D&D Miniatures
State of the Metagame -- CE
A Primer for the 2007 Tournament Season
By Michael Derry

Metagame = Competitive Environment

'Metagame' refers to the game outside the game. For Dungeons & Dragons Miniatures (DDM), this includes not just the personalities of the players and their approach to the game but also the full spectrum of creatures and maps and how these are distilled into warbands and strategies. The DDM metagame evolves constantly but shifts most significantly with new set releases. This series provides a snapshot examination of the current state of the DDM metagame at the start of the 2007 Constructed Qualifier season.

While many discussions imply that the metagame is global, it is not. The metagame a person needs to prepare for varies with every tournament. Your goal should be to prepare for each specific metagame you will face. Any choices correctly made for a local metagame are absolutely valid, regardless of how they match the global perspective.

Metagame 2007

Welcome to the 2007 edition of the State of the Metagame series for DDM. My goal with this series is to present information to help you decide which warband to bring to and what to expect at the Constructed Qualifiers this year. The warbands presented here are designed to have the best overall odds of winning the expected matches they face. This means sacrificing capability where the warband is already strong in exchange for adding capability to assist in matches against those warbands that are hard challenges or bad matchups. Of course, no warband wins by itself. Your skill and some luck will be a key part of your success too.

The warbands and ideas in this series are solid, but a warband is good for you only if it fits your play style and capability, and you have experience piloting it. Practice has no substitute. Decide on your warband early and play it a lot. Even a second-rate warband with which you have lots of experience and that you know intimately is a better choice than a supposedly 'top tier' warband that you assemble at the last minute.

Regardless of what choice you make, the actual warbands and players you end up facing at your qualifier will have the most impact on your success. No warband in DDM is strong against every other warband (which is a good thing, because we don't all want to play the same warband.) Your goal should be to find a warband you are comfortable with and that has good or reasonable matchups against the opposition you expect to face. That's the proper way to prepare for the metagame.

Energy and persistence conquer all things.

Benjamin Franklin

Although having fun is the key motivator behind playing DDM for most, truly great players break out from the pack of more casual players by putting more time into the game. Great players are the ones that don't count on raw talent and cleverness alone but also gain vast amounts of specific experience with the map, warband, and other situational elements for every match and are well prepared for their tournaments. Extensive preparation allows one to learn even subtle factors that contribute to victory, such as timing, pacing, and how to adjust one's approach based on the events that evolve during a particular match. Any DDM player can easily become more experienced, because high quality opponents are waiting online. Check out the VASSAL mod for DDM (look for the Miniatures Skirmish Game mod). Brad Shugg created a set of instructions on how to download and install the Vassal software and create or join games.

Many DDM players helped review these warbands and review the drafts of this series. Some of those providing the most feedback (with their board names) include Jesse Dean (doubtofbuddha), Guy Fullerton (Guy Fullerton), Ian Bell (IanB) and Glyn Dewey (Elder_Basilisk). Other peer-reviewers included Jason Lioi (Fenris), Chris Groves (ChristopherGroves), and the California Bay Area DDM Discussion group. Anyone benefiting from reading these articles should thank all those who shared ideas and concepts that everyone benefits from.

The information in this article is not just based on thousands of forum posts, emails, and league night conversations. Many games were played with these warbands by top players in both casual play and at tournaments. Those who reviewed this series shared the information they have, some stored in various databases they use to track results of every match they can get information about.

Because I am competing this year, you may wonder why I am writing this series and revealing these secrets. The real answer is the high standard of cooperation and sharing in the DDM community. My collaborators and reviewers are among the top DDM players, and they too are not shy about revealing information that could help others while impacting their own chances to win at qualifiers. The free flight and prestige of winning first in a qualifier is still something each of us wants, but we also want the community to continue to be fun to play in and very strong competitively. This sense of community and cooperation between all players is a big reason I love DDM.

Despite the general openness, during the final weeks leading to the Constructed Championship, many players will become more secretive (which only makes the game and the championship more interesting). Even with that slight secretiveness, you will still see most of the top DCI-ranked players continuing to post and share ideas on forums at hordelings.com, maxminis.com, and wizards.com. Remember that very capable players may not yet have achieved a top DCI rank, but that does not make their insights any less valid. Be on the lookout for great information, regardless of the current rank of the source.

Titans and Beaters

Titans are expensive creatures (60-140 points for 200 point warbands), and only one or two can fit into a warband. Warbands with titans have continuing competitiveness and are still popular. Most titan warbands have problems delivering competitive amounts of damage, especially compared with the damage output of warbands built on traditional beaters (30-50 point melee combatants). Last year, the Hill Giant Barbarian (HGB) had a huge impact on the traditional beaters of every faction. The unlikely appearance of HGBs these days allow titan warbands to still be competitive, but puts their competitiveness in jeopardy, because high-damage beater warbands are likely to return this season.

Titan warbands tend to vary quite a bit because they contain fewer key creatures. A missed morale check by one of your titans can be enough to cost you the match. Even with Fearless titans, the speed at which they get damaged varies considerably each match, such as when your opponent hits the titan a lot or gets unexpected criticals (most titans are not immune to criticals.)

A Note about Matchups

The matchups listed in this series represent some conventional wisdom about what opposing warbands are favorable, neutral, or unfavorable ones to face in matches. The lists are not intended to be the final answer on whether any match is favorable or not. The lists are instead intended to provide a basic understanding what you could expect a match to be like. Player skill, luck, map selection, and variations and alternatives of the warbands can make a huge difference in a match outcome. Even if a number of warbands you expect to face with your warband are listed as unfavorable, you can make changes to address the vulnerabilities against those warbands. Carefully look for variations and alternative versions of the reference warbands presented here. You can to find many ways to minimize the vulnerabilities your warband has against the field you expect to face and customize a warband to match your style and capabilities.

Although you prepare for a field of warbands that will show up at a tournament, you will only face a fraction of those warbands. For example, even if half the warbands that show up are Large Black Dragon variations, you may not face any of them during the entire tournament and your warband's capabilities against Large Black Dragon warbands would not matter at all. The actual warbands you face will have the most impact on your overall success. Since you cannot prepare for what you get as luck of the draw, most competitors try to prepare for the expected field. Reviewing this series and reading the qualifier reports of what actually has shown up will give you a good idea of what to expect.

Initial Benchmark

Each set release for DDM defines a new competitive era that last till the next set releases. Eras during the constructed qualifier seasons see the most warband development and new ideas emerge. At the beginning of the era a single warband or two emerges to become the benchmark by which other warbands are measured by. As any benchmark emerges, creative designers develop warbands and play strategies to counter that benchmark, sometimes so successfully their design becomes a new benchmark, only to get countered by others. This cycle evolves several times over a qualifier season. Often at the end of the season, long after the initial benchmark warband is not longer seen competitively, clever competitors can bring warbands that counter what has evolved despite it being vulnerable to the initial benchmark, since that is no longer seen.

At the beginning of the 2006 qualifier season, the initial benchmark warband was Dual Hill Giant Barbarian warbands. Because so many planned against the Hill Giants, they quickly faded from the top four places at qualifiers. This year, Large Black Dragon warbands have a lot of mindshare and are the initial benchmark warband against with other competitive warbands are measured. Several warbands with advantages against them have already emerged and by the end of the qualifier season, they are likely to no longer be the benchmark (unless the cycle completes and they re-emerge as a competitive warband.)

The structure of this series is to present the most promising warbands by faction, covering the following information for each -- variations and alternatives, suggested map, how to play them, how to beat them, and a matchup comparison. Before discussing warbands in this first article, let's review the rules for the listings.

Warband Listings

The community has not yet defined a standard for warband rosters, but the following format is one preferred by many that I interact with. Parameters of this format are listed below.

  1. Creatures are listed in cost order, highest to lowest;
  2. Multiples of creatures are indicated after the name;
  3. Summary block indicates total points, highest commander rating, and number of activations;
  4. Abbreviations or nicknames are not used except in the summary line;
  5. Full official name is used, except that any commas in the creature name are left out
  6. Minions are listed in parentheses.

Example -- Werewolf Lord, Large Black Dragon x3, Timber Wolf, Hyena, Orc Warrior x2 (200, Cmd 2, 8 acts).

Complete Warband List

A full listing of all the warbands in this series can be found in this thread on the wizards.com DDM forum.

Chaotic Evil Warbands

Triple Black Dragon

Variant One: Werewolf Lord, Large Black Dragon x3, Timber Wolf, Hyena, Orc Warrior x2 (200, Cmd 2, 8 acts)
Map: Hellspike
Variant Two: Ryld Argith, Large Black Dragon x3, Hyena, Orc Warrior x3 (200, Cmd 4/8, 8 acts)
Map: Hellspike

Alternatives: Use Caves of Chaos and/or replace Timber Wolf and Orc Warriors with Hunting Hyena and Gnolls.

Triple Large Black Dragon warbands are the initial benchmark warband for this era. This warband should continue to be competitive through the initial Qualifiers at least. These two variations tackle different metagames and play styles, but both basically play the same way.

How to Play: With Flight and speed 10, Large Black Dragons (LBDs) can use their speed to set the pace of most matches. Flight plus high speed offsets their large size and still allows the LBD to play well on most maps. This capacity to compete on most maps means the initiative boost that Ryld provides is less useful for map selection and mainly has an impact once the creatures are engaged. A key thing to remember with the Werewolf Lord version is to make the most of Cleave, especially against routing creatures (allowing free hits on enemy beaters.)

Hellspike is chosen as the map for this warband because smoke does not block line-of-effect and there are only a few walls or other obstacles to stop the acid breath lines. LBDs can comfortably reach locations on the first round that are more than 20 away from the exit, just in case the battles occur where they first land. Regardless of what map you fight on, try to have your LBDs fight from locations where they can't reach your exit in a single move, in case they rout. As an alternate map, Caves of Chaos can be a difficult battleground for many warbands to handle and provides competitive advantage for the high-speed, flying dragons.

It's usually best to hit multiple creatures with templates (such as the breath weapon line), but using all three on the same target, with or without hitting others, can sometimes wreak enough havoc to win a match. Three breath weapons on a single key enemy creature such as the leader, sometimes with a follow-up attack, should give you a kill and provide you a significant competitive advantage. When the opposing warband starts the engagement without a leader or at least without a beater, your quick points lead and overall power advantage should allow you to prevail.

While +10/+8/+8 seem like modest attack bonuses, flanks and possibly charges can boost them high enough to hit and destroy even high AC and high HP creatures, mainly because LBDs get so many attack rolls. Every critical hit against high AC opponents is significant because it equals two hits (against those not immune). Flanks and sacred circles provide significant boosts to attack, so look for opportunities to use their benefits.

Against warbands with bodyguards or Shield Guardians, the Flight of the LBDs allows them to attack those targets instead. Often a higher victory point total can be maintained to the end of the match by focusing on such support creatures. While focusing on a titan's support creatures, however, watch out for the predatory capabilites of the Fire Giant Forgepriest (FGFP). It needs only three hits to kill a LBD, and with Cleave, your dragons can die very quickly beneath the FGFP's hammer -- usually before they make a meaningful impact on the FGFP's hit points. The solution against the FGFP or other tough titans is to attack it with all your creatures at once, not piecemeal.

How to Beat: Position your creatures so that you multiple creatures don't get caught by a single breath attack. If expect one particular creature to be the target of the enemy breath weapon, use that to your advantage. Attack dragons that are busy breathing, and use the creature being targeted by the breath weapon to draw the dragons out of position. Position your attackers so the dragons cannot get flank attacks against them. A +2 bonus for flanking may not seem like much, but it can be the difference between hitting and missing -- and one well-timed hit can be the difference between winning and losing. Avoid fighting dragons where they can benefit from sacred circles -- everything that applies to flanking applies even more to these.

If you have a Couatl, make sure to cast legion's undeniable gravity. Although the saves of the LBDs are very good, being grounded makes it that much more difficult for an LBD to get into ideal attack locations, giving you some security against assassination attacks and being flanked. If you have creatures with Melee Reach, choose carefully between attacking from a distance and from base-to-base contact. It is often better to move adjacent and pin down individual dragons with the threat of attacks of opportunity. Melee Reach can be used from corners to get significant competitive advantage against the dragons and can often be enough to swing the match in your favor.

Specific Matchups: These are coming -- check back later.

Quad Black Dragon

Large Black Dragon x4, Tiefling Captain, Orc Warrior (200, Cmd 4, 6 acts)
Map: Hellspike

The previous metagame era was dominated by fast-moving creatures in CG, making vulnerable commanders easy targets. This era is similar, but as the metagame shifts away from CG dominance, the Tiefling Captain (TC) returns as a viable leader. With speed 10 dragons, the TC can also be covered effectively -- even if a push is made against him, the dragons can react and get competitive advantage by counterattacking enemy creatures gunning for the TC.

How to Play: A weakness of this warband is that it has only six activations. Flight and high speed can minimize the impact of low activations, especially against slower warbands, because you can keep your distance until initiative goes your way. Your breath weapons can focus on eliminating a key creature from the opposing warband, but they serve a dual purpose by eliminating additional activations from the opposing warband.

With four breath weapons, optimal use will often be the key to success for this warband. An LBD cannot use itself as the target of its breath weapon but could use another LBD or even one of your other creatures to get perfect targeting. Remember that the large base of the LBD allows you to have nine possible starting points for the line. Be careful to not get forced into using a vertex far away from the target, because you may need the extra square or two in order to reach secondary targets 10 to 12 squares away. Think ahead to the position you want to be in after the breath attack. If all your dragons are together, opposing creatures trying to base one may be forced to base more than one, allowing you to gang up until the enemy creature is eliminated.

This can be a devastating warband against slow-moving and/or non-flying warbands, because they usually have little hope to target the Tiefling Captain. With three attacks and critical hits occurring on 19s and 20s thanks to the TC, four Large Black Dragons are very dangerous against even high-AC titans if the titan is not immune to criticals. If key parts of the warband are vulnerable to acid breath, they're in deep trouble.

How to Beat: Against warbands with limited activations, make the most of your activation advantage. Moving last lets you can focus on vulnerable or overextended enemy creatures. Even if you do not win initiative, concentrating your attacks against one target at a time means you will be scoring kills while your opponent is spreading damage among multiple targets or risking attacks of opportunity to reposition against a single target. Look for opportunities to bait the Quad LBD warband out of position and counterattack breath-attacking Dragons.

Specific Matchups: These are coming -- check back later.

CE Quad

Large Black Dragon x2, Thrall of Blackrazor, Red Samurai, Tiefling Captain, Timber Wolf, Orc Warrior (200, Cmd 4, 7 acts)
Map: Hellspike

Alternate: Hill Giant Barbarian, Large Black Dragon x2, Tiefling Captain, Hyena, Orc Warrior x3 (200, Cmd 4, 8 acts) Map: Hellspike

The main advantage that CE Quad warbands have is very high damage output. Many warbands of other factions cannot withstand the damage that CE Quad warbands deliver. Chaotic Evil Quad warbands are defined by having four beaters, with the main options listed below in the current tier they fall into. Variations sometimes substitute two of the beaters for one titan, although these hybrid warbands have not met great success in the general tournament scene.

  • Tier 1, very capable options and highly preferable: Thrall of Black Razor (43), Large Black Dragon (44), Werewolf Lord (53), Ryld Argith (55)
  • Tier 2, very capable but not as ideal or as resilient: Mounted Drow Patrol (27), Orc Champion (39), Red Samurai (40), Eye of Gruumsh (44), Dire Bear (44), Hill Giant Barbarian (78)
  • Tier 3, creatures with matchup or efficiency problems: Umber Hulk (30), Blood Ghost Berserker (37), Ogre Ravager (38), Ogre Skirmisher (38), Blackspawn Exterminator (39), Large Fang Dragon (42), Marilith (73)

How to Play: The play of CE Quad remains much the same as it was two years ago. Brian Mackey (Kiddoc) wrote a great article about CE warbands that's still worth reading. The Hill Giant Barbarian brutalized the creatures in traditional CE Quad warbands, but with the Large Black Dragon as an option and the near-disappearance of the HGB from the competitive scene, CE Quad is back. Many popular warbands being played today do modest amounts of overall melee damage and have ACs that most CE beaters can regularly hit.

The reference warband above has both acid lines and a fire cone, allowing multiple targets to be engaged with automatic damage. With two lines, a cone, and high speed, you can place a lot of damage on the opposing warband even before melee starts. The Thrall of Blackrazor synergizes well with the templates, and he makes a great finisher against enemy creatures. A key part of success with CE Quad warbands is to use speed and cover to get your undamaged or lightly damaged beaters into combat against the weaker enemy creatures and eliminate them quickly before morale checks or other setbacks can turn the tide against you.

How to Beat: The major disadvantage of CE Quad warbands is each creature's vulnerabilities. Look for ways to exploit individual weaknesses of each beater, and try to define the battlefield (for example, getting full advantage from corners for your creatures with Melee Reach while denying it to your opponent). Look for ways to cause quick morale checks. With morale checks ranging from +8 to +13, a few low rolls can cause a CE Quad warband to fall apart. Focusing on the enemy leader is sometimes the easiest path to victory, because once the leader is eliminated, morale checks for the other creatures in the warband are harder to make and irrevocable when they fail.

Specific Matchups: These are coming -- check back later.

In Conclusion

Regardless of what warband you take to a tournament, a key element of your success will be your experience with that warband. Decide early and practice as much as you can with it. Be sure to attend one (or more) qualifiers -- not only are they great fun, but they're also an opportunity to meet other members of the community. See the 2007 Constructed Qualifier Factsheet and good luck at your qualifier.

Treat this information as the conventional wisdom, heavily slanted by my viewpoint, and definitely not the full spectrum of competitive possibilities. This article series may skew what you see at the qualifier, but each qualifier will have a different mix of warbands, and you will definitely see some interesting new ideas not covered here. Make your own choices, and use this information to assist the development of your warband and strategy, not to provide the final answers.

This series discusses the state of the game prior to the start of the 2007 qualifier season. Important new warbands will emerge during the qualifiers as everyone's understanding of the current state of the game improves over time. After the release of Night Below and by the time of the 2007 constructed championship, many of these warbands will no longer be the best. Some of the information and methodology should remain relevant.

Now go read Brian Mackey's (Kiddoc) article, Planning for Victory: Dungeons & Dragons Tournament Preparation.

Endnotes

We highly recommend that you read the other articles in this series, from this year and past years.

About the Author

Michael Derry (board name: derry) is the 2006 DDM Constructed Champion. He is also a Wizards delegate, tournament organizer, and D&D Miniatures Senior Judge. He helped start the California DDM Open. While seemingly a competitive player, he does a great job of earning DCI points at championships for his local players to farm. In his copious amounts of free time, he designs a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game focusing on social interaction within a complex, multi-layered society. In his real-world life he is a senior project and program manager in the high tech field.


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