The Beginner's Guide

(Article written by Eldritch Noodles)

Summoner Wars 101

In this guide I'm assuming you've played a few games of Summoner Wars, and you are familiar with the rules. If not, check out the tutorial at: Summoner Wars Online

This article is written for anyone who's a beginner and looking to get better. If you're experienced, hopefully there are still some helpful tips here.

Positioning Matters

Above all else, Summoner Wars is a game about positioning your cards on the battlefield. At first there won't feel like much of a difference between positions as long as your units connect. However, just know that a difference of one square can and does matter all the time. Sometimes by a lot. I say this not to intimidate, but so that you, the reader, can keep your eye out for it. As you play more you'll realize stuff like: “ohhh, if I'd attacked on the left, instead of the right, their gate would now be blocking that ranged attack. I'd be in a better position.”

This game is a lot of fun, but it's also shockingly deep. Don't worry too much about making the perfect play. Focus on trying new strategies and seeing how things turn out.

The 80/20 Rule

When one invents a heuristic to help improve in a competitive games, often two problems follow:

Now, I'm far from the first to come up with this idea, but it very much applies to Summoner Wars: basically any important stratagem I endorse should apply in a game on the order of 80% of the time. I'll try to give context to when and why you should and should not, but I cannot, however, predict the specifics of your games. And at some point, endless addendums become tedious.

If you're new to the game, and if you make a concerted effort to apply my suggestions as much as you can, you will, hopefully, see big improvements. 100% is a lot closer to 80% than 0%. However, just keep in the back of your mind that you will eventually reach the point where in order to get better you should be looking for exceptions.

Destroy Units When Possible

It's better to destroy units when you can rather than spread damage across multiple units. Damaging a unit gets you no magic, and the unit is no weaker on the opponent's next turn. Don't worry about “wasting” a high attack to finish off a low hp unit. Often the best use of high strength attacks is to guarantee kills rather than hope for a lucky hit.

If You Don't Need it, Don't Play it

If you've played any strategy game before, it can be tempting to summon as many units as possible in an attempt to “snow ball” towards victory. If I outnumber my opponent, that should give me an advantage which will only further solidify my ability to outnumber them. Right?

Well, not exactly. In a game of Summoner Wars you can only move and attack with three units per turn. This is incredibly important to how the game functions and makes the game surprisingly chess-like. If you have four units and one does nothing this turn, it likely isn't giving you much value.

You may find yourself in the mindset where you have this great card in your hand and you want to get it out so that it can get going. Then you proceed to move and attack without it. If a unit doesn't do anything you are just giving your opponent more targets to hit. If you want the unit next turn, play it next turn. Keeping it off the field lets you change your mind if the situation changes, and lets it spring forth from whatever gate you wish.

Before we go further, I want to make a very clear point: you can make use of a card without moving or attacking with it. These tend to fall into three categories:

The Three Paths to Victory

I like to think of Summoner Wars as having three main ways to win:

In practice most games end along the spectrum of assassination & economic. Getting ahead on value might force the opponent to commit to risky plays ending in them losing to an assassination. Gate destruction is pretty rare and if you're new you should largely ignore it.

Assassinations are all about the specifics of a game's position and the tools available. If you think you can do it, go for it. However, in general don't overextend in the hopes that an assassination will materialize. Focus on improving board position or trading up for value.

Board Position is All About Gates

The position of gates and the position of units around gates in many ways defines the course of a game. Most units, especially commons, will have the biggest impact on the turn they are summoned. In fact, I'd wager that on average a majority of a common card's “impact” will come from its first turn. The locations of a player's gates dictate the area of the board they can effectively impact. When you're looking at how the opponent will attack you back, look at their gates, not just their units.

Now, this does not mean you should overly focus on destroying gates. Just for now, keep an eye out for how the positions of gates dictate the flow of the game.

The last thing to say about gates is you should try to block summoning spots when you can. If your unit is next to an opponent gate, then they cannot summon to that spot. If the battle is swirling around gates, try to position your units to block off their gates while keeping your summoning spots open.

Think About the Opponent's Next Turn

It's a common maxim in chess that you should be thinking about your opponent's moves as much as your own. The quality of your move is defined by how good of a counter the opponent has. Now, Summoner Wars is not chess. The most important differences being: the outcome of attacks is probabilistic and player hands are hidden information. Unlike chess, you simply cannot plan out your move multiple turns in advance.

However, you should have a pretty good picture in your head about what the board could look like at the end of your turn. Don't think about just the position where things go according to plan. Think through a range of ways the turn could end. Then, think about what kinds of plays the opponent could make in response. Don't make plays that give the opponent what they want…

Don't Make it Easy For the Opponent to Hit You Back

Probably the most important aspect of positioning is hitting your opponent while denying them ways to attack you back. You could write entire strategy articles on this one point, but for now keep some basic thoughts in mind:

The current top player, Dunky, advocates for what has been dubbed by the community the “Dunky Stack”. Basically, try to position your units in a line below their gate making it hard for the opponent to get good hits in. You can't pull off this kind of thing every turn, but when you can it synthesizes all of these ideas.

Expect to Miss Attacks

It's very common that the most important attack of a turn has around 60-75% odds of success. As a benchmark hitting with 2/2 melee dice and with 2/3 ranged dice both fall in this range. Do not expect these attacks to always break your way. Yes, sometimes the dice gods are in your favor. Sometimes it's worse, and they favor your opponent. But, you really should not think of these as “whiffs” or think that the game is unfair if things don't break your way. Instead, try to plan your turn so that you have more than three units which could attack, forming redundancies. If your 3 strength ranged unit fails to kill something with 2 life, it's good to have a backup unit which can finish it off. If you do hit, you also want a unit somewhere else that can make use of your third attack.

Now, I'm not saying never take risky plays. Sometimes the right move is to bet everything on a play with good, but not certain, odds. There's probably a full article on understanding and playing the odds of the game. But for now, expect to miss attacks and have a plan ready for when you do. Likewise, if you put your opponent in positions where they consistently need to hit with 2/3 range dice, they'll end up missing and you will end up profiting.

Pay Attention to How Much Magic the Opponent Has

It's very easy to overlook, but the magic budget the opponent has for the next turn is extremely important. How much magic you have at the end of a turn dictates how and what you can play next turn. If they have adequate magic they'll have a lot of flexibility in how to spawn new units. Watch out for those gates. If they have little to no magic, they'll be mostly limited to what they have already on the board. If you can wipe out all or most of the opponent's units on a turn they can't get new ones, that's often a fatal blow they won't be able to recover from.

This is also a place where knowing the opponent's cards helps. Against Breakers and they only have 1 magic? Then you don't have to worry about Wind Archer.

Pitch Cards for Magic

Not discarding for magic is probably the biggest mistake new players make. You want to have the option to play new units every turn. How much magic to keep depends on the deck and the cards you keep, but just keep in mind that you want to be able to play multiple new units every turn. If you keep your magic count low, your options will be severely limited compared to your opponent. That can snowball into an economic lead letting them, in the end, keep more cards as they get magic from killing yours.

At the beginning of the game discard cards aggressively. You want to build up a nest egg and, depending on the deck, be able to play a champion. Throughout the mid game you should probably be discarding 1-2 cards a turn. The times when you shouldn't are usually when you already have a lead (and no need for more magic). In the end game, when your deck is low-on or entirely out of cards, you should try to be more frugal.

Summoner Wars Champs: What Do They Do? Do They Do Things?? Let's Find Out!

It really depends on the faction, but in most games you want to play around one champ per game. Sometimes you play two and sometimes zero. When you draw them matters a lot. Sometimes you draw them early going second and you just have to pitch them for magic. You can't let them clog your hand for turns in the hopes you'll have an opening later. Champs tend to be situational so look out for situations when a champ can play to its strengths.

If you have the magic, it's generally better to play champs early. As long as you're not too cavalier with them they'll stick around for a few turns and generate the magic you need to play more commons. However, if you keep playing commons you may find yourself always being short of enough to get that champ out. In which case holding it is just clogging up your hand.

Champs tend to be best when you already have a number of commons out. Two commons tend to do more than one champ. Since you only have three move and three attack actions every turn, a champ is a big upgrade only as long as you're using all of your attacks. However, it's not hard for champs to get swarmed to death if you don't have commons to back them up. So be careful throwing down a champ if it doesn't have support.

The Summoner Gambit: How to Win or Lose

There's no easier way to lose than to leave your summoner overly exposed to attacks, or also to over-commit to trying to kill the opponent's summoner too soon…

Okay, so how should we make sense of that? Well, the first point is easiest so let's start there. Summoners tend to have a lot of life, but usually only enough to survive one full round of three attacks. Add in a little chip damage, or an event card, and your summoner can fall surprisingly fast. Generally, if you can get behind the opponent's summoner and/or block them from moving away, that is game over. Seriously. You'll get one round of attacks now, and even if they kill all the units surrounding them they won't have time to move away. After all, attacks come after moving. If you've got some gas saved up, it won't be that hard to charge back in and finish them off in round two.

But what about the second point? Trying to kill them can also lose me the game? Yes. This is a pretty common pattern, especially in beginner games: The player who's ahead looks at the opponent's summoner and thinks, “I'm ahead so I should go for the win.” They commit to a big attack and when the dust settles the opponent's summoner is bruised, but alive and safe. The attacker, however, has lost a ton of steam and is now no longer ahead. To understand this, let's go through why the attacker tends to lose momentum:

They commit a turn of attacks, and maybe an event, to damage the opponent's summoner. Their units are left unscathed, letting the opponent have a powerful counter attack. The defender, therefore, has essentially traded summoner life for card value. If they can keep up that edge to the end game, it might not matter that they lost life early.

Now, don't take this to mean you shouldn't attack their summoner. Just, if you can't trap and kill them, be careful not to blow up your board position. Instead, get in some good hits, while still shoring up your position. Also, if you're in a position where the opponent can't effectively punish you, then absolutely go for the hits even if it won't kill them.

The dichotomy of the summoner being your strongest unit and also your most vulnerable is a huge part of this game. Summoner life is a resource. Sometimes you can use it effectively in the midgame and sometimes in the end game. But, if you push your luck too hard you can lose it all in one turn.

Look for Ways to Double Attack

In this game, friendly units block range attacks from behind them. This means, by default, there is no way to attack the enemy twice along a single row or column. However, every deck has tools that let it get around this problem. Double attacking lets you land more damage on high value targets, and it also lets you kill a unit and then attack what's behind it.

The way in which decks can double attack varies wildly. The Breakers can do this pretty easily by forcing their ranged units around during the attack phase. For the Fallen Kingdom, double attacking usually involves killing your own units. When you play a new deck, look for ways in which you can pull this off.

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