We’ll be looking at this set from the perspective of player 1:
The first two units to consider are Energy Matrix and Lucina Spinos. Energy Matrix means that you’ll have an easier time defending and you’ll want to go for a bigger economy – this makes Lucina Spinos a stronger option, since Energy Matrix protects you from early rushes, which are big red unit’s weakness. So, just based off of Energy Matrix being in the set, there’s a good chance that Lucina is happening.
The way to counter a Lucina strategy is with a strong, fast attack. In this set, there are units that are good attackers – like Scorchilla, Bloodrager, and Lancetooth – but all of these units take a while to get going. They aren’t units you can use to pressure an opponent immediately. So, these probably can’t counter a Lucina strategy.
The closest thing to a rush-down unit is Nivo Charge, but Nivo Charge by itself isn’t enough – you need damage behind your Nivo Charge to back it up – and Nivo Charge can’t pressure red strategies very effectively since Red blockers have a maximum of 2 health.
So, we’ll almost certainly be going for Lucina. The question is, what’s the best way to do this? One concept I haven’t talked about before in this blog is timing. Elyot talks about it in a strategy blog here, but I’ll give my own take too.
Timing is important when there’s a powerful unit, or combination of units, in the set. For example, Antima Comet, or Wincer plus Endotherm Kit, Odin, or – in this case – Lucina Spinos. Typically, there is a “natural timing” for these units – that is, there’s a build that comes to mind that gets this unit or combination of units out fairly quickly while still being efficient. You want to pay attention to which player has the natural timing. In this case, the natural timing is player 2’s line, 1. DD 2. DDE 3. DDD 4. DAA 5. Lucina
This line is pretty efficient. It floats 4 gold on turn 3, and cuts Drones on turn 4, but for a unit as difficult to get out as Lucina, that’s about as good as you’re going to get. Sometimes, it’s fine to let your opponent get the natural timing – this will depend on how powerful the unit or combo is, and whether there’s good counters available to it. For example, in Antima sets, if there’s good nonprompt soak – like Shredder or Hannibull – you don’t mind letting your opponent get a natural Antima timing, since you can still defend it comfortably.
However, in this set, if we let our opponent get their natural Lucina timing, we’ll lose. Although there’s Energy Matrix to defend the Lucina, that’s not going to be enough. They can buy Lucina, and even if we defend it with Energy Matrix, they can spend their attack on a Bloodrager instead, and get a huge lead in attack.
So, what do you do when there’s a strong strategy present in the set, and your opponent has a natural, strong timing that will be game winning if they get it? You cut them off by going for the strong strategy faster than them, even if it means having to sacrifice efficiency. The fastest possible Lucina rush, which gets Lucina out half a turn faster than player 2’s natural timing, is the ugly looking: 1. DD 2. DD 3. DDA 4. A 5. Lucina.
Because of how inefficient it is, this line is definitely much less powerful than player 2’s line – we end up with 12 Drones, while player 2’s half-a-turn-slower line had 15 Drones as well as an extra Engineer. But, by doing this, we cut off the possibility of Player 2 getting their strong natural Lucina timing. Instead, they’ll have to defend our Lucina first and try to get theirs out a while later. So we get the benefit of first Lucina and have Bloodrager as a followup, while they get the advantage of a bigger economy and absorbing first. Overall, it should be a close match. This is a general principle in sets with powerful units or combos – the player with the natural timing should go for that as long as they’re allowed to, while the player who doesn’t have the natural timing should rush the powerful unit or combo uncomfortably quickly, making some sacrifices in efficiency in order to get the unit or combo out a half-turn faster.
Now, Player 2 doesn’t have to try to defend our Lucina and get one of their own. Since we’ll be telegraphing our plan on turn 2 by staying on two Engineers, there’s the possibility our opponent will reply with fast Animus, to try to rush down our Lucina. In this case, we can play a more standard game, with Natural Animus into Tarsiers, eventually getting Energy Matrix.
I played a game with this set against Yujiri, which you can see here: gDdvk-EwoAB
Commentary on the game (spoilers ahead):
Yujiri considered three different options on turn 2: third Engineer (probably hoping to defend the Lucina rush with Matrix and get a Lucina of his own), natural Conduit – probably for Scorchillas into Nivo Charges – and fast Animus, for Tarsiers into Bloodrager. He decided on Tarsiers into Bloodrager. However, even though Fast Animus vs Natural Animus is normally slightly favoured for Fast Animus, Bloodrager and Husk both help out Natural Animus quite a bit. This is because the Fastimus player doesn’t have a good way to get Bloodrager while still working towards Blastforge, as we saw in the game – going two Tarsiers into a Rhino on the next turn is simply too clumsy and commits too much economy. As it turns out, since I was on a low economy, I didn’t end up going into Energy Matrix. If the game had gone on longer and damage numbers had gotten higher I would have tried to transition eventually (once I was no longer worried about the Matrix getting exploited by Bloodragers).