Mastering Lane Choice is key to winning in The Elder Scrolls Legends. Lanes are a feature unique to a couple games, including TESL. Standard lane placement is a field lane and a shadow lane. There have been numerous arena events which introduced other lane effects, but I’m just going to talk about standard lane placement, and strategies.
In the field lane, creatures that are played there, can be dealt with by other creatures the very next turn. When creatures other than guards are played to the shadow lane, they are given one round of “cover” during which they cannot be attacked. This is the difference between field and shadow.
Lane Choice: Playing into the Field Lane
There is an advantage to placement in field, in that you can deal with the non-covered creatures that the opponent places in field the very next turn, rather than having to wait a turn. The field lane is a better place to play cards if you’re the first to play one there. Also, dominating the field lane means you have a superiority of creature cards there, the opponent must deal with your cards to survive, and you have the option to immediately trade with your opponent’s cards, or absent a guard, attack over the top of them to face.
The “option to trade” means that, barring complexities, you can choose which creatures to hit, and which creatures to ignore, and order your attacks as you please.
Let’s take two “2 drops” for an example, Ald Velothi Assassin and Barrow Stalker. Without adding any complexity to this, if I had the Ald Velothi Assassin in hand I might choose to drop it in shadow against an opponent with a deck of strength or agility, to get to use it at least once (strength and agility both have charging creatures, so in the field lane can immediately attack your newly played cards).
However, if I have the Barrow Stalker why drop it in shadow? It has guard so it can’t get cover so barring any complexities there is no advantage round 2, to putting it in shadow. Then again if it were round 4, I might play both cards to shadow, if I had a Odiniran Necromancer in hand, so my opponent can’t attack in the field lane to remove both creatures, and loose my chance to buff the Necromancer. A buffed Necromancer is better than an un-buffed one for future plays.
Lane Choice: Playing into the Shadow Lane
The advantage of playing into the shadow lane, is that the card you just played has cover, cannot be attacked the next round (without certain other cards), and unless a guard is played or the card is shackled or removed, it will get a “free hit” your next round. It is a bit more survivable because they cannot attack it with an existing creature in the shadow lane, nor can they play a charge creature and run it down.
A classic example of a creature to protect/ get a free hit of value from is the Goblin Skulk, now a 3 drop, 2/3 creature with pilfer, which pulls a 0 cost card from your deck to your hand when it does damage to the opponent. Other pilfer cards are often placed in shadow for the same reason, so the card effect has a good chance of getting value. The Skulk, now that it is 2/3, is more durable now than when it was 2/2, but being a 3 drop there are many 3 drop cards that will stop a Skulk from gaining its value.
The drawback of shadow placement is that if you place a covered creature, one in shadow, you won’t be able to hit or charge the creature the opponent places next (unless it is a guard). That is because your next round their creature will have cover, and yours will lose cover.
Say you have a Goblin Skulk, and you want to protect it, so it pilfers at least once. Play it to shadow, unless you have a guard in field. If you can defend it in field, put it there because then you can deal with the opponent’s creatures that come down. It’s just as protected, but you gain tactically an opportunity to deal/trade with their creatures.
Since a guard can be silenced, the Skulk or other card can be silenced, cards in shadow with cover lose cover when they are silenced, and nearly every card can just be removed, you can see that the advantage of shadow is minimal, while the tactical advantage of setting up good trades in the field lane is huge.
In another example, you and your opponent are playing Sorcerer, and your opponent has an Ald Velothi Assassin, and a Haunting Spirit in the field lane. You have facing them a Shrieking Harpy and an Aundae Clan Sorcerer, and a Wardcrafter in hand. Since this is the field lane, you have the option to trade, even if the opponent had just played the creatures. You control the order as well. The proper order is of course Ald Velothi first, destroying the Harpy simultaneously, then Warding up the sorcerer, and killing the Spirit, with no creature for the Spirit’s +3/+3 death benefit to land upon. That almost goes without saying. The Blood Spell and creature superiority are bonuses of this beneficial trade.
If you and your opponent were in the shadow lane, and he’d just played the creatures, you would not have the option to trade, but during his next round, he will have that option. He would then attack the Aundae Clan Sorcerer with the Haunting Spirit, and the Ald would become a lethal rallying 4/5 creature out of reach of the Harpy’s attack, and perhaps the now 4/4 Odiniran Necromancer in his hand would now be able to bring back the Spirit for greater shenanigans. So you can see from this example, that you have some control over the situation if you’re in the field lane, but you cede that control to your opponent if you are the first to play creatures in the shadow lane.
Fleeing into shadow defensively
One reason to play in shadow is that you’ve been out-valued in the field lane, maybe larger creatures, maybe you want to go face but you’ll be delayed a round or two by a guard with a high defense there. You might then choose to develop your board in the shadow lane, because they cannot be immediately attacked without specific cards, and you have therefore a free round to get a head start developing there.
Hlaalu is good at this, with Balmora Puppeteer, a Hlaalu Oathman, and a couple Nord Firebrands, or Dres Spy, for example, you can fill the lane in one round. The idea there is perhaps you’ll then draw a card to deal with the threat in the field lane, like a Cloudrest Illusionist or a Penitus Oculatus Agent, and when they are forced to change their plans and defend the shadow lane, you can retake the field lane. As its been said, the best offense is a good defense. In this case playing defensively is sometimes developing offensively. If you can’t get any advantage to staying and battling for the greater tactical advantage of dominating the field lane, because you would die there of attrition (gradually loosing hand size, and loosing cards on the board, and becoming exhausted), then go to shadow, and develop some other opportunities to win.
Luring your opponent into shadow for a kill
The fact that your cards are safe from most attacks in shadow the round after they are played, gives you an opportunity to develop something there, that can only be interrupted by a creature or spell. This has an offensive use as well, called luring them into shadow. The best current example of this that I can think of now is in an Unstoppable Rage deck. Shadow is perfect for Rage effects for several reasons.
One, you play your lure card (a drain creature is great, since they don’t want you gaining life, or a card like ash berserker or another draw engine effect, since they also don’t want you drawing an extra card or two per round), and for a round they cannot deal creature damage to it, only put creatures down in front of it. These and your lure are the Rage targets.
Second, say the lure isn’t the Rage trigger card but you have another card to put down, you can put that card down and for a round they won’t be able to suicide their creatures on it to avoid the upcoming Rage. The card to trigger Rage upon is usually a high-power creature with Breakthough, of course, but could be a Ramp card like Archein Venomtongue, or another Slay effect that draws cards like Cicero, or Pahmar-raht Renegade, or that kill the opponent with extra hits like Child of Hircine. In shadow, they can hit you, but cannot easily reduce the number of rage targets on their side. If it were the field lane, they can see the telegraphed move, anticipate a rage, and suicide the targets on their side.
A lure can also be used to make your opponent develop a board in the wrong lane, like a Skulk in shadow, with a Shadow Shift or Archer’s Gambit in hand. They drop a defensive card or two in shadow, and you simply move across and attack with the Skulk. Voila, you defended the Skulk and made them misplay. Substitute any card for the Skulk you like, this is just an example.
In the opposite move, play the Skulk or whatever to field, knowing you want to eventually lure and kill your opponent from shadow. Pilfer with the Skulk, and move him to shadow when they defend in field, even getting a bit of extra defense from the cover of just entering shadow. A move in shadows, or two movement effects can be used to get around a defender, attack, and move back to shadow for the cover and setting up a beneficial trade next round (since you’re covered, they’re not, so you’ll have the option to trade next round, not them).
From field the same can be done, only now you’re returning the card from shadow with cover. Tactics like these are commonly used in tempo assassin, to move/cover cards for more than just a single attack per card before destruction. Tempo also uses a lot of shackle effects, like those from shrieking harpy and giant snake, and the two tactics can edge out many victories.
Cards that create cover
There are cards that create cover, like Gloomlurker, and Shadowmaster. Back-Alley Rogue steals cover from another creature, but it’s a 5/3 creature for 4 Magicka, that I rarely see being used. There are just many better 3 defense cards with better abilities.
Elder Centaur is a card I see a tiny bit more often, it gains cover each time it attacks, but doesn’t give that cover to other creatures. Ratway Prospector is the same. Assassin’s Bow gives cover at the end of the round it is summoned, so you can attack with the +3 bonus, get cover, and perhaps hit again the next round. Both the Gloomlurker and Shadowmaster can give cover to another creature or themselves, which is better tactically.
Cards that are very useful for giving cover, and serve the purpose of also getting around defenses, or moving to beneficially trade, are the movement cards I mentioned above, plus a few more. I mentioned already moving into shadow, or moving into and out of shadow, will give cover. Cards like Move in Shadow, Shadow Shift, and Archer’s Gambit. There are also Dune Stalker, Dune Smuggler, and of course Monk’s Strike. Monk’s Strike, however, won’t get you cover if you actually attack with it, but there’s no reason to play it unless you’re going to hit with it either…
Cards that destroy cover
Grappling Hook, Underworld Vigilante, and the previously mentioned Back-Alley Rogue all destroy cover, but also any Silence effect will also destroy cover. There is no real reason to play one of these cards just to destroy cover since Silence is a better card effect and more useful in the long run.
Good cards for silencing cover are Sorcerer’s Negation, Suppress, Hlaalu Sharpshooter, Earthbone Spinner, Shadowfen Priest, even a Knife to the Throat. High cost but also shackling them comes from Red Bramman, a scout card, that even deals with an entire lane of creatures.
In conclusion, it is generally better to take the field lane, and dominate the board from the field lane, unless you have a reason for playing into the shadow lane. Either there is no drawback for playing into shadow because face is the place, or you have reason to draw your opponent there. Tactically, the first person playing into the field lane gets the option to trade, or go face, while the first person to play into shadow, barring a card in hand to remove the card or destroy cover, can only go face and cannot yet trade with the cards played second by your opponent. If you’re using movement shenanigans to outmaneuver the opponent, think carefully about how many movements you can make, how long you can keep cover, etc..
If you are facing an opponent who plays into shadow, think about why they might do that. Of course, they may not have a good reason to play to shadow at all, and are just giving you an advantage because they aren’t aware of what they are giving up. If they are more aggressive than you, they might be setting up a race to the face, in which case you must contest their cards in shadow. Guards and wards are good, removal cards are also great, especially the broader effects.
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed my article.