FAQ: How do I get started?

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FAQ: How do I get started?

Quintivarium

I frequently encounter this question, either in chat with new players I encounter, in the global chat, or here in the forum.  While I by no means have a definitive answer, I hope that sharing my insights may assist newer players.  As other players have different styles, insights and experiences, I certainly encourage replies and differing opinions.

Before I go too far, I should add that there is no one “right” decision on how to develop skills and card holdings for the game.  And even when truly bad decisions are made, the game is very forgiving – you learn and move on in a different direction.

The novice questions I most frequently encounter tend to run along five lines:  Where do I get information to help me learn the game?  Do I need to spend real money to be competitive?  How do I best spend resources to get more cards?  How do I design a great deck?  Is it best to play the campaign or online human opponents?  So I will address these questions in order.


WHERE DO I GET INFORMATION TO HELP ME LEARN THE GAME?

The first source of excellent information is the tutorial that automatically plays the first time a player downloads the game.  It’s hard to miss this, but you can also re-play the tutorial at any time by going to options (the small gold gear in the upper right hand corner) and turning hints on.  There is also a rule book on the options page.  This rulebook contains more helpful information.

At a deeper level, there are numerous sources here in the forums.  I hope this thread is one.  Also check the advanced rule book (sticky post).  Another useful sticky thread is the beginner’s guide I wrote.  Other good threads include my guides to each of the first seven the factions (re-posted by Steve Turner).  Hopefully I will continue to be able to post such guides as new factions come out.  I also have a rare card guide many players find helpful and a thread entitled strategy esays (sic).  Also check out Valentino’s thread, “card ratio”, the later posts in the thread “Trickle-down economics”.  And most of Hellspawn’s threads pose interesting ideas/analysis.  This is by no means a comprehensive list; there is a lot of other good information in the forum if you are patient and dig for it.  Just be aware that the game is evolving while posts don’t.  General principles of the game are fairly immutable, but individual cards do sometimes change.


DO I NEED NO SPEND REAL MONEY TO BE COMPETITIVE?

A short answer – NO!  I have completed the campaign, am competitive in PVP, have acquired a complete set of cards for every faction, and have over 48,000 gold “in the bank,” without ever having paid for goblin gold, and many other players have accomplished the same thing.  I have been playing for about two years, but, although I am very active in the forums, I am not particularly active as a player.

That said, buying gold will accelerate your ability to get cards – and after playing the game awhile, you may well decide that the Goblins deserve some payment for a wonderful game.  (I have used real money to buy extra pages to store decks.  Not that it is necessary to do so, but it is convenient.  And it is a way for me to give back to the game.)


HOW DO I BEST SPEND RESOURSES TO GET MORE CARDS?

There are two ways to buy cards, individually (from within the deck building screen, tap a card to obtain the option to buy a copy), and by buying booster packs (tap treasure chest on main screen, then pick your booster type).  Booster packs are far more economical.  The cards in a big (350 gold) booster would cost a whopping 1520 gold if purchased individually – that’s more than 5 times as expensive.  The small boosters are about 14% more expensive than the big boosters.  Additional copies of the unlockable (special) cards can only be purchased individually, and only after the initial card is earned.

My recommendation is to stay with booster purchases – at least until you have a fairly decent holding in a faction (probably 4 to 6 boosters minimum).  You will make far bigger improvement to a deck replacing eight or ten cards with moderately better cards than by replacing one card with a vastly superior card.  Only when your holdings reach the point that boosters no longer offer multiple prospects for improving you deck(s) does it make sense to target specific cards.  It is true that you can only get duplicate copies of unlockable cards by purchasing them individually, but I don’t think getting duplicates of special cards should be a beginner’s top priority.

Which faction to buy is very much a matter of personal preference.  Leveraging your purchase by buying the same faction as your starter deck makes sense, but a starter deck usually has only about 30 to 35 cards in the primary faction, and no rare cards – about half to two thirds the content of a big booster pack so starting a new faction is not unreasonable.  While the Goblins have done an amazing job keeping all factions balanced, some are better suited to beginners, and some will appeal more to certain players.  So let me give a brief overview of the seven factions that exist as of this writing.

Air – This faction unlocks at campaign level 4.  It is a subtle faction, relying on speed and combinations of special powers to offset its lack of strength.  I find it very helpful as a secondary faction, but hard to master as a primary faction.  There are several exceptionally good air decks, but they are often tricky to play or hard to discover.  I do not recommend developing air as one’s first faction.

Fire – This faction is good for players who like muscle and destruction.  Fire boasts 3 or 4 very strong minions and powerful, direct damage spells.  It has very nice cost three minions (useful to make decks effective on the first turn) and some very nice common cards (important for beginners).  Early decks tend to gracefully grow into powerful decks as one accumulates cards.  Sudden changes in direction are possible later as certain fire cards become amazingly effective – but only with the right combinations.  The drawback to fire is that many of its rare and special cards are only effective in decks designed around them, and may be useless to a beginner.

Forest – Forest faction tends to support slower, and more defensive oriented strategies.  And for these reasons, it does not appear to be a mainstay of very many top caliber PVP decks.  But it is a very nice faction for beginners.  Its common cards are quite effective, and it is more forgiving of errors in play than most factions.  And it can make very powerful decks – just not the kind that a lot of people are drawn to.

Jungle – I believe jungle unlocks at campaign level 8.  It offers robust minions, a nice variety of useful traps, and some very dangerous auras.  It is flexible, able to go huge or quick or subtle.  It has lots of options for both beginners and fully developed players.

Ocean – In my opinion, ocean is the strongest and easiest faction.  Almost every card is useful in almost every deck.  In comparison to other factions, it has by far the largest quantity of really dangerous minions.  It is great for players who want to control the game by interfering with the opponent’s ability to play his game in his way.

Swamp – Swamp is a very nice and powerful faction, but I strongly recommend against making it one’s first faction.  The common swamp cards are relatively weak (for instance, there are no common minions with strength – or cost – above 2), and I cannot build a strong deck without multiple copies of several rare cards.  It is a good faction for wearing down opposition with durable cards and slowly destructive powers.  It is also a great “equalizer” faction with cards like bodyswap and blood orb that turn weakness into strength.

Underworld – Underworld makes an excellent starting faction.  It is very flexible, able to support almost any style of play: from defensive/reactive styles through controlling/interfering and gradual build up styles to very aggressive/destructive styles.  One big attraction for starters is the underdark worm, a common minion with 4/4 stats which allows beginners access high strength.  

Finally, beginners should not expect to step directly from their starter deck to a top-notch, all comers crushed deck.  Firstly, if the designers do their job (and the Three Goblins definitely have), there is no ultimate, “invincible” deck.  Second, acquiring sufficient card holdings for a good deck usually requires several boosters.  And finally, it takes experience to differentiate games won/lost by chance, games won/lost by plays made, games won/lost by match-up, and games won/lost by deck construction.  Without this ability to evaluate decks, it is hard to design good ones.


HOW DO I DESIGN A GREAT DECK?

First, realize that things are different when players have a limited selection of cards than when they have access to (or at least could buy) most cards they want.  A lot of advice (including some I include here) is made with the assumption that players have all cards at their fingertips.

For most beginners, a top priority should be simply to replace starter deck cards with better cards as they become available.  Starter decks are generally excellent for what they are, but they are designed to be the most powerful decks possible – they are designed to help players learn the rules, experience a variety of different cards, and to whet appetites for better things to come.  It will be some time before a beginner will likely be able to create a deck able to consistently stand up to top-notch competition.

That said, I think there are a three key principles behind any good deck.  Here, I will give a fairly general overview; most are dealt with in far more detail elsewhere in the forum.

1.  Probability.  A good deck must be attuned to and maximize probability.  Spellcraft is loaded with chance: the order one’s cards are drawn, how random effects play out, even what opposing deck one faces.  A common error is to focus a deck around a deadly combination that very rarely occurs.  Other common errors include not placing enough suitable cards in one’s deck to have a reasonable chance of a viable play on the initial 3 power point turn, not having enough minions in one’s deck to have minions available when needed, and not effectively exploiting the summoning ability of some cards to improve odds of drawing others.  Although it is dry reading, the last post in the beginners guide thread provides several tables of helpful probabilities – I reference it frequently.  But you don’t really need exact calculations: it usually suffices to have a general notion of whether an event is likely, chancy, or unlikely; as well as whether a certain change will help, hurt, or not affect key probabilities.

2.  Purpose.  I am using the word purpose rather broadly, and I like to think of it at both the card level and the deck level.  At the card level, every card should be included for a reason – not just because it is convenient or powerful.  Yes, you likely would choose to include a 4/4 underdark worm (from underworld faction) in your deck – not just because it has high statistics, but because those high statistics strengthen your deck.  And there are times when the underdark worm does not contribute.  It interferes with fire faction’s implosion (a card that destroys the highest health unit on the board – including friendly units) and it is basically useless with swamp’s bodyswap card (which exchanges a minion’s health with the health of an opposing minion).  At the deck level, purpose means that the deck is designed to support a strategy (or strategies) that help you win games.  That the supported strategies actually help win games is critical.  I once designed a deck loaded with safe hole, an underworld card that protects you from damage, and air faction’s aether fish and chronochime – cards that extended the timer on my safehole.  And it worked beautifully to keep me safe from harm for considerable lengths of time.  It also never won a match because it had insufficient mechanisms to actually harm my opponent.

3.  Utilization.  An effective deck must utilize resources well.  I have found my decks fail because they poorly utilize resources more often than for any other reason.  
      Probably the most important resource to use well is power points.  Since card cost is very closely correlated with card effectiveness, a person who consistently wastes 2 power points a turn will tend to be gradually overwhelmed by the units of a player who does not waste these power points.  Using power well begins with deck design.  About the worst thing you can do is to load a deck with cost 3 cards.  Every turn you will play one cost 3 card – which will not stand up long against your opponent’s cost 5 cards, and you will have 2 power points you cannot spend to play a card (because all your cards cost 3).  You could tap your deck for another card, but you will then just end up discarding because you never play more than one card a turn and your deck is full.  Keep in mind that the 3 power points you receive on the initial turn of the game are also a resource – a good deck will include cards that can use them.
      Another important resource to consider is cards (in your hand).  It is fine – and often useful – to play two, three, or even four cards in a single turn.  But playing more than one is not sustainable – you must either do this rarely, or plan to renew your hand.  Cards like power surge (an air spell that costs 0 but generates one power point) are a good case study.  One extra power point can help you play an extra card (or a better card) that provides lasting advantages.  But it does borrow against the future – you then either play with a smaller hand (which reduces the probability of holding a useful card), or you pay back 2 power points to replenish the card later.
      A third critical resource is usable cards.  Sometimes luck (or a clever opponent) can leave you with no usable cards, but if this happens frequently, deck design is probably at fault.  I have often found myself holding 5 spells with nothing to cast them on (my deck needs more minions).  I have found myself desperately needing to block 2 or three lanes, but I hold only cost 5 minions (I need more cheap cards).  Etc.
      There are many other resources: life points, cards in the deck, cards in the discard pile, ready units, and others, but I think I have addressed the ones that matter most in deck construction.  By the way, most questions like “What ratio of different card types (minions, barriers, spells, etc.) should I use?” and “How should the cost of my cards be distributed?” are really questions of utilization.  There are multiple “correct” answers depending on the deck.  The real issue is that the combination of cards chosen results in a deck that generally uses resources well.


IS IT BEST TO PLAY THE CAMPAIGN OR ONLINE AGAINST HUMAN OPPONENTS?

There is no real answer to this question – it is viable to do either.  I completed the entire campaign (as it existed at the time) before I played my first game against a human – and I still lost rather badly.  At present, Spellcraft lacks the player base to be able to effectively match players against others of roughly equal ability (and cards) – you will likely end up playing anyone else who happens to be on-line at the time.  In my opinion, this is not bad – just don’t enter with the expectation that only winning is a positive reflection on you.

The advantages to playing a campaign game are: it is always available; it is ramped so you do not encounter really tough AI opponents until you likely have the cards and playing experience to handle them; it does not mind if you get interrupted and have to leave the game; it helps you unlock the special minions for each faction; it facilitates experimentation with a new deck; it is a good place to try for difficult achievements (like the no forces achievement); and, arguably, it is the fastest route to gold.

The advantages to playing other humans are: it can add a social dimension to the game; human strategies are more diverse and often more capably handled than AI strategies making the game richer; experienced humans can often provide valuable tips; playing versus humans unlocks the non-minion special card of each faction; learning is typically faster from human opponents than from the AI; and humans tend to provide stronger (and fairer) challenges.

My advice is simple – do what you find most enjoyable.


Quintivarium   February, 2015
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Re: FAQ: How do I get started?

Dorion
So much useful advice!  Thanks Quintivarium for your insight and experience.  I have found the posts you referenced all very helpful and informative.  This post will be very helpful to new players such as myself as I have asked many of these questions.

I wish that I had something to add to it at this point, but I am still learning.  All I can really do is endorse this post as a great tool to help improve one's skills.

One comment I can make is that the developers are very helpful and involved from my limited experience.  I'm pleased to play a game that has this level of interaction with the creators especially in this day and age of the giant MMO!