By now the news of Darkmoon Faire San Francisco is well known: Azarak Wolfsblood and Morganis Blackvein (AMA) took top honors. The main purpose of today’s article is to explain the strategy of how “dclown” and I came to sketch out a first iteration of this party. Part 2 will explain some of the more subtle aspects of the party, including discussions of the tactics used at Darkmoon Faire.
But first, however, I’d like to sidetrack a little.
I don’t think I can explain the experience of winning a Darkmoon Faire Minis Championship. But if pressed, I would answer that winning feels like some odd concoction of excitement, relief, and vindication after months of hard planning. I imagine this to be true for many gamers who play at this level. We have a high desire to win and want to feel “the rightness” of having chosen (and played well) the correct army/deck/team. I know that with any high level event, to win, one must be both good and get a little lucky. I don’t know if, in my heart, I fully consider myself “good” yet, but I do trust my instincts . . . and I certainly did get a little lucky.
That luck started months ago—about three weeks before the game was released—when I met dclown.
Years ago, when playing Mechwarrior competitively, I was blessed to have made a great friend (quick shout-out to Mechthran). For World of Warcraft minis, this is also true. I cannot state it clearly enough: winning is good; making friends is better. And they go hand in hand. I don’t think I would have won either of the Darkmoon Faires without the help of dclown. He is open and honest about strategy choices, allowing me a solid backboard to bounce ideas off of. Also, as our play styles differ, he often turns me on to cards I would otherwise have dismissed. There are times, at least for me, that I feel vulnerable explaining all my thoughts before a big event with a powerful rival, but I feel the advantages gained far outweigh the in-game risk.
The party we used at DMF was not my creation, nor his, but a combination of our friendship and communication.
Now, on to the goodness.
“The ol’ one-two: hobble the enemy; call in the raptors!”
“I’ll take a carton of mana pots, please.”
Let’s make one thing clear: I don’t believe this is the best army from the core set of World of Warcraft minis. Several armies have more synergy or control, or bring more total firepower. In addition, almost every other army brings more survivability. So why the fragile AMA?
Before I can explain the strengths of this army, I first have to clarify what I believe the metagame was before DMF:SF. The metagame was not the complete collection of all parties from the first set. But in fact, the metagame was highly skewed toward parties people thought were winning, so they wanted to copy. Lots of talk bubbled in the forums about the potency of Haruka, Thangal, plus friend (HTX). Bolvar, Irana, and Graccus, too, flexed their muscles. And Ogres and E3 boasted about how many dice they could roll. For me, this was the skewed metagame, because all the while, whispers went around about Warlocks (triple Bleakhearts, triple Kialas). Warlocks, in my opinion, remained the “real” metagame.
Thus, I would not only have to build something that could handle the perceived metagame, but also the “real” metagame.
The problem with Warlocks is that they can completely control a game via their pet Santuria and Fear Action Bar cards.
Warlocks can consistently push your entire team off the VP spaces, making it virtually impossible to score VPs from the middle of the field. This more or less increases the total number of kills you need to win a game, and Warlocks are tough to kill with those very high health totals. Their amazing crit abilities and access to other amazing ABCs (Corruption, Shadowburn, Death Coil, Curse of Weakness) make them even better. Warlocks also have a pet that can tick you up, at range, without having to roll dice. And one Warlock, Kiala, has 4 resist, making magic attacks against her all but useless.
So I started building for DMF with the idea of the “real” metagame first.
I knew that if I wanted to have a fair shot at every game I played, I’d have to skew my warband to be able to fight Warlocks. That meant physical. I needed at least two figures with physical attacks, and a third that wasn’t completely worthless against Kiala. This proved to be a very tall order—and I hadn’t even begun to figure out how to fight the rest of the field.
The search started with the best DPS Hunter in the game so far, Elendril.
Funny. Even when I miss, they still bleed.
To maximize Elendril’s adjacent ability to hit on 3’s, I wanted more guys with melee range. I tried Grumpherys, but he proved exceedingly impotent against anything with 2 armor, let alone the 3 of Haruka Skycaller. High Priestess Tyrande was given a passing glance, but I knew in my heart I didn’t want to run an epic. If I was going to stay with Elendril, I was going to have to find more physical damage another way—the kind with range 1.
I decided that for her point cost, Moonshadow might make the perfect fit. With access to Cat Form, she gives a much coveted physical attack for games against Warlock, and in games where magic is required, she can Starfire next to Elendril (thus hitting on 3s) using his Hunter’s Mark, and should consistently do 7 damage. Also, any caster becomes amazing at DPS when you can combine a Mana Potion with a crit effect that readies said Mana Potion.
I wasn’t entirely happy with these two figures, however, feeling that they left something to be desired, something that wasn’t clicking. Notably, Elendril’s crit is useless against Paladins or Haruka next to Thangal. Moonshadow’s crit readying effect on her stock Starfire attack is also usually useless ticks 8-10—almost a third of the round—and Elendril was “paying” for those 3+ hits in his 7 honor. If I was in cat form doing melee, I certainly wasn’t going to be doing it next to my Hunter. At least not if I wanted to take advantage of the Hunter’s 4 range.
So, even before I slotted in Boris as the third (for auto damage) or Phadalus as the third (for the physical and magic option) or Dizdemona (for my own Warlock goodness), the party was already falling apart . . . against the one party it was trying to defeat: Kialas.
The biggest problem was that every iteration (beside Timmo as the third) was beyond 16 honor. That would mean that at some point in the game I would have to push one of my guys, potentially, to a place he didn’t want to be, to try and gain a VP space. Also against Warlocks, I already knew, this might prove an impossible task. And it might mean I needed to get a full five kills with a party that was already struggling to obtain four.
So I switched to Horde.
The first build was double Azarak and Onna Skyshot. At 18 honor, I knew this party would need five kills against Warlocks, and I wasn’t happy about that. I also knew that against Kiala’s 18 honor, there would be a standoff, neither side wanting to engage the enemy.
And Onna proved a little too expensive without adding much flexibility to the army. I tried to gather that flexibility in the Action Bar choices, but it didn’t work. There just aren’t enough Hunter Action Bar cards yet, and some are clearly better than others. Also, any party that had both decent armor and healing Action Bar cards proved to be just too much for triple Hunter to handle. Double so, since decent armor parties usually do physical damage themselves, killing either pet with relative ease. Finally, the synergy between Onna’s crit and Azarak’s crit, surprisingly, didn’t seem to be doing anything. And I didn’t like that Onna’s crit wasn’t a “may” ability.
Sadly, not only did Onna prove a little too expensive, but Azarak also proved weak against too many figures. Anything with 3 armor really gave him problems, and 4 armor (or HTX), was almost like using Grumphrys again. We tried Azarak x2 with Thangal and Hunter’s Mark to increase Hunter DPS, but Thangal himself lacked punch for an 8 honor figure. We tried Azarak x2 with Daxin Firesworn, but Daxin became a handicap vs. Kialas, and still that made 17 honor—the worst Honor cost in the game, in my opinion. Finally, we tried it with Kiala, so that we didn’t need the 17th point, but a lone Kiala proved too slow to react vs. much of the metagame.
Disheartened, I gave up on both Onna and Azarak. I knew the Slitherblade was too expensive for a 2-tick, 4-dice attack—since that would be equally bad against Paladins or HTX. Thus, my last hope was Celenias Firemane.
In hindsight, I spent far too much time trying to make her work. Yes, I was aware that she had all the previous problems of Elendril, Azarak, Grumphries, Slitherblade—namely those well-armored Paladins and HTX. But I felt that her 4 honor and ability to kite with her 2-tick attack might save the day. So, I tried triple Celenias. The goal was twofold: can I get past the Paladins and attack Irana, and can I get around Harukas to bring Thangal down? Fail on both ends. The Paladin’s Flash of Light made killing Irana impossible. Thangal in Bear Form was an auto loss.
For a few days, Hunters were out. I tried to find other ways to combat Kialas. Nothing was working—we needed physical damage at range, period. Finally, I almost resigned myself to running Kialas. And then a flurry of things happened, starting with, believe it or not, Blessing of Kings.
BoK potentially turned any Paladin’s 2 resist into 3 resist. The threat of an increased Paladin resist score made Arcane Shot—an already suspect card in my opinion—even worse. Why not just Hunter’s Mark him? The re-roll is equivalent to, basically, 1 less armor on the Paladin. And most Paladins will assume I’m using Arcane Shot and might not bring Cleanse. And even if they do bring Cleanse, I have two Marks.
If I get two shots with the Mark, that is roughly plus 2 damage, the same increase that Arcane Shot pre-BoK would have brought. But post BoK, re-rolls from the Mark became better than Arcane Shot. And the only other match I wanted Arcane Shot for was the Amalar match, and 90% of the time he’s running around with Wilton anyway. Arcane Shot was pointless there, too.
Dropping Arcane Shot clarified exactly what the Hunter’s role was: call pets and Hunter’s Mark the enemy for rerolls. I could get by, I figured, on two Hunter Action Bar cards.
The second thing that happened was that I realized that, for sure, Elendril just wasn’t going to work. Moonshadow as his backup proved too slow and fearful to be of much use against Kialas’ 8-dice fear. In fact, all physical attackers with range 1 were proving to be ineffective against Warlocks. I would need double Hunters if I was going to use any Hunter. Onna, Elendril and Slitherblade were too expensive, Grumphries and Celenias too weak. The only choice was Azarak. So, I opened up the case file anew, this time focused squarely on Azarak.
Switching Fury for Bloodclaw was the third thing that happened. Fury proved incredibly immune to dying in a meta dominated by magical attacks. The plus 1 movement made taking critical terrain positions possible, faster.
The fourth thing that happened was that Tehhunter mentioned something about running Azarak’s with Morganis. The idea was scoffed at in Vassal, if I recall correctly, but something clicked in the conversation that followed. Somebody said that Morganis was too fragile—but I felt that this actually solved a problem I was having with Hunters (something I’ll get into more in part 2).
And fifth, I mentioned to Corey that maybe Morganis was the answer, and he said he’d test it out. The results were amazing. We loved how Morganis’s crit effect readied a card. And, when only bringing Action Bar cards per Hunter, that left five open slots (in the beginning) for Mage cards. If the enemy was weak against any Mage card, we could, conceivably, use it over and over again.
Thus was born the first real iteration of AMA—one that got massively fine-tuned as we unearthed strategies and tactics that now, finally, were beginning to click with Hunters.
2 Call Fury
2 Hunter’s Mark
Next article we will get into how this army plays out tactically on the battlefield, what “strategical” changes we made to help fight an adapting field, and how Blink became an MVP.