Wednesday, December 22, 2010

40k Strategy: Philosophy of Fire

Like I said in my Who is the Gunline article, there is a lot of Magic the Gathering theory articles that have fairly universal game theory application.  While not all of the concepts are directly applicable to Warhammer 40,000, some of them are.

There is a nice discussion blooming on the Whiskey40k forums about a classic Magic article, The Philosophy of Fire.  The gist of this article is that an aggressive deck should be set up so that the average card in your deck is capable of doing damage equal to 10% of your opponents life total.  With that as the benchmark, you can figure out if your aggressive deck has the strength to be competitive. 

Magic is, above all else, a game of sacrificing some limited resource to gain another resource to net you an advantage that will result in winning the game.  Aggressive decks trade cards (a very limited resource) and positional advantage (by overextending or not having a expensive, powerful spells that will thrive in a long game) to gain an advantage on life totals.  In theory, they will sacrifice card on a less than 1 for 1 trade (normally bad) and they will forgo any kind of midgame or late game strategy (normally bad) to gain such an advantage in life totals that the opponent is either dead or will die inevitably.

A control deck, by comparison, trades life points and time in order to gain an advantage on cards and position.  A control deck understands that the only life point that has to be defended is the last one, and is willing to sacrifice 19 of 20 of their life points, and several turns of early game activity, to build up a card advantage and board advantage that an aggressive deck cannot overcome.  

Essentially, a deck's philosophy is determined by which resource you're going to trade and what you wish to gain from it.  This theory applies directly to Warhammer.  I'll repeat what I described in that thread on Whiskey...

"This would be akin to a Tau force using bubble wrap to protect the big guns from assault. Each layer of bubble wrap is trading a resource (the points spent on the bubble wrap units) to gain a different resource (time, which equals more firepower from your shooty units) in order to create a positional advantage by turn 6 that is insurmountable. Ideally the last bubble wrap unit would be eaten on turn 5, and then on Tau turn 6 their shooting would kill or at least critically disable the last enemy threats.

Another resource that can be traded in 40k is land. Against an assault heavy Ork or Nid list, you will not try to dispute objectives in the midfield or their backfield until you've broken the impetus of their assault. By hugging your board edge and ignoring the objectives until you've killed them, you are trading (at least in the short term) the resource of board control in order to gain time.

It works the opposite for aggressive decks and aggressive army lists. In an aggressive magic deck, card advantage is irrelevent if you can kill them before their advantage matters. Every direct damage spell you aim at your opponent is one card advantage you're going into the hole in order to end the game more quickly.

In 40k, an aggressive list will trade points (Rhinos, Drop Pods, Trukks) in order to end the game earlier and for board control. Every point spend on a fast transport is a point not spent on something actually killy, but it will gain you geography (easier control of objectives) and will bring an assaulty list closer to combat faster. Transports obviously have other in game advantages even in a defensive army, but for the sake of this topic we can consider it a trade of one of your game resources to profit in another.

Where do balanced, all comers lists come into play?  Well that depends on if you're The Gunline, or The Beatdown.  If you're The Gunline in the match up, you're going to have to trade resources like a defensive force.  If you're The Beatdown, you're not going to be trading the same resource.  You're going to be making a different exchange.  This is why it is crucial for a player of an all comers list to know which role he is playing in a particular match up, so he can concede the correct resource in order to obtain the right resource to win that particular match up.

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