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Subject: The Shadow of the Scarab: Evaluating Valor four-cost Creatures rss

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Nate Parkes
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This is my second strategy article on Dreamblade. In the first, I covered the Valor options for low-cost creatures (2- and 3- spawn cost). Now we’re going to look at the Valor player’s 4-cost options. And if you know much about Dreamblade, you’ll understand why I’m titling this article “In the Shadow of the Scarab.” The Scarab Warcharm is the most popular and coveted creature in all of Dreamblade, so every other Valor 4-drop has to compete directly with it. It’s like an Elvis impersonation contest, if one of the contestants was Elvis.

Now let’s look at the Valor creatures competing for your coveted your spawn-slot.

Ewww?

Quote:
Honor Guard (Janus) 4V 3/5/6


Let’s start by quickly covering the “vanilla” four-drop. Honor Guard is actually the best vanilla Valor creature in the game—at least, according to a regression analysis. Three power for four spawn is pretty good in an aspect known for beefy back-ends and poor power.

But I think if you asked the Honor Guard if he’s be willing to lose one power in order to gain one defense, one life, and access to some of the most powerful blade abilities in the game, he’d say yes. And then he would be a Scarab Warcharm.

And there’s the problem that every non-Warcharm four-drop will face. It’s not enough that to have stats that are slightly better than the Warcharm—or in this case, slightly different. Any competing four-drop has to offer something that the Warcharm can’t. And the poor Vanilla Honor Guard can’t do that.

Back to the draft pool, Honor Guard. Maybe you’ll find a good home.

I suppose it’s possible, if you’re running mono-Valor, and you find your band has more blade abilities than dice to roll, you might consider dropping an Honor Guard into the mix. But cutting a Warcharm for an Honor Guard? This ain’t Madness, son, it’s Valor.

Quote:
Scarab Warcharm 4V 2/6/7
{M}: Advance -- You may move target unengaged ally one cell. {B}: Skirmish -- You may move target engaged ally one cell.


There it is. One of the most widely used pieces in the entire game. I’m not going to say that the Warcharm singlehandedly doomed Dreamblade… but would it have killed them to make it unique?

The problem with any Valor four-spawn—or any four-spawn, for that matter, is that it has to compete with the Warcharm for utility. And the Warcharm has so much damn utility that it’s a stiff competition.

A backend of 6 defense and 7 life is almost as good as you can get for a four-drop, which means the Warcharm can usually hold a cell while you move up more powerful allies. And once they get there, and provide the dice to activate Skirmish and multi-blade Advance, you can accomplish horrifying, magical things.

So let’s look at what each of the other four-drops brings to the table to try to compete with the king.

Quote:
Inspired Samurai 4V 1/5/8
Bodyguard -- Opponents may not assign damage to your local allies without Bodyguard until enough damage has been assigned to disrupt or destroy each of your local creatures with Bodyguard.


This Samurai is a ronin. You’ll almost never see him amongst his own kind, because you don’t really need Bodyguard in an aspect known for being nigh-impossible to kill.

But serving as a mercenary for a passion or madness warband, the Samurai can show his quality, absorbing deathblows and giving his fragile teammates enough cover to set up their brutal combos.

Standing in the shadow of the Scarab, the samurai never got much credit. I confess I haven’t used him much, though sometimes I’ve imagined trying to combo him with a Temple Lion just to piss people off. But he’s good at what he does, when what he does is in demand.

Quote:
Mask Dancer 4V 3/6/7
Defender -- This creature can't move into an enemy-occupied cell when you shift. {B}: Attract -- You may pull target ally one cell. ("Pulling" means moving a creature closer.)


Oh, Maskie… you’ve got to do better than this. You have the same defense and life as a Warcharm, but you have Defender. And you have a single-blade ability that is interesting, but strictly worse than the Warcharm’s suite of abilities.

And what do you offer to balance the scales? One more power.

This is all I can say for the Mask Dancer: he could make a cool pick in a draft game.

Quote:
Zungar Wayfinder 4V 2/5/8
{S}: Alert 1 -- Add +1 to your initiative roll. (Abilities that alter initiative rolls don't alter the number of spawn points each player gets each turn, or whether the spawn phase is skipped.)


With one less defense and one more life than the Warcharm, ideally the Wayfinder should have pretty kickass ability. But although Alert 1 does offer something the Warcharm can’t, but I not sure how definitive that ability is.

Without the Wayfinder, if the score is tied, you have a 50% chance of winning initiative (58% chance if you’re winning).

With the Wayfinder, if the score is tied, you have a 58% chance of winning (72% chance if you’re winning). So the Wayfinder is either giving you an 8% or 14% bump to your odds of winning initiative.

But that assumes you want to win initiative every turn, which in the course of a regular game will not always be the case. But let’s assume you build your strategy around going first every turn; in that case, the Wayfinder isn’t really giving you the bump you need—you’re still going to be going second 40% of the time, or at best, 25% of the time.

I guess the best thing we can say about the Wayfinder is that he allows you to more safely hedge your bets when setting up for your next turn; when choosing whether to risk advancing or risk hanging back, you should risk advancing. But that’s not a very striking benefit when standing in the shadow of the Scarab.

Quote:
Steelborn Lion (Bloodcut) 4VV 3/4/5
Reinforce Bloodcut -- You may spawn this creature in any cell that contains a Bloodcut ally.


The drawback of a double-aspect cost is almost negligible for the Steelborn Lion. You won’t want to summon him on your first turns, because that completely undermines his defining ability: Reinforce. The fact that it’s restricted to Reinforce Bloodcut is also fine. If you’re running the Lion, you’re also running two Clawclan Scouts, because these guys go together like Jam and Jelly.

The Lion certainly doesn’t have a slot in every valor band, but when he does have a slot he earns it. The Lion provides instantaneous power in a key cell, and three power for four spawn is as good as it gets in Valor. You win initiative, reinforce him into a cell with a Clawclan Scout, attack with five dice, get the skirmish blade, skirmish the Lion into the next cell, attack again. Or, did you opponent tie up your Brighthammer Avenger with a single Cannibal Pariah. Send in the Lion! He’s gggggggreat.

I know, that was a tiger.

That having been said, he’s also fragile (it’s the wings). He’s got the lowest defense/life of any Valor four-drop (tying with the Whirling Knifedancer). But the Lion isn’t here for a long time, he’s here for a good time. Since his aspect-cost and ability restrict him to a valor-driven warband with multiple Bloodcut figures, he’ll never be as ubiquitous as the Warcharm. But his power and reinforce ability allow him to step firmly out of the shadow of the Scarab. Congrats, Lion.

Quote:
Virtuous Maiden 4VV 2/5/6
{1}: Gain Enrage 1 -- Until end of turn, this creature has "Enrage 1 -- Your local and adjacent allies have +1 power."


Our second four-drop to step firmly out of the shadow of the Scarab, the Maiden is a fantastic boon for swarm bands. Unlike most creatures in the game, she can have an immediate impact on the gamestate. She only has to shift once, and she’s boosting the power of every creature in the 2-cell, and the 3-cell, and the 5-cell.

The trick with the Maiden is that double-aspect cost, and it’s a real restriction. Cannibal Pariahs would LOVE the Maiden, but you can’t splash her into mono-fear or mono-madness, and Passion, which tends to be focused on single, massive figures, doesn’t really want her.

If the Maiden is coming to the party, she’s bringing some Valor with her, because a proper lady never goes unchaperoned.

The Maiden has seen most success in Valor/Madness swarm bands, which spam Spellbound Scissors and Clawclan Scouts to win early turns. The Maiden gives this band type a mid-game, since swarm has to have an answer for when the opponent finally gets his feet under him and spawns some beefy creatures.

Suddenly, you’re Scissors/Scissors/Clawclan cell is throwing 9 dice—or 11, if the Maiden decides to take to the dance floor. That’s enough to kill a Ragedrake, friends. Just remember to skirmish the Maiden back out of harm’s way, because she’s not the most robust lady in the land.

Quote:
Whirling Knifedancer 4VV 3/4/5
{M}: Crit 1 -- Deal +1 damage this combat.


It couldn’t go on forever. The reason the Steelborn Lion and the Virtuous Maiden are able to step out of the shadow of the Scarab is because they don’t try to compete with the Warcharm. In fact, the Lion and the Maiden could work well in a band with the Warcharm, since the Warcharm works well in almost every band.

The same can’t be said for old Whirly McKnifedancer. She’s got the same stats as a Steelborn Lion, but not reinforce ability. Instead, what she offers instead is Multi-blade Crit 1. She shows up to the party and says “Who’s got blades for me?”

Nobody has blades for you, Whirly. We gave them all to the Warcharm.

If you’re running Valor, you’ll probably be sinking all your blades into movement abilities, since, generally speaking, moving a creature one cell is usually better than doing one damage.

Certainly, there will be times when that additional point of damage will make the difference. But spending a spawn-slot on a fragile four-drop just in case she happens to be in the right cell with the right amount of blades when that extra one or two damage would make the difference… a good warband isn’t built around protecting itself from fringe cases. It’s built around winning, and I don’t think Whirly gives you a better chance of winning than a Scarab.

That having been said, there is one case where I could see myself running a Knifedancer. If I was building an Ancient Valkyrie-centered warband, suddenly the Knifedancer becomes better than the Steelborn Lion. She’s a three-drop with three-power and reinforce, and a blade ability that helps convert what likely would have been wasted blades into more damage. Go Whirly!

Quote:
Knight of Dusk and Dawn (Janus) 4VV 2/5/6
{4}: Advance Janus 2 -- You may move up to two target unengaged Janus allies one cell.


If you’re like me, the first time you say this creature, you did a double-take on that spawn ability’s sticker price. Four spawn points? You could spawn a Warcharm for that. And most times, a Warcharm will be better.

But the Knight of D&D is offering you something very special, and very specific, and for the right warband, four spawn points is the deal of a lifetime.

See, there’s this OTHER Janus knight, called the Knight of Strife & Joy, who has Skirmish 2, and swings with four power. Put two Knights in a cell with any other two weenies—say, two Spellbound Scissors, and you’re rolling 12 dice, giving your odds to do 12 damage, skirmish everyone into the next cell, avoiding deathblows, and then starting it all over again. You can potentially wipe the board.

This Knight would undoubtedly be the most powerful figure in the game if he didn’t have Defender, we makes it very, very difficult to pull off this combo—you have to rely on properly placed Pearlthorn Castles, spawn-phase Advances from Lunar Handmaidens in scoring cells, and other hijinks.

But the Knight of D&D says “Naw, man, let me do that for you.” And he can do it from anywhere on the board. He can do it on the same turn he was spawned. So if you’ve got two Knights of Strife & Joy set up, and eight spawn points, you can just drop the Knight of D&D, trigger Advance Janus 2, and watch your foe weep in anguish.

And that’s about it. If you’re not going to use his ability, the Knight of D&D is nothing more than a Virtuous Maiden Gain Enrage, which is to say, lame.

Quote:
Skydancer 4V 3/5/5
{Shield}: Skirmish -- You may move target engaged ally one cell.


Once again, let’s look at what the future may have held for Dreamblade.

Skydancer is a pretty clear indicator that the point of Serrated Dawn was to give Madness and Passion a much-needed boost. Skydancer is bringing very little to the party.

He is three power for four spawn points, which is decent in Valor. His stats are almost identical to the Honor Guard, except he trades a point of life for a shield ability.

Is the trade worth it? Probably. But the thing about shield abilities is that they’re consolation prizes. You can’t build a strategy around your opponent consistently rolling statistically high levels of damage.

Thankfully, the Skydancer isn’t trying to compete for blades, the way the Whirling Knifedancer is. But that only means he’s better than the Honor Guard and the Whirling Knifedancer. That’s not an impressive resume when you’re applying for the same spawn-slot as the Warcharm.

I don’t think this guy would have seen play outside of draft.

Summary

All-star: A great piece that would function well in almost any warband.
* Scarab Warcharm

Triple AAA: A piece that is a great addition to an established and versatile warband archetype.
* Steelborn Lion
* Virtuous Maiden

Specialist: A piece that will only shine in a very specific warband build
* Knight of Dusk & Dawn
* Inspired Samurai
* Zungar Wayfinder (possibly in “always go first” build)
* Whirling Knifedancer (possibly in “Ancient Valkyrie” build(

Bush League: A piece that is suboptimal in constructed, and most likely will only see play in draft
* Honor Guard
* Mask Dancer
* Skydancer

Tweaks

As I mentioned before, I don’t like to errata existing pieces; but because I’d like to imagine that every piece brings some utility to the table, sometimes I suggest “tweaks” that might balance the field.

In the case of Valor four-drops, there’s nothing really wrong with any of them—except possibly Mask Dancer, who’s kind of a lost cause. The problem is the Warcharm.

My suggested tweak would be to make the Warcharm Unique, and change the wording of Unique from “You can’t spawn this creature if you have another creature of the same name in play.” To “You can’t spawn this creature if you have another creature of the same name either in play or in your graveyard.”

This would keep the great utility of the Warcharm, but restrict it to x1 copy in each warband, giving a fair shot for some other great pieces.
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Gabriele Z.
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Great read, thanks for writing it.
Keep them coming
 
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