Welcome to Sideboard Plan, a series where I talk about games that aren’t Magic. Why? First, because there are a lot of fun games out there, and liking Magic means that you’ll most likely enjoy these as well. Second, playing other games, and understanding their strategy, can make you a better Magic player.
This week I want to talk about Solforge.
Despite it’s ugly interface and on-again off-again broken metas, Solforge is a game of strategy and decision-making. Every move you make has a big impact on the game, either directly or down the line, and the games, in general, are quick and fun. Solforge is also a model of free-to-play done right. That means that you can absolutely go infinite; it’s built right into the game – with minimal effort, you get a free draft per week, and while it’s a slow way to build a collection, the point is that you CAN build your collection without ever spending a dime.
Getting Started with Solforge
Solforge is available for iOS, Android, and through Steam for Windows PCs. For whatever reason, it’s a lot prettier and smoother when I play it on my iPad Air then it is on my PC, but deck-building is easier on PC. You can find the various download links on the site, solforgegame.com.
Creating an account and logging in is pretty straight-forward. After that, though, the “new player experience” is really a flop. You end up on the “Play” screen with some options, but there is no guided experience or campaign to get you started. Magic doesn’t have these either, which is equally a shame; Hearthstone and Infinity Wars both do an amazing job at onboarding new players.
There is an in-game tutorial, which walks you through the rules of the game. You can get the basics, more or less, but it only covers game-play and after that you’re on your own. If you click on Rules/Tutorial it pops you over to the site, where you can learn some of the basic layout.
Without a decent collection, you will get demolished if you play Constructed against other humans. This is unfortunate because you need at least one online win every day to get your free event ticket. There are two easy ways to do this: communicate with another human to arrange a game and have them concede to you; set up two accounts and play against yourself.
Is this a silly system? Yes, it is, but let’s keep in mind that we are still building a collection, for free, so even if we have to jump through some hoops to do it, it’s still a better situation than some other games.
You get small rewards for every win you get, but the big numbers are the first win and the third win of the day. For now the by-far best way to get these is to play against the computer or against an opponent / yourself who will auto-concede. Note that you can’t earn your daily event ticket by beating the computer.
Building a Collection
The most common rewards you will receive (for logging in each day, for your first win, and for your third win) are silver, cards, and basic packs. In the recent update, silver became a more versatile tool than it was in the past; you can now use it to craft cards, buy stuff, and enter events. Since you only need three of any given card (that’s the max you can include in any list), you can forge away additional duplicates for more silver, which you can then use to craft the cards you need.
Along with silver, you’ll also collect a lot of blue (basic) packs. These packs usually net you common and rare cards, which can be good for building a basic collection, but heroic and legendary cards (the top two rarities) will be few and far between.
With the recent update came casual drafts. This seems like a good idea when you’re starting out, but it is, sadly, a phantom event. So while the entry fee is cheaper and the competition is theoretically less challenging, you don’t get to keep the cards you draft. For that reason I recommend sticking with “competitive” drafts to build your collection, even if you don’t feel particularly competitive.
There are four rarities of Solforge cards: commons are green, rares are blue, heroics are yellow, and legendaries are red. Whatever the rarity of card, the deck cap remains 3x of a single card. Legendary cards often depict unique characters and are much stronger than cards of other rarities. Legendaries also have unique abilities that change the way the game (or a given deck) is played, making them excellent “build-around-me” cards. Building lists around different legendary abilities is one of the fun things about playing Solforge but, as you can imagine, is restricted by how many of each legendary you have.
Alongside the rarities, there are four colors of cards you can build with.
Uterra (green) represents nature and specializes in big creatures, including dinosaurs, and token generation. It also incorporates some life gain mechanics (and cards that care about your life total) and growth mechanics (creatures that get bigger whenever you play other creatures, straight-up buffs, etc) and Breakthrough (Solforge’s version of Trample).
Tempys (red) represents fire and aggression. It has the most direct damage spells, it has creatures with Aggressive (e.g. haste), and it has the most Mobility (allowing creatures to move from one lane to another). Tempys also has Yetis, which are a fun tribe, and a number of cards that interact with Defenders (walls, basically), allowing you to destroy your opponents Defenders or make it so that your own creatures lose Defender and can attack.
Alloyin (white) represents robots and the people who love them. Alloyin gets a couple tribes, namely robots and metaminds, and is characterized by armor (damage prevention), card draw (note that since you discard your hand every turn and draw 5 new cards, this ability is much different than in Magic, but can still be quite strong), and leveling cards. This last one is probably key for Alloyin as it allows you to discard cards in your hand (or elsewhere) and level them. When you level 3 cards every turn and your opponent only levels 2, you are generally going to have a much stronger late game, with more consistent draws, than your opponent.
Nekrium (black) represents dark magic and death. Nekrium has a few tribes, namely Zombies and Abominations, though Grimgaunts also deserve a mention due to their power. In general, zombies recur (think undying / persist), abominations do something when they die (damage your opponent, heal you, draw cards, etc), and grimgaunts are happiest when things are dying all around them. Having your creatures get bigger when things die is a key ability in Nekrium, along with debuffs and drains. Nekrium removal works around minus counters instead of damage, which has the added benefit of lowering your opponent’s creatures’ attack power and ignoring armor. Nekrium also has cards that care about low attack power, namely creatures and spells that kill things with X attack or less, comboing nicely with the drain spells. It also has some graveyard interaction, returning things that have died earlier in the game to your battlefield.
You can build mono-colored decks, but it is far more common to build two-color lists. Two is as high as you can go at this point; no three- or four-color lists are allowed, yet. Decks are often referred to by their color combination and main theme, e.g. AT Walls would be an Alloyin-Tempys deck that is focused on creatures with Defender, while NU Broodqueen would be a Nekrium-Uterra deck that builds around Dysian Broodqueen.
Rather than describing how to use the client, I thought it would be easier to create a quick video. I describe casual and tournament play, deck-building, buying gold and why you might want to do so, and basic game-play.
Why play Solforge?
It took me a long time to like Solforge. I still go back and forth, but most of the time I really think it’s a great game. Watching streams has really helped me appreciate the amount of thought and strategy that goes into good play, and a lot of the thought processes that matter in Solforge can make your Magic game better as well. Some of these include:
Playing around RNG – Solforge naturally has less RNG than Magic. Most games do because they don’t use a mana system like Magic does. Have you ever noticed how almost EVERY single TCG made after Magic has included a more reliable progression system than Magic’s land?
Even so, RNG comes into play when determining which cards you’ll draw at any given stage or power level, and learning how to make the plays that will help your deck be as consistent as possible is important. Thinking about the odds of drawing card X when you need it is useful in both Solforge and Magic and will make you a better player.
Knowing the meta – With a smaller card pool, it is easier to learn the meta and which decks your opponents are playing; this can help you learn how to play around your opponent’s most likely plays. Neither Solforge nor Magic are solitary games; we sometimes make the mistake of playing them that way, but thinking about what your opponent has in his hand and how he will react is integral to leveling up your game.
Knowing Solforge’s meta won’t help you learn Magic’s meta, of course, but figuring out how to learn a metagame is an important basic skill for good play.
Combat Math – Magic and Solforge are both games about math. The math in both games can get complex, but the essential skill is one of subtraction. Subtract enough from 20 (or 100) to get to 0. Win.
Combat math in Magic is often more straight-forward than in Solforge. Since damage to creatures doesn’t stick in Magic, it doesn’t matter if you block a 3/3 with your 2/4, your guy will still be a 2/4 next turn. In Solforge, however, your guy would become a 2/1 and your opponent’s creature would become a 3/1.
Thinking about damage, and about effects before and after combat, and ultimately about how to get your opponent to 0 while all of that is going on, is an incredibly important skill in both games. Thinking about the math in Solforge will make you better at thinking about the math in Magic, and vice versa.
The Solforge Community
There are a lot of great resources to learn more about Solforge.
There are plenty of good sites writing about Solforge and you’ll find links to some of them in the Reddit sidebar. There are two beginners guides there as well which are very helpful, this one on Ghox’s Socks and this one at SolforgeDeckTech.
In general, Ghox’s Socks is, in addition to being fun to say, the biggest Solforge site. It’s kind of the SCG of Solforge. You can also see which streams are up and running on the sidebar, there. Solforge is actually a very interesting game to watch being played (even moreso than Magic, I would say), and since there are only a few streamers, it isn’t hard to pick who you want to watch. Streams are even scheduled to (generally) cause as little overlap as possible, meaning you can almost always find a Solforge stream and there is rarely more than one happening at a time.
My two favorite streamers right now are Coxatrice and Hectares. Hectares in particular does a really good job thinking through and explaining his plays; Coxatrice does this as well, if not as in depth, but also has a “Play Mistakes” meter and will do a number of push-ups equal to the number of mistakes he made after every stream.
Last but not least, there are a lot of player-run events in Solforge, and almost all of them go through Kaelari’s Ladder. Unheroic events mean that you have to bring a deck with only common and rare cards, evening the playing field in terms of constructed accessibility. By participating in events you automatically get a chance to win gold and other prizes, so it’s worth checking out if you have the time.
Leveling Up: Tips and Tricks
If you’re interested in learning how to improve at Solforge (and want me to write an article sharing what little I know) then let me know in the comments. Otherwise we’ll consider this article a one-off as far as Solforge is concerned, and return to your regularly scheduled Magic. It’s a fun game, though, and I recommend giving it a shot.
There is talk of creating a Solforge mentorship program, but as of now, one does not exist. There is a recruitment program, but it offers nothing for new players; focusing instead on rewards for established players who bring new people to the game. That said, if you are going to create an account, you are welcome to use my recruitment link.
My username is “Bava” and feel free to friend me or challenge me. I can also share some cards if you need anything in particular, though my collection is far from complete.
That’s it for this week! If you play Solforge already (or make an account in response to this article) then share your username in the comments and I’ll add you as a friend. It’s always fun to grow your community, be it Magic, or Solforge, or both.
Other games you’d like covered in this series or are curious about? Let me know in the comments!