Heyeveryone. My name is Chad Ellis (and I go by ChadEllis in game, shockingly). Once upon a time I was a Magic drafter of some repute and wrote strategy articles under the title Weak Among the Strong. Now SolForge has replaced Magic as my draft obsession and I’m here to share the strategies and tactics that have brought me near the top of the monthly wins stats. In future articles I’ll delve deep into particular areas of strategy but for today I’m going to talk about the three most important things a player can focus on to improve their odds of winning at draft.
These three things are consistency, aggression and synergy.
You will not 4-0 or even 3-1 a draft if your deck isn’t consistently improving your board position. To do this your deck should have a mix of the following:
- Cards that you need to level in order to be powerful, like Stonefist Giant. You will prioritize playing these during Rank 1 and hopefully draw and play them in Rank 2 and beyond. These are the late game power of your deck.
- Cards that improve your board reasonably well even when under-leveled. These generally fall into two categories – cards that are strong at level one but don’t gain much (e.g. Deepbranch Prowler) and cards that gain a lot at level two but not so much at level three (e.g. Sparkblade Assassin). You play these cards during Rank 2 when you don’t have one of your level two cards to play.
- Cards that are useful in specific situations, especially finishers or stall cards to help you win the race at the end.
The last point speaks to why Grove Matriarch is such a good card. It has solid stats at each level so if you’re leveling it up it will typically trade fairly and then leave a useful token behind. But if you don’t level it up then a Matriarch can still prevent 40 damage from a level three Scrapforge Titan by blocking twice.
A lot of strong drafters from other games started off Solforge grabbing removal. If Terror is a first pick in Magic, is Cull the Weak a first pick in Solforge? No, and the problem – the main one, at least – is consistency. If you Cull something during Rank 1 you may draw it without a good target during Rank 2, in which case you’d much rather be drawing a Level 2 creature you could play. Or you may not draw it during Rank 2 and then in Rank 3 it’s useless against the most important threats whereas a level two creature could help bring a bigger creature down.
One thing many of my opponents get wrong is aggression. Some aren’t aggressive enough. Others are, but engaged in the wrong type of aggression – forcing through early damage rather than pushing for board advantage.
In a recent game, for example, my opponent led with Cinderfist Brawler. The Brawler isn’t a bad card, but he generally falls into the second bucket of cards – the ones you play under-leveled. With a 7 attack he’s a good blocker but ironically he’s a pretty weak attacker (unless you have multiple threats out) because almost anything can block and kill him. (This, by the way, is one of the general rules of Solforge draft– high-attack/low health creatures are usually better at defense than offense, while a card like Rimehorn Charger is gold in a highly aggressive deck in large part because it has 8 health.)
I was happy to see the Brawler particularly since I had Ether Hounds in hand. I played the Hounds, hoping that I’d already gained a half card, and played another creature. My opponent then played Jet Pack on his Brawler, dodged my Hound and hit me in the face for twenty.
Twenty health is a lot – a fifth of my total – but this was an awful play. My opponent had now invested his entire first two turns in one creature that still only had three health. I blocked with a Grove Matriarch and played another creature. Now I had creatures in every lane to my opponent’s empty board. It didn’t take long for my opponent to be the one behind on health and I never let go of my dominant board position.
Proper aggression in SolForge is what in Magic would be called “aggro control”. You want to be damaging your opponent round after round but the main thing is to create favorable trades, establishing board advantage that leads to more and more damage.
So why do I advocate aggro control rather than just pure control? Why not just focus on board position? For example, it’s easier to set up favorable blocks if you wait for the creature to become active – if board control is more important than damage, why not let creatures punch you in the face once in order to set up a favorable trade when no tricks are available?
The main problem with this is that health totals matter too. If you fall behind on health, you have to start blocking. A lot of Solforge’s best creatures in draft, like Spring Dryad and Shardplate Delver, are much better when they’re attacking and forcing the opponent to work for the trade.
The other problem with falling behind is that your opponent can ignore one or even two of your creatures while forcing you to defend against their threats. Having a creature be effectively dead because it’s in a lane the opponent can ignore is terrible.
As an aside, I win about two to three totally lost games a week because my opponent chooses to block and trade with one of my creatures instead of putting their new creature into an empty lane. A trade that might be the right play when we’re both at eighty can throw away a win if you’re at eighty and I’m at fifteen. I have even had people make this sort of play when I’m at five health and they’re undamaged…and in one case I came back from single digits against a person with 100 health and won when I was totally dead if they’d just factored healthtotals into their decision.
Deck synergy is very important in Solforge draft but it’s also where a lot of drafters seem to go wrong, or overboard. You want to draft cards that are individually solid (i.e. they don’t depend on synergy to be good) and that, if possible, have synergy as a group of cards with lots of potential pairings.
A common example is the Uttera multicreature/full lane deck. You first-pick Ferocious Roar so you know you’re going to be taking token-generating cards like Brighttusk Sower a bit higher than normal. That, in turn, makes Dryads higher picks than they already are. Each of these cards is good on its own but what can make that archetype unbeatable is that there are so many opportunities for synergy that “lucky” hands are really common.
Another opportunity for synergy comes up when a single card offers a dramatic effect. The trick here is not to get sucked in by the Danger of Cool Things. If you’ve drafted Uranti Warlord then it’s OK to take other Yeti slightly higher, but only slightly. Yes, you may blow up your opponent’s world, but unless you’re OK playing a Yeti and having it live and die on its own, don’t add it to your deck just because it might get you an extra kaboom trigger.
For example, in a recent draft I opened with Emberwind Evoker. She’s got solid stats and a very powerful ability and I hadn’t yet had the chance to draft one so I was happy to see what she could do. With her in my deck I rounded up the value of mobility (already generally the best creature ability) and was leaning towards Alloyin as a second faction but I didn’t try to build a mobility combo deck. I picked good mobility creatures a bit higher than I would have normally but didn’t get lured in by weak ones or start first-picking Wind Callers. In the end I had a strong Tempys-Alloyin deck that happened to have explosive potential if that combo came up. I won games one and two without ever playing her. In game three she came out and I was able to trigger her multiple times at different levels to crushing effect. In game four she came out again but my opponent’s Techtician was able to lead him to a tight victory.
Synergy doesn’t just mean direct interactions, of course. Highly aggressive cards are much better together than alone, simply because part of their strength lies in forcing your opponent to react to them to protect her health total. Defenders don’t just have synergy with cards like Jet Pack or Relentless Assault; they’re also better in decks with powerful Level 3 bombs that need to survive the early game to win. Just as with direct synergy, the real power comes from cards that work together as a group, rather than relying on highly specific interactions.
Which, of course, brings us back to consistency. A bomb combination that’s weak if it doesn’t come up isn’t consistent. It’s particularly bad if it needs to come up at every level; in that case you shouldn’t play it even when you have it because what you gain during Rank 1 will be more than lost when you draw weak or unplayable leveled cards in Rank 2.
Let’s tie this all together with a look at my first 4-0 deck in the new format:
Light Sabre Patrol
Xrath, Dreadknight of Varna
This was a somewhat unusual draft. I took an Oreian Battledroid first and was hoping to go Alloyin-Uttera, since pump effects are incredibly good with Battledroid. Then the second pack had Xrath as the only good card and not a single Uttera or Alloyin card. When I got a second Battledroid I really wanted a Spirit Leash but never saw one; I also got relatively few Zombies to go with Xrath, but he’s fine on his own. (If he wasn’t, I wouldn’t draft him.)
So what’s my plan? My most important cards to level are the droids (unless my opponent is playing Nekrium, in which case I won’t play a droid even to block an active 5/5), the Forgeplate Sentries and (especially if I’m on the Droid plan) the Cypien Augmentations. Skynight Glider and Xithian Crusher are also good targets for leveling, and Charnel Titan has gone from “sometimes good but often a trap” to “does this card ever not trigger” so if he’s going to come out as a 6/8 I will definitely play him. I’ll also be happy to Metasight any of these cards.
Scavenger Scorpion and Sparkblade Assassin are cards I’ll only play in PL1 against very aggressive decks. They’ll come out, if they come out at all, in PL2 when I don’t have enough on-level cards to play.
I have a very small group of Zombies, but they’re each good individually so I’m happy to run them out and if I get them in play together that’s a nice cookie.
When is this deck hoping to win? Clearly in the later levels. I don’t have enough mobility or early aggression to try to put my opponent on the ropes so I’m clearly counting on large armored creatures to dominate the board. This means fighting an attrition battle, trying not to get behind on the board early and making sure I don’t fall low enough on life that my opponent can ignore my big guys and use his own mobility to finish me off.
My deck is short on real bombs, but it can perform very consistently – particularly at the higher levels, courtesy of 2x Metasight. With that consistency and a clear game plan I was able to go undefeated, including a round three where my opponent came out of the gate fast and played Koros, Khan of Kadras five times.
I hope this article, and the ones to follow, help you win more games and have more fun at Solforge draft. Just like in my Magic writing days I’ll check out the forums to answer any questions or comments you may have and I look forward to learning more about this game together.
Hugs ‘til next time,