(Paraphrased from Thomas Bress, aka The Shadow, November 1997)
What makes a winning game? Good question. There are many keys to excellence in Warlocks.
You have to be flexible in your strategy. I remember my first exposure. I read the rules, looked at the spell list and saw that if you could cast permanent Amnesia on your opponent you could finish him off at your leisure. I was convinced that no one had thought of this before so I was determined to try it out in my first battle. I opened P S. Might as well go for Permanancy right away, I figured. My opponent hit me with Amnesia on turn 3 and that was the end of that plan.
I like to think of gestures as beads on two strings. Each bead is part of a pattern and hopefully is part of overlapping spells and threats of spells. The mage with the better pattern should be the winner. Breaking the pattern should not be done lightly. This theory explains some of my opinions on good strategy:
This list could be longer, but I just wanted to emphasize that you need to take the long view when you play Warlocks. It is a little like pool. Good players can sink the balls in the pockets, great players also make sure that the cue ball ends up in a position that lets them sink another ball on the next shot. Connectivity and flexibility are key.
Spellcasting and Shadowcasting
Warlocks has a strong element of bluffing, I like to call it shadow casting. A big part of a Warlock's success is being able to predict what your opponent will do. Usually you have perfect information, you see all of your opponent's gestures and he can see yours. Outside of blindness and invisibility, the only way to make it difficult for your opponent to guess your battle plan is to cast shadows at him. "Shadowcasting" means you start a spell, try to make your opponent commit to a defense, and switch in midspell to something else. It can also mean threatening multiple targets with one or more spells in a single turn. In either case you try to make your opponent counter the shadow instead of the actual spell. A classic ploy is to use one hand to cast DS. Your opponent reacts to the threat of Confusion (DSF) and you continue with DSP, continuing to Anti-spell (SPFP). By switching spells and leaving multiple threats and targets you can keep your opponent off balance.
Here is an example from a game I played a while ago. In the first four turns my opponent summoned an ogre and I hit him with Anti-spell. I continued to SPFPSD. Now my opponent only had two hands so he could only mount two defensive spells. But I now threatened to complete Permanancy (SPFPSDW) on myself, Charm Monster (PSDD) on the ogre, and Charm Person (PSDF) on my opponent. Three spells with three targets, plus the attack I was mounting with my other hand! There was no way my opponent could defend against all of them so he was forced to guess my intentions.
In another game I was summoning a giant:
My opponent cast counter spell on me to prevent the summoning but I took a chance and clapped and summoned an ice storm instead. My opponent's counter spell protected me while he froze.
Shadowcasting can give you a chance at escaping Finger of Death
when all seems lost. Here is a situation from a past game where my opponent really had my back against the wall:
I had just cast Counter Spell (WPP) on myself so I was not paralyzed. My opponent saw that I was threatening Charm Person (PSDF) so decided to paralyze himself to cancel it. I continued on with RH W, LH W and went invisible one turn before the Finger of Death could be completed. This plan had the added benefit that if my opponent guessed what I was up to and paralyzed me instead of himself the paralyzed hand would be P and I could still surrender before the Finger of Death was completed.
Momentum and Initiative
The great thing about Warlocks is that each player submits his moves simultaneously. This does not prevent initiative from being a key factor, though. As a game unfolds, one player or the other will build momentum and will have the initiative. This allows him to be on the offense and puts the other player on the defense. The defensive player MUST take back the initiative if he wants to win the game. It is often worthwhile to allow your opponent to damage you or summon a monster if you can use the opportunity to grab the initiative. As mentioned above, damage spells end in claps or two D's and so they tend to make you lose momentum. Monsters, especially the big ones, can also make you lose initiative because you now have to protect them from being charmed. If you have a Troll in play and your opponent Gestures PSD you have to decide whether to protect yourself from Charm Person (PSDF) or the Troll from Charm Monster (PSDD).
Style and Strategy
One of the things that I like about Warlocks is that different players have different styles. There are different ways you can approach this game, here are a few samples:
Most players have a preferred style or styles (mine is a combination of Trickery and The Wall), but you need to be able to defend against all of them if you want to succeed in Battle. Initiative and momentum come into play here as well. A particular game will often switch between styles as the momentum shifts between the opponents. The player who uses their momentum to establish the game in the style they like best will often be the winner.
Finally: The Spells