Ever since the Corrupted Killers changes, this has been my personal favorite opening strategy. It is extremely difficult to get started, but once it gets going the strategy will quite rapidly pay for itself in dungeon rewards, and scales well into mid and even towards endgame. It requires a great deal of micromanagement, but it's so good once you get that first batch of Lesser Shadow Stalkers. They clear ruins more efficiently than any other strategy, and are far faster even than deep bard spam. That being said, the economic growth isn't quite as good as bard spam, because you still need to produce other units. It walks a fine line between bard spam and assassin rush, in that it can both clear supremely effectively, has better economy than assassins, and can be used to aggressively disrupt the enemy, or attack if an opportunity presents itself.
This strategy is a bit of a rough start, but it involves a large number of Scoundrels in earlygame, which actually makes it fairly resistant to an early rush. Getting rushed can still do some damage, but it can also be a huge boost to the exp of your surviving scoundrels, so it actually balances out pretty well. Once you get 5 lessers, you can go dungeon clearing with great speed(although you'll need some form of healing since Lessers lose the Fast Healing that scoundrels had). This strategy also frees you up to spend a lot of resources on other things once your scoundrels start evolving. Either way, by midgame you're looking at a full stack of Shadow Stalkers which can keep diving into dungeons and leveling up and acquiring items and bonuses for you. It's not unheard of to have a stack of champions or at least gold medal stalkers before turn 50.
By far the most mana-intensive opening, as you need to keep summoning crows as fodder for auto-combat. Generally they get focused more than scoundrels, and sacrificing crows to preserve scoundrels is always a good trade. But because crows die so often, this means a *lot* of early summoning. It also sacrifices intel advantage somewhat. You may send the crows out early, but they all need to come back home as fodder before you start clearing, which means having very few birds out in the field(if any) while you're evolving. This is, of course, offset by a fairly strong early military, but a quick stealth raid could give you serious problems. Exercise caution. Maybe build a tower or two. Even once the evolutions are complete, you'll want to get access to healing, which means either an early Arcane Item Forge, or letting a Theocrat or Druid leader take over for your shadow stack, while your leader becomes EXP starved.
- Arcane Item Forge: Healing items allow your leader to go dungeon-diving for a very long time, and become extremely high level.
- Creation Adept(PBEM/Single Player ONLY): This solves your healing problem with Holy Cure. But the autocombat AI won't use it, so don't bother in multiplayer(yet).
- Destruction Adept: Once you've got your stack of shadows(lesser or otherwise), very little can stop you from rampaging across the map and destroying everything in your path. Hasty Plunder and Scorched Earth are always excellent in these case.
- Explorer: Too many low tech passives which can delay corrupted killers. Remember, you get 3 passive slots. One for class, one for global, and one to be whatever. Generally, class techs are easy to chew through, but you very well *can* get Cruel Backstab followed by Urban Cover. If you're extremely light on non-class empire upgrades, you can bypass it by researching around it, since the limited pool on that third Class + Global slot can be used to cycle back into class quickly. This is why loading up on global passives can actually delay class passives, albeit in a roundabout way.
- Partisan: See Above.
- Difficult: 5
- Reliability: 3
- Effectiveness: 4