Stealth bleed. (There are numerous other terms for it, but I like this one.) V:TES’s most iconic deck archetype.
Playing five games spread between two different play groups last Saturday got me thinking about something I have often expressed. Contrary to the many snide comments I see, there is such a thing as playing stealth bleed well.
It’s fairly common for people to claim that stealth bleed decks are easy to play, that they are “dumb” decks. I’m not going to dispute that they are the easiest decks to play, but what seems lost is that one’s results are still highly dependent upon how you play them.
Sure, if you play a reasonable stealth bleed decks against bad decks, you may not have to use much skill to win. But. But, it pains me to watch players play stealth bleed badly when it matters.
How? How about people leading with a bleed of three only to see it get bounced and then continuing with a smaller bleed that gets through? While that might be necessary when lunging, it’s frequently just wasting resources. And, of course, one always wonders at the mentality of doing a bunch of damage to someone besides one’s prey without any thought as to how it helps the bleeder win.
Stealth vs. Intercept
The challenge of getting past intercept doesn’t excite me anywhere near as much as the challenge of working around bleed bounce, but I’m often amazed when someone gets a big bleed blocked and either bleeds small otherwise or stops bleeding all together. It’s almost as bad to watch someone bleed small, get blocked tapping out the defending player, and then stop.
The primary lesson that should be learned by playing against decks that can successfully block is to not go half way. Commit to a line of action. Only adjust when there’s a reason to. For example, nothing boggles my mind more than someone who leads in with a significant bleed against someone who is tapped out, has it fail, and then stops attacking. Sure, there is such a thing as probing someone’s defenses. That’s what bleeds of one are for. That’s what tapping someone out who isn’t already tapped out by allowing yourself to be blocked is for.
If your prey is tapped out and wakes and blocks and untaps with Majesty, Earth Meld, Cat’s Guidance or whatever, then, sure, it may be necessary to reassess what you do this turn. But, a lack of commitment on offense breaks a basic strategic rule – concentrate on attack. What a lot of players seem to have trouble with is the idea that a stealth bleed deck’s goal is not to stealth by a blocker and pump a bleed. It’s to exhaust the prey’s defenses with minimal resources/actions and follow up with annihilation.
Lunging works. Not lunging is often a tremendous waste of resources. For those who don’t know, lunging is the term for trying to oust someone in one turn rather than (my term) grinding someone’s pool down turn after turn. The problem with not lunging is that players adapt to their situations. Having one’s pool consistently depleted often causes players to allocate more resources to defense and/or spend less pool bringing out minions or playing cards. That means having to use up more resources eliminating the player which means less for the next player …
… so often seems like people forget that the goal is not to get a VP but to win the game, which means multiple ousts (or one oust and playing in Northern California).
It’s especially bad to hit someone hard early. There are exceptions, like when your prey’s deck can trump yours once it gets set up or when you are playing a weenie deck that’s trying to end the game as quickly as possible (a lot of stealth bleed decks aren’t weenie decks, but some are). But, the main result of that early bleed for 6 or 5 or 4 or even 3 is usually to cause one’s prey to transfer less, spend less, and defend more. The most efficient way to reduce one’s prey of pool in the game is when one’s prey transfers out more minions or plays more pool costing cards. Nevermind that a defensive prey is a prey who isn’t helping me oust my next prey.
Also, it’s easy to defend against unfocused attacks. Bleed once each turn for 3 and I just need to play one Deflection each turn. Bleed for 1 each turn and then bleed three times for 3 each and I need three Deflections in hand at a given time to avoid being bloodied.
Which brings me to another concept. One that is relevant to being on the receiving end of bleed decks. Being bled is not a problem. Losing pool is how the game is supposed to work. I find it hilarious how someone expends effort to stop a bleed of 1 only to suck down a bleed of 5 later because wakes, bounce, or whatever were wasted on an action that just didn’t matter. I don’t know if it’s accurate, but I consider losing 2 pool a turn normal pressure. A predator doing less than that is a good predator. A predator hitting me for 3 or more a turn needs to be … dealt with.
Lots of folks claim stealth bleed isn’t fun to play or play against. I actually enjoy it more than any other archetype. But, it all depends upon one’s prey having bleed bounce. Without the challenge of working around bounce, it is rather unexciting. Fortunately, most serious decks have bounce.
The single greatest mistake that players of stealth bleed make is, sadly, being stupid. No, really. Anyone who has played the game half a dozen or more times should know that bounce exists. Yet, time after time, I have to suffer through someone mindlessly helping the player’s prey win by bleeding irresponsibly.
Responsible bleed. It’s a term that has been used for quite a while now. It just tends to annoy me. I don’t have a problem with people putting good cards in their decks like Spying Mission, but there’s really no need for people to go out of their way to prevent themselves from having big bleeds land on players besides their preys. Bleeding responsibly is just a matter of not bleeding stupidly.
The single greatest mistake that players should make is using stealth. A stealth bleed deck’s job is not to stealth past any and all defenders. That just feeds into bounce. The goal is to oust multiple players. Stealth is just a tool to enable that. It’s a tool that is overused. The ideal situation when playing stealth bleed is to actually start hammering away after tapping out one’s prey. Then, instead of needing a bounce card, the player needs a wake and a bounce.
So, how to tap out one’s prey? There are cards that can do it, of course. Faceless Night, Misdirection, Anarch Troublemaker, whatever. Nothing wrong with those. But, it’s not what I’m getting at. How about getting blocked? Yes, simply not throwing out stealth just because you can.
How many decks truly punish you in combat? Yeah, letting Meshenka block you may be bad. But, Arika? Jost? Morel?
And, then, there’s the bleed portion of stealth bleed. It’s really not necessary to pump every bleed. The stealth bleed deck’s stealthed bleeds should be for 1, maybe 2 if one’s grandprey is in good shape. The bleeds for 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, or more should be at 0 stealth as often as possible. Of course, people get ousts by stealthing bleeds of 6 by untapped or awakened blockers. But, that’s tactics, not strategy. The strategy is not to grind someone’s pool but to grind away someone’s defenses by doing as little as possible until the pool is an easy lunge away from being evaporated.
It’s late. This isn’t a terribly focused post. I’m sure I forgot something I really wanted to state. Probably should come back to this topic again as it is one near and dear to my heart.