We now return to the building of the AMA party. Part two of The Answer focuses more on the tactics used to pilot the party of Azarak, Azarak, Morganis. To a very large degree, these tactical opinions (in-game choices) are choices I would make in a given game. Dclown, I believe, used slightly different tactics, and while I will discuss briefly dclown’s play style a bit too, I’m not him. I apologize ahead of time. It also should be noted that I’m not saying I developed these tactics, just that I employed them.
Here was the party as we left it last article:
The Hunter’s eye is as deadly as his arrow.
Ignore Mages—except Morganis Blackvein.
2 Azarak Wolfsblood
2 Call Fury
2 Hunter’s Mark
The switch from Bloodclaw to Fury was purely dclown’s idea—one that I initially resisted. I’m still not sure how he convinced me. It’s not that I can’t see the huge increase that Fury brings over Bloodclaw, but I opposed the switch because calling Fury locks the Hunter down a tick too long and Fury can’t be easily re-called. On the latter, I still think I’m right; the former, however, proved somewhat wrong on Winterspring—as we were to discover.
Let’s look at the map. I’ll wait while you open Vassal or break out your vinyl-coated map of Winterspring. Did you get it? Ok, here we go. Let’s talk openings.
Notice how Winterspring is nine spaces from Spirit Healer to Spirit Healer. If you were calling a 2 tick pet on tick 1, your clock would be at tick 3. If you clock is at 3, the enemy has until the end of tick 2 to cover the field and attack your Hunter. But, by the end of tick 2, the enemy can only reach the middle of the map, barring special powers or action bar cards. If the enemy can’t get farther than the center of the board, they can’t shoot farther than your own Spirit Healer. Effectively this is to say: the back row is mostly a safe haven if you are calling a 2 tick cost pet. Warlock players know this well. This is what I mean about Bloodclaw being a fairly safe call.
But as soon as you start calling pets with a 3 tick cost, this completely changes. Suddenly, your Hunter is completely exposed. The enemy that reached the middle of the board by tick 3 can now move two more spaces and attack before your Hunter comes back online. And those two extra spaces mean he can target your whole back row (if he has 3+ range). Against, say, Bleakhearts or Daxin, this is a serious problem. On tick 3, they can step up and fire Shadowburn and do some heavy damage to a Hunter. Then, on tick 4, they can attack again and step back. The two attacks will kill Azarak more than 50% of the time—and tick him up to 6. Fury dies with the Hunter, and the game is essentially lost.
You might point out that I said Hunter will get to go first on tick 4, negating everything I just said. But though the Hunter does get to go first, it doesn’t stop him from dying. Here’s why.
The Hunter player will get to go first on tick 4, true, assuming the opponent didn’t call two/three pets. (And if they did, this is academic anyway, since they aren’t rushing across the field.) So, why not just move the Hunter out of danger? You really can’t. The Hunter only moves 2 spaces and he’s already on the back row. Since enemies also move 2 spaces, they simply catch him. I know that Azarak’s crit is a -1 move to the enemy—potentially letting the Hunter live for an extra turn—but it only slows the inevitable shot. Also, it isn’t the right play—especially if you don’t crit. The right play is to use a perishable resource (Fury) before the Hunter dies. If the Hunter attacks and goes from 4 to 7, death now puts him up to 9. Further pain. And Fury wouldn’t have acted at all. Better to use Fury, and let the Hunter die. Also, Azarak loves to attack on tick 6, since it makes his crit that much better.
But that is a worst case scenario. Still, it is one I figured I’d see every game where the enemy had multiple guys with range 3+. We did, however, uncover some answers.
The first, and easiest to see, is via the map. Winterspring has a single “safe spot” for Hunter’s trying to call 3 tick pets.
The Horde (red) side of Winterspring is often considered the better side, and I don’t disagree: the shooting lanes are more open; you have better access to the VP space; and there is an extra terrain piece. All in all, the Horde side is better, if those aggressive qualities are what you are looking for. But the Blue side brings other unique features. (Before we go on, for ease of following along, I refer to the Master Clock side of Winterspring as the North side). Dclown pointed out to me that the space just south of Blue’s hill is one of the most protected spaces on the map.
Moreover, for the Hunter player, Blue has the calling pet “safe spot.” From the Spirit Healer, go one space SE and then one more space S. If the Hunter stands here and calls one more space directly S, he has put himself in a very defensible position for three reasons:
1. There is only one space that the enemy can stand and attack that Hunter. It is the space just N of the Blue hill. If the enemy tries to go around the S of the map, they simply can’t reach the Hunter by tick 4. (This is all assuming magic range 3, by the way—Dizdemona brings a host of other problems.) If only one guy can reach your Hunter, chances are that guy can’t kill Azarak in one hit—Daelas, of course, and Shadowburn Warlocks being the exception.
2. And since there is only one position to stand in to attack the Hunter, Morganis can block line of sight (LOS). He does this by standing in one of several spots. The strongest, though least aggressive, being dead S of the Spirit Healer.
3. I like Morganis there because it enables the third reason: Counterspell. From that space, Morganis can Counterspell attacks from the middle of the map and just N of the middle of the map. The enemy that wants to attack your N calling Hunter will have to go all the way N of the Blue trees to attack the Hunter safely. This is a bad spot for the enemy as it allows you to kite directly S now (right back into Morganis’s Counterspell range). But, the most important feature is if the enemy brings two characters forward to attack one of your Hunters, you can Counterspell the second attack and then counterattack with the Hunter and pet.
So, in a pinch, the Blue Alliance side of Winterspring isn’t so bad.
We still felt though that this wasn’t enough—in fact our testing had shown it not to be sufficient, especially against a well played triple Elemental army (E3). Against a very aggressive player, we would need to scale back to Bloodclaw. I first proposed this idea, but I never actually called Bloodclaw at DMF. Dclown did about 50% of his games—including vs. triple Ruby Gemsparkle. The idea is to feint a readiness to counterattack that makes the enemy approach slower—giving our one Fury time to come online. Obviously though, it is just a feint. Just because we call one Bloodclaw doesn’t mean the other Hunter still isn’t locked down until turn 4 calling Fury. But the gamble worked, more or less. To make room for this card, we cut Counterspell.
I’m usually not a fan of tactical/strategy positions such as this. I’m not comfortable making an educated guess before the game begins about how prepared my opponent is. Are they going to know to rush the field? If they do know that, will a Bloodclaw-feint even slow them up? Should I not call pets at all? So much of World of Warcraft Minis is a psychological game—and making large Action Bar card/tactical choices before the first turn is a dangerous recipe.
This brings me, for a moment, to talk about the choice of Morganis. I’m sure you’ve picked up that I felt the metagame revolved around Warlocks; why then, would I want a Mage in my party? Morganis helped protect the Hunters via his Counterspell, but also via his being. I would call my two pets and rush Morganis forward. (If I could have given him a bulls-eye to wear, I would have.)
Often the enemy would attack him. This was great. Because of his Mana Shield, Morganis needs to get hit for 7 damage to be one-shot killed. This rarely happened and he would live. And when the enemy attacked him, they would tick up. Thus, after just one attack on Morganis, the Hunters were safe from the early rush. And, in order to attack Morganis, the enemy had to be fairly close. And usually Morganis would pop his Mana Pot, fire back, and retreat. Or sometimes we’d Blink him forward onto a hill, attack, and then retreat—hoping to nettle the enemy into attacking him. That was how it started, at least. By the end, I was attacking with Morganis and still running forward, trying to will that bulls-eye into existence.
The whole point is, that Morganis looks so tasty to kill that the enemy often tried. If they killed Morganis or not, ticking up to attack him was always our gain. If we had used long-lived Kiala instead (or some other 6 honor character), the net result probably wouldn’t have been the same. She might have been ignored, and the Hunters rushed out. And this would have been disastrous.
With a bit more testing vs. HTX, which we wanted to be sure we had a good shot at beating, we found that Fire Blast didn’t fit. Yes, totems could be a problem, but the correct cards against HTX are Mana Pot and Flamestrike. There was no room for Fire Blast and it was cut. With the increased interest in Paladins since Blessing of Kings, we went back and added Arcane Shot.
Testing the morning of finals showed us a massive vulnerability of our party though. We lost badly—and consistently—and painfully—to Paladins. Even to badly played Paladins. Graccus’s ability to shunt around damage, coupled with Bolvar’s Retribution and Flash of Light and Irana’s ability to ready one of those heals, pretty much packed Azarak’s bags and sent him home. There wasn’t time for a massive overhaul of the party, so we came to the most logical conclusion: Ignore it. We were going to lose to Paladins. If Arcane Shot wasn’t the niche card to help in that matchup, we might as well just ditch it for something more universally useful. Counterspell went back in. As a byproduct of this, completely untested, we thought maybe being able to Counterspell a timely Paladin heal might give us an edge. We doubted it though because of how badly we were already losing to Paladins, but the idea was to pull Mana Potion and only use Flamestrike and Counterspell. Either way, I’m glad neither of us had to play Paladins.
At this point, 45 minutes before the DMF finals, our party was:
2 Azarak Wolfsblood
2 Call Fury
2 Hunter’s Mark
If you look back at our “first” list and this “final” list, you’ll notice that Polymorph got pushed for Blink.
At first, I felt that Polymorph would be a great way to slow down anti-Hunter rush. But the more I played it, the less I liked it. It ticked up Morganis, he lost his Flamestrike, and he couldn’t Counterspell. (Morganis is addicted to Mana Pots). Polymorph did slow the rush across the field, but it also greatly reduced our damage output. The enemy usually recovered with full health and pressed the attack. Instead I just walked up with Morganis and attacked—but I’m fairly aggressive like that. If they still ignored him, I’d send him deeper up the field and Flamestrike. That usually gets an enemy’s attention.
Dclown pointed out that I was doing it all wrong though. And he showed me how Morganis can hang back and then Blink to the hill—in range of anybody trying to camp the VPs—and then retreat after attacking. This effectively increased Morganis’s range to 5—and gave him the ability to retreat on the same tick. Not bad.
At first, I didn’t really like it. I don’t like having two instants on one character in my Action Bar. But I played it a bit and found that the ability to crit and ready a Blink was amazing when you are trying to run away. I started to agree about Blink.
I ran it a lot in the qualifier. I would Blink up to the hill, attack, and retreat. But by the time I had finished the qualifier, I wasn’t so sure. I realized that I was protecting Morganis when I didn’t care at all if he died—in fact, I often wanted him targeted. I spent too many ticks staring at a readied Blink . . . and not wanting to Blink. By the main event, I stopped using it entirely. The niche advantage of Flamestrike or Counterspell felt better. I still brought Blink. I brought it for those games I thought I might have to chase down a retreating fourth kill. From the Spirit Healer, you can walk out and Blink to the hill just N of the VP. From there, you have quite a view at retreating enemies.
I believe Blink was the first card in dclown’s list of AMA. I remain a bit skeptical. For me, my main card is Mana Pot. I think dclown remains skeptical about the Pot.
I hope this article revealed a bit about how we came to decide which army and Action Bar cards to run. I also hope I didn’t bog it down with too much individual tactics and positioning. As always, if you have any questions feel free to PM me or find me on the boards.