I’ve been playing trading/collectable/living card games since I was a child. It all started with Pokemon, building decks around my shiny Charazard. Getting Pikachu at Pokemon: The Movie had me jumping all over the cinema, and was only bested by getting the Ancient Mew the next time I went.
For a large part of my teenage and adult years I became a Magic: The Gathering player. Paying so much money in cardboard I could have had a deposit for a house (“what do you mean you won’t accept this card as down payment? Don’t you know it’s Karn Liberated?”) I was hooked. Watching the world cup each year and chasing down everything I could read on the subject. It’s… it’s a special habit game.
My latest addiction now is Android: Netrunner. I adore it (spoiler for the upcoming review). The combination of psychological play, vast amounts of viable strategies, and the creative asymmetrical gameplay seem perfectly crafted for the type of gamer I am.
I grouped these types of games together in my first paragraph, and while I’m sure I’ve busted a few blood vessels of the purest gamers out there, let me explain why.
Today I’m talking about deck building. Not deckbuilders (a genre of tabletop games) but the construction of card game decks. The focus will be on preconstructed styles of gameplay, but some of this can be applied to drafting as well. I’m starting with basic ideas here, something to get you started or to give you a different view. If people want to hear some of my more advanced ideas for specific games please let me know in the comments. But you won’t hear terms like “N-drop” be used here (you know… after that time).
- Other People are Not Card Messiahs
One of the pitfalls I fell into early in my deckbuilding career was believing everyone else was an expert. Sure, when you’re starting out its logical others will know more. But don’t take their word as gospel. Not every decklist you find online is going to work for you, even if it is top tier.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad place to start. Take a look at a friend’s deck or look around online to see what people are playing. And if you want to take a shot at constructing your own it’s not a bad idea to post your deck list on forums and ask for advice. But since there are so many strategies and styles of play in these types of games, and since others will have different preferences to your own, you can’t rely solely on advice. Filter it through your own thought processes. Does what they say make sense for the way you play?
- Find your Groove
Speaking of the way you play, find your own style. For ages I didn’t really understand why people liked Magic: The Gathering. I was told that you should play using two colours, and by doing so you open your deck up to so many more powerful cards and combinations. Yeah sure, there’s some truth to it. I started with a Green/White deck (Selesnya for you purests if you’re still hanging around) and it was enjoyable. But the matches were long and I didn’t feel the insatiable pull others seemed to. I decided I wanted to play something a bit faster, so I had a look at what cheap creatures I could find. Turns out I’m a mono red aggro player (I play one colour and I try to kill peoples quick as possible). The more I enjoyed the game the more creative I got with it. Point of the story being you need to be enjoying yourself in order to get better at the game.
- Experiment with different styles
At first glance this looks like I’m contradicting myself, but stick with me here a moment. You have to experiment with various forms of gameplay to find your style in the first place. But once you’ve found it, don’t stop. You might find other styles your prefer more, or as the game evolves (as they inevitably do) you might find certain styles that work better at certain points in time.
The biggest selling point for this tip is you learn what you’re going to encounter in game and the way your opponents are likely to play. It’s a real insight into the minds of other players and styles. You learn how to counter your own deck and where the holes are, so that you can play around those issues.
- Synergy is Key
Not just something said on corporate team building days, in deck building it really matters. When I started I would often pick cards I loved and wanted to play and throw them into my deck without much regard for what it was I was trying to accomplish. Decks need to be about more than awesome cards. You have to have a goal in mind (and maybe a backup plan that can utilise a lot of the same tools as the first goal). So instead of looking at the cards as individuals, look at them next to each other. Decide what your personal goal is. Is there more than one way to win the game? How is it you want to win? How are you stopping your opponent win? And how do the cards you’ve got in front of you achieve it?
Looking at the game from this light you quickly see where the fat can be cut. And if you really can’t bear to give up your favorite card, use it in another deck. Make it your phone wallpaper. Take it on a romantic date. It can still be in your life, it just doesn’t belong here.
Synergy is that area where you can start to get creative. It’s also important the cards in your deck work with a number of other cards. You’re always going to have your optimum play, but you’re not always going to draw it. So toy around and see what else you can come up with.
- Shake Things Up
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say “that card sucks” when scrolling through cards which are about to be released. It always makes me look at a card twice. I’ll let you in on a secret: game designers don’t intentionally make cards which suck. Most of the time the cards are designed to work with other cards. Or maybe a card which has been released is slightly less powerful for slightly less cost. It’s still worth a look. Maybe the quicker play or the extra resources elsewhere will work the card in nicely. It goes back to my first point. Maybe the card sucks for them. Or maybe they haven’t seen something you will.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term, the “meta” in this type of game refers to the most popular cards and/or strategies being played at a particular point in time. And while it’s more of a complex concept, the advice that I’m going to give is worth thinking about right from the beginning.
Shake it up. If you see cards are being used a lot, look at what cards could counter them sure. But you’ll find a lot of people will be looking in the same place. Your opponent may have an answer to your answer. Instead, go at it a little sideways. Are there valid cards which aren’t seeing a lot of play currently? Are they a valid strategy? How do they interact with the popular decklists at a given time? I understand it’s easy and desirable to go with the top tier lists, to play what gives you a better chance to win over trial and error. But you’ll lose something. You’ll lose the joy of having your own personal creation. You’ll lose a touch of sweetness in the victory when your own ideas proved successful. You’ll lose an opportunity to become a better player. And throwing in a few surprises people didn’t anticipate has won me more matches than I can count.
Deckbuilding is a skill. It’s an art. It takes time and dedication to become great at it. Don’t give up. There are so many different concepts and factors to take into consideration; honestly I’m surprised it’s not being used in schools to teach statistics and probability. I love this genre of game, and if you want a more advanced list of tips please let me know. I’m dying to talk about n-drops (okay I lied earlier about bringing them up), dead cards, opening hands and one ofs. Or if you have questions about the basics of deckbuilding or anything I’ve said above, let me know in the comments.
Now if you’ll excuse me, the Android: Netrunner store championships are coming up and I have some decks to make.
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