Magic 101

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  • Hello again dear readers!

    This week we've been exploring the issue of magic in the SE subforum (friendliest place on the 9th age boards, visit us!) so I thought I'd share my thoughts on the subject with you. Unlike the previous article, this one is more heavily focused on Sylvans but, again, some of the principles apply to all armies and may help you use and defend against magic more effectively.

    [b][/b]Magic Defense:

    The sylvan elves have a particular vulnerability to magic, for several reasons:

    • Many of their units are comprised of expensive, unarmoured units that rely on targetting penalties (skirmish/cover) and superior mobility to survive ranged damage and get into position. It comes as no surprise that a 2d6 s4 fireball that can potentially wreck a unit of Pathfinders has many generals searching for their dispel scroll.
    • Nothing can destroy your dreams as quickly as a couple of combat buffs that turn your combined multi-charge on the enemy’s main combat unit into a fiasco.
    • Treefathers: as much as I love them, the way some spells counter them is pretty sad. If you field them, you’d better shell out the cash to protect them, too.
    And the list goes on.

    Knowing your vulnerability is one thing, but taking it into account when building your list and when maneuvering on the battlefield can save you some precious dispel dice, which will in turn save you points from magic defense to spend on other stuff.

    Here are some principles I have found useful:

    • Your units are not as vulnerable to magic missiles as you think they are: One of the main threats that panics SE generals into spending a ton of dice to dispel is magic missiles. It is a common concept that our units will melt away if a stiff breeze blows their way. I have found this to be untrue with most units.D6/2D6 S4 magic missiles may hurt, but most of the time they don’t: Bladedancers get a 5+ ward against them, Thicket Beasts are usually not hurt at all (even when you factor in the flammable reroll, you get 1-2w on average from a medium fireball) and the T4 and 4+ save of Kestrels will help them survive. So if faced with a dilemma between saving a small unit or having dice to stop more destructive spells, my advice is to let the magic missile through. Exceptions to this rule: Banishment on high value targets, Big Burning Brightness on otherworldly monsters.

    • Find the minimum effective unit size for each of your elements, then add some models to that: Even if you’re playing MSU, adding a couple of models to your Bladedancers means that they can take that magic missile and still have 4-5 models left to cause your opponent a headache. An added bonus to that is that you have a bit more leeway before you need to give your opponent the VPs for being below 25%.
    • Spell Ranges: you can limit the amount of magic coming your way by taking into account the spell range and type limitations. For example, a mage inside a unit that’s fighting in combat won’t be able to cast magic missiles, and even direct damage spells will be limited by the front arc. It may buy you a turn of respite, enough for your more dedicated mage hunters to get into place. A key to not being overwhelmed by the opponent magic phase is to never give a good target for multiple spells. For example, on the turn when you wish to dispel that all-important Mindrazor, make sure that your Pathfinders are outof range/arc for a 2d6 s4 fireball.
    • Don’t waste your scroll: my approach is to play as if I didn’t have the scroll, until the point where stopping a spell will win me the game (or prevent me from losing). More often than not, it is used to stop the desperate Beast Within that may make my charges bounce, or a Summer Regrowth on a monster I’ve been painstakingly taking down to its last wound for the entire game. There are games when I end up not using my scroll, but this also means that I’ve managed to contain the magic threat in another manner.
    • Risk assessment: at the start of the magic phase, think of which spell you absolutely need to dispel and keep your dice to do so. I am usually very conservative when it comes to dispelling, making sure to roll enough dice to make dispelling almost a certainty. It may so happen that there are multiple must-stop spells and the opponent has enough dice to cast them: in that case, your opponent probably played a better game, and your best bet is to try and even out the dice advantage by burning the scroll. Failed casting rolls also happen, so that is certainly another option to hope
    • Use miscasts: when your opponent miscasts, think if the spell cast will hurt you a lot or not. If you can weather it, it’s worth letting it through to deny him some more dice and limit his magic phase subsequently. The miscast damage is a bonus, but the desired effect here is that the casting pool goes down by at least 4 dice.
    So to sum up, reaching for the scroll every time someone hurls a 2d6 s4 magic missile at you is a bad habit. Learn to weather the magic, deny your opponent juicy targets whenever possible, actively hunt mages and keep your scroll for the right moment. Bring enough bodies to be able to survive a round of magic and still be functional and learn to sacrifice a unit if it means that the rest of the army will advance unscathed.

    With all these in mind, I’ve found that a wizard apprentice with a scroll is usually enough to ensure a decent magic defense, without going overboard in terms of points. Shutting an opponent’s magic phase is the HBE/DH way, whereas the SE need to evade and weather it while they move in for the kill.

    Magic offense for Sylvans

    An elven force with no magic support is a rare sight, and what is even rarer is one that does consistently well. This is because the elite status of the army lends itself well to either buffs (making the most out of the ton of attacks an elven block can put out, or making up for that T3) or long-range damaging spells that will even the odds against enemies that outnumber us.

    So choosing your magic paths wisely will take you a step further towards victory. I used plural there, on purpose: mixing and matching magic paths is what I’ve found works best for the Sylvans, but more on that later.

    How many spells?

    Whether you’re bringing bound spells, druids, matriarchs, Treefather ancients, the first thing to decide is how many spells you need for your magic to have an impact. This varies depending on what you want your magic to accomplish, since a single Fireball will have a smaller effect than a well-timed Curse of the Wildwood.

    A good rule of thumb for me is to bring at least 4 spells: odds are that at any given point of the battle you’ll have at least two spells that can have a significant impact on the battlefield, meaning that with average rolling you’ll get one of them off.

    Everything is better in pairs:

    This is decent advice in many aspects of life, and it applies even more so to wargaming: if you want a unit to perform a certain task, bring two elements capable of doing so. As far as magic is concerned, it’s always better to have two of each spell type, making sure that if you want a certain buff to go through in a critical phase, you’ll be able to power through the enemy magic defenses no matter the casting dice differential.

    For example, if you bring a single magic missile and 3 or 4 combat spells (be it hexes or augments) it will be fairly easy for your opponent to keep dispelling your missile with dice early on, keeping the scroll for the closing steps of the game. In contrast, if you’ve got 2 ranged damage spells and 2 or 3 spells that can help out in combat, you will be able to either deal some early ranged damage or pull the scroll during the opening steps of the game.

    Countering weaknesses vs capitalizing on your strengths:

    What I find is a frequent error when it comes to magic support is that players use it to try and cover up weaknesses of their troops/battle line. This often backfires because magic is fickle and not to be relied on; Triple 1’s happen, as do miscasts on 2 dice on your opening spell, which will deny you crucial casting dice. So you’ve committed your troops where you shouldn’t have, banking on magic support, and you’re left there hanging.

    I think that a safer and more effective approach is to play to your strengths, then use magic to tip the balance a bit further and go from «winnng slightly» to «winning by a substantial margin». Charging your T3 Lord against a Gargantula hoping that you’ll be able to buff him up to toughness 5+ with the path of Nature is a lot riskier than planning your entire magic selection so that you can get path of Heavens rerolls on to hit/to wound and make the most of his Whirlwind Blade.

    It goes without saying that some spells have optimal targets, the ones where your opponent will be searching for his scroll as soon as you pick up the dice: the goal is to have as many of these as possible, at all times. This will force the enemy to stretch his magic defenses thin and eventually some spells will get through.

    Mixing Magic Paths:

    Once you’ve played some games of the 9th age, you start noticing that some Paths make life difficult for you from the get-go, while others come into their own during the late game. To take an example that’s unrelated to Elves:

    The path of Necromancy doesn’t really have any early game spells, which makes it a relatively bad stand-alone path. When facing an experienced opponent who will target his shooting/magic against units that will have a hard time getting wounds back with invocation and/or can be wiped out in a single turn, the early game magic becomes an issue of dispelling the Danse (if there is one) and/or the single magic missile.

    From the paths that we’ve got available, the ones that fit the description above are the path of Nature, Shadow, Death and, depending on the spells chosen, Wilderness. Don’t get me wrong, the spells of these paths are very powerful in the right hands, but they need a little push from a secondary path.

    Ideally you want to mix long ranged potential with short ranged potential, and mix situational spells (for example, the Metalshifting magic missile from the path of Metal) with all-around spells (Luminous Bolts, Curse of the Wildwood are good examples)

    Pull The Scroll fast:

    No-scroll armies are currently the Unicorns of tournament play, in my experience. (although one might accurately point out that Unicorns are the Unicorns of tournament play.) While your opponent is holding on to his scroll (as he should be, see the «magic defense» installment) you cannot plan ahead and you cannot bank on your magic carrying the day.

    So objective no.1 in the first turns is to create situations where not dispelling a spell (preferably two of them) will seriously hamper the opposing player’s chances at victory. This may be a well-placed magic missile, a 5-diced transmutation on a character bunker, a Comet in the opponent’s backline or a toughness debuff on an enemy monster within range of every bow in your army.

    In the first magic phase pulling the scroll is a victory on its own, even if you cast no spells at all; From now on, with average dice and good planning you’ll be getting off one to two spells per turn.

    Plan your magic phases, don’t waste dice:

    Since the magic overhaul of v0.9, failing to cast a spell has never been easier. It happens to me at least once per game, but there are ways to avoid it. As a rule, I never cast on two dice anything that requires more than a 5+ to be cast, unless I need to put pressure on the opponent with a trickle magic phase. Anything between 6+ and 9+ is a 3 dice casting for me, and anything more than 10 is a huge investment that will require 4+ dice and had better be worth it.

    That said, I find that «trickle» magic phases where you cast many low-cost spells are far more effective than going for the big casting. Unless you’ve pulled the scroll, and have a roll of 5-3 or so. That’s begging for a big casting of any spell that would win you the game, consequences be damned. Just remember that if you’re casting a RiP spell, your wizard needs to be alive for it to have any effect. So risking to blow him up may not be the best idea.

    Which Paths? An eminence-based guide.

    First off, let me state that the Sylvan Elves do NOT have a problem dealing with armour anymore: with Bladedancers (AP2), Forest Rangers (AP3)Wild Huntsmen (AP3), Kestrel Knights (AP2-3), Thicket Beasts (AP2-3), Lethal Strike from Spears and the S6 of the Treefathers (AP3), even 1+ save models will go down to 4+. So one of the biggest drives of path selection, historically speaking, goes out of the window.

    Looking at our available casters, one will quickly notice a focus on Nature magic and Wilderness magic. Out of the two, I find the latter more useful and all-around, especially on a level 2 caster. Nature needs a wide spell selection to make the most of it, being thus better suited for a level 4 with the Tome of Arcane Lore.

    One of the basic criteria for path selection is how the signature spell and the path attribute factor in the army plan: For these reasons two of my favorite paths are Heavens and White magic: getting extra wounds for your precious small units/characters and getting re-rolls for those pesky 1’s when rolling to wound seems like a bargain to me. On the contrary, I feel that the path of Light is better suited to armies such as the Empire of Sonnstahl or the Undying Dynasties, since we’ve already got good leadership and high mobility and attack rate without the need for spells. All of the paths in between are decent choices, in the right setting.

    My usual set-up consists of a level 2 Matriach of Wilderness, a level 2 Druid of White magic (sometimes Fire as a substitute) and a Briar Maiden wizard conclave. On average, this gives me 2 to 3 magic missiles (Luminous bolts and Insect Swarm if I can pick it) and 3 to 4 multi-task spells: Curse of the Wildwood, Cataclysm, Guiding Hand, Beast Within all fall into that category.

    An interesting alternative would be twin wilderness mages, the wizard conclave and the ring of fire; Still a good amount of ranged damage, plus the potential for double Beasts within and/or double Curse of the Wildwood.

    Obviously, choice of path depends on what your army list looks like: if you’re one to play with big bricks of Forest Guard and Forest Rangers, supported by Treefathers, then Nature magic for some regeneration, healing and toughness boosts is a good option. If you’re playing avoidance, then Fire and/or Heavens is your friend. And if, like me, you’re a fan of getting up close and personal with multiple maneuver elements, then a mix of combat hexes, boosts to strenth to make the most of our high attack rate and magic missiles to take care of the enemy long ranged battery is what you should be looking for.

    As for me, I’m impressed that you managed to read this far! As far as incoherent ramblings go, this one is a masterwork! I look forward to reading your comments on what works and what doesn't for you in terms of magic offense/defense.

    Until the next time, happy hunting and enjoy Summer Solstice if you're somewhere where it doesn't rain all summer long.


    700 times read

Comments 4

  • Krinok -

    Every new (and some old) players must read this! Masterwork!

  • Herminard -

    Top quality! Praise be it's only been read by 200-ish people - else my magical schemes would be easily twarted :)

  • Arturius -

    Very interesting read ! Please present us with more similar articles :)

  • Blonde Beer -

    One of the best blogposts for tactics I have read. Well done.