BRMAM: A model for matchup analysis

(by Big Red)



Summoner Wars is “easy to learn but difficult to master.” The complexity of this uncommonly comprehensive game contradicts the custom cartoon characters that cover its cards, and (as of January 2024) it features 231 different possible match-ups.
Even playing a single faction competently requires knowledge of 21 match-ups.
And with more factions coming, the knowledge needed to win games can be daunting for casual and new players.


The winning debater is always the one who knows the opponents’ own argument better than the opponent does. Likewise, in Summoner Wars, the winner will be the player who understands both factions best.

Thus, I’ve built this model to help new and intermediate players understand each match-up and to start winning more. My approach is based on three assumptions: Wins in Summoner Wars are predicted by (A) meeting one’s own faction’s unique minor objectives throughout the game, (B) thwarting one’s opponent from meeting their unique minor objectives, and (C) understanding how those objectives vary by and interact in each match-up.


It’s easy for a newcomer to Summoner Wars to base their play styles on the economic vs. assassination binary, but Summoner Wars (and its gazillion factions) rewards a more nuanced approach. In my model, I organize that nuance into five categories describing player decisions (Game, Unit, Board, Hand, and Stage Management) and populate those five categories with 17 total aspects/questions with which to assess each faction in a matchup. These 17 smaller aspects are the unique minor objectives that contribute to a faction’s major objective of destroying the opposing summoner.

The questions in Game, Unit, and Board Management are suited to new players and are multiple choice or yes/no questions. The questions in Hand and Stage Management are more open and better suited for Intermediate players who have played the matchup several times.

For example, under Unit Management is the aspect “Damage Intensity”: “Does this faction focus on developing expensive, explosive attacks or trading efficiently over time?” In the PE vs. OD match-up, the beginning player should understand that PE thrives on efficient trades while OD builds up to game-ending, explosive attacks.

Likewise, under Stage Management is the aspect “midgame”: “How does this faction operate when economic conditions are ideal (i.e. plenty of magic via discards or kills)?” In the PE vs. OD match-up, the intermediate player should know that midgame PE is trying to play economically and take little damage while looking for opportunities to punish an over-exposed Balzar. And they should know that midgame OD will be trying to boost Balzar and push forward to execute major attacks and a Volcanic Blast.


First, while this model can help understand current “best practice” in Summoner Wars, best practice can evolve. Second, play at the more advanced levels might require even more nuanced understanding than what this model can provide, so it is presented only as a stepping stone to intermediate play. Third, odd, unpredictable situations often arise in games, and in those situations, these minor objectives might need to be dropped for intuition. And, finally, I’m new to the game and still learning, so if you have a suggestion for how to update this, please leave a comment on Discord as I’ll be tweaking this model from time to time.

The Big Red Matchup Analysis Model (BRMAM)

1. Game Management

2. Unit Management

3. Board Management

4. Hand Management

5. Stage Management

Case Study: Phoenix Elves vs. Obsidian Dwarves

To demonstrate how this model can be used, I’ll consider a matchup between two very different factions. The first sentence in each box is the faction’s baseline approach, and the second sentence (if any) provides recommendations for the unique matchup.

Phoenix Elves
Obsidian Dwarves
Game Management - Tempo
Does this faction favor a fast assassination or a slow economic game?
PE prefers methodical economic games but can strike out at an exposed opposing summoner to discourage aggression. PE must fend off the OD attack until they can win in the late game or find an opening to attack Balzar.
OD prefers blunt force assassination to the point that some of its own units willingly take damage. PE has a clear late game advantage, so OD should win in the mid-game with an assassination on the low-health Maldaria.
Game Management - Tone
Does this faction tend to instigate action or is it more reactionary?
PE are mainly reactionary and lure enemies to position themselves or make attacks that set PE up to do defensive or auto damage. While PE can try to damage Balzar to discourage OD aggression, they primarily try to make pushing very cost inefficient for OD.
OD charges forward and actively sets the tone in most matches because of its massive damage capability. Against PE, they must control the tone by initiating damage and crowding PE.
Unit Management - Damage Intensity
Does this faction focus on developing expensive, explosive attacks or trading efficiently over time with smaller attacks?
While capable of explosive Ember Beast or Spirit of the Phoenix turns, the main drive of the PE player is to do at least slightly more damage than their opponent over time. This is difficult against OD’s painfully high health units, so building strong combos and utilizing Maldaria’s four-range attack are key.
OD is all about setting up a giant explosive turn with a boosted Balzar, a supporting Davura, a Volcanic Blast, and maybe an Ember Guard for good measure. Against PE, this strategy remains strong since Maldaria only has nine health and can be taken down in a single well-prepared turn.
Unit Management - Damage Type
Does this faction favor range or melee damage?
Maldaria and her crew are range-focused especially if the reach of Ember Beasts is counted; it’s especially dangerous because Maldaria can pull back units who charge forward, essentially allowing them to be ranged units. PE will benefit from keeping OD at a distance where they can score more damage.
While Balzar is a huge range threat, OD is largely melee focused; Hellforged Chains and Ember Demons help them reach further, but OD needs to be close to an enemy to do serious damage. OD needs to close the distance against PE in this matchup.
Unit Management - Summoner Role
Does this faction’s summoner support other units making plays, or do the other units support the summoner making plays?
Maldaria supports her team from close behind by pulling friendly units back to safety and providing them with powerful events.
Balzar charges forward with help from Ember Guard, Oath Sworns, and sometimes Davura, but he is needed to spawn Ember Beasts.
Unit Management - Unit Development
Does this faction develop its units over time or are its units more replaceable?
PE wants quick, cost-efficient damage, and most of its units do not last long (unless Maldaria pulls them back to safety).
With the exception of Vulkor and Balzar, OD units are expendable and die quickly. Even developing units by playing weapons on them causes them to die more quickly.
Board Management - Aggression
Does this faction benefit from pushing across the board, staying on their side, or straddling the middle?
PE generally hovers between the middle and back of the board as they try to do efficient damage without overextending; once the enemy is sufficiently weakened, they are able to charge forward to destroy what’s left. Against OD, the longer they hold the middle and tax OD’s efforts, the more likely they are to win.
OD pushes into opponent territory, lays down gates, and swarms with weapon-wielding commons until Balzar is ready to erupt and unleash boosted attacks. OD must move to PE’s side of the board as quickly as possible and give PE little space to maneuver.
Board Management - Summoner Positioning
Is this faction’s summoner best suited for melee on the front line, support from a middle distance, or protection far from the fight?
Maldaria needs to support from a middle distance with PE events while protecting her low-health self.
Balzar needs to be in a position where he can attack to boost his magic, place offensive gates, or be near several enemy units to use Volcanic Blast. He can play either front line or middle distance.
Board Management - Unit Positioning
Do this faction’s units need to be positioned in a unique way to be effective?
There is little positioning interplay between PE units. Fanessa needs to be near enemy melee units to get full value, PE players should set up situations where Ember Beasts can spawn adjacent to enemy units, and Ember Mages are best placed near enemy units with large attacks.
There is little interplay between OD units. Blood Berserker should be adjacent to multiple enemies, Ember Guards are useful when Blaze Stepping back to protect Balzar, and the Hell Forge needs to be near where commons will be.
Board Management - Gate Positioning
Is this faction more likely to use flat L-shaped gates, tall L-shaped gates, wide gates, defensive gates, or offensive gates?
PE likes having several defensive gates with plenty of spawn points for Ember Beasts; a forward flat L gate for Maldaria also lets her take shots while calling back units to protect her. Because PE plays defensively in this match-up, wide gates for flanking Balzar are ideal.
OD wants to fight on its opponent’s side of the map, so offensive forward gates are ideal.
Board Management - Unit Density
Does this faction want 1-3, 4-6, or 7+ units on the board at the same time?
PE prefers a few good cards over a swarm; this lets them provide fewer targets and be more cost-efficient.
OD has no strong preference in this category but does want to avoid hurting its own units with Volcanic Blast.
Hand Management - Ideal Plays
What cards or card combos have high utility against the opposing faction, and how much do they cost?
PE’s most powerful fieldings in this matchup are Fanessa (5c), Ember Beast spawns/chains (2-5c), Ember Beasts/Archers with Spirit of the Phoenix (1-3c), Divine Retribution with Spirit of the Phoenix (0c), and Blinding Flare (1c).
OD’s most powerful fieldings in this matchup are Vulkor (6c), The Hell Forge with commons and revived weapons (4-5c), Volcanic Blast and Davura and an Ember Guard (6c), Ember Demon chain (1-3c), and Blood Berserker/Ember Demon with weapons (1-2c).
Hand Management - Discard Opportunities
What cards have low utility against the opposing faction?
PE will likely not need Fire Drake, one Blinding Flare, Holleas unless situationally useful, at least one gate, and half the Ember Mages.
A few of OD’s Oath Sworn are useful for Balzar’s initial charge but lose value over time, Ember Demons are situational, all weapons can be discarded since they can be redrawn by the Hell Forge later, Vulkor is expensive but a great complement to Balzar IF Balzar or Oath Sworn are still able to generate boost for Balzar.
Hand Management - Magic Denial
How does this faction deny magic to its opponent?
PE denies magic through defensive damage, Maldaria’s Call Protection ability, and Ember Mage’s defensive ability. Ember Mage will be especially useful against high damage OD attacks (though not useful against Volcanic Blast so they should be spaced out).
OD’s strongest magic denial are Blaze Step and high health units. PE will find Blood Berserkers especially frustrating to kill.
Stage Management - Early Game
How should this faction complete its first two turns against the opposing faction to set up for the mid-game?
Going First. With Spirit of the Phoenix and an Ember Beast, PE can kill both OD commons. Retribution then immediately slows OD. Move Maldaria forward.
Going Second. OD will have to move close to PE’s gate to attack, so a punishing Ember Beast is ideal, and Maldaria with the Royal Guardian can kill a unit.
Second Turn. Set up defensively and position Maldaria for protection. Watch for a sloppy advancing Balzar to punish to set a slower tone for the mid-game. PE needs to have established a 3-5c supply and a gate to the left.
Going First. Block the front spawning point and attack with Oath Sworns or Hellforged Chains if possible while pushing Balzar forward.
Going Second. Punish any PE aggression with Balzar and a Blood Berserker and protect Balzar with Ember Guard.
Second Turn. Place an offensive gate to spawn from in the midgame. Move the majority of OD units toward the opponent's side of the map.
Stage Management - Midame
How does this faction operate when economic conditions are ideal (i.e. plenty of magic via discards or kills)?
PE saves magic, protects itself, and uses auto damage to trade efficiently so they can be rich in the end game but also being ready for opportunities to punish the opponent’s summoner. They need to slow OD’s charge as much as possible. If they somehow push OD back, they can forward the charge.
OD tries to boost Balzar and position him for an effective Volcanic Blast. Commons are used to put pressure on Maldaria. If Balzar gets attacked or finds it hard to press in, he can punish with a Volcanic Blast.
Stage Management - Late Game
How does this faction play once resources become scarce?
PE should have better economy than OD in the end game and can continue to whittle them down while keeping Maldaria safe from last minute reprisals.
OD has several cheap commons that can be outfitted with The Hell Forge and weapons that were discarded earlier in the game, but those must provide value quickly. Vulkor is a good late game champion if Balzar is boosted but wounded.
Match Up TL;DR
PE will try for cost efficient trades and to slow down OD while waiting to either punish an exposed Balzar or a weakened late game OD.
OD will push into PE territory to destroy Maldaria in the mid-game. While Balzar will be the greatest threat, many OD commons also threaten the low-health PE summoner.

There you are: a full theoretical model for understanding any Summoner Wars matchup. Once you understand your faction and your opponent’s faction, you can really understand how to win games.

Note: Thanks for reading. If you have suggestions for improving this guide, please message me, BigRed, in the Discord. I’d be thrilled to read your feedback. And if you want to help me create analyses of particular matchups, please reach out; I’d like to work with experienced players to build more analyses using this model.

Search for a card...