Alzorath's Nether Guide
This Guide is no longer being updated due to my official retirement from the game. - Signed, Alzorath.
Continuing the guide theme set forth by my red and blue guides, I've decided to get to work on a guide for my native color - Nether (black). I've played black since way back in the Mari Archmage days, and have usually tried to work to make the game more balanced for black mages in general (also to push for black to be made a solid color - not a gimmick with Devils, and now DoS). I haven't reached my goals in their entirety, but black is still an okay color even with its little quirks. This guide is intended for the beginner to intermediate players, I will not cover advanced or esoteric strategies here.
About Nether (Black), it is the color of "The Ends Justify The Means", in other words, power at a cost. This is seen through their massive amounts of undisbandable population eaters, their spells such as Black Sabbath, Contract of the Soul, Blood Ritual, Black Death, and Touch of Necromancy. Black is in concept, supposed to be the second most destructive color, right behind red, although as of late it has taken a much more defensive overall, making it's offense more on the 'mixxed' side much like white. Nether, despite being geared more and more for defense still does have some powerhouses in the offense department, the top 2 of these being Wraith and Horned Demons. Nether, with all of this, makes it a not so newbie friendly color. Population crash is one of the hardest things for players, especially new ones, to overcome becuase population income is based on itself - unlike geld and mana - and black is the most prone to experience population crash (followed by red and blue). I would recommend putting off black until you've tried at least playing red or blue for a reset to adjust you to some population upkeep.
In this section, we'll discuss the 3 key aspects of beginning your life after research as a mage of any color: Gaining Land, Keeping Land, and Understanding what the Metagame is. Black tends to only truly shine after around 4k land as of the time this guide is written, so you'll be fighting tooth and nail to get there.
Gaining land is the first thing every color should do after research, with most colors it's as simple as choosing your main stack, your fodder, attacking a lot, and then defending the night - with black it can get a bit more complicated since all of your good on-color hunting units are undisbandable. Therefore a black must consider both offense and defense with their first runs. The basic setups a black will tend to use are either: DurableHitter+DeepFodder or HeavyHitter+DeepFodder, a black CAN use DurableHitter+DurableFodder or DurableFodder+DurableHitter, but I find them less effective - although I will still cover them. And there is even 1 more strategy - using non-black units, I will cover that as well. Regardless of what strategy you run - you should ALWAYS run Black Sabbath and Shroud of Darkness as black whenever possible (and when you start using non-black units, you'll want concentration too, concentration is a good spell for any color you'll be using off-color units with).
DurableHitter+DeepFodder: Basically you want your strong durable hitter to be followed by as many small stacks of other units as possible, black really only has 2 on-color options for this down low: Vampire or Lich. Lich will usually work better against any target you will find, because Vampires are just subpar this low in the ranks because they simply don't deal out enough damage for the power. With Liches top, you will want to try and find RD reds, UR blacks, or Nix Greens - and you're lucky, all 3 of these use fairly similar spell/item assignments. Against RD or Nix, you want to use Double Time + Head of Medusa on attacks, you'll be relying on the Head of Medusa to tip a moderate hit into a heavy hit winning you the battle, Double Time helps by boosting your Lich Accuracy should it hit them. Against UR you can use Sleep OR Double Time, alongside the Head of Medusa again, for the same effect (although Lich do much better against UR than almost any other of the choices, it still helps to do more damage). For fodder you'll usually want to have stuff like Zombies and Skeletons (since they come for free from Black Sabbath and are disbandable), and throw in some shadows, lizmen, dryads, wisps, DEM, and/or Soul Speakers. If you can get ranged, get ranged, otherwise just get a slew of small units.
DurableHitter+DurableFodder/DurableFodder+DurableHitter: This relies on a similar strategy to the above, except you'll usually just run heavy zombie and maybe heavy skeleton below the Lich, rather than stack deep - personally I prefer deeper fodder with each stack representing a decent segment of my numbers (you'll be losing your fodder fast as black, regardless). Same targets as the previous method. the DurableFodder over DurableHitter method is basically putting zombies over your liches to absorb the blows.
With any of the above durable methods - you will be disbanding the fodder, and switching to a mono-stack of your durablehitter and assigning the appropriate spell/item - in my case I like using Lich - so I'd assign Feet of Hermes (or Lovesick) with Satchel of Mist if I have it available. If you find yourself unable to capture land with any of the methods mentioned here, you may wish to try mono-Lich exploring (which is basically this without the attacks).
Heavy Hitter+Deep Fodder: In this, you'll be looking to your heavier units - Horned Demons and Wraiths are the most common, but in certain situations you can use Unholy Reavers (although I rather not to). Both HD and Wraiths have the nice effect of working both as fodder and hitter in a way (you'll have a decent number of them), and then you just throw junk behind them to shore up the numbers. Both of these (HD/Wraith) are mainly used for hunting Whites and Blues, personally I find Wraiths to work better due to the high frequency of mono-AA and mono-Djinni blues around (with black sabbath wraiths tend to eat both of these alive). Disadvantage of these is defense, you'll have to be offensive on defense to keep your land, or rely on entering damaged VERY quickly, for the offensive defense ditch your fodder, for quick damaged, don't bother unless you feel safer without it.
--- Dealing an offensive defense with Wraiths/HD: Sleep+Candle of Sleeping, Sleep+Ash, Sleep+Bubble Wine, or Double Time with any of those items (honestly I prefer bubble wine - because Ashes and Candles are too expensive to use so low).
--- Quick Damaged with Wraiths/HD: Cast Battle Chant (red enchantment), use Battle Lust (black), and just pray. If you're lucky you'll outdamage and still enter Damaged in 1-2 attacks, if you're unlucky you'll find someone who has a bad stack that kills minimal units of yours while not losing many of their own *Vamps may do this for example*. Just keep trucking if you lose land though, with this stack you should be gaining land fast enough to make up for any losses (if you win 20 out of 30 solid attacks, you'll more than make up for losing 2 hits overnight).
--- HD specific: You can use FLIGHT with HD to make them dangerous on defense, you don't need ash unless you're expecting a slow or web to come after you.
UR are more like liches in that you disband everything and turtle up for defense (Feet of Hermes + Satchel works here as well). UR can't do offensive defense as well because they're ground, also they get crumbled by a lot of units without sever help defensively (FoH+Satchel sometimes won't be enough).
Off-Color Hitting: Black is in a unique position in that it has some good units to use on either side of it - on the blue side there's Djinni and Medusa, and on the Red side there's Efreeti, Chimeras, and Salamanders - at least as far as disbandables go. Some blacks will use these on their attack runs because they're much more flexible than on-color units, for this strategy I recommend you skim through the gaining land sections of my Red or Blue Guides. You will summon these units slower than their original colors, but with the proper preparation you can use these fairly well.
I covered this pretty much in the gaining land section, because it is so much tied to the offense of black early on due to the undisbandables. So instead of repeat that stuff again, I would like to comment on defense using the off-color strategy mentioned at the end of the previous section. Obviously your choices for spells are completely different than that of a red or blue mage - in fact, you have options from both colors. On the offensive end you have Stun, Giant Strength, and Flameblade from red, and from blue you have Lovesick, Feet of Hermes, Sleep, and Flight.
If you used efreeti, I would recommend Lovesick (defensive, use with satchel) or Giant Strength (offensive, use with bubble wine or candle), sleep is an alternative to Giant strength. (Sleep and Giant Strength Recommended - they have a lower failure rate than lovesick)
If you used Chimera, Feet of Hermes would boost defense, but honestly chimera aren't that durable, so you may want to go with Foul Water, Flameblade, or Sleep, and a solid item (I like bubble wine down low). (Sleep and Foul Water Recommended, due to lower failure rate)
If you used Djinni, I would likely push towards Feet of Hermes for its low failure rate, and Satchel of mist or Bubble Wine. This would help them survive fairly well.
Obviously, I can't account for as many possible stacks as you could have, especially when accounting for off-color, but really, if you read closely and understand the basic concepts - you should be able to muster a defense for whatever method you ended up choosing.
The metagame is very weird for black, honestly it can stack and adapt to hit ANY unit in the game much like blue, that is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Some ways of hitting with it requires you to summon stuff that's a bit more inefficient than you would sometimes like. Read the descriptions below, and test ALL the units you possibly can - you will find some do amazingly well, in amazingly WIERD situations. Very few units are useless to a black, but most don't have anything but a specialized use for black with the exception of some staple units.
Unholy Reaver: This is the only black summonable ultimate. These units used to be easily the most aggressive unit in the game, up with the ranks of Chimera and Elementals, and paid for it at the cost of durability. Now though, Unholy reavers are mediocre hitters, and more durable than they were in the past. It is my personal stance that these units have become too much of a liability to utilize until high land. They are ok in the midstacks, and they are ok in the low stacks, but up high against any opponent except certain white units, they tend to lose more power than they deal damage. These are especially vulnerable to other FEAR units such as Lich and Red Dragon, not to mention heavy fire damage from things like Chims will harm them as well. These are recommended only for higher land due to their inability to stand in the higher ranks.
Fallen Dominion/Fallen Archangel/Fallen Angel: These 3 units are attained randomly from the ancient spell Corruption, it is really not usually worth the effort to try and attain these as black because their high upkeep, undisbandability, and huge numbers (they'll send you into a mana crash very quickly after being summoned unless you're on high land and are set up to support them). Fallen Dominions and Fallen Archangels are the best of these units, Fallen Angels aren't exceptional but they will work ok. I don't bother using the spell to summon these because it's not worth the cost to me (especially considering Corruption can sometimes summon Nothing).
Devil: Devils are a result of the Ultimate spell Contract of the Soul, you can find one player's views on using these in DOLZero's Devil Guide. I will not cover these in-depth in this guide, as I consider these somewhere in the range of 'gimmicks' and 'esoteric strategies' as to the proper uses of Devils, I may write a guide in the future but it is not high on my list due to DOLZero's guide covering the majority of the subject. Devils don't count towards battle losses, I felt them important to include due to being key to some nether strategies.
Succubus: Succubi come from the nether Ultimate battle spell Dreams of Seduction. These units are part of another specific nether strategy that will not be covered here, there are several ways to use these though so experiment with them if you wish (hint: many people use these as a defensive measure because you get CurrentPopulation/25 Succbi, and they don't count towards battle losses). I felt it important to include them in this list because they are a major tool in nether stacking strategies.
Lich: Liches are the cornerstone of the nether army as of the writing of this guide, and I feel they will likely remain that way for a long time. Liches are high mana, low population upkeep, making them work great with Black Sabbath. This is one of the few units nether has that is truly the most useful for it, rather than its adjascent colors (many nether units are made more effective in Eradication or Phantasm Stackings). I almost always have these in my stacking as they are one of my most favored units, one of the few exceptions would be an all-flying nether stack.
Vampire: Good soakers on the apprentice server, but made only mediocre at best on ultimate servers due to charm only effecting primary attacks. These units crumble to heavy secondary attackers such as Chimera and some Elementals. These are good for blocking Wraiths though, and can be a good addition to certain flying black strategies. I tend to lean away from these as black for the most part because they don't do well against other common units up top on ultimate servers (and being flying they move up quickly). These are one of 3 'Paralyze' units with lifesteal - making them good reinforcements to send to allies if you'd like to passively grow in power as they do attack runs.
Demon Knight: Avoid these, you will ALWAYS have a better option for a unit to use, with the only exception being during a rush (and even then you can usually just buy something better). These units are good at blocking holy damage, and that is well, about it. Against most other strong attack types they crumble to dust and don't do much damage in return - even to units that are fairly weak against them. I recommend Horned Demons instead.
Horned Demon: Heavy hitter, a great damage unit for black to use. These work exceptionally well against blue and white, but can be reasonably setup to work against any other color. These are easily the biggest muscle in the nether army, and are fairly easy to get in quantity. Their major weakness is their 1 initiative making them suseptible to slow and/or web. They are moderately durable as long as you keep them away from the extremely heavy hitters. Against non-blue/non-white, you may wish to try and match these against fatigue/fodder units down in the bottom stacks.
Wraith: Good flying hitter, and is "paralyze" with lifesteal much like vampires. Their disadvantage is that all their damage is focused into a single 2 initiative primary attack, making the ability "Charm" take down their damage drastically. These are great units to send as reinforcements because a number of top stacks are hurt fairly nicely by these, and they will grow thanks to being paralyze with lifesteal. I love these units, and use them whenever I can, although as black, unless you're all-flying you will likely have a better choice for a stack.
Ghoul: the third and final "paralyze" with lifesteal unit in black's arsenal. These are essentially super zombies at the cost of a higher upkeep. These have a higher damage hit, don't have clumsiness, have higher life, and have lifesteal. Their downside is 1 initiative, and they're undisbandable. I like using these low as soon as I can afford to include them into my stack. They are definitely a good replacement for a low stack of zombies at higher land (do not try to put these top-stack though as a soaker as black - you'll likely end up in a population spiral). You can get them through Blood Ritual or straight summoning - I personally prefer to do blood ritual and dispel it with 1 mana in a few tries. Careful with these when sending them as reinforcements though, because they're Melee Paralyze, they can trigger 'bursting' (which will usually wipe yout your ghouls), the other "paralyze" with lifesteal units do not have this issue because they are Magic Paralyze (which doesn't trigger bursting)
Shadow: These are essentially non-paralyzing, ground-based, wraiths. Honestly I don't use them that much because they die to too many different attack types - but should you be able to set them up against a melee stack they do fairly well. A gimmicky use of these is to attack a green using "Call Hurricane" and "Ash of Invisibility" - and using them to block their treants - while using your other stacks to deal damage. Honestly though, these don't find their way into many of my stacks in any large numbers.
Skeleton: Disband these when they come from black sabbath, they'll cost you battles once you get up higher in land (you can use them down low as fodder - zombies are better though, hands down).
Zombie: Zombies can be used as top-stack soakers, or as mid/lowstack fodder, or disbanded as you get them. They make good soakers against most things, but greens will eat them for breakfast with their huge trees. And many other large hitters will as well. Using these top-stack against whites can be used as a distraction if the white is using a standard white fighting stack (AA/Uni/KT/SW/Titan/etc.). Honestly though, after I get to a certain point in land, I ditch these in favor of heavier more useful units (soaker is a use, but I'd rather have a soaker that also does damage). There are several strategies that revolve around this unit, and I will be using one as an example in the stacking section of this guide (it will be a common 'zombie top' stack).
Dark Elf Magician: Commonly called DEMs, these are one of the top 5 recruitable units in the game. Decent damage with their Magic Ranged attack (mainly thanks to marksmanship). They by far outclass the other Magic Ranged competitions (Elven Magicians, Druids, and Dryads). These make a great addition to many stacks - some people will just run a few hundred of these for fatigue, others will run 25,000+ to deal some serious damage. The key is keeping them safe, they are slow to recruit, but well worth the trouble if you have the population space to spare.
Orcish Archer/Orc Raider/Wolf Raider: These are essentially the 'clumsy' equivalent of their plain counterparts (Orc Archer -> Archer, Orc Raider -> Militia, -> Wolf Raider -> Cavalry). They are good for rushing because they can give you a lot of hard to kill power, but they won't win many awards for damage dealing or long-term usage. Some people include 1 Orcish Archer to give them another fatigue stack if they don't have 10 stacks already. I will occassionally keep Orcish Archers in very low stacks (11th and lower) so that just in case I lose a stack, they will fill in the slot with fatigue.
Imp: Flying, Poison, and good for rushing. These aren't much use later from my experience because there are much better fliers. You can use these, just be cautious with them, although in my opinion you're better off just recruiting Dark Elf Magicians.
Gargoyle: the other flying black recruitable (black is the only one with 2 flying recruitables). These are usually just liabilities, there's ways to make them semi-useful but it's usually just not worth the trouble - if you want a black recruitable flier you may want to stick to imps. Fun Fact: These are 1 of only 2 "Golem" race units in the game - the other being Iron Golems.
Cave Troll: These are ok for rushing, not godly, but they will do for another poison stack. Personally I tend to avoid them, because I haven't found much use for them in the longrun, although they are definitely something you may want to experiment with.
Chimera: Heavy damage fliers, don't take hits very well though. Good units if you're looking for a flier, however most blacks aren't, except ones who try an all-flying black (all-flying black is VERY difficult to pull off, I've never heard of anyone making it very far with one without some extreme blood, sweat, tears, and maybe some whoring).
Dwarven Deathseeker/Hell Hound: Don't bother with these, your units are fragile enough without including additional weaknesses - while I find Hell Hounds an interesting unit, they just aren't up to par.
Efreeti: Good addition to a black stack, efreeti summon fairly easily and are fairly sturdy units. Used for about the same things as Lich, great units all-around. Most blacks will use these somewhere in their stacking if they're using ground units.
Hydra: These are good for hunting some whites and blues, but personally I prefer Horned Demons. These work well in a black stacking due to their 50% holy resistance, this keeps whites from quite so haywire on them.
Lizard Man: Good for deferring a little cost of your upkeeps to geld, but personally I'd just rather stick with the easier to get zombies or ghouls.
Salamander: Small Fire unit, deals great damage, good in a midstack if you keep them fairly protected.
Wyvern: Included in black all-flying, otherwise just ignore these units completely - you have much better choices in ground units.
Djinni: Some blacks use this as a top-flying soaker, much like a white uses AA. They're ok units, but they summon too slow in my opinion, although you are welcome to test them, I can vouch for them being decent units.
Mind Ripper: Great unit, evil hitter, but one big downside: they are the most population intensive unit in the game. I usually don't use these as black, but if I had the population to spare I definitely would consider it deeply.
Medusa: Great unit for your midstacks, purely mana upkeep helps take some of the load off your population as well - I almost always use these as a black when I'm deepstacked.
Sirene: Don't bother with them much as black, they have specialized uses, but usually you won't encounter these situations.
Psychic Wisp: Good ranged fatigue/fodder unit, a little fatter than your other options but a summon of these isn't unwelcome in a black army. I usually avoid them though.
Sylph/Sprite: Sylphs are basically big sprites - sprites are smaller and higher initiative, do less damage and can take less - sylphs are bigger but lower initiative, although they can take more damage and deal more out.
Soul Speaker: Small ranged fodder fatigue, I prefer Dryads for black, but these can be used as an additional small ranged stack. Don't let them drift up too high or they'll cost you.
Pegasus: White flying unit, eats gold (something black has plenty of), consider it if you're using heavy flying - summons well for black.
Knight: gotten from horn of valhallas, can be fun as black - but I don't usually use them much because you have good choices elsewhere.
Astral Magician: Don't bother with black, trust me - they're not worth the effort.
Angel: Again, not worth the effort, but they are summonable, albeit mind-numbingly slow for their lack of usefulness.
Archangel/Spirit Warrior/Unicorn: Can be fun to mess around with for fun, but they won't do much for you, and are rather inefficient to gather in any real numbers (because the only viable option is the market, and they're expensive there - you'd be better off buying a few candles or ashes).
Griffon: Same situation as Archangel/Spirit Warrior/Unicorn - these simply aren't worth the trouble (and aren't even as fun to play with as black, as the white complex are heh)
Werebear: Fun to mess with with Foul Water, but truthfully not worth the trouble to summon as black. Keep with stuff in black and blue for the most part.
Gorilla: Gotten from Peaches, good unit, but expensive to keep geld-wise, I usually only use them during armageddon.
Cavalry: I like these as black rushing, much like blue, but later on in the rush I usually drop the cavalry and only keep the Dark Elf Magicians, and maybe some Archers. Orcs are also quicker to recruit than these if you're desperate for numbers.
Archer: I don't use these much as black, except as low fatigue, as I mention in the other guides, these are nice to recruit 2 per turn if you aren't recruiting anything else - if you are recruiting other stuff just keep a turn of recruiting these at the 10th stack or lower (usually lower for me)
Renegade Wizard: Great buyable unit, expensive to upkeep. They are a little weaker than Dark Elf Magicians, but are still a good addition if you can afford them. Personally I don't buy them often as black.
Falcon/Mercenary/Assassin/Bounty Hunter: All 4 decent swords units, not as good as Renegade Wizards, but will work for you. Assassins in pericular are good at hunting Mind Rippers. Flacons are good for all-flying stacks. Mercenaries are good for rushing. Bounty Hunters are good for hiding down low.
War Hound/Trained Elephant/Starving Peasant: Don't bother with these 3 unless you need fake power - they don't do much in general, especially when you take into account the cost of keeping them. They can all be used with Foul Water, but I usually don't bother.
Fanatic/Werewolf: Rare to come by, but good units none the less. With Fanatics just keep them around when you get them - they don't really hurt anything and are a free upkeep, not to mention the overall strongest units in the game (and holy attack with nether is fun heh). Werewolves aren't as overpowered, and you have to pay their upkeep, but when you get them, you get them in huge numbers - think twice about what you'll do with them.
Frog/Sheep/Squirrel: Free Upkeep, 1 NP units. Squirrels fly. I like keeping a bunch of these 11th stack and lower so they don't enter battle but still protect from pillages. (Frog/Squirrel come from Total Newbie Handbook, Sheep come from shepherdess). Never hurts to have more units - even for black (why settle for 500k units, when you can have over a million to block pillages).
Iron Golem: Horrible mana upkeep, but a royal pain in the butt to kill in sufficient numbers. I don't bother with these because you can't get enough of them to be effective with them. Not to mention they don't do much damage. They're also mana eaters galore.
Spells and Items
Spell and Item recommendations vary based on the stacking you use - remember to always focus items/spells on augmenting your goal, and never use item/spell combination that contradict or diminish the returns on each other.
Examples of Good One-Goal Combinations:
Gaze of Death + Head of Medusa: This is focused on killing enemies stacking mono-ultimages. While it's rare for Gaze of Death to pass enemy resists, when it does it's devistating, Head of Medusa just helps ensure that you at least kill a number of the enmy.
Feet of hermes + Satchel of Mist: This helps prevent damage to your units if your mono-stacked, by adding SWIFT to your stack, and reducing the accuracy of all units 10%.
Giant Strength + Bubble Wine: Boost your units AP (both) and life (bubble only). Focuses on making your units primaries a bit more threatening. Good combo if you're attacking an enemy with weaknesses to a lot of your primary attacks, also a fairly cheap low-land option.
Examples of Good Complimentary-Goal Combinations:
Dreams of Seduction + Carpet of Flying: with the proper distribution of power in your stacks, you can have a top-stack that doesn't count towards battle losses, and still have a solid hitting stack. Hard to balance, but very common to see in higher ranks.
Kiss of the Vampire + Ash of Invisibility: This is a common "Armageddon" assignment - focused on defending against players much lower than you (especially ones small enough where you can stack-wipe them). Will make your stacks grow if you do enough damage, and don't take much in return. Not a very good assignment if you're surrounded by people who can hit you back hard.
Examples of Bad One-Goal Combinations:
Foul Water + Vial of Venom: This assignment can be useful if trying to punch a poison adder through barriers, but on defense or on a low barrier target it's a waste of resources - Vial of Venom adds poison, Foul Water boosts damage and adds poison, Vial of venom has no actual effect in this combination.
Examples of Bad Multi-Goal Combinations (opposing/interfering goals):
Kiss of the Vampire + Satchel of Mist: If you can't do damage, you can't gain as many units as possible, this is much like healing+satchel combinations, in that each effect reduces the usefulness of the other.
Kiss of the Vampire + Strange Metallic Can: Steal Life is applied before deaths, and healing is applied after deaths, again, this is much like the healing+satchel combinations, reducing the usefulness of both effects.
Some Commonly Used 'good' Combinations (this is a short-list to get you started, there are many other worthwhile combinations, but I'll leave them for you to discover on your own): - Giant Strength + Candle of Sleeping: A Favorite of people who use units such as Lich and Efreeti to hunt RD, among other units - because it massively boosts these units ability to dish out damage. - Stun + Ash of Invisibility: Good little combination here, even though you'll fail Stun from time to time, with ash your mid/low stack strengths can really shine and take out enemy units before they even have a chance to move. - Dreams of Seduction + Carpet of Flying: A common higher ranking setup, requires a lot of calculations, but I feel it important to mention that this is currently a very common combination in the current metagame.
Spell Note: Black Sabbath is a great spell that boosts holy resistance, mana income, and gives you 666 zombies and 666 skeletons per turn. The downside is that it lowers your population income - if you find yourself in a population spiral, you will want to seriously consider dispelling this spell temporarily. Most of the time though, it is a good idea to have this spell running non-stop.
So lets assume you've gotten to 4k-ish land, or higher - you're ready to do a big stack, and take advantage of black's variety of units it can deepstack. Now we're going to approach this differently than the other 2 guides (which are both different from each other as well). This is basically because there's so many aspects to stacking that it could take an entire guide in and of itself. In this one we'll construct a common black strategy of "Zombie Top Deepstack" - while not the top notch black stack, it works fairly well, and we'll discuss its weaknesses.
Ok, starting this stack out we take an assessment of our units, for now we can assume ALL units are our playground because this isn't a theme beyond using zombies as a top-stack soaker to block the standard white.
So there we have a start: Zombies, top. Now to fill in the stacks that'll back up these usually wimpy soakers.
We have some big ranged units: Lich, Mind Rippers, and Efreeti
We have some strong ground hitters: Horned Demons, Salamanders, Medusae, and Unholy Reavers and Ghouls (both to a limited extent)
We have some nice small ranged units: Dark Elf Magicians, Dryads, Psychic Wisps, and Soul Speakers
We don't want to use our fliers, cause we want to pack as much power behind these zombies as possible to maximize our damage.
Now, we definitely want to use our strongest on-colors from each category, this means Lich, Horned Demons, and if you have Barracks (which we'll assume we do) Dark Elf magicians.
Now, with those added, we're probably starting up a pretty decent population upkeep, but I think we can fit 1 more pop eater in there, lets do a small Mind Ripper stack for some spice.
This gives us so far: Zombie/Lich/HD/DEM/MR - Doesn't look like it would survive much eh? especially with those DEM that high in the stacking, considering they're so fragile. so lets move in some more stuff to push those DEM down, we'll probably want non-ranged so we can keep that DEM stack as big as possible while protecting it, but also still have a decent amount of power in them. Lets pull out our friends in Salamanders and Medusa, and put those in behind the easier to summon Horned Demons.
This gives us: Zombie/Lich/HD/Medusa/Salamander/DEM/MR - 7 stacks, it looks ok, but it's still missing something - we need a bit more ranged probably - so lets get a little more fatigue in there, as well as Efreeti which are fairly easy to summon since they're your only non-black complex in any real numbers.
Zombie/Lich/HD/Efreeti/Medusa/Salamander/DEM/MR/Dryad/Wisp. This gives us our stack, now, I didn't go through all the statements of 'is this offensive' 'how will this survive' etc. - instead I'm stacking this by instinct and past knowledge - I know that my HD can do fine in 3rd stack usually, and that DEM are strong but fragile, not to mention that Medusa and Salamanders make great hitters in the midstacks despite their slow initiative. With this stack in mind, I want to consider the metagame for a minute - who's going to be hitting me? what do I have to look out for? what would really hurt me? and is what would hurt me really common?
The answers are: everyone, everything, depends on your assignment, and depends on the metagame.
When you look at this tack, you'll notice a few glaring weaknesses: Initiative, Zombies, Holy Damage to the top 2 stacks, and damage output up in the top stacks.
Now, we have to decide how to deal with these weaknesses - and how to anticipate what we need to fear, this is learned through experiencing what does and does not deal massive damage to each of the units.
Lets start with Initiative: You could use an ash to overcome the massive number of 1 initiative attacks you have, and that are especially in your high damage points, or you could use a Web of Spider Woman to slow the enemies down to your pace, or stop them completely (especially treants, read why in the part about the zombies). There are no real spell options you can use to help with this problem, so lets move onto the next weakness.
Zombies main enemy in that slot - will be treants top (especially with rust), or any heavy damage unit without paralyze, poison, or psychic attacks. There are other things that hurt them, but for the most part the sheer life of zombies will carry them through. There are 2 possible solutions to this: Brooch of Protection (to negate rust, but they'll still take a beating), or use web of spiderwoman to stop the trees in their tracks, both of these would be best with max barriers. You can also use Stun to reduce the efficiency of the enemy stack AND reduce their resists to your attack - you just have to realize that stun is resisted frequently.
Holy Damage - amazingly, this weakpoint isn't the zombies after you get past the whites using Doms top (which is fairly quickly if you work on climbing fast), your major concern will be Unicorns with THL second. There's nothing you can do about the THL, and there isn't much you can do about the unicorns, so your only choice is to grin and bear it and win through the other stacks. Although it would be a wise idea to keep damage to a minimum by using Black Sabbath (boosts holy resistance), and having max barriers + shroud of darknees to keep Sword of Light from coming through and making it even worse. Liches are sturdy against most everything else.
Damage Output - your main goal is to make-up for this with your midstacks, so you want to make sure they're dealing their damage, and dealing it hard. Just make sure to keep the midstacks intact and you'll do fine in this department (shallow stacks will still hurt you though, if they have fakes - be sure to wipe the fakes - otherwise rely on pounding their topstack into the ground)
So we have several options, I lean towards offensiveness and getting that damage fast is a good way to prevent damage later - so I'd choose Stun/Ash or Giant Strength/Ash - this would make you hit first, hit hard, and ask questions later. Sure you'll get beat sometimes, and this is far from the perfect stack (like I said in the beginning, this is a very flawed stack - the purpose of guides is to teach you how to play, not do anything more - you'll notice that in all my stack guides, the information provided is for a 'good stack' but not one that will win awards for 'wow' factors). This stack for example, with the assignments I gave, will clearly be beaten by greens, if you see a lot of greens around you, you may wish to switch to Giant Strength/Web. Learn to adapt, and you will have learned something more than many people, and that is what seperates the veterans from the intermediate/beginners.
Note 1 I can't stress this enough in these guides, max barriers are key.
Note 2 Most blacks will rely on Candles, Bubble Wines, and Ashes, most other items are used for specific purposes, these general items work well with black's general nature. Although always be sure to check your stack to see if an odd item would be better than a general item (especially in the case of heavy melee or heavy flying stacks).
Note 3 Don't try deviling someone until after you've learned the basics of population and/or spiral control, you won't like the result and new players have died from that.
Note 4 The stacks I give are by far not the only stacks, or even the best stacks (there is no 'best stack' but yes, that's a different conversation). Experiment, test, find what works best for you. What works for one in this game, may not work for another based on your personal quirks, ideas, and efficiency at certain tasks.
Good Luck, and remember to have fun.