A lot of people like talking about MA Ulm. It's a common joke among old timers that discussing how terrible MA Ulm was (and how to fix it) was the only thing keeping the old Dominions 3 community together. So, how does MA Ulm fare now?
Surprisingly, I think MA Ulm is actually a fairly viable nation. Again, not necessarily a supreme powerhouse, but it's definitely not a weak nation anymore.
However, to get the most mileage out of MA Ulm people need to drop some pre-conceived notions about the nation. In particular, people need to stop thinking of it as a primarily "forging" nation. Yes, you will forge a lot of items - and forge more efficiently than others - but the old idea that you should put these cheap items on your human (and very frail) commanders is probably a big reason why Ulm didn't do too well in Dominions 3.
Instead, forging should be a supplement to what are now the strongpoints of MA Ulm - an extremely competent regular army (which can, true to its description, vie for the title of "Best MA human army"), and potentially powerful mass evocations thanks to your plentiful Smiths and Priest-Smiths (as long as you have some critical research completed). These features combined can let you win some wars in the early and midgame, and hopefully propel you over the top to the finish line.
The Ulmish Army of MA Dominions 3 used to be a cautionary tale of poorly implemented mechanics. In theory, it should have been an elite, well-armored army that can plow through equivalent numbers of the enemy. In reality, the armor was so damn heavy that Ulmish troops tended to pass out from exhaustion before the battle was over, at which point the enemy simply stabbed the tired Ulmish troop at their leisure.
Fortunately, important stat changes have been implemented, and the Ulmish Army no longer succumbs to these fits of mass self-annihilation. It now really is an army of well-armored dudes that can plough rather effectively through equal or even numerically superior opposition.
The core of the army are its various flavors of infantry, each of which generally has an 18 Protection version (the one you should recruit often, as they're cheaper and sufficient against most enemies), and a 21 protection version (more expensive, for specialist roles or for later in the game when you have overflowing resources). These units are great for Ulm because they cost very little gold (10), and the normally high resource requirements can be made good by various resource bonuses that Ulm gets - such as the 10 resources conferred by each Smith.
What this means is that, unlike other nations, Ulm can actually mass well-armored infantry (especially with Production Scales), and it can do so without breaking the gold budget due to maintenance fees. Better yet, you can actually shift your resource bonuses to where it's actually needed (e.g. forts closer to the frontline) by simply moving your Smiths. This is no small advantage, especially considering how logistics have become more difficult.
Of the various types of available infantry, I would say that the most effective are the pikemen and the morningstar infantry with shield. The former boasts protection good enough to shrug off most arrow fire (and even some crossbow fire, which is rare anyway in MA) while having an almost guaranteed repel attempt due to its Length 6 weapon. The morningstar/shield soldier, on the other hand, is almost immune to all kinds of shooting (even if they get through the shield, the huge protection will mostly bounce it off), and has a higher defense so it can actually parry off some attacks. In general, I don't think you can go very wrong with picking either one; especially given the fact that Ulmish national commanders are pretty damn good and all give a nice +1 morale bonus.
The axemen/maul troopers meanwhile are specialists, for use against enemies that require high damage (e.g. giants, monsters, etc). The same can be said for Black Knights, who serve as flankers. Don't use them unless you have the enemies that require them.
On the other hand, Guardians are a specialist unit that you may end up recruiting fairly regularly. They're capital-only and expensive, but that's less of an issue for you because unlike most capital-only troops they are NOT sacred - meaning that you can recruit as many of them as your gold and resources allow. And yes, as I just mentioned earlier, you can shift resources to your capital thanks to Smiths, for the times when you really, really need more Guardians.
However, the real reason to be excited by these guys (aside from stats) is the fact that they have special abilities against sacreds - their weapons do unpreventable stun damage to all sacred enemies in the square they're attacking - which makes them a fairly good counter against bless rushes. Just remember that you still need to mass them; or mix them up with regular troops so that they aren't overwhelmed by larger swarms of blessed troops.
Speaking of swarms... if you need one consider recruiting large numbers of war dogs. Their damage output isn't great, but they serve the role of expendable chaff troops fairly well - drawing lightning/magical firepower away from your troops. Alternatively, mass Ogres - all of your mages can cast the summon Ogre spell and you have the Earth income to do it.
Finally, Ulm also has a unique crossbowman in the form of the Arbalest, but unfortunately it only fires once every 3 turns making it a weak option in many cases. Another generally poor option is the sapper - in battle he's just a crossbowman, and the extra strength he lends in sieges is better off gotten by getting more troops or using specialized sieging items due to his high cost. That said, Ulm can still recruit independent archers if they really need ranged firepower, and thanks to the armor level of their troops friendly fire is much less of an issue.
Now, let's talk about Ulm's mages, and get the "easy" stuff out of the way first. I've already discussed how they give bonus resources which help you recruit troops. What I haven't mentioned is the fact that their mages are drain-immune, meaning you can happily take Drain 2 (see my LA Man guide why Drain 3 is a bad idea [the author is of the opinion that since drain 3 opens up some events that lost gems, that one should not consider taking them. The editor disagrees]) and have 80 "free" design points. And much like LA Man, you'll simply shift these points to a positive scale - albeit in Ulm's case I think Productivity (for more resources, more gold, and thus more troops) is the top pick.
Then we get to the automatic2 points in Earth that all your Smiths (Master and Priest). This makes them very decent Earth mages, as you can cast Summon Earthpower to give them another point of Earth (now up to 3 points) plus reinvigoration to help them cast more spells. Earth 3 actually opens up a lot of options - letting you cast a whole bunch of spells like Blade Wind (especially if you use gems) even without forging any magic-boosting items. But what people forget is the fact that Ulmish mages get one other point of magic - Fire - and this actually makes a pretty huge difference.
See, there's an entire line of "Magma" spells, which requires both Earth and Fire. The most powerful battlefield version is Magma Eruption, which can be had at evocation 6, that hits a fairly big area of the battlefield with a ton of damage. Better yet, the damage doesn't have elemental tags which can be resisted away and the only guys who can reasonably resist this attack are well-armored troops... the very kind of troops you have!
Moreover, consider this: how many MA Nations can actually field Protection 18 troops in reasonable numbers? The answer is "Not many", as most nations are still fielding Prot 10-16 guys. Even those with a Protection 18 option will find it hard to mass them, because unlike Ulm they don't get a resource bonus. Really, the only time people get a lot of high-protection guys will be when they start casting Army of Gold or a similar spell - very high-end stuff that will take a while to research - giving Ulm a pretty big window to conquer a lot of stuff with their heavy armor troops / Magma Blast combo.
But that's not all, because Ulm also has a national spell that comes at Evocation 6 - namely Iron Blizzard. It turns a Priest Smith into a one-man crossbowman platoon, as he can fire _30_ armor-piercing shots per casting of the spell, which does double damage to magical creatures! Even without archers, Ulm can have really remarkable ranged damage output once these guys come out - which is why an argument can be made that you should be recruiting Priest-Smiths only from your capital (which is something you'll definitely do anyway later in the game when you have your second or third fort).
That said, the Master Priest is still your go-to caster - mainly casting Earthpower then spamming Magma Blast - but also because they're your only chance of getting some extra magic paths (they get a 20% chance of getting an extra point of Fire, Earth, Air, or Astral). Now, do realize that these are very low path scores and thus a lot of your magical diversity (and site-searching) will come from your Pretender-but they do open up options for that thing I said you shouldn't do much of, which is supplemental forging.
Now, rather than explain what "supplemental forging" is, let me instead show a concrete example.
Let's say you're in Year 2. You are now earning 150 research/turn. You aren't at war yet, and you have the following:
1) An Air 1 site, producing 1 Air gem per turn, found by your Pretender.
2) A Master Smith with an Air Random (you got lucky recruiting your Smiths).
3) A Master Smith with an Earth Random, thus now having E3 (you got REALLY lucky).
At this point, I would tell you to spend one turn researching Construction. You pay you 150 research, and immediately get Construction 2 in one turn.
Then, your E3 mage forges a Dwarven Hammer.
Finally, you equip the Dwarven Hammer to your Air-Random Smith. Who proceeds to forge Owl Quills for the rest of the game - for the low, low price of one Air Gem apiece.
Yes, you heard that right. One air gem for 6 research a turn for the rest of the game.
And that's what I mean when I say "supplemental forging". You should not simply pick up Construction just because "Ulm is a forging nation". Instead, you should pick up Construction when you can actually start _mass producing_ things that you will always really need; and preferrably you pick up these construction levels only when you have all the elements in place.
The above example, for instance, would not work if you didn't have an Air 1 site (though you might get the gems via trade) or a Master with an Air Random. If you had simply picked up Con 2 blindly without these elements in place, then you could be "wasting" the research; or at least make your investment wait a long time before bearing fruit.
In short, Ulm should not rush for Construction and make items willy-nilly. Instead, the Ulmish player should recognize that he should pick up Construction when he can start making specific items in large numbers (which he can start doing even with minimal gem income thanks to forging efficiency) that can be used immediately and effectively.
In the case of Owl Quills, they're effective immediately so you should jump on producing them as soon as you can. In the case of combat items however, like say Fire Brands, you need to step back and realize that combat items are supposed to go to a strong fighting unit; and that your recruitable commanders (even the Black Knight) are simply too fragile. You need to wait until you have strong summons (e.g. Bane Lords) to be coming online regularly before you start mass-producing combat items.
(Exception: Items that cast ranged offensive spells don't require a strong summon to carry them. Just have a scout carry them and shoot from the back).
Finally, to wrap it all up - just some quick notes on the available Pretenders. Ulm actually gets a pretty good selection of them - including the Tiwaz of War (which I praised in the LA Man guide) and other similarly useful Titan-type Pretenders (3 paths, giant-sized, starting Dominion of 3).
That said, for MA Ulm I want to feature the Allfather. He's a little pricier than other Pretenders, but consider the following:
1) Like all other Titans, he gets three paths - Air, Astral, and Death specifically - with Death being of particular note due to all the useful summons they have that can use Ulmish items later on.
2) He only needs to pay 30 points for new paths. While not a true "rainbow", adding another path or two is cheaper with him (especially Earth - so you can forge Dwarven Hammers early if you need to even without an E3 Smith, or Blood - as some bloodhunting can be very useful for Ulm thanks to the Bloodstone booster).
3) He is, like the Tiwaz, a great general AND he has sailing.
4) For gravy, he also gets two giant wolves in every battle, and his glamour is an added layer of battlefield protection.
So, again, while strategy ultimately rests with the player and the overall situation, do keep the All-Father in mind when building your Pretender.
Credits: Thanks to help from Shatner, Frank Trollman, Flypaper, and Vulpes Inculta for some suggestions for this guide.