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Thread: Know your units: Episode 2, Shieldmaster

  1. #1
    Senior Member Kletian999's Avatar
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    Know your units: Episode 2, Shieldmaster

    Continuing my series of compiling everything worth know on each class, the Master of the Shield Varls. Like all Shield Varls, melee attacks against SMs are punished with 1 armor break. Their class power, Bring the Pain, however temporarily boosts this to 2,3,4 when hit. In the mean time it also has you perform your stat based break attack, with +1,+2 bonuses to it at higher levels. This means the Rank 1 power is a tough choice between it and just boosting the break with Will. This offensive approach means it can't be activated while waiting for the enemy to engage, like the Raidmaster does, so unless you foe is aggressive enough to give you first swing it might be too late to use it. Nor can it do anything about ranged attacks. The power doesn't have any direct combinations with others but being punted by a Strongarm can help ensure you can use it in the think of melee. Warleaders can cut your power aura short (but prolong it by leading another unit) On the positive side, Thrashers and Backbiters commit suicide when they try to use their power on you.

    Roles and Stats:
    The Shieldmaster minimum stats are 9/8/3/1/1 with maximums 16/13/9/2/4. This means the Shieldmasters have the highest natural break of the Varls, which makes sense as their power is driven off their break stat. Their armor potential is second only the provoker, while their strength is below that of Strongarms.

    Frontline breaker: With full break, some exertion for movement, high armor, and mimimal strength, you can put your shieldmaster in front of your initiave and ranks (or 2nd so he's got a chance to hit something when you have first turn). With luck you'll land a BtP on your enemy's first melee and soak up more futile hits while your recoil is up. With less luck (both more likely to happen and less good for you), you'll attract attention of the archers who'll pour high exertion break shots at you (then 1 to 2 lethal puncture shots). With high break your opponent can't afford to leave you alive (unless he's just outrunning you), but if your smart at least you'll use this focus to bring the rest of your forces aggressively into battle. If you enemy aggressively uses his Warrior Varls, putting the Shieldmaster in their path will cause them to back up or waste their opening swing on your high armor.

    Backline Sweeper: Like a Strongarm, you can keep his STR high and hide him from enemy archers until they are will-less or dead, retaining good break but letting armor slip. On the down side, he's likely wasted turns not breaking your opponent, but at least he's got a decent chance of meleeing down any unit 1v1. He's more dangerous than a Strongarm when maimed but brings less tactical option to the table.



    Weaknesses: All Shield Varls are slow, and all Varls have to worry about extra obstructions to movement. If you aren't careful your own team will block him from useful actions. Giving Exertion helps but the low will means you'll run out quickly. In general, if a move will not let you make a good attack, and you've already used some will, it's worth resting back to your exertion value so you aren't caught mid battle high and dry. This is especially so when trying to chase down an archer, as you can't catch them without will. When he has low strength he has trouble damaging anything and is very vulnerable to Siege coals, a Thrasher with no armor left to lose, Warrior aoes, and lucky shots with high exertion. When he has high STR his mobility, armor, or break power suffers. Like Raidmasters, being provoked will often make them do worthless things. He'll have a hard time maneuvering around Skystriker traps. The Strongarm's push power is incredibly effective versus them, as the push negates their armor punishment, and the distance moved means they need to burn 1 will to get back where they were standing (often making them waste a turn). Not to mention how useless they are when pushed behind their own allies.

    Leveling:
    As mentioned, their level 1 power can be pretty weak, but it gets substantially better with leveling. The extra stats aid their longevity or mobility, so if you are using this unit, Rank 3 is probably your best bet.

    Teams:
    Shieldmasters are greatly troubled by archers, so they prefer teams with anti archer units like Backbiters. They provide decent melee interference and high break for their own archers; having a Skystriker blocking the paths around them forces enemies to risk their counter punishment.

    Editorial: I find the Shieldmaster's weaknesses make him an unwise choice to take on your team compared to other Varls. If archers fall less in favor this may change.

    Update April 12th: A new patch has reduced the power of Slag and burn from Siege archers while giving all Shield Varl classes +1 base will and allowing Return the Favor (and Bring the pain) to trigger on a death melee hit. In practice this makes it easier to use their higher level power and get around the board a bit, while probably reducing the occurrence of Siege archers in teams. Thus far, I've seen players mostly switch to other archers however, so I'm uncertain this makes Shield masters balanced yet, but it certainly helped lower the gap.

    Update May 23rd: The Siege archer has been all but abandoned for the Bowmaster in high level play, with her extended puncture range the Shieldmaster's highest break potential/wall-ability has become a good partner. This is more a testament to the power of archers rather than the unit itself though- I would still say it underperforms in a melee centric team, especially at rank 1.
    Last edited by Kletian999; 05-22-2013 at 11:11 PM. Reason: Patch

  2. #2
    Member Leartes's Avatar
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    Nice write up!

    I think Shieldmaster are worth the mead. As a matter of fact I'm currently using one (not tournament level, only ranked).

    Their greatest problem is high break and archers. If you walk your shieldmaster forward on yourfirst turn and he receives a 4+ break by an archer he is already pretty much crippled. Lets say in the following turn he can dish out one BtP, receives another 4+ break by a melee and he is open to puncture shots. He might even die in this turn.

    I think it is better to use him in reactive strategies. Move some raiders forward (raidmasters or thrashers) and stay in striking distance with the shieldmaster. If they come forward to strike your raiders armor you come and hit back. That way you can get 2-3 big breaks in. Also you can hope he spends his archers wp on other targets and as soon as you are in melee you are less vulnerable to slag and burn by opposing siege archers.
    If they don't jump your raiders you will likely have to strike in melee and follow up with the shieldmaster. In all cases he can hopefully break 2-3 times and if you keep the archers busy elsewhere he can come into the endgame with high stats. In that case he can fight back vs warriors as well.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Kletian999's Avatar
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    I was hoping for a bit more community discussion before moving on to the next unit. As much as I like the sound of my own voice, I know there's information I'm unaware of or glossing over. I suppose I could also take votes for the next unit. If I go on a master trend, it'd be Bowmaster or Warmaster. Or I could try focusing on the more complex units, like Strongarm, Provoker, or Skystriker. Thoughts anyone?

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    Junior Member Bertez's Avatar
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    I like the shield master but currently i have started replacing him with the provoker in my builds. The way I see it he has the same stats I would have with a shield master if i took 3 instead of 4 break but at the same time has a more useful ability. I guess I don't get what the shield master's niche is. What do you guys use him for that you cant do with another shield varl?

  5. #5
    Senior Member Butters's Avatar
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    I think the like of response is just symptomatic of the SM's lack of popularity. Many people, like Bertez and myself, don't see the point in this ability vs the PK. I have barely even used him at all, so there's nothing of value I can add to the subject.
    I know at least one of the good players around advocated in favor of BtP as a difficult to master but ultimately worthwhile ability (was it Slimsy ?), but I fail to see it.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Kletian999's Avatar
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    I know slimsy used Shield master in this past tourney (and recent streams), but even playing against him I can't recall a fight where a different shieldbanger or unit entirely wouldn't have made his win easier.

    As I mentioned in other threads, Bring the pain is the only "Unique" benefit to the shieldmaster, and it's the most avoidable of powers. (1 more armor break than raidmaster isn't that game changing when it's 4 times as hard to actually reach a target to break), While you can argue "if he's the only unit in melee range (besides guarding raidmasters) the opponent will attack him or nothing", it doesn't help that melee units can run around/away from him, and that being the only unit in melee range means archers can stand out of range shooting you. I do hope they get some improvement soon.

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    Senior Member Kletian999's Avatar
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    One last tactic I remembered: when your opponent has positioned his SM on the "wing" of his starting formation, I recommend move your formation to attack the other wing. The position of his own units will keep him back a round or two preventing his breaks.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Rensei's Avatar
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    I used ShieldMaster the most because I love his basic break of 4. With the way I built him, he can do two 6 breaks, preparing two easy kills on melee. He is also rocking max armor with 8hp causing my enemies (levels 3-5) to try and finish him off fast, often making me regret I didn't use the ability instead. Of course I can't imagine that working against more experienced guys.

  9. #9
    Member Tatski's Avatar
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    Among the 3 SBs I think SM is the weakest of the bunch his ability provides very little utility. Can't seem to get good value for BtP and In most cases it's better to do a Break + WP than BtP. Raiders are much better armor breakers because of their mobility. SM IMO needs some sort of tweaking.

  10. #10
    Developer raven2134's Avatar
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    What I posted in the other SB thread.

    Quote Originally Posted by raven2134 View Post
    Wonder if I'm still considered a high level player...

    Anyway, I am also of the line that the SM is being underestimated by this discussion (a number of it's participants therein). No offense meant at all by this to anyone.

    The key difficulty in using the SM has already been pointed out, it's positioning. How do you get the SM in position to do what he needs to do without becoming a liability? (Indeed, that's the difficulty with all shieldbangers, they are 1 tile short to sync up with your other units' formation which either takes an extra turn, 1 more willpower or extra exertion).

    That said, there's merit to the ability being reactive. Once it is active it is

    a. highly unlikely the SM will be struck by melee and so a chain of breaking begins
    b. even if he is struck my melee, the chain of break begins anyway because of BtP
    c. soaking willpower from archers is not a bad trade off, as this limits ability use, powered shots on your vital units after first break, and puncture +wp kills.

    In these situations, it's damned if you do, damned if you don't. (for the opposing player)

    The issue I think is that people have become very accustomed to counternig shieldbangers, especially the PK and SM.

    When they are in position to create threat in the early-early midgame they are focused on, and atm with RoA buffed in higher ranks and SAs with coals, the zone control is especially harsh for these units with average str.

    Because of the same strength issue, and the nature of their abilities, it makes little sense to keep them hidden in the back. The PK and SM are poorer finishers in comparison to the SRM.

    Comparing the units,

    SMs are best for early game and a fronter, because break done faster is better so you can reap the returns on str attacks sooner.

    PKs are best early midgame once enemy's have advanced a bit. It then becomes possible to plan and intercept. In the heat of the middlegame when the skirmish ensues and the fight is close quarters, they gain the maximum potential to disrupt the enemy's battle flow.

    SRM are best midgame to late game, as a clean up unit. As such it makes sense to keep them safe and you still get near maximum returns from the high armor and str in the late game.

    The above is probably why it feels hard to use a SM, compared to the other 2. However, there are undoubtedly ways to play to achieve the proper positioning and the desired result (I used to do this when going against the old/beta PK SA mirror combos, and even until now SM mirror battles).

    On another interesting note. I've been playing an SRM lately, and to me it feels like it's the only unit to achieve both good break, good str, and good armor (at r2) because of it's ability. You can save on the AB points for wp and other stats because of the ability which can substitute the break (3 at rank 2).

    It would be great if the same could be done for the other SBs. Undoubtedly they would achieve greater utility if their break wasn't exclusive to attack but could be substituted for ability.

    If we compare the units again,

    SRM gets +2 break on ability per ability rank (+units rammed thru)
    SM gets +1 break on ability per ability rank (+retaliation and has a naturally high max break, meaning you can go for middle break and achieve similar to max returns if played right)
    PK gets no break bonus on ability (meaning the unit is a trade-off between offensive output-breaking and ability use)

    I would argue we need more efficency on the PK. While what is looking like a wp buff on SM should be enough to see his positioning and usage improve.

    There's 1 other buff already proposed that I think will be coming, which will be good for all SBs. I think Stoic is letting RtF/BtP also affect a unit enacting the finishing blow on an SB.

  11. #11
    Senior Member Kletian999's Avatar
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    Raven, on the Shield master specific parts of your posts, I should raise some counterpoints.

    1. "Once the ability is active" is a bigger IF than the sentence would imply. To be active, an enemy unit must first have willingly moved within 3, maybe 5 squares of the shield master, not blocked by spaced units (and have breaking be more beneficial than hitting it for strength). Then you can make your break attack to turn it on, or you can not use the ability to add an additional break to the target (or save the will to ensure you can reach the next break target later. Depending on how soon you want that target dead and the likelihood of the target surviving and making a melee attack versus you, there's a good chance that turning it on will cause less break fight wide then using straight will or saving for a move later.

    2. Yes, people have gotten used to countering shieldbangers, but Strongarms (stab to kill, or push friendly close to archers) and Provokers (Taunt breakers, pull defenders away from archers) allow them to react better to said counters.

    3. If you want a willpower sponge, a Provoker gets higher armor, similar str and break, and a power than doesn't rely on your opponents actions to activate or even be useful (and can effect enemies with reach). Even better than a willpower sponge is someone who prevents willpower from being used before the unit dies.

  12. #12
    Developer raven2134's Avatar
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    Hi Kletian,

    This is why I mentioned in regard to that "If" that a wp buff on SBs will definitely help the SM alleviate some of the positional difficulty. In addition, I have experienced using and against, that the SM is a fair counter vs RM advances, especially at r2. This is because the ability goes over the RM rank 1 shield (normally used), and further breaking by the RM results in lower enemy RM armor. If ignored, the SM maintains a central board position usually.

    I haven't encountered or experienced SRMs/PKs perform better toward the usual counters such as puncture, SA, break and warrior hit. They're all in the same boat in that respect. The difference is felt I think because of the relative utitility of the units at different phases of the game, as I was describing.

    I think the PK is a cool unit with a good ability, I just also feel the SM ability is on par. I have to disagree that PK is "superior", because of how it is situational. Yes it is a lockdown ability and has the capacity to pull. However, it is also easy to reverse the Malice by breaking down the PK's armor, or as I have often done and had done against me, make the provoker user pay by sacrificing damage output for the lockdown. This is for example true vs breaking units or guaranteed damage units (supposing they can stay alive subsequent cycles).

    In many ways, the PK ability functions like SS RoA. You trade-off a turn and damage output (r1 RoA) for positional and turn advantage. But doing so at the wrong time or for too long means the other player creates an advantage by having 1 more straight up damage turn than you. Note, locking down a unit does not always make it available for a follow up. In strong positional plays, the pull isn't enough so that whatever will follow up won't receive a solid counter-hit from a covering unit.

    In that respect, for SBs you have a str damage dealer, the SRM; a breaker, the SM; and a controller, the PK.

    They're all about the same as willpower sponges also when it comes down to it, imo. The PK trades off str for that higher armor. Meaning they are more vulnerable to Puncture (after being broken), more vulnerable to guaranteed damage, and more vulnerable to a good break followed up by a heavy hit - well I suppose the last not really. Think of it like iterating the armor/str values for the different SBs. The result is more or less the same cos Armor counterbalances str (on the unit's min&max stats, and even often when using the distributable stat points).

    I think the most interesting thing atm for me, which is highlighted by SMs/PKs, is how much people are countering them through subtle play (S&B, RoA, RM block). I've seen SBs locked down very hard because even when a window to move into a good position opens up, they often can't maximize it due to having less move. Which adds to the feeling "they're slow...can't get them into position...ability is useless." Again, this is much less an issue for SRMs, because

    1.they have more strength, so you are more comfortable passing over coals
    2.they can punt, removing blockers or granting other units more mobility
    3.even if put into lockdown, they can go stab stuff for kills in the endgame, making them feel useful.
    Last edited by raven2134; 04-10-2013 at 12:00 AM.

  13. #13
    Senior Member Kletian999's Avatar
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    Yeah, I'm excited to see how the WP buff changes things. It doesn't change the fact though that using exertion gets you more targeted break than the BtP power (especially vs Raidmasters unless they try to hit you next turn).

    I guess that thing that really bothers me about bring the pain is that at least 50% of the time, if not more, whether you use BtP or not, you're opponent will make you regret your choice. Use it: they'll attack other units or strategically reposition; don't use it and they hit you if they've got a move worth doing and the next chance you get to use it, you'll likely be one-shottable.

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    Senior Member Kletian999's Avatar
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    Seeing there's a new tactics forum, it seems like this series of threads should go there. I'll make my third episode there directly.

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    Senior Member Butters's Avatar
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    I'm trying to make use of the SM recently (two of them at the same time, actually !), but I have a tough time finding the most efficient stats. Does somebody have some experience to share ? I'm meaning to use them as front line defense & break, protecting my back line (probably with a RM) which is mostly made of archers. What worked for you who used them ? Armor/strength balance seems tricky. What about exertion ? 1 or 2 ? I'm planning to field them at r2.

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    Junior Member vrolok83's Avatar
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    butters, i don't think you'd need exertion on a SM because you'll spend WP on his ability when breaking armour. the thing to consider is if he's got the BtP rank 2 up, people are going to be discouraged from hitting him since he'll return 3 armour break per hit, so does he really need high armour? something like 14/10/4/1/4 would give him WP enough to do 10 offensive break and have BtP up for 2 full rounds and then he could start hitting things if he's out of WP, but he'd still also have 4 innate break and RtF in the event you haven't earned any bonus WP to reactivate BtP and still need to break. or maybe you'd prefer something like 13/10/5/1/4 (alternatively: 14/9/5/1/4) to move one extra square on his first turn.
    Last edited by vrolok83; 04-18-2013 at 10:36 AM.

  17. #17
    Senior Member Shiri's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by vrolok83 View Post
    butters, i don't think you'd need exertion on a SM because you'll spend WP on his ability when breaking armour. the thing to consider is if he's got the BtP rank 2 up, people are going to be discouraged from hitting him since he'll return 3 armour break per hit, so does he really need high armour? something like 14/10/4/1/4 would give him WP enough to do 10 offensive break and have BtP up for 2 full rounds and then he could start hitting things if he's out of WP, but he'd still also have 4 innate break and RtF in the event you haven't earned any bonus WP to reactivate BtP and still need to break. or maybe you'd prefer something like 13/10/5/1/4 (alternatively: 14/9/5/1/4) to move one extra square on his first turn.
    You really need exertion since a 3-movement fatarse shieldbanger is SO EXCRUCIATING to get into position to hit anything worthwhile without it.

    And high armour is good to stop him being murdered by archers after 1-2 breaks, or bursted down before they can even activate BtP.

  18. #18
    Junior Member vrolok83's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shiri View Post
    And high armour is good to stop him being murdered by archers after 1-2 breaks
    actually, it's quite the opposite thanks to puncture

  19. #19
    Senior Member Kletian999's Avatar
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    Well, a 16 armor shieldmaster suffering 4 break vs a 12 armor suffering 4 break vs and 8 Str bowmaster:

    8+2 vs 12 remaining armor is still a miss, 8+2 vs 8 remaining armor is 2 damage.

    Suffering 10 break

    8+5 vs 6 is 7 damage. 8+5 vs 2 is 11 damage. More armor is still more survivable.

    Then again, you could phrase it "Broken to 8 armor" in which it's

    8+4-8 damage=4 vs. 8+2-8=2, but it's not like that 4 extra break came from nowhere.
    Last edited by Kletian999; 04-18-2013 at 12:08 PM.

  20. #20
    Senior Member Shiri's Avatar
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    Yeah, if you do the maths you're never really losing out much there, and that only gets worse the more maimed the archer is if a raider got a stray hit on her.

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