ACADEMY FACTION OVERVIEW (3.1 Version)
Academy is one of the most customizeable factions with a counter for almost every strategy and a variety of possible tactics. As of TotE it gets a major overhaul, gaining access to even more abilities which allows extreme adaptability and extra spells that makes its guild more unpredictable.
Academy is a series of interlocking links slowly building the chain that leads to victory. Every action according to your spells, early neutrals, available resources and (mini)artifacts creates a series of choices that in the end come out as a perfectly executed plan. Even in battle you tend to slowly build the foundations of your future action than go for straightforward strategies, you should plan one step ahead. You also cannot depend solely on your hero, you must coordinate his actions with those of your army, an army that requires support to stand against the tide of might.
Academy is very similar to necropolis which I consider its dark mirror. Tanky units, lack of charging and an aptitude in summoning, just light instead of dark magic.
While resource intensive and slow to build up it can rise to power at a fast rate. That is due to its decent spellcasting aided by library, mark of the wizard, plentiful knowledge and a good early unit selection - a fast shooter and a tank with immunities. Concerning the wizard's stats, mediocre power and high knowledge may seem an odd mixture yet by no means an inadequate one. To compensate, their town has artifact merchants, mage guild provides access to less spellpower dependent schools as light, dark and your knowledge-tied racial makes sure you don't lag behind in your might department.
On a random note some of the screenshots may show unfamiliar terrain, I was using Zenithale's arena mod.
It is of high priority to upgrade the gremlin dwelling as it ensures better creeping.
Other things you are advised to get: gargoyles, mages and mage guild 1 or 2. Blacksmith too for the ammo cart if you are to face tough neutrals such as earth elementals or squires. Avoid building golems for a while.
Normally you will aim for town hall, mage guild 1, master gremlins, gargoyles, mages and djinns.
If you want to expand fast get capitol, upgrade mage guild to 3 or 4 and build library so that you can safely choose your skills. If the map allows for a longer game then go for dwellings and castle. Colossi, djinns and mage guilds/castle already cost much ore so you will probably have to skip rakshasas. Spells will serve you more in the short run.
If you have fort, then better to get colossi, djinns, treasure cave and castle. In any case only mage guild 2 is important so you can opt for citadel even if you don't have a fort. The extra growth will come in handy - just be sure to get capitol.
If you started without a fort now is the chance to build your castle. Hopefully mage guild 5(aim for mage guild 3 if you missed it) and artifact merchants if only to know what to save money for. Worth noting that artifacts reset on the beginning of each month. Without rakshasas and gold from chests you should be fine. I always leave the djinns behind.
Hiring colossi is not a must, artifacts and good magic are already a force to be reckoned with. If you intend to rush then 2 stacks of archmages, upg gargoyles and gremlins(saboteurs vs warmachinists) alone can do the trick.
Later either upgrade mages, colossi or go for rakshasas depending on your money and resource income. Or invest in artificer if your opponent is close.
An example starting with lvl 3 town(tavern and fort built)
gremlins, master gremlins, mage guild 1, town hall, mages, gargoyles, djinns.
mage guild 2, city hall, treasure cave, citadel, library, capitol, castle.
marketplace, artifact merchants, colossi, mage guild 3-4, golems.
With this one I try to find out early if dark/destructive is worth taking, take advantage of treasure cave and boost army growth with castle. You may also skip colossi to purchase artifacts from the merchants and rush the opponent.
Resources that you may lack: Sulfur, mercury and gems. You don't need many to keep you going but mines should be your priority anyway.
First two weeks according to the amount of resources on the map.:
Town building with numerous resources.
Gremlins, master gremlins, mage guild 1, town hall, mages, gargoyles, djinns. Week 2:
Mage guild 2, City hall, rakshasas, citadel, castle, capitol, colossi.
With poor resources
Week 1 same and:
Mage guild 2, city hall, treasure cave, library, citadel, capitol, castle.
Depending on starting hero and witch huts numerous skill combinations can be effective but I suggest at least one magic school in the build. The units are generally weaker than most of their respective tiers as the wizard rarely gets attack/defense stats or skills.
In short games besides enlightenment/sorcery I'll often try 2 spell schools, another option is warmachines with flaming arrows(if lucky) or a warlock's luck destructive build. In the first case I like having maximum use from mark of the wizard so I prefer destructive and/or summoning. Dark for mass decay/curse of netherworld or light for word of light is also nice but I wouldn't gamble my rush on either. As the game gets longer, light and dark become more effective so other options are light/summoning, light/dark or dark/summoning. Dark is a safe bet with slow, suffering or confusion. Most summoning spells are useful, especially conjure phoenix, phantom forces, firetrap and arcane crystal. Destructive can still be a good choice with warlock's luck/cold death/ignite plus the elemental gargoyles' aura of vulnerability.
Sorcery is great to have, fast casting is a must with academy. Arcane training helps with aggressive creeping and counterspell can be a major disruption if you plan it well. Distract is also a nice option vs magic factions but I generally want sorcery for its core skill only. Does not affect mass spells.
Enlightenment gives a good boost to magic stats, essential skill. In rushing it greatly improves destructive/summoning/ballista, in longer maps it boosts artificer so it's always useful.
Mentoring instantly turns tavern heroes into efficient spellcasters. In a large map you can mentor a knight and give him your army equipped with mini arties created by your main wizard. If his level is high enough with some Sylanna's ancients the knight will be almost the same level as your wizard.
Luck is a viable choice mostly for warlock's luck but good all around.
The Warmachine path got a boost with triple ballista, which gives easy creeping and less need for mage guilds. It works well with enlightenment and hopefully attack->flaming arrows. Bad idea to get multiple schools here. If you face warmachine specialists remote control can be sweet but random - if he has them all the warmachine under your control may not be the one you wish.
Only issue is the ballista costing 4500 for academy so better to check the tavern for warmachine heroes.
Logistics are as important as they are rare. A swift minded spell can make all the difference but it's an excellent all around skill regardless.
Defense is an instant pick if it ever appears unless you aim for week 2-3 rush. Power of endurance and stand your ground grant you amazing staying power. Last stand is also nice and so is preparation though considering it requires two 2% skills you won't see it often.
Attack Wizards may not be renowned for their offensive capabilities but it is worth it. Besides the obvious offensive perks I find tactics invaluable, I often pick basic attack just for them to negate enemy tactics.
A wizard's skill combination with magic emphasis on a small map. A warmachine/pure destructive build would also be effective.
MARK OF THE WIZARD(MotW)
This perk is worth having its own section as it is one of the faction's strongest points. It can work with all schools of magic and create various combinations. As of TotE it works with area of effect(AoE) spells.
What it does is allow two castings of the same spell simultaneously. When you mark a unit, friendly or hostile you have the option of: A)casting on target unit with doubled effect.
B)casting on another unit in which case the spell affects both.
Mana drained is double the spell's cost and should mana be insufficient the spell will be cast normally without the effect of motw.
Spells that give a fixed bonus will not stack ie motw with expert endurance will not give two times +12 defense on a single unit but with resurrection you will receive double the healing power. Or you can resurrect two units at once. The same happens with offensive spells like divine vengeance, you either hit two opponents or one for double damage. Does not work with teleport.
Except for vulnerability no other spell gets doubled effect. Puppet master cannot be cast twice as one of the castings is nullified(only one can be in effect) and frenzy has a unique property. If the mark is on a friendly unit and you cast it on an enemy both units become frenzied.
Fire trap now works with motw so mines appear both in the targeted space and over the marked unit be it friendly or hostile. Cast over a marked unit it will summon double the amount of mines. Phantom forces will not create two clones of the same unit though they can create two different ones, say a clone for titans and one for djinns. When casting arcane crystal it will cast an extra one adjacent to the marked unit but impossible to tell from which side it will appear. As for blade barrier its duplicate blades do not appear in a row. Below I marked gargoyles and cast barrier in front of my djinns and rakshasas.
All but armageddon can be used with motw. However if you have marked your units and cast an aoe on the enemy the second spell will hit you as well - which is why light/destructive builds are not recommended. The spell will hit the designated space and the space over the marked unit. A few interesting parts:
A fireball over a small unit will be centered on it so it will hit all it's adjacent squares. On large units: Because the area is 3x3 and large units 2x2 the tiles to the left and the front will be also hit. Same with circle of winter, as for firewall it is cast on the front row of large units with a tile extending to the left.
A A A
A L L
A L L
Where A + L = area of effect and L = large unit. Units in A tiles will be harmed.
Circle of winter has funny effect on small marked units. The motw spell will never harm them but hit its adjacent tiles instead. Meteor shower on large marked units will hit the front row, one tile to the right and two to the left.
A A A A A
A A L L A
A A L L A
Where skills are concerned get MotW asap and try maxing sorcery, summoning and another school or attack for flaming if it pops up. In the second case you can afford to only level up one magic type for early at least.
If you go destructive take secrets of destruction, with any luck you will get fireball and go for ignite. If you have icebolt in your guild you may want to get cold death instead. Next aim for luck and arcane brilliance from sorcery, warlock's luck soon to come.
From summoning you may want to get fire warriors once it hits expert. Or fog veil, it helps a lot in creeping ranged neutrals. Keep in mind that master of earthblood besides firetrap boosts crystal and blade barrier.
In week 1 creep with gremlin saboteurs and gargoyles. Master gremlins can work if you use golems but the saboteurs are faster and more offensive. Never go creeping with unupgraded gremlins, they are slow and have 5 shots only.
On the first day you can clear the wood/ore mines and have your secondary take the gremlins back to town to return them upgraded for day 2. Try to get an ammo cart soon.
The general idea is place them in the corner and surround them with 3 small stacks of gargoyles. On the other corner there is a lone gargoyle for distraction, if you move it just out of range of the enemies, they may go after it and forget the gremlins.
Other than that keep a few 1-stack gargoyles for blocking shooters or replacing those gargoyle stacks that fell protecting your gremlins.
Master of life boosts fist of wrath nicely. Keep in mind that it counts as physical so it is not subject to resistances/immunities but may miss to incorporeal ability. Never on ghosts.
Against slow stacks as zombies move your gremlins ahead, shoot at close range, retreat. Or wait until they come in range, your shots are limited. Golems may get reduced damage from destructive but not fist of wrath. Damages magnetics as well, they do not heal.
Units with large shield, ghosts, large walkers as bears and faster creeps as wardancers and cerberi are mainly handled by motw + eldritch arrow or firetrap. Horned grunts will attack any unit within 8 tiles radius so move a single gargoyle to lure them forward and take advantage of close range shooting.
Djinn upgrades being magic-proof are no longer easy prey to eldtritch arrow.
Lots of hunters can die vs 6 single gargoyles with sorcery and decent spellpower eldritch or even better icebolt. If you have circle or fireball so much the better, they will be split in 4 stacks so you'll be able to hit 2 at a time.
By week 2 you will have mage guild 2 and mages. You may also have wasp swarm and icebolt.
Better to split mages in small stacks to deal maximum damage with fist of wrath. Keep them out when against fast melee units.
If you click you’ll see it’s 36 damage per mage, not bad!
Once a unit acts and you mark it, casting double wasp swarm may immobilize it for a while. Need sorcery for that to work.
For druids use the lightning-immune gargoyles and cast away. Note that druid elders also have stone spikes, avoid.
If you upgrade the gargoyles for fire/ice immunity pit fiends/lords will keep casting vulnerability, exploit that.
Versus lots, maybe horde of slow shooters(crossbowmen being the exception) have both gremlins and mages to attack, that and hero casting will prevent casualties.
If you have magic mirror against archliches, it may reflect their curses back at them. Also buys you time until they start shooting.
Against imperial griffins do not cover your gremlins but have the gargoyles near. That way they will not battle-dive from the first turn. Fire trap will be most effective here. Against battle griffins start with the gremlins and gargoyles far from the corner and move there after they dive.
Hurts those large units as bears and griffins. Just let them come!
From week 3 onwards your 3 colossi with regeneration can take down great amounts of neutrals. If you wait regeneration heals you twice as fast than if you attacked or defended. Haste and morale improve the healing rate as well.
Powerful neutrals as a horde of archangels can be won by week 3-4 if your level is high enough. Usually it's done with a phoenix supported by a spell variation(mass slow, regeneration, endurance, wasp swarm etc) or puppet master and motw+blind/frenzy. Stormwind will make your task considerably easier. If the map has a tier 7 generator you could try vampirism(or regeneration) with arcane armour on your colossi.
The basic idea is that you have gremlins in the corner to shoot and either the phoenix or a puppeted unit to cover them from the other enemy stacks. Keep two tiles next to the gremlins unoccupied and have some single gargoyles a tile away from each other so that the only room for the phoenix to be summoned is next to the gremlins.
What you can take on during week 1 - fast levelling required
Lots of blood furies.
Horde of marksmen/crossbowmen: On lots I will fight marksmen. Horde of archers manageable.
Lots of war/wind dancers(depends *). Blade dancers usually manageable.
Horde of gargoyles(with fist of wrath): Horde of stone gargoyles manageable. The obsidians are immune to elemental spells, better to avoid. Elemental gargoyles easy with icebolt.
Other units can be defeated on horde.
Lots of cerberi/firehounds(depends *).
Lots of black/whitebear riders(with fire trap).
Lots of master hunters: Lots of hunters(depends *).
Lots of steel golems: Easy with ammo cart. Horde of iron golems manageable.
Horde of spectres/poltergeists and ghosts: Lots of ghosts manageable, horde requires good spellcasting.
Pack/lots of succubi and succubi mistresses(depends *)
Lots of vampires and vampire lords/princes: Vampires manageable but not the upgrades.
Pack of mages or archmages(depends *) Not in case of lots.
Pack of raiders and grim raiders(depends *).
Lots of druid elders: Druids and high druids manageable.
Lots of berserkers/battleragers(depends *): Brawlers manageable, the others depends*.
Pack/lots of imperial griffins(with fire trap).
I may attack pack of djinns or hydras(depends *). Note that djinns waste some turns to cast. Careful of their confusion, makes gremlin damage pathetic.
*Depends= spellpower, level of sorcery, an early artifact, early spells.
Note that here I rely only on eldritch arrow, motw and occasionally fist of wrath, firetrap, wasp swarm, arcane crystal and icebolt. In the case of fist and fire trap have summoning on advanced or expert. Also I assume you have stone gargoyles and master or saboteur gremlins both from town and secondary hero.
Nathir with fireball and Havez can perform a lot better.
Gremlins's shooting is good only in the beginning. Due to high initiative, defense reducing arties work decently. Their repair ability is powerful, they can 'resurrect' numerous golems in a big battle. The opponent will likely target them before the golems so don't overlook hp arties. They can repair warmachines as well.
Saboteurs on the other hand are about disabling mechanical contraptions, with their high initiative they can keep disabling each turn as long as you do not suffer losses but their real strength is in earlygame creeping. Don't forget they also work against golems.
Gargoyles are good as protectors and blockers. With a speed artie they can block an exposed shooter from the first round. Most of the time you'll want to keep them close, so an hp/defense artie is great. You may give them an init artie to cover your titans before charging units act. Nice for armageddon tactics.
Elemental gargoyles are more offensive oriented but they are not for attacking. Placing them adjacent to units - friendly or hostile - causes fire/ice/lighning vulnerability(+50%) yet they are vulnerable themselves. Magic protection may be a good idea as they often receive friendly fire from motw.
Golems are good but only when upgraded. Speed and def arties seem a good call here but hp/def makes them better tanks and you usually need all the defense you can get. Defense plus defense reducing artie works nice with their unlimited retaliation. They usually guard your shooters but may sometimes take an active role.
Magnetic golems are weaker physically but effective against destructive casters. Direct damage will heal them by 50% and part of damage aimed to their adjacent allies is redirected on them(5% per weekly growth). Yep that screams anti dungeon.
Unfortunately they are immune to spells and cannot be buffed like their counterparts. While a fireball heals them, ignite from a warlock will hurt them normally and master of fire will decrease their defense. Considering they drain part of the damage from nearby allies, ignite damage may prove pretty high.
Mages are a strange bunch: Shooters, aggressive casters, dispellers, buffers. If you want them as shooters have them in a corner with a large unit two tiles away from them, attack a few times then surround. Or surround them from the start and use fireballs. In any case your mana or shots are limited. Watch out for spectres' mana drain. Good with initiative and defense. Nice with refined mana or sar issus set.
Battle Mages are simpler. More shots, slightly better attack and their ranged attack passes through your adjacent forces so you can properly surround them. A might upgrade which can work well for longer games. Note that they can make adjacent units immune to other mage ranged attacks.
Djinns are decent damage dealers by midgame but only if upgraded - keep them in town until then. Later they tend to die in the first few rounds without causing much damage. You can either use init/attack or luck artie for suicide attacks or use init/def arties for backseat casting. As casters they are rather random to rely on. ToE nerfed their damage while compensating with extra health and magic proof.
Viziers are slightly tougher and manipulate luck instead of magic, ranging between 1 and 3 – positive for allies, negative for enemies. If you use twice on a unit it will replace previous effect, negative luck does not stack. Init/def or init/morale arties allows them to decrease enemy luck asap.
Rakshasas are tanks not chargers and thus need initiative and defense(or sometimes init with luck/attack). When you use dash with init artie or haste you get a nice boost. In big battles be careful with dash, they may suffer casualties by the time they act. Motw with arcane armour on them and titans is great.
Kshatras are more offensive at the cost of slightly lower health and loss of no retaliation but better damage, speed and an extended area of attack more than compensate. When you are on the defensive pick rajas. Init/speed can turn them into crazy chargers.
Titans are meant to stay in place and shoot, then melee or call lightning though it is rather weak and resistable. They will need meatshield protection as well as magical aid. Initiative arties may grant you the first attack and defense is essential to keep them alive.
Storm titans seem lacking. Basically the same with a weaker AoE overtime version of call lightning. Decreases the enemy's ranged attack by 1% per titan for what it’s worth. On the positive side the summoned thundercloud is 3x3 and acts like mass decay in that area so it's a natural phantom force counter.
FACTION SPECIFIC STRATEGIES
Haven tends to be weak in earlygame, its rebalanced training cannot start amassing crossbowmen or cavaliers before week 4. Their units are easy to tackle with spells and they are forced to cross the battlefield. Split your mages for boosted fist of wrath and play defensively, shooting and casting spells.
In lategame things look different. You will face angels, a powerful stack of paladins(probably split), crossbowmen and griffins. He may also buy squires if he has enough money or sacrifice getting more paladins.
Not that vindicators are bad mind you. Teleport and destroy.
Destructive with warlock’s luck and elemental gargoyles is sweet but risky if he has high resistance or magical immunity. Light is good for buffing/rez and ESPECIALLY stormwind. Suppress light is occasionally good to have. Phantom forces may also prevent a charge acting as an obstacle - an incorporeal one.
With stormwind angels will not reach you unless they have tactics/windstrider boots. You can block paladins with gargoyles equipped with init/def arties. Dark is risky as the paladins have lay on hands and may be split, zealots can cleanse or purge - though cleansing curses from high lvl hero is often unsuccessful. Frenzy is nice on champions/crossbowmen/angels, paladins are unfortunately immune. Place firetrap in the paladin pathways, unless the knight has magical immunity they are in for a world of pain. If possible surround them with units so that they cannot charge or cleanse allies. Divine vengeance can give you an easy victory but it's banned nowadays. When haven forces are weakened try a phoenix or motw+resurrection, if you summon phoenix too early it may easily fall to haven's might. Also possible to spam hives so as to keep stranded units rooted in place.
Facing a dark knight is a possibility. That means your shooters may find themselves afflicted with confusion, your phoenix may be frenzied/puppeted and the units you cursed(confusion, blindness, frenzy, puppet) freed with vampirism. In such a case a pure dark wizard will have a very hard time. Cleansing from archmage or hero is a good vampirism counter, also keep in mind that it can be randomly mirrored towards your own units. If your phoenix is cursed simply summon again, it will be reborn without the curse. Summoning obstacles are a life saver, just keep in mind that wasp from hives will not affect vampiric units. As a plus dark cannot protect him from firetrap or destructive.
And of course don't overlook might in lategame. Attack, defense and sometimes luck have their uses. Don't pick many abilities - stormwind, fog veil, power of endurance, stand your ground and tactics are some of the key ones. Adding luck arties while having luck is an easy way to maximize your units' luck.br/>
If the knight lacks defense then djinns could charge the paladins dealing some damage and blocking them but they may retaliate with luck killing them in the process. Better to stay in the back and reduce luck or block the pathway to titans. Gargoyles with init arties may also cover the titans or rakshasas. Mages are better off surrounded and casting fireballs, with squires your ranged firepower will be halved anyway. If he has fire resistance use fist of wrath on crossbowmen. I don't recommend kshatras, you'll want to avoid retaliations.
I personally find that against academy, dungeon is better off using an array of both might and magic skills. A mass hasted academy with init/magic protection arties has pretty good chances against a traditional destructive caster. With initiative arties, high attack, elemental chains and possibly luck the dungeon units can deal a lot more damage than the hero's weakened spells but like infernal units they fall fast.
For that reason dark is a good option, if you puppet grim raiders and charge their hydras or blackies they will will go down without much effort. A powerful phoenix can also do the trick though easy to counter with cold death or dark. Counterspell can work assuming they fail to make an effective first round charge. However matriarchs can trigger it so at worst the warlock will wait half a turn and cast anyway - not to mention that counterspell does not work with sorcery. The warlock will always act before a second counterspell.
When the combat begins you will face the charge of the enemy's three spearheads - furies, raiders and blackies. Furies will almost always play first and can easily block your titans. The others have moderate initiative so you'll usually be able to block them one way or another, that is why you'll initiative arties. Stormwind can greatly help against the blackies. Then focus on hydras, they pack a lot of hp so you'd better kill them swiftly. The warlock's spells can weaken your army fast, keep your magnetics close to key units for protection.
It is worth noting that kshatras with haste and init artie can reach 25-30 initiative, they can carve a path of destruction within short notice which is why they are usually targeted first. Do not consider magnetics fully immune to magic, the warlock's ignite still affects them. Goes without saying that you never use elemental gargoyles here.
Inferno will usually charge you after a swift gating. With reinforcements and the mana stealing familiars you may run after a long battle, consider getting intelligence. Be sure to get dark magic, inferno's only counter to high level curses is vampirism - and it can be mirrored. If your hero acts first and you notice battle frenzy on enemy units do not start with mass slow, chances are that he has power of speed. And if you frenzy a unit he may teleport it close to your troops or dispel it with vampirism. Likewise don't start with puppet unless you have very high spellpower, enemy unit may play after its hero. A good way to start is mass weakness/suffering, their impact on inferno offensive is outstanding. A single resisted spell would lower your chances, often an unwise risk.
Light for mass endurance/cleansing and resurrection may prove invaluable. Summoning is another option but avoid banish, it is ineffective and does not work with sorcery. Destructive is one of inferno's weaknesses I'd say - unless he got Marbas or resistance/elemental protection artifacts. Exorcism could help against gated stacks but I prefer pure destructive against inferno - if you start blasting the opponent you won't have much use for summoning spells.
A general strategy is to focus on the original stacks to end the battle quick. Keep your ranged units surrounded to avoid gated stacks sneaking in. Resurrect before they cover your corpses or the demonlord consumes them. It will be an endurance match so don't waste mana, if archmages fall and you are low on mana then revive them with consume artifact, they have a mana reduction special. Cover demonic corpses to prevent archdevils from summoning pitlords. Seduction may be removed with cleansing but not by magical immunity or vampirism. Casting vampirism first will prevent your unit from being seduced but if you cast it afterwards the unit will remain under enemy control. If you shoot the succubi first the duration will be shorter. Also while they are immune to puppet they can be frenzied. Do not use kshatras here, easy to turn on you and they suffer retaliations. Archmagi are good but if seduced they will cast righteous might on inferno units.
Another endurance match, the necromancer's mana with mark of the necromancer is virtually unlimited so you'd better have sufficient mana. While necro boasts a huge army strangely their weakness is destructive, mostly due to motw but also your elemental gargoyles. Armageddon with magic protection arties is a nice cheesy strategy. Light is another excellent choice. Stormwind severely hurts necro as three of its stacks are flyers. Other than that light is the perfect counter to necro's dark, you will be able to prevent your army from turning upon itself. Summoning I also enjoy, spamming firetrap or other obstacles can disrupt the necro's charge. Dark is not bad but while the necromancer will rarely have a counter (besides power of speed and vampirism) his undead will be immune to your higher level curses. Sandro's cloak can remedy that.
What you may face: Power of speed or at the very least endurance is a safe bet, powerful and swift. By the time you cast a single spell he will have cast 2 mass buffs already, better to follow up with mass spells. Dark is almost certain, while single curses can be mirrored the necromancer will not want to leave your buff casting spree unchecked and mass decay(or repeated mass vulnerability) is a lovely way to gradually weaken your forces. Curse of the netherworld is a concern so you may want to have magic protection minies on your key units, say titans and rajas. Magnetics are immune and healed by it. Summoning is likely, necro's phoenix is a force to be reckoned with and his spells should be stronger than yours.
Necro sometimes goes for light, a real pain to deal with. Mass cleansing can help but otherwise all you can do is keep up with the buffing. Another equally rare case is a destructive necro. While single spells are easy to mirror there is only so much you can do against a powerful ignited fireball - hopefully you won't have elemental gargoyles should that happen. Circle of winter with cold death is an easy phoenix killer.
I suggest primarily focusing on wraiths and vampire princes as he will have them in high numbers. You will be unable to kill his liches fast due to skeleton warrior's shield cover. You can possibly block them with djinns or gargoyles but it's usually better to stay back and deal with the melee forces. Try to weaken skeletons, with evasion, vitality and mass buffs they are not to be treated lightly. Ghosts are also a concern but avoid attacking unless you know that the attack will connect. You will know for sure if the last 2 attacks or retaliations were misses - that also counts incorporeal on your own units. Keep track of every hit or miss on phantom forces and ghosts.
Do not summon a phoenix in the vicinity of wraiths. If you have an ice protection like bearhilde wraps the phoenix may survive from cold death, a nice surprise. If frenzied or puppeted proceed with magical immunity, cleansing or vampirism. Try to kill his stacks and cover dead stacks to prevent them from being raised, avoid a prolonged battle. If banshees are nearby keep in mind that their wail is a failproof way to deal with phantom forces.
Your spellpower may not be enough to make a firewall damaging. How about two?
To build up fast they tend to skip treants, build dragons fast and upgrade hunters that are usually split. In earlygame they aren't much of a threat but later may tear you to pieces. With aura of swiftness and possibly tactics they can all reach your side from the first round.
Dark is risky here. Most sylvan units are swift, adequate damage dealers so a single dark spell won't stop the others from killing you. The silver unicorn's magic aura acts as a further deterrent to frenzy/puppet. Same goes for destructive but at least it deals with enemies directly, no fear of cleansing as with dark. Keep in mind that you may not have time for motw so you'd better have good spellpower and/or elemental boosters. Light may not do much to stop an onslaught but it has stormwind which severely slows dryads and dragons, giving you time to breath. Then there's mass endurance or mass cleansing that can strip multiple buffs at once. Summoning can support nicely with phoenix, crystal, barrier. Your phoenix however may be blinded by unicorns or rooted by treants.
Spells aside you will need to make use of your army. Gremlins, mages and titans with init arties can kill most arcanes. Also add defense arties, the longer the game takes the hardest it will be for sylvan to keep up. Don't neglect the druids, if the ranger has bottomless mana then he can keep resurrecting his army like crazy, especially if he has pristine unicorns. If he does be mindful of your buffs, don't want them to carry every buff in existence.
Try to find luck/morale reducing artifacts. Reducing luck will lower the crystal dragon’s chance to hit many targets.
The possible results of no stormwind against a charging build. Not good.
They may decrease your djinn initiative with stormwind but with init artie you should be fine.
I used to consider this a random matchup but a skilled wizard will usually go either light or full destructive. Enlightenment is very important as high knowledge means better initiative arties, if you get the first attack with might bonuses you are a step closer to winning. For the same reason defense is invaluable. Expect to face mass cleansing, haste, righteous might, deflect missile, endurance.
Summoning is also possible but best accompanied by light, do not count on warmachines due to saboteurs. Another classic scenario is armageddon with magic protection arties. Dark is easy to counter or mirror.
In tend to prefer master gremlins for golem repair, obsidians for immunity, battlemages for mage ranged protection, viziers and kshatras for obvious reasons.
About skill abilities I'd suggest evasion, suppress light, fire resistance, fog veil, retribution, preparation or ignite if you go destructive.
They are typically slow due to the town's intensive resource costs but almost overpowered in lategame. During early weeks you will likely face destructive or runic machines but they rarely have sorcery and saboteurs can help with the latter. Hope to get fire trap for the bears and dragons.
For longer games they usually pursue light with a might build as they amplify their rune potential. They have various counters: Dwarven luck, rune of immunity/exorcism, eternal light, fire resistance and light may face doubled cost(suppress light) or be stolen with rune of magic control. The safest choice for you is light and summoning.
You will need def arties against their charge, most of their units can reach you with tactics but at least their initiative is moderate. That is bad news with rune of battlerage, you may sustain heavy losses from the very first round. The rune of charge followed by a mass spell has also been known to annihilate armies but thankfully it's banned in a number of maps.
If you get dark you can use their runes with puppet. Low level curses can be countered with rune of exorcism but the rest require either cleansing or magical immunity that he may not have.
Djinns are better off in the back or blocking the path of incoming thanes or bears - You cannot risk the possibility of battlerage. While they have many group attacks, you are still better off in closed formations to keep your ranged forces out of reach. Weaken bears and battleragers fast, they can often bash/scare/paw strike your units - even in small numbers if they have soldier's luck. Thanes may be a threat but absorb a lot of damage so they cannot be killed fast anyway, in case of regeneration it's an impossible task. Don't leave weakened stacks alive to prevent them using rune of resurrection, if they have evasion they likely have last stand as well. Some of their abilities can displace your position, especially bears and harpooners, plan ahead.
Typical strategies are starting with motw, then using arcane armour and regeneration. Or using arcane cryctal to kill dragons, or barrier to block attackers. Either way he may teleport his units past them. Which reminds me, if you see a unit use rune of battlerage DO NOT attack it. If you kill at least one unit then the stack will activate rune of berserking and battlerage will trigger twice on your units. That tactic is often used with teleportation. If he has flamelords he can afflict your units with mark of fire so the next firewall will be doubly damaging so fire resistance will be useful. Cover enemy corpses, one hero resurrection, rune of resurrection and voila - half the stack has returned.
They may also pull off preparation with armageddon tactics since their dragons, priests and flamelords are immune. Shieldguards and blackbears are unaffected by master of fire defense reduction not to mention the resurrection rune. Of course you can always get fire resistance.
One of your worst nightmares, deflect missile..
If you attack them in town motw with wasp swarm can keep the massive shieldguard stack from acting for as long as you can afford to cast.
A powerful rival in the clash between might and magic. This race is relatively easy to play but harder to defend against, it requires specific tactics to take these brutes down. What sets orcs apart from other might factions is their rage that helps absorb large amounts of physical or magical damage. Also magic schools are replaced by their respective shatters. Despite their lack of spellcasting, rage and warcries more than make up for it.
The possible combination of warcries is limited so unless the opponent has extra barbarian towns you won't face many surprises.
Lvl 2 warcries are word of chief and fear my roar. The former works like divine guidance except the hero attacks the unit first, thus a natural blindness counter. Helps units get out of the way in case of frenzy or play before they are weakened. The latter has a chance to scare units into losing their turn and move to another spot, works on puppeted orcs.
The lvl 3 warcries are horde's anger and battlecry. Horde's anger deals direct damage equal to the number of orcish units and is unaffected by magic immunity. If you want to weaken it a good plan is to focus on centaurs and goblins, otherwise puppet the largest stack and it won't count for the warcry's damage. Battlecry boosts attack and increases speed of all units by 1. If they are just 1 tile away from reaching don't assume you are safe.
Dark is your best option against stronghold, their one true weakness. They cannot cleanse but shatter it at best and even then it remains effective. Against puppet they can use fear my roar, chieftains or order of the chief against blindness, no counter against frenzy or mass spells. Mass slow is their bane, only shamans and tent can counter it. Motw with blind can buy you time, just make sure you blind chieftains first.
Summoning is good for backup. You'll want to keep the orcs away from you, besides a phoenix helps in dispatching cursed orcs. Your army may lack the muscle to finish the job as dark duration with shatter is limited. Don't forget that the phoenix can be slowed by shamans, killed by horde's anger or scared so don't be quick to summon it. Destructive.. depends on how high your spellpower is. A barbarian is unlikely to have the shatter, however rage with barbarian's luck can prove a tough shell to penetrate. Best used with freeze effect and elemental boosters. Light is decent but should the orcs make a successful charge the remainder of your units won't have much use for buffs. If you can guarantee a powerful artificer and possibly defense skill then it's worth it.
In the battlefield the orcs will prove both damaging and resilient. Your first attacks may deal only 35% damage but once rage hits zero they fall normally. Do not spread your attacks, focus your fire on the most immediate threats. Typical artificer setup and defensive placement, your priority is to deal with centaurs cyclopes and shamans. If he has executioners and maulers they are top priority, dark works great there. Be careful if cyclopes get morale, a bump from the chieftains can make them play almost immediately after. Viziers should either curse or block incoming units like executioners. If he lacks defense or enlightenment you can also treat them as kamikaze against centaurs, maulers or executioners. While you won't like retaliations, kshatras work well against multiple medium speed incoming attackers. Just avoid attacking while adjacent to warmongers, they can taunt you into attacking them. Speaking of which taunt works against the enemy if you puppet them. Keep them adjacent to your units so that enemy attackers face the risk of taunt each time they attack you. Shamans can sacrifise goblins for mana, attack goblins to flee when adjacent to shamans. Likewise cyclopes can shoot with them or consume them to regain health. Be especially careful with earth daughters as first rage level boosts initiative, they can cut down your units at impossible speed. They gain rage quick, don't leave them unchecked.
Tactics aside there are two things that can predetermine how hard the battle will be. Enlightenment with stamina for orcs is the worst case scenario while your best skill is defense with power of endurance and stand your ground. Orcs can be particularly good in lategame but if you manage to get defense and lvl 3 artificer you can even the odds.
That's pretty much it, I hope I covered what was needed. Special thanks to:
Corribus for organizing this project and bringing the team together. It was worth it and there are more articles to be updated and released.
Destro23 for all the advice and tactics he provided. His ToH experience was exactly what I needed and I learnt a few things in the process.
Omega Destroyer, Winterfate, Caradoc and Hocoino for the feedback. Your help was needed to keep the discussion going and your support is appreciated.
And of course Angelspit for providing us the debate forum and ensuring the article's completion. You have done a lot for us and I am grateful.
Thank you all for your time!