In search of the worst spell in Heroes 3

The magic system in Heroes of Might and Magic 3 is simple – and yet provides a great amount of depth, even despite the fact that the best spells in the game are obvious, with Town Portal being the literal best spell in the game.

But as there are the strongest spells, there are also the weakest spells – and it does feel like it would be natural for there being the clear worst spell in the game, if there is the clear best one.

Well... time to attempt to delve in and see what awaits us within the worst in the worst!

How do we decide what is the worst spell?

Well, first we need to understand what makes a spell good. There are effectively two criteria one have to take into account: impact and frequency of use. Impact is the raw power of the spell under the typical circumstances you would use it. Frequency is how often this spell can be used in an effective manner.

For example, Town Portal is a spell that has tremendous impact and frequency of use – to the point it is essentially mandatory to have on every single map that allows the use of it. The power comes from converting mana into thousands – or even tens of thousands movement points, which in turn provides a massive tempo boost and map control – and since you always want more tempo, the frequency of use is effectively “as often as you possibly can”.

Slow is an extremely strong spell due to providing you initiative in combat, as well as cutting enemy movement in half – it is not as impactful on the course of the game as the aforementioned Town Portal, and the frequency of use is arguably lower since surprisingly enough in quite a few fights slowing opponents is pointless – but it is still a spell that is used so commonly that some people grew to hate being forced to have it.

Blind is a spell with an arguably higher impact than Slow – it completely stops the unit from moving, making your opponent be forced to skip turns in combat with no option to do anything to stop you from, for example, resurrecting your entire army.

Knowing this, we can infer that the worst spell should be a spell with the lowest impact and frequency of use. If we can find a spell that has absolutely no use, not even an use that is forced by the mapmaker of a hardcore singleplayer map, then our search for the worst spell would be banal.

Does a truly useless spell like this exist?

Well... no. You can find an use for literally any spell in the game, a scenario where it is the thing that gives you the highest chance to win a battle or allows you to get past a puzzle. There is no spell that can't be utilized in any way that gives you an advantage... and yet still, there are spells that are very, very close to being that useless – and I can think of exactly two of these spells. These are Magic Mirror and Disguise.

Why there aren't more candidates?

I am one hundred percent sure that plenty of players would suggest more candidates, such as Misfortune or Summon Boat. The thing is, that all those extra spells you can mention, while they are weak and very situational, actually work correctly – while Magic Mirror and Disguise do not. These two are pretty much just bugged in a way that limits their usefulness far more than their arguably low power level would suggest.

Magic Mirror has a fatal flaw of simply not working against AI. This means this spell only can be used in PvP combats, and by this point in a PvP game you will probably have an Anti-Magic spell – spell that is cheaper, far more consistent, and far more accessible. That being said, there are cases where casting Magic Mirror is the right play, even if they are extremely rare.

Disguise, as far as I know, has two massive flaws. First, as far as I know, it does not affect AI opponents provided you are playing on Hard (130%) difficulty. Second, even in PvP, the duration of this spell is until the start of the first player's turn – which means that if you are playing as blue, you have literally zero use for this spell.

Duel of the worst

As I said earlier, there are two criteria by which spells are comparable to each other – and that is impact and frequency of use. It is easy to see how Magic Mirror is more impactful than Disguise. There is arguably a problem about frequency though – since, depending on the context, you theoretically can gain advantage from Disguise far more often than from Magic Mirror.

Disguise works against AI on Easy (80%) and Normal (100%) difficulties – Magic Mirror never works against AI. Both spells can be utilized versus a player – but Disguise is fully useless when you are the last human player in the turn order.

You can infer from this that the effective frequency of Disguise is higher than the frequency of use of the Magic Mirror... and well you could be right. And yet, I find it hard to justify ever spending these 4 points of mana – or even just 2 if you have the Air Magic skill. If you are playing on low difficulties, the AI manipulation possible with this spell won't ever matter in practice, since you are likely still lacking in fundamanentals anyway. If you are playing in PvP, in many cases the Disguise spell won't deny your opponent any meaningful information. The impact of this spell is so low, that even in the cases where this spell works as intended, the frequency of use is near zero – and I would argue it is at the very best comparable to the frequency of use of Magic Mirror.

So, my conclusion is simple – Disguise is barely the worst spell in the game... tho the word “barely” may not always apply.

Bonus argument: mods

The thing is, the Magic Mirror spell is a spell that is often fixed via the mods. The SoD_SP plugin allows for Magic Mirror to actually work vs AI, and as far as I know HotA mod also fixed this spell. Disguise though is not exactly fortunate enough to get fixed – but even if it were to be fixed, would it matter? A fixed Magic Mirror allows for the clever usage of this spell in singleplayer. A fixed Disguise still does almost nothing.

Can we improve Disguise?

Well... I can't think of any way to make Disguise a solid spell without simultaneously making it incredibly toxic. The idea that came to my mind was to hide the hero from the opponents' vision unless they have a hero nearby... but that would suck ass in practice, encouraging people to just attempt to cheese the fuck out of your opponent or hide your main hero to significiantly reduce the risk of being out in the open.

I am inclined to believe that Disguise is an unsalvageable spell that could simply be removed from the game, and nothing would be lost in practice. It is even easier to delete than any other thing from the game – I am 100% sure that most people wouldn't even notice it missing. It's not Eagle Eye which still has some use for the mapmakers – it is a spell that I would be surprised that anyone unironically cares about.

Disguise is the worst spell in the game, and likely will remain the worst for as long as the Heroes 3 will exist. Is that fine? I'd rather there wouldn't be a clear worst spell like this – but on the larger scale, it doesn't really matter. It is merely just a single tier 2 spell out of many available – and the tier 2 spells aren't exactly the most important ones in the game.