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Subject: Selecting a Commander in Dungeon Command rss

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Thomas Haver
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The Commanders of Dungeon Command



Selecting the right Commander in Dungeon Command is arguably the most important aspect of custom warband construction or Faction play. The limitations or benefits bestowed by a Commander largely dictates what creatures hit the battlefield, how those creatures maneuver, and the ability to play Order cards. Oftentimes, you'll see a Commander being the last element selected in a custom warband, when it should be the first. The finite starting resources in the game are dictated by the Commander you select -- so choose wisely -- and let the Creatures and Order cards flow from your selection.


First, I must give due thanks to Jean-Philippe Theriault's already excellent coverage in his "Comparing Commanders" article. In the piece, he broke down each of the four main categories (Creature Cards, Order Cards, Morale and Leadership) and each Commanders Special Ability. His thoughtful work in identifying outliers, both positive and negative, serve as an excellent guide for anyone constructing a warband or selecting a Commander before Faction play.


Rather than follow with a "me too" article, I will briefly touch on his main points and explore each Commander more in-depth. So let's look at the Commanders in Dungeon Command by exploring the foundation laid by Jean.


Each Commander in Dungeon Command has a starting Order Card Hand, Creature Card Hand, Morale, Leadership as well as a Special Ability. Not surprisingly, each of the Commanders was designed to be more or less equivalent. If you sum each of the Commanders four numerical categories, you get the following result:


Sting of Lolth:
Aliszandra Malistros = 29
Kalteros the Sellsword = 28

Heart of Cormyr:
Rhynseera the Alarphon = 28
Valnar Trueblade = 28

Tyranny of Goblins:
Snig the Axe = 29
Tarkon Draal = 28

Curse of Undeath:
Morgana Valistova = 29
Delthrin Everet = 24

Blood of Gruumsh:
Drogar, Eye of Gruumsh = 29
Lokar of the Stonelands = 26


The average for all Commander's is 27.6, which gives us a baseline for comparing Commanders. Looking more deeply into each category, we get an average starting number for each Commander:


Creature Cards = 3.3
Order Cards = 4.3
Morale = 12.9
Leadership = 7.3


These values are all well and good (they even have decimal points!), but what do they mean? How will they help you build a warband?


The designers of Dungeon Command did not want to create imbalanced Commanders, such that one Commander was clearly better or worse than another. They had to not only account for Faction play, but that players would be creating custom warbands. Not an easy task. The stats of each Commander had to be set so that they were playable with a given faction, and also not lead to overpowered gamebreaking advantages in competitive play. That's why you only have a range of 5 (24 to 29) between the Commanders. The deviations seen both overall in Commanders score (Delthrin low cumulative score) and in specific categories (Rhynseera's high Order card hand) are directly related to the Special Ability of each Commander. The Special Ability of each Commander is the wildcard in the analysis. Comparing this trait with each Commander and examining the associated Faction Pack provides many clues to the thought that went into the design of the game.




Rhynseera The Alarphon
Creature Hand -- 3
Order Hand -- 6
Morale -- 12
Leadership -- 7
Sum of Traits -- 28
Ability -- Scrollbook: Once during your turn, you can discard 1 Order card from your hand to draw 1 Order card.


Rhynseera has a high starting Order card hand to match her Scrollbook ability. If you're going to discard a card per turn to cycle through your deck, you want options. She has the largest starting Order card hand in the game. To balance this out, she is slightly lower in the other three categories, but not by much. Eight of the Ten Commanders in the game have a starting Creature hand of 3, so placing her starting Creature hand in "Below Average" territory is a bit of a misnomer. The other two Commanders are the outliers, but we'll get to them later. Rhynseera has a Special Ability that is creature-independent. Jean previously identified such Commanders as being "generic", compared to the "tribal" Commanders with creature-specific abilities. Thus, Rhynseera does not help or hurt you for running particular creature-types. However, her ability does support a particular archetype (draw-your-deck). Anyone familiar with card games such as "Magic: The Gathering" can tell you the merits of card advantage over your opponent. It makes sense even if you haven't played those games before: the more Order cards you have at your disposal, the better chance you have of playing something your opponent can't respond to, and the better chance you have of dealing with their threats.


Rhynseera provides a direct line to one of the four limited commodities in the game. This makes her a powerful Commander. A warband built around Rhynseera should account for the slightly below average Morale & Leadership by: (1) choosing Creature cards that tend to be lower in level or use Leadership gaining cards (Strength in Numbers, Bone-Chilling Rally Cry), (2) having a sufficient supply of Immediates and/or healing cards to keep your creatures alive, and (3) including creatures and Order cards that further help you draw cards. Anyone constructing a warband shouldn't run off and follow those three suggestions like they're gospel. Instead, take them as more of a helpful guide. Since Rhynseera can cycle through Order cards each round, it makes sense to also include other "draw card" abilities in a warband to exacerbate the hand advantage. Figuratively drown your opponent in activations and responses, because literally doing so would be against the law. Also, we'd have one less Dungeon Command player.




Valnar Trueblade
Creature Hand -- 3
Order Hand -- 4
Morale -- 14
Leadership -- 7
Sum of Traits -- 28
Ability -- Versatile: Each Adventurer you control can use a standard action to move up to its Speed.


Valnar Trueblade, now there's a heroic name if I ever heard one. Valnar falls under the "tribal" Commander category because his Special ability affects only Adventurers. For reference, here are the creatures capable of using his ability: Halfing Sneak, Dragon Knight, Drow Wizard, Drow Blademaster, Dwarf Cleric, Half-Orc Thug, Human Ranger, and War Wizard. Those would be the primary creatures that constitute your warband if you choose Valnar. Don't be afraid to stray a bit, but the majority of your creatures should be able to use a Commanders ability. Otherwise, what's the point of using the Commander in the first place?


Valnar is not a Commander I personally enjoy playing with because he is close to average in every way with the exception of Morale, which is more than a full point better than average (12.9). His ability doesn't excite me because it requires the use of a Standard to move, and tapping limits your options. Certainly there are plenty of Minors (Heroic Surge for one) readily available to make up for the mobile, but now-tapped Adventurer roaming the board. Ask yourself: would you rather tap to attack, use an Order card, pick up a Treasure, or move X more spaces? His ability is dead last among the presented choices in all but the rarest of circumstances.




Aliszandra Malistros
Creature Hand -- 4
Order Hand -- 5
Morale -- 13
Leadership -- 7
Sum of Traits -- 29
Ability -- Walls of Web: Add 2 to the Speed of each Spider and Drow creature you control.


Malistros is such a Drow name. Rodney, Peter, Kevin & Chris couldn't quite bring themselves to go full Salvatore and call her Malice? I kid. Malistros is one of two Commanders in the game to have more than 3 Creature cards. She also possesses an above average starting Order card hand. The only place where she is lacking is in starting leadership (7), but we'll forgive that because she is solid everywhere else.


Malistros is another of the "tribal" Commanders, improving the Speed of all Spiders and Drow. That's nearly all creatures in the "Sting of Lolth" faction pack: Demonweb Spider, Giant Spider, Drow House Guard, Drow Wizard, Drow Blademaster, Drow Priestess, Drow Assassin, and Drider. Unlike poor Valnar, her ability is passive (+2 to Speed). Malistros coupled with the Drow Priestess forward deploy ability provides a solid combo to give a warband better range throughout the game. In selecting terrain, it’s probably best to use tiles with corridors, doors and other difficult terrain because the Speed boost won’t be as deleterious to you as it will be to your opponent. Plus, the Spiders have a Scuttle ability that will allow navigation through tight spaces without the basing requirement of normal movement. Aliszandra is a solid leader for custom warbands in constructed play, and quite strong in faction play.




Kalteros the Sellsword
Creature Hand -- 3
Order Hand -- 4
Morale -- 12
Leadership -- 9
Sum of Traits -- 28
Ability – Sellsword: Whenever a Drow you control collects a Treasure token, you can draw 1 Order card instead of gaining 1 Morale.


Kalteros possesses a superb Leadership score and is slightly below average everywhere else. Kalteros is tied with Lokar of the Stonelands for the highest Leadership in the game. Whenever a Commander is outstanding in one area but lacking in the others, that’s a clue for custom warband construction. Clearly, he was designed to drop a horde of creatures on the board given his special ability.


Both “Sting of Lolth” faction pack Commanders are “tribal”. Whereas Aliszandra grants a bonus to Spiders AND Drow, Kalteros grants his bonus to Drow only. This means just five creatures out of fifty in the game can use his ability: Drow House Guard, Drow Wizard, Dtow Blademaster, Drow Priestess, and Drow Assassin. However, the ability can be powerful, as the option to trade one of the four commodities in the game (Morale) for another (Order cards) provides flexibility in any fight. So you’re primarily going to select Kalteros when playing “Sting of Lolth” for faction play (assuming you have access to all other leaders in the game). The choice between just Kalteros and Aliszandra comes down to personal play style; both are strong Commanders.


There are enough solid Drow to build a warband around Kalteros’ ability without having to build a warband of only Drow. The Drow Priestess and Drow Wizard are creatures that tend to stay out of melee battles, so grabbing Treasure for Order cards on your side of the battlefield is more likely without having a better Standard option. Plus, both of those creatures have Order cards which contribute to additional draws (Lolth’s Blessing, Change of Plans, Scheme, Arcane Ritual). Thus, Kalteros has limited use, but good synergy with existing creatures that already see plenty of play in custom warbands.




Snig the Axe
Creature Hand -- 5
Order Hand -- 4
Morale -- 14
Leadership -- 6
Sum of Traits -- 29
Ability – Horde: You can deploy creatures during your Refresh phase.


Is Snig the name of the Axe or the Goblin? No one knows the answer. That’s the running joke among D&D mini enthusiasts. Whether it’s the Goblin or the Axe calling the shots, Snig is dead-on thematically for a Goblin warband. Snig is severely lacking in Leadership (6) but has both a high Creature Hand (5) and starting Morale (14). Taken together with his ability to deploy creatures during the Refresh phase, that implies Snig’s warband is meant for small creatures that we don’t particularly mind dying in glorious service of the Goblin/Axe.


The early deploy ability, which we can call haste or “unaffected by summoning sickness”, gives you a bonus activation to your creatures. They would otherwise have to wait until the following turn because the “Deploy” phase comes after the “Activation” phase in turn order. Any custom warband should exploit this ability to the fullest – and we have seen just that with the “Beastmaster” warband. As an added benefit, Snig’s ability no longer means death when you lose control of your start area. Sad times indeed when you deploy a creature, only to have it blasted into the afterlife before even a single activation. Snig at least gives your creatures a fighting chance.


In general, Snig’s warband is best with small creatures because the low Leadership is a hindrance. The Goblins in the “Tyranny of Goblins” faction pack is a nice starting point. There are plenty of low-level candidates from other factions that can work with Snig, as each faction pack has at least one Level 1 creature and several Level 2 creatures. Snig’s large Creature hand size provides you great selection to account for the low Leadership. It’s possible to include a few (A FEW) larger creatures with Snig for mid- to late-game adjustments when your Leadership has had a few rounds to improve and your creatures start dying. Also, remember that Leadership can be improved with the Order cards “Strength in Numbers” (CHA) and/or “Bone-Chilling Rally Cry” (STR). Snig the Axe is a fun Commander to play if you like the horde mentality and a dangerous Commander to play if you’re designing custom warbands.




Tarkon Draal
Creature Hand -- 3
Order Hand -- 5
Morale -- 12
Leadership -- 8
Sum of Traits -- 28
Ability – Black Hand of Bane: Whenever an enemy creature cowers, its controller loses 1 extra Morale.


Tarkon Draal, from the “Tyranny of Goblins” faction pack, possesses one of the strongest special abilities in the game. Morale is your life in Dungeon Command. When it drops to zero, you’re dead. The “Black Hand of Bane” discourages your opponent from cowering during the game by penalizing them an extra Morale every time they do so. As far as generic abilities go, “Black Hand of Bane” is among the best if not the best in the game. Since Tarkon’s other attributes are close to average -- with nothing truly debilitating -- he is viable in a wide array of custom warbands and generic factions. He is as plug-and-play as it gets in Dungeon Command.


Tarkon Draal’s creature hand size matches that of eight other Commanders in the game. His starting Order hand (5) and Leadership (8) is also slightly higher than average. The only place he suffers is Morale (12), slightly below the 12.9 average. If you’re ever unsure of a Commander among those available, select Tarkon. Cowering is such an integral component of the game that Tarkon’s ability will always be useful. Also consider that in multiplayer games (3-, 4-, 5-player), his ability applies to ALL enemy creatures. You don’t even need to be the active player to cause trouble (mwahahaha).


The best means of maximizing the “Black Hand of Bane” ability is to bombard your opponent with activations. Break large attacks into many smaller melee & ranged attacks. This has two functional purposes: (1) force your opponent to use any damage prevention / healing cards early and (2) increase the rate of cowering opportunities. If your opponent cowers during the first attack to keep their creature alive, they lose an extra Morale. Follow the attack with another small attack to kill the creature, thereby costing them additional Morale. What’s more likely to occur is your opponent will be so conscious of your special ability that they will refuse to cower, allowing you to save those activations (Order cards, attacks) for another creature. Cowering is a difficult element of the game to master. Most players don’t know when to cower, and some cower much too often. Use Tarkon Draal against them to reap the benefits.




Morgana Valistova
Creature Hand -- 3
Order Hand -- 5
Morale -- 14
Leadership -- 7
Sum of Traits -- 29
Ability – Unstoppable Hordes: All Undead creatures you control gain the following power: Tap: Lose 1 Morale. Prevent 20 Damage to this creature from 1 source.


Morgana Valistova (btw great name, Rodney) is the mirror image of Tarkon Draal, with Leadership being taken away in exchange for Morale. She has an above average starting Order hand and an above average Morale to account for her Morale-stealing special ability. Morgana is best as the Commander for your undead faction or a heavily undead-centric custom warband.


Morgana’s ability only works for undead creatures, which only appear in the “Curse of Undeath” faction pack. They are: Zombie, Warrior Skeleton, Gravehound, Hypnotic Spirit, Skeletal Tomb Guardian, Skeletal Lancer, Disciple of Kyuss, Vampire Stalker, Lich Necromancer and Dracolich. Morgana’s ability directly affects your Morale, and the most apt comparison to her ability is cowering. If you choose to cower from an attack, then you lose 1 Morale for every 10 points of damage that creature would have taken from the attack. You cannot split the damage between Order cards that prevent damage and cowering; it’s all or none. Effectively, Morgana halves the cost of cowering. She is the anti-Tarkon Draal, but not near as strong because you must tap the creature to play the ability. A positive of her ability is you don’t need to expend Order cards to prevent the damage, so the excess cards you begin the game with can be used elsewhere. Much like cowering, effectively using Morgana’s ability is highly situational; tap too often and you’ll find your Morale dangerously low. Sometimes it’s better to let your creatures die. Fortunately for the undead faction, death is familiar ground for them.


Another issue with Morgana’s ability is that six of the ten undead creatures have the CON ability. As such, they have access to many, many damage prevention and healing cards. If you’re tapping to prevent damage, then you can’t tap to play an Immediate. This is a redundancy we could do without. I wish her ability didn’t require tapping, but that’s probably too strong. Morgana still works well for faction vs. faction play, and by all means choose her over Delthrin Everet if you’re playing “Curse of the Undeath”, but her usefulness as a custom-warband Commander is limited. Consider the following CON immediate cards that could be used by your undead creatures: Corrosive Blood, Patch Up, Defensive Advantage, Unbreakable, Defiant Stance (gains a Morale!), Tactical Block (untaps your creature), and Mortal Wound. One could certainly argue that healing/damage prevention cards could be eschewed for attachment cards (“Tough As Nails”, “Regenerate”) with her ability supplementing them, but there’s no escaping that her damage prevention ability directly hurts your Morale. You must carefully consider each time you’re about to sacrifice or lose Morale, and her ability encourages either reckless use or such spare usage that you would be better served with another Commander for a custom warband.




Delthrin Everet
Creature Hand -- 3
Order Hand -- 3
Morale -- 12
Leadership -- 6
Sum of Traits -- 24
Ability – Bloodthirsty: Gain 1 Leadership for each enemy creature destroyed during your turn.


Delthrin Everet has the worst combined sum of traits of any Commander in Dungeon Command. This was not merely an oversight by the game designers, but a design decision because he can directly improve his Leadership by destroying creatures. However, to improve his Leadership to match the sum of the next lowest Commander, he would have to destroy two creatures. With the average level of a creature in the game close to 3, that would be about 6 Morale for an opponent. Delthrin will match the starting traits of the other Commanders right around mid-game.


Delthrin is also short on Order cards (3) compared to most other Commanders. So not only will you be starting with fewer creatures in play, you’ll have less available Order cards to play. To top it off, Delthrin has below average Morale. As tantalizing as running the Leadership ability appears, he is all pain in the other areas. My negative opinion of Delthrin may be colored by my past experience: I have never seen a player or team win with someone using Delthrin. I would like to see someone run a custom warband designed around Delthrin to success, because otherwise I don’t see much use for him in constructed play. Such a warband would need to be an aggressive, attacked-oriented band that also makes use of gain Leadership cards such as “Bone-Chilling Rally Cry” or “Strength in Numbers”. Perhaps someone could run an Orc Chieftain band that makes great use of “Savage Demise”, “Bone-Chilling Rally Cry” and “Mortal Wound” to add Leadership and clear creatures off the board.




Drogar, Eye of Gruumsh
Creature Hand -- 3
Order Hand -- 4
Morale -- 15
Leadership -- 7
Sum of Traits -- 29
Ability – Gruumsh Commands It: Creatures you control ignore difficult terrain.


Drogar, Eye of Gruumsh has an average Creature hand and slightly below average starting leadership, but his Morale is the highest of any Commander is the game. As far as generic Commanders go, Drogar gives you a lot to work with. Many different warbands can be built around Drogar, and his high Morale gives you more leeway with cowering that other Commanders.


Drogar came from the excellent “Blood of Gruumsh” faction pack, which includes many game-changing Creature and Order cards. Drogar is a game-changer too, because his “ignore difficult terrain” special ability allows you to choose some horrific terrain for your opponent. Starting with the “Tyranny of Goblins” faction pack and continuing through “Curse of Undeath” & “Blood of Gruumsh”, we saw the introduction of door tiles for the dungeon side of the board (we had already seen trees/shrubs on the outdoor tiles). Doors were an important change in the game, because ranged pieces were dominant after the first two factions were released. With doors, creatures can more easily obtain cover and hide from attacks that required line-of-sight. The previous statement may not seem that big a deal, but tell that to the warbands gunned to death by wizards, thugs and archers with multiple activations. Drogar encourages you to use tiles with doors and other difficult terrain to hinder your opponents movement. A logical extension of using tiles with doors is to go light on ranged pieces, heavy on melee because your melee pieces are capable of coming within striking distance of ranged attackers without getting pinged. The Gruumsh throne-room tile (#2) and the Goblin altar tile (#2) are ideal candidates for tiles that hurt your enemy. Use the obstacle-terrain to your advantage with Drogar as your Commander.





Lokar of the Stonelands
Creature Hand -- 3
Order Hand -- 3
Morale -- 11
Leadership -- 9
Sum of Traits -- 26
Ability – Orc Scout: When you deploy starting Orc creatures, you can deploy 1 of them in any unoccupied Treasure square on the board.


Lokar is the final released “tribal” Commander, with a specific ability that affects only Orcs, and only a single Orc at the start of the game (yikes!). In exchange for a low starting Order card hand and low Morale (lowest in the game), you have Leadership (9) tied with Kalteros the Sellsword for most in the game. His starting traits indicate that if you choose Lokar, you are playing Orcs -- a lot of Orcs -– because woe to the player with Lokar who doesn’t get an Orc in their starting hand. There are no mulligans in Dungeon Command, so proceed with caution.


Lokar is used for a very specific purpose in the game – Orc-heavy board control. Presuming a player will run a Orc-heavy warband with Lokar, ideally you are grabbing a Treasure either on the other small tile in your half of the battlefield, or one of the two Treasure spaces on your opponents side of the battlefield farther from their start tile. It’s too risky to forward-deploy on the Treasure space closest to your opponent, because your creature could be cut-off and killed quickly. Since Lokar’s starting Morale is low, that first turn deploy needs to result in a Treasure grab. Hence, the three popular locations that provide both a Morale-boost and some board control. Stealing Treasure from your opponent is always a plus since Morale is in short supply.


For an Orc-heavy warband, playing with an Orc Druid/Beast warband is probably the best combination. Orc Druid has the same forward deploy ability of Lich Necromancer, and since you can potentially deploy the Orc Druid on a treasure space at the beginning of the game, you could follow that up with a Beast as well. Only in that circumstance would you even consider deploying on the Treasure space nearest your opponent. However, you still need to guarantee an Orc is one of the three Creature cards in your hand at the start of the game, as well as a Beast. The forward deploy of Lokar is tempting and fun, but his other stats just don’t make him appealing in constructed play. In faction play, he’ll be a solid matchup because warbands aren’t as fine-tuned. If your personal preference is to pressure your opponent, give him a try.




Finally, here is my ranking of the Commanders in Dungeon Command, with a preference given to constructed play in determining the ranks.


Ranking the Commanders:
(1) Tarkon Draal
(2) Rhynseera the Alarphon
(3) Snig the Axe
(4) Drogar, Eye of Gruumsh
(5) Aliszandra Malistros
(6) Kalteros the Sellsword
(7) Morgana Valistova
(8) Lokar of the Stonelands
(9) Valnar Trueblade
(10) Delthrin Everet
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Ralph T
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Interestingly, Lokar and Dethrin are the worst two leaders. I think Valnar is better than either of them because of how little utility Lokar and Dethrin's abilities provide.

It also seems so clear that these are worse leaders, I wonder whether the designers intentionally sought to pair one weaker leader with one stronger leader.
 
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I've always thought Kalteros was the weaker of the two Drow commanders but now I want to try him out. Thank you for this assessment!
 
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