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Owl's Guide to the Imprisoned Rainbow Meta

The most common pretender builds among experienced players are "rainbows": physically weak dominion 1 mage chassis with a low new path cost, taken with a wide variety of paths at 3-4 strength with nonincarnate blesses, usually taken imprisoned.

There are certainly many other pretender builds that are strong and viable. This guide doesn't argue that imprisoned rainbows are the best or only option. Instead, it attempts to explain why this sort of build has a large number of strengths and why so many players opt for it.

A Paean to Scales: Why Imprisoned Is Worth It

Taking an imprisoned pretender has many disadvantages: you're missing out on two or three dozen turns of your god being on the map. Suppose your god produces 30 research; even if all you did was sit and research, that's 700-1000 research points. A dormant god will get around two dozen turns to sitesearch, forge, research, or fight before an imprisoned god wakes up; an awake will get three dozen, and can also help expand. Dormant titans especially are often able to pick up gear and singlehandedly win a defensive war in year 2. Since a pretender gets three temple checks per turn, this also translates to a great deal of dominion that an imprisoned god misses out on. Is it worth it?

Often, yes – because *scales are really good*. Imprisoned gives you a 5-scale advantage over dormant and nearly a 9-scale advantage over awake. What does this get you? Imagine that you've got a base income of around 1600 gold, which comes out to 20000/year. Even ignoring their other effects, a point of Order or Productivity is 3% income. 5 scales, then, is 3000 gold/year minimum. These scales also allow you better expansion; while an awake god still generally outstrips scales in expansion, +9 scales goes a long way in letting you afford expansion troops and getting gold to get your infrastructure up.

A point of Magic improves your research by around 10%; a point of Growth gives decent income now and great income later. And Luck, while swingy, will deliver a steady flow of gems along with other goodies over time (compared to Misfortune, which delivers barbarians you have to clean up). Players often undervalue the benefits from Luck because they are random; over time, though, the steady flow of gems of all types is substantial.

Many of the benefits from Awake and Dormant gods, in contrast, rely on that god having a powerful chassis that can enter combat – either to expand or to fight a war (as with a defender dormant titan). These chassis cost even *more* scales; the cost of an Earth Serpent over an imprisoned rainbow includes both the 350 points for an awake god and the 170 extra points for the Earth Serpent chassis over an awake rainbow. The opportunity cost of an erfsnek is a dozen scales.

Once your imprisoned god wakes up, you keep all the benefits from your better scales, but now have your god online. Sure, it's a squishy human mage, but that's not so bad. The combat value of single powerful units like gods diminishes as the game progresses; it isn't uncommon for single heavy thugs to be able to fight a dragon solo in the mid- and late-game.

Bless Your Heart: Incarnate Blesses Often Fall Flat

Incarnate blesses – the ones that rely on your god to be on the map – look amazing. Regeneration, awe, quickness, blood vengeance, even barkskin – these are all flashy and impressive. Who wouldn't want their sacreds regenerating 10% hp/round or taking half damage from weapons? But taking them has an enormous cost. For instance, in order to get a Regeneration bless to be relevant:

  • You need your god on the field, meaning you will need Awake or Dormant. This costs scales.
  • You will need a chassis with high levels in its path. This costs even more scales.
  • These chassis have a high new path cost, so this limits the other magic/blesses you can take.

Regenerating giants seem terrifying, and regen/blood bond/fortitude Sheshai Anakites are definitely a force to behold. But the price you pay in scales is profound.

The Value Of Minor Blesses

Minor blesses, in contrast, aren't that flashy. +Strength, +Defense, +Attack, and resistances seem boring. But they have a critical advantage: you can have your cake and eat it too with them by taking an imprisoned god (getting great scales!) and still have your bless online from turn 0.

Stats Add Up

These contribute substantially in combat. Attack and defense let you hit more often and be hit less. Strength is subtly beneficial in many ways. It lets you hit mundane troops harder, but also lets you hit high-defense shielded targets through their shields once you are strong enough. For instance, Agarthan Shard Guard have base damage 27 with their two-handed glaives. With +4 Strength from blesses and Strength of Giants, they are hitting for 37 slash/pierce damage, which is often enough to slice through a target's shield. This can go a long way toward dealing with high-defense cavalry since part of their defense usually comes from a shield.

Someone taking incarnate blesses will often forgo these statistical bonuses for their large flashy effects. Those flashy effects (regeneration, awe, etc.) must do a great deal of work to provide as much benefit as "get hit less, hit more often and harder – oh, and also have more stuff, because scales are great".

Resistances Are Vital

Dominions 5 battlefields are a harsh place to be a footslogger. They are full of nasty magical effects scripted by cunning enemies that will slip something devastating through any vulnerability they can find.

It is tempting to design a bless that neglects resistances to make its troops terrifying in melee, but troops vulnerable to magical counters will be slaughtered by magic far quicker than they would be by enemy troops. For instance, in a current game the Ys player took Water 6, taking a double Defense bless. This elevated the defense of their Morvarc'h Knights to stratospheric levels.

… but it didn't matter, since they didn't take cold resistance. I knew this and brought water mages to the fight; their expensive Morvarc'hs exploded in droves to Frozen Heart.

An army not resistant to poison will get slaughtered by Foul Vapors. A lack of cold or fire resistance means a quick nap in Heat from Hell or in the Grip of Winter. Armies that lack shock resistance can be battered by Thunder Strike or annihilated under Wrathful Skies.

Simply put, an army relying on its sacreds to do heavy lifting *must* have a way to provide them fire, cold, shock, and poison resistance – at least 5 of each. This is even more critical on nations with sacred mages, since your bless protects your mage corps and your elite troops. This can be from magic; for instance, Bandar Log can perhaps get away with not taking poison resistance since it generally has enough Nature mages to Poison Ward things. However, if you don't have ready access to magic like this, opponents will exploit your sacreds' vulnerabilities.

In a similar vein, the Magic Weapons bless bypasses some powerful counters to troops: Fog Warriors and ethereality. Armies with no access to magic weapons are vulnerable to these counters, but the Magic Weapons bless means they are much less effective.

The Value of Diversity: I'm Awake, Now What?

I've argued for the strength of scales (made possible by taking an imprisoned god) and minor blesses (since the combat advantage from statistics is always relevant, and resistances stop your elite troops from being shut down by nastiness). This seems like a good deal, then: an imprisoned rainbow gives you a useful bless that covers weaknesses and enhances combat potential, while great scales give you more gold and gems.

The drawback is that you don't get an impressive combat god early in the game. You're stuck with a Frost Father when your rivals are stomping around with things like Destroyer of Worlds and Drakon. But you do get a god eventually – and having even a squishy human mage with lot of magic spread across many paths can be a great asset, particularly at the point when imprisoned gods show up.

In the midgame, nations will need to get access to all paths of magic (excepting perhaps Blood). A nation lacking access to a path both misses out on a great deal of gem income (from sites they have not found) and unique capabilities; for instance, a nation without Astral can't protect their troops with Antimagic, and a nation without Earth can't buff their troops with powerful spells like Strength of Giants.

So an imprisoned god lets you break into paths of magic you don't have nationally. Your god need not do everything itself; since most paths have summons that create mid-tier mages in them, you can use your god to summon these mages (such as Flame Spirit, Mound Fiend, Ivy King, Troll King, Sea King, and Golem), giving you mages in those paths that can sitesearch and support your armies while your god does something else.

Rainbow gods also have rare crosspaths. For instance, even astral nations may not be able to create Crystal Shields without the /Earth crosspath, but a rainbow god with both Astral and Earth can do this.

It is a mistake to think that rainbow gods must stay out of combat. They are vulnerable, but their ability to cast spells from any path can be immensely useful in critical, high-stakes battles. Even if you have other mages in those paths, off-path spells like Power of the Spheres and Reinvigoration can mean that a rainbow god can be a better spellcaster than a single-path mage.

While they are vulnerable, rainbows including Death can cast Twiceborn, giving them a second life. A rainbow that dies can be called back without too much hassle; don't underestimate the combat value of bringing your god as a powerful wildcard caster in critical engagements.

Many of these advantages of a rainbow mage god don't apply early. Having the ability to summon mages outside your nation's paths and cast powerful combat spells doesn't do anything without research. While researcher gods can be valuable, imprisoned rainbows are absent during the part of the game when they can contribute less, and show up just as their spread of paths becomes most valuable.

The Weaknesses: Early Timings

Awake and dormant builds often rely on early timings: designed-in points in their power curve where they are stronger than their competition. A few examples:

  • Awake monsters and titans have an advantage in Year 0, since they can usually out-expand nations using only troops
  • Awake (and to a lesser degree dormant) researchers will hit research goals incredibly quickly, giving them an interval where they have meaningful battlemagic and their opponents don't
  • Dormant titans provide a powerful defensive tool once they pick up gear
  • Awake or dormant incarnate blesses can provide a greater increase in combat capability than stats from minor blesses
  • Before nations have research up, resistance blesses are much less relevant
  • Awake or dormant immobiles can "monodrop" as an unexpected army counter

These timing advantages create an impetus for nations to snowball off of them. A nation with an awake expander *must* exit expansion with more provinces than their rivals to compensate for their weaker scales/bless. A nation with an awake researcher is generally relying on fighting and winning a war during the period when they have critical research and their target does not. In contrast, a nation with a dormant titan is often trying to close a perceived power curve vulnerability – saying "I know I am weak to an early assault and I am willing to sacrifice power later to stay alive now."

Make no mistake – these builds provide more advantages than an imprisoned rainbow when they hit their timing peaks. In a rivalry with such a nation, you'll have to use your defender's advantage, diplomacy, and superior skill (which you have, right? :) ) to ride out their relative advantage until it fades.

In contrast your power curve doesn't have this necessity: you have a generally useful bless which provides you combat bonuses and resistance to counters, along with good scales, which provide benefits all game. These benefits go a long way toward making up for the lack of an early god on the field or major blesses. You get a power bump once your god comes online and you fill in your path diversity, and enter lategame with powerful tools online.

The Complete Package

The game plan of a nation with a rainbow god brings together a lot of synergistic pieces:

  • Take an imprisoned rainbow chassis to get lots of points to spend on magic and scales
  • Take a bless that includes stat bonuses to sacreds so they fight better, and resistances so they can't be easily countered by magic
  • Expand early using your good production/order scales to buy lots of troops, with the statistics on your bless helping your sacreds fight indies
  • Get infrastructure up faster with the money from your gold scales; get research faster with the extra research from magic scales; get piles of free gems of all types from your luck scales
  • Once your god wakes up, you will likely have the research to benefit from its spread of paths; use the gems you've accumulated from luck events to summon mages in paths your nation doesn't have covered (for instance, MA Marignon summoning a Sea King)
  • Continue to benefit from your excellent scales all game
  • As battlefields get even more toxic (as things like Foul Vapors, Heat from Hell, and Wrathful Skies become more accessible to more nations), use your bless to provide resistances against these counters
  • If your god has Death in its rainbow, Twiceborn it; use it in combat where it will make a difference

An Example: MA Agartha

Agartha has strong but slow sacred infantry, sacred human mages, and excellent summons (some of which are sacred), but weak lategame magic diversity. This build provides stats to enhance your infantry, resistances to protect your mages and troops, and provides lots of extra gems from luck/magic/turmoil; the rainbow pretender gets access to all paths.

Agartha benefits greatly from resist blesses (so its mages don't wipe to battlefield-wide spells and its sacreds can endure punishment while they close to melee) and stat blesses – particularly +attack. More Strength is useful, even on high-str things like Shard Guard and Sentinels, because it lets them hit through shields and slice through thugs/gods. Magic Weapons is not as essential since Shard Guard already have them (but Sentinels don't), so Magic Resistance gets the nod. fire 55 is expensive, but it enables you to take both Fire Resistance 5 (so you don't wipe to Heat from Hell and your own Magma Children's auras) and Attack +2 (which your otherwise low-attack troops appreciate).

Shard Guard require surprisingly low resource/recpoints, so this build takes a high domscore to produce lots of them despite Turmoil. (This is expensive on a domstrength 1 rainbow, but I judged it to be worth the tradeoffs.) Magma Children like it warm, so take Heat 3. Magic 2 is a nice breakpoint since it gives opponents -1 MR, which your Great Olms appreciate.

A bit of Undead Leadership lets all your mages lead Umbrals, which you will likely make. Mountain Survival notably lets you move things through mountains and caves without penalty; since your capital is a cave, this is helpful. (Note that this nation gets +1 Earth bless point, so earth 33 gets you 4 points.)

Chassis: Imprisoned Frost Father
Paths: fire 55air 33water 44earth 33astral 33death 33nature 33blood 33
Bless: Attack +2, Minor Fire Resistance, Major Shock Resistance, Minor Cold Resistance, Defense +2, Strength +2 [Earth], Mountain Survival, Major Magic Resistance, Undying +4, Undead Leadership 20, Major Poison Resistance, HP +1, Strength +2 [Blood]
Scales: Dominion strength7Turmoil3Productivity0Heat3Growth3Luck3Magic2

owl-guide-imprisoned-rainbow-meta.txt · Last modified: 2023/03/21 05:23 by cactusowl