I enjoyed Yaxvi's 2v2 and 3v3 ladder guides and decided to write my own on picking the 1v1 ladder. This guide is targetted at beginners who need help in figuring out what to pick and intermediate players who want to improve their game. While I've had my fair share of success on the ladder (peak rank 3, peak rating 2281), there are better players out there whose input I would value. I decided to focus this guide on picking since I find play less guidable than picking.
In order this guide will discuss three major picking strategies: fast-income, counter-picking, and intel-coverage picking. Finally, there will be a section about sizing up boards. Pick strategy 1: Fast Income
Pros: Straight forward and easy to figure out
Cons: Vulnerable to more sophisticated strategies
The principle behind fast income is simple: get income as quickly as possible and overwhelm your opponent from your quick start. Fast-income looks to maximize income at the end of turn 1, turn 2, or turn 3. It is most effective when you can encounter your opponent after your peak turn and steamroll them from there. Fast-income loses to superior coverage/expansion in long games and is also the most vulnerable to counter-picking. Even when adopting a different strategy fast income benchmarks are useful to keep in mind.
First turn bonuses (8 or 9 income): The fastest of fast income is first-turn bonuses. Four efficient 3s (Scandinavia, Central America, Antarctica, South East Asia) can be taken in a single turn with two well place picks. Additionally there are a few 4 bonuses that can be triple picked (West Africa, West Russia, Central Russia) for a quite risky but super fast start. Since FTBs require combo picking you want to make sure both picks are useful and that you can afford to sink two picks in an area. Another note: choose your picks such that 1st pick beats 2nd pick in event of a split. FTB splits are quite common if both player pick for fast income. For example in the Greenland-Scan bonus combo it is generally better to pick Greenland 1st and Scan second even though Scan is the bonus you're picking for. I frequently see players make the mistake of always picking the 3 bonus first. Lastly if you pick an FTB you'll want your third pick you springboard of it. Frequently a 3 or 4 on the other side of the board is the best bet for netting some coverage and a good second turn income.
Example (roll): https://www.warzone.com/MultiPlayer?GameID=21291986
Dragonseance takes Greenland-Scan bonus and rolls an opponent who picks um "less efficiently"
Example (split): https://www.warzone.com/MultiPlayer?GameID=22095452
Both Bechaa and Suschel pick the Aus-Antarctica bonus for a split. They also both take Scan as a nice balance 3rd pick.
Second turn bonuses (10, 11, 12 income): 10 in 2 can be accomplished by double full turn investment in an efficient 5 (East US, Australia, Greenland, East Russia). 11 can be accomplished 3 ways. Two efficient 3s with double full investment. A first turn bonus 3 and a balance 3. Or lastly by double-picking west china. West china is a gamble but an extremely potent one that can overwhelm other strategies as long as it isn't countered. 12 is the best income achievable in 2 turns but usually involves sacrificing turn 3 income. As such it is best when you expect to encounter your opponent at the end of 2 turns. To get 12 requires a double pick on either a 3 (this can be an FTB) or a 4 with the 3rd pick being in the complementary bonus.
Example (West China): https://www.warzone.com/MultiPlayer?GameID=22797319
west china double provides the income to safely swap bonus breaks in the americas.
Example (12 by 2): https://www.warzone.com/MultiPlayer?GameID=21171389
double pick on central and west russia gives the fast income to challenge IRise immediately. On the central america - East US border.
Third turn bonuses (14, 15 or 16 income): Usually involves completing all your starting picks in the first 3 turns. 14 can be achieved by three efficient 3s or west china plus a 3. 15 can be done by two efficient 3s and a 4 or west china and a 4. 16 is perhaps the classic combo and is two efficient 3s and an efficient 5. 16 by 3 is the biggest income reason to settle for 10 by 2 as it can give you excellent board spread as well. Much like first turn bonuses it is vulnerable to counter strategies.
Example (16 by 3): https://www.warzone.com/MultiPlayer?GameID=21005818
So I actually struggled to find a game from the high ladder where it was picked and the player got all 3 picks and completed all 3 bonuses before encountering the opponent. Here NZPhoenix picks the 16 by 3 but has to delay after turn 2 to deal with hexe.
In summary fast income is a straightforward strategy that can build a wave of momentum that you ride to victory. When opting for another picking strategy, these bench marks are almost always useful to keep in mind as what your opponent can be doing. While this could be extended to turn 4 and turn 5 in general at that point we're getting to points in the game where having the fastest income is not as important. Pick strategy 2: Counter picking
Pros: Can instant win games when your opponent walks into the trap
Cons: Most effective when opponent walks into a trap
While fast income is focused on building early momentum and riding that to a victory, counter picking is about using your opponents momentum and having them charge headlong off a cliff. Absolutely devastating when implemented correctly, counter picking has one major flaw: to be at its best it requires your opponent to unwittingly walk into a trap. Counter picking has two components: the counter, and the support.
So what do we want to counter? Juicy income targets that our opponent is unlikely to pass up. First turn bonuses make plum targets. Second turn efficient 5s do as well.
How do we counter it? Your 3rd pick is the last pick you'll get if none of your picks get taken. For a blind counter (no intel) you want to pick the counter by your 3rd pick. For an informed counter you'll want to pick what you're countering 3rd and your counter 4th or 5th. For an FTB a common strategy is to pick the FTB 3-4, and the FTB counter 5th. This has the advantage of if your opponent doesn't go for the FTB you may get it yourself. In rare instances you may want to delay your counter picks from 3-4-5 to 4-5-6. This is if there are high value 1 and 2 spots that you aren't countering or if your opponent may also 3-4-5 counter. When 1 and 2 are contested, 4-5-6 will beat 3-4-5 by getting only 1 spot in the triple.
Example FTB counter: https://www.warzone.com/MultiPlayer?GameID=22834441
I 3-4-5 counter the FTB and just sit there netting a quick surrender.
Example 2 turn 5 counter: https://www.warzone.com/MultiPlayer?GameID=23047915
here, both Schmidt and I put East US third and a counter 4th. Alas pick order is cruel and I lose by getting 1st pick resulting in my having East US and Schmidt having the counter.
While the counter is the feature of a good counter pick, what you need is supporting income to make sure you win after devastating your opponent. You don't need to hit the fast income benchmarks, but you also don't want to be stuck on base income. You also want the support to be good enough that if your opponent doesn't fall into the counter you have a decent shot at winning the game. Remember you're usually going to be investing in your counter so 2 turns of full investment is usually a non-option. Efficient 3s, 2 turn 4s, and 4 double picks all make good supporting income for a counter-pick. Pick strategy 3: Intel Coverage Picking
Pros: Very difficult to beat in the hands of the right player
Cons: Can be hard to implement correctly
Intel coverage picking trades a fast start for knowing where your opponent is and how to beat them in the long run. It is the style of picking I see many top players in the game embrace, and is the hardest to describe in a guide. The idea is to construct a pick set that does the following: 1) Lets you know where your opponent is, 2) Covers the board so you can construct a path to victory, 3) provides safety so that you don't lose to a faster strategy.
Intel-coverage picking implements elements of both fast income and counter picking. You won't be focused on hitting the absolute best benchmarks for turns 1-2-3 but you'll want to be close. There's no point in knowing where your opponent is if you can't beat them. Maybe you take a 3 and two 4s for 9 by turn 2, 12 by turn 3 and 16 by turn 4.
Like counter picking you'll be seeing where your opponent is by putting things you think they might pick in the 2-5 range, only this time you won't be picking direct counters. You can put an FTB 3-4 just to see that your opponent has it, and then a 5th pick elsewhere on the board.
1: Central America covers the americas and through
2-3 Africa covers africa and gives me access to Europe/Russia the only region Central America doesn't cover. If I get 1-2-3 I'm fine. Scan is another solid bonus with coverage on an area I'm weak on. Ant hits Africa if I lose 2-3. 6 Greenland lets me handle my own picks if I lose 1-4-5. An argument can be made I'd be better off with a different 6 pick somewhere in Asia.
Ran out of characters section on sizing up boards in next post.
Edited 7/10/2020 09:58:00