“Infinitely more versatile than a simple blade of steel, a good mage has a wide array of spells at her disposal. More than that, she knows when best to use them.” – Aramril, The Apprentice’s Assistant
As any great fighter will tell you, there is more to battle than brawn – you need brains as well. In the last part of this series we took a close look at Strength, the attribute of aggression. This week we look beyond the elementary matching of might to gain insight into the intricacies of Intelligence. Where Strength wins its battles with sheer power, Intelligence seeks to gaze into the unknown and understand, to bend the elemental foundations of Mundus into Magicka, even to break the rules of reality. With spellcasting and sorcery, Intelligence gains an edge on the battlefield through the pursuit of knowledge.
So… pushes up glasses…
Shall we begin?
The first thing one must understand about Intelligence is to expect the unexpected. Perhaps it will come as no surprise that Intelligence is an attribute chock-full of spells and Actions. These actions represent a wide array of tools and tricks in your sleeve that your opponent may not be able to anticipate. Whether it is a simple destruction spell like Firebolt sent to incinerate a lowly Argonian recruit, or Moment of Clarity, a card that bends the rules of the game to give you cards from outside of your deck’s Class, actions lend Intelligence an unpredictability that gives them an edge on the battlefield.
This unpredictability also manifests itself in the many Random abilities that are often found in Intelligence. Of the 88 cards in the game with random effects, 28 of them are found in Intelligence. These effects can range from giving all of your creatures random keywords with Royal Sage, to summoning completely random creatures from any attribute with Balmora Spymaster. These random effects can be a double-edged sword for Intelligence, occasionally giving the edge you need to snowball your way to victory, and other times futilely expending your magicka for meager returns.
Aside from having many powerful actions to pick apart or manipulate the opponent’s board, Intelligence also has many creatures that can create or synergize with actions. Some creatures like Cunning Ally and Telvanni Arcanist can generate spells to put into your hand, while other creatures like Lillandril Hexmage deal damage directly to your opponent when actions are played. Other creatures get buffs from playing actions, such as the classic combo cornerstone Stealer of Secrets, which (provided the proper setup) can single-handedly reduce your opponent’s life to zero with one powerful blow!
A strong arm is what you need!
One surprising characteristic of Intelligence is its focus on Items! Intelligence is second only to Strength in the number of item cards and creatures with item synergy in the game. Master of Arms and Gardener of Swords are staple creatures in item based combo decks for their abilities to stack astronomical amounts of weapons and armor on them with little effort. Several items such as Dragon Priest Mask and Mentor’s Ring are also powerful combo enablers. And let’s not forget the unassuming, but potent, Tome of Alteration, most known for being generated by the quintessential legendary, Daggerfall Mage. All of these items and creatures that synergize with them give Intelligence a bit of unexpected burst potential that turn otherwise weak creatures into intimidating adversaries.
Another defining characteristic of Intelligence that can turn the tides of battle is the Ward keyword. Being able to block damage for a turn is a powerful effect, and Intelligence has a wide array of Ward abilities at their disposal. Wardcrafter is the poster child for this effect, giving protection to another creature to make a value trade, or to itself to fight for the early board. But using Ward simply for protection is a pedestrian affair. It can also be used to retrigger your powerful Breton Conjurers and flood the board with Atronachs, or generate endless Tomes of Alteration off of your Daggerfall Mage. If that’s not enough, how about giving your own avatar Ward with Tel Vos Magister, potentially protecting yourself from massive damage?
Nice try, care to go again?
Card draw is a precious resource in any card game, and while Intelligence has its fair share of card draw effects, many of them tend to be situational or come with inherent downsides. Tome of Alteration and Elusive Schemer provide some unconditional draw, but are expensive for their effect. Thief of Dreams and Riften Pickpocket draw from your opponent’s deck, so you never know what you are going to get. Some other cards have prohibitive conditions to meet, or give your opponents cards as well.
However, some cards can function as a type of card draw in the right deck. Studious Greybeard allows you to look at the top card of your deck before you draw and choose whether or not to keep or discard it. In a deck where your discard pile is an extension of your hand, such as a Necromancer deck with lots of recursion, this can either function as filtering or as a pseudo card draw. The same can be said of Palace Conspirator, which lets you draw a card and then discard another. In the right deck this can function as drawing two cards instead of one!
Perhaps even more powerful than both card draw and filtering is the ability to Tutor, or look through your deck and pick any card you want and put it into your hand. This ability is so strong that it is extremely limited in Legends, and only Intelligence classes have access to it. Laaneth is a 6/6 Dunmer can draw any card you want from your deck, but at a steep price of 9 magicka. And Sun-In-Shadow can tutor for any action you desire, provided you permanently shackle one of your own creatures.
Let’s shed some light on the problem!
Intelligence has more ways to defend itself than simply conjuring up wards and atronachs and enchanting rings and maces. The School of Destruction magic holds a vast array spells and abilities that can leave desolation in its wake. Perhaps the most iconic of these spells is Lightning Bolt, one of the most efficient single target removal spells in the game and a powerful form of reach. Another strong direct damage ability is that of Ancano, the Thalmor mage who can deal 5 damage to any target and leaves a 5/5 body behind for your trouble.
Sometimes a single target spell isn’t enough, however. When your opponent is swarming the board with lots of fast, cheap creatures, you may not be able to afford to focus them down one by one. Another staple blue spell is Ice Storm, which can single-handedly clear a board of creatures and stop aggressive decks dead in their tracks. And while Ice Storm is one of the most prevalent AoE in Legends, Intelligence also has access to even more removal in Fire Storm, Indoril Archmage, and more, making it a strong choice to deal with aggressive decks.
Intelligence also has many ways of using its powerful spells offensively, with cards that can deal direct damage to your opponent, such as the aforementioned Lightning Bolt and Supreme Atromancer. These and other affects like it make Intelligence a great choice for decks looking for more reach and ways to burn down your opponent’s life total without using creatures to attack.
While Intelligence does have a wide array of removal in the form of actions and creatures, all of it is damage based, which can be a big drawback when facing down massive creatures or creatures with ward. For these situations, Intelligence also makes use of the Shackle ability. Cards like Shrieking Harpy and Mace of Encumbrance can be used to stop incoming damage or delay your opponent from trading into your creatures for a turn. Some cards like Vigilant Ancestor offer massive defense at the cost of self-shackling. Or if you want to turn all this shackling into another means of destruction, you can bring along a Dres Tormentor as well.
I have many important things on my mind…
Intelligence can be one of the most explosively powerful and flexible classes in the game. However, this flexibility comes at a price. Many Intelligence creatures have low stats for their costs, and sometimes their abilities can be tricky to trigger and get value from. Other times their abilities are so random or conditional that they lack consistency. Intelligence on the whole is an attribute that, as explosive as it can be, can fizzle out as quickly as it came. It has no access to life gain, no hard removal, no silences or support removal, restrictive card draw, and a bunch of combo pieces that don’t make sense on their own.
In a lot of ways, Intelligence feels like it lacks focus. I’ve heard players say before that they don’t really understand the attribute, that it doesn’t really carve its own niche in the color pie. To me, this is a conscious choice of design. Intelligence isn’t meant to be evaluated in a vacuum. More than any other attribute it thrives whenever it is combined with an already strong base from another color. It is an enabler attribute, a complimentary color, the glue that holds some decks together or the catalyst for powerful combinations that some archetypes are famous for. It’s a toolbox that other colors can pick from to spice up their game and give them a bit of combustion, a bit of unpredictability. Intelligence pursues the knowledge of Mundus with fervor, and other colors use that knowledge to dominate the battlefield.