Concepts Explained #2: Playing Around Threats

Hi Guys, today we have a very short little article for you, we are going to be talking about ‘playing around’ cards and stuff. What does that mean? Well, read on to find out! I’ll start by throwing a 101 examples at you and then show you two more examples analysed at much greater depth. […]

Introduction

Hi Guys, today we have a very short little article for you, we are going to be talking about ‘playing around’ cards and stuff. What does that mean? Well, read on to find out!

I’ll start by throwing a 101 examples at you and then show you two more examples analysed at much greater depth. I will end the article a short discussion of a more advanced concept; namely, that you can’t ‘play around’ everything and so therefore you must ‘pick your poison’.

Note: this article is aimed at beginners; advanced and intermediate players will probably find this article is a bit too basic. 🙂

Definition

In many respects, ‘Playing around’ is a vague term that can encompass a number of idea’s. Nonetheless, it is a very important concept to gain an understanding of.

  • Playing Around: The first step is to identify a threat(s). The second step is to make a move that in some way ‘counters’  that threat(s).

But to understand this definition we need to works out (a) what a ‘threat’ is and (b), what it is to ‘counter’ something.  Of those two questions, the first is the easiest to answer: a threat is a strategy, card or a combination of cards that we are scared of.

To ‘counter’ a threat however is more difficult to understand since countering threats can be obvious or they can be subtle. Counters can be direct or they can be indirect, and so on.  Hopefully the examples in the next section will give you some practical understanding of how one may counter certain cards/ideas.

Example(s)

So here is a list that showcases a number of ways to ‘play around’ different sorts of threats:

  • If someone has mind control tech you can ‘play-around’ that card by either having 3 (or less) minions on board or by filling the board with junk minions.
  • To ‘play-around’ a weapon, we can play Taunts to protect valuable targets and/or we can play minions that don’t die to a strike (e.g. Eaglehorn Bow doesn’t kill Spider Tank), or we could play minions that we are happy to see die (e.g. minions with useful deathrattles) or just play spells/secrets/weapons instead of developing minions. Lastly, (and perhaps most obviously) we could ‘bait’ the weapon and then destroy it with a card like Sabotage.
  • To ‘play-around’ spells (in general), drop Loatheb.
  • To ‘play-around’ Mirror Entity, you could avoid playing minions until you draw a card like Kezan Mystic or a copy of Flare. You could play minions that grant you a some sort of benefit if copied (e.g. copying Explosive Sheep / Doomsayer can clear the board, copying Zombie Chow gains you life when you trigger the deathrattle).
  • To ‘Play-around’ Grim Patron combos, don’t play minions with less than 3 attack. And/or save Lightbomb
  • To play-around Ice Block you could try to damage the Mage on his own turn (e.g Dr. Boom’s Boom Bot‘s and/or force the Mage into fatigue (fatigue damage ignores Ice Block)
  • To ‘play-around’ Swipe you could just ignore it!! For example, if you have lethal next turn (regardless of whether the opponent swipes or not), you might want to encourage your opponent to play the swipe by dropping lots of tiny minions (you may want to ‘encourage’ it since if they do use Swipe they have four less mana to defend against your next turn lethal!).  You could also just trade your minions into theirs so that there is nothing left to Swipe!
  • To ‘play around’ Force of Nature + Savage Roar you can try keep your health at 15 or more. You can also consider bluffing! e.g. try to convince the Druid that you have Explosive Trap/ Bear Trap/ noble sacrifice/ ice barrier in play and the Druid won’t play the combo!
  • You can also ‘play-around’ cards/ideas by thinking several turns ahead (e.g you make a weaker play now in order to make a strong play in the future). For example, you can read about the ‘counter-counter effect’ here and you can read about ‘Pyhrric plays’ here.
  • To ‘play around’ Shield Slam attack the Warrior’s face in order to strip them of their armour.
  • To ‘play-around’ Execute keep minions at full health, to ‘play-around’ Backstab and Dark Iron Skulker keep your minions slightly injured.
  • To ‘play-around’ Battle Rage try to only lower the Warrior’s armour, not thier health (see here for more detail). To ‘play-around’ Molten Giant don’t drop thier health too low (Against Warlock Control (‘Handlock’) 17 is a good number because it makes Giant + Shadowflame impossible).
  • To ‘play-around’ Cone of Cold have your strongest threats positioned on the flanks.
  • …and so on…

In Principle…

That list above is pretty bulky, let’s distil the essence and make a more generalised list. To ‘play-around’ a threat you can think about doing some of the following:

  • Ignore it
  • Threaten Lethal
  • Position minions correctly
  • Manage Resources (e.g. opponents health & armour/ your health / your minions health / etc)
  • Flood the board / Don’t Flood the board
  • Play big minions / small minions / minions with certain mechanics (e.g. Taunt)
  • You can play a hard counter (e.g. Flare versus Secrets)
  • Trade minions / Don’t trade minions
  • Attack / Don’t attack
  • Take a chance on RNG / play according to probabilities
  • Try a ‘bluff’ (see here)
  • Just ‘Play to Win’  (see here)
  • …and so on…

So as you can see, there are lots of ways to ‘play around’ the opponents threats. Our response should depend on the nature, the potency, and the likelihood of the threat.

Playing Around Truesilver Champion

Okay, here’s a screenshot taken from an Arena game of mine:

This turn I have two basic plays:

  1. Play The Coin + Voidcaller
  2. Play Earthen Ring Farseer

In the end I went for option 2. Why? Well my opponent has 4 damage with minions on board, thus Voidcaller is easily killed. Upon death, Floating Watcher hits the board. Now here’s the problem: the watcher is easily killed by truesilver-champion.  So how do I ‘play-around’ this possibility? Simply don’t play Voidcaller and wait for a better opportunity.

Here’s the game (this game also features in this article):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABkAf8xv-1U

Also notice that later on in the game (@5:20) the opponent takes a 50/50 at killing Volcanic Drake. After losing the coin flip he plays a Secret. I ‘play around’ Noble Sacrifice by not attacking his face with my 6/1 Drake.  Protecting it by placing it behind a Taunt ‘plays around’ a few easy kills the Paladin may have (e.g. lights-justice, bluegill-warrior, etc).

Okay, how about another example?

Playing Around Flamestrike

let me give you one final example:

In the screenshot below, we are playing Grim Patron Warrior vs a Mage (constructed).

Let’s imagine that the Mage spends Turn Six playing Hero Power on the Sludge Belcher. Most of the time when a Mage uses Hero Power on a 5 health minion in a situation like this it usually means that they are trying to set up a Turn Seven Flamestrike. In other words, the Turn Six Hero Power ‘Telegraphs’. The Mage’s intention to use Flamestrike next turn. 

Because they made a play that is consistent with having Flamestrike in hand, we must consider this a very likely candidate for their play next turn.  Notice also that Flamestrike gets a lot of work done (i.e. since it kills our board, it is a very powerful threat).

Thus the Mage sets up a very credible and potent threat; we would be wise to take heed of it. The question is: “What should we do about it?”

Can we ignore the Flamestrike?

Casting Warsong Commander alongside the Whirlwind would allow us to flood the board with small minions and hit for a decent amount of damage. But unfortunately, since all the spawned Patrons will have 3 health everything dies to Flamestrike. Is that okay? In this particular position I would argue that you cannot ignore the Flamestrike; this is mostly because we do not do enough damage to set up a Death’s Bite lethal next turn.

Remember that in order to successfully ignore potent threats from the opponent you need to find a  good reason to do so. And in this case we do not do that.

Okay, so we cannot simply ignore Flamestrike here. How else might we ‘play around’ it?

Well, in this position there are two basic ways to ‘play-around’ the Flamestrike. The First way is to simply equip the Death’s Bite. This move ‘plays around’ Flamestrike by not committing more minions to the board.

The second way is to play the Emperor Thaurissan, this is a minion that will survive a flamestrike with one health left. Indeed, playing the Emperor is likely to be rather painful for the Mage since it means that the Warrior is likely to get two activations of Emperor’s ability. That prospect is pretty scary for a Mage, and as a result they might not play Flamestrike (the may prefer to deal with Thaurissan instead). So now we have seen another way to ‘play around’ a threat: Just drop an even bigger threat on the board!!

With that said, there is one important caveat I should add. Casting 5 health minions (such as the Emperor) ‘plays-around’ a Turn Seven Flamestrike, but it does not play-around a Turn Nine Flamestrike. This is because on Turn Nine the Mage can Flamestrike and then use his/her Hero Power to ping the remaining 5/1 minion.

In short; Thuarissan is a pretty good counter to the Turn Seven Flamestrike in this particular position.

Picking your Poison

Once you have grasped the concept of ‘playing around’ card, you can begin to start thinking about the game at an even higher level.

Here’s the problem:  In numerous situations, you can’t play-around every possibility the opponent may have. Thus, the question is; “How do I choose what to ‘play around’?”.

The discussion below is mostly a copy & paste job from a previous article of mine (with bits omitted/editted).  To see it in full & proper context, click here. (Note: the linked article is all about Arena, but the principles are applicable to constructed as well).  

[…]

Simple example #3:

  • I play a haunted creeper

    …they play a 3/2

    …I play a dire wolf alpha and kill their 3/2.

We know that this is a terrible line for the second player, Given this, we can ask ourselves a very simple question; was it better for Player 2 to play a 2/3 minion instead? The (unfortunate) answer to that question is; “no, not necessarily”.  To see why, all one has to do is tweak the example a little bit:

Simple Example #4:

  • I play a haunted creeper

    …they play a 2/3

    …I play a abusive sergeant and kill their 2/3.

In this example all I did was change the minion (from the ‘Wolf’ to ‘Sergeant’) and poor old Player Two is still in a bad spot. The point I am making here is that it is rarely possible to play around every possible card your opponent may have. A lot of the time you just have to ‘pick your poison‘, so to speak.

[…] Being strong against one sort of attack often comes at the cost of being weak to another. So, what can we do? Well, here is [one idea]:

  • Play around cards based on (a) how devastating they are and (b) how likely it is that your opponent [has them in hand].

[…]When deciding whether to play the 3/2 or the 2/3 we now have a theoretical framework to base our decision on. The theory claims that — in the situations where we must choose– it is better to make ourselves strong against good–and probable– play instead of making ourselves strong against the weak(er)– and less likely– play. In this specific case, [if we assume that the wolf is more likely than the Abusive then] we ought to drop the 2/3 and hope for the best.

But if you were expecting this guide to be full of simply little rules you can unthinkingly follow in you games I am now going to disappoint you. The above analysis suggests that the 2/3 is better since it nicely plays around a dire wolf.

But here’s the catch; 3/2 minions counter most 3-drops, whereas 2/3’s don’t.  Allow me to illustrate:

Simple Example #5:

  • I play a haunted creeper

     …they play a 2/3

    …I play a 3/3 minion.

So this time we are not looking at special minions and are instead asking ourselves what happens if we simply play a decent body on curve.  The 2/3 in this case can’t trade with the creeper nor with the 3/3 so the minion ends up stranded with nothing to do.  If Player Two had played a 3/2 instead then they would have a decent trade to make.  What we are learning then, is no matter what we play [or what we try to play around] there is a counter.

Conclusion

Short and Sweet. 🙂 Hopefully this article helped some of you better understand what and how and why you should try to ‘play around’ certain possibilities.

Any comments, Questions, etc just ask!

References and further reading

Other Episodes in concepts explained Series: