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Shoot the Mage First

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"By the way, if you're ever playing a wizard, a smart DM will always target wizards first, especially high levels, because if you're obviously a wizard, any one with any kind of intelligence knows that you are the guy who dishes out pain, and dishes out pain in, like, a wide area of effect. So don't be the kind of wizard who dresses like fucking Gandalf!"

One of the disadvantages of being a wizard is that they often aren't exactly the toughest warriors out there, but get on the wrong side of one and you'll find that they can be extremely dangerous to face. However, wizards are only a threat if they're not being punched in the face, so if you want to survive an encounter with one, punch them in the face first. Any schmuck in a Robe and Wizard Hat might as well be wearing a bullseye on their backs.

But this isn't just limited to wizards; in general, whenever there's a foe who possesses some form of ability that allows them to dramatically turn the tide of battle, it's a vital tactic to take them out immediately before they can potentially put you at a serious disadvantage and allow the opposing side to subject you to a Curb-Stomp Battle.

Is there a Glass Cannon who can destroy half your team in a single attack? A wizard who can grant every foe in the room extremely durable Beehive Barriers? An Enemy Summoner who can flood the room with hordes of relentless, Zerg Rushing Demonic Spiders to their heart's content? A harmless puppy who devours your vanquished foes in order to metamorphose into an Level 9000 Unstoppable Hellhound of Flaming Death and Eternal Suffering? A Big Red Devil who can upgrade said Level 9000 Unstoppable Hellhound of Flaming Death and Eternal Suffering into a Level Infinity +1 Omnipotent Eldritch Abomination of Endless Oblivion?

Kill. Them. On. Sight. Shatter the Glass Cannon before he gets anywhere near you. Fill the wizard with arrows before he can get his shield spells off. Kill the Enemy Summoner the second he appears and hope his minions disappear upon his death. Punt that puppy into low Earth orbit to spare yourself a nasty headache. Because if you don't, you're gonna have a real bad day.

Draw Aggro is a useful way to defy this, as long as it's not the mage, or another vulnerable character, drawing the enemy attention.

Compare Shoot the Medic First, which is specifically for healers and support types, and Straight for the Commander, which is targeting the leader or general.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Averted in Fairy Tail: Due to the increasing trend of combining martial arts with age-old magic, empowering the user's body based on the level of their magic and how they use it, the mage is the LAST guy you want to take potshots at. Two Mage Killer assassins figured this out the hard way. Eight in-universe years after Natsu meets Lucy, magic-martial arts has grown so popular there's now a martial arts grand tournament focused on magic. There are cases when Fairy Tail's enemies try to pick off the few mages that are Squishy Wizards, only for them to pull out a secret weapon and pummel the enemy with it, or their comrades to get enraged and hit the enemy even harder.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the climax of Red Sonja, Sonja is fighting against her Arch-Nemesis, Queen Gedren. Every time she gets close enough to attack, a Mook teleports Gedren away and Sonja has to chase her down again, while the mage uses Voodoo-like magic to cut Sonja with a dagger. After this happens two or three times, Sonja has enough and chops the guy's head off.

  • In the Tortall Universe, Kel often remembers her teacher's advice: When in doubt, shoot the Wizard.
  • In the Creature of Havoc gamebook, this is necessary to pass one mandatory combat encounter, since the Squishy Wizard goes down in one hit but will Mind Control you into a Non-Standard Game Over if you don't target him first. Unfortunately, it comes down to pure chance whether you're able to get to him before his teammates Draw Aggro.
  • Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight: when all but two companions get captured by draconians, most of them are simply knocked out and locked up, but Raistlin takes a poison dart to the neck specifically to prevent him from breaking the group out.
    • When the heroes later battle the Dragon Highlord Verminaard, Verminaard makes sure to incapacitate Raistlin first with a cause wounds spell.
  • Guardians of the Flame: This is mentioned as a disadvantage wizards have, and why they don't get involved directly in battle since they're immediately targeted (Walter compares it with a flamethrower operator-since everyone knows they pose a danger, they've got to be taken out very quickly). In one book a wizard doesn't abide by this, casting a powerful spell but then being filled with arrows (it's a heroic sacrifice as he knew the danger).

    Live-Action TV 
  • Ash vs. Evil Dead: In "Books from Beyond", Ash goes to an old friend, Lionel Hawkins, and has him summon the demon Eligos from the Necronomicon for the purpose of interrogation. When Eligos inevitably breaks free of the binding circle keeping him restrained, the very first thing he does is kill Lionel, the only one who can read the incantation needed to send him back.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In H. G. Wells' Little Wars, there are three different units, including basic infantry, mobile cavalry, and ranged artillery. Guess which one will be the most likely target to attack or defend. (It's the artillery.)
  • Common advice in Shadowrun, where "Geek the mage first" is one of the first rules a new shadowrunner learns. Because magic in general is very dangerous to your typical shadowrunning team, the ones slinging around spells are usually the ones who get the first mags of ammunition emptied into them.
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Arcane magic users tend to have the fewest hit points and worst armor class of any class, but the highest damage output, so a standard party tactic is to attack the spellcasters first, if possible. On the flip side, the typical job of close-combat specialists like fighters and barbarians is to stand in front of spellcasters to prevent the enemy from doing the same.
    • 1st Edition Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting boxed set booklet Cyclopedia of the Realms, section "Pirate Isles of the Inner Sea". On pirate ships it was a standard procedure for archers to make anyone who was appearing to cast a spell their first target. Considering that mages start out with an AC of 9 and can only improve it by means of magical items, as well as having the worst hit points of any D&D characters, archers are deadly to mages who don't have a protection from normal arrows spell up.
  • Infinity's variation of this is "shoot the hacker first", since (unless you're playing Ariadna) hackers can wreak havoc on your forces' abilities.

    Video Games 
  • A general standby for the MOBA genre is a similar sentiment of killing the "carry" first (what the genre's players actually refer to as "mage" characters tend to be at a lower priority). This is preferably in fights in the early game because this sets them behind while correspondingly giving yours more reign to pull past the enemy's. This is also preferable late in a match because they will usually murder your entire team in short-order if you can't.
  • Baldur's Gate: Mages are so powerful that it is strongly advised you kill, disintegrate, swarm with insects or otherwise nullify them as quickly as possible, if not more so. The druid spell Insect Plague is very useful when confronted with multiple mages, especially if you know the fight is coming and begin casting the spell before they engage.
  • Bloodborne:
    • Bell-Ringing Women are always high priority targets, since they can either (depending on area) summon new enemies, or buff and resurrect nearby enemies. They are usually smart enough to hide themselves behind lots of enemies either way.
    • Witches Of Hemwick can summon up to three Mad Ones, suicidal berserkers, every five seconds indefinitely. Killing them between harrowing fights with the Mad Ones is the only way to stop immediate and unending reinforcements.
  • Darkest Dungeon:
    • In general, any rearliners on your enemy's side that can move your party around and dump a ton of stress on them should be the first to die. Said rearliners will also frequently have higher dodge stats than other enemies (such as the Madman, who can inflict Horror on everyone in the party) in order to frustrate any attempts to put them down first.
    • This is the main gimmick of the Brigand Cannon boss battle. If you don't take out or stun the respawning Matchman each turn, he'll light the cannon and BOOOOOOOOOM! About three quarters of your party's health is gone in a flash. There's a chance it misfires, but it's extremely slim.
    • Subverted when fighting the Swine King, as killing Wilbur (the aforementioned mage) will piss the king off so badly he'll start hitting your entire party at once with horrifically powerful attacks, often leading to a Total Party Kill. So don't touch Wilbur until the King's dead.
  • Dark Souls:
    • Dark Souls:
      • In the Catacombs the Necromancers don't respawn, but will resurrect the skeletons in their area (unless slain by a holy weapon) as long as they are alive. Therefore even if you have to fight through some skeletons first, the necromancers are top priority targets.
      • In the Depths the Gaping Dragon battles is harder if you don't kill the Channeler first, as he not only fires magic at you from above, he buffs the dragon.
    • Inverted in Dark Souls 2: If you kill the Skeleton Lord Pyromancer, he summons Wheel Skeletons, therefore he should be the last one to be killed.
    • Dark Souls III has the Twin Princes boss fight. While you initially only fight Prince Lorian, after defeating him once his brother Prince Lothric will teleport down to him, revive him, and climb on his back. Lothric will then attack using magic from Lorian's back, and you must kill both brothers (who have separate health bars). If you kill Lorian without killing Lothric, Lothric will revive him again. Also a case of Shoot the Medic First.
  • In Dungeoneers, it's always advisable to kill the mages among the monsters you fight first, as they can do things like drop Fireballs upon you, buff enemy attack and defense, and even summon new enemies upon the field if left alone for too long. Thankfully, most mage enemies only take one hit to kill.
  • Killing the casters first is a good rule to follow in Dungeons & Dragons Online, given the general danger of spellcasters in D&D in general.
  • EXTRAPOWER: Attack of Darkforce: Due to how targeting priority works, the enemy AI will do this to you. They will try to target lower HP units, especially if they can possibly take it out on the same turn, and that often means the magic or healing units. Excellent on the Ispares defense stage where the defeat of the wizards helping the heroes adds to the bad end points.
  • For most Final Fantasy titles, if it's not enemies with white magic that you're attacking first, then it's enemy mages next on the list due to them having either powerful party wide hitting spells, using status magic to cripple you, or both.
  • Fire Emblem: Magic damage hits the Resistance stat instead of the Defense stat, and most units with strong Defense have weak Resistance, so enemy Mages are capable of blowing up your tanks fairly quickly if you let them. They're also ranged attackers and will usually prioritize attacking melee units who can't counterattack, so killing them on the Enemy Phase can be difficult. And many promoted Mages can also Heal. Best to kill them quickly whenever possible.
  • Common advice for GrimGrimoire, especially where Grimalkin are concerned. Your rampaging dragon or chimera won't last long after a tiny cat mage puts it to sleep.
  • In Legends of Kingdom Rush, mage enemies are a top priority to kill thanks to having long range and dealing magic damage (which bypasses Body Armor as Hit Points and hits health directly), while also having irritating support capabilities. They all lack armor and tend to have relatively low health, which makes ranged units good at taking them out.
  • In MechWarrior series, taking out the high-damage Glass Cannon mechs like the Hollander II should be a priority. A Hollander II can handily slag mechs near its weight class courtesy of its shoulder-mounted BFG, but melts under return fire. Special mention goes to the Long Tom Artillery Tank unique to Mechwarrior Living Legends, which can smite an enemy from beyond visual range but has no point defenses, armor, or speed, must anchor down, and all but requires a Target Spotter; once the distinctive boom of its 200kg cannon is heard, radar goes passive until the tank is taken out.
  • PAYDAY: The Heist, PAYDAY 2 and PAYDAY 3 have an Elite Mook known as the Cloaker, which specializes in running at high speed, and the ability to instantly incapacitate a player with a takedown kick. A single Cloaker has the capacity to wipe out the entire team and multiple Cloakers are a disaster waiting to happen. As of the Hoxton Housewarming Party for the second game in 2016, Cloakers are relatively high on the "must kill" list for players, and are placed just before the Medic Unit added in said event on that list. Cloakers have pretty average health and suffer tremendous damage when shot in the head.
  • Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time
    • The Explorer Zombie wields a torch that can instantly burn your plants, and he moves fast. Thankfully he's about as durable as a common zombie. Using ice-element plants work too, to put out his torch.
    • Ra Zombie can steal the suns around him if you're not quick to retrieve them. If you kill him, he'll give the suns back.
    • Prospector Zombie, if not taken down fast, can use his dynamite to leap high across your defenses and end up in the last column, then starts eating from the back. Plants that can hit backwards (such as Split Pea) and plants with ice element (which stops the wick) is his perfect counter.
    • Piano Zombie can command all the other zombies to dance and switch lanes, screwing with your strategy. Kill him and the zombies will continue walking normally.
    • Tomb Raiser Zombie will periodically stop and throw a bone onto a random tile, and a tomb will raise from it, blocking your frontal shots. There's an achievement for killing him before he does so.
    • Shield Zombies project Deflector Shields on 3 lanes in front of them, protecting their allies. The shields have a lot of health, block Splash Damage from projectiles, and can be taken down but they'll put it back up after a few seconds. The Shield Zombie itself is rather weak and also vulnerable to piercing attacks that bypass the shield.
    • Literal example with the Wizard Zombie, who turns more and more of your plants into useless sheep unless you kill it quickly (which will revert all transformed plants back).
    • Like Wizard Zombies, Octo Zombies can render increasing numbers of your plants useless by throwing octopi on them, but they're even worse because they have far more health, and the octopi (which have a good bit of health each) have to be killed in order to remove them.
    • The Dartichoke invokes this trope by targeting and attacking these sorts of enemies instead of those in front.
  • In Fire Emblem's co-genre codifier, the original Shining Force, enemy priority 1A is to go Straight for the Commander as his death is an instant loss for the player, and if he is out of reach, Shoot the Mage First. The GBA remake downgraded the Mage step, making Shoot the Medic First the second priority.
  • In Spyro: Year of the Dragon, in the Charmed Ridge level, there are cat mages who'll hinder you in many ways, one of them is enlarging the Rhynoc Mooks, making them invincible in the process. Hit the cat mage to make the mooks return to normal and killable.
  • Star Wars:
    • Noted to be inverted by Jedi hunters, or at least former Jedi hunter Atton Rand, during the Jedi Civil War in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II – The Sith Lords. Rather than attack Jedi directly, it was far safer and more effective to gun down their Muggle allies first to mess with the Jedi's head. Shooting them in a way that wasn't immediately fatal, but most definitely would become such if they didn't get treatment soon, was the best way.
    • A more traditional Star Wars example is in the early portions of Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy. Early variants of the Reborn enemies are split between red-orange-clad ones who use lightsabers and blue-green-clad ones who use Force powers. While the former can only occasionally reach out beyond melee distance with a rare saber throw, the latter get insane abilities with the Force that can shut down any attempt to fight back against the saber-wielding one until you remove him from the equation.
  • Steven Universe:
    • In Attack the Light, enemies that can cause Damage Over Time and heal should be killed first. Helpfully, they have no direct attack, just those two abilities. The boss of the Strawberry Fields is one of these, and also attacks with a squad of Crystal Gem copies—the easiest way to win is to not bother attacking the fake Crystal Gems and destroy the boss as soon as possible, taking the fakes with it.
    • In Save the Light, there are mage-like enemies that cast spells that attack your party, heal their allies, or boost their stats within range, so they should be defeated first.
  • Sundered has Eschaton Cultists. While most Eschaton enemies attack by getting up in the player’s face and bludgeoning them with Combat Tentacles, Cultists will hang back and use their magical powers to summon walls that box the player in, as well as barely-visible energy balls that explode after a few seconds, dealing high damage. This makes them particularly dangerous during horde encounters, as the player may not see the energy balls thanks to all the other enemies that are swarming around and the Cultists themselves could be attacking you from several rooms away.
  • Sunrider:
  • The Dual Boss fights of Super Mario RPG usually had a wizardy character paired with a more physical character (Grate Guy/Knife Guy, Domino/Cloaker, etc.) The wizard character was almost always much easier to take down (and usually had more annoying and/or damaging attacks to boot).
  • Super Robot Wars features two different types of mecha, including Real Robots and Super Robots. Because super robots can dish out and absorb tons of punishment at melee distance, and real robots are smaller, more fragile, and more built for ranged combat, the real robots would be the most likely target to either take down or protect compared to their super robot counterparts.
  • In Team Fortress 2, the only priority for a Sniper higher than killing Medics and their patients is killing any other sniper in the area before he kills you. However, a good Sniper won't seek out enemy Snipers the same way he looks for Medics because this wastes so much time as to turn both teams' Snipers into The Load (known as "weighted companion sniper"). Going for Engineers is something between Shoot the Medic First and this trope, given he builds and repairs both Dispensers (healing) and Sentries (which can kill boat loads of your teammates).
  • In "Total War: Warhammer", almost every faction (the exceptions being Khorne and the Dwarfs, with the later still having a spellcaster adjacent character that uses a different than typical method) has access to the Winds of Magic (essentially an army's mana). Thus a spellcaster is pretty much an auto-include since that resource is available automatically and for free. For the most part, these characters tend to be fairly weak, but they tend to have a proportionally massive effect on the battlefield owing to the damage they can dish out, the buffs/nerfs they can apply, and the healing they can provide for much more dangerous units. Thus taking these guys out both limits the support they can provide an enemy and renders their Winds of Magic useless. However, some are more hybrid in nature acting as both a caster and combat character, or they have access to potent mounts, like a dragon. Though removing these characters tends to also be helpful as they typically are very expensive in terms of the points system the game utilizes to build armies.
  • Vandal Hearts is notorious for this due to overlapping with Shoot the Medic First, especially on the second game where both allies and enemies move simultaneously. Since mages can both fill the nuker and healer role at the same time, they are top priority targets eight times out of ten. Some complications arise if the mage is hanging back, so you have to bide your time until that unit is within targeting range. Furthermore, said mage must be killed in one turn to prevent it running back and healing himself (and others).
  • In World of Warcraft, during the Burning Crusade and Cataclysm expansions, the first rule of pulling in heroic dungeons was "kill the healer" while the second was "kill the mage." The most important priority was to stop the enemy healer from making the entire pull take four times longer. The second most important priority was not letting your entire team get burned to death.
    • Lampshaded and overlapping with Shoot the Medic First (as both mages and healers were usually guilty of Robe and Wizard Hat) in Pre-Cataclysm Black Rock Spire. Lord Victor Nefarious, aka Nerfarion, oversaw one boss encounter from a raised dais, during which he yelled at the forces battling you to "Kill the one in the dress!".
    • Inverted with the Protectors of the Endless encounter, which has Protector Kaolan(a fighter), Elder Regail(spellcaster with lightning abilities) and Elder Asani(healer). Killing Protector Kaolan first is generally recommended unless you're trying for the harder version of the encounter, since when one member of the trio dies, the survivors gain additional abilities, and Kaolan is the most dangerous of the three.
  • In the XCOM: Enemy Unknown expansion Enemy Within, EXALT Heavies can elicit this reaction. Much like their XCOM equivalents, they carry a light machine gun and a rocket launcher. Much like a mage's fireball, their rocket launcher acts as an area-of-effect attack, and not only does it hurt, it has an alarming tendency to destroy cover, leaving your troops wounded and exposed to follow-up shots from Snipers, Operatives, and even Medics.

    Web Comics 
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • In the Battle of Azure City, Hinjo tells the Order to ignore the fighting on the walls and go straight for Xykon, knowing that Xykon's power is enough to "alter the course of the entire battlefield" on its own (in fact, as an epic-level lich sorcerer, it's entirely possible that Xykon is by himself more powerful than everyone else on the battlefield combined), so he wants Xykon taken out or at the very least distracted ASAP.
    • When fighting Team Tarquin, the Order is quick to dogpile on the arcane caster the second they get the chance: not only is he physically the weakest, but Sabine revealed that he has a Contingency spell that will automatically beam him away when his HP drops low enough. However, said team also has a powerful psion, who might not be as strong as the arcane caster, but still isn't anything to sneeze at.
    • The vampire possessing Durkon arranges several ambushes for the Order in which its vampire spawn try to dogpile the Squishy Wizard Vaarsuvius. Not only are they a high-priority target to kill, but the spawn's Life Energy-draining touch can leech away Vaarsuvius' prepared spells well before inflicting Critical Existence Failure.

    Web Original 
  • In Counter Monkey, Spoony repeatedly discusses this trope since Wizards are the primary area-of-effect elemental damage dealers and masters of Status Effects. Even with one spell each, they can kill a party, as Spoony himself once demonstrated. Competent opponents know they are the biggest source of pain and should be dealt with first. He further advises players who are Wizards to not dress like the stereotypical Wizard to disguise their identity and avoid being singled out — in particular, not to dress "Like fucking Gandalf" and to carry a sword (not learn to use it, but have it as cover).
  • Supplementary material for Worm mentions that, all parahuman threat ratings being equal, PRT operatives are to target Thinkers first. Thinkers have abilities like Super-Senses or precognition, which can be used for things like seeing surprise attacks coming, evaluating strategies, or finding opponents' weaknesses. Even one of these can, with some care, be used to turn a cape team's threat level from "generally manageable troublemakers" to "tactical geniuses who home in on weaknesses you didn't know you had." It says plenty that in a world with superpowers like "be an infinite walking explosion" or "create an army of loyal parahumans" or "pull out any power you feel like," two of the most feared parahumans are otherwise physically normal people who have top-tier Thinker powers that let them walk into rooms full of opponents and shred them all without a scratch.
  • This Reddit story chronicles a Dungeons & Dragons session where the DM takes this to a downright logic-defying extreme. A group of Paladins are ambushed by the rest of the party... and completely ignore them in favor of attacking the disguised Warlock they shouldn't have even known was with them. The players point this out, but the DM shuts them down with some Insane Troll Logic, and almost everyone loses interest in the fight as it turns into a massive chase where the party keeps getting free hits in as the Paladins continue to ignore them and focus solely on murdering the Warlock.

    Western Animation 
  • What If…? (2021): After Ultron gains the Infinity Stones and begins wiping out the universes, the Guardians of the Multiverse are assembled to stop him. To ensure that they can survive being attacked by Infinity Stones, Strange Supreme, a wizard who has consumed the power of an entire universe, places protection spells on all the team members. Midway through their battle, Ultron realizes that he can deal no harm to any of the Guardians because Strange's magic is protecting them, and so begins targeting Strange exclusively.

    Real Life