The Tactics of SolForge: An Introduction to Blocking

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DM232-3-colorI am the Noetherian, medications and I represent the old guard. I played countless matches in the days when there was no graphical user interface. When old men typed out SolForge boards uses ASCII characters to play via email. I played in the days of 40 card decks, when Level 1 draws were
ubiquitous. As the game has evolved, I have seen unbeatable decks come and go repeatedly. I have seen marquee cards like Rageborn Hellion, Uterra Packmaster, and Scorchmane Dragon go from nearly unplayable, to dominant, and then fade back into background as the metagame shifts again. In the world of SolForge there is only one constant: That solid fundamentals win games. Indeed, someone could hand you the greatest deck in the world, and it won’t bring you tournament success until you have mastered the core tactics at the heart of the game.

Fortunately for you, I am also a SolForge evangelist who is committed to growing the community and nurturing the next generation of great SolForge players. I may not have the sharpest or the fastest mind in SolForge, but long experience has given me a firm grounding in the game’s fundamentals. Indeed, I have spent much time contemplating the best ways to teach core SolForge concepts to less experienced player — and these articles are the result of this contemplation. By discussing in depth the tactical decisions at the heart of the game, I hope to provide newer players a foundation on which they can build a legacy of SolForge greatness.

An Introduction to Blocking

When you play a creature in SolForge, you typically have to choose whether to play it across from an opposing creature or whether to instead play it into an empty lane. That is, whether to block or to instead threaten my opponent with a full-health creature. Blocking allows you to protect your life total – every time you decline to block your opponent’s creature you set yourself up to take damage in the next battle. However, blocking too often can be as dangerous as declining to block. In this article, we introduce the concepts you need to consider to make correct blocking decisions and take your play to the next level.

Are You Getting a Good Trade?

The first task when considering a potential block is to determine the eventual outcome of combat between your opponent’s creature and your blocking creature. If neither player intervenes and the creatures battle repeatedly, will both creatures die? Or will either you or your opponent be left with a creature in the lane? If both creatures die, we say that the block results in an even trade. If your creature survives, then we say the trade is favorable, and if your opponent’s creature survives we say the trade is unfavorable.

Xithian Hulk-2-std

Who wins in a fight?

For example, if your opponent has a Level 2 Xithian Hulk (8/11) in an empty lane: blocking with a Level 2 Water Walker (12/9) will give you a favorable trade; blocking with a Level 2 Runegrove Guardian (8/8) will give you an unfavorable trade; and blocking with a Level 2 Bramblewood Guardian (6/14) will give you an even trade.

Not all favorable (or unfavorable) trades are created equal. Obviously, having your creature survive with more health is better than having it survive with less health. However, the difference between surviving and not surviving is generally more important than exact amount of health the creature survives with. Therefore, when you are learning the game I would encourage you to focus on whether trades are favorable or unfavorable, and as you get more experienced you can begin to factor in other considerations into your play.

In general, you should be much more inclined to block when you are getting a favorable trade, andyou should be very hesitant to block when you are getting an unfavorable trade. As a general rule of thumb, if your opponent’s creature is Offensive (i.e., will attack on your turn) you should never pass up a favorable trade. Conversely, when your opponent’s creature is Defensive (i.e., it will not attack until your opponent’s turn) you should generally avoid blocking when you have an unfavorable trade – unless you are very low on life, or your opponent’s creature is particularly dangerous when unblocked, such as Flameblade Champion.

Are You Likely to Get a Better Trade Next Turn?

When you consider making an even trade or an unfavorable trade, it is important to consider what is likely to happen if you don’t block. Obviously, not blocking causes you to take damage equal to the opposing creature’s Attack statistic (or double the Attack statistic if the creature is Offensive). It also leaves the creature on the board (and generally at full health) for you to deal with next turn.

Deepbranch Prowler-1-std

Just how big a threat it is depends on your deck.

Given the cards that you have left to draw in your deck, you should be able to predict how likely you are to draw a good answer to your opponent’s creature in your next hand. In general, you should be unwilling to accept even (or unfavorable) trades if you are likely to be able to do better next turn. For example, consider the case where on Turn 1 of the game, your opponent plays a Level 1 Deepbranch Prowler (7/7) and you have nothing in your hand that can kill it. If your deck contains three Storm Callers (8/6), three Marrow Fiends (8/1), and an Everflame Phoenix (7/6), then you should generally decline to block and accept a turn of damage from the Prowler. On the other hand, if your deck contains no creatures (or very few creatures) with 7 Attack, then you should generally block the Prowler. That is, you will need to accept an unfavorable trade eventually, and so you might as well do it immediately to minimize the damage you take.

Thinking about what you are likely to draw next turn is particularly important at the end of a Player Rank. When you are Player 1, on the last turn of Player Rank 1 or 2, you should be quite hesitant to accept an even trade or an unfavorable one, as you are quite likely to draw a higher-level creature next turn which will provide you with the opportunity for a better trade. Recall that as Player 1, if you decline to block (and instead play a threat), your opponent will need to respond to the threat you played during the current Player Rank, but you will be drawing your next turn after the reshuffle (and hopefully with one or two higher-level cards).

Is Your Opponent Likely to Have a Good Answer To Your Threat?

Just as it is important to think about your likely draws, it is also important to think about what your opponent is likely to draw next turn. That is, if you decline to block and instead play a threat into an empty lane, is your opponent likely to draw a good answer to your threat?

Sparkblade Assassin-2-std

Hard to stop!

This type of analysis is generally not very relevant in Player Rank 1, as you may have very little idea what cards are in your opponent’s deck. However, it is very important during higher Player Ranks. For example, let’s say that during Player Rank 2 you want to play your Level 2 Sparkblade Assassin (12/13) and you are considering whether to block your opponent’s Level 1 Corpse Crawler (7/8). Typically, you should know what Level 2 cards are available for your opponent to draw next turn. If your opponent has no Level 2 cards in her deck that can trade evenly with Sparkblade Assassin – which is likely since Sparkblade Assassin is such a powerful Level 2 card – then you should avoid blocking with your Sparkblade Assassin. In this case, blocking will give you a favorable trade (leaving you with a 12/6 creature on the board), but since your opponent is does not have a good answer to your threat, you will also get a favorable trade if you play into an empty lane.

Furthermore, by blocking you give your opponent the opportunity to kill your Sparkblade Assassin with two Level 1 cards – a Corpse Crawler and some 6-Attack creature she draws next turn. Whereas if you play into an empty lane, your opponent will likely need to spend both a Level 2 creature and a Level 1 creature to defeat your Sparkblade Assassin – and depending on her draws, she might even need to spend two Level 2 creatures to answer your threat.

Shardplate Delver-2-std

A valuable threat

In the course of a Player Rank, you will draw a limited number of powerful threats. These powerful threats are valuable and it is important to make your opponent work as hard as possible to get them off the board. Therefore, you should be hesitant to “trade down” – that is, block in such a way that allows your opponent to answer your threat with lower-level cards than would otherwise be required. This is particularly true for creatures like Shardplate Delver and Necroslime that become more powerful over time. You generally do not want to block your opponent’s Level 1 Storm Caller (8/6) with your Level 2 Shardplate Delver (6/6) or Necroslime (8/8). Indeed, if you decline to block your opponent will need to deal with a 10/10 or 12/12 threat that cannot be defeated by any Level 1 creature – and will even trade favorably with many Level 2 creatures.

Thinking about your opponent’s future draws is especially important at the end of a Player Rank. When you are Player 2, on the last turn of Player Rank 1 or 2, you should be inclined to accept an even trade. This is, because if you decline to block and instead play out a threat in an empty lane, your opponent will likely have higher-level cards available to answer this threat and is quite likely to be able to obtain a favorable trade. Another way of thinking of this is that every time your opponent gains a Player Rank (and reshuffles her deck), the value of your existing board position decreases somewhat – as your opponent has access to more powerful cards to deal with your existing creatures.

Does Your Opponent Need a Beatdown?

One of the unique features of SolForge is that (in almost all cases) you know what late game threats your opponent is going to have available long before those powerful late-game creatures hit the battlefield. Indeed, by the end of player Player 1 – and often much earlier – experienced players can predict who will win the game if the game goes long. That is, if the game lasts long enough, the player who levels up the stronger set of Level 3 creatures will almost always win.

This is relevant to blocking because even trades – and indeed, blocking in general – prolongs the game. Let’s say your opponent plays our two threats and you block them both with creatures that result in even trades. In such a case, the game moved one turn closer to the next reshuffle with no change in board position. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing depends entirely on whether you have are leveling a better set of late-game cards than your opponent.

The key consideration here is that if you see that your opponent is leveling a set of creatures that will, at Level 3, defeat the creatures that you are leveling, then you need to make sure the game ends before it reaches that point. That is, your opponent needs a beatdown and the way you administer that beatdown is by playing the strongest possible threats into empty lanes. Clearly, you can’t abandon blocking altogether. However, when your opponent is leveling a stronger set of creatures, you should generally avoid even trades whenever possible – and even when you are getting a favorable trade you should think twice about blocking your opponent’s Defensive creatures.

Chrogias-3-std

Better win before big daddy comes home…

One final note, is that sometimes you don’t actually know what your opponent is leveling. Alloyin cards like Technosmith, Synapsis Oracle, and Metasight allow your opponent to level card without revealing them. If your opponent is playing any of these cards, you should assume that she is using them to level the biggest, scariest Level 3 creatures imaginable. That is, unless you are leveling late-game behemoths like Chrogias, you should assume your opponent will win if the game goes long and work on administering a beatdown, ASAP!

Need You Fear Combat Tricks?

Evaluating a potential block is complicated by the fact that, whenever a battle takes place on your opponent’s turn, your opponent might play a combat trick. That is, your opponent might use a spell or ability that affects the outcome of combat. Whether or not the possibility of combat tricks should affect your blocking decision depends primarily on how much value your opponent is getting from playing the combat trick. That is, card plays are a scarce resource. Therefore, you need only fear a combat trick if playing the combat trick results in a significantly worse (for you) outcome than if your opponent had instead played a threat into an empty lane.

Enrage-1-std

Roar!

For example, let’s say your opponent has Defensive Level 1 Stonefist Giant (3/6) in play. You block with your Level 1 Fleshfiend (5/5) expecting an even trade. Your opponent plays Level 1 Enrage to give her Stonefist Giant +3/+3. Instead of getting having an empty lane after the battle, your opponent has a 6/4 creature in play. That is, your opponent essentially spent a Level 1 card to put a 6/4 creature into an empty lane. Your opponent could easily have gotten a similar result by playing a Wind Primordial into the lane after combat. Therefore, you have no reason to fear the Enrage and the possibility of an Enrage should not affect your blocking decision.

Often times, your opponent’s combat trick will effect more than one lane. For example, Level 1 Ferocious Roar gives all of your opponent’s creatures +2/+2, and Level 1 Epidemic gives your creatures -2/-2. Tricks like this should make you careful about offering your opponent multiple even trades in the same turn. For example, we discussed above how you need not fear combat tricks when you block your opponent’s Defensive Stonefist Giant with your Fleshfiend.

Ferocious Roar-1-std

No, I’m the one roaring!

However, if your opponent has two Defensive Stonefist Giants and you have two Fleshfiends, the situation is somewhat different. If you block both Stonefist Giants with your Fleshfiends, your opponent can play Level 1 Ferocoious Roar and end up with two 5/3 creatures. Two 5/3 creatures is good value from a single Level 1 card – indeed, unless you are playing Echowisp or Ether Hounds, you will be unable to kill both of those 5/3 creatures with a single card. In general, you should be hesitant to offer your opponent a Level 1 play that you cannot counter with your own Level 1 play. Therefore, in this situation, you should consider blocking only one of the Stonefist Giants to reduce the value that your opponent would get from Ferocious Roar. Note that this assumes that you have something like a Scavenger Scorpion (6/6) or a Marrow Fiend (8/1) in your deck that can answer a 5/8 Roar’ed Stonefist Giant. If you have no answers to a 5/8 creature, then your opponent is still getting great value from Roar even if you don’t block.

However, there are some cases where even a combat trick that affects a single lane – such as Level 1 Enrage – should make you hesitant to block. Suppose your opponent had a Defensive Level 2 Cavern Hydra (7/10, Regenerate 3) in the middle lane, and you were considering blocking with a Level 2 Wind Primordial (10/8, Mobility 2). If you block you expect a favorable trade and to end up with a 10/1 Mobility 2 creature in the middle lane – which you can use for either 10 damage or to kill a future threat in any lane. However, if your opponent plays Enrage 1, then the Hydra kills the Wind Primordial and (after the Hydra regenerates) your opponent is left with a 7/6 creature in the lane. That is, for the cost of a single Level 1 card, your opponent both eliminated the 10/1 creature that you could have put moved into any lane, and also put a 7/6 creature into play.

This is incredible value for a Level 1 card. Therefore, you should give serious consideration to playing your Wind Primordial into an empty lane – even if your opponent isn’t playing Enrage, in this situation other Uterra combat tricks are similarly bad. Declining to block costs you 7 life, but if you are sitting on a significant pile of life, denying your opponent the ability to get such superb value from the Level 1 combat trick is probably worth the cost.

This is a somewhat extreme example, but you should generally be wary of favorable trades that can be turned into unfavorable trades by Level 1 combat tricks. Indeed, playing around Level 1 combat tricks is more important than playing around Level 2/3 combat tricks for two reasons. First, your opponent generally has fewer high-level combat tricks than low-level combat tricks in her deck, and so she is less likely to draw them when she needs them. Second, when your opponent plays a high-level card she is entitled to gain a significant amount of board presence from that play. It is your job to ensure that when she plays a Level 1 card later in the game that she does not gain an undo amount of board presence.

Putting it All Together

DM331-2 colorConsistently making correct blocking decisions requires a lot of practice. In particular, in situations where there are good reasons both to block and not to block – for example, when you are leveling the better late-game deck, but you know your opponent is playing a certain combat trick – even the best SolForge players occasionally make the wrong call. By thinking through the considerations in this article, however, you should at least be able to identify challenging blocking decisions when they occur, even if you do not always get them right. To improve your  play, when you come across a situation that you are unsure of, you should consider taking a screenshot. This allows you to reexamine the situation later to see if you made the right call. If you aren’t sure, consider posting the screenshot on the official forums to get the perspective of the larger community.

Additionally, you should have keep in mind the blocking considerations in this article when you watch a featured streamer. As you watch them play, ask yourself “Why did the streamer play the way he/she did?” If you don’t understand, don’t hesitate in the stream chat. Generally, either the streamer themselves or other members of the community are happy to explain the reasoning behind a particular block (or lack thereof). We are here to help!

 

13 Comments

  1. Tsuioku

    Thank you for articulating these concepts so clearly! This is obligatory reading for anyone looking to get good at Solforge. As a token of thanks, please allow me to suggest some improvements to the text:

    an undo amount of board presence > an undue amount of board presence
    you should have keep in mind > (try to) keep in mind
    the streamer themselves > the streamer (him/)herself
    We’ll are here to help! > We’re all here to help!

  2. HolyLlama

    I think playing aggressively – “Does Your Opponent Need a Beatdown?” – is the most important jump from good players to great players. It’s really, really easy to play for a late game. Anyone can identify the best late game cards and level those. Anyone can sacrifice a little bit of board presence here and there to level the best level 3 cards. But it takes a lot of practice to be able to leverage those small sacrifices from the other side of the board as the aggressor. If you know your opponent has a significantly better late game (most commonly Scrapforge Titan), that is going to cost them (they have to play either a 1/1, 2/2 via Technosmith, 1/9 via oracle, or nothing at all via Metasight). And it’s your job as the aggressor to take advantage of that cost, and I think most players neglect that responsibility.
    Metasight actually does cost something, and the best players are able to make that cost come back to slap the caster in the face. When the opponent is virtually down a play to make these late game bombs happen, you can afford to not block until your own turn, because you will be up on board presence and thus be winning the damage race at every turn. You need to capitalize on this to turn a large number of trades into favorable ones by avoiding every single trick for free by only blocking on your own turn.

  3. Jonesy

    I think in all these situations that I block anyways and make them have to have the pump and level a spell instead of a dude. If I don’t block the hydra with my wind primordial and they dont play a pump i give them 7 damage and move over and am left with a 10/1, easily dealt with a 1 drop. If I do block and they play a pump theyre left with a 10/6 easily dealt with a 6 attack 1 drop. If I don’t block and they play a pump I take 10 and now have to find a way to kill a 10/13 regen 3 which is going to take two cards anyways unless i have a swampmoss. Blocking has the most upside to me and not much downside.

    With the giants I wouldn’t block them with fleshfiends anyways, they only hit for 3 and I’m going to wait for a 6/4+ or 3+/7 to kill and live or someone with comparably lame stats like my own 3/6 to get an even trade.

    I also don’t think you can play around epidemic the majority of the time, having a bunch of 6/1 guys left around after favorable blocks may die to an epidemic but the alternative is blocking poorly so you trade or possibly leveling worse cards. Make them have to draw it and play it.

  4. khb8468

    This is a great article – thank you! I especially like your idea of taking a screenshot of tricky plays and evaluating them later. The problem, of course, is that a screenshot is only a snapshot of the information available to the player – the other things you mention in the article, such as thinking ahead to what the opponent will have available at higher player levels is lost (unless you take a bunch of notes at the moment of the screenshot, which is unlikely). Nonetheless, I think doing something like this is probably the best way to improve – replaying games certainly helped me when I was playing chess. I wonder if there’s anything in the works to build in a “replay” mode to review games after the fact. The game log is nice, but it’s not the same as playing through a game. Anyway, thanks for writing this!

  5. TheCable

    “Is Your Opponent Likely to Have a Good Answer To Your Threat?”
    I think this paragraph highlights a lot of EXTREMELY important concepts. I like the examples you gave. I think most people (including me) don’t really think about things like that. If you make a lot of these kind of correct decisions throughout the first 8 turns, you are much more likely to have a leftover creature when the game goes into the “scary” turns of Player Rank 3 meaning that even if you “brick” for a turn you are will have more time to recover.

  6. Strideur

    As a player new to SolForge I’ve found your videos and write-ups both helpful and informative, but more importantly, understandable. Thanks for passing on your knowledge to those in need. :)

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