Monday, August 18, 2014

CLA Series - Part 4: Playing to deal with Card Level Advantage

Welcome to the 4th and final part of the CLA series. I've already explained what CLA is in part 1 and given some examples of how its effect vary greatly depending on the cards played in part 2. Lastly, in part 3 I described the types of cards that you can put in your decks to ensure that you minimize a negative CLA.

Dealing with CLA variations is one of the most important elements of Solforge and is key to playing it successfully. Doing it effectively means both getting the most out of a positive CLA and mitigating the effects of a negative CLA. This is easier said than done but it can be accomplished by building and playing a deck correctly. In this part I will go into how specific actions can affect the degree of the advantage you get from CLA and the probabilities of CLA being a deciding factor.

Making the Most of Positive CLA

They say the best defence is a good offence and that applies very much to Solforge. In most games you can expect to gain card level advantage at some point and making the most of it is vital to winning. A lot of games end at a point where one player gains CLA and outright wins because the cards involved in that advantage are just too powerful for the opponent to recover from. This can make it seem like the win was solely a consequence of the CLA, but generally its due to the player with the advantage being able to use effectively.

Using CLA effectively involves leveling up cards that become very powerful in their later levels. In the case of draft, these are usually bombs like Scrapforge Titan or Nightgaunt that have bodies that are difficult to deal with. In the case of a constructed it involves creatures that at the higher levels are extremely resilient and have strong abilities like Zimus, the Undying or  Scorchmane Dragon. It also means having creatures that are just all round strong at every level like Ionic Warcharger in draft and Oros, Thundersaur or Brightsteel Gargoyle in Constructed.

These are the key cards that should be leveled early so that the deck will have threats that aren't dealt with easily and that will truly create an advantage when drawn against a hand of underleveled cards. Not only will having these cards give you opportunities to finish the game and win, but also to gain enough board position and keep your health up during the mid game so that when you are on the negative end of CLA, you have the time and board presence to recover.

Know When to be Aggressive

Being aggressive involves focusing on getting damage through to the opposing player, usually ignoring damage done to yourself and putting less priority on leveling cards for the future. In general, all decks want to be as aggressive as possible while keeping their long term plan intact but often it pays to go all in and its important to know when.

There are decks that want to be fully aggressive from the very start. These decks include cards with powerful level 1 stats both in offense and defense and use them to gain board advantage and deal damage early on. It is then possible to force the game to end quickly and therefore minimize the possibility of running into CLA for either player.

Slower decks become aggressive later on in the game but always be on the lookout for the right moment. It is a common mistake to not realize that your opponent is close to losing and play a large creature to block a smaller creature instead of putting it in an empty lane. This is often a mistake because it gives your opponent a chance to finish off your creature by placing another creature in that lane. If the new creature is placed into a new lane then the opponent will need to either draw an equally large creature or use two more creatures to deal with it, which is problematic when you can only play 2 cards each turn. By limiting their options any  CLA advantage you get has more potential to win you the game.

Be very Careful when playing spells.

Almost all spells in the game depend on at least one specific board condition: having targets. With the right target, a spell can be very powerful and can give immediate board advantage. Unfortunately, playing a spell usually means neglecting to level up another creature and this can mean that in the later turns you draw a spell as your leveled card and may find that you don't have the proper targets for it. This can deny the possible CLA that having an effective leveled up card would give. This also applies to creatures with powerful spell-like abilities but weak bodies like Bizerark Spitemage.

Level the right cards

Knowing what card to play is often a very difficult choice to get right when playing Solforge, but its one of the things that makes a great player. During player level 1 you are given 4 turns to choose a total of 8 cards to level up and they will essentially draw your game plan for the rest of the game as they will usually (but by no means always) be your best options to play during player level 2.

Sometimes the choice is clear cut because you can play a card that both levels up into a powerful threat and at the same time gives you a great board position at that moment. Other times you have to chose to take a hit on the board position in exchange for considerably improving your deck in future turns. Keeping a strong board position will give you more time to recover in case of a negative CLA, but leveling up strong threats will allow you to take better advantage of positive CLA so in each game you have to consider how aggressive your opponent's deck is, what cards you have already leveled up, what cards you have seen and won't be able to level up until the next player level, what cards you opponent has leveled up or could level up, etc. The answers to these questions change from deck to deck and even from game to game so I can't answer them here, but know that these are key questions to answer to be able to deal effectively with card level advantage.

This is a good place to point out a common rookie mistake: Blocking with a level 3 card that is going to die when a level 2 card would be just as effective and also levels an additional card. Another related misconception is to be at player level 3 or beyond and end up playing mostly level 3 cards but to have them dealt with efficiently by a mix of level 2 and 3 cards from the opposing player, then enter the next level and find that you are drawing very poorly. In that case, its not bad luck, its the law of probabilities working normally because your opponent, having leveled more cards, will now be consistently drawing and playing level 3 cards while you likely won't.

Damage or Board Position?

When all you have is an underleveled hand and you are facing a leveled creature you have to consider two main options: placing your own creatures in other lanes while you wait to draw a hand with a creature that can deal with it and in the meantime take damage or blocking the creature with your weaker creatures to whittle it down and avoid taking damage but losing board position. If you have a lot of health and know that you are likely to draw a card than can block the threatening creature effectively, it can be convenient to leave the card unblocked and hope to draw better next turn. That also means that you get to block it on its attack, giving you a minor advantage when blocking (in case of pumps). However, if you are low on life or if you think the creature could get out of hand if you don't start blocking right now (or if you know you don't have very high power creatures) it could be better to block it immediately even though you will lose board position.

Take into account previously played and unplayed cards

A subtle but important consideration when playing in any given turn is to consider the cards that you have seen both in your hand and on the board. By keeping track of what cards have been in your hand, you know what the odds are of seeing any given future hands within the same player level and can take that into account when leveling. For example if on turn 3 you have card A and B which are both equally convenient to play and level, but you have seen card A twice before in your hand but never played it, then you should play card A because you certainly won't have another chance to level it this player level.

Similarly, by looking at what your opponent has played, you know what threats they have and you know if you need to be leveling up any cards that can deal with those threats or cards that they would have a hard time dealing with, given what they have leveled up. Playing with this information in mind goes a long way to both increase the advantage you can get from a positive CLA and to easily recover in the case of negative CLA.

Going Forward

So that's about it for now. As you can see there are many tools that one can use in the game of Solforge to get ahead, both in the form of cards you can put in your deck and in the way you play them. The best players use all these tools to their advantage and that's why they win consistently regardless of bad luck and negative CLA. Any player that learns and masters these tools can also increase their win percentage.

However, while the whole levelling system is fun, innovative and very well designed, its not without its problems. From my point of view there are two main problems: 1) It can cause new players to believe that the results are far too dependent on luck 2) It can cause frustration when the value of ACLA goes to high. Join me as I analyze those two problems in the next series of articles I will write.

In the meantime, please take a look at some additional content I wrote, analyzing some of the cards from set 3 that effectively give us new tools to battle ACLA.

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