This is the first in a series of articles aimed at Shadespire players who have some games under their belts and know the rules but would like some more guidance before going to a tournament. I’m hoping the content in here is of a high enough quality that even people who have won multiple tournaments can find some useful tips. As a preface I am probably not one the best Shadespire players out there, currently I am only sitting at two glass trophy’s (edit from the future – three now) and have no high finishes at grand clashes to boast about. My claim to fame is that I was part of the team that discovered the horror that is SCEardyKat and helped to get some cards effectively banned from the game*.
*- Note a player called Sandro also came up with a version of the deck independent of our group.
In this article I am focusing on what I consider the basics of Shadespire, a hodge podge of general information that I feel people need to know before I go into more specific topics. Before I begin, though, there is one essential piece of advice that I need to get out of the way.
Read the rules.
Please, please for the love of god actually read the rules. The amount of times I have been competing where people are casually playing a completely different game is staggering and this is at tournaments. Examples of common rules misinterpretations include:
- Your model is trapped so my attack deals one extra damage
- You can’t attack with Timetrap after you have charged
- I win on tiebreakers because I have more models alive
- I’m equipping these 2 key upgrades in 3rd turn end phase
- You can’t Quickthinker in reaction to my Hidden Paths
One of those is actually true. If you are unsure then you should also follow the next almost as essential piece of advice.
Read the F.A.Q.
We Shadespire players are lucky that Games Workshop have done such a good job at continuing to support our game. We get fairly regular F.A.Q. updates and they are generally of a very high quality. The latest version, 1.4, has cleared up many rules inconsistencies and in general everything is answered in those pages.
Ok, so you are up to date with how the game works and know most of the weird interactions that the F.A.Q. covers, you are now ready to receive my dubious pearls of wisdom.
Cards aren’t everything
My first piece of advice is going to sound counter-intuitive, Shadespire is after all a card game and they have a big impact on gameplay. The reason for the above bolded sentence is that the most important resource in Shadespire is not the cards in your hand; rather it is the activation’s you have left. Remember that Shadespire is two genres of games combined together (miniature and card) and that inherently your fighters and what you do with them is essential to winning any game.
You have only 12 activation’s over the whole game, broken down into 3 turns of 4 each. Every activation gives you the opportunity to kill another model, to move into a position to score an objective card (e.g. an objective token), to go on guard, to cycle an objective card or as a last resort to draw another power card. Activation’s are your bread and butter, they are how you play and hopefully win the game.
The most powerful activation’s are ones that your opponent can’t react to. For example you take a normal activation and then in your power step play an upgrade which you then react to with the ploy card Ready for action, when the stars align this can mean you have killed 2 of your opponents fighters before they even have a chance to react. This is why I always advise going 2nd in the 1st turn if you have the choice. Your 4th activation is the last one that happens before the end of the turn and with it you can charge without worrying about a counter attack. If you are lucky and win the next roll off you can go first in turn 2 as well, allowing you 2 activation’s back to back.
Cards still Matter
Your objective and power decks are what makes your warband unique. The power deck is your toolbox while the objective deck is your statement of intent; this is how you are trying to win the game. When building your objective deck you want to reward yourself for playing the game the way you want to be playing it. If you like killing models then take objectives that score from kills, if you like board control then take objectives that score from holding objective tokens. Your power deck is there to help you actually achieve what your objective deck is trying to do as well as shoring up any weaknesses you might have, for example if you are playing an objective deck include cards like quick advance and sidestep to counter the horror of a great concussion played in the last activation of a turn.
Remember that at the end of each turn you can draw back up to 5 power cards. This means any cards that you have not played are potentially dead weight and if you don’t discard them they are stopping you from drawing new cards. When the card duel of wits was first released I wondered what exactly the Shadespire developers had been smoking in order to think that card was balanced. Now, knowing how card advantage is much weaker in Shadespire then in other card games (remember activation’s are king) I consider it a tier B card at best.
The Enemies Gate is down
You win a game of Shadespire by having more glory at the end of the game then your opponent. That’s it. It doesn’t matter how many of your opponent’s models you have killed, you could have taken out their entire warband, and if you haven’t scored more glory then them you will still lose the game. There are two main schools of thoughts on how to achieve this:
- Maximise how much glory you score
- Minimise how much glory your opponent can score
At the beginning of every single turn you should look at your objectives and plan your 4 activations out to score as much glory between them (and killing enemy models) as possible. Sometimes you will look at your objectives and realise that they are not currently scorable, in this case it can be worth using an activation to cycle an objective card (it might also be worth making a mental note to cut some of those objectives form your deck in future). If your hand is full of score immediately cards that rely on you killing an opponent then spend you activations and power cards to make it likely as possible. Need to kill a model in enemy territory? Then don’t leave it to your last activation and one roll of the dice to get your objective, make sure you have at least 2 activations worth of charges going in and maybe use a card like Timetrap as an emergency backup if you rolled badly.
With regards to minimising your opponent’s glory your best course of action depends on knowing what your opponent is trying to score. Playing against an objective deck? Then use cards like distraction or your own fighter’s attacks to push enemy models off of objective tokens. Playing against a defensive deck? Then use Shardgale or hidden paths to deny some of their passive glory. Generally speaking you want to minimise what your opponent scores only when you are already ahead in the game, if turn 3 has just started and you are 5 glory up then play conservatively and let your opponent really work for that victory. Remember that your opponents discard pile is open information, have a look at what objectives they are discarding and try to see what their deck does from that. This is a skill you will get better at as you play the game and learn the different types of cards and play-styles that people play.
Know the odds
Here (I have linked to the thread as it explains the key) is a table with the general odds of success for attacking and defending with different dice. Notice a 2 hammer attack against a one shield defence, with no support, is essentially a 50/50. That means missing 2 such attacks in a row has approximately a 25% chance, it’s quite feasible. A lot of how to win at Shadespire comes from knowing the odds and knowing how to manipulate them. A 3 crossed swords attack benefits a lot more from a friendly support then a 2 hammer attack does whereas a 2 hammer attack benefits a lot more from rolling an extra dice then a 3 crossed sword attack. Where possible stack the odds in your favour and make it as close to a sure thing as feasible.
Be careful about blaming a loss on luck as well. It’s always so easy to blame the dice but doing that too often stops you from analysing your mistakes and from improving as a player. The dice can often ‘lie’ as well. Take the following situation: Your uninspired harvester is attacking 2 targets with its nice multi-model attack. Each target has support because they are adjacent to the harvester and each one is using a shield defence. On one attack you roll 2 successes and you think great this one has got him. Then your opponent rolls a crit on defence. This seems like your opponent has gotten extremely lucky when in reality the odds of you hitting with the attack in the first place were quite low. Of course sometimes the dice gods hate you, luck is a core component of Shadespire and when you miss 7 attacks in a row it’s time to just accept it as a bad lot and move onto the next game.
You have already heard me mention words like aggro, defensive and objective with regards to the type of deck your opponent is playing. For reference aggro is generally defined as a warband that is trying to kill enemy models, an objective warband is a warband that scores big from having models sit on objective tokens and defensive is a warband that sits back and tries to score passive glory. It is worth bearing in mind exactly what archetype your warband is and what its weaknesses are. Generally speaking aggro beats objective while objective beats defensive and defensive beats aggro. I say generally because a lot of top decks run a myriad of tricks to shore up their weak match ups, see Toms series of articles on how he beats defensive decks as an aggro player.
My next article is going to cover the strengths and weaknesses of all 8 factions as well as what deck archetypes they suit. If you can guess what your opponent is doing before the game begins then you can start to control how the game will be played.