Alzorath's Phantasm Guide
This Guide is no longer being updated due to my official retirement from the game. - Signed, Alzorath.
This guide was originally a post on the TR UBB in response to a question on blue stacking, as time passes it will change as I change the content from a 'reply' format, to an actual guide format. I will likely be adding new content to round out this guide so it can stand alone (including carrying over some information from my FAQ). I hope this helps you out, because if it even helps 1 player find a color they love to play, it will have done it's job. Always remember to have fun though, because that's what games are about. I am not including links in the body text because I feel it makes it harder to read, and doesn't add much functionality - if you have questions about what a unit or spell does they are fairly easy to find on the wiki. I will include links where it does not disrupt the flow of reading, or where I feel it is absolutely necessary. I am also not including RUSHING STRATEGY in this guide, if I do ever write information on that it will be located in a seperate guide - this guide is intended primarily as a 'standard blue' guide - no specialist tactics.
About Phantasm (Blue), Blue is a color of much versitility, you will find yourself looking at it and seeing the many assortment of strategic possibilities. Blues can range from gelders/wishers who focus on the market, to snipers who aim to spell/item enemy mages, to a defensive ranker, or even an offensive ranker, and they can do any of these quite effectively. You may think blue is overpowered from that statement, but it's not because it is such a complex beast - the key is not letting this complexity bog you down and prevent you from seeing how to use blue simply and effectively. Blue, much like green and white, really begins to show its power at, and above, the 3000-5000 acre mark where it can push those deep stacks. This 3000-5000 landmark, is also the point it is most recommended to wait until for using blue's most powerful weapons: Elementals. Due to their massive upkeeps they are prohibitive until this point.
Now, I'm going to take a step back, and assume you haven't reached this 3000-5000 land mark, and we'll look at how to reach it, and sustain it when you get there. I'll cover 3 key points: Gaining Land Efficiently below 3000-5000, Defending your land below 3000-5000, and 'the metagame' which will move you from the low ranks to the mid/high ranks.
Ok first Topic #1 - gaining land efficiently. at under 3000 acres, this involves a LOT of attacking (if you're thinking less than double digits, you're thinking too small). I know it's hard to see yourself doing 30-40 attacks a day, and still maintaining an army, you'll be able to build up to that over time - test out doing maybe 10-15 attacks in a day while below 3000, doesn't matter if you win or lose, you're just getting used to what it feels like - aim for 25+ the next day though. After getting used to it, you can start pushing yourself to do it and win - as an aside, you must remember that when gaining land at first you want to hit the lowest mages possible, so keep your mage power down when hitting, then summon up high on defense (don't be afraid to drop your power 50% to do your runs before the 3000-5000 landmarks).
Another aspect to gaining land efficiently is knowing what to summon to do those attacks, and gain land with it. The metagame plays a decent role in this, but for now we'll stick with a tried and true methods that can be easily adapted regardless of the current playstyle - DurableHitter+DurableFodder or DurableHitter+DeepFodder. These will win less land, but will be more efficient until you have adapted to the metagame. In this some prefer Djinni/Sylph - and nothing else, honestly I find that only works in the first few weeks of a reset before people have whored up (you hit reds/blues with it), but it is a common example of "DurableHitter+DurableFodder" the Djinni act as the main hitters, and the Sylphs the numbers to gain land (while also doing damage of their own). My personal preference for blue is the DurableHitter+DeepFodder - for this I'd recommend Djinni/Sylph/Sprite/Pegasus + cast Gate a few times. You should end up with something like Djinni/Sylph/AA/Sprite/Angel/Uni/Pegasus/Knight and around 30k units or some hodgepodge like that. Most of your power in Djinni, and a moderate amount in sylph, the rest in all your other units adding to your numbers.
Now to do the attack with this, you have to choose your targets - personally I like Blues and Reds, they're the easiest for me to pop, and relatively good land for the power. Now you may be wondering when I'm going to mention spells/items - well, right now - When hunting blue you will want to use sleep almost always, because in the current metagame Mono-Djinni and Mono-Leviathan are the most common, get a sleep through on these and your djinni and sylphs will rip them apart. Against reds, I tend to lean towards Mental Thrash - this will take down efreeti and chimera based reds reliably. Now you can go against blacks too - but use Paralyze (to stop heavy stacks such as heavy wraith or heavy HD - both enemies to blues). Items are a different matter, as it varies depends on what you think the target may have - if you think a red could be heavy Red Dragon - send in the Head of Medusa, if you think a blue is heavy leviathan the same goes - if you think a red is heavy chimera, slip in a scroll of fire protection, if you think a red is heavy efreeti, throw down the same - if you think a blue is heavy djinni, don't bother with items until you're higher in land, but if you must use an item - use something cheap like a Bubble Wine or Potion of Valor.
Now that may be a lot to soak in, but it's just general basic strategy (similar stuff can be said for every other color - just the names of units and spells/items change).
Next we'll be going onto topic #2 - Defending your land. As a hunting blue - this is simple - drop all the disbandables (there is a reason I didn't say vampires and wraiths this early) - and summon up a massive army of djinni, save yourself about 150-300k mana after casting them. Slap on a solid defensive spell and item (I like Satchel/Lovesick, or Satchel/Feet of Hermes - mechanics about why these work can be found in my FAQ).
This is straightforward - the reason I don't suggest Leviathans, is they are of no use to you on your attack runs this low, no need to use them unless you're forced to explore up (then you disband all levs, build, explore, build, summon levs, and assign a solid defense for them - such as flight/scroll, or lovesick/scroll)
Defending your land down low is simple - simply don't take more than 10% damage, above is one of the easiest methods of doing this. When you go for your attack run the next day, disband djinni down to somewhat positive income, build on extra land to let mana come in, cast gate/sylph/sprite a few times, and then attack as much as you can, disband your fodder again, build or charge with spare turns, and resummon the djinni. Yes you'll lose land sometimes, but you'll be gaining more than you lose.
Topic #3 - the metagame, the metagame changes as the players change, and you have to learn to adapt to it - it is best to start testing your units out in different situations - see how those levs do vs hd, or sals, or chimera, or whatever - find out why. Look at the mechanics if you must (although after a while it is better to do it by gut rather than sheer numbers). I've included some unit tips about the units, but you won't know just how much in any direction you can take them without testing or crunching obscenely large amounts of numbers.
Leviathan: Weak to fire, and a little bit to lightning too. these are amazing soakers - which are of use even on offense to push down your damage dealing stacks to focus on the soft centers. Just because they're weak to something doesn't mean they can't handle it - you just have to know how to make up for this weakness.
Mind Ripper: Deadly dangerous, and the hardest blue units to manage in general (even harder than Elementals because MR are undisbandable) - these suckers are a kick in the nuts times ten. Use em, use em well, just avoid poison with them.
Elementals (Air, Water, Ice): These are your damage workhorses, and really aren't of much use until you can get a solid stack and work with it. Let the water and ice float around mid/bottom stack and rip it out of anything that may wander into their firing path - don't rely on a specific elemental hwen you're summonings - stack to use whatever you get. Air elementals are up higher, keep them behind at least 1 other stack though (I like them 2nd or 3rd) - they can't take a hit, but can outdamage many things that'd hurt them before the other unit even has a chance to strike.
Medusa: Blue FEAR unit, hide these about in your stacks, they can go a lot of places, and can do a lot of damage (especially to other units with FEAR), just avoid letting them get HIT by units with FEAR (units with fear, suffer no accuracy penalty whens triking other units with fear - make it work FOR you). Medusa are also a cornerstone of the blue rushing strategy (along with Djinni and Mind Rippers).
Psychic Wisp: Nice little fatigue unit, although not small enough to be fodder without also being a liability, I usually only keep 1 summon at low lands if any at all - I prefer dryads because they're smaller, durable, and make good fodder and fatigue.
Djinni: Fliers, semi-durable (but have weaknesses), great vs RD and Chims, and can do some nasty work with their Lightning Secondary and Marksmanship. A lot of people use these defensively and never notice their offensive capabilities, don't make that mistake - they're not as durable as AA, and not as offensive as Chims, but they certainly are a godly middle-ground. Avoid Magic or Poison damages with these guys (Phoenix and Wraiths in particular eat these alive - Water Elementals and Horned Demons are also a threat if they make solid contact).
Sirene: Good "Fodder Killer Killers" - don't mess with these if you're a new player, they will cost you battles until you figure out just how to use them. These are best used against specific targets (take that as you will).
Sprite/Sylph: These 2 units are basically twins - Sprite are the tiny, fast, and lower damage/survivability of the pair, they are valued for their 5 init attack of pure magic. Sylph are my preferred units, with 3 initiative, much better survivability and damage, while slower are much more stocky and dangerous (but take longer to summon).
Horned Demon: Heavy Ground hitters, very deadly to MR, Djinni, and AA. They are actually fairly sturdy too if you can place them away from the main offense of an opponent (they can handle most of the mid-range hitters). These are stopped by Webs or Slow if you need to protect against someone who's using them.
Vampire: a great black soaker, you can utilize it better as blue than you can as black. Flying though, so you have to think about where they'll be when summoned. You don't want them top usually unless you don't have any whites or reds to fear.
Wraith: Deadly to Djinni, and if hidden can be deadly to Phoenix too. Again, more effective to use as blue than as black.
Lich: ground soakers, pop eaters, fairly decent units although you can usually include something better for cheaper unless you're hunting greens.
Ghoul: Nice fodder units, you can get them from Blood Ritual (and yes - Blood Ritual is dispellable, try a couple times with 1 mana, will usually dispell on the 3rd-5th try)**CAUTION:LOW MANA DISPELL DOES NOT WORK ANYMORE** - these have the same weaknesses as zombies, except these actually deal some damage (at the cost of a higher upkeep).
Zombie/Skeleton: Nice little early fodders, but won't last you in the long run, black uses them cause they get them with Black Sabbath, with blue it's just not worth even the 1 turn to summon them usually - use ghouls instead.
Demon Knight: Don't bother with these, HD do many times more damage, and survive almost as well. Demon Knight offensive ability is pathetic, but they can soak white ok, and crumble to other colors after research is done.
Shadow: You can include these if you want, I usually find something better - but these have a good attack and can work decently down low, although I usually prefer something faster and ranged.
Unicorn: White offense/defense unit, kinda like what the Djinni is in air units, Uni are a good middle ground for offense and defense - also fun with melee attack modifiers like Vial of Venom, Foul Water, or Sword of Light.
Archangel: White Soakers, widely considered one of the best soakers in the game, keep them away from poison, paralyze, and breath (that means chimera everone).
Spirit Warrior: great for hunting mid-stack undead in a black army, nice holy damage, but are a little more fragile and fat than Unicorns, use at your own caution but they can be dangerous.
Soul Speaker: Nice little ranged fodder/fatigue, don't use in large quantities though, they will cost you battles much like Psychic Wisps. Again, Dryads are better.
Angel: if you're all flying, these will go with 1 summon down low, they're better than wyverns at least - but these won't win any awards for being actually 'good'.
Pegasus: nice little animal fodder units, and let you differ some of your upkeeps onto gold. Use them wisely though, they die like any other fodder, but go up in stack pretty fast due to flying.
Astral Magician: Same advice as with Sirenes - don't bother with these if you're new, you can experiment with them after you've got the basics down better.
Knight: Good fodder early on, gotten from Horn of Valhalla and Gate. I don't use these in the longrun - but in your first few runs they're great for filling in those extra numbers (they're like gorillas with a shield).
Preacher: You get these from L&P (no, blue can't cast L&P - but gods can). You can also buy these off the market. They're good at soaking, well, everything, the problem is they don't do any damage - I usually don't use them for anything except to push my ranged units down, if even then. They're expensive to upkeep for their power.
Nymph, Dryad: great ranged fodder/fatigue units, I love them both - you'll probably use Dryads at lower land, and Nymphs at higher land. Nymphs are far more durable and damaging, while Dryads are smaller and better able to pack in the numbers you want.
Gorilla: I only use these for powering up, and sometimes as rushing fodder, and I only get them from peaches, I don't bother casting Animal Summoning.
Werebear/Griffon/Treant/Mandrake/Creeping Vines: I don't use these green averages/complex, but I have heard of some blues utilizing werebears as a 'suprise' - just not worth the mana to me since you can summon better for cheaper. Griffons are rarely if ever used by blue due to the high mana upkeep and a not so fun geld upkeep accompanying it (they eat mana like noone's business, so you're not deferring to gold, you're just eating it up alongside mana). Treefolk are worthless for blue, due to the lack of a good plantgrowth (even reds and whites don't use treants because plantgrowth isn't good for them as adjascent colors).
Oddly enough - eradication has a few great units for a blue to use at higher lands.
Efreeti: Great units, 4 init primary, fire attack type (an attack blue natively lacks, that is very useful). I usually start incorporating these around 4k land if possible and wouldn't even think twice about the mana cost of getting them. They tend to stay low in my stacks until very high land, but even there they are worth it (especially when pushing fodder/fatigue ranged down a bit).
Chimera: Useful for blue all flying - 1-2 summons will usually place these relatively low in your stack, but a small stack of chimera in 6-8th stack will wipe out a lot of fodder units (and since you're likely all-flying while using these - they usually won't be targetted if they're at the very bottom unless your opponent is using a carpet, or all-flying themselves) - Chimera can be used in non-allflying stacks, but float up rather quickly and may get killed 2000-3000 Chimera in 5th or lower is nice though at very high land.
Salamander: lovely little fire units, but they do crumble a bit easily, consider them from time to time, but you can usually find something better, unless you want that extra little heavy hitter. Usually not worth the trouble.
Hydra: useful if you're high land and fighting other blues, gives you that 3rd (or 4th if you buy assassins) poison stack to hunt down those MR or Djinni. Usually not worth the trouble though.
Lizard Man: Use them like red zombies if you use them. Personally I don't bother, I have enough other units to choose from.
Wyvern: Fliers, can be used in a blue all-flying stack, but honestly - angels are better, easier to summon, and are frankly less of a hassle. I don't use these as blue, even if all-flying (I'd rather just buy falcons instead of summon these guys).
Cavalry: My favorite rushing unit, these eat militia and archers alive (which are 2 of the other most common rushing units recruitable by blue). I usually only use them early reset though as blue, never later because they can't handle much more than simple or barracks units.
Archer: I like having these around, in rushing I'll use them to add numbers to my stack behind cavalry, because they are still decent. Mid-Late reset, I will sometimes still include them as my 10th stack by getting 1 barrack, and setting it to recruit 4000000 archers (it will tell you it will take 2000000 turns to recruit the archers), thsi way you're getting 2 archers a turn and they will stay low.
Renegade Wizard: Great buyable unit, expensive to upkeep. They are a little weaker than Dark Elf Magicians, but are the strongest unit of that kind a blue can have in its stack ('barracks'/'mercenary' type units with magic ranged).
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.
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. 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)
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.
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:
Blinding Flash + Satchel of Mist: Both reduce enemy accuracy, satchel reduces your accuracy, but the goal of this is to prevent damage.
Platinum Hand of Healing + Strange metallic Can: Both Augment healing, and will improve how your stacks heal (I usually don't go the healing route).
Sleep + Candle of Sleeping: Both reduce enemy resistances, and will let your units do massive amounts of damage.
Slow + Spider's Web: both reduce enemy initiative by 1, this will stop units that fail to resist slow and have initiative of 2 or less.
Examples of Good Complimentary-Goal Combinations:
Battle Lust + Ash of Invisibility: Battle Lust improves the offensive power of your units while lowering their life, Ash lets you utilize your attacks as if all units have 6 initiative - hitting first they will take less damage by killing more.
Slow + Carpet of Flying: This is a blue specific stacking to block Horned Demons in perticular. By using Slow + Carpet of Flying - if the person uses Ash to counteract your Slow, you'll still be flying and they won't reach you, if the person uses Carpet to get their horned demons airborn, slow will stop the horned demons. This is an example of a 'specialized assignment' you usually only get into these at the top ranks when you know almost exactly who will be hitting you.
Examples of Bad One-Goal Combinations:
Flight + Carpet of Flying: You gain no bonus by using both, if you are deep stacked use carpet with a good spell. if you are mono-stacked use Flight with a good item. Don't do both.
Invisibility + Ash of Invisibility: You only gian a slight bonus by using both if you are deep stacked. Invisibility's secondary effect (efficiency effect) is not key. If you're mono-stacked use Invisibility + a good item, if you're deep stacked use Ash + a good spell.
Examples of Bad Multi-Goal Combinations (opposing/interfering goals):
Platinum Hand of Healing + Satchel of Mist: By reducing losses, you reduce the amount you heal, this can cost you the battle by having them do more damage than you need to block them, and healing being insufficient to keep them from winning.
Battle Lust + Satchel of Mist: You reduce your own units accuracies, while pumping their damage and lowering their life. This doesn't end well - you'll usually lose more power because reducing accuracy will drastically reduce your damage (without any other modifiers - 10% accuracy is the same as 33% AP boost for every attack - battle lust only boosts primary/counter).
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):
- Slow+Web: -2 init to all that fail to resist Slow, -1 init to everything that does resist slow. Good with high barriers.
- Fog+Satchel: Reduces Accuracy of all units a lot, better when you're low land and low barriers, don't use this when trying to outdamage.
- Lovesick or Feet of Hermes + Satchel: good for defending if you're mono-stacked and not wanting to outdamage. (Lovesick adds Beauty & Charm, Feet of Hermes adds Swift)
- Double Time or Sleep + Candle: -10% enemy resistances, -10% enemy efficiency from Candle, stack this with either +1init/+12% accuracy from DoubleTime, or -36% resistance to 1 enemy stack, and it's just plain lovely (I prefer DT+Candle because Double Time doesn't have to pass unit resists)
Now with all that aside, lets get onto the stacking - so you've gotten to 4000 acres. You want to summon a real deepstack so you can see where blue REALLY shines. Going through your options above, it may be a bit overwhelming to think of where to begin, but with some practice and little show of preference you can get the stack you want for just about any situation. Below is an example of me walking through creating an imaginary stack for general play - you can use it as a guideline and add your own personal flair or alterations to make it work for you and the way your mind works.
Now there are 2 ways to stack as blue - offensively and defensively. Before you try and choose one, let me ask you a question: If you can't outdamage on defense where all the cards are in your favor (barriers, spells, item, and mystery of your stacks) - what makes you think you can win on offense? This is why I my example is of an OFFENSIVE DEFENSE (which can also oddly enough - work as your offensive offense heh).
For an offensive defense, you want to outdamage your opponent, and almost completely ignore your losses in power (you want to look at them a bit so you don't just go crashing to the ground as soon as you're tapped). This involves looking through that list of the units above and seeing your options for fullfilling this damaging aspect - you should come up with a list somewhat like: Djinni, Elementals (all 3), Mind Rippers, Medusa, Horned Demons, and maybe Unicorns and Wraiths.
Now to protect that power you do need to setup to soak some damage - your Djinni and Mind Rippers are fairly solid units, and so are Unicorns, although you may want a little more - so you can drag Leviathans into the mix.
To get numbers, well - you look at your Horned Demons and Medusa for 1, and possibly even include some Dryads, Psychic Wisps, or even Archers to round out the numbers (tip: keep 1 barrack, and always set it to recruit 2 archers per turn - even if they're 11th stack, should one of your stacks die - they'll jump in as additional fatigue in the next battle).
Now you may want some fatigue - Efreeti, Dryads, Wisps, Archers, etc. all make good fatigue - 3 init or higher, and they have the perk of not getting countered.
Now you have a huge list, but notice the overlaps: Djinni, Mind Rippers, Horned Demons, Medusa, Unicorns, and Dryads.
These are a good core set of units to look at in your stacking, and interestingly enough - these all can be used against EVERY COLOR in at least 1 form or another - and they're also all relatively cheap both turnwise and manawise to get into your army.
So lets say we want to arrange it a bit, to protect our softer spots in these units, this will move us to something like Djinni/Unicorns/Mind Rippers/Horned Demons/Medusa/Dryads - only 6 stacks, this won't do for deep stacking, and considering Dryads are only there as 'filler fodder' and 'fatigue' - you probably don't want a whole ton of them.
Lets get some units in to round this out. You have to think about what you're going to hunt, and also you'll want to amp up that damage a bit, on both offense and defense, but you also likely want to get those softer units in a more secure position still than what they are - because they are still prone to heavier stacks aiming at them (especially Mind Rippers - which are luckily easy to push down due to being ranged and able to put more power behind a melee or flying stack - Mind Rippers are durable, but the heaviest hitters still hurt em bad).
So we grab one more of our soakers to protect our more fragile units, lets go with Leviathans this time since they're on-color and quick to summon. And we decide to grab one more 'offensive' unit, this time an elemental - still on color, and still deadly.
This gives us 8 stacks - which will likely look soemthing along the lines of: Djinni/Leviathans/Unicorns/Mind Rippers/Horned Demons/Water or Ice Elementals/Medusae/Dryads
now...with these 8 stacks, we're doing much better - we have a solid offensive nature to our stacks through the Djinni, Unicorns, Mind Rippers, Elementals, Horned Demons, and Medusae, and we have those softer units protected with the much better soakers Leviathan and Uni, and djinni to some extent.
Now we still have exposed weaknesses, as every stack does, this is impossible to avoid, but we could use those last 2 battle slots to hinder that a bit - so lets throw in one of our trump cards from red - the Efreeti, these things are 4 init, so will even go before most other fatigue units, since they're red though, they're a pain to summon - so lets just get them up right behind the Medusa for now (at higher land we can move them up a bit if we want). and lets go ahead and throw in some Spirit Warriors to round it out at 10 stacks, this will also give us a little fun vs blacks undead.
This tosses us into the 10 stack of:
Djinni/Leviathan/Unicorns/Mind Rippers/Horned Demons/Elementals/Spirit Warriors/Medusae/Efreeti/Dryads
Now...you may think - that's gonna be hell to summon, honestly, it's not - notice how much on-color spells you have, and how many off-color spells you have - and how often you'll need to resummon each of the stacks.
You attack with all of the stack intact, disband Leviathans and Elementals (and depending on the numbers - Djinni) and build/mp charge a bit to build up that mana storage and then you resummon and cast Leviathans/Elementals last to round it out (if you get air elementals, they sit nicely behind djinni or behind Leviathans).
This stack is quickly adaptable to any situation - lets say you're needed for hititng a blue who's the target of tonight's BBQ and know they have Mind Rippers third, it should only be 2-3 casts of HD (100-150k mana, + upkeep for the turns) to push those Horned Demons up, and slap those Mind Rippers silly, let the Horned Demons drop back down and you're home free.
By keep the stacks as tight as possible in key areas (such as Unicorns/Mind Rippers/Horned Demons/Elementals, or Spirit Warriors/Medusae/Efreeti - you let your stacks change as you're hit, letting you become unpredictable, while also still dealing out your massive damage).
The item and spell I'd choose with this setup varies based on my land, but likely I would be looking at Sleep/Candle, Sleep/Ash, or Slow/Web, or at a far fetch Fog Cloud/Satchel of mist (but being an offensive stack, that's just last ditch setup)
Some Key Notes
Note 1 Blue should try and run full barriers to maintain it's advantage in spell and item - without barriers a blue's position becomes much weaker as it allows the enemy a massive advantage over the battle. (the more you make the enemy work around YOUR rules, the less able they are to protect against you, or deal damage to you).
Note 2 Candles and Webs are your main tools of the trade with an offensive blue stacking.
Note 3 You shouldn't have to summon up after a defense, to do an attack run except for during your low land times - if anything you should have to disband, nothing else. You want to be able to run as soon as you log in, as much as possible. Never log off with under 300k mana if possible (250k is acceptable, but it's pushing it), and always save Elementals for LAST in summoning, they are an 'augmenter' not a cornerstone, get them when you can.
Note 4 The stack I gave is by far not the only stack, I was merely using it as an example of working through your stacks - metagame comes into this train of thought even though I didn't include it - and also your preferred style of play, but you should always have a thought process of 'how can I do enough damage', 'how can I keep from taking more damage', 'how can I take max land', 'what can I do to compensate for weaknesses if anything', and finally 'what items and spells will work best with this?' - if you hit a major snag in any of these, you will want to loop back in steps to find out where you can fix it and proceed onward - be sure to also take into consideration those mages around you - think about what they're probably stacking, then run a battle through your head between your setup and theirs - do you win?