Back in the day (late 2009, early 2010), there were just four factions thanks to the starters. I had a Khan Queso or two, and two sets of the starters. Custom deck building was minimal, but I still tried, mostly by replacing the Berserkers in Sneeks’ deck with more Slingers.
By the time I started testing, the Fallen Kingdom and Vanguards were basically done and sent off to the printer, and he had the new art for the first wave of reinforcements lined up. Colby set up a VASSAL module, so I was able to play with him, spider_poison, and others in other states. The only other testing I had done to that point was on Heroscape, but in my youth I played quite a bit of Magic: the Gathering as well. I also walked into testing the first Reinforcements with my economic intuition about opportunity cost, cross elasticity (substitution and complement effects), and market behavior in the back of my mind.
To those who follow Heroscape, we did not want any Raelins.
Unlike Summoner Wars, a card like Raelin can go into any army because the different Generals (equivalent of our Factions) can intermingle freely. At her price, the ability to just let anyone roll extra defense dice was seen in most competitive armies, and pretty much every time in the big GenCon tournament winner’s force. She made every army better. So we were very cautious of this when testing the first Mercenaries.
Back in the draft stage, I think Magos had 3 AV, but it was already 2 when I started testing. Because his effect was passive like Raelin’s, and card drawing is good in other card games, we were careful. Much like how A Hero is Born isn’t as good as Time of Need, Magos isn’t as good as card drawing effects in M:TG because you have a ~28 card draw pile in Summoner Wars and can draw between 0-5 cards naturally every turn. The concept of card advantage doesn’t translate directly at all. At the same time, decks that want particular combos of cards in hand will still use him from time to time.
Initially, Spear Grounders were more of a niche unit than they are now. The only difference is that REACH didn’t grant +1 AV against adjacent targets. I pushed pretty hard for this change because their choices seemed less interesting- they’d pretty much always take the diagonal attack with 1 die. Also, the Spearman from the Guild Dwarves already put forward the idea of a spear user doing more damage up close than when using their range, so it was a fun twist on an earlier ability. When it came to two-cost Units at the time, it still seemed less good to me than the CG Berserker or TO Smasher. Unfortunately, it seemed better than the PE Guardian most of the time, but the Guardian is still better v. 1-life Units.
When it comes to the PE Guardian, we generally felt that he was the weakest of their commons. Somebody has to be. Meanwhile, Warriors were great and Archers were on par with most other ranged units. What I really liked about the new Firebeast and Fencer is that they created new cost options for the PE and didn't directly eclipse existing units. Aside from some wording tweaks, I don't think they changed at all during the test period.
Fire beasts are a nice segue into a somewhat controversial Unit among the obsessed fans over on the PHG forums: Holleas.
They all think she's horribly underpriced and should be as much as 6 Magic to summon. During testing at 5 cost, she wasn't passively as good as Kaeseeall or the new Laleya who was kind of generic but solid. Giving up an attack and spending 7 magic to put Holleas and 1 Firebeast onto the board wasn't as potent as good ol' Firedrake. Or so we thought. She seems pretty popular. Perhaps we underestimated how nice it is to get so many life points onto the board for the PE, and how much people like Joe Rodenbeck would abuse her and the Firebeasts' ability to suicide via Hellfire.
I like playing Laleya a lot, and Rahlee, well, her art is cool, right?
When it comes to the Tundra Orcs, Thwarters were originally 1/2 for 2 Magic, instead of the 1 cost they now have.
Again, I pushed for that change because Shamans and Smashers are so good despite how some players initially perceive these two units. Additionally, Thwarters are a meta-pick against Champion-heavy play, which is pretty popular in a game dominated by Catch-Up-Events. In any case, I felt that the Thwarters filled a similar niche but were no better than Defenders.
Unforunately, they were probably better than Fighters. Like Guardians though, they're probably the worst TO common in the starter set, and with their ability to Fury into multiple 1-life commons, Fighters potentially became more of an anti-common pick.
As far as the Champions go, Bragg is a lot like Magos, but he gives passive buffs to Grognack's event cards. He's much more of a fan favorite than Magos. Based on how we priced units like Laleya or Holleas, he hits his break-awesome point once you get 2 or 3 Freezes onto the board. He's also the only ranged Champion the TO have in-house until Torgan comes out...
Rukar is sort of a side/upgrade to Blagog. He costs 16% more magic while having 20% more Health and 20% more expected damage. There are some corner cases where Blagog's ability isn't even a detriment, so it isn't always a clear upgrade. If you want a lot of brute force, why not both?
Gruggar is a tricky one. He started off as a common in Torgan's deck with 4 life points and a cost of 3 or 4. It was really good, and perhaps even broken in Grognack, thanks to Reinforcements letting you cheat them into play for free. Reinforcements continues to make us not want to make any TO, GD, or Mercenary units that cost more than two magic to summon. (I'll discuss this more in the Grungor's Charge article).
Now he looks like this:
We tried him as a Champion, and it seemed okay, but I do kind of wish he cost a little less or had 2 AV to start in hindsight. With the latter, people would have more of an excuse to hit him, and with the former, he might be something like a Khan Queso that you throw in to make it easier to get some big Champions out later. Even still, he can do fairly well if you damage him yourself when other Units aren't in range, or have him go toe-toe with commons until he's angry.
Rukar's Power and Grungor's Charge were my first forays into testing for Summoner Wars, and I think we laid some good groundwork for the future. Custom deck construction and Reinforcements in general didn't seem to take off until it became super easy to do with the iOS platform, which is crazy-on-sale today.