If you’re a newer player and haven’t read part one of this piece, I’d recommend you give that a quick read first before getting into these more advanced concepts.
So, you’ve now gotten down the basics of understanding how to block. You understand that blocking all the damage possible is not always the way to go, and that making use of every card in your hand is crucial to ensure peak performance. You know that your life total is a resource you use to seize the initiative and make bigger attacks but is still something to be managed preciously.
With all if the above under your belt, you’re now ready to tackle some more specific concepts. Many of these are about how specific mechanisms of attacking interact with how blocking is managed. To begin with, let’s start by talking about the Flesh and Blood’s magic number: 4.
The Magic Number: Break Points on Attacks
Something you may have picked up on in my previous article is that I virtually assumed that all blocks were at a value of 3. The reason for this is simple; the most common block value across all classes is 3, and thus this serves as something of a “baseline” for how I look at blocks. Effectively, if my opponent has four cards in hand, I’ll assume that he generally has around 12 defense ready to throw at me.
The important thing, however, is that this is not 12 defense spread however he chooses: it’s four individual packets of 3 defense. Therefore 4 is such a magic number for attacks; it’s requires two cards from hand to block, and it causes the most “wasted” blocking potential. Here’s a simple example:
Our friend Rhinar has just rolled a four on his Scabskin Leathers, granting him two action points. He decides to lead this off with everyone’s favorite 4 attack threat: Red Snatch. Bravo has a choice to make; if he wants his opponent to not draw a card, he’ll have to block with two cards and effectively waste 2 block. If it were just a Yellow Snatch, Bravo could easily just dismiss the attack with a single card, but by having just 1 extra attack, Rhinar’s Red Snatch has caused a much bigger dilemma for his showstopping foe. Either way, Rhinar is pretty happy; either he’s just stripped two cards out of his opponent’s hand at the cost of a single card (and no resources), or he’ll push through some damage and gain an extra card to use as an offensive weapon.
Note that 4 is most important for attacks with on-hit effects. Forcing your opponent to lose an additional card or suffer the consequences is an important part of what makes these attacks so intimidating. This is also part of the reason why allowing Dorinthea’s Dawnblade to get its first counter is such a scary thing; the jump from 3 attack to 4 attack has much larger implications than simply “an extra point of damage”.
In fact, the importance of 4 attack is part of the cause of the popularity of the red line of free Defense Reactions. Red Sink Below and Red Fate Foreseen help to counterattack the potential tempo losses of these troublesome 4 attack cards by allowing you to lose just a single card (and gain a small benefit). Again, the difference between Yellow Fate Foreseen and Red Fate Foreseen is more than just simply 1 defense; it can result in massively different gains and losses of tempo.
Getting Around Defenses: Dominate, Intimidate, Attack Reactions, Go-Wide
Sometimes, you really want an attack to land. You’re tired of your awesome on-hit effects being prevented by your opponent simply blocking them, or you simply want to smash your opponent into the ground. Just how can you break through?
Let’s start with Dominate and Intimidate, as both cause ultimately similar outcomes. Both abilities serve to limit the number of cards your opponent can defend with. Dominate puts a hard limit on the number of cards; it prevents your opponent from defending with any more than a single card from hand, and potentially a Defense Reaction from your Arsenal. As such, Dominate is a powerful tool for breaking through ironclad defenses, particularly when your opponent has no card in the arsenal. Intimidate is a little more complex; at its core, Intimidate prevents your opponent from blocking optimally by randomly removing cards from your opponent’s hand. Even though this can sometimes still result in your attacks being blocked, it can generally serve to at least upset how optimally your opponent can make use of all their cards. However, en masse, Intimidate completely removes blocking as an option for your opponent. I’m sure players will tell you of games where their opponent went Bloodrush Bellow, Red Barraging Beatdown, Red Barraging Beatdown, Red Pack Hunt and casually dealt them 16 unblockable damage.
However, there is something important to note about both abilities. While they can help to force through damage, they generally don’t diminish the opponent’s ability to counterattack (unless their accompanied by on-hit effects). This is why Dominate is best paired with crippling on hit effects that limit your opponent’s ability to make use of their hand; a dominated Crippling Crush is usually the most fearsome attack in the game, as it forces through a ton of damage while also completely diminishing the counterattack. However, Red Demolition Crew generally gathers a whole bunch of dust because simply threatening damage and nothing else just isn’t enough to make Dominate effective.
Usually, when defending against these abilities, your choices are fairly limited, but the puzzle remains the same; how can you spend the most cards to preserve your life-total while also putting up a sizeable threat to your opponent? In fact, Dominate and Intimidate (though more commonly the latter) can sometimes result in the opponent seizing the initiative back, as they’ll have a full or neat full hand to be able to threaten their opponent with.
While Dominate and Intimidate are telegraphed and limit defensive options, they still allow you to make the best decisions in the moment. What is more challenging to deal with are the two other ways to “threaten” your opponent; “going wide” and Attack Reactions.
For those not familiar with the term, “going wide” is the concept of throwing many smaller attacks at your opponent, usually at least two but sometimes up to three or four! The reason why this is hard to block is quite simple; just how wide you’re going to go on a turn is hidden information. “Going wide” becomes especially effective once you’re mixing both on-hit and pure damage abilities, as players may begin to allow pure damage attacks to go through because they’re expecting a nasty on-hit effect to try and ruin their day.
Attack Reactions pose a similar problem to would-be defenders. Suddenly, you can no longer assume that blocking an attack naturally will ensure it doesn’t hit. Perhaps your opponent’s Red Snatch is about to be followed by a Red Razor Reflex (the most iconic duo of Welcome to Rathe). Take the following example:
Rhinar has just launched a Red Snatch at his poor opponent. Bravo decides to block with two cards (for 6 defense), believing he’ll be safe; however, a Red Razor Reflex not only pushes through three damage, but grants Rhinar both an extra card and an extra action. Blocking with two cards just wasn’t enough, and now Rhinar is free to cause extra chaos on an already weakened Bravo.
Given the uncertainty inherent in “going wide” and Attack Reactions, it may seem like no more than guesswork when trying to defend against them. But there are several factors you should always try and keep in mind when opposing these strategies:
- Keep watch of your opponent’s action points. Generally, if they spend their last action point, you’re in the clear as far as information goes, and you can make better informed decisions. Be wary of Razor Reflex, however.
- Keep watch of your opponent’s cards in hands. If your opponent doesn’t defend at all and keeps their full hand, be on guard! This is especially important if they spend their only action point while still having a full hand, as it’s unlikely they’re planning on stopping their turn there. A Red Snatch with four other cards available, for instance, is pretty much a guarantee for a Red Razor Reflex in hand. In these cases, make choices assuming that they have it in hand; this way, you’re completely avoiding any “blowout situations”. Think of it as a harm minimization approach.
- Understand that it’s okay to spend entire turns blocking. On-hit effects that penalize you are less effective if you spend your whole turn blocking. For instance, being hit with a Red In the Ledger doesn’t mean very much if you’re left with only a single card in hand anyway. As such, if your opponent has a big hand that they chose not to defend with at all on the previous turn, assume that they have a monster turn, and defend accordingly. If they punish you with some on-hit effects, they won’t hurt as much as you weren’t going to have much of a turn anyway!
- Understand that against “go wide” and Attack Reaction-based decks, offense is sometimes your best defense. The more cards you can strip from your opponent’s hand, the less uncertainty you must deal with on your turn.
Generally, it helps to try and understand your role at the beginning of the turn; this will help you get in the right headspace to help decide between defending a lot or not defending at all. A lot of this comes down to one key consideration:
Did my opponent keep most of their hand last turn?
If the answer is yes, I’d lean more into a defensive role. Even if you need to defend with your whole hand and take a couple of points of damage, that may not be so bad. Ultimately, you’re blocking in the hopes that their next hand is going to be worse; every deck has slower turns, and if you’re able to “block out” until such a time as your opponent can’t throw a significant enough turn your way, you can steal the tempo back.
If the answer is no, I’ll usually try my best to maintain my role as attacker while trying to prevent “blowouts”. On those turns, your life-total can become a valuable resource to allow you to take risks.
And once again, I’m nearing 1800 words and I still have more to say! Blocking certainly is one of the most complex and difficult parts of the game to get right, and I certainly get it wrong sometimes. But that’s part of what makes this game so engaging; you’re forced to make difficult decisions almost every turn!
Next time, I’ll be concluding my series by looking at the defensive options available to each class, as well as a brief discussion about the value of equipment.
Feel free to comment and ask questions, and I’m more than happy to help you work through the complexities of combat in this wonderful game!