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Balance Talk: Elves vs. Angmar - Fundamentally Imbalanced?

By MauH˙R - 16th December 2016 - 16:12 PM

From patch 2.01, all versions of 2.02 up until 6.0.0 and funnily enough even in most mods, Angmar vs. Elf has consistently been an extremely hard matchup. In my first edition of Balance Talk I am going to list the five main reasons of why this has always been the case and why it is so hard to adress them.

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1. The Wolfrider Dilemma

Angmar vs. Elves is a hard matchup in every stage of the game but it all starts with the threat of the Wolfrider Build. The possibility of the 2nd or 3rd Thrallmaster becoming a Cavalry unit restricts the Elf's aggressive potential and requires him to use at least two battalions for defense.

Because it is very important to understand how precisely this timing cripples the Elven faction specifically, I am going to explain it by comparing it to the other factions' starting situations:

  1. MotW
    MotW has cheaper Barracks that produce cheaper units faster than the Elves. It's much less of a commitment for Men to split off a group of Sword+Pike to harass and in a lot of situations they can also press more value out of them because of Shieldwall and the bigger battalion size of SoGs.

  2. Dwarves
    Guardians dont give a damn about Wolfriders.

  3. Isengard
    The standard Clansteading into Uruk pit build provides Isen with pikes early enough while Wildmen are the type of disposeable spam unit that can be used to force Wolfriders to defend and not be at the front all the time. Wildmen can even be used to absorb tramples for the Crossbows and often survive it with red health, meaning that it's very risky to use Wolfriders once Isen has reached a critical mass.

  4. Gobs, Mordor and Angmar
    It's basically the same with these three, Wolfriders are not costefficient enough to deal with spam of the dimension it will have in these matchups. Poison kills them too fast, they get stuck too early, the risk of losing the Thrall is too high, Wind, Drummers, Tunnelsystem etc.

Now with these things said, what do the Elves have?

When trying to harass with your first Swordsmen, be they from a fast or standard Baracks, you will at best be only able to damage a Gundabad battalion before the Wolfriders can be summoned. If you keep them in your base to defend you will not be able to fight off the first Gundabads completely before the Wolfriders are there either.

The only viable thing to do with Swords-first is to hide them in a corner of the map until Angmar shows his Wolfriders in your base and even then you are still not guaranteed to get damage since he can always summon a 2nd battalion.

Since an Archer start would face a similar problem, Pikes-first seems to be the only option and that only from a fast rax because normally timed Pikes would not be able to deal with the first Gundabads. So the only viable build left seems to be fast Rax Pikes that should creep a lair until Swords are out, that then together apply pressure and hope to keep all of Ang's units on his side of the map.

The main problem here is the fact that Elven units just take a little bit more money and time to train than MotW's units, so that equally covering everything with pikes while also having actual damage dealers takes a long time.

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2. The Dire Wolf Synergy

As the title says, this problem exists because of what the Wolfrider build forces the Elf to do, which is mixing in a lot of Pikes. And because those groups of units that the Elf are sometimes able to send out to harass almost never consist of more than one Mithlond and one Lorien Warrior battalion, The Dire Wolves have a very easy time to pick off the Pikes while ignoring the damage from the Swords until the Wolfriders come to clean them up, not to mention all the potential for screw-ups from the Elf here.

Now the fact that these units die so quickly to what usually is three Direwolf battalions + one Wolfrider battalion is not a broken thing per se because Angmar's armies are more expensive in this exchange, but the fact that the few times the Elf is able to spend his Baracks production time on these units and getting almost no value out of them discourages him from even trying it anymore. To what type of gameplay does that lead the Elf to? Using one big army instead of smaller groups. Which leads me to my next point.

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3. Fell Wind

Yes, Fell Wind is a bigger problem in this match-up than in any other because of how Angmar forces the Elf to try and make something happen with bigger armies. This is where it gets frustrating because obviously any playstyle seems to work into Angmar's favour. I do not think I have to explain why Fellwind is so good vs. bigger armies in combination with Angmar's ton of powers (Longshot, Gundabad Summon, Wight Summon,Hillmen Summon, Blight, Sorcs, Leap, WK's Sanctum).

The other reason why Fellwind is an Elf bane is because they rely on armies of glass cannons that require decent positioning and coverage by Mithlonds in porcupine, both things that Fellwind messes up, not to mention that the knockdown obviously prevents archers from firing and takes away any focus fire you might have commanded. It's actually interesting how well an Elven army would do against an equal Angmar army in midgame if there was no Fell Wind.

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4. Thrallmasters vs. Archers

As if Elves would not already have enough reasons not to use their best units (Archers) against Angmar, this short but important point is about the nasty issue of Thrallmasters absorbing 1-2 additional volleys of arrows from archers before they target the next battalion. So unless you have the sickest target firing your archers will waste a lot of shots just to finish of a unit that is not scary at all in a fight.

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5. Hwaldars Impact

While most factions' unit compositions suffer when they are forced to mix in pikes (eg. Isen vs. Gobs), Angmar does not really mind adding in Rhudaur Pikemen early on because they will very soon be benefiting from Hwaldar's leadership anyway and then out-class Gundabads at tanking.

Once Angmar hit that point they will always have a buffing advantage over the Elves (which also plays a bigger role here because of the glass cannon character of Elven units). The exception is unless the Elf fights near a statue, which is their only leadership source until they have a level 6 Haldir or Level 3 Elrond. This does not get better as Angmar can add multiple debuffs, Frozen land, Fellstrength and Dark Glory.

What will be done about it in 6.1.0?

We are not going to be able to address these concrete points directly, nor make any global changes like moving Fellwind down further in the Powertree or delaying Wolfrider builds by increasing the build time of the TaWD cause that would have too many side effects.

The one tool that we are trying to make this match-up balanced with are going to be subtle scalars - specific percentage changes to certain units - in order to not mess up anything else. The steps are going to be small and careful because the balance problems involve only a few key units and changing too much might flip a lot on its head.

The scalars we will go ahead with for know are:
  • Gundabad Orcs and Rhudaur Spearmen: 10% less damage against Mallorn Trees
  • Rhudaur Axethrowers: 10% less damage against Lorien Warriors and 15% less damage against Mithlond Sentries
If these end up not being enough or helping out at the wrong end we will try to nerf the Direwolf +Wolfrider combo instead.

Which of these points do you struggle the most against? Do you agree with the scalars were going to use to fix stuff? Discuss this article here!