This is a quick beginner's guide to playing MA T'ien Ch'i, a tricky nation that also has one of the highest power curves in the game. Its main focus revolves around rapid early expansion and setting up super communion battle magic.
Our Pretender First off, we have our god. He gets a slight discount for the nation, can go underwater, and has a functioning set of arms and legs. For the scales, I took Order 3, Production 1, Growth 3, and Cold 1. Since T'ien is highly dependent on pumping out tons of non-sacred old mages, recruiting and maintaining them is necessary for them to transition into their later game. Production 1 doesn't hurt for more resources and slightly more income, and the cold is beneficial for crossing rivers. Many of your mages have water magic as well, so it does not affect them adversely. The paths on your Pretender being at W9S4 has both strategic and tactical benefit. High water allows casting of maelstrom and vengeful waters, and high powered casting of spells like living water and quickening. The astral path aspect can be used for utility purposes such as astral travel or casting stellar focus. However in battle, the sheer amount of mages you will be bringing may allow you to cast things like Master Enslave or Soul Slay with extreme effectiveness.
And an alternate Earth bless and expansion pretender. This bless benefits both your Red Guards and sacred mages very well, but the god has less versatility.
Here's also an alternate build with a dormant god.
If you feel comfortable with taking misfortune 1 and depending upon solely ministry footmen for expansion you can try and take this god instead. Air does have good things going for it for Tien Chi, and having a god that can spam Shimmering Fields and be able to craft air boosters and rings later on can make for a diverse and strong late game.
Expansion Now moving onto expansion and the other reason why we took W9S4/E9 on our god: The Red Guard. You only need a few of these guys along with a minister of rituals to bless them in the back. Here's how I position them. They can chew through 90% of indie provinces without fail, save for some very powerful mage led ones. Word of caution though, don't try using them against indies with crossbows or javelins in the autumn. They will get murdered. Also position your Red Guards slightly in front of your ministers so they don't get killed by a stray arrow.
Since you can only recruit these guys out of cap, focus on clearing your cap circle first until you can reliably build 4 of them at a time. Alternate your commanders slots with geomancers and minister of rituals. Send out expansion parties of the 7 Red Guards led by minsters and you can nab upwards of 20 provinces quite reliably in the first year.
Troops The main troops you will recruit other than Red Guard will mainly be your shielded ministry footmen due to their decent protection and defense and archers/imperial crossbowmen if you wish to go for the flaming arrows and wind guide route. While the cavalry of Tien are decent, they are relatively expensive for what they offer and tend to have the bad habit of getting killed by friendly fire. Remember, this nation is mainly focused on their mages doing the fighting while their troops act mainly as a defensive screen. Just remember that their troops are mediocre PvP wise. While they do get a bonus to province defense, even their elite infantry struggles against other nation's fighters and cost quite a few resources as well. Depend upon your mages to get the most out of their cost.
Magic My favorite part of this nation. Tien Chi is remarkable in the fact that with enough of their mages, they can cast any non-blood, non-death battlefield spell they have researched despite their low paths. If they do somehow acquire a death or blood mage, then they can cast ANY battlefield spell provided they have the research. Another interesting fact about the nation is unlike many other nations with old human nations, most of T'ien's are MM2, and they also have access to disease healers. The downside to this is the paths are rather low outside of battles, so planning accordingly to get boosters is crucial if you want to cast high powered rituals. Your main research goals are Thaumaturgy 1 (for communions), and Evocation 5 (Solar Rays, Stellar Cascades, Blade Wind, Gifts from Heaven). These evocation spells tend to be effective against pretty much everything, although gifts of heaven and are more useful against elites and blade wind against unarmored chaff. You can then branch out into pretty much anything you want, but I like to go deeper into conjurgation to acquire Huli Jing and alteration for destruction, wind guide, fog warriors. Geomancers Geomancers are your bread and butter mage and foundation of T'ien Chi's magic structure. He doesn't seem that great by himself, but like T'ien Chi's theme they truly shine in a cohesive group. All it takes is two of them to act as communion slaves and all other geomancers can cast stellar cascades or stellar cascades. When you hit evocation 5 and have conjurgation 3 for earthpower, the true power of your geomancers will emerge: Gifts from Heaven. Gifts from Heaven has unlimited range and drops 3 150 magic damage, aoe 1 meteors onto the battlefield. They have poor accuracy, but it won't matter if your opponent is a Seraph or a Markata, they will die if its hits them. Other spells include destruction, which syncs well with archers and bladewind, and curse of stones and petrify for strong debuffs.
Imperial Alchemists and Celestial Masters These are your support and gimmick mages that you start rolling out later on. Imperial Alchemists, due to the incredibly wide range of paths they have are very useful in site searching and for casting various spells that your geomancers can't. Often the most common uses for them is to cast Wind Guide (Masters) or Flaming Arrows (F2 Alchemists.) Low paths become negligible in battle with the useage of crystal matrices, allowing them to cast spells like or earthquake or living fire multiple times. Celestial Masters are similar to the Imperial Alchemists in their wide range of paths, but also have access to astral. This makes them useful in teleporting in and casting spells like Lights of the Northern Star or Mass Returning if necessary. They are however, MM1, so be sure to only move them around if necessary. There's nothing a celestial master can't find through searching an alchemist, minister of rituals, or an arcane probing cast can't get.
Huli Jings These are your later game mages. Guaranteed N3s, and perfectly boostable up to N5 through thistle maces and moonvine bracelets. They also can have tons of other randoms, allowing them to cast things like bone melter or strength of gaia. Can also cast howl and mass regen without much difficulty as well. They also have access to very high randoms depending on how lucky you are, which also syncs well with your geomancer communions.
Troop Summons You have 4 troop summons: Your celestial servants, celestial hounds, and celestial soldiers. The celestial servant is not worth your gems. Celestial Hounds are somewhat okay due to flying but are difficult to bless. Celestial soldiers are actually sort of useful with a W9 bless but are quite expensive. The living mercury is an interesting unit to use that is quite cheap to summon and are poison aura and durable mindless units. Their poison aura makes it difficult to buff them except via alchemists, and they may interfere with your own troops. They are however the best summon they have and are very hard to kill with good protection buffs. They are also very good at disrupting thugs and sacreds due to their durability and poison and can combat awe and fear due to not having any morale problems. Even stun damage is negligible due to having 0 encumbrance. Overall, their troops lineup is somewhat lackluster and generally not worth the gems to summon except for maybe the living mercury.
Wrapping Up By now you’ve gotten most of your research goals. This also means your opponent probably have researched their own as well. MA Tien is relatively vulnerable to things like defensive Rain of Stones, so having cheap armor such as Blacksteel Armor may be recommended. Other spells such as Earthquake or Fire Storm can be prevented by casting the appropriate elemental resistance spell.For the offensive, Tien will have to focus on rapid movement and defense. If you have high Thaumaturgy, you can set up Vengeful Waters to protect and use Astral Travel to quickly cap thrones. Researching Geomancers can quickly be rallied to protect forts and provinces and teleporting masters can cast non-ES spells if necessary. Worm Mages summonable by Huli Jings can also be used to harass or defend due to their immortality.Just remember that you will be on a time limit as Tien’s communion focused capabilities will start working against them. Have a plan to be able to attack weak points hard and be have the capability to quickly break forts.