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Baalz' MA Machaka Guide: The Beast of the Savanna

Original guide can be found here

MA Machaka has an image problem. Lightly equipped tribes folk with super expensive sacred spiders, and really their only decent mages are capital only - right? This image is not just why most people think of Machaka as a third tier nation, it also becomes a self fulfilling prophecy if that’s how you approach playing them. This nation is a beast though, or rather a lot of beasts rolled into one - you just have to know how to channel them.

Let me paint a different picture for you - one of rapid initial expansion, devastating combat magic coming in great quantity and diversity, steel blender walls the enemy trickles into in disarray, stealthy and fast raiding, and a lot sneaky tricks your opponent will never see coming. The earlier era of Machaka is more overt in the animal strengths they channel, but despite a strong spider branding MA Machaka also roars like a lion, smashes like a rhino, and completely overwhelms like a croc. Let me teach you how to see the beast of the savanna - though I wouldn't advise getting in its way.

The Spider

Webs and venom, bountiful lairs

Black HunterThe first thing, and I can’t stress this enough - mostly pretend that Black Hunters don’t exist. To quote myself from years ago “These guys are just so cool you can’t help but want to tank your entire strategy to field them, dumping massive points into a good bless and ruinous amounts of gold into recruiting them. This unit is, I think the prime culprit as to why Machaka is so seldom competitive. Cool as they are, they just don’t work as the centerpiece of your strategy. When you start thinking about recruiting them, remind yourself that for that price and being cap only they’re competing roughly with Niefel Giants, much more expensive than Vans or Knight of the Chalice, and the comparison isn’t even close. Their hitpoints are too low, they’re size 6 so they get swarmed and this drastically reduces their damage output, their second form (Hunter Spider) doesn’t benefit from the same bless as their first form and has a terrible MR and damage output, etc. etc. They are very cool, and there are some niches where they’re useful (they *LOVE* elephant snacks), but I don’t think it’s possible to be very competitive with them as the centerpiece of your strategy.”

Once you’ve stricken those big black traps from your roster one thing immediately becomes very clear. No sacred mages, no sacred troops. From one angle this is a bad thing, but from another it frees up a lot of design points. We’ll talk more about your pretender below, but for now let’s just consider that it’s pretty easy to get order/production scales. Those scales will let you expand aggressively with the star of your early game - Spider Knights.

At first glance Spider Knights don’t look like the workhorses they are, but they handily take out nearly every kind of indie fairly efficiently - which is exactly what you need for the early game. From Barbarians to Knights the reason they’re so effective is because of their web spit. The TL;DR version is just try it out - a dozen Spider Knights with no scripting will take out most indies, and with your scales you’ll soon be sending out an expansion party every other turn and running out of indies to spin up in your webs and eat. The longer version of why they’re so effective is because web spit hits an AOE1 (ignoring defense & shields) from a short range, which trips up the enemy front lines so that some of them get through while some of them struggle for a bit to get out of the webs. This leaves the enemy piecemeal wandering into your front line and getting ganked hard. Understanding why this is working is pretty important to understanding why and how to deploy Spider Knights once you start fighting other nations, as they transition to more of a special teams player rather than a goto front line one. That said, don’t forget you have these guys in your roster - they tend to be really good against troops that rely on high defense, like those tasty, tasty elves. One note - to trigger the death poison at least one point of their fang attack has to get through the enemy armor, so they don’t do so well against units with very high protection. Death poison does however not care much about your “major” poison resistance, and loves Fire/Shock immune giants with Blood Bond and Fortitude…so long as they’re not regenerating. Noms!

The Hedgehog

Active defenses and piercing regret

So what do you want to use for your front line after you’ve gobbled up all the indies and your ugly neighbors have good spider counters? For that I’m gonna ask you to adjust your thinking from the image that Machaka’s bad PR has planted of being light tribesman and put you in a mindset that may feel more at home with another nation. I think it’s easy to overlook at first glance if you’re in the headspace to see a spear holding native, but the Machaka Hoplite compares favorably to the very competent Arcocephale hoplites that are iconic linebackers in keeping the bad guys off their mages.

Slightly less protection on the helmet and shield, but a whopping 4 points more of defense give the Machaka Hoplite a pretty impressive survivability when packed shoulder to shoulder. With formation fighter, length 4 weapons for repelling, high protection and above average defense don’t underestimate these guys' ability to hold off even elite enemy troops for a bit. Machaka is a heavy infantry linebacker nation. Play them with heavy production scales and they start feeling pretty weighty.

The Rhino

Brute force and armored skin

That’s fine and well, but Arco packs some pretty serious communion muscle to finish the job when spears aren’t gonna cut it, what the hell does Machaka have to back up those linebackers? Let's start with the glorious cap only Black Sorcerer. There’s a number of fun things to do with him, but the most obvious thing he brings to the party is a very substantial earth magic. E2, E3 with a random, E4 with Summon Earthpower, E5 with Earth boots. Earth magic opens a lot of doors to you, but right out the gate is the classic Strength of Giants and Legions of Steel which puts those hoplite Hedgehog formations into the “this is a problem” category for your opponents. Once you get up to Weapons of Sharpness and Wooden Warriors that becomes “this is a real fucking problem”. A wall of formation fighters dealing 19 AP damage with 25 protection is not something anything is gonna want to run into. Relatively early in the game this is what your opponent is faced with trying to punch through, packed 4 to a square:

Also don’t neglect the evocations that Black Sorcerers are uniquely able to bring to the battlefield. Many a time has Blade Wind laid low shieldless troops, and Magma Eruptions are just the thing when those fire immune sacreds come knocking. Also - since Black Sorcerers turn into Hunter Spiders when critically wounded they’re never gonna kill themselves with Earthquakes. Nasty surprise as an ambush. Curse of Stones is another one that will win big fights against the right opponents - particularly if you have enough mages to spam it several times.

Black Sorcerers also bring good straight fire magic, F2, F3 with random, F4 with Phoenix Power, F5 with a Fire Skull. This is quite effective with the obvious goto fire evocations, but also don’t miss that Firestorm is in reach. Drop Flame Ward and your hoplites won’t care, and all your mages can cast Elemental Fortitude… the enemy mages perhaps not so much. Also consider Heat from Hell, that can do an excellent job of taking out opposition too heavy to fall to Firestorm.

One other thing bears special mention, investing in some Dwarven Hammers is a particularly good move for Machaka. There are many cheap magic items that you’re gonna want to crank out in bulk (mentioned below), which is a sweet spot for Dwarven Hammers. As we’ll get into below Machaka has a lot of useful stuff to be forging all the time and you’re unlikely to have a hard time putting 4 or 5 hammers to use almost every turn - honestly, most of the gems you spend in a game are likely to be used for forging. In that vein, most of your early earth gems will probably be used on Dwarven Hammers - and that’s ok, we don’t really have any other urgent need for them early.

The Baboon

Clever big packs with good tools and a bad attitude

One of the underestimated stars of Machaka is the humble Witch Doctor. Don’t let the research penalty fool you - these guys are the foundation of a great research nation when paired with a magic dominion. If you spring for Magic-3 you’re getting 10rp for 80 gold. That’s not terribly exciting, but it is reasonable and as they can be recruited in all forests without needing a fort or a temple, and only require 2 command points this compounds faster than it would seem. 2 forest labs (1000 gold) will net you one Witch Doctor per turn recruitment, compared to a fort (600) + upgrade (300) + lab (500) + possible temple (400) = 1400-1800 that other nations need to invest to get one mage per turn. It also lets you start cranking them out faster because labs are constructed in just one turn. Because research grows exponentially as you steadily add mages, cranking out 1.5x as many mages, and getting them out a few turns earlier compounds into a very aggressive research push very early. This is map dependent of course, if you just don’t have forests it’ll be a little slower getting started - but don’t neglect investing in some cheap Witch Doctors even if you have to get them from forts because 1 - recruiting 80 gold mages saves you early gold to put up more forts. 2 - They’re surprisingly effective in combat.

Far from just being otherwise useless research mages, your swarms of Witch Doctors give you an impressive defense early. If one of your neighbors is rushing you with heavily blessed sacreds that your hoplites can’t handle, having the center of your hedgehog formation be a gaggle of guys casting Eagle Eyes, Banefire Darts X4 will really wreck some people’s day. This handily ignores those elemental resist blessings, deals AP damage, and even splashes decay so plenty of the guys who manage to run away are still gonna have a very bad day. Another solid option is to pass out one fire gem apiece and Eagle Eyes, Phoenix Power, Fireball X3. Having half a dozen guys scripted like this is devastating to most things early game. This humble mage has more tricks up his sleeve if you find yourself pressed. Eagle Eyes, Frighten X4 is actually surprisingly effective when spammed by several mages. Spamming high precision Web is a much longer range version of what made those Spider Knights so effective - it strings the enemy out so now they're running into that phalanx wall piecemeal. There’s a lot of magic these guys have when used in numbers - it really does make sense to crank them out of all your forests and some of your forts. Also notice that they have a nice map move of 18, bundled with forest survival. This gives them a lot higher mobility than you probably expect out of humans on foot - for reference cavalry tends to be in the 16-22 movement range and stop dead for trees, so these guys will outrun horses a lot of times. This will often give you options for pulling in swarms of them from different locations for a nasty surprise.

Plan A though is to keep them in your labs early on researching like maniacs. This is a sorcerous nation and you need research to make that run! There’s two high priority research paths, but assuming you’re not hard pressed for combat the first thing you want to push for (after picking up the low level stuff like Strength of Giants) is construction 6. With construction-6 being an early priority, strongly consider punching straight up to construction-7 too. It's hard to oversell how effective Weapons of Sharpness is for those hoplite formations, there’s not much they won’t poke holes in economically. Why the urgency for construction? Here’s some particularly good ideas that you have a limitless need for.

Lightless Lanterns Fantastic investment if you’ve got dwarven hammers and hit construction-6 early in the game. You already had top tier research, pouring this gasoline on that fire will very likely put you as the research leader in the game.

Kithaironic Lion Pelts Only 2N 1E gems for Machaka without tying up a hammer (national discount). 15 protection for head and body, only 1 encumbrance, this is a fantastic deal to stick on every mage going into combat. Sorcerers wearing these, in the center of a hedgehog of hoplites are also going to benefit from the Wooden Warriors/Legions of Steel and can drop Elemental Fortitude, so are going to have a very high survivability against arrows and spells - angry hostiles are gonna have to get through those hoplites. Having these on all your mages also turns things like Earthquake and Firestorm into things that definitely only kill the enemy mages.

Boots of the Messenger Only 3N if you’re using a hammer, this is also something you want to crank out as much as possible and stick on every Sorcerer you can. Not only does it give them reinvigoration, it boosts their map move to an absurd 27. You’ll find that with these boots in general circulation your strategic maneuverability puts flying nations to shame.

Skull Staffs More on this later, but you have an infinite need for these.

Fire in a Jar When you’re farther into the game (or pressed in combat before getting to construction-6) Lightless Lanterns make less sense to invest in, Fire in Jars is a great place to dump fire gems. Each Fire in a Jar transforms a Witch Doctor into a high precision Fireball launcher. Alternatively, another fantastic thing to do is have Witch Doctors summon Will o Wisps. Will o Wisps appear at the edge of the battlefield, and several mages opening the fight with them do a fairly unparalleled job of mucking up enemy formations as everybody splits up to chase distractions all around them. Did I mention you should have a lot of Witch Doctors, and this is only 3F with a hammer?

Fire Skulls This competes with Skull Staffs for D gems, but upgrades Witch Doctors into high precision Falling Fires platforms.

Your other research priority to balance is usually going to be evocation. Buffed hoplites are gonna carry you far, but you’ll usually need some magic muscle to help swat the heaviest things people will throw at you. MA Machaka has top tier evocation mages, but their effectiveness is strongly tied to your level of research.

When you’re looking at late game targets for your strong research, special consideration should be made for targeting Evo 8. Swarms of Witch Doctors popping out in mass with Fires in Jars to cast Eagle Eyes, Phoenix Power, Pillar of Fires is spectacular - and minor fire resistance isn’t gonna help. If you find yourself ever getting to level 9 research late game, Flame Storm is worth the effort with your Black Sorcerers.

The Crocodile

Untamable strength, speed and resilience

Black Sorcerers are great, but they have the obvious limitation of being cap only and slow to recruit. Fear not, as what you can crank out of all your other forts is the eponymous Sorcerer. At first glance he might not seem like that much of an upgrade from the Witch Doctor - but that would be a very wrong impression. The random each Sorcerer gets substantially changes what they bring to the party, so let me break them down. As with the Witch Doctors, much of the magic of the Sorcerers comes from the numbers that you’ll be fielding them in. They recruit everywhere, only take 2 command points, and are a relatively modest 195 gold. Also, like the Witch Doctors they’ve got forest survival and a great 18 map move (27 with those messenger boots you’re cranking out like an assembly line). Add that all up, and you should have a lot of Sorcerers all over the place with mobility higher than any other nation you’ve ever played. Swarm those Sorcerers for your battles!

That’s great, they’re all over the place…but what do they do?

Random: This guy is even better than your Black Sorcerers at dropping things like Falling Fires due to being able to self buff Eagle Eyes. Fire skulls brings these guys up to F4 on the battlefield - which puts that Firestorm/Heat from Hell I suggested earlier in reach with non cap mages that are zooming around. Without any fanciness though, high precision fire evocations are a bread-and-butter core strategy for dealing with most of your basic combat, and F random Sorcerers don’t need a single gem to whip out the flamethrowers.

Random: Most of your D gems will probably go into Skull Staffs for these guys, which puts them up to D3. They can spit out some mediocre skellispam, but far and away the jewel here is Banefire. Eagle Eyes + Banefire is a golden combo that will annihilate anything in the game that isn’t in overwhelming numbers (fire evos are for clearing the chaff). Once you get a few of these guys into rotation it becomes extremely difficult for anyone strong enough to be a problem for your hoplites in melee to live long enough to be a problem. Ultra elite units? Pretenders? SCs? No problem - nothing resists banefire. Note, one very worthy upgrade to Banefire casters is Eyes of Aiming, which stacks on the Eagle Eyes. Air mages are obviously a problem for Machaka, but if you manage to snag some or get a trading partner these should be a priority.

Random: Those N buffs mentioned above obviously come from these guys, Wooden Warriors is a critical component in making those hoplite hedgehogs ridiculous. Storm of Thorns is also a great spell with Eagle Eyes - it’s basically an upgrade to all the webbing we’ve already been doing, but adds 15 magic damage and 7+ number of effects. Cast with several Sorcerers and it really tends to trip up the enemy lines while doing a not inconsiderable amount of damage. If you’ve got other guys pounding down with Falling Fires, Banefire, etc. then what the enemy really doesn’t want to do is get tangled up while trying to close, then straggle in a few at a time to a solid wall of AP hoplite spears. Poison Cloud is another great option - mediocre skellispam becomes a lot more effective when everybody is fighting in clouds of poison. Howl also is a great spell that folds wonderfully into your strategy of tying up the enemy troops. Also - don’t forget about Poison Ward/??Serpent’s Blessing or Foul Vapor??s is really gonna ruin your day sometime.

Random: Not as exciting as the other flavors, but they do give you consistent non-cap access to earth magic. After you get enough Dwarven Hammers, a good use for your earth gems is Earth Boots. With boots and Earthpower these guys are E3 and you’ve instantly got Strength of Giants/Legions of Steel/Blade Wind/Curse of Stones anywhere you need it without having to ensure a Black Sorcerer is there.

I wanted to make special consideration of skellispam options. As I mentioned, MA Machaka’s skellispam strength is mediocre when compared to some of the powerhouses who will just drown you in chaff. You’re gonna have a hard time pulling the sort of skellispam that can win by itself, but combined with the things that you are strong in it can be a powerful combined arms play. One of the big weaknesses of the hedgehog strategy is that the hoplites are dog shit slow, which really limits the fantastic mobility of your Sorcerers. What you really want to do sometimes is run ahead with your Sorcerers to harass stuff while your phalanx slowly catches up. Sorcerers dropping heavy artillery often just need a little bit of cover to keep from getting overrun too fast to get their spells off - which is when mediocre skellispam can be very effective. Skeletons aren’t gonna kill people, they’re gonna be speedbumps while Sorcerers kill people. As appropriate, combine this with other chaff spells like Howl, Corpse Candles, Will o Wisps, Swarm, etc. - but skellispam is special in that it doesn’t need any gems. Mediocrity used in a non mediocre way!

One particular item to consider for this strategy is Lantern Shields. The big problem is that they compete for gems with Skull Staffs, Lightless Lanterns, and Fire Skulls - but they auto summon 3 relatively resilient Corpse Candles each fight. Corpse Candles are high defense, ethereal units which are generally very good at slowing down murderous dudes charging your mages. Every D gem that doesn’t become a staff or skull is painful, but these shields do give you some more options for deploying Sorcerers without waiting for the hoplites slowly stomping into place. Also worth noting, Corpse Candles are poison resistant, so fold well into poison clouds/skeletons.

The Hippo

Brutes with speed and stealth

Your Sorcerers also have great paths for thugging. Summon Earthpower, Ironskin, Personal Regeneration, Fire Shield - there’s some good stuff there. You’ve also got the right paths for great thug gear - Shield of Beaten Gold or Vine Shield and Kithaironic Lion Pelt. There’s lots of different ways you can go depending on what you’re fighting and what gems you’ve got. There’s not much getting around your low hitpoints for thugging (no mistform unfortunately) so these guys are gonna stay in the light thug territory - but you shouldn’t have much trouble kitting out several raiders to chase an arbitrary amount of PD off. Shademail Haubergeon is an expensive but great option to add stealth in for some actually quite impressive raiding potential. This isn’t what people typically think about for Machaka, but several of these guys sneaking around will change the war front considerably. Note - with that movement they can jump over one enemy to hit the one behind it, sneak around and generally be very difficult to catch.

The Lion

Got the moves like Jaguar

Given all this, what does your pretender bring to the table? One of the great things about Machaka is that there really isn’t anything your pretender NEEDS to bring. Production and Magic scales are probably the closest thing to must-haves, but you don’t technically need them. Squeezing in astral and air are also good things to consider since you’re otherwise lacking them. There’s not a lot of terribly wrong answers here, but here’s a build I like:

We’re not investing much in a bless - mostly in the paths we want for diversity anway, but sneaking in the relatively cheap Farcaster/+4 precision blessing is pretty high leverage. You’re going to be raining down a lot of evocations, and one thing that will really bring that to the next level is being able to reach out to the enemy back field to pummel the stuff they were trying to keep out of the thick of it. Obviously without sacred mages this is not going to be a core strategy, but having just a few super snipers as a surprise can 100% win some critical battles for you. The precision stacks with the Eagle Eyes you were already casting, and your spells have 150% range for a pretty substantial upgrade to your murdering ability. To paint a picture for you, you’re dropping high precision Falling Fires on their mages, who can’t reach you with their spells, and popping their pretender with Banefire while he was trying to cast his self buffs. It doesn’t need to be all your artillery, just a few snipers can cause a heck of a lot of havok picking off stuff that thought it was safe. The Neter of Crafts has a forge bonus of 2, which stacks with 2 from a Dwarven Hammer so you get a discount of 4 on forged items. This is super nice for pumping out Eyes of Aiming/Sacred Shrouds since your astral and air income is likely to be pretty weak. Definitely keep an eye out for S1/A1 indies to do the same (Crystal Amazons can do both for you!) - if you’re fortunate enough to find yourself able to do so these are two more items to mass produce and put in general circulation. Also, this should be a high (and relatively easy) priority for trading with other players. It's generally not a hard pitch to trade lightless lanterns or messenger boots for sacred shrouds.

What else does this pretender do for you? Crystal Shields are a big one that brings F6, E6, N5 into reach for some of the more niche huge spells (vomiting elementals with Living Fire/Living Earth can be quite overwhelming, and a couple guys casting Syllable of Sleep will bring your Web/Storm of Thorns stalling game to a new level). Staff of Storms is another item that bears special consideration as fliers are something that this strategy otherwise may struggle a bit with. Storm also makes evocations a lot harder, so if you happen to find yourself outclassed by artillery change the game to “whose infantry is better”. That’s a game you’ll often win when you switch your mage scripts to summons and buffs. This pretender also opens up Staff of Elemental Mastery, Ring of Sorcery and Ring of Wizardry. He probably isn’t gonna be on the battlefield much, but don’t overlook the strategic flexibility added by being able to gateway the lamentably slow hoplites to the front line - this can often be the highest leverage thing a pretender can do.

The Fox

Tricksters with teeth

Rounding out your options are a few less common tactics which you can call upon as needed. Ear of the Lord is a spy recruitable at all your forts - though they do require a temple which you may not otherwise need to build. Spies have two big benefits over scouts that can make them worth the extra investment. First, they give you a lot more intel on the province they’re in. Instead of just “the local defense is quite well organized” you’ll see specific info. Obviously this extra info can be very helpful in some situations - most notably seeing exact levels of PD, scouting which provinces are high income, seeing which enemy provinces have low supplies, and seeing the current unrest. Also - it shows the current enemy dominion level, which can sometimes be critical for things like enemy pretenders.

The other thing that spies can do is raise unrest (“instill uprising”). Note, the enemy will be notified that this is happening, so don’t try this on a neighbor in peacetime - or you’ll likely find it's no longer peacetime. Done in concert with military action though it can be an effective tactic. Your spies have mapped out the high population provinces, the turn an invasion starts the unrest starts ramping in all the best income provinces your opponent has without a fort/army in it. Now, while trying to fight your invasion they also have to figure out how to get people in place and patrolling while their income is tanking. Done well it can cost your opponent a ton more than you invested in spies, and hit them right when they can’t effectively deal with it. Bonus - unrest makes it harder to patrol for stealthed units, so it's a nice synergy.

Another special teams unit is the Bane Spider assassins. They’re cap only, and thus compete with the awesome Black Sorcerers, but they also only cost 1 command point so you get 4 assassins per Black Sorcerer. With 19 armor and dual magic weapons they can be pretty competent assassins, and having half a dozen enemy mages not show up for a critical fight can be a war winner. This is the sort of thing that is mostly effective as a surprise, so just remember you have that option rather than aggressively investing in it.

The Thundering Herd

That’s…a lot of stuff coming right for us

So how does this look when all those animal aspects work together? Fast initial expansion with good scales. Top tier research with an above average number of mages. Strong early counters to elves, giants, elemental resistance sacreds and most everything you’ll run into. Transition into a mid game terror with walls of very gnarly heavy infantry screening artillery powerhouses, again with good answers to everything from chaff to SCs to elemental resistances. Sorcerers with absurd map moves and tough armor show up to every battle that matters in numbers you wouldn’t believe, and start branching out with stealthy raiding thugs zooming around. Elite snipers reach out to the enemy back field and obliterate absolutely anything with banefire. Earthquakes tear up enemy mages, while Firestorms and Heat from Hell make it pointless to bring anything to the fight without fire resistance. Skeletons and poison clouds, Webs and Corpse Candles, Howl and Willo Wisps - it's pretty difficult to even get across the battlefield to the armor piercing phalanxes with 25 protection. Then the precision boosted Pillars of Fire start, and rain down in the dozens. This doesn’t sound like a third tier nation to me…

baalz-the-beast-of-the-savanna.txt · Last modified: 2020/11/13 15:25 by naaira