For beginners of Master of Magic, this guide will show you some tips for players new to Master of Magic, by someone who has been playing for a long, long time.
The original Master of Magic came into the world 28 years ago, as of the time of this writing, which is a few days after the re-release of Master of Magic in December 2022. It’s a game I played a great deal of at the time, and it’s a game I’m still happy to be playing 28 years later. Why? Because of – and this is something that the many later imitators failed to fully embrace! – the incredible depth the game; it was astounding in it’s time, and still impressive today. This is why Master of Magic has been so dearly loved and celebrated for almost three decades, over which time many other fine games from that era have fallen into obscurity. 200+ spells, 5 schools of magic, 18 retorts, dozens of creatures, 14 different races with around a dozen units each, 50+ unit abilities – all of which add up to a vast number of ways to approach the goal of becoming Master of Magic!
One playthrough may rely heavily on the special abilities of a given race and it’s units, and their synergy with one or more schools of magic, to produce “killer stacks” of empowered normal units. Another might regard race choice to be a minor matter, and instead seek to dominate through the summons in the chosen school(s) of magic – and the buffs that school or schools provide. Still another might seek battlefield supremecy through the spells that can be thrown in combat, and your units are merely the vehicle which gets you to the battlefield. Another playthrough could focus on assembling a crew of the most powerful heroes, and supporting them with powerful artifacts. And any number of strategies could be based on combining one or more of the approaches above. This is truly a game where there is no one “optimal build” which should be followed; many are the paths to ultimate power!
And with that introduction out of the way… here’s 10 tips for new Master of Magic players!
Starting Out (Tip 1)
- For the brand new beginner who just wants to play their first game without having to read too much, pick either High Men or Halflings as your race, and go with Divine Power + 10 Life books, 10 Nature + Nature Mastery or 10 Chaos + Chaos Mastery, and then for those later two, either Conjurer or Archmage as your last pick, depending on whether you want to try using a lot of summons or try casting more spells during battle.Why these choices? High Men have an almost fully complete build tree, with the excellent Paladins, quite possibly the best normal unit, at the end of it. Halflings start with 3 food per farmer from day 1, and have the excellent slingers at the end of their shorter build tree. Both also tend not to provoke too much unrest in conquered races – halflings especially, who provoke less unrest than any other race. Life has a lot of spells that enhance units, spells that improve cities, and a powerful Hero in Torin the Chosen; Nature also has good buffs, a few handy utility spells (hello Earth Lore!) and some very sturdy summons. Chaos is, unsurprisingly, the king of direct-damage magic, has some interesting unit buffs, and has some odd but often powerful summons.
Units (Tips 2, 3, 4, 5)
- Unit abilities are IMPORTANT. No, really! Take the time to look at the abilities of your units and think about how you can use them – and then look at your foes, and their abilities, and what weaknesses you might exploit. For example, the above mentioned Paladins have First Strike, which is a big part of what makes them so dangerous – they can kill figures in an enemy unit before that unit retaliates – normally, the attacker and defender strike each other at the same time. The thing about First Strike is that it requires the Paladins be the attacking unit; it doesn’t come into play if something attacks them. So that means you need to think about how you manuever your Paladins so that they get the opportunity to be the attacker as often as possible.Likewise, Breath Attacks and Thrown Weapons are resolved before First Strike – which means that those Paladins lose some of their effectiveness if they have to attack units of Draconians or Barbarians, which have those abilities. (OK, the Paladins will *still* probably win, because they’re made of pure awesome, but they’ll get more banged up than you might be used to seeing.)
- Number of figures in a unit matters a great deal. In most games, a unit that is at full health and one that is at 25% health both strike with equal force. In Master of Magic, if you’re down to 25% of your figures remaining, that means you only get 25% of the attacks you would have gotten at full strength! Note, however, that this rule only applies to multi-figure units – a full health Sky Drake and it’s 25% remaining Sky Drake buddy hit equally hard. This has a couple of implications: First, as multi-unit figure suffers damage and loses figures, it loses combat effectiveness.I try and have any unit that falls to half strength fall back, so it can live, gain experience, heal, and fight again another day. The exceptions might be if I need to sacrifice the unit to buy time or tie up an enemy unit, or I’m in a do-or-die situation, like defending my fortress, or if it’s a unit I care little about and can easily replace, like a basic swordsman or spearman. Secondly, it means you should try to use units with abilities like First Strike, Thrown Weapons or Breath Weapons as much as you can on attack, rather than letting them be attacked.
As an example of how this all plays out, consider the following scenario: you face two enemy units, one at full strength and one at 25% health. You have a single unit that can strike these units for about 75% of their health. Which enemy unit do you attack first? In most games, you’d hit the weakened unit first; in Master of Magic it’s often better to hit the full strength unit first! You’ll take more damage by getting hit by one enemy at full strength than two enemies at 25% each.
- Direct damage is always fun, but is sometimes not the best use of your magic points in battle. The common Nature spell Web can immobilize extremely dangerous enemy units for a low cost, and can make enemy fliers hittable by your walking melee units. Confusion, a common Sorcery spell, can likewise take a dangerous enemy unit out of play, or better yet, cause enemy units to fight amongst themselves. A well-timed Healing can restore a dangerous unit that has lost many figures to attrition back to it’s original dangerousness.
- Sacrificial units can turn the tide of battle, and make early exploring much more profitable. Nature has Earth Elementals, Chaos has Fire Elementals, Sorcery has Air Elementals, Phantom Beasts, and the wonderful Phantom Warriors. The Phantom Warriors, in particular, are a real gem. They die to a stiff breeze, but they typically do a lot of damage when they hit, since their Illusion damage ignores enemy armor. Combine this with #3 above, and you can see how this is useful – imagine an enemy swordsman vs one of your spearmen. Normally you’d lose, but if you soften the swordsmen up with an attack by phantom warriors, your full-health spearmen will likely win against the swordsman missing several figures. They can also be used as a lure, to make one or more enemy units chase them to take heat away from other units – although heroes with artifacts that grant bonuses to movement often serve this role even better!This also allows you do map scouting with small forces, by being able to beef up your scouting party during battle.
World-level Strategy (Tips 6, 7, 8)
- There’s no getting around it – the game starts slow, pretty much every time. Use this time to scout! You know a handful of simple spells, have little unit production capacity, and a pitiful mana budget. That said, it’s still worth your time to scout around. As the tutorial points out, Magic Spirits are quite useful for this task. Cavalry isn’t too far up the production tree, can usually win 1v1 fights against neutral city defenders, and isn’t too expensive, and is a good second tier scout and attacker for lightly defended targets. Remember that you can investigate a node to see what’s there without having to commit to battle, so you can find lairs and nodes to attack, cities to conquer, good sites for your own future cities, and of course, the other delusional, upstart conjurers of cheap tricks you share these worlds with.Don’t neglect defending your own cities, though – I recommend at least two units per city, and I recommend keeping them fairly up-to-date. Nothing stings like losing a city that can produce end-tier units because you only defended it with a pair of spearmen!
- Think about what you want to trade to other wizards. I’d recommend never trading direct damage spells, for example, unless there’s absolutely no chance they could be used against you – for example, Life’s Star Fires, which only harms undead. Summons are probably OK, as long as it’s a summons that wouldn’t totally ruin your day if it was fielded against you. Trade any spells from the Arcane school freely, since you’re not giving your adversary anything they couldn’t have gotten anyway. The AI seems to LOVE summoning creatures and champions, and as long as they’re doing that, they’re not spending mana on more immediately-destructive things.
- Resist the urge to overbuild cities. Think about what role each city plays and build to that. For example, if you have two halfling cities, one near coal and mythril and one without those resources, it makes more sense to have the city with special resources become a soldier factory, and not build many of the later soldier-focused buildings in the second city – have them stick to farming. Likewise, if building a Shipwright’s Guild doesn’t unlock anything useful for you, there’s no need to build it for completeness’ sake. Likewise, if you don’t have unrest trouble, consider skipping the oracle. If you can rely mostly on nodes as your source of power, Cathedrals can likewise be skipped.
Intro to Advanced Shenanigans (Tip 9)
- Think outside the box! Sometimes combining powers in non-obvious ways or on certain units can produce entertaining and useful results. For exanple, consider the following ideas on how to work around the limitations of Undead units. Undead, both summons that are naturally Undead, or made Undead by being killed by Ghouls or Life Drain, or hit with Black Channels, don’t heal. Ever. This can sharply limit their usefulness, which is a shame, since they can be quite powerful and have a lot of natural immunities. However, there *is* a way around this!Regeneration can heal even Undead. To gain access to this, either the base unit needs to have been a Troll, or you need to have cast the rare Nature spell Regeneration on the unit, or if the unit is a Hero, needs to be equipped with an item that provides Regeneration.
The spoiler below has a more extreme gambit. Consider if you want to know this information or not – it’s widely known, and widely known to be overpowered.
Flying Invisible Warships. Warships have a powerful, long-range attack and effectively unlimited ammo. Being ships, they’re confined to the sea… unless you give them the Flight spell from Sorcery! Now they can roam the land, blowing things up! Stack Invisibility on top of that, and most enemy units now cannot even target them with ranged attacks or spells. A few of these units can easily subdue almost any neutral lair or node in the game, barring certain ones which may have units that can see through your invisibility. Your rival wizards may also have some Opinions about this tactic, especially if they know Dispel Magic.
Links and Outro
- Finally, as I mentioned in the intro, Master of Magic has been played, tinkered with, discussed, and loved for almost 30 years. There’s a wealth of already-existing resources out there which can be mined for ideas, perspectives, and strategies. Given how faithfully MuHa Games & Slitherine were in re-implementing Master of Magic, pretty much all of that information, save perhaps strategies than involve exploiting flaws in game code, is still worthwhile and valid. For starters, there’s a very complete wiki here:
https://masterofmagic.fandom.com/wiki/Master_of_Magic_Wikiand some venerable FAQs on the old-but-still-relevant GameFAQs site:
if you can find it, in paper or electronic format, the Master of Magic Official Strategy Guide by Alan Emrich, Petra Schlunk and Tom E. Hughes Jr, released by Prima Publishing, is something I can’t recommend enough. I have a dog-eared copy of my gaming shelf, and it’s the platonic ideal of what a strategy guide should be. Also, it’s really funny!