Xyptero's Deckbuilding - A Case Study
Community member Xyptero brings us a magnum opus on the topic of deckbuilding.
A deck needs three things.
It needs a win condition, ways to improve the consistency of your win condition, and the versatility to adapt to whatever your opponent is doing.
The first two are the big important ones, the ‘core’ of your deck; the versatility is represented by a number of ‘flex’ or ‘tech’ slots - a handful of bronze, silver or gold slots that you can swap out for different cards depending on the strategies you face on the ladder. Today, we’ll be focusing on building the core of a deck.
To start with, pick a card with a mechanic you like. Then, try to build a win condition out of abusing that mechanic as much as humanly possible. From there, we move through a ‘problem-solving’ phase, fill the remaining deck slots, and finally decide if the deck is viable on the ladder. Do not be disheartened if it isn’t! This is how we create new ideas - take something, run with it, and if it doesn’t work we throw it out and start again. The sheer number of decks I’ve gotten halfway through building and then thrown out because they’re rubbish is enormous.
Let’s use an example - the Drowner deck I created in the first hours of the last patch. It works reasonably well, but is more for illustrative purposes than an actual recommendation.
Pick a card with an interesting mechanic:
Drowner: 7 strength loyal, move a unit to this row on its side. If you moved an enemy, damage it by 2, or by 4 if you moved it into a weather effect.
How does this card work?
Move something and damage it, doing more damage if you moved it into weather.
How are these mechanics abusable?
• Drowners get better value if we have weather to move things into.
• Movement effects can line units up for us to hit with Lacerate or something.
What tools do we need to abuse these mechanics?
One weather effect on the board each round
Lots of Drowners and similar movement effects
Some kind of area damage to hit all the units we’ve lined up
How can we get these tools?
• Options: Rain, Frost, Fog, White Frost, Skellige Storm, Drought, Ragh Nar Roog, Abaya, Caranthir, Woodland Spirit, Dagon.
• We only need weather on one row, so we don’t want gold weather or White Frost. To get best value out of Lacerate and other area damage, we want to avoid killing units, so Skellige Storm and Frost are not particularly good options. Weather-spawning units are good, as they provide better tempo, but note that Abaya is actually less points than Bronze Fog + Foglet. Dagon is essential for a guaranteed weather in R1.
• Caranthir moves one unit, and we already want him for his weather.
• Jotunn moves three units, and does extra damage if moving them into Frost. Good synergy with Caranthir.
• 3x Drowners.
• Abaya -> Arachas Venom. A decent option, but difficult to get full value out of her due to the heavy damage inflicted by our Drowners, and the effect competes too tightly with Lacerate.
• Note that we don’t want Merigold’s Hailstorm, as although we’re lining everything up, we’re also doing a lot of damage to it in the process. Merigold’s Hailstorm doesn’t get us good value here.
How can we improve the consistency of this core?
(This is your problem-solving section, and this is where a lot of deck ideas fall apart. We have an idea for how the central mechanic of the deck should work, and we have most of the pieces. Now we need ways to ensure we have the right tools when we need them)
Problem: We don’t really have enough movement effects in the deck. At the moment, it could provide a nice control/tempo package in a deck focused on another mechanic, but to make a deck around movement we need more of it.
Solution: We make more Drowners.
• Dorregaray. He’s a Drowner now.
• Monster Nest. Also a Drowner.
• 2x Nekker Warrior. (yes, this may be surprising, as Nekker Warrior is a terrible card, but bear with me here)
Problem: We need our all-important movement cards in-hand, and we have lots more cards to put in before we hit 25, which threaten to dilute our core cards.
Solution: Tutors, and thinning.
• 3x First Light -> Rally: Draws us Drowners, which we need, or Nekker Warriors to make more Drowners. Importantly, this will also get us the Drowners sitting on the bottom of the deck where Nekker Warrior created them. Note also that as long as we put no other Bronze units in the deck, we always know that Rally will pull the cards we need.
• 1x Foglet: We’re opening with guaranteed Fog from Dagon, so this gives us immediate thinning and tempo.
• Marching Orders: Draws us Dorregaray, Abaya (if you have her), Jotunn, or a Drowner/Nekker Warrior, in that order.
• Ge’els OR Royal Decree: Improves consistency of our Gold cards, which are our round openers with weather. Royal Decree will let you choose, but Ge’els will also leave you a silver as your next draw.
What do we put in our remaining deck slots?
After creating the core of the deck, we have a number of slots left to fill before the deck reaches the 25-card minimum. These are your ‘flex’ slots – non-essential cards that you can swap freely in and out depending on what you face on the ladder, and to solve any additional problems you have with the core. Typically, they are comprised of a combination of control ‘tech’ cards that help you counter your opponents’ strategies, and additional thinning and tempo plays. These are, by their nature, flexible, and you will find yourself swapping cards in and out of these slots depending on what you face on the ladder.
We will address tech cards in more depth in a future article, but to round out this example I will list a number of notable candidates for the flex slots of this deck, and show some examples of different ways to tech the core of this deck.
• Dorregaray and Monster Nest: They’re already in the deck for their ability to spawn Drowners, but it’s worth noting that their other spawns offer us a lot of versatility as well.
• Abaya: Silver mages are always good candidates for their versatility, and although both her damage and her weather are worse than the options already in the deck, the ability to choose is nice. An option to clear weather without wasting a Rally is good as well.
• Fog: If our other weather effects are being cleared, we may want one more. Fog is best, as it doesn’t eat into our Lacerate value and will resurrect the Foglet for 4 points.
• Frightener: Draws us a card, and moves a unit. Assuming we Lacerate later, this is now a negative-6-point play for card advantage and thinning.
• Morvudd: Locks can be useful, and depending on the meta you probably won’t be short of high-value targets to damage.
• Roach: A good thinning/tempo option if you are certain you will play a gold card R1.
• Alzur’s Double Cross: Basically a +2 point Rally in this deck, will fetch you a Drowner or Nekker Warrior. Not as good as Marching Orders, but still a good thinning option.
• Old Speartip: Can be quite powerful, if he doesn’t get locked. Note that Drowners can also move your own units, so if necessary you can use them to pull Speartip back and forth to get his damage multiple times.
• Geralt: Aard: Provides additional movement and damage, but difficult to use well and frequently forces you to remove units from the weathered row.
• 3x Arachas: This one is a very interesting option. Played out in R1, it gives you good thinning, and 9 points plus the weather tick isn’t horrible when played on a turn where they have no new units to move. Notably, Monster Nest can become an Arachas to pull the other three, yielding a 15-point play (plus weather tick) and thinning the deck by 3. You also get a small confusion factor as your opponent tries to figure out why the fuck you’re playing Arachasae.
• Other Bronze techs: Bloodcurdling Roar, D-Shackles, Mardroeme, etc. Depending on what you’re facing, these may be more or less useful.
Hopefully this article has provided you with some idea of where to start when building a deck from scratch. In another upcoming piece, I will delve into the philosophy behind tech cards, and how to select them.