With the upcoming Algomancy tournament, I figured it was a good idea to make an article going through some simple strategy tips for the game! I’ll also make an accompanying video, which will be linked here when its finished.
(Disclaimer: The game is still in Alpha, so the cards still have playtest art and names and are subject to change.)
Benefits and Downsides of Initiative
In Algomancy, teams take turns trading off the Initiative. While this minor change simply determines who must act first each turn, it has substantial strategic implications that you need to be aware of if you plan to play this game competitively.
Benefits of Initiative
With initiative, your team has control. You get to attack first and can be certain of what the battlefield will look like when you arrive. If a nearby opponent has a creature that is getting out of hand, you can take the fight to them and guarantee targets for your removal and interactive spells.
Also due to this control, initiative is the best time to coordinate with your teammates so you can have backup if a battle looks like it may be too much for you to handle on your own. Since the entire initiative team attacks together, you can openly discuss strategy with your allies before enacting it, to ensure the battlefield looks how your team wants it to.
Along those lines, initiative allows you to distribute creatures how you wish throughout your surrounding regions. This can be useful for avoiding mass removal or allowing yourself the option to interact in other places throughout the combat cycle. If an opponent has a Bellowing Boulder, you can attack your creatures elsewhere to make sure they are out of harm’s way.
Lastly, initiative allows you to be defensive through offense. If an opponent has a large army they are planning to send at one of my allies, I can attack them to try and weaken the army before it leaves. Additionally, there are some creatures and effects that can only happen on attacking creatures, so this is a time to eliminate those before they can do damage to you! If you have an army of 1/1’s, taking care of something like Bellowing Boulder above is probably a good idea before it can cause problems for you.
Downsides of Initiative
The drawbacks of having the initiative are that your team MUST act first, giving an opponent the opportunity to respond to your plays. Because of this, having initiative requires more planning, since you need to consider not only what you want to do, but also what your opponent’s might do.
Because the non-initiative team gets to wait and see their opponent’s plans in action first, it is a great time to capitalize on any openings the opposing team left and punish them for it.
A common pitfall I see players with initiative make is not considering the possibility of a counterattack. If you send all of your creatures into one region, your opponents may simply decide to attack your now un-defended base without challenge and deal massive amounts of damage to you. Striking this balance of offense and defense with the initiative is very challenging skill to master, and gives significant benefit to the non-initiative team.
Quick creatures are significantly stronger without initiative (like Leaping Lillik and Complete Clone above), where you can play them as interactive pieces on the creatures attacking you in your base and send them out for counterattacks immediately in the same turn! Cards like Complete Clone especially can represent a dramatic reversal, making a copy of your opponent’s strongest creature and then sending it right back at them!
Another benefit is that the non-initiative team can declare massive counter-attacks without fear, since their opponents have already decided their attacks. If the initiative team says “no attacks”, the second team can simply attack all, since they know it is impossible for their bases to fall under attack in this round. This makes counterattacking for lethal especially deadly, because the risks are significantly lower.
Initiative: The Rhythm of Algomancy
This interplay between how the game plays with and without initiative is the core rhythm behind a game of Algomancy. As the game cycles you between defensive and offensive positions, you need to plan accordingly to maximize your chances of success. If you take the wrong move in the wrong position, it can leave the door open for the other team to catch you out of advantage and punish you for it.
The Basics of initiative – Immediate Need
With initiative, creatures with attack triggers get significantly stronger. Because there is no window for your opponents to disrupt them before combat, something like Spewing Mushroom becomes especially deadly as its trigger is safe from removal (but can be countered, more on that later). Loading it up with other beneficial graft triggers on offense is a great way to make a strong move and maximize your chances of getting value from your graft abilities. (But keep in mind, you will need to set this up on a turn when you do not have initiative, more on that later).
Targeted removal is also significantly stronger with initiative for essentially the opposite reason. Imagine if your opponent has a Spewing Mushroom loaded up with graft triggers ready to attack you. Being able to take it out of combat before it becomes a problem is incredibly important. This is your best chance to interact with your opponent, when you have a certainty that your desired targets will be there.
Counter magic is often worse with initiative, since the main goal is often to disrupt the opponent as much as possible. While you can set up lines to play a removal spell and have counters in case the opponent tries to counter, often just having two removal spells can serve you better, since you don’t have a dead counterspell in hand if the opponent doesn’t fight back. (If your team is planning a large coordinated battle, however, counter magic can be great.)
The Basics of initiative – Planning ahead
Lastly, when you have the initiative you also need to consider what you want to have in play for the following turn when you don’t have the initiative.
It can be really easy to fall into the mindset of “Initiative is my turn to be aggressive, so I should take aggressive creatures here”. But you should actually do the opposite, because you will not have the initiative the following turn when your creatures will actually be in play!
This is a great time to play defensive options like Grumpent Lefnear, which can make deciding how to attack a real challenge for your opponent.
It is also a good time to play more generically strong and balanced options like Bubb and Ingis Booba below. These cards are good on offensive or defense, allowing you to intimidate your opponents with large defenses and threaten massive counterattacks if they leave an opening.
You generally do not want to play aggressive leaning or combat specific cards, like Spewing Mushroom above as these give your opponents the opportunity to remove them before you can get value on the following turn.
The Basics of Not Having Initiative – Immediate Need
When your team does not have initiative, you are inherently in a defensive position and need to prepare to react to what your opponents want to do. Generally, this means countermagic and general disruption becomes especially important.
While you cannot stop combat based graft triggers through removal spells, you can counter them with spells. (And keep in mind, a creature with a massive stack of graft abilities can be stopped with a single ability counter, as grafted abilities still only count as one ability.)
My general advice for this position is to remember that your opponents are going into this turn with a plan of what they might expect to happen. This is a great time to throw some unexpected cards in their direction.
Swingy situational cards become significantly stronger without the initiative, as they give you excellent opportunities for blowouts. Something like Download allows you to steal spell tokens or creatures tokens and throw them back at your opponent’s face! You can steal a 3/3 Robot to block their 2/2, or even counterattack them with it!
Just keep in mind that your opponent is likely to have removal, and with initiative they must act first so be patient and allow them to act first. Nothing feels better than playing Organic Exchange to give your opponent a creature that they just sent a removal spell at while taking their best option and attacking them with it in a counterattack!
Additionally, in team games you’re on your own here. So the possibility of you getting ganged up on are significant. Cards that help you in situations where multiple players could attack you become especially valuable (especially if your surrounding opponents have scary things going on and you look like an easy target).
Cards like the above two are at an absolute premium here, as they can singlehandedly demolish your opposing armies.
Remember, if you are being attacked by two opponents, any effect that says “each player” hits your opponents twice as hard as it does you. Even simple effects like Gromlin and Rebalance can be a great way to turn a losing situation into a massive advantage.
Even if you do get eliminated from the exchange, if you’re able to do significant damage to the opposing armies your team may still pull ahead from it.
The Basics of not having initiative – Planning ahead
As before, when deciding what creatures to take and play, you need to consider what your next turn will look like. If you currently do not have initiative, that means you will have it on the following turn and must plan accordingly.
Cards that trigger from attacking, entering formations or entering combat are especially valuable here, as you can essentially guarantee they will go off. Graft triggers are also especially important with these, as mentioned above, so be sure to save mana for them if you can!
The main phase after a combat step that you did not have initiative for is your time to pull ahead. You’ve survived your opponent’s attacks, hopefully punished them with a counterattack and now it is your turn to bring the battle to them to further extend your lead and prevent them from being able to come back.
You want to become as potent and threatening as possible, as well as focus on getting your card advantage engines online (they are much easier to defend when you have the initiative, meaning you may get two turn cycles with them if you play them out here, rather than one if played on a turn where you have initiative but will not on the following combat).
What you don’t want to do in this position is play out a bunch of defensive options that have little attacking power, as you will be essentially eliminating all benefits you gain from the initiative without any offensive threats or card advantage engines to capitalize on it.
Now vs Later
Lastly, I just want to touch on one last point of strategy which is weighing the cost of doing something now, vs something later.
A common situation is to find yourself in the middle of an interactive war during the combat step with a certain amount of mana remaining. If you play another spell to interact more, you may not be able to develop your board during your main phase.
There is no easy rule to help you through all of these situations, but in general I just want to remind you to consider the costs not just of what is happening now but also what will happen later.
If you spend 2 extra mana interacting and lose out on the ability to play your massive 6 mana creature, that is a very substantial cost. Even if the immediate gain of the 2 mana spell is decent, it may be less value overall than playing the creature would offer you.
When planning out your turns, try to have multiple different plans for different situations. Perhaps having one large creature to deploy if you don’t have to interact at all, and then a smaller creature with graft or augments if some of your mana is depleted.
It is also sometimes totally fine to forgo interaction altogether and just build your board as strong as possible. In general, this is best in situations where you think your opponents may be playing overly defensive.
One move I really enjoy doing is when my opponent has the initiative and doesn’t attack but is clearly trying to bait me into attacking into their hand full of removal is to just say no attacks, even if my board looks like I should have attacked. Sometimes they had an entire hand planned for this turn, with no next turn plan and I can avoid all of that and simply add more creatures to my board for the following turn.
Hopefully now the rhythm of Algomancy is more clear, and maybe you can tune into it more during your next game. The nuances of having the initiative vs not having it are subtle on first glance, but if you’re playing to win they are vital to pay attention to if you want to have success in the game.
When starting a game, I still don’t actually know if it is better to begin with the initiative or not. But overall I think it is something you should adapt your game plan around. IF you start with initiative, then you can be aggressive on the third turn. If you start without it, you can be aggressive on the second and fourth turns. Beyond that, the game falls into its rhythm and I don’t think it matters much who started with it.
If there was one sentence of advice I would use to summarize this it would be: Draft spells for what you need this turn, draft creatures for what you need next turn. (and sometimes, draft spells for what you need much later on, especially ones that can save you in team games).