The Blood War internal league was very good to me. I finished it with an 8:2 record, which is a pretty proud accomplishment against in-house competition. Both of my losses, however, had three things in common. Both were to the same warband; both were to the same opponent, the unbeatable, unflappable, and unpredictable Mike Dunlap of the no-nonsense Direct Sales department; and both featured unhappy dice for me and exuberant, psychotically enthusiastic dice for Mike.
Mike: Hey! I would say that my dice were "cautiously optimistic." I like playing against Steven because we are fairly evenly matched (even if I usually win). Steven plays a good game himself, even when he gets a little too … "experimental" with his strategy at times.
My moans and groans about dice luck have nothing to do with the simple and inescapable fact that Mike is one heck of a player. I've lost to him more often than not in D&D Minis, and only sometimes does that have to do with lopsided luck. If you lose to someone when the dice are cold or neutral but win only when they're hot -- well, that says something right there. Mike plays a well-thought-out and balanced game and makes tactical decisions that can turn the tide of a match. (Did I mention that he's also blessed with a big, red +5 vorpal D20 of uncanny luck?)
Mike: I love that d20, but alas, its luck doesn't hold out in the D&D RPG. I've failed more fortitude saves with that die than I care to recall.
Steven plays a very good game, but occasionally he gets a little thrown off by how I change the pace of the game. If I come out very fast or very slow, or if I switch pacing and aggression partway through the game, it seems to throw Steven off his game more often than not.
My first league match against Mike was little more than a pathetic rout. This second match went better … still a loss, but it was a good game. Oddly enough, it was practically another mirror match for me (though, having known what Mike was bringing to the table, much of that was my own doing).
For this match, I resurrected the "Fire & Ice" band I'd used against Steve Winter, albeit just a bit retooled --
Harmonium Guard (Cmdr 3, 27 pts, aka "Spike")
Fire Giant Forgepriest (84 pts, aka "Hammer")
Ice Devil (74 pts, aka "Big Pointy Stick")
Acheron Goblin (7 pts, aka "Handsaw")
Greenspawn Sneak (6 pts, aka "Nails")
Total = 198 points, 5 activations
A glance at Mike's warband shows that he had two big advantages going into this match. First, the Marilith's immunity to fire reduces the damage impact of my main hitter by a full third. Second, the Fire Giant can potentially take 100 points of damage from the Ice Devil's two spells. Those two factors alone meant I would need to maneuver very carefully to avoid losing the Fire Giant before he even got to swing (as happened in … oh, let's see … my previous game against Mike!).
Doomguard (Cmdr 1, 26 pts)
Ice Devil (74 pts)
Marilith (73 pts)
Skeletal Reaper (21 pts)
Greenspawn Sneak (6 pts)
Total = 200 pts, 5 activations
Mike: People kept saying I had "one of the best possible draws" for this league. Considering my overall record, I might have to agree.
Mike took map initiative, which netted him nothing because we both brought Hailstorm Tower. I won sides and selected to set up on Start Area B (the left hand side of the map) solely because this is the side that I usually set up on when I use this map. Our setup positions looked oddly symmetrical, with a Sneak out in the Victory Areas (Mike took the upper, I took the lower), the Ice Devil down on his lonesome in the lower Start Area, and everyone else clustered together.
Round 1 -- initiative Steve, first move Mike
I won first round initiative and had Mike move first. As expected, both of us spent the round moving into position, carefully keeping our vulnerable figures shielded from an opposing ice storm and preparing as well as possible for a second-round assault. Most of Mike's pieces clustered near the right-hand entrance to the central tower, while my pieces were spread between both exits from the tower.
Mike: I'd say that my guys were trying to be "sneaky" but, well, they aren't.
Round 2 -- initiative Mike, first move Steven
Our positioning had been done with such precise care that Mike handed me first move when he won second-round initiative.
Now, the smart thing for me to do would have been to simply shift the Greenspawn away from where either Mike's Marilith or Reaper could easily assassinate the little guy and to burn another activation moving my Acheron Goblin to somewhere useful. I decided, however, to have some fun (that's the point of this game, right?) by doing something bold and spicy -- I moved my Greenspawn Sneak near to Mike's clustered forces. Then my Ice Devil maneuvered into the lower section of the central hall to a point where it could target its ice storm on the nearest, visible ally -- the Greenspawn Sneak! This callous move wiped out both of our Greenspawns and put 20 points of damage onto the Marilith.
Mike: I'm all for a fun time, but I was puzzled then, and I'm still kinda puzzled now, why Steven thought that this self-sacrificing move so early on would be a good one.
Undaunted, Mike brought up his Skeletal Reaper to block any further progress by the Ice Devil and shifted his Doomguard to the northern Victory Area, where she could keep his legions in command and lend her nasty Commander Effect to nearby followers. My bold Acheron Goblin ran up to pledge his undying love to the pretty lady (in the form of his serrated meat cleaver of a weapon -- Acheron Goblins have strange courtship rituals), and the Harmonium Guard valiantly guarded the exit with orders to use harsh language against anyone who tried to run.
Mike: Sticks and stones, man, sticks and stones … they do a lot more persuading than language.
The round ended with Mike moving his Marilith up close enough to threaten the lower Victory Area, though she considerately stopped and missed with her swing at the Acheron Goblin. Mike's Ice Devil sneaked through the upper entrance and straight into the middle of the lower Victory Area, staring my own Ice Devil in its glistening blue face. I still had the Fire Giant to move, and it was too far away to run up and smack anybody that round. I didn't want to eat a cone of cold for playing it too cautious (better to die swinging than hiding), so I double-moved the big brute forward, through my Ice Devil, past a missed Attack of Opportunity from the Skeletal Reaper, and into base-to-base face-to-face with Mike's Devil. Things were going to get hot on round 3.
Round 3 -- initiative and first move Steven
I won the big init and proceeded to stab and jab at the Ice Devil with both my own Devil and the Fire Giant. The lucky Devil made his morale check and stuck around to jab the Fire Giant, who passed the slow save. Mike followed that with his Marilith, who raced forth to land a handful of nasty hits on the Ice Devil. The Skeletal Reaper, Acheron Goblin, and Doomguard all flailed at one another to little effect, while the Harmonium Guard began the long trek toward the southern tower entrance.
Mike: I love the Marilith's Enhanced Mobility and Reach. Moving and making full attacks at Reach is a great combo, especially when your opponent forgets about that ability.
Round 4 -- initiative and first move Steven
I won 4th-round initiative as well and opened with the Fire Giant destroying Mike's Ice Devil. Its Cleave, however, missed the Skeletal Reaper with a natural 1. Little did I know at the time that this single miss would cost me the game …
My Ice Devil stabbed the Marilith, who failed her slow save -- a fine thing to have happen. Events were definitely looking up … until the Reaper put the needed 10 points of damage onto my Ice Devil and forced a failed morale check. The big Devil clacked toward the exit, while the Acheron Goblin and Doomguard continued professing their undying love for one another by ferociously attacking but considerately missing in every instance.
Mike: Score one for the Reaper!
Round 5 -- initiative and first move Steven
Winning round 5 initiative presented me with a tough choice. With my points lead, I could potentially flee from the Marilith and force her to chase me. That would work well for this round, while she was slowed. Unfortunately, with no tile grabber, this would end up giving Mike the lead if my Ice Devil failed to rally (which, somehow, I knew was exactly what would happen). But deciding that "bold and spicy" was still the name of the game, I trudged the big guy up and smacked the Marilith for 20 points of damage and a forced Morale Check, which she passed by 2. As expected, she and the Reaper surrounded the Giant and, thanks to four successful hits, brought him to 75 hit points. Thankfully, the Harmonium Guard was just around the corner, and he gave the Giant enough of a boost to make his Morale Check. That was more than the poor Ice Devil could do, and it ran off the board.
I knew at that point that I was doomed. The proof was the Doomguard's critical hit and Rend on the poor Acheron Goblin, who perished with promises of unfulfilled passion on his pouty green lips.
Mike: I don't want to dwell on that image too long.
Round 6 -- initiative and first move Mike
With the Doomguard's Commander Effect and flank, the Marilith could swing at +17 versus the Fire Giant's AC of 23 for 15 points of damage per hit, and the Fire Giant had 75 hit points remaining. Arithmetic told me that five hits would destroy the Giant (I'm an accountant, remember?). I suspected the game had come to an end, so I was as surprised as Mike was when the snake-lady connected with only three of her six attacks, dragging the Giant down to 30. If he could survive the round and hit her twice, the Marilith would be down to 10 hit points, and whoever won the next initiative would win the game!
Except … do you remember that Skeletal Reaper? The one that I failed to score a Cleave against by rolling a 1? The one that then sent my not-so-valiant Ice Devil skittering for the hills? Yeah, that's the guy. It scored a natural 20 against the Giant. With Devastating Attack, that equaled 40 points of damage, the death of the Giant, and the end of the game.
Mike: Random amazing dice rolls win!!! Regardless, I think I had the upper hand once we evened up on Ice Devils. The second-round sacrificial Goblin could have been that extra activation, those extra tile points, or just a flanking bonus (aka "wingman") for the Acheron Goblin (aka "Casanova"). I don't think the use of the Ice Storm to do so little damage was worth it in the end.
In retrospect, it was an exciting and challenging game, and one of the better matches that Mike and I have played. The funny thing is that, if that Cleave had connected against the Skeletal Reaper, then I would have attacked the Reaper again with the Giant's second attack, almost certainly killing it, and then Cleaved into the Marilith, forcing the morale check on it. I didn't bother attacking the Reaper after the missed Cleave, however, because I felt that I needed to force the morale check on the Marilith. In retrospect, I should either have run or focused on the Reaper until it was bone bits. What actually happened and what might have happened had the Cleave connected are illustrated below --*
|Sad But True Reality
|Fire Giant destroys Ice Devil
||Fire Giant destroys Ice Devil
|Puny Cleave misses Skeletal Reaper
||Righteous Cleave destroys Skeletal Reaper
|2nd attack hits nasty Marilith
||2nd attack destroys Skeletal Reaper
|Nasty Marilith passes morale check
||Nasty Marilith passes morale check
|Skeletal Reaper routs Ice Devil
||Ice Devil smacks Marilith mightily
|Skeletal Reaper destroys Fire Giant
||Fire Giant smacks Marilith mightily
|Steven loses match, sadness reigns
||Steven wins match, sun shines brightily
* Editor's Note: This table was my idea, not Steven's. Blame me.
Oh, well, live and learn.
Mike: My Skeletal Reaper redeemed itself combat-wise in this match after having a league full of "distracting maneuver duty." It was good to see it become a productive member of the team for once! I think this match more than evened out my dice rolling luck from my match vs. Steve Winter, where I didn't win initiative until LATE in the game.
Perhaps one of the most entertaining parts of the match came in the "post game," when Mike and I went down to collect our rewards from Organized Play. Mike rolled a 20 … Large Fang Dragon! I scored a 19 … Vlaakith! Just in time for one last match! I knew I'd use Vlaakith in my last league game, a friendly rematch with the diabolical Mike Mearls.
Mike: Unfortunately, I wasn't able to use that Fang Dragon in the league because there just wasn't enough time left to play another game before the deadline. I eagerly looked forward to the Unhallowed league, which would start just a week or two after this match.
Let the battles rage on!
About the Author
Mike Dunlap is a member of the Direct Sales department. He's been with Wizards since '99 and is living out his high school dream by working for WotC. A long-time player of D&D, Magic, and many other games, Mike occasionally even finds the time to do some real work around the office.
It's possible that Steven Montano's former life was filled with decadence, corruption, and wealth, his every whim was satisfied, and his every fantasy made real. It's the only explanation he's come up with to explain why, in this life, his luck with dice is so abysmally bad.