Win as if you were used to it, lose as if you enjoyed it for a change.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
With only one loss, I was assured of making the finals. A quick check of the tally sheet confirmed that my first-round opponent for the next day would be Jason Lioi. We greeted each other and exchanged warband information, allowing us to plan strategies for the next day. I was glad for that, because the more I looked at his warband, the more worried I became.
Jason's warband was a seemingly typical Triple Chraal band with one important twist. He included a Medium Green Dragon. Many people discount the MGD because of its low damage output, but to do so is to ignore its true advantages. As I studied the map and meditated on the metagame, I realized what a stroke of genius Jason's inclusion was. All I could think was, "Damn, I wish I'd thought of that!"
The first advantage the MGD gave was speed. It is impossible on the Fane of the Drow map to score first round assault points without a minimum Speed of 10. The MGD's Speed 12 and flight not only allowed it to score instant points but enabled it to choose between two possible locations.
Its second advantage was its breath weapon. While not especially damaging (15 acid damage, DC 16), it bypasses the Cold and Fire resistances that were proving to be ubiquitous in the metagame. Furthermore, the MGD's size, flight, and speed allowed it to place this cone anywhere on the map after the first turn. It was potentially more effective than a fireball.
The final advantage of the MGD was its durability (level 8, AC 17, HP 70). Fodder simply can't destroy it. The only way to eliminate the MGD is to dedicate a heavy hitter to the job. To do it quickly would take two. And it cost Jason only 28 points.
All of this combined to give Jason a distinct advantage in our match. Going after his Green Dragon would divert so much of my force that my commander would be left vulnerable. If focused on his commander, he could easily defend it with his three large creatures while his dragon wracked up assault points. My only chance would be to bluff him. I had to make it look as if I was going after his commander while setting up a trap for his dragon.
The big day came and the two of us faced off. This was one of the most intense games I have ever played, but to Jason's credit, he also managed to make it fun. Our precision movement of even our fodder made the game feel as close to chess as I care to get and as a result, we only got in three rounds.
I won first-round initiative, which helped me set up my trap by making sure I could move at least one creature after the MGD had gone -- but Jason didn't fall for it. He deftly avoided my trap and used the MGD to score assault points on an alternate area.
I won second-round initiative as well, but an earlier mistake in fodder placement forced me to use one of my first-phase activations to fix it. Only my Mountain Orc scored a hit on his MGD before it flew off again to a less vulnerable victory point location. Jason's Warrior Skeletons couldn't seem to miss and he quickly won the fodder war. I pursued the now out-of-command MGD with a Chraal and caught it in a cone of cold breath. The dragon failed its save and routed, ending its move just short of the exit square. I was elated! Now I stood a chance at victory.
But Jason then realized that I couldn't have moved the Chraal that far because it didn't have LOS to my commander. (I will be so glad when they change that rule!) We backed everything up, but he couldn't stop my Chraal once I got it under command. When he started to re-roll the results of the breath attack, I wondered whether that was the right solution to the problem. We decided to call on the Wisdom of Solomon and summoned one of the judges.
After Mike Donais chastised us for waiting so long to ask for a ruling (ooops!), he decided that because it had gone that far, Jason should be allowed to reroll -- fair enough. Jason rerolled his saves and, remarkably, they ended up the same. (Both Jason and I admitted later that we were happy this happened because it meant the mistake had no significant effect on the match.)
In the critical, third round, my Orog and Efreeti were giving me the edge in the beater war, but it was too late. The dragon rallied, and Jason's victory in the fodder war gave him a distinct point lead. Time was called and with no way of scoring more points that round, I congratulated Jason and his clever use of the Green Dragon.
His subsequent achievements confirmed the importance of the MGD in his warband. All of the top eight competitors proved equal to the task when it came to warband design, tactics, and luck. Jason's understanding of the map and metagame, however, led to his inclusion of the MGD and proved that he deserved the title of champion.
Now all I need to do is identify next year's MGD and get busy practicing with it.
Congratulations to Jason and all of the other top players, and a special thanks to Wizards for putting on one of the best tournaments I have attended in my 30+ years of gaming.
About the Author
Bill W. Baldwin lives on the Space Coast of Florida with his gaming family of a wife, two daughters, and assorted pets. He started playing D&D in 1974 and was a wargamer and miniatures gamer even before that. Bill has been published in Dragon Magazine and does freelance work for Wizards of the Coast.