Since the original 31 days, I have succumbed to my Warcraft III addiction twice more. During this additonal time I have rounded out my strategy, and developed what I believe to be the absolute best all-round Night Elf army. I have also encountered a few surprising strategies employed by other players, and a general-purpose FFA strategy that is effective but very simplistic and dull, which has become widely adopted and renders most FFA games boring.
This army is similar to the one I described at the end of the original 31 days, with two very important additions: Mountain Giants and Keepers of the Talon. The group key and unit breakdown goes like this:
This army represents about 85 food, and is the best core Night Elf army money can buy. Of course, you're going to need to mix it up as the tactical landscape demands, but this setup is definitely the template you'll be aiming for by default. Usually variations are made at the expense of one or two Mountain Giants - mounting the archers on Hippogryphs, tossing in a Chimaera for the splash damage and air overhang (the practice of obscuring important units under an airborne one to vex the enemy's manual targeting), or et cetera.
However: When using it against a fellow Night-Elf you need to be aware of some extremely important handicaps, and adapt the army accordingly. More detail on that later.
Some examples will help:
Say you're up against a big ol' Human army. Some folks like to use lots of Spell Breakers, some folks like to use a pile of Footmen or Knights, some folks like to cut the melee down to a few units and go waayyy big on spellcasters to polymorph and slow you while they cast heal willy-nilly.
|Taunt: No magic involved.|
|Taunt, since it is not actually a spell but an ability, requires no mana to use. Since Mountain Giants have no mana, Spellbreakers cannot burn them. The Giants can taunt perpetually, keeping an opposing army from attacking vulnerable Archers, Dryads, Heros, et cetera. And of course, any command-queueing the player establishes is immediately ruined. They cannot focus-fire on anything except the Giants, and with Taunt working from one Giant to the next, their damage gets spread out among the Giants themselves, and is reduced because the melee-based units waste time mindlessly running between Giants.|
|Archers vs. Dryads:|
|Some people think that Dryads are always superior to Archers, and quickly abandon Archers when they get to tier 2. But consider this: The Dryad's attack speed is 'Slow', she has less range, and she cannot use Roar (or the Protection scroll), giving her an average of 31 damage at best. Plus her armor provides no protection from mortar fire (whereas the Archer has reduced siege and magic damage). And a Dryad costs 3 food, so for 12 Archers you would only get 8 Dryads. For filling out an army, the Archer wins hands-down.|
Clash like this twice, maybe three times, and your Priestess of the Moon will hit Level 6. At that point, it's all over for one of the players on the map. Someone is going to die.
Walk your whole army right into their main base - no side trips necessary - and pound on it. Make sure your Giants arrive first, so they get the full attention of any towers in the area. Most of the time they won't even feel it.
As soon as you see the symbol showing that the enemy is teleporting in, pull your units slightly back from the Town Hall, as the other player has no doubt tried to teleport in on top of your Archers. Instead, they will land on your Giants, and get stuck between them and their own buildings.
When the army drops in, hit Taunt to disrupt any pre-configured command queues the player made before landing. Then quaff the Anti-Magic Potion, and cast Starfall. The potion stays in effect while Starfall is going. For 15 seconds, your Priestess is immune to the following interrupts and assassination spells:
Plus your Giants can Taunt to avoid focus-fire on the Priestess from Wind Riders or Gargoyles or Frost Wyrms, and block the path of any melee units trying to hunt her down.
The enemy will have no choice but to let the spell run for at least 15 seconds, which is enough to decimate most ranged troops, healers, peons, et cetera - especially if they get coated with Faerie Fire partway through. Usually the other player is too disorganized or stunned to interrupt the spell for a while afterwards, and in one fight you have destroyed their whole army, killed their heros, and set fire to their home base, with minimal losses. Occasionally I have seen players quit the game before Starfall even expires, because all their heros die at the hands of Giants and Archers as they hack desparately at the Priestess.
Many FFA players like to mass-build one type of air unit, and use it along with three heros to troll around the map focus-firing. While this army can take on that kind of army about half the time in a random encounter ... getting them caught under Starfall, and unable to cancel it, is absolutely devastating. Starfall hits everything, mechanical or no, magic-immune or no, and if you can keep the flyers off the Priestess long enough, you can teleport home with no units lost and then hit the player again before they have a chance to heal everyone (or spit out more flying units). Unfortunately, "half the time" is not a very good track record for facing that simplistic, all-one-unit FFA army ... and that kind of army is what all the ladder players build. More on that later.
After a veteran Orc player sees you with this army a few times, he will compensate by producing a big pile of Tauren. The idea is that he can crush your Giants so quickly that your Archers have no safe time to attack. You've got to keep an eye on him, because if you see this happen, you need to adapt before your army gets crushed and he kicks you off the map.
This sort of thing is called a "change-up". He's expecting one kind of army, so you hand him another. Plant two or three Chimaera roosts and replace most of your Archers with Chimaera. If you've lost one of your four Giants, don't buy it back, and stay at three, so you can use the extra food for Chimaera. If you can, plant the roosts somewhere other than your main base, because the Orc will be spying on you there. You need to surprise him or he'll shift right along with you, making a dozen Batriders.
Treat the Chimaera just like you would Archers. When the armies clash, the magic damage and splash effect will raise hell with the Tauren. If he teleports home, follow him there and crush him before he adapts. He'll try to overwhelm you with bats. Using a scroll of armor just before you arrive can help.
Usually one good change-up is enough to crush an opponent, but you should eventually shift back from mostly Chimaera to mostly Archers, to get your army out of the air.
There are three main army types the Undead can throw at you, and this army is effective against all three.
The most common FFA type is the Frost Wyrm and Gargoyle airborne army. An Undead player will use the Death Knight to roll his army around the map at great speed, and tease your units out into a line so he can focus-fire on them. Combine with the Lich, and he will cast Death Coil and Frost Nova on your heros in rapid succession, then focus-fire, quickly destroying all three of your heros and ruining your army, while also driving up his levels.
The second most common FFA type for Undead is the ground-based anti-air army. This is a mixture of Crypt Fiends and Abominations.
The third FFA type for Undead is good old Necrowagon. It's rare, but it's fun. It's the practice of loading catapults with corpses, then dumping them all out in front of your army and summoning a huge wave of skeletons to overwhelm you.
This is where the army has problems.
The first problem is that your Archers can get lambasted when they encounter an all-air Night Elf brigade. It doesn't happen as often as you'd think, because most players are too distracted to actually re-target the Chimaera once they've been taunted to fire at the Giants. Or if they do, they're too slow, or they've made the mistake of sending their Chimaera right out over your Archers and now they can't find the Archers underneath the Chimaera. Stupid, yes.
Chimaera are expensive, and slow to rebuild. If your enemy has built a proper fleet with some air defense in it, they'll be running six or seven Chimaera at most. This is usually a small enough group that your Archers can eradicate them before the Chimaera electrocute your Giants. Clash like that a few times and your foe is bankrupt. But if the enemy has bought an all-Chimaera "victory fleet", of ten or eleven, you're in trouble. They will probably kill your Giants, and then you will soon be bankrupt.
(Bozos who build Chimaera mega-fleets rarely win FFA games, but they will often take down their neighbors as collateral damage before being pwned by more distant foes.)
Dealing with this is tricky because the most effective response to a Chimaera fleet, as a Night Elf, is to either produce an assload of Hippogryphs (eat his army before it eats yours), or a Dryad-Chimaera combination (immolate his heros or disrupt his base, in trade for half your army). Unfortunately, doing these changes your army drastically.
A less effective but still somewhat useful approach is to replace all your Archers with Dryads, and as the Giants fall in combat, replace them with yet more Dryads until you've got two Giants remaining. The enemy Night Elf player will attempt to hack your Dryads apart with his heros, and though the poor Giants are cannon fodder, they will also distract the heros long enough for you to chuck a few spears into that damned fleet. The problem here is that if a player has decided to pursue Chimaera from the beginning, he will have chosen strong melee heros, typically the Panderan Brewmaster and the Demon Hunter. They will damage you much more than you damage the Chimaera. You could shift to Hippogryph riders at this point, but that would expose you to Hippogryph attacks in response.
It's a delicate situation because if the Night Elf player with the Chimaera fleet gets into a fight with a traditional army from any other race, he will get his teeth knocked out - and if you adapt to his army, you'll be exposed to the same risk. You can either respond to the Night Elf, or stay tough against everyone else. It's a crappy double-bind and you only face it because you're playing against a boring enemy, who is doing what every other middle-of-the-road FFA player does: Buy three meat-shield heros and a huge simplified flying army.
As a Night Elf without a generic flying fleet, you're probably going to have to get crafty and exploit the interplay between other enemies to beat this player. In fact, you might want to keep your army as-is, perhaps with one Chimaera thrown in as an obvious target, and then wait until the Night Elf gets roughed up by another player, then raid his base while he's restocking the fleet and his heros have nowhere to flee. Show the bastard no mercy.
To help things along you can use some "diplomacy". Just anounce to the other two players that your enemy Night Elf is going for a Chimaera fleet. There's a fair chance they will be offended and bum-rush the guy.
The second problem with this army is that the Night Elves have a choice of creating an all-ground army that is almost as effective as a mass of Orc Tauren. The crafty player produces a great horde of Bears and Druids of Talon - nothing else - and casts Cyclone on half your army while the Bears chew up the other half.
This army is crap against an air force from the Undead, the Orcs, or the Humans. It's also not very good against Necrowagon and against a competent Human the Bears will get polymorphed into harmless sheep and fried by Spellbreakers. Orcs will just spirit-link, take the beating until the Druids run out of mana, and then march around the bears and engulf the army like a pair of jaws. But the Night Elves -- they have a problem.
The all Bear/Druid army can narrowly defeat a poorly protected Chimaera fleet, and will easily trounce the army I've been endorsing here. It also has the advantage of being quicker to build than a Chimaera fleet, so if an Elf player is facing other Elves exclusively, he will be able to crush at least one of his foes with this crew before pulling a change-up to face the remaining players with a more traditional air fleet. When you see this army being readied somewhere on the map, you are going to have problems, because most of your resources will be invested in Giants who will spend half their combat time spinning around in the air.
So how do you deal with this? You don't - not directly. You mount all your Archers on Hippogryphs and just follow the other player around on the map, shooting Druids or Bears one at a time and then running away. What's he gonna do, roar at you? If he gets angry and decides to rush you at home, your Moon Wells will keep your heros alive and kicking while your Riders shoot any bears that get close. Avoid a head-on collosion over open ground, and you'll be fine.
Of course that response depends very heavily on surveillance. You have to be aware of what the enemy is building before it gets out of hand, and you may be unwilling to spend so much cash on Hippogryphs only to discard them later. That's why this army is such a problem. But if you can hold him off long enough to get a level 6 Priest, casting Starfall in his base with the Giants close at hand and an anti-magic potion in effect will doom him just like any other player. He usually doesn't have the brains to produce so much as a single Dryad, which could be used to dispell the field.
Another handy tip you should be aware of when facing a Cyclone-happy Night Elf is this: Units cannot walk under a Cycloned unit. If you catch this player up a narrow alley with your Giants out front, his Bears will get logjammed behind the airborne Giants and your Archers will have a terrific party. Then it's back to his base for the victory lap, while he cusses you out for map hacking or whatnot.
Map hacks are infuriating. Once you're a seasoned FFA player, it becomes easy to spot map-hackers, not because of what they do, but because of what they don't do. They never make proper surveillance moves. They don't use Owls, they don't drop Sentry Wards, they never fire flares, or build Shades, or cast Reveal. And yet they somehow never miss a fresh expansion, never creep something already creeped, and never accidentally run into your army when theirs is weaker.
If you feel that another player seems to have impossibly good timing, you're probably right. If you're an experienced player who can see these things happening, please report every single instance you see, and send Blizzard the replay. The more you report, the more collective evidence the admins can use to ban the bastards who do this.
There are some strategies that are interesting the first time they are employed, then become instantly reviled because they're seen as cheap or simplistic. The Chimaera fleet is one. The Human tank-job is another. But beyond those, there are some strategies that are so weird they seem to subvert the very nature of the game.
The player puts down a Hero Hall and a Hunter's Hall. Typically he summons the Warden. From there, he plants nothing but Moon Wells, two squares apart, in an ever-expanding spiral around his base. He goes to the local shop and buys a Staff of Sanctuary for each of his heros. He makes no other units, opting instead to creep the entire time, then chew on other players' armies until his heros reach such a high level they become almost unkillable. When one of his heros is in trouble, he has a different hero use the Staff on it, sending it home, where it is automatically healed.
It's counterintuitive and extremely aggravating, because the player spends the whole game doing the same thing: Running up to your army, killing a few units, then teleporting home. Over and over again. Once the heros reach a high enough level, the other players typically quit out of frustration. Picturing it, you can't believe that it works, but it's very effective in execution. The only time I ever came close to counteracting this strategy was when I brought in a horde of Druids of Talon and Cycloned the heros while I chomped at the Moon Wells, but the player soon became wise to that and beat on the Druids exclusively when he saw them come near.
Of course, you don't always have to counteract something fairly. The smartest way to dispach this jerk is to simply watch his front gate, and pound him the rest of the way down after some other player throws a full army at him and empties the wells. "TEAMERS!", he usually shouts, as the Panderan Brewmaster drops his ale and falls back on his ass, and then his buildings turn gray and it's high-fives all around.
Another surprising Night Elf strategy. Night Elf buildings can be uprooted, and can walk around the map hitting things like any regular combat unit. Some players like to use them when claiming an early expansion, but I find the procedure way too slow. They also cost no food, so given enough growing time, you can create dozens and dozens of them.
I have only seen this strategy employed twice, but each time it was an incredible surprise. The player laid out around 20 Ancients of War, produced FORTY Archers and a single Bear, then uprooted the Ancients and sent them walking towards an enemy base. Their movement was hideously slow of course, and most of the Ancients fell in battle, but there were so many Archers firing from the skirts of the trees that the opposing army was plowed under. Mass Archers is an underappreciated strategy, and with the Ancients in play as a damage sheild their firepower becomes painfully evident to an opponent ... during the remaining minutes of his life.
It's not the kind of army you can depend on, but its sheer size and novelty will probably keep your enemies too busy taking screen-captures and chatting to fight back properly.