Ina we discussed the question of blocking. That is, whether to play your creature across from an opponent’s creature, or whether to play into an empty lane. In this article, we cover a natural follow-up question. Let’s say that you have decided not to block and you are going to play your creature into an empty lane. Typically, you will have several empty lanes to choose from. Which one do you pick?
At a high level, you want to create a board position that is likely to work well with the cards you draw next turn, while at the same time leaving your opponent a board position that she will have trouble dealing with effectively. This article will provide you with some techniques that you can use to achieve these goals.
First things first, press the ‘Battle’ button!
So you have decided not to block and you need to select a lane for your creature. Your first move should be to press the ‘Battle’ button. In this article, we are going to talk about planning ahead for future turns and that’s a lot easier once the creatures who die in battle have already been removed from your screen. Obviously, if you are playing a creature with a special ability that will affect combat this turn (e.g., Grove Huntress or Warbringer Uranti) then you need to play it before pressing ‘Battle’. But whenever you are playing a card that won’t affect combat this turn, you should make your job easier and run combat first.
If you watch top SolForge players in action – and you should be watching top players if you want to improve your gameplay – you will notice that many top players play creatures into empty lanes before combat. These players have literally thousands of SolForge victories under their belt. They have the experience to make the right call on lane placement even when their screens are cluttered with creatures who are about to die in combat. To those who are not yet among the best players in the world, do yourself a favor and get in the habit of pressing ‘Battle’ before you play cards that won’t affect combat this turn. You will avoid a lot of frustrating mistakes and get better results because of it.
Lane Choice Matters
Not all lanes are created equal, and in particular, some creatures like certain lanes better than others. The most obvious example is Alloyin cards specifically mention the center lane in their card text. Cards like Nexus Pilot and Battle Techtician are only strong if you play them into the middle lane, and Cypien Augmentation is only useful if your center lane is occupied.
Additionally, there are cards in Tempys and Alloyin that provide a bonus to creatures in adjacent lanes. Cards like Alloyin General, Flamestoke Shaman, and Abraxas can be played into any lane but are significantly weaker when played into the two outermost lanes – since they are able to affect only one adjacent lane instead of two. Similarly, creatures with Mobility are less useful when played into an outer lane because it restricts the options you have available when you activate their Mobility.
Finally, cards like Echowisp and Brighttusk Sower produce a pair of creatures that must be placed in adjacent lanes. That is, these creatures can be played effectively into any lane, but without an adjacent empty lane these cards are substantially less valuable. Windcaller Shaman only generates a single creature, but it is similar to Echowisp and Brightusk Sower in that it requires two empty adjacent lanes in order to be effective.
Creating Your Own Luck
So we have established that some of your creatures benefit from being played in certain lanes. It isn’t difficult to figure out that you should put your Nexus Pilot into the center lane – that’s the easy part. The next step is to plan ahead and make sure that your center lane is open when you draw your Nexus Pilot. For example, if you have a leveled Nexus Pilot that you haven’t drawn yet this player Rank, avoid playing another creature into the middle lane – unless it is going to die before your next turn. That way, if you draw your leveled Nexus Pilot next turn, you will be able to play into an empty middle lane and get full value from it.
Of course, this doesn’t just apply to Nexus Pilot. You may have noticed that good players almost always seem to draw their key cards on turns where the board let’s them take full advantage of these cards. This isn’t because they are able to manipulate the shuffling algorithm to draw their cards on the perfect turn. It is because good players are able to manipulate the board state to create lots of “perfect” turns to draw their key cards. Take a look at the following board position.
On Turn 2.1, your opponent plays a pair of Ether Hounds and you block one of them with your Cavern Hydra. You decide not to block the second Ether Hound in the center lane, because you want to play your Level 1 Shardplate Delver (which at 4/4 would trade unfavorably with the Ether Hound). Given that you have an Echowisp 2 in your deck, which of the empty lanes should you pick for your Shardplate Delver?
To answer questions like this, you need to predict how the board is likely to look on your next turn. That is, where is your opponent likely to play creatures and which creatures are likely to die. In this example, since the Echowisp is at low health and on the Offensive, it is incredibly likely that your Echowisp will die on your opponent’s turn. On the other hand, your opponent probably only has a few good answers to your Cavern Hydra. If she doesn’t draw one, she may choose to take 7 damage, hoping to draw a better answer the following turn. Alternatively, she may block the Hydra with a high-health creature that trades evenly with the Hydra over the course of multiple turns, which would also keep the Hydra alive through your next turn.
If your Hydra survives, then you would much rather have your Delver in the leftmost lane (Lane 1). This gives you three adjacent empty lanes on the right side of the board, and therefore multiple options for playing an Echowisp that you draw next turn. In particular, this gives you the option of making an aggressive play by putting high-attack Echowisps into empty lanes on the right side of the board. If you instead play the Delver in the rightmost lane (Lane 5) and the Hydra survives, then your options are more restricted. Your only choice would be to play an Echowisp into Lanes 3 and 4. That is, you lose the option of playing your Echowisps aggressively and instead must trade one of your two Echowisps for the Ether Hound. Whether or not trading an Echowisp for an Ether Hound is a good move depends a lot on the players’ health totals and what else you draw on your next turn. However, it costs you nothing to leave Lane 5 empty and give yourself the option of putting an Echowisp there next turn.
Indeed, all of this discussion might be moot, because your opponent might kill your Hydra on her turn – ensuring you have good Echowisp options regardless of where you play your Delver – or you might fail to draw your Echowisp. However, you should still get in the habit of thinking ahead, and you go out of your way to leave yourself good opportunities to play Echowisp (or whatever position-dependent card you have been leveling). It won’t pay off every time, but over the course of several games you will find that you get “lucky” more often by drawing your key cards at the “right” time.
Weakening Your Opponent’s Hand
So we have established that if you are playing position-dependent cards, that you should plan ahead to make sure the right lanes are open when you draw those cards. However, even if none of the cards in your deck care about lane placement, you should still think carefully about where your play your creatures. That is, even if you aren’t playing cards like Nexus Pilot or Echowisp, your opponent might have such cards in her deck.
Let’s say that it is late in Player Rank 2 and your opponent draws a Level 2 Battle Techtician (7/11). Your opponent is excited to draw such a strong card and is looking forward to having a Level 3 Battle Techtician in her deck during Rank 3. However, when she looks up at the battlefield she sees the following board position.
What are her options? She could choose to play the Battle Techtician into the center lane. This lets her Ghox do an extra four damage, but her Battle Techtician dies immediately and fails to kill your Glutton. Otherwise she can play the Battle Techtician into an empty lane, which transforms it into a vanilla creature with sub-par statistics. Both of these are excellent outcomes for you considering your opponent drew what could otherwise have been a very scary Level 2 card.
Indeed, if you had played your Glutton into an outer lane instead of the center, your opponent would get great value from her Battle Techtician. She would play it into the middle lane, get some extra damage from her Ghox and with the +4 attack bonus from Battle Techtician, she could kill your Glutton with almost any Level 1 creature. That is to say, by playing your Glutton into the middle lane instead of an outer lane, you transformed what would have been an excellent draw for your opponent into a relatively weak draw.
So how do you set up these kinds of situations more often? The first step is to keep track of those cards your opponent is leveling that benefit from particular board positions. During player Rank 1, make a mental note if you see cards that are stronger in the center lane, or are weaker in outermost lanes, or require adjacent empty lanes. When you play a creature during player Rank 2, the next step is to figure out whether this is a card that your opponent wants to block. In particular, would your opponent want to block your creature with one of those position-dependent cards you saw her level early in the game.
As we saw in the above example, there are some creatures that your opponent doesn’t want to block because blocking would hand you a favorable trade. Additionally, there are other creatures that your opponent doesn’t want to block because these creatures have special abilities that punish an opponent for blocking. For example, Level 2 Blight Walker kills any creature it damages, and so if your opponent draws a strong Level 2 card, she won’t want to use it to block your Blight Walker. When you are playing a creature that your opponent doesn’t want to block, you want to place it in a lane that is advantageous for her position-dependent cards. Let’s say that your opponent has Defensive creatures in Lanes 1 and 3, and she has Level 2 Alloyin General (4/13) in her deck. If you draw Level 2 Swampmoss Lurker (13/6) it is advantageous for you to play it into Lane 2. That is, your opponent might draw her General next turn and Alloyin General is a very strong play in between two existing creatures. By playing your Swampmoss Lurker into Lane 2, you ensure that playing the General into the “best” lane hands you a favorable trade.
Other creatures, like Shardplate Delver or Flameblade Champion penalize your opponent for failing to block. You want to play these creatures into lanes where your opponent is unable to get great value from the position-dependent creatures she has leveled. Let’s say you draw a Level 2 Flameblade Champion (7/9) and your opponent has Level 2 Mobility creatures in her deck like Ionic Warcharger (9/12) or Wind Primordial (10/8). Blocking the Flameblade is advantageous for your opponent regardless of where you play the Flameblade. However, you can reduce the value your opponent gets from her Mobility creature by forcing her to play into one of the outermost lanes. That is, if you play the Flameblade into an outer lane and your opponent’s only good answer to the Flameblade is a Mobility creature, then she gets less value from the Mobility creature than she would have had you played the Flameblade into a more central lane.
Putting it into Practice
Personally, I find that the in-client draft queue is among the best places to practice creature positioning. Try going into a draft and grabbing every Brighttusk Sower you see. Then as you play the games, ask yourself every turn: “If I drew Brighttusk Sower next turn, would I have a place to play it?”. Or try a similar exercise with Alloyin General or Windcaller Shaman.
Additionally, Battle Techtician and Nexus Pilot are both very strong cards in draft. Pay attention to when your opponent is playing these cards. Whenever you play a creature ask yourself: “Would my opponent want to block this creature with Battle Techtician [or Nexus Pilot]?” If the answer is No, put the creature into the middle lane. Otherwise, play the creature elsewhere.
Planning ahead for advantageous positioning won’t work every time. Sometimes your opponent will draw their Battle Techitician on the one turn where you aren’t able to apply pressure to the middle lane. Other times, your opponent will do something unexpected and you will end up having to play your Alloyin General into an exterior lane. However, in the long run, practice planning ahead and careful creature positioning and will find that you get the creatures you need at the “right time” much more often than your opponents.