Magic Phase Strategy
First off, let me start by saying that by no means am I a master of the magic phase. I have stinky phases and make mistakes just like the rest of us. However, due to the nature of my army list, quite a bit of the overall functionality of my army relies on a solid magic phase, and as such I thought I'd share some of the things I've learned over the course of 8th edition
1. The magic phase actually starts in the movement phase
In 8th edition we were given the ability to measure at any point in the game. Yet I'm still amazed at how many people I see completely foregoing that opportunity.
Nearly every spell has a range, and because of this the magic phase should have a strong consideration during the movement phase. There is nothing worse than figuring out that your unit is just out of range of that critical buff, or that unit you wanted to use a direct damage spell on is just out of your front arc.
Take a bit of extra time in the movement phase to think about the upcoming magic phase, and ensure that your units are in a position to execute your strategy.
2. Rank your spells in terms of importance to you, then rank them in terms of percieved threat to your opponent
If you want to be effective in your magic phase, it isn't a one sided equation.
Try this experiment - in the next friendly game you play, secretly rank your spells in order of importance to you. Then ask your opponent to rank them in order of threat level, also secretly. Play out the phase without revealing them (to not disrupt the game), then compare your lists. You'll find that many times, your opponents list will be different than yours.
The idea that I'd like to convey here is percieved threat. Net of Amyntok is a great spell to illustrate this. In many cases if I cast it on the opponent's main caster unit, there's usually a 1/3 chance that it will do anything (S4 units are pretty common). To me, this isn't near as critical as a Banishment or Pha's Protection, which have guaranteed, powerful effects.
However, flip the situation around, and to an opponent it's a 1/3 chance that they might whiff their entire magic phase next turn. This is a HUGE threat to them. So the percieved threat is much greater to the opponent than the percieved value is to you.
Use this knowledge to start crafting a casting strategy - use the spells that your opponent percieves to be a huge threat to start in order to draw out dispel mechanisms, clearing the path for the spells that you feel are the highest value.
3. Assume they have a scroll
A dispel scroll will stop any one spell - it doesn't care whether 3 dice were used to cast it or 6 dice. An opponent is going to look for situations where they can get the most value possible from the scroll. I personally don't see any reason to hand them 6 dice on a silver platter by going big on a spell. So my policy is this: Assume they have a scroll until you can irrefutably know that they don't. Some good ways to tell:
- They let a spell go through that has potentially devastating effects. For example, if I get through a Banishment on a monster and don't get a scroll, I assume at that point that there isn't one in play.
- They try to divide their dispel dice among your threats resulting in a sub 80% chance to dispel any given spell. For example, if you roll 12 and they throw 2 dice at it, if the effect is reasonably powerful, they're likely scroll free.
- They've used it already (obviously :P)
Having said that, there is also a time and a place to just force out the scroll to free up further phases. 6 dice on a pit, dwellers or withering (in a shooty list) in an early magic phase needs to be a calculated risk, however - you're essentially giving up that magic phase in favour of future ones.
4. Consider the power vs. dispel dice spread
Think about not only how you're going to divide your dice among your spells, but also how your opponent can divide their dice. It's often very possible to use a casting strategy that leaves an opponent with a useless number of dispel dice if they try to dispel witht the "right" number of dice. In this case, it can pay dividends to ignore what the "right" number of dice are to cast with and use the number that forces a tough decision. For example:
Magic phase is 10 v 5 - Long range banishment is usually cast on 3 dice with my level 4 for an 83% chance of success - good odds in my books.
However, casting with three dice gives the opponent the ability to potentially dispel with 3 and save 2 dice, which versus a "trickle" casting phase (see below) is a decent number.
If I cast banishment with 4 dice, he's either got to throw 5 dice or let it through, since throwing 4 dice will result in one left over which is next to useless, as the rest of my phase will be a long string of 2D6 spells.
So even though 3 power dice seems outwardly like the right choice, 4D6 actually will be more beneficial when you consider the phase as a whole.
5. Strategy #1 - Be a bully
As has been discussed countless times before, with the introduction of 8th edition came the introduction of game altering, high level spells. These spells are often powerful enough to justify reckless casting strategies, because the return from even just one successful cast is often enough to counter the potential ramifications of the miscasts that are much more likely to occur.
The premise here is to use the threat of that one spell to force a tough choice on the opponent - save up their dice to try to dispel that spell and allow the rest through? Or dispel the rest and risk the big spell?
There are, of course, downsides:
- Far more likely to miscast and damage your own troops and/or lose the wizard
- Enemy scrolls are significantly more valuable due to the large number of dice being thrown around
- Outlying events have a huge effect on the overall phase - eg. failing to cast on the big spell results in a huge number of power dice lost
6. Strategy #2 - Trickle
The idea behind a trickle strategy is that many small spells can add up to an overall effect that can compete with, and often surpass the effects of a single large spell.
Essentially a phase built with this strategy will contain many spell options and opt to use as few dice as possible to cast as many spells as possible, making it impossible to completely shut the phase down. For example, whereas in a 9 power dice phase, a lore of life caster might try 3D6 Throne --> 6D6 Dwellers, a trickle phase might look like this (using my own list as an example)
2D6 Speed of Light
The result is that rarely can the opponent stop everything - usually two of the spells get dispelled, and the rest go through. There is also a significantly smaller chance of miscast, and it's almost guaranteed that your magic phase will amount to *something*.
This particular strategy is also excellent against armies with plenty of magic defense - multiple low dice spells greatly reduces the effect of scrolls, and it also amplifies the effects of the +4 to cast versus dwarves. Even if they have more dispel dice than you have casting dice, it's still possible to force through spells, since they usually have to throw more dispel dice than you throw casting dice to compensate for your bonus to cast.
The downsides here:
- It's far easier for the opponent to dispel one or two of the spells of their choosing
- It's rare for one magic phase to change the course of the game drastically - whereas one well timed purple sun can win a game, you're not going to achieve effects as outwardly dramatic with a "trickle" based strategy
7. Two dice from a level 1 is the same as two dice from a level 4
If a level 1 casts a 5+ spell on 2D6, then provided it goes off, the opponent is forced to choose between throwing 1 dice and risk a 1/3 chance of losing their dispel bonus, or to throw 2 dice and expend the same amount of dice as the caster despite being significantly higher level. Either way, it's an uncomfortable situation for the opponent.
Dark Elves use this to great effect with the power of darkness, and I've also seen Beastmen do quite well with this using miasma spam from a herdstone.
1. Starts in the movement phase
Similar to the way movement effects the offensive magic phase, it also effects the defensive magic phase. The best way to defend against a spell is to deny the opponent the opportunity to cast it in the first place. In your own magic phase, consider the ranges of the enemy's spells, and if it is plausible to fit it in with your overall game strategy, place your key targets outside of the range of their spells in the next turn. Remember to factor in their own movement!
2. Write down your opponent's spells
Almost nobody I know or have played against does this! When your opponent rolls their spells, write them down or pull out the relevant cards. This way you get to consider all possibilities before comitting to dispel a spell. If you rely on memory, inevitably you'll run into situations where you forget about that one spell and it comes back to bite you.
As GI Joe once put it: "Knowing is half the battle"
3. Focus on stopping the worst spell(s), not every spell
We've all been on the recieving end of a brutal magic phase - a relentless barrage of spells where each one seems like it's going to end the game right then and there.
It's in situations like these that it becomes critically important to keep your cool, look at the list you made of your opponents spells and decide which one will have the *greatest* effect on the overall game.
Often this choice is neither easy, or obvious, but once you've chosen, stick to your guns. A good opponent is going to try to draw out your dispel dice using spells that they think hold a high threat level to you, clearing the path for their desired spell. It's tough to do, but in some cases you just need to take a few on the chin to prevent the knockout.
4. Use the 80% rule and know your math
In a game where so much relies on chance, it becomes very necessary to mitigate risk in order to achieve consistent results. If you start making risky rolls (ie. sub 80% success rates), then you must be willing to accept that you're going to have a high degree of variance in your phases. Some phases you'll look like a pro because everything works out, and others you will fail to stop anything.
When you're looking to dispel, you want an 80% chance to successfully take out the spell. Any less, and you'll be that guy that tells his friends after the game "If I'd have just made that roll, it would have been a different game"
A few rules of thumb to simplify things in-game:
- Two dice roll 7 or higher 58% of the time, so think of things in terms of 7's
- Take your wizard's level off the opponent's roll to get you the base number you need to roll. For example, if he rolls a 12, your level 4 needs an 8 or higher. 2 dice rolls 7 58% of the time, so rolling 8 is well below 80% success rate. Therefore, roll 3.
- It's better to dispel one spell with certainty than it is to accept too much risk and potentially have two spells go off unimpeded.
There are, of course, exceptions, but by and large these ideas will keep you on track and avoid the "OMG A SPELL, THROW SOME DISPEL DICE" syndrome.
5. Save your scroll for the turn that counts
The tendency is to drop that scroll the minute a big spell gets cast. However, stop to consider what is yet to come in the game. Saving that scroll might produce some unrealized benefits. First and foremost, if a big spell like that goes off, provided the losses are manageable, you will have successfully convinced your opponent that you *don't* have a scroll. Some of the toughest opponents I've played against, have pulled out a scroll on me in Turn 4 or 5, right when I was counting on a series of combat buffs to give me the edge. They let multiple banishments go through on high cost targets to save it for the turn that really mattered.
Often the scroll can be a knee jerk reaction to a 6 dice spell, but really stop to consider if it's absolutely critical, or if you can save it to mitigate a later phase.
6. Remains in Play spells aren't just for offense
Remains in play spells not only provide beneficial effects for your army, but they also force a choice for your opponent: Do I allow it to continue and carry out my magic phase as normal? Or do I dispel the remains in play spell at the expense of my magic phase? The choice is simple for Dwarves, but everyone else is going to be in for quite a struggle - provided you were successful in casting a threatening enough spell in a threatening enough spot. Shield of Thorns on a unit that won't see combat, for example, probably won't get much attention.
While the magic phase seems outwardly simplistic - here's your dice, pick a couple spells, see if they cast - it becomes clear when you sit back and think about it that it's more like a good game of poker. It's as much a phase of reading your opponent as it is about casting spells.
Hope you guys enjoyed reading! I'd love to hear your feedback, or if anyone has any different casting strategies they'd like to share.