at range–has only a single life and is the most expensive common in the pack. Needless to say, he always draws the enemy’s attention and you’re assured only one turn before he falls. To compensate, the factions champions also lean heavily on the shadow side. They’re cheap and also quick suggesting the deck is meant to be played like the old first summoners: burn what you can until you have enough to get those beefy champions to the board and try to win through the heroes. It’s actually quite surprising how easy the Jungle Shadow can get all three champions out in a game–something quite rare in our games amongst the other factions.
Now, neither Kait nor myself are fond of the slow plod of the champion rush. Calling it a rush, in fact, is a pretty big misnomer. Since champions cost so much, they encourage a slower, defensive style of play which I feel goes against the spirit of the Jungle Shadow. And that’s probably the largest issue with the faction. Their design is like the Shadow Elves: disjointed. They want to rush the enemy and overwhelm them but are forced to hold back and play defensive while they build up an economy and draws to pull-out their champions. If they try to overwhelm with their commons, they’ll be too magic starved to get out their strong champions. However, none of their tools assist them on the defensive and with five life, Melundak is a push-over if his side ever gets invaded. They’re left with two options: you either rush the enemy and watch all your commons get eaten and lose or you hold back and try to flood the field with your champions and get overwhelmed by your opponent and lose.
Either way, you’re going to lose. But let’s take a closer look at the units to really break down where the deck went so wrong.
In order to analyze the cards, I’m going to use what is called by the members of the Summoner Wars community the SSCF. This is the Simple Summoning Cost Formula. I did not invent it and think there’s quite a few weaknesses for using it as an evaluation tool. However, it’s the simplest way to compare cards. How it works is pretty straightforward. It generates a value of a card based on its health and attack and compares it against a standard cost one would expect to pay for that stat-line. Essentially, it represents the most common price scheme for cards in Summoner Wars. For example, there are quite a few common cards with a two melee attack, one health for one magic in the game. Thus, it assumes this is a standard price. When I drop one magic on a common card, I should expect to receive two attack and one health. According to the SSCF, this would be a card with a cost 0. If I paid two magic for a 2-1-1 then it would have a value of -1 indicating that I’m overspending by one magic for that card. Basically, the calculation for commons is (Health + Attack + 1 if ranged) – (Magic Cost + 2). For champions it is (Health + Attack + 1 if ranged) – (Magic Cost + 3) since champions are designed to be stronger than commons since you’re restricted to only one of each kind (and three in total) in a deck. The additional cost for ranged is simply because range attacks are universally better than melee.
Now, Summoners don’t have a summoning cost so they can’t be evaluated using the SSCF. But let’s look at Melundak first anyway!
Melundak (3R-5W-Shadow Weave)
Melundak comes with the more fragile Abua Shi stat-line. In my opinion, this is a weak and defensive combination of attacks and wounds. Five health is right on the line for common one turn KOs. Three attack at range is great but with so little health, any amount of damage is crippling meaning the attack value is only ever going to see play when the summoner is being cornered. For Abua Shi, this is fine since Abua Shi is quite happy to sit in the furthest reaches tossing a bonus damage to his units or simply being a coward. Selundar and Nikuya Na both possess two attack and seven health and both summoners have a penchant for getting up into the fight. Melundak wishes he was as tough as his two cousins but has to spend all his time at family reunions hanging out with smelly grandpa and imagining what it’s really like to be a warrior. This is even more annoying since Melundak’s event suite would be really great for an aggressive summoner. Consume in Darkness is a rare summoner heal which only triggers when Melundak is rubbing shoulders with some fools (including the opponent’s summoner!). Likewise for Track, Shadow Snare and Out of Shadows. And those three events can indiscriminately target Melundak, commons and champions alike. In fact, they get better the more units you have on the battlefield. Unfortunately, unless you’re Tracking into an Out of Shadows combo with perfect positioning for covering common Shadow Snares, you’ll never have Melundak enjoying any of this.
So, he’s one of the few summoners with a suite of powers that he can use but the stats for a summoner that doesn’t want to use any of them. This is what I mean when I say the deck is disjointed.
Now, that said, Melundak’s ability Shadow Weave is amazing. It allows Melundak to summon one common every turn from a Jungle Shadow unit instead of a wall. I highly value summoning on the opponent’s side and Melundak has the easiest requirements to fulfill in order to gain this advantage. The primary faction for this advantage is the Swamp Orcs and they have to build their vine walls across the board to achieve the same effect. So, they need a combination of both units and events whereas Melundak will get it simply by playing the game like everyone else. Unfortunately, since it only targets commons, it’s an incredibly awful ability in the Jungle Shadow deck. As I’ve mentioned, all the commons in Melundak’s deck are fragile as glass and are terrible for summoning platforms. Thus, Melundak needs to rely on his champions to transport his army across the board. But if he’s buying champions then he’s building his commons for magic meaning he won’t have many (if any) to summon once his champions are in place. It’s an amazing ability that almost never sees any use in our games.
Basically, Melundak is a tiny, five wound baby that sulks in his back row waiting for one of the seven other bullies in the alliances box to come across and punch him once before stealing all his lunch money.
The first of Melundak’s useless commons and perhaps the most controversial amongst my sister and I. She thinks they’re absolute garbage. I… am torn. I was underwhelmed when they were revealed but after playing them I can see the design idea behind them. They’re meant to represent the magic denial found in the original Shadow Elves faction (called Shadows just so you really catch that design point). They’re the indirect economy card that, unlike other factions, isn’t focused on generating you more magic but denying your enemy his own. Unfortunately, the faction has no way to affect the opponent’s own Build Magic phase so what disruption they cause is minimal at best. At their strongest, they’re a free one ranged attack that won’t block attack corridors (as you can pull them to your hand and then build them leaving you without a change in your total magic pool). Had they been in any other deck, I’d probably be apathetic to them. Since they’re in Melundak’s, they’re pretty bad. Also, the second part of their ability saw a total of 0 play in our games as it makes them more expensive to “insure” a summoning point. However, since the unit is ranged in the first place, we weren’t running them across the board anyway. And if you’re paying to re-summon shadows then you’re not saving for champions. Overall, I played Shadows the most, Kait always built them for magic and she’s the only one to win with the faction. Thus, they seem pretty bad. Their SSCF is a 0.
I hate stalkers. I tried to love them. I tried to understand them. I think they’re awful and the reason the Jungle Shadow are the worst faction. They are the reason I wanted to talk about the Simple Summon Cost Formula in the first place, however. Looking at them, you wouldn’t think they’re that bad. One attack and two health for one magic is okay. Their ability basically makes them a two melee, two wounds for two magic with swiftness. I can appreciate the idea behind variable costs. You can choose how effective but ultimately expensive a card will be thus it’s two attack when you need it to hit harder but it can still be a cheap defender in a pinch. Cost wise, it comes out at a 0 on the SSCF so what is wrong with it?
This is the biggest problem with the SSCF. There is no consideration for abilities in its formula. If I summon a stalker and never use Chant of Transformation, I’m paying one magic for a one attack, two wound card with a blank ability. No other card gives this. Every single one attack, two wounds comes with something. Even the Cave Filth’s prisoner, whose ability is bad ends up being cheaper because it’s ability is a liability. Stalkers are overpriced because in comparison to every other card for its cost, it is worse. Furthermore, it’s transformation is an ever increasing magic drain. While cards, especially two health ones, aren’t apt to live more than one turn if your opponent doesn’t kill your stalker after you’ve transformed it and you use its ability on the next turn, you’ve now overpaid for its stat-line. It’s almost like Smeege’s Magic Junkie without the cost efficiency for Smeege’s stats or–more importantly–the health pool. Truly, I hate stalkers because they aren’t rhinoceroses. They take the place of a strong, sturdy Jungle Elf common which would be perfect in the deck. Melundak needs a common that costs three magic but has the stats and ability to survive two turns. The stalkers is his most survivable common at all and it’s so fragile and weak.
That said, I don’t think the stalkers is completely useless. In any other deck, I can see it being a boon. Alright, that’s a lie. I can only really see the stalker having value beneath Abua Shi’s command but at least it would serve the old man far more than Melundak.
Shamans. In any other deck, I can see…
Ok, that joke was not worth the set-up. Shamans are the hardest hitting unit in the Jungle Shadow common arsenal. They’re akin to the Shadow Elf Hunter in stats and cost. Much like the stalker, shamans fall into that problem where they basically have no ability and are overcost for their primary function which is throw dice at a range. Between Track, Shadow Weave and almost everything has built-in swiftness, there’s really no pressing need to haste a unit for one magic. Furthermore, your target needs to be within two squares of the shaman which you wouldn’t think is that much of a problem but does end up being more annoying than the ability is worth. That you have to spend magic for a single target effect which you get for free from Track ends up being too pricey for a faction where everything about their commons is too pricey in the first place. Chant of Haste simply has too many restrictions to be of any use. Spend one magic. Target only commons. Target only units within two spaces. Can not target shamans. It’s one can’t after can’t after can’t. Furthermore, shamans have the hilariously unnecessary restriction of being excluded from Abua Shi’s event as well. At least, I say it’s unnecessary. I’m sure the testing group would say that was done on purpose for “balance.” Of course, this concept of balance means the unit won’t see play outside of standard deck use. It can’t be broken if no one drafts it!
Honestly, I thought Gargos got a bonus movement with his ability up until I was writing this review. Oops! That said, I never pulled the jerk out in my games so it’s not like I was cheating either.
Oh, Gargos. You were hailed as being “Impossible to exclude from every deck!” when you were first announced. I’d play without you. It’s not to say you’re bad. You aren’t. You’re just standard is all. You’re like the stalkers where, if I’m not sinking more magic into you, you’re a blank at cost card. Even if you were priced at 5 magic I might justify your inclusion since you’d have at least one valued transformation. But you aren’t. You have three attack which is the highest in your faction and your ability does give you bonus movement if only because you can flee (which sounds less glamorous than pretending you’re Batman but let’s not pretend here). Where does Gargos excel? He can get at sniveling, hiding summoners. Problem is, he doesn’t have a way to close the distance like the his other Jungle Shadow counterparts and though six health is beefy, he’ll attract a lot of attention. And six health can only get you so far when the rest of your supporting faction is weak as paper and as threatening as a soggy bowl of noodles. Kait won with him but once you remember that Jungle Shadow can move through units and you just need to stack your blockers two deep, his effectiveness really drops off. At the end of the day, he’s simply “ok” but in a faction that has so prohibitively expensive everything else, “ok” is simply not good enough to carry the rest of his burdening brethren to victory.
Also, what’s that shade of your lip gloss? It’s fabulous.
Satara (1M-5W-5M-Shadow Barrage)
Satara is the highlight of the Jungle Shadow. I can not properly communicate how amazing she is so to convey my proper respect for her, I didn’t start her review with a joke. Honestly, Satara is perhaps one of the best champions in the entire game. She is that good. I thought she was decent when I first saw her. Playing with her, though, just opens your eyes to her potential. This girl is nuts. And, humorously, according to SSCF, she’s overpriced by two for her value. Of course, if you take Shadow Barrage into account, she’s closer to being equal value (but we’ve already established the SSCF doesn’t take ability into account). Let’s look at what we get with her. One attack is forgettable. Five health is one off Gargos so is comparable. That five magic makes her real affordable.
And then there is Shadow Barrage. Oh Shadow Barrage. I would compose sonnets and stand beneath your window sill singing sweet serenades to get your attention. I would secret photographs of you while you weren’t looking and fashion a collage of you in my locker from every wayward glance cast my way. I would stand over you while you sleep, running my hand through your hair and watching the soft rise of your breath while you lay in gentle vulnerability…
Seriously, Shadow Barrage is amazing. It gives Satara two bonus movement. It lets her move through units. It lets her ATTACK those units she moves through in the movement phase. It pierces through most defensive abilities because it doesn’t actually count as an attack. It’s so hilariously powerful that it makes me laugh at how shamans are “balanced” when cards like this is released alongside them. Satara can bounce off a single card multiple times to do additional wounds–something trample can not. Satara ignores Toughness and Lumbering. Satara chews through Shield of the Hopeful as each bounce is a separate instance of damage. Satara opens up lanes as she moves through, allowing you to double back on persistent cards should your first pass fail. If the enemy lines up three units then she can effectively have four attack in a turn. Or you can do your hops with Satara and then attack with someone else that hits stronger giving you four attacks in a turn.
There really isn’t anything Satara can’t do. She almost single-handedly won me the game against the Warden. Had he only one less health…
Satara is the auto-include that Gargos is not. Always include Satara. Always play Satara. Always love Satara.
Full disclosure: I love this ugly, creepy, chin strapped midget. It may because he has a pet red panda. Er… blue panda.
Sure, he’s a melee Sairook. Sure, Sairook is probably better because he’s ranged. I don’t care. The Child is four magic and, damnit, I love me my cheap champions. So what’s good about him? He has built in swiftness with the shadow’s scatter ability. So what’s bad about him? He’s four magic with the shadow’s scatter ability. I like that the card clarifies you remove wounds from him before returning him to your hand as though it expects you to either glue wounds on your card or to spill them all across your lap. Thanks for the advice, Plaid Hat Games!
The Child is an impromptu rhino. He’s survivable enough to last one or two turns on the enemy’s side. He hits strong enough to be a threat to most commons. When he gets too hurt you can pull him to your hand to open up a fire lane and deny your opponent his magic. He’s kind of like Smeege where the enemy is discouraged from killing him because he’s just pathetic enough to not be worth the hassle or the attention. If they do target him then they’re not going after units of actual value. Course, the problem with the Jungle Shadow is, unless the rest of your forces is comprised of the other two champions, there’s nothing of value for the child to serve as distraction. At four magic, you could probably re-summon him several times too for added annoyance though, in all likelihood, if you’ve pulled him to your hand you’re probably throwing him in the magic pile. Honestly, I’d like to have seen him undervalued for his abilities but this is the Jungle Shadow we’re talking about here and their whole identity revolves around being more costly than they’re worth.
Take that away from them and what would they be? Good?
In conclusion, the Jungle Shadow are awful. However, they’re a curious awful. I think there’s lots of potential here that simply can not shine with its cobbled together pieces. Take them apart and start playing with the pieces and I feel that Melundak has the makings of a top tier deck. The champions in the deck are top-notch. And, thankfully, they are one half a faction which boasts some of the best commons in the game. There’s so much stuff in the Jungle Elf arsenal that’s just screaming to be included. Hasted Elephants and Lioneers? Melundak can do that. Greater sneak Xaserbane with lionesses that can also move on that same turn? Melundak can do that too. Want to summon two units on the enemy’s side each turn through Shadow Weave and Shadow Elf hunters? Melundak can do that as well. And you don’t need to worry about finicky events that exclude unit type or certain summoning costs like his brothers which opens up even more deck building options.
It’s just a shame that what he launched with, and what he’ll be known for, is the same disjointed and unfocused forces that plague the Shadow Elves. Melundak deserved better.