• Level Up: The Nature of Dice Masters

    I'm going to quote myself from about two years ago: "A lot of strategy comparisons - some of them by me - have put this game up against collectable card games like Magic and others. The collectable nature of the game, as well as the combat system, helps to drive those comparisons." This is from one of the first articles that I wrote after starting The Reserve Pool. This particular article detailed the important comparison between Dice Masters and deck building games, as I went on to discuss: "While those games can absolutely inform the decisions that we make in this young game, there's something else that's at least as important to consider with Dice Masters: Its similarities to deck building games like Dominion, Ascension, and all the rest."

    After all, the origins of this game are found in Quarriors, and in turn, games like Ascension, Legendary, and the patriarch of the genre, Dominion.

    If you don't already know, I won't go into significant detail here about what constitutes a deck building game. Suffice it to say that a deck builder is geared towards continuously buying cards for your deck from a common pool in order to increase your efficiency, buying power, and ability to score points, and ultimately win the game. For more detail. watch this video.

    Now, after all of this time, there have been plenty of games played and decks analyzed, and there's much more to say on the subject. I didn't realize it at the time, but the old article I quoted above would lead to some significant realizations about the nature of Dice Masters, why it works the way that it does, and what it means for one's relationship with the game.

    Awfully meta, I know. But let's bring it in.

    [top]Philosophy


    Readers and listeners to TAZ know my philosophy regarding deck creation for this game. Of our cards, A few should be the win condition, a few should make that condition more efficient, and a few should protect against threats to that win condition. Still, some folks have told me that even within that structure they sometimes struggle. I know why and it usually comes down to the win condition.

    Let's go back to deck builders for a moment. Those games are all about snowballing - starting with a few basic cards and increasing by a magnitude what you can draw, what actions you can play, and what your buying power is as the game goes. It's the entire focus of the genre, an engine-building mechanism that has been there since the beginning.

    Dice Masters does the same thing. You start with some basic dice - sidekicks - and build from there. There's a reason why globals like Professor X are so essential, why Beast: Mutate 666 was such a key card early on in the life cycle, and why ramp BACs remain popular in draft. It's what helps us fulfill that engine building, a few basic dice leading to more dice, more actions can be carried out, more new dice can be bought.

    In a deck builder, your win condition is based upon snowballing to a point where your economic engine can burst out a significant number of points in a single turn. In early turns, players may only be able to score a few points here and there, and by the end they are able to reliably score in larger and larger numbers. Again, this translates to Dice Masters and leads us to the most key point in this article: Big swings for lethal - as in Spiderbomb, as in Bard, as in High Hopes, as in Phoenix Fastball - is this game working exactly as designed. It's an economic snowball that builds into a huge turn (or seriess of large turns) that wins the game.

    [top]There are only two decks in Dice Masters


    I don't care what cards you put in them; there are two archetypes:

    1) I delay (for a short time or a long time) and then knock you down with a ton of damage all at once.
    2) I burst you down with significant chunks of damage while leaving my board protected for your turn.

    The first would encompass teams like Phoenix Fastball, High Hopes, Spiderbomb, Guy, Bard, and other one-turn kill teams. The second encompasses anything with Gobby, Tsarina, Nova, Colossus, Jinzo, Johnny Swarm, and the like. Lantern ring teams tend to straddle this line, as do Dragons. And while the speeds of these teams vary, if you look at the teams that are winning, they do it in exactly these ways.

    Not coincidentally, these teams are the ones that fulfill the win condition of a deckbuilder and they've been the most consistently successful types of teams in this game. And for good reason - I don't stand a chance in Ascension or Star Realms if all I can do is score a point or two a turn. Nor do you here. You seek to roll more dice and to put more and more potential damage on deck.

    You cannot win consistently unless your team adheres to the above, regardless of the cards that you use to get there. There is absolutely no reason to avoid building a team that can ramp to lethal or near-lethal burst damage either as fast as possible or with the means to delay your opponent (via cards like Mera or Paladin) so that you can set up. Other types of teams don't do it.

    Conversely, if you look at teams on the bottom of the spectrum, they're either built for combat or built too slow. A combat focus may seem like a good habit to bring over from Magic or Hearthstone, or any other number of games, but that is a significant error.

    [top]Stop thinking about attacking!


    Unless you know you're hitting your opponent's face (and not leaving yourself open as a result), combat is a mistake! Don't do it! There is very little reason to attack in Dice Masters. Since KO'd dice go to the prep area, and a successful attack loses the attacker board presence for at least a turn or two, the advantage in any incidental attack actually falls to the blocking player.

    You can't trade in Dice Masters. A lot of people seem to think that they can. There's no point in attacking to clear a specific blocker. If your opponent doesn't block, your die is gone. If the opponent does, you've granted them extra energy on their next roll. In either situation you've given them a clearer board to attack through.

    [top]Enough said.


    I'm not going to use this space to judge whether or not these are good things or discuss the implications of these facts. I'd be happy to talk privately about any of that.

    They are, however, true things, and the system fundamentally encourages either big combo turns or picking away more and more from an otherwise locked board state, while simultaneously using mechanisms like PXG, BEG, Swarm, and others to up the economy of dice.

    I think that to love the game, these facts must be embraced because it's not going to be otherwise. The system doesn't support it. Teams that do this represent the game working exactly as it was designed.
    Comments 9 Comments
    1. Mordred414's Avatar
      Mordred414 -
      Thanks for the point about attacking. I play almost exclusively casuals with family and friends, but I have a clearly superior win record. I get called out for being lucky, but I pointed out to them it's simply a matter of deciding when it's time to swing. They see an opportunity to hit me for a few damage or attack hoping to clear a blocker, and I happily accept the damage and they lose their die for a few turns. Without any kind of summoning sickness to slow them down, characters can just go right in once you field them, so if they're going to clear their own board for me, I'll sit back and build a train and once the engine hits the table I'll charge into an open field.
    1. Dave's Avatar
      Dave -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mordred414 View Post
      Thanks for the point about attacking. I play almost exclusively casuals with family and friends, but I have a clearly superior win record. I get called out for being lucky, but I pointed out to them it's simply a matter of deciding when it's time to swing. They see an opportunity to hit me for a few damage or attack hoping to clear a blocker, and I happily accept the damage and they lose their die for a few turns. Without any kind of summoning sickness to slow them down, characters can just go right in once you field them, so if they're going to clear their own board for me, I'll sit back and build a train and once the engine hits the table I'll charge into an open field.
      Perhaps the biggest difference between good and bad players is recognizing this.
    1. StrangeBrew's Avatar
      StrangeBrew -
      I'm positive your attack strategy is excellent against excellent players. I play in a semi-casual environment where dealing a few early points of damage can fluster my opponent into slowing their own win condition. If they feel safe, they save up for the combo, if they don't then I can build up to mine first. A lot my opponents are great deck builders, but if I can lure them into "pilot error" that is my window of opportunity. Great article, just wanted to share from my own experience.
    1. themadking's Avatar
      themadking -
      I disagree with you a bit, considering you can include peacemeal burn, or teams that are designed for mini-swings.

      Those teams would have to be designed to do so, though.
    1. Dave's Avatar
      Dave -
      Quote Originally Posted by themadking View Post
      I disagree with you a bit, considering you can include peacemeal burn, or teams that are designed for mini-swings.

      Those teams would have to be designed to do so, though.
      Those both fit into #2. Keep in mind that while something like Tsarina only does 2 damage on its own, the goal is to have 3-4 of them going, and probably combining with something like Johnny Storm. Suddenly you're looking at 6-8 damage per swing plus whatever you field.
    1. Dave's Avatar
      Dave -
      Quote Originally Posted by StrangeBrew View Post
      I'm positive your attack strategy is excellent against excellent players. I play in a semi-casual environment where dealing a few early points of damage can fluster my opponent into slowing their own win condition. If they feel safe, they save up for the combo, if they don't then I can build up to mine first. A lot my opponents are great deck builders, but if I can lure them into "pilot error" that is my window of opportunity. Great article, just wanted to share from my own experience.
      There are times when it's prudent. But a lot of people overvalue it, attack, and leave themselves open.

      The problem with combat is that it's rarely strategic since you can't target anything specific and even if you could your opponent would just get to roll it again. The way the system is designed gives the defender advantage during combat (unless they are facing lethal damage and/or have no valid blockers) and that's completely different from any other game in this space.
    1. themadking's Avatar
      themadking -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dave View Post
      Those both fit into #2. Keep in mind that while something like Tsarina only does 2 damage on its own, the goal is to have 3-4 of them going, and probably combining with something like Johnny Storm. Suddenly you're looking at 6-8 damage per swing plus whatever you field.
      Fair enough then! Just wanted to make sure valid builds were being represented.
    1. Prozac's Avatar
      Prozac -
      Quote Originally Posted by Dave View Post
      There are times when it's prudent. But a lot of people overvalue it, attack, and leave themselves open.

      The problem with combat is that it's rarely strategic since you can't target anything specific and even if you could your opponent would just get to roll it again. The way the system is designed gives the defender advantage during combat (unless they are facing lethal damage and/or have no valid blockers) and that's completely different from any other game in this space.
      I'm looking at an attack heavy combo using Pym Particles - Grow, Wasp - Fashionista and Ultron Drone - 1 of a Million which with forced blocking from the mask global and the overcrushing drone captures would result in a constant attack strategy that wouldn't leave your board vulnerable. I Would argue this slots in to your #2 but makes the combat strategic, what are your thoughts on this combo?
    1. Dave's Avatar
      Dave -
      Quote Originally Posted by Prozac View Post
      I'm looking at an attack heavy combo using Pym Particles - Grow, Wasp - Fashionista and Ultron Drone - 1 of a Million which with forced blocking from the mask global and the overcrushing drone captures would result in a constant attack strategy that wouldn't leave your board vulnerable. I Would argue this slots in to your #2 but makes the combat strategic, what are your thoughts on this combo?
      Agreed. This falls into 2; it doesn't leave you open while not caring whether or not your opponent has blockers, because they can't block that damage conventionally. My concern would be speed. The game is incredibly fast right now, so you need to be as fast/faster and/or have a defense for things like Cloudkill and other blocker disruption. Bard is still a thing and it won't surprise me to see at least 12 of top 16 at Origins running some form of Bard. Most others will be using something with Lantern Ring.

      Discussing strategy in combat, I'm more talking about the ability to trade with another character or get a meaningful two-for-one. That can't happen in this game unless you also get lethal through the action, in which case it is relatively moot; otherwise your opponent now rolls those dice. There's a big reason why Grundy became popular after Dean showcased him at Origins 2015; he's on-demand removal, even during your opponent's turn. Same reason that people like Millennium Puzzle. Rarecrow can be used for this too, though he's even better on your own turn.

      Think about this stuff from the defending player's perspective. It's a HUGE advantage to remove during your opponent's turn, because now they have a lesser board and they can't do a thing about it until after you've taken your turn. So I'm being attacked into and I have a board, I'm licking my chops because I'll get to mess with my opponent - either KOing dice or taking damage or some combo of the two - and potentially increase my dice rolled, decrease the other player's board position, and get me that much closer to winning.

      It's also why Taunt globals like Phoenix and Mr. Fantastic have been far more popular than "must block" globals.