Modern Guide To Hiring Specialists

Strategy, feedback, or anything SUBTERFUGE-related
Sun Jun 07, 2020 8:14 am

  • Last Edit: 11/26/2021


    If we haven't met, my name is Rathorian and it's nice to meet you. I've been an active player at the top of the Subterfuge global leaderboard for the past 4 years ranking as high as 5th with an elo of 1913. Although the subz forums have been withering away over the past couple years, I would like to use this platform to share the latest knowledge and techniques I use to hire the correct specialists every time. In this guide, I will discuss specialist prestige and in-depth mechanics, appealing to both beginner and expert audiences. IN ADDITION I WILL SPILL ALL THE TEA AND DISCUSS SPECIALIST MECHANICS THAT THE HIGHEST RATED PLAYERS KEEP SECRET FROM THE PUBLIC INCLUDING PIRATE GLICHES AND MORE!

    Let's cut to the chase. The GOOD specialist hires in order of highest priority to lowest priority are as follows:

    1. Navigator [Promotes to Admiral]
    2. Smuggler [Promotes to Tycoon]
    3. Hypnotist [Promotes to King]
    4. Pirate
    5. Helmsman
    6. Lt. [Promotes to General]
    7. Assassins x2

    Consider these specialist hires to be your CORE hires. In other words, these specialists are usually all you NEED to win a given subz game. While other hires still matter a lot, consider them to be closer to utility or situation-based hires.

    While this priority order is slightly flexible depending on the game, there is one thing that I'd like to straighten out immediately: if you get a navigator hire, ALWAYS hire the nav.

    Here are some of the best combos using these specialists, and thus some of the best specialist combos in the game:

    Admiral + Tycoon + King
    Any two of these three specialists is good.

    Navigator + (Pirate or Helmsman) + Assassin
    All three specialists on the same sub.

    Navigator + (Pirate or Helmsman) + Smuggler
    All three specialists on the same sub.

    Pirate + General
    With this combo, the General can be anywhere on the map.

    ---------------------------- (I am rewriting this post. Writing above this line is new, and below is old.)

    12. Tinkerer
    13. Foreman
    14. Martyr
    15. Double Agent
    16. Saboteur x2
    17. Sentry
    18. Princess
    19. Revered Elder
    20. Minister of Energy
    21. Thief
    22. Inspector
    23. Diplomat
    24. War Hero
    25. Engineer
    26. Security Chief
    27. Infiltrator
    28. Intelligence Officer

    I do not intend to give a complete analysis of my rankings because that would require me to branch off into other topics like game theory, diplomacy, and raw personal experience. However, I would still like to give a little more insight into my decision making process, so I will go through each specialist one by one again and provide some comments. For an uplifting effect I recommend reading the new list from last to first.

    1. Navigator - When you get a Nav hire, you hire the Nav. This spec single-handedly shapes the meta and inflates the rankings of any other specs that work well with or against it. Joining a game with an Admiral limit? No problem! - Navigator on its own is still broken. Not only do you get to pick your battles, but you get to pick your friends too. Everyone wants to be your friend when they see that demon ship looming near their territory. I guess the only downside of Navs is that you might feel like you're the bad guy as you unleash an unfair amount of power on your very suspecting yet helpless foes.
    2. Admiral - Playing vanilla Subterfuge feels like a competition of who can get the most Admirals. If you are losing but acquire an Admiral do not fear. Simply give it to an ally to make said ally win the game and reap all the benefits of coming in second. I once played a domination game and captured 24 outposts in 48 hours with 5 Admirals against an enemy with 4 Admirals. At least the spec that promotes to this beast must surely be bad right?
    3. Smuggler - Think of this spec as Smuggler or Tycoon. You get all the benefits of either of your choice, Tycoon being a subset of those benefits. Not only is Smuggler disgustingly over-tuned for what it was designed to do: defend, but you can apply some tricks to use it offensively too. As early as the first day, you can send several subs with only 1 drill each towards ally outposts across the map. Often times it'll take days for those subs arrive, but if an ally lets you land it can give you many more options for a Smug/Nav attack across the map. I see this done all the time and it's effective. Now if x3 speed isn't enough, add an optional promote to Tycoon on top we're talking about some intense game design imbalances. Lots of lobbies like to limit the number of Admirals or Tycoons allowed per game nowadays, which is actually a buff to Smuggler because less Admirals means less speed options other than Smuggler existing in the game.
    4. King - The devs may have nerfed this badboy 5+ years ago, but King's effect is still obviously broken. King has an edge on Tycoon because one King can be sneakily passed between multiple allies for tremendous surprise value across the map. In other words, King offers all of its value up front.
    5. Hypnotist - You hire this spec to promote to King. Simple. You're just one hire behind now. Happy hunting.
    6. Tycoon - The only problem with Tycoon is that by hiring it you're sacrificing a Smuggler. Since Tycoon needs the assistance of speed to shine, but demands that you sacrifice great speed to hire it, you may experience some uneasiness in your stomach when you man up and make the hire. It still offers a broken effect though so you won't regret it that much. You need to be prepared to apply the driller dumping strategy if you want to optimize for value.
    7. Pirate - Pirate is the best non-promotable spec because it allows you to travel at 4x speed, the fastest speed in the game. It may not have been intended for the game, but there is a mechanic that exists that allows you to abuse pirate's 4x speed. Pirate says that it returns to the nearest friendly outpost 4x speed when it kills an enemy sub. But what it doesn't say is that it also returns to the nearest friendly outpost 4x speed if the sub it's targeting gets removed by another source. So now try equipping a Pirate/Nav sub and asking an ally to queue 1 drill somewhere where your pirate can target it. Emphasis on queue, do not actually launch the 1 drill. Target the 1 queued drill with your Pirate/Nav, and then afterwards have your ally cancel the 1 drill movement from the queue. You can use this mechanic to return 4x to an OP as long as you have an ally in your sonar range to queue you a drill live. If you can 4x speed to an OP at will, there is surely a way you can abuse this. If 4x speed wasn't good enough, Pirate is flexible for any strategy in the game. You want to put this on a Nav sub every time to hunt queens offensively, or to defend from other Nav subs looking to hunt you. Pirate works great with Generals on both offense and defense too. Pirate works great with Saboteurs and even Thief on defense because it can recapture your specs mid-water. The sky is the limit with how much value you can get out of Pirate. It just depends on the effort you want to put into it.
    8. Helmsman - 2x speed on offense and defense is perfect for Nav subs so you're always gonna want to slap a Helmsman on there if you don't already have a pirate. Not to mention that if you get Helmsman early against an opponent with no speed to defend themselves, it can be a wrap on the spot.
    9. General - General is more similar to Sentry than you might realize. Imagine each of your specs becoming a little cute Sentry. Except since you can use those buffed specs for both offense and defense, General feels a lot more well-rounded. General provides immediate value, only upsides, great flexibility, and scaling. Later in the game, you'll typically find yourself using General to transport vital specs like your queen and tycoon. Unfortunately, this spec scales real slow so you'll have to be cute with some pirate and assassin type combos if you want to cash in your value more quickly.
    10. Lt. - Lt. doesn't offer the best speed, but it's still speed. Speed is a necessity and you'll take it where you can get it. You might not love Lt., but you'll sure as hell need it sometimes, especially in the early game. Offers upside of promoting to a spec that only adds upsides and no downsides. Probably the only spec in the game that promotes the way you wished every spec did. However, you won't always find yourself promoting this quickly because other specs demand more attention.
    11. Assassins x2 - Assassins are extremely well-rounded. On offense a Nav/Helms/Assassin is a perfectly good queen hunting sub for opponents that can't get their hands on a princess. On the other hand, if your opponent has assembled his own Nav/Helms/Assassin sub you can leave a spare assassin at any outpost you wouldn't like that sub to land at. Even if your opponent hires Revered Elder to slow down your assassins, you can just move them somewhere else. This spec gets bonus points for synergizing with General. It's not a synergy you'll use every time, but it gives you even more options.
    12. Tinkerer - Tinkerer is what I would call a "Noob-stomper" spec. This one is easily as powerful as any of the top 6 "Broken" specs in low elo, and easily "Garbage" tier for high elo. Since low elo players are less likely to let you driller dump, mentioned below under Minister of Energy, they're going to NEED to increase their cap to take over the game. On the other hand, players in high elo who use driller dumping have no use for increasing their cap. Shields are a negligent part of the description because if shields were important people would be hiring Security Chief. Different from foreman, tinkerer has much higher potential for value and scales to the late game.
    13. Foreman - You won't hate hiring Foreman early game because it provides immediate and consistent value. You just won't love it either. Foreman, while not powerful, is very flexible. You will settle for it when it is the best of your options. 1 spec for 1 factory makes me think this is the definition of the average Subterfuge specialist - not surprising it's right in the middle of the pack.
    14. Martyr - Think of Martyr like a Double Agent, but you can use it for both offense and defense. Unfortunately, you should usually prefer to opt for Assassins over either Martyr or Double Agent, so in that respect Martyr and Double Agent are held back by the same problem. For any tricksters who like to send martyrs over enemy territory and ask an ally to send a 1 back from the other side to blow it, it's cute but it doesn't help the big picture.
    15. Double Agent - Double Agent is a good first line of defense against Navigators when paired with Pirate. Have I mentioned that the Navigator meta is extremely relevant??? Double Agent + Pirate not a great defense because offense is the best defense, but at least it's a defense.
    16. Saboteur x2 - Saboteurs combo well with pirate and/or general when used on defense. Unfortunately, Saboteurs are countered by Navigators which is a huge flaw.
    17. Sentry - Coming from someone who once used Sentry to its fullest potential to make a 3v5 comeback where one of our 3 only logged on to gift specs, this spec is bad. Considering that sentry's low starting power level is balanced around the fact that it was designed to be built around, you get very little back for what you invest into it. That's not to mention that the sentry build around concept demands a lot luck to get more Sentry, Princess, and Intelligence Officer hires. Even if you hit the sentry hire lottery, 1 Nav/Helms/(Martyr or Assassin) could easily defeat all of your hard work. Only placed higher than princess because it can sometimes provide upfront driller value.
    18. Princess - It is fair to pair Princess with Sentry in the rankings because a player should be more inclined to hire one if they knew they could hire both at the same time. This pairing of hires is more relevant because both hires on their own are embarrassingly bad. On the other hand, it is unfair to rank Princess on its ability to save a player from elimination. If any spec could save you from elimination given a dire scenario, you would hire it without a second thought. So does Princess' value increase because sometimes it can save you in unexpected circumstances? Well yes, but not that much because you need to take a serious look at your diplomacy skills before you start blaming RNG for not giving you a Princess hire when you're about to be eliminated.
    19. Revered Elder - Assemble a Nav/(Pirate or Helmsman)/Elder sub with a lot of drills and you can land at enemy outposts that have assassins. Conveniently, you should want to have a Nav/(Helmsman or Pirate) and a lot of drills anyways. The problem with RE is that the last slot on the sub is highly contested and the only way RE can net you value is if it's on the sub! Specs RE may have to contend with for the spot could be Smuggler, Assassin, or Martyr. Since RE only shines on the condition that you pair it with other specs like Nav, Pirate, and Helmsman, RE is a late game spec. And late game specs are pretty bad in Subz because there are many specs at the top of this list that are good throughout all stages of the game.
    20. Minister of Energy - MOE ranks the highest among the Garbage specs because of its raw power when paired with Tycoon. If you're low in the standings, MOE + Tycoon can help you with damage control and to outpace the other players who are losing. However, hiring MOE is not where you want to be if you want to win, because you have no need for it if you have allies. In other words, you've probably made a noticeable diplomacy error if you're hiring MOE. Imagine that you have a Tycoon, take your allies' factories, and dump all your drillers onto their gens. Let's assume that your allies will be willing to return the dumped drills like a bank would return your money. Your production would be ludicrously high and you would never cap, not even if you produced 1000+ drillers per day. This is a common strat in high elo because at a certain point your opponents will just surrender to your driller production. No need to even attack they'll get the point! Given a superior driller production strategy, you should not find yourself needing more cap, and especially not by nerfing your production.
    21. Thief - Thief can generate an early game advantage in an attack. However, not only is attacking players early game a notoriously bad strategy, but Thief is quite bad at its job. First off, since Thief doesn't give any speed, it's a poor choice for gaining a quick outpost advantage. If anything, Thief's slow speed allows opponents the reaction time to pull away troops from an outpost rendering Thief's ability useless. And maybe that opponent could use those troops he pulled away to counterattack somewhere the Thief is not knowing the Thief could not catch up. And second, since Thief has no promotions, it lacks scaling. It's worth noting that good promotions don't just provide scaling, but help you make good use of bad hiring cycles. So hiring Thief feels much riskier than hiring a Lt. for example. Now you could make an argument that Thief is great on an early Helmsman attack sub, but it's only okay at best. That same helmsman may later go on a Nav sub, while who knows if the Thief will do anything of use later on. I'm giving the Thief an edge over Inspector because of their different possible uses in the late game. Thief does better against large attacks and Inspector fairs better against small ones. Since large attacks are more common in the late game, Thief scales just a little better than Inspector. You can also pivot Thief into a Pirate defense strat and/or General strat.
    22. Inspector - If you find yourself hiring Inspector, your opponent has made a mistake. And to assume your opponent will make a mistake is a mistake. This spec shines when paired with Smuggler and Queen for an impenetrable early game defense. In low elo, you can use this cheeky combo to bait players to attack you early and waste their drills, which will set you up for a spicy early game counter attack. Unfortunately, Inspector becomes extremely useless after the early game. I'd like to point out that bluffing an inspector hire is a great idea. I love to move my queen to the battlefront to let my opponent see an upcoming Inspector hire because it increases the chance that they'd rather negotiate for peace rather than attack me. Of course I'll never actually hire it.
    23. Diplomat - Diplomat is frustratingly bad, but it gets bonus points over the few ranked below it for only using a single hire. Diplomat is most commonly hired to combo with General, but just wait for a Pirate hire instead. If you own a General, send a spec like an assassin to crash with an enemy sub mid-water and use pirate to recapture your spec. Tip: You can even use the General himself to crash with the enemy sub too. Diplomat gets yet another few bonus points because it is core to the infinite combo mentioned below.
    24. War Hero - Let's be honest the devs made War Hero to deter opponents from attacking your sentry with 20 drill subs. However, War Hero is so bad that some opponents will be happy to bait you to hire it. By bait, I mean sending multiple 20 drill subs to attack a sentry outpost fully aware that Sentry owner could promote to War Hero to eat up the 20's. In some cases, a 60-80 drill investment could be worth baiting a War Hero hire, especially if the other hires available were much better. In general, forcing opponents to make hires is a good idea. It makes your opponent's game plan more linear and predictable, which makes your job easier. Although War Hero is a slightly better Thief, it requires two hires which is a big downside in comparison.
    25. Engineer - By hiring engineer you just went from a spec that provides drills to a spec that maybe provides drills. Hey if you want a drill centered strat, do that with Admiral and/or Tycoon. And if you don't have those available, maybe just settle for Generals or hire some components for death subs. Don't mess around with Engineer, because it's way to slow in vanilla Subz. Maybe Engineer would be some great tech in a game with special rules that makes the game last longer. Engineer slightly outranks Security Chief because promoting it out of enemy sonar range can occasionally catch players off guard. Engineer is also stackable, but that's more of a fun fact, or maybe a way to disrespect your friends.
    26. Security Chief - The one thing Security Chief was designed to do was decrease the effectiveness of enemy driller attacks on your outposts over time. First off, Security Chief does an unbelievably bad job at this. Shields in Subz charge slowly and raising them by 10 cap is weak. Next, the value of drillers inflates over time anyways with or without the presence of Security Chief. There are more specialist death subs like Nav/Helmsman/Assassin looming around and more of the subs that do have drillers are probably also on Navs, which counter Security Chief defenses. And lastly, Security Chief barely helps you if at all with gaining territory, which is all that you're really trying to do at the end of the day. On a separate note, the +20 shields Security Chief gives at its outpost combos with Tinkerer. I wouldn't plan on hiring Security Chief for Tinkerer, but you can pair the two if you have nothing better to do mid to late game.
    27. Infiltrator - This spec is absolutely useless 99.99% of the time. For the .01% of the time, if you're interested, please let me paint a scenario for you. In this scenario you own the following specs: General, Diplomat, Infiltrator, Pirate, and 2 Navigators. Equip one Nav with an Infiltrator -- aka "Sub A," and the other with a Pirate -- aka "Sub B." No drills needed.

    Step 1. Crash Sub A into an enemy outpost, letting them capture It. Note: Infiltrator will drain the shields to allow General to destroy 10 enemy drillers. Use Diplomat to release Sub A.
    Step 2. Use Sub B to target Sub A to recapture it.
    Step 3. Redirect Sub A back into the enemy outpost. Repeat process for an infinite driller killing combo.

    Please take a moment to digest this combo. Okay still with me? Here are some of my thoughts on it.

    1. This combo requires you to have superb diplomacy and a very long lasting game.
    1a. If you're looking to improve at Subz, you should be learning how to acquire advantages and snowball them into a quick victory. This is to minimize counter play. So by principle this combo should not be a priority or even effective to rush.
    1b. The long-lasting dream game you would be looking for to pull this combo off would more likely to happen in low elo because more players wouldn't how to close out a game quickly. Unfortunately, many low elo players would also lack diplomacy skills and mechanics to help you efficiently assemble your combo pieces. Not to mention that you'd have to convince a low elo player that this combo is worth their time, which is a feat in of itself. Even if you achieved a long-lasting game in high elo, there are a lot of other problems you may run into. Is someone attacking your queen with a death sub and you instead need your Navs to escape? Did an opponent invest in Tycoons and can they mine up to finish the game before your attack reaches them?
    2. If you assemble the combo, you don't even need infiltrator if your opponent has hired King. The Infiltrator is optional depending on the scenario. I'd even go to say that since opponents are more likely to have Kings late game, it's more likely that you can benefit from equipping your subs with speed instead. Or even a Revered Elder to counter an Assassin at an outpost. You need to adapt to the scenario, and a scenario does exist in which Infiltrator makes or breaks the combo.

    To recap:

    1. Should you hire Infiltrator? No.
    2. Should you aim to assemble this infinite driller killing combo in your next game? No.
    3. Is it possible to even pull the combo off? Yes, I have done it.
    4. Is it helpful to know the combo exists and should you share it with your friends? Yes.

    28. Intelligence Officer - IO gives you an unforgiveable diplomacy debuff. Yes, you heard me. DEBUFF! When you hire IO, other players can find out by clicking on your sonar range. And anyone who plays imperfect information games knows that giving free intel to your opponents is a big no-no. To be crystal clear, the free info you're giving to opponents is that you've hired IO. This is significant because IO almost never yields you combat stats. It's like announcing to the world "Hey everyone, so I hired this spec that gives me no combat stats." Can you even blame other players for wanting to attack you because they know you have one less combat-relevant spec to defend yourself with? At least if you hire infiltrator you can keep the embarrassment to yourself out of other people's sonar range.

    For the pros of IO, which definitely do not outweigh the cons:
    1. IO combos with Sentry. First off, Sentry is bad. Don't actively invest in specs that can only be defensive unless you have to. Second, IO provides so little additional benefit that even if you own Sentry you're better off saving the hire for a promote.
    2. IO increases your sonar range and gives you intel on outpost types. The extra sonar range for vision is whatever. I mean are you just hiring this because you're lazy? Step up your diplomacy game man. Ask what's up with people and you can figure out where the attacks are coming from and what bases to launch to, no need for IO. Now the intel on outpost types is a spicy topic. It has the potential to be game-changing, especially in high elo, and even moreso in high elo 5v5 drafts. This is because you can precisely locate factory clusters and coordinate joint attacks on them with allies to take control of the production war, and create a deterministic outcome of the game in your favor. At least this is what I believe computers could do if Subz was a solved game. Unfortunately, the diplomacy required to launch joint attacks, even in 5v5 games where you have 4 trusty allies from day one, is apparently too difficult. I don't know what it is, but even at the highest level people can't seem to use IO info well. Maybe people have lives and don't feel like typing out all the info IO gives you to their allies. So yeah, I recommend not getting baited into hiring IO and attack someone else who hires the useless spec.

    Thank you very much for reading my post! Please don't be shy if you have any comments or feedback. Peace out!

    Edit: For those who still reference this post, I hope it is helpful! But also note that nothing I discuss on this page is set in stone. Truthfully, there is much more work to be done with evaluating which specialists are the best, so please read what I have to say and then form your own opinions.

    Edit: This is off-topic, but I want to share my favorite ruleset for Subz:
    1. No Kings allowed.
    2. No more than 2 Admirals allowed per player, and no more than 2 Tycoons allowed per player.
    3. No gifting of specialists allowed.
    ---You cannot use a DA, Hypno, or anything else with an ally to trade a specialist.
    ---But you CAN use a DA, Hypno, or anything else to acquire an enemy specialist.
    4. (optional) Players are only allowed to lower shields at outposts that started with a maximum of 10 shield charge.
    ---This rule is tailored to high elo games to nerf driller dumping strategies. In other words, it makes it more difficult to trade outposts with allies. And trading outposts with allies is a key component of driller dumping strategies.
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