Plants Versus Zombies
Welcome to our first top qualifier in our Summoner Wars Alliances tournament and my personal favourite–The Swamp Mercenaries.
The Swamp Mercenaries had a curious run in the tournament. I predicted they would do well since they revolve more around the Swamp Orc mechanic of taking massive board control by growing root walls (once again, don’t care about Plaid Hats official poor flavouring) but unlike Mugglug, the Swamp Mercenaries do this faster and more aggressively. Mugglug grows his swamp through the sacrifice of his own troops. He hides in the back of his expanding root network, picking off poor shamans and apprentice mages as his tendrils crawl across the field like some horror movie villain to choke the walls of his enemy. It’s very common for Mugglug to end a game with most the board wrapped in his twisted plants.
It’s a powerful strategy since these root walls block summoning points as well as give the Swamp Orcs the power to conjure from their depths. Walls also have a tendency for being pretty hardy and even with just two health, they will absorb one to two attacks a turn which protects your army as well as triggering the special abilities for hunters and shamans making them stronger. Mugglug performs very well against a large chunk of the Summoner Wars factions and the only downside is that he absolutely crumbles against a very select few factions who specialize in wall destruction. Oldin can, in one single card, destroy turns of work and investment on Mugglug’s part. And without his swamp, a large portion of his forces become significantly weaker.
Now enters the Swamp Mercenaries.
I’m certain the Swamp Mercs will perform far better in Mugglug’s worse match-ups. For, unlike Mugglug, the Swamp Mercenaries are not tied so strongly to the success of their horticulture. The Swamp Mercenaries aren’t looking for an enormous swamp to drown their foes within. Their root walls are incredibly utilitarian. Glurblub (yes, they continue having stupid names) uses his walls for immediate pressure and not creeping doom. His goal is to sprout a wall in the enemy’s midst and rush forward with his forces at the same time. The opposing summoner must then choose between staving off the advancing rats, boars and swordsmen or addressing that single weed at her feet. Should she ignore it, suddenly reinforcements are pouring from her ill-kept lawn, quickly surrounding her and pummeling her into submission. If she stretches her green thumb then those critters are going to punch her in the face.
And, nearly every time, your opponent will go for your units. Much like Berlin, killing walls doesn’t give you magic. Which is perfectly fine with the Swamp Mercenaries. Their walls are precious because they’re so hard to get up. To compensate, they’ve been afforded the first four card event in all of Summoner Wars. Spore Carriers is Glurblub’s bread and butter and the reason he doesn’t fear Besiege the Walls. For one event, you can grow two root walls while reclaiming your units for magic. It’s the only way to get any return on your swamp rats and you’ll want to play all four of these during a game. It also works fantastic for denying your boars after their initial assault if the enemy failed to take them down (and they usually will). It’s a small economy engine if you get most of your swamp rats with it. But you do have to be more mindful of your swamps than Mugglug since most of the Swamp Mercenaries can not traverse the roots walls without getting stuck.
I think the most fascinating thing about the Swamp Mercenaries, however, is how my sister struggled with them. Perhaps it’s because she’s good with Mugglug and I am not which accounts for the difference in our performance. I won most of my matches with the Swamp Mercenaries and she struggled in hers. This does lead to a small snag in our tournament and the caveat when discussing our tier list. The factions that do the best are ones that need to be successful in both our playstyles. It won’t do that one of us can play a faction well and the other unable to get any results. Glurblub just squeaked into the finals ahead of Moyra for this exact reason. And there is a double advantage to the player who figures out a deck first–whenever they face against it, they know what tricks it can pull and develop better strategies to counter the ones their opponent is still learning. That the Swamp Mercenaries clicked so quickly for me provided a significant edge over my sister and partly because I think she was still locked in Mugglug’s mindset. The fact that she would self kill many of her units and I’d have to return her root walls was kind of a hint.
Glurblub (2R-6W-Vinemancer Sow)
Glurblub is not Mugglug. That should be immediately obvious but the impact this has on the two decks’ styles can not be overstated. Mugglug is very passive despite boasting more wounds and attacks than the Swamp Mercenary summoner. He kills more of his units than his enemy’s in order to grow his swamps. Glurb, however, needs to get up in his opponent’s face immediately. But those first few walls are incredibly important and so I try to reduce as much risk of missing as possible when I attack. Whereas Mugg has a very standard and predictable opening, Glurb needs to be flexible. He needs to scout an initial target–hopefully a one wound starting unit on his opponent’s side–and he needs to maximize his chances for getting a kill. His forward rat and boar are intrinsic to his starting moves. If there’s a two wound unit on the far side (say a Deep Dwarf miner) then Glurb is going to move his rat forward, himself behind, attack with his rat, attack his rat with his boar to chase it away and allow Glurb to follow up for a kill.
If there’s a three wound unit at the forefront, things get dicier but you need to try and set up the boarboon getting a first attack and Glurb getting the killing blow. If given the opportunity, I almost always take first turn on Glurb unless there is absolutely nothing in his quadrant to murder. Going second is less desirable, especially if the opponent draws his forces back, as it leaves you hoping to draw a spore carrier in your first hand. If you don’t, then you’re looking at careful advancement of rats behind boars while you kill of your rear swordsmen for some early magic. Stalling Glurb’s tempo is the most annoying thing as it leaves him vulnerable to draws and getting those spore carriers firing.
And just because Glurb has to get his hands dirty to plant his roots, don’t think this leaves him vulnerable. Glurb is most active in the early game–the moment when his opponent lacks a lot of magic for summoning–and once he gets up some of his swamp, he slinks to the back to allow his commons to take the brunt of the labour. You’re only looking to plant three or four roots with your summoner, on average. The rest of your nuisance comes from your spore carriers. And with Glurb, those root walls are even more pressing than Mugg’s. Glurb has a lot of threats to throw to the field and it’s apt to paralyze his opponent on which tactic to take against him. Furthermore, between his sow and carriers, his roots are launched two or more tiles away from his forces as the advance guard. Throwing up your own walls doesn’t help as it inevitably creates cracks between which Glurb can grow his plants. And there’s nothing more satisfying as a Swamp Mercenary than summoning two rats off forward root walls and immediately expanding your swamp with a spore carrier.
These distant root walls are also important for protecting Glurb, however. If you’re going to vine snare, it’s going to be in those first couple of turns to keep retaliation from hitting Glurb. Plan to take a few wounds, though, and to shift your summoner behind your front line. This is where swordsmen come in handy. They make excellent reinforcements since they can slip past Glurb and occupy root walls or corridors to keep the enemy from summoning any threat on Glurb. Outside of his spore carriers, Glurb’s events are more situational and apt to be built. Of the four, Swamp Dominion is great if you can get it in the mid game when the first champion hits the field. Since Glurb is always hanging around on the periphery, looking for ways to snipe a kill and set up a new root wall, he almost always is easy to angle for a large attack that can wipe out a five magic or more investment that the enemy commits to the field. Don’t mistake it, however. It’s not a summoner killer. You’ve got lots of other cards for that. So hope you find your Dominion when they’re sitting on a fat stack of magic and get prepare to harvest some tears.
Vine lash, in theory, can be a really strong card but due to the nature of Glurb’s swamps, it rarely puts out more than two wounds. It’s nice for hitting something that’s tough but mostly it goes to my magic pile to store up for boarboons.
I actually love these dopey looking lugs. I was rather cool towards them on reveal. Their ability makes them a one magic point saving for the first turn they arrive but then they’re effectively overpriced (as they have no ability) after that turn. At three health, they’re apt to live through one turn too. What I failed to appreciate in my initial evaluation, however, was that spore carriers exist waiting to turn their sudden appearance into a root wall post that first turn usefulness. Not to say that a boarboon which is ignored after being summoned is useless, either. Two attacks natively is still a sizable threat to commons and champions alike. And since they no longer have any further use other than rampaging for you, it’s not a sacrifice to have them make suicidal dives on the enemy summoner. More than that, they’re brain dead easy to use which is a plus since it means they don’t need complicated set-ups in order to be effective.
There’s a decent number of the boars in the deck as well and are the main arm of my attacks. Once you have some magic built up from slaughter and your own building, you can get successive turns of sudden striking boarboons from your seeded walls and there are few factions which can deal with this. Even better, because of Glurb’s sowing, it’s hard for the enemy to wall off access as well without making a very limiting fort around their summoner. And the vast majority of summoners will be sent running after one attack from these guys.
So, in practice, their one magic discount compared to the swamp orc Savager ends up being a pretty big deal.
When I first heard of the rats, I hoped they would be just regular, creepy looking swamp animals. Alas, furries strike again. Oh well.
On their reveal, I wanted to like the swamp rats but I was too focused on the specific line of their hiding which made them useless to Mugglug to really believe they would be helpful. I’m happy to say I was wrong. I love the swamp rats and they are very effective in the Swamp Mercenary line-up. Glurb can’t build walls off his own units so the fact these guys run when friendlies try to harvest them isn’t a big negative. In fact, their flight can be helpful for clearing lanes. More importantly, however, they can attack after Glurb goes to sow and jump off his fresh wall to cover dangerous lanes. Any turn they survive is a turn you draw closer to your spore carriers to turn them into free magic (and a wall). They’re easy to underestimate, both by your opponent and yourself. So don’t neglect the rat. They’re really important in those first early turns when Glurb needs to get his snowball rolling and their free cost and blocking power is worth far more than their zero cost.
Ironically, swordsmen are the unit I’m least crazy about. Sure, they’re my favourite 2-1 stat that I like buying for one magic. For the most part, however, I find that they very rarely serve as anything other than an emergency boarboon. They are your only unit which can traverse your swamp safely, however, so I will keep the first initial two alive if I can be aggressive against my opponent. They’re also invaluable for following behind Glurb to offer a quick blocker if things get too hairy. The on-call two attack is valuable, there’s no doubt behind that. But since Glurb isn’t reliant on assassination, they’re pretty much food for the enemy and I’ll take boarboons whenever I can.
Mik is the champion that Mugg has always wanted. Unfortunately, Glurb got him instead. So, he’s more the answer Glurb has when facing the swamp orc adversary. For five magic, he’s at the sweet spot where I’ll blindly summon something in a pinch but don’t expect to get a lot of mileage from him in most of your games. I find he’s a great wall buster if you manage to get your swamp around one but he’s really easy to avoid as well. The nice thing about Mik is that he can serve as a panic button if your forces take sudden loses and you are being chased into your swamp. Don’t expect him to live long. Six health without any defensive ability can go down quick. But he’ll save you a few turns for recuperation.
That said, he’s insane against Mugglug. Remember, he doesn’t discriminate against roots and is quite happy to stomp into Mugg’s swamp and leave him a massive shiner for his impertinence. Best part about this arrangement is you don’t even have to do the work of planting the swamp!
Full disclosure, I’ve never used Prong. Kait did once. I think he died right away.
I know the story behind the guy so I know why he’s not great. Apparently, his ability could destroy root walls within two spaces of him and be triggered multiple times a turn. Thus, he fell into Thorkur levels of invulnerability. Quick came the Plaid Hat balance hammer and now he’s pretty much magic pile fodder. Unless you’re really fortunate, you’re not likely to be drowning the board in your root walls so losing them to keep the frog alive is usually more trouble than its worth. He’s also easy to dodge since he’s melee and spreading swamp isn’t really Glurb’s specialty. Prong can at least eat some wood to protect against lightning strikes or a Satara bounce but, really, you shouldn’t be pulling him out in the first place. At the end of the day, Vinemancer Drain is not worth the extra cost on this guy. You’ll probably get more mileage with him in Mugg’s deck and he might be a great choice there as Mugg can pad him with roots to keep him happy for days. And, more importantly, he’s a savager that can absorb an extra hit a turn.
I like Turt but I don’t love Turt. I wouldn’t put a ring on that but I might treat him to a few lovely dates. His appearance has a very significant psychological effect on the game. Three attack and six health is a sizable champion to drop but that he is only hit on five or higher is likely to stay your opponent’s hand. And for good reason. On average, it takes eighteen-ish attacks to bring him down. That’s insane. He lands on the board and you can expect to see the enemy shuffle to the opposite side of the field. He’s a shepherding dog that corrals your opponent where you want him. Remember that and don’t try marching him with your forces (or don’t be surprised when suddenly your opponent vacates the area leaving you with the obnoxious task of chasing him across the field). At one movement a turn, he’s incredibly easy to avoid if you don’t take care. That’s kind of the issue with the Swamp Mercenary champions in general. However, unlike the others, Turt isn’t restricted to where you’ve randomly cultivated your crop. Thus, I almost always use him to block off retreats while sending the rest of my forces around to pinch my opponent in. It’s pretty successful. And it’s very entertaining when your opponent drops a champion to get into fisticuffs. In a one on one, Turt is going to win in almost all circumstances (barring Satara, <3).
However, don’t get overconfident with Turt. If you send him too far out, he can get isolated and ganged up. Turt can fall after three rounds of concentrated attention. I know; I’ve done it. He’s not going to single handedly win you games so make sure you have a plan and support when you bring him to the fore. But with some good positioning, he can well make up for his cost. He’s also a fantastic wall buster since it’s so hard to dislodge him and you know the wall isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. If you’re bringing a champion to the table, Turt is it.
The Swamp Mercenaries are very much like Moyra in that they’re a very tight design that had an idea in mind and executed it well. Perhaps this was possible by neglecting any element of the mercenary portion of the alliance since the Swamp Mercenaries are essentially the second summoner for the swamp orcs. If that’s the case, then it’s a sacrifice I can tolerate because the way most of the deck utilizes Glurb’s aggressive swamp strategy is both effective and fun. There’s nothing more satisfying than getting a couple of root walls up in your first two turns and just laying on the pressure until your opponent buckles beneath your forces. The Swamp Mercenaries also have the distinction of keeping my belief in invading walls as a powerful ability alive. There’s not a lot to really deck build with the Swamp Mercenaries though they have an extremely expansive list of options to explore. Certainly the champions would be the first to address but, much like Rallul, Glurb doesn’t have a whole lot of reason to include the powerful economic engine called Etch. His rat/carrier combo generates enough magic to suffice and there’s nothing in his deck that is truly exorbitant in price. In fact, I’d be surprised if Glurb didn’t explore more of the swamp orc side for deck tweaking than the mercenaries.
So while it might not be the best alliance, it is certainly one of the best decks. And, ultimately, mechanics trump flavour which several of the prior alliances seem to have forgotten.