I’ve been playing the game since the release with a few friends from work – I’ve pushed up to Arena 6 and feel like I’ve got a pretty good grasp on the basic strategy of the game. I’ve tried to compile the basics below to give a comprehensive guide to the theory behind Clash Royale.
I. Elixir Advantage
II. Card Classifications
III. Creating a Balanced Deck
IV. Basic Concepts, Plays, and Counterplays
I. Elixir Advantage And You
If you take anything away from this guide, it should be this: You win when you have an overwhelming elixir advantage over your opponent.
What does this mean? Both players generate elixir at a constant rate. Each play costs elixir, and will also counteract your opponent’s plays. You are generally looking to gain an elixir advantage with every play and build your advantage to a point where it is impossible for your opponent to respond to your offensive.
How do you build an elixir advantage? By making favorable trades – spending less elixir to counter your opponent than it cost them to mount an attack.
For instance, a Fireball against Barbarians will provide you with 1 elixir advantage: Fireball costs 4 elixir, Barbarians cost 5 elixir. One Fireball will bring Barbarians down to the point where they get one shot by your Tower
A Tombstone against a Prince will provide you with a 2 elixir advantage: Prince costs 5 elixir, Tombstone costs 3 elixir. One tombstone will distract a charging Prince and the skeletons that spawn will surround him and finish him off without him reaching your tower.
In a nutshell, winning a match of Clash Royale revolves around you continuing to make favorable elixir trades until you build up an overwhelming advantage and take them out.
II. Card Classifications & The Importance of Cycling
There are 42 cards in Clash Royale and they can be categorized in different ways. In order to build a balanced deck, we need to understand these classifications and make a deck that can respond to a variety of situations.
Tank – These cards are made to take punishment or stall your opponent. You want these guys on your front lines to help your push make it to your opponent’s tower.
Damage – These cards are made to destroy things, whether it’s troops or buildings. They often need cover but when they have it, they can wreak havoc on your opponent.
AOE (Area of Effect) – These cards are excellent in dealing with troops and creating elixir-positive trades. They damage everything around the primary target, taking out groups of troops with few attacks.
Proactive – These are cards that you use to mount your offensive. By playing certain combinations of proactive cards, you can create a powerful push with their synergies.
Reactive – These are cards that you play to counter your opponents plays and create an elixir-positive trade. You want to save these cards in your hand to respond your opponent’s plays.
A card can fall under multiple categories at once. In fact, the best cards are popular for their versatility and ability to be used in multiple situations (usually both proactively and reactively).
Take Tombstone, which IMO, is one of the best cards in the game. It falls under pretty much every category besides Tank and AOE. It can be used as a proactive card to help cycle through your deck while putting on some pressure for minimal cost. It can be used reactively to distract a Balloon, a Hog Rider, a Prince, or basically any other troop while your troops whack away.
Take Fireball, another very popular card: It can be played proactively as a Damage card to knock 200 HP off of a tower for a clutch victory. It can be played reactively as AOE to instantly clear a big wave of troops barrelling down your lane.
Finally, take the Wizard: It can be played proactively as heavy artillery behind a tank to quickly clear out waves of troops your opponent is playing to counter you.
It can be played reactively behind your tower to quickly clear waves of troops your opponent is sending down your lane.
Why do we want as many versatile cards as possible? Its simple – we want to maximize our options by cycling through cards as fast as possible.
Card cycling is a simple concept – the theory is that the quicker you can use your cards efficiently, the better you can adapt to any given situation. Your cards are served to you in a set non-random order. Once you play one card, you will have to be served every other card in your deck before you are served that card again. Therefore, you’re going to generally want cards with low elixir costs that can fulfill a variety of roles so you get maximum value out of every card. That’s why cards like Tombstone, Fireball, and Wizard are so great. They can almost always be played to gain an elixir advantage or at least trade evenly whether it’s on defense or on offense. That way you always have more options to respond to any situation.
III. Building a Balanced Deck
I usually start building a deck around a win condition. For the purposes of this guide, I will start with my personal favorite combination, Hog + Freeze. This is the win condition of my deck and the rest of my deck will be tailored around making this combination work.
Next I will fill in the gaps with versatile, quick-cycling cards. Generally any card that can be played both proactively AND reactively is an instant include. That’s why I always like to run Tombstone, Spear Goblins, Wizard and Fireball in my decks.
Finally, I look at the deck and fill in any weaknesses. One glaring weakness in this deck is the lack of tank. I have many options to fill out a meaty tank role: Giant, Barbarians, Valkyrie, Knight, Giant Skeleton, PEKKA. Each of them has its own merits, but because Barbarian is a great balance of proactive and reactive, tank and damage, I choose it over the other options.
I have one last space to fill in my deck, and this is often the trickiest part. There are lots of options I can go with. Do I want a second win condition? Then I could put in Balloon in there for a Balloon + Freeze spell combo. Do I want more reactive cards? A Skeleton (1 mana Skeleton, not Skeleton Army) card would be great to slot in. Do I want a stronger push? Then a Witch could be a great addition. I’ve tried all of these combos, and in the end, I felt that the strongest card to slot in was Lightning, and here’s why – it augments my win condition by giving an instant ~400 damage on a tower, can be reactively in a pinch to stop a push with strong troops, and hard counters cheese decks (X-Bow + Inferno, Hut Spam come to mind).
Generally, I’ve found that the last slot tends to be a lot of trial and error and down to your personal preference.
IV: Basic Concepts, Plays and Counterplays
We’ve already explored the two most important strategic concepts of Clash Royale: elixir advantage and Card Cycling. Here are a few more concepts that will help you play smart.
Generally, the first person to make an offensive move is at a disadvantage. Why is this? When defending against a push, the Crown Towers are a huge asset. In theory, if two equal elixir armies clash under a Crown Tower, the side with the Crown Tower will always win, putting the defender at an elixir advantage, and the attacker at an elixir disadvantage. This is why generally, you have the awkward stare down in the beginning of higher level matches were two opponents sit at full elixir waiting for the first person to make a move so they can respond. This also brings us to basic concept #2.
The Dangers of Max Elixir:
This is a core concept of Clash Royale. Every second you sit at max elixir, you start racking up an elixir disadvantage if your opponent is playing their cards, as they are regenerating elixir and you are not. Therefore, it is okay if you and your opponent are both sitting at max elixir, but as soon as they play a card, you need to play yours too and keep up with their advantage. This is also why cards like Tombstone and Spear Goblins are so good – they let you play a card and gain an elixir advantage at the beginning of the game without overcommitting to a play that can be easily countered.
When you feel like you have an adequate elixir advantage, you may want to take the offensive and go for some damage on the crown tower. To do that, you need to build up a push – a strong, well-balanced wave of troops that will mow down their defenses and take the tower. A typical push has a Tank card up in the front, and Damage troops in the back (AOE damage troops are especially great as they can take out groups of defending troops and deal damage to the Crown Tower). Examples of a well rounded push armies include: Barbarian + Wizard, Giant + Spear Goblins/Musketeer, Hog Rider + Wizard, Knight + Bomber + Spear Goblins.
The key to an effective push is grouping up your units so they hit at once. You don’t want them streaming in one at a time and getting picked off by the Crown Tower before they can get an attack in. Therefore you should usually start a push by dropping down units behind your tower. This lets the Tower help take out any troops that maybe pushing down your lane so your troops stay in fighting shape when they reach the other side, but more importantly, gives time for you to regenerate elixir to help create a stronger push. If you start with a Wizard behind the tower (a common defensive play), you’ll want to regen elixir and drop Barbarians in front of him as he approaches the bridge to the other side. Now you have a strong well rounded push, with the Barbarians in the front to tank and the Wizard in the back to deal damage.
Countering a Push:
So your opponent has a large push coming down the lane. There are two main ways to deal with this: Nuke or Distract.
Nuke – The idea here is to take out as many troops as you can as efficiently as possible. Most of the time, this means relying on or AOE cards. The Wizard, Bomber, Arrows and Fireball will be your best friends when it comes to defending pushes as they can easily wipe out an army and provide you with a sizable advantage. The key to nuking a push comes down to knowledge of counters:
Fireball: Trades well vs. Barbarians, Witch, Wizard and anything with less HP. Will either one shot them or leave them with a sliver of HP remaining (enough for your Tower to take down in one hit). Not as effective vs. Hogs, Balloons, Prince, or anything tankier.
Arrows: Trades well vs. Goblins, Spear Goblins, Minions, Minion Horde, Skeletons/Skeleton Army. Not very effective vs. troops with more HP.
Wizard: Trades well vs. Barbarians, Minions, Minion Horde, Goblins, Spear Goblins, Skeletons/Skeleton Army. Needs something to tank for it, so on defense, always drop it behind the Tower!
Bomber: Trades well vs. Barbarians, Goblins, Spear Goblins, Skeletons/Skeleton Army. Basically a cheaper Wizard that only targets ground. You also need something to tank for it, so always drop it behind the Tower when playing defense.
Baby Dragon: Trades perfectly vs. Barbarians, Goblins, and Skeletons/Skeleton Army and any other melee troop (as they can’t hit air). Trades very well vs. Spear Goblins (1 shot) and Archers (2 shot).
Distract: So the opponent is playing a big card that can’t be AOE’d down (like a Balloon, a Hog Rider, a Giant, or a Giant Skeleton). You need to distract it so that your Tower and troops can take it down. To do this, you need to 1) know each troop’s targeting priorities and 2) have cheap reactive troops to distract it from hitting your tower.
Giants, Hog Riders, Balloons, and Golems only target buildings, so in order to distract them, you need to play a cheap building like a Tombstone or a Cannon. Place your building either further back in the lane so it doubles back or towards the center of your side of the arena so it pulls off the Tower and gives it time to hit it.
Other units can be distracted easily with cheap troops such as Spear Goblins, Goblins, Skeletons, etc. Same idea – pull them away from the Tower and give the tower time to hit them. One tricky thing may be dealing with AOE troops such as Wizard or Baby Dragon. Because your typical reactive troops (Spear Goblins, Skeletons, etc.) will be one-shot by the AOE, you need something else to distract them while your troops take it down. A lot of the time, this will be your tower. You’ll have to wait till the troop locks on to your tower before deploying your Spear Goblins or Skeletons, etc. You lose some damage on your tower, but the troop in question gets taken down much quicker than if it had one-shot your reactive troops and then you only had your Tower to take it down.
This is NOT the same thing as countering a push. The idea of a counterpush is simple – your opponent has invested a lot of elixir into their push and you’ve efficiently stopped it. Now you’re at an elixir advantage and able to amass your own army to capitalize on this. This is why a Wizard/Bomber behind the tower is such a great play – it counters your opponent’s push, while helping you build up a push of your own as your Wizard and Bomber usually survives the push with minimal damage. All you have to do is add a Tank troop up front, and baby, you’ve got a counterpush going.
Sometimes, you find yourself in a situation where confronting their push head-on is not an option. Maybe you got unlucky with your card draw or the opponent simply has too much of an advantage for you to counter. The right play in these situations is generally to Split Push, which means to deploy troops in the OTHER lane. Great troops for Split Pushing include Hog Rider, Balloon, and Prince. The idea behind this is that your opponent has committed so much elixir to his push that he can not effectively respond to yours. For a smaller investment, you gain the same outcome (one Crown Tower) as your opponent, even though he committed much more to his push than you. This will help you stabilize and even out the game.