The Malians are a versatile civilization that possesses strong economic bonuses, a well-rounded technology tree, and cheaper buildings, allowing them to save wood to spend on important upgrades and units. Their infantry units (except Gbetos) have +1 pierce armor per age starting in the Feudal Age, making them resilient to archer fire, the typical counter to infantry units. They get free Gold Mining, which gives a small boost to gold-heavy strategies. Finally, the Malians' team bonus makes allied universities research technologies 80% faster, and they have access to almost all university and building upgrades. This allows the Malians and their allies to gain important technologies, such as Chemistry, Ballistics, and Murder Holes, sooner than their opponents.
Their unique unit, the Gbeto, is a fast-moving ranged infantry unit that can be produced cheaply and possesses high attack power. The unique technology Tigui allows Town Centers to fire arrows without garrisoning units, thus making their economy more defensible against raids. Farimba, their Imperial Age unique tech, boosts melee cavalry attack by +5 (though this equates to +3 since they miss out on Blast Furnace) and makes their Heavy Camel Rider and Cavaliers powerful attackers.
While the Malians are versatile, they are not without weaknesses. Bracer and Blast Furnace are missing from the Blacksmith, reducing their archers' and towers' power and range. Farimba partially makes up for the loss of Blast Furnace, however the attack bonus only applies to melee cavalry and leaves infantry slightly weaker offensively. Despite having a substantial infantry bonus, the Malians actually have one of the weakest (after the Turks') pikemen to fight cavalry. The Malians have a full archery range up until the Imperial Age, where they lose out on both Bracer and Parthian Tactics. The Paladin and Hussar upgrades are also unavailable, making their cavalry line weaker when compared to the Spanish and the Huns in post-Imperial Age.
Despite these weaknesses, the Malians can attack and defend equally well with not many significant offensive and defensive bonuses (much like the Chinese).
The Malians share a similar playstyle to the Goths, booming up until Imperial Age and then unleashing a horde of archer-resilient infantry. Unlike the Goths, Malians infantry bonus against archers is decentralized, meaning archers are less effective against them since there is no Malian barracks unit that is susceptible to archer fire. By mixing in Pikemen, the Malian horde is also unassailable by standard cavalry. This makes it difficult for some players to answer the Malian horde, limiting counter units to infantry, anti-infantry Hand Cannoneers (which also are less effective against Malian infantry), Bombard Towers, and clever use of siege. These threats can be dealt with in turn by the Malians, who have access to both Gbeto and Hand Cannoneer for dealing with melee threats. Bombard Towers and opposing siege can both be dealt with by using Bombard Cannons, though unfortunately these units lack the Siege Engineers technology.
In the early game, the wood discount on buildings and free gold mining upgrades enable the Malians to perform a strong Fast Castle strategy. The Malians only need 254 wood to create 4 Houses, a Lumber Camp, and a Mill, instead of the typical 300 wood. This means that an extra villager can be assigned to food from the Dark Age onwards. Free Gold Mining in the Feudal Age saves 100 food and 75 wood, and helps in gathering the 200 gold required to research Castle Age.
The Malian boom is a little clumsy to set up, but is incredibly powerful once up and running. The Tigui technology allows Town Centers to fire multiple arrows without a garrison, turning each TC into a short-range tower without interrupting the player's economy. This technology is cheap but requires a Castle, meaning that if the player is booming he or she won't be able to afford it for some time. If the player has a Castle then this tech is worthwhile, however delaying a Castle until Imperial Age is common - by which point this technology is less valuable.
Alternatively, Castle drops followed by Gbeto raids can throw an opponent off-balance. A delayed boom can be set up during or afterwards, and the Tigui technology helps to defend against any counterattacks. A Malian player can do damage quickly with this strategy, but will encounter difficulty against defensive structures and archers, due to the Gbeto's low durability and lack of the Malian pierce armor bonus. The Malian infantry pierce armor bonus discourages other players from making archers, so this is a reliable means of taking map control while applying pressure and setting up a boom behind it.
A cavalry raiding strategy can also be adopted, as the Farimba technology gives Malian cavalry effective hit-and-run tactics. The Malians still have access to Heavy Camels, however, and Farimba makes them extremely useful against enemy cavalry. Light Cavalry and Cavaliers with Farimba may perform slightly better than normal Hussars or Paladins when raiding, despite being defensively weak due to the lack of the Hussar and Paladin upgrades.
On a water map the Malian player must establish early naval dominance, as their late-game navy is decidedly average due to a lack of the Shipwright, Fast Fire Ships, and Elite Cannon Galleon technologies. The Malian wood discount bonus on buildings helps greatly in building cheaper docks and amassing naval vessels.
In general, the Malians are a versatile civilization with a range of strategic options. Even though the Malians lack Bracer, they have a decent archer tech tree, and training Arbalesters and Hand Cannoneers is still critical when dealing with civilizations that rely on infantry. Cavaliers and Light Cavalry are always an option for raiding and dealing with enemy siege weapons thanks to the Farimba technology. Pikemen and Heavy Camels are viable anti-cavalry options in the Malian army, and Gbetos make excellent units for hit-and-run tactics. The Malians have reasonable siege options in Bombard Cannons and Siege Onagers, despite lacking Siege Engineers. Their infantry line is great at punishing archer-dependant civilizations, such as the Ethiopians, Chinese, Mayans, and Britons.
Strategy Changes in Rise of the Rajas
The Malians' military was nerfed; they no longer have Halberdiers (though, like the Vikings, their Pikemen still take ranged attacks well), and the Gbeto's attack was slightly reduced. When the gold runs out the Malians will lose out in many trash wars, especially against civilizations with strong trash unit lines such as the Magyars, Vietnamese, Malay, and Spanish. The Malians lack important unit upgrades and techs for their trash units, and do not get the Hussar, Halberdier, Bracer, and Blast Furnace upgrades.
Their economy also received a small nerf, as Farms are no longer affected by the 15% wood discount.
Free Gold Shaft Mining was removed as of Patch 5.7, slightly slowing down the Malian Castle Age and Imperial Age booms.
Strategy changes in the Definitive Edition
As with most civilizations in the game, they now have access to the new Barracks technology Supplies, which reduces the cost of the Militia line by 15 food. Since Malians have infantry that resist arrow-fire better, this addition is helpful for making infantry rushes more viable in the early game and making Champions easier to mass in the late game. Regarding their navy, they now have access to Fast Fire Ships, but lose access to Galleons.
The Malians are strongest in the front-line position, as their infantry rushing capabilities and high mobility units can simultaneously protect pocket players and attack the enemy team. Their cheap buildings and free gold mining upgrades make them an excellent springboard civilization in springboard strategies.
The Malians' team bonus makes allied universities research technologies 80% faster, which is incredibly useful for quickly surpassing enemy teams in tech advantage and is amplified by any civilization that has a full University tech tree or at least the most important technologies there. This bonus may be combined with the Bulgarian team bonus (Blacksmith works faster) and Lithuanian team bonus (Monasteries work faster), making teams like these outclass their opponents by rapidly research their technology trees. Also, a Berber ally may add the Kasbah technology to this formula (which will also make the Malian Castle drop more effective, considering the training speed of Gbetos).
It might sound useless on paper, but the Cuman team bonus (+50% HP for palisades) is also very helpful, considering that Malians have cheaper palisades, as their wood discount applies to them. Cumans also grant 10 free-to-train Elite Kipchaks after researching Cuman Mercenaries, which can support the Malian cavalry contingent with Farimba and keep moving with them. Sadly, on the Cuman side of things, they have lackluster Universities, so the Malian team bonus does not have such impact.
Malians benefit from team bonuses that boost both infantry and cavalry. Goths provide the Malians with faster Barracks work rate, and the Italians give a Malian player access to the Condottiero. The Malian Condottieri is arguably the best Condottieri of any civilization, as it receives reduced damage from an opponent's gunpowder units thanks to the extra Malian pierce armor.
For cavalry, specifically for Heavy Camels, Malians greatly benefit from the Hunnic, Indian, Persian and Frank team bonuses. When allied with an Indian player, a fully-upgraded Malian Heavy Camel will deal a staggering 20 damage to buildings (1 more damage than their Indian Imperial camel counterpart).
On naval maps, a Viking ally further decreases the wood cost of Docks, and allows a Malian player to spam Dock production or put wood towards shipbuilding.
A Slav ally allows the Malians to save even more wood, as their military buildings will provide population space.
Burmese allies share the starting locations of Relics with their teammates, which, if picked up quickly, can fund the Malians' gold-hungry late-game strategies.
Though not immediately evident, allying with the Vietnamese is a wise choice for Malian players. Resilient, high hit-point Vietnamese archers and high pierce armor Malian infantry make for a potent army composition. In the Imperial Age, the Vietnamese Imperial Skirmisher covers the Malian trash weakness nicely and Paper Money gives the Malian player an extra bit of gold when the map runs out. The Malian University bonus, in return, assists the Vietnamese in quickly upgrading their fortifications.
Compared advantages and disadvantages
Advantages vs other civilizations
Disadvantages vs other civilizations