Shadowfist Hints and Tips for New Players
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[posted 27 Sep 2003; links updated 20 Feb 2008]
This article was originally written by Lissa Vincent for the Year of the Dragon rulebook. I had to compress it into a few paragraphs due to space constraints (you can also read them on the Hints and Tips page on Shadowfist.com [20 Feb 2008]), but I thought her original article would make a good read for beginners. I've tweaked, twisted, poked, prodded and added more stuff to it in this version, so blame me for any errors :)
In 2001, Max Hufnagel wrote a much longer and more in-depth article, Top 10 Mistakes in Shadowfist Play, so check that out too.
Players new to Shadowfist make a few common mistakes, many due to preconceptions held over from their "other" CCGs :) Here's a shopping list of things you can do to quickly improve your Shadowfist play. Any of these topics could be the subject of a long article, but there should be enough here to get you started in the right direction.
When to Attack?
One of the most difficult ideas for new Shadowfist players to grasp is the concept of card flow. Because you refill your hand at the start of each or your turns, you don't have to hoard your cards. In fact, you generally want to play them as fast as possible and build up an advantage in the process. The rate that you play your cards is called card flow—and faster is usually better. Discarding is a key method to keep your card flow high: if you can't play a card in the near future, dump it, and hope to draw something you can play. Discarding is so important in Shadowfist that it bears looking at in a bit more detail:
You want to see one foundation Character and one Feng Shui Site in your opening hand. Maybe more, if you're playing a multifaction deck. Like any card game, there will be times when your starting draw is horrible, but Shadowfist has no "mulligan" rule. The twist you may have missed is that on your first turn, you aren't generating Power (you don't have any cards in play yet, so you are, by definition, skipping Power generation, although not by choice :) so you may discard as many cards as you wish. If you missed out on a foundation or FSS, or both, discard brutally. If I'm short either in the opening hand, I discard at least 3 cards. If I'm short both, I discard all 6 (ok, if I have a really juicy 0-cost Event that requires only 1 resource, I might keep that one, since I can play it as soon as I get one foundation out. But I'd only keep that one). Don't be tempted to hang on to all the powerful Events/Characters you drew and hope that discarding 1 or 2 cards will be enough to get what you need!
When you refill your hand, hopefully you'll draw what you were missing, if not, it's called a deck stall. In a multiplayer game, you can afford to be stalled for one turn, maybe two, but after that your opponents will be significantly ahead of you, and you'll be hard-pressed to catch up. In dueling, you'll have a problem with even a single turn stall.
If you get bad opening hands repeatedly, put in more foundation Characters or Feng Shui Sites (whichever you're not getting), regardless of what the percentages say you should do. Mike Nickoloff's article has some great information about the odds of drawing cards in your opening hands.
Even if you got a decent opening hand (i.e., you got both a foundation and a FSS), you most likely need to discard 1-3 cards. Don't clog your hand by holding on to a card that has a high cost or requires a lot of resources. If you can't play it this turn or next, discard it. For example, if your opening hand contains 2 Feng Shui Sites, 1 Test Subjects, 2 Robot Arms, and 1 Homo Omega, you should definitely discard Homo Omega (and I'd drop at least one of the Robot Arms too) because you won't be able to play him for many turns.
During a game, you'll see the "perfect hand" very rarely, so you should be thinking about what you can discard each and every turn. Get into the habit of discarding; you should think it unusual when there's a turn where you don't discard. If you're going to keep up with your opponents, you need to draw at least one, but preferably two or three, cards every turn. Not want, need. If the game is going well and you're playing 3 or 4 cards per turn, you may not need to discard, but if you're playing 0-1 cards per turn, you need to improve your card flow by discarding. (and later, you need to tune your deck so you can play more of your cards :)
If you find yourself stalled in the middle of a game, remember that you can skip Power generation in order to discard more than 1 card. It's painful, but sometimes you have no other choice to get back into the game, and again, don't sit with a clogged hand, hoping to get out of it somehow. If you're not playing cards, you're probably losing.
Typical decks would like to generate 3-5 Power per turn by mid-game; those with many high cost cards obviously would like more, and those with many 0-cost cards can make do with less. It would be easy to make that much Power every turn, except for those pesky opponents who keep taking your Feng Shui Sites.
You need Feng Shui Sites (among a few other cards) to generate Power. You need Power to play cards. You play cards to take Feng Shui Sites away from your opponents. You need Power to play cards to get your Sites back after they're taken away from you. This cycle means that, as you lose Feng Shui Sites, you also lose the primary source of Power you'll need to play cards to get those Sites back. If you have no other way to get Power, you'll be on a downward slide as soon as you lose your first FSS.
So how do you get Power, other than FSS? A good and simple start is to include a few non-FSS, like House on the Hill or Family Estate. Early in the game, the FSS are cheaper, but after you play your second FSS, the balance generally evens out and starts to swing toward the non-FSS. And since you can't play more FSS when you are one away from winning, the only way to increase your power base at that point is by playing non-FSS. Many opponents are not eager to fight through defenders to grab a non-FSS, and they make good "walls" in the front row, protecting FSS behind them. Just don't leave one completely open and undefended—easy pickings are tempting, even if your opponent would rather grab a FSS.
Sites tend to be expensive in the long run and you can't always count on having them around when you need them, so you should have other ways to get Power as well. Include some Events or other cards that can get extra Power for you such as Pocket Demon, Scrounging, Swiss Banker, Paper Trail, etc. Look for cards that can serve double-duty: useful when you're behind, but also useful when you're ahead, to keep opponents down or to give you a sudden boost (cards like Mole Network, Kiii-Yaaah!!, Glimpse of the Abyss, Bull Market, etc.). The "payback" FSS can also help here, cards like Nine Dragon Temple that give you a benefit when you lose them. But remember that a good portion of these cards need to be free, so they'll help you to come back if you get whipped off the table. Four Paper Trails don't help if you get ravaged before you can play them...
If you're not thrilled at the thought of adding non-FSS to your deck, approach the problem from another angle. Tweak your deck to minimize the number of cards that cost more than 1 (or more than 0, if you want to be really cheap). Take a look at cards that allow you to play other cards at a discount: Proving Ground is the perennial favorite in this category, but there are many other more specific cards as well (like Dragon Throne or Rebel Camp). Consider cards that give you a power bonus for things you are already doing, like Bandit Hideout (attacking), Bird Sanctuary (your guys are dying anyway, right?), etc. And look for ways to get a good return on your investment by replaying (recycling) cards cheaply. The granddaddy in this category is Golden Comeback, but there are many others: Inauspicious Return, In Your Face Again, Netherworld Return, Underworld Tracker, etc.
The scene (last-in, first-out) may seem odd at first, but you can use it to your advantage. The really short summary: it's almost always best to wait until the last possible moment to play a card.
Let surprise work to your advantage whenever possible, by forcing your opponents to make decisions before they know what's really going to happen. For example, let's say you have a Friends of the Dragon and a Redeemed Gunman in play, 1 Power, and a Pump-Action Shotgun in your hand. Your opponent has a Student of the Bear in front of his Feng Shui Site. You play the Shotgun on the Friends, then declare an attack on your opponent's FSS with both Characters. He intercepts the Friends with the Student—the extra damage from the Shotgun is wasted since the Bear and the Student inflict enough damage to reduce each other's Fighting to zero. (when you make your plans obvious for your opponent, it's called telegraphing). Instead, you should declare your attack with both Characters and keep the Shotgun in your hand. After your opponent declares his interception, play the Shotgun on the Character that didn't get intercepted. Much better.
You can do the same trick with Events, but in reverse. If you have a Nerve Gas and attackers are inbound, wait until just before combat damage is inflicted to play it, in case your opponent has any sneaky tricks in mind. After he plays an expensive State, use the Nerve Gas in response. Now your opponent has lost the Character and the State, and wasted the Power he or she paid for the State as well.
And if you have two Events you want to play, play the weaker one first—your opponent may decide to use something to cancel it, leaving you free to play the second, more powerful Event that you really wanted to get through.
If everyone takes this advice to heart, you might end up with a game of chicken where you and your opponents are all waiting for someone else to make the first move. You can use either method described in the rulebook (going, going, gone or pass around the table) to resolve logjams. Or you can establish a reputation as a cold-blooded player who never ever plays first, just be willing to lose a couple of games while you prove it :)
Feng Shui Sites that generate effects by turning are also good to save until the last moment. Remember that you can generate effects in response to an opponent declaring the end of his or her turn. Don't use your Stone Garden during your turn; save it because it might be more useful during an opponent's turn. (you might need to heal 1 point of damage to just prevent one opponent from taking another's Site, leaving it weak and ripe for you to take on your turn!) If the end of your opponent's turn comes around and you didn't find anything better to heal, turn it in response to the end of turn, and heal 1 damage from one of your Sites. Yes, you could have done that during your turn, but there's no drawback to waiting, and you might find something better to use it on in the meantime.
The end of the opponent to your right's turn is also a good time to unload 0-cost Events. You get them out of your hand, you do something nasty to somebody, and then it's your turn and you refill your hand. Good for you all around. Of course, make sure you save the Events that are useful at the end of a turn—a Final Brawl or Covert Operation can work well, but a Rigorous Discipline is not the best choice. Unless of course you just want to get it into your smoked pile instead of discarding it on your turn.
Keep in mind that your opponent has the option to return to her Main Shot when you generate effects in response to the end of turn declaration. In most cases, your opponent really is done when she declares end of turn, and won't return to the Main Shot if you do anything. But if you generate an effect that causes opponents to gain Power (Bull Market, for example) or maybe unturn cards, then you should worry, and perhaps wait to generate that effect if you suspect someone could immediately use it against you.
When should you attack? When should you sit back and defend? The answers depend mainly on your personality, a bit on your deck, and a bit on your opponents' personalities.
First of all, remember that in Shadowfist there is no "summoning sickness"—Characters can attack on the same turn you play them (assuming you're playing them on your turn :). You don't have to carefully build up your forces over many turns; you can start whacking right away, even with the little guys.
Since your Characters can defend even while turned (tapped, for you ex-Magic players :), you can use them to attack and still have them intercept during your opponents' turns. Just remember that they'll only be able to intercept at their current location if they're turned, so plan for that when you initially place your Characters.
There will be turns where your Characters have been damaged and you'll need to heal them and wait until your next turn to attack. If you have a big guy in play who's badly damaged, it's not worth throwing him away in an attack. Take a break, turn him to heal. If you find this happening a lot, consider adding some cards that heal Characters or redirect damage to keep the tempo up.
Be careful when launching attacks against face-down FSS in multiplayer games, unless you're sure you have enough overkill to take it no matter what it is. Hitting an FSS for all but one or two Body is just setting up an easy kill for the next player. Small exploratory attacks are fine, but look out for the sneaky opponent who joins your little exploratory attack, and then on his turn goes in again to finish the job. In some cases it's also to your advantage to join attacks against an opponent, especially if that opponent is one Feng Shui Site away from winning.
In a two-player game, you don't have to be as cautious. Hit your opponent as often as possible because you're the only one who will follow-up. You do still need to think about face-down FSS with abilities that could hurt you, like Cave Network or Blessed Orchard, but at least no one else will be competing with you for wounded Sites. And in dueling, it's sometimes better to attack opponent's Characters rather than their Sites—read Jan Malina's article for more.
Should you go all out, possibly throwing away all your Characters, to stop an incoming attack? Causing an attack to fail is an important way to slow opponents down. If you prevent the attackers from damaging their targets (by smoking all the attackers, by redirecting all the damage, by smoking the targets, etc.), the attack fails and your opponent may not declare another attack this turn. In general, causing an attack to fail is a good move, since you will not have to face any follow-up attacks. But it's dangerous to use up your entire defense against the first attack if you know (or suspect) your opponent has any Characters with Independent, since they will be able to declare a follow-up attack even if the first fails. And it's also wasteful to throw away your Characters if you know that your opponent will take the target anyway. In that case, let it go, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't intercept at all. Instead, pick your interceptions carefully, and knock out attackers with good abilities, or all the attackers that were at one location, so you have an easier counterattack on your next turn.
In a multiplayer game, don't forget to encourage your opponents to help stop attacks against you. If you're clearly in the lead, don't expect any help, but if you can make a good case that another player is such a huge threat that he can't be stopped by you alone, you might get some assistance. Note that it's a valid play to hold your defensive Events or FSS, then convince your opponents that you are helpless and they should intercept an attack against you. It may be valid, but it's not going to make you any friends when people finally see your Events come out. If you do this too much you will lose your credibility when you ask for help, and you won't get any when you really do need it. But you will meet players with this play style eventually (particularly at major conventions) so be prepared for it, or hone your own skills at it :)
The general Shadowfist plan of attack is sometimes expressed as "when in doubt, attack left." The opponent to your left will get the next turn, so after you whack him, he will draw cards, get Power, etc. and presumably be ready to defend against other opponents. But if you attack right, then every player between you and your target will get another shot at your target on their turns, before your target can restock and rebuild. In other words, you are probably handing a Site to somebody else. Don't take this as gospel just because a lot of people say it. This is a huge topic, but I'll summarize it by saying attack the biggest threat to you. Many times that's the current leader. Sometimes it's the whipping boy, because he has a 1-Body FSS that he'll never be able to defend, so you need to take it before the leader does. Sometimes it's the guy sitting in second place, accumulating Power while everyone pays attention to the person with the most FSS. There is no easy answer.
"Pay attention" might be a good way to say this, but by itself that's not particularly helpful advice, so here are some specifics.
Devote some effort to remember stuff that you only have yourself to blame for if you forget:
- what your face-down FSS are. Look at them often, if you need to. Don't forget about a Whirlpool, Ring of Gates, Fox Pass, etc. Yes, this will happen to you too. After a game ends, you'll start to clean up and realize that you had a way to stop the winning attack, right there face down in front of you.
- take your 1 Power when playing an FSS when you currently have none in play. You pretty much always remember to do this on the first turn, but remember that this kicks in again if you've lost all your FSS and you play onewhether it's the first turn or seventh turn.
- discard! (have I drummed that in enough?)
- use cards with "turn to..." abilities like Chinese Doctor every turn. When the opponent to your right declares end of turn, that's your cue to make sure you've used everything you can, and if you haven't yet, use it now. It all unturns on your turn...
- cards with automatic "return to play" abilities like Palace Guards and Underworld Tracker. Don't leave 'em lying in your smoked pile. I usually put these guys on the top of my smoked pile, or turn them sideways so they stick out. And I still forget them sometimes.
- automatic damage abilities (Inexorable Corruption) or automatic healing abilities (Floating Restaurant). Putting damage on your own Family Estate when anyone's Lodge character is smoked sort of falls in this category, but also in the nextmake sure your opponents are inflicting damage when they should :)
Like the Battlechimp says, "dig the MO of your enemy, brothers." Watch what other people are playing so you can figure out what factions you're facing. Especially on the first turn, ask to see the discards in the toasted pile, or have them announce their discards. You can get a good idea of what factions are present in the deck based on what's played and discarded on the first turn. More specifically, you should:
- Get to know the power cards available to each faction, and keep them in mind when you plan your strategy during a game. If your opponent is playing Dragons, you should expect Hackers so don't plan on your Dangerous Experiment going off successfully.
- Get to know the hoser cards that can affect your deck, and which factions pack them (and whether or not the hosers are popular). A well-timed Shifting Loyalties can destroy an Ascended Pledged deck, for example.
School's out. Go kick some butt. When you want more, check out some of the other articles in this series:
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