Strategy Thoughts: Card Combinations
For a while, I have been wanting to share my thoughts on certain aspects of Spellcraft strategy. With this post, I present the first of what I hope will be several. Please add your insights and corrections – there are many players out there who are better at this game than I.
In this article, I want to discuss card combos – not necessarily specific card combinations, but a general principle/theory behind combos.
First, what is a card combo? Clearly cards like strangle vines and giant constrictors (jungle) are excellent in combination – both increase the effectiveness of the other. But I would argue that such disparate cards as savage blood-drinker (jungle) and triton aquamancer (ocean) are a legitimate combination. Neither directly impacts the other. But the casting costs are such that both could be played in the same turn, and doing so leaves the opponent with a significant dilemma. Unless the aquamancer is dealt with immediately, it may become very difficult to kill and an established aquamancer is a game changing force. But the blood-drinker inflicts 4 life drain if allowed to hit. Because the blood-drinker has 2 health, no single spell can kill both aquamancer and blood-drinker. And it is hard to effectively neutralize the aquamancer and block the blood drinker in the same round. For purposes of this article, I will consider a combo to be any collection of two or more cards intended to be played in tandem.
I do observe that decks are rarely successful on card combinations alone – it is generally far more important to have useful cards than to have flashy combinations. The reason for this stems from simple probability: by definition, a combination requires at least 2 cards. Even if you have the maximum four of each of those cards, you have to draw 11 cards from your deck to have better than a 50% chance of having one of each (this is turn six since you start with a hand of five cards). It requires more like 15 cards drawn to get to a 75% chance of having one of both types draw. It is very conceivable that a game is over before that cool combo even arises! Of course, in games that are otherwise close, combos usually make the difference.
So what have I learned about combos?
1. The combo cards should be organic to the deck. They should flow naturally from the deck and not be artificial add-ins just because they are nice. For example, fire faction’s rage card works very well with pyro-hydra as it triggers the hydra’s regeneration. But if I have a fire-air deck that revolves around air faction’s multitude of minions with the quick trait, together with fire’s destructive, lane clearing spells, adding in rage and pyrohydra cards just for the sake of a combo is counter-productive. It consumes 20% of the deck with cards that don’t support its theme, and rage will likely kill the friendly low health, quick minions. If I really love the rage-pyrohydra combo, at the very least I should try to fit the rest of my deck to it. The rage card calls for high health, or even better, health regenerating minions. I think giant octopus or ancient turtle (hmm, maybe the deck should be fire/ocean). I also think giant oak, living essence, wild growth (fire/ forest?) But I hate to depend too much upon either rage or pyrohydras. What if my key card is not drawn? What if my opponent can meteor my hydras? What if my opponent can counter the rage aura? So I begin to ask, “What other cards fit?” A giant volta (ocean) would also trigger my pyrohydra growth as well as work alongside an octopus. Maybe some sink spells to help the strength 3 octopi and hydras stand against (or overcome) high strength opponents. Maybe some razor sharks or aquamancers to give the opponent something to worry about other than my pyrohydras. But these might not work well with rage – maybe deepsea things better fill this role. Or maybe rage is the wrong card for this deck; what if I use fire shroud instead? Or in addition? Or maybe I should go back to my forest deck. Living essence and wild growth would also support primeval flame. Rebirth could be handy to bring back important minions. These decks are starting to feel organic.
2. Choose otherwise useful cards. This is related to point 1. If combos arise organically in a deck, the card should be generally useful, but I list this separately for emphasis. Again, an example from fire faction. Lava bombs and inferno are another natural combination – the bombs protect higher cost friendly minions from the inferno and the inferno detonates the bombs without waiting the six rounds otherwise required for the bomb to hurt an opponent. But without careful deck design, neither card is very helpful by itself – the bombs are too slow and inferno is too self-destructive. Inferno could possibly work with other cards (cloud of bats from swamp faction, mass collapse from underearth), lava bomb is not bad (just slow) and could be accelerated by melt, but none of these other cards are tremendously useful either. I, at least, have not been successful with this combo. Pyrohydra/rage is the opposite. I almost never find a pyrohydra unuseful. Rage is trickier, but is useful in the correct context (which doesn’t have to include pyrohydras).
3. Be attentive to probabilities. If your combo doesn’t arise, it could be bad luck. But it could be (and likely is) an improbable event. I once tried a combo involving festerplague (swamp), and time eater (air). It seemed natural – the time eater is immune to the spell and enemies affected by the festerplague are killed by the time eater. But, of course, my opponent always kept the time eater blocked. So I added horrify (swamp) to clear the path in front of the time eater. And the deck just did not work. I needed a time eater, festerplague, and horrify (three card combinations are not highly likely). Of course, I want the festerplague to hit several enemies. But I need an open lane to horrify an opponent into. And horrify only opens the time eater’s lane for one round. Best case, I was using 12 cards (30%) of my deck to get maybe 2 kills a game.
4. Look to improve probabilities. There are several ways to do this. More combo cards dramatically improve the probability of drawing a particular combo. If my deck contains only 3 copies of both cards needed for a combination, it requires 15 draws from my deck to have a 50% or better chance of drawing at least one of each (as opposed to 11 draws with 4 copies of each). Some combos work with a variety cards, rather than just one. Nobbling trickster/hunt (forest) is a nice combination – the trickster, when played, gives its opponent 1 health; the hunt can then kill the opponent. But there are several other cards that can replace hunt in this combo: fire rain, forked lightning, magic missile, an aquamancer or giant volta special power, a freshly played stormship, etc. Combos that can utilize a whole class of cards (rather than one specific card) will occur far more frequently. Probabilities can also be improved by utilizing units that draw the desired card. Blood orb/cloud of bats (a swamp combo) is very effective as the blood orb inflicts 2 life damage on your opponent for each bat sacrificed. It works even better with 2 or 3 orbs in play to prevent the bats from dying before they can be sacrificed. Needless to say, it is hard to draw blood orbs fast enough. But kobo miners (underearth) will draw the cheapest item from your deck – and afterwards, they are a cheap sacrifice, too. Throw in kobo summoners to pull kobo miners into play and blood orb strategies become feasible. There are cards that pull spells (aeromancer, mage tower), traps (savage kobo, trapvines), and auras (faerie enchantress and sometimes ancient turtle) as well. Finally, look to use the same cards in multiple combinations. I love aetherfish/overload (air) combinations. The aetherfish will effectively remove the timers inflicted by the overload on creatures that would otherwise have no timer. But I also like aetherfish with bodyswap (swamp). The aetherfish can be played on the same turn as bodyswap. The aetherfish has 0 strength to leave with the opposite enemy – and it has quick to likely destroy that enemy in the same turn. And I like overload with any minion that already has a timer (whirling djinn, doomcloud). The more I interlink combos, the more likely one will occur.
5. Be attuned to timing. Some combinations work best played early: I love placing astral armor (air) on aquamancers the turn I play the aquamancer. Magic immunity protects the aquamancer from almost anything that could destroy it except for strength 3 and above minions or quick minions opposing it. If played early (while there are lots of open lanes), the aquamancer can simply run away (using its evasion trait) from strong minions until it gets established. Later in the game, with no safe havens anywhere (big minions on every lane), it is almost impossible to establish an aquamancer. Other combos work better late in the game. My most successful deck to date tries to combine catastrophe with magic immune forces. As long as my cloud dragons, primeval flames, astral armored ruby dragons, etc. are holding their own, I am perfectly happy to wait with catastrophe until my opponent has lots of forces in play for me to destroy! The later the combo, the lower the acceptable probability of drawing the cards can be.
6. Consider your opponent’s likely cards. My earliest effective deck combined burning world with pyrohydras – a natural combo indeed. And very effective against the AI. But I found in PVP, that my opponent was very likely to have pyrohydras, too – and often drew them sooner than I did. I have abandoned such combos, because being the unlucky guy I am, I found burning world to better benefit my opponent than me about half the time. Many friendly cards can be used against you: primeval ooze (ravager played opposite), narrow tunnels (fire giant or spore farm opposite), lavapult (pyrohydra opposite), tornado (unicorn opposite – or aeromancer!), etc. These friendly cards are really only issues when your opponent is likely to carry the correct opposing cards.
7. Avoid anti-combos – cards that detract from each other. An aerovore does not work well with cards with timers – unless you want the timer to run out. Implode does not fit well with most barriers. Stitched golems don’t mix well with cloud of bats. Lava bombs need cheap minions – but not those with magic immunity. Etc.
8. Never rely on just one thing. Highly effective decks always have “the right card”. Combos are not always available and may be thwarted. The best combo in the world will probably lose if half of one’s deck serves no purpose other than supporting that combo. Always weigh the resource commitment (cards, power points, etc.) against the value of the combination and its likelihood of arising.
I have seen several threads where players ask others to share favorite combos. But combos are not hard to find: know the capabilities of a variety of cards, ask how one capability may support another – presto! you have a combo. The real challenge is making those combos work to the benefit of the deck; that is what I have tried to address in this post.
I do not agree on your definition of combo cards. Combo cards are two cards which when played together gain an extra advantage that the effect that each of them would have if played on its own - no need to be played in the same turn. A perfect example of this is Pyrohydra/Giant Volta. However they can be played even in the same turn: Aquamancer/energize. This combo adds 1 more damage and increases aquamancer health.
Tandem cards are cards which can be played together and put the opponent in front of a duality: which should I face first? This is because opponent cannot face both of them with 1 card only.
A last note is about similar cards: They have similar effects and they are together not because they are combos or tandems but because they reinforce your deck according to the kind of attack you want to have. Examples are the multiple red spells to damage minions or minions which alterate the strength value of opponent minions.
All the modalities above are pretty powerful but the first is what I classify as a combo deck, while the second/third is what I classify as a swarm deck.
Combo decks can be very powerful however they have some limitations:
1) must have key cards. However these cards must be powerful enough on they own otherwise you can have bad luck.
2) must have high probability to be drawn. To increase this there are several tricks:
2.1 Use a channeler cards - There are several cards which can let you draw a specific card type from deck or discard pile.
2.2 Use an unique card of that type as key card when the appropriate channeler card is used - So you will be sure that you will draw 100% the key card only
Did you ever wonder why the Kobo deck works better than the Wolf deck? Because there is a Channeler card!
Now comes the pain: the sheet is not large enough for everybody. You can have a great deck if it's tailored against Valentino and you play only against me. A card "if your opponent is named Valentino you win instantly" would explain perfectly this concept. Would you put that in your deck?
Well, in this game you can only be sure that you will have most likely minions but you don't even know their size or abilities. Maybe you'll have spells, it might be you'll have traps, auras and items.
If you want to build a great deck it must be generic and able to anticipate or respond to any kind of attack from the opponent.
If you want to create a combo deck that will anticipate you need to choose cards with low power points. If you want a rensponsive deck you need to choose cards with higher power points and be willing to sacrifice some life points you have.
If you have a great combo with 2 cards of 5 pp each and no channeler and want to put that in a quick deck I guess that will not work!
I did not mean to imply that two cards must be played on the same turn to be a combo. Perhaps I should re-phrase: a combo is any group of two or more cards which are taken together with intent and to serve some purpose (beyond what other cards would contribute). Although it is not essential for my discussion, I consider aquamancer / blood drinker to be a combo both cards in play at once causes an opponent more difficulty than having the cards one at a time, and in a way that pairing, say, an aquamancer and an aeromancer or a blood drinker and savage kobo does not. I also want to consider nobbling trickster / direct damage card a combo without having to specify whether the direct damage card is fire rain, murder of crows, hunt, or even stormship. The point is that the two cards together have a purpose (to kill a high health unit) that neither of the cards could bring into effect individually. I agree that fire rain/ magic missile is not generally a combo
In my opinion Aquamancer/Blood drinker are a combo in my opinion only when Aquamancer kills the opponent of Blood drinker. They are more likely to me tandem cards.
A more evident combo is Aquamancer/Razorsaurs when Aquamancer is used to cause 1 damage to the opponent which allows Razorsaurs to deal the other damage.
Savage kobo/aquamancer is tandem cards which are more fragile because can be destroyed by just 1 card, however they are still tandem cards. I do not see any combo in it.
As well Aeromancer/Aquamancer is a tandem, however Aeromancer is also a channel card which can be used to draw energize for example. With an extra power point that would be a combo with Aquamancer. Aquamancer again can be considered as a combo only if destroys the opponent of a minion which has special effects which get triggered due to the aquamancer ability.
Quintivarium, the fact you have a different point of view does not mean that is wrong.
I admire your analysis skills. You are the only one here apart me, for what I have seen, to play math behind decks. :)
Your opinion is still precious to me. We are just getting lost on terminology.
In reply to this post by Valentino
"[Would you put a] card "if your opponent is named Valentino you win instantly" [in your deck]?
No, but if it were "if your opponent is named Valentino01021976 you win instantly" I certainly would :)
Oh c'mon. You make me stronger than I am. The fact that I scored 2nd/1st in last tournments means nothing more than I was a little bit luckier than others.
The fact how I defeated Bulldog86 in second tournment proves nothing but this.
I just do the maths behind power points. That's all. And it's not that far from what you do with statistics! I think you are a good player as well. For sure one of the best contributors to this community.
Strategy Thoughts: Mitigating the Role of Luck
It happens to everyone at times: your deck holds like thirty minions and you still can't seem to draw one for turn after turn. Or maybe three lost spells in a row target your opponent's zombie mob insteat of the troublesome bone dragon. Like it or not, chance plays a significat role in Spellcraft.
This article is about reducing the role of luck (in particular, bad luck) or at least reducing its impact.
It should be obvious that one who chooses cards with highly variable effects (e.g. lost spell stone) should expect the bad with the good. But there is a point where avoiding all chance weakens a deck. Conceivably one could take forty minions, eliminating all chance of failing to draw one. But given the extent that a few spells can enhance the effectiveness of minions, such decks usually fare poorly.
One basic principle of luck is that it tends to average out over time -- a large number of small chances will be far more consistent and predictable than a small number of big chances. Thus the more cards you draw, the more likely the proportion drawn of each type will approach the proportion in your deck. Decks drawing a lot of cards will be more consistent than those that do not; decks denying opponents card wil make opponents less consistent (which may or may not be lucky for you).
There are a few cards you can at least partially control. One technique for increasing the chance of drawing a card relatively early and frequently is by using what Valentino calls channeler cards. Aeromancers, for example, draw a spell from your deck when played. This makes it more likely you will get spells. If you are willing to have only one spell type in you deck, you will get that spell either by drawing the spell directly, or by drawing (and playing) the aeromancer.
Another technique for controling some cards (those that have random movement) is what I call funnelling. I love the jungle card strangle vines. But if I want its effect on one particular enemy, there is considerable luck involved as the strangle vines aura randomly moves to an empty lane. But if I have other cards to occupy some of those lanes, the luck factor decreases. I especially like pit traps for this: they can only be tripped one at a time and they are most potent in those open lanes where I least like the strangle vines to move.
Finally, simple numbers of cards dramatically improve the probability of drawing them. You will definitely want four copies on any card you want to draw either early or often.
Generally there is only so much you can do to facilitate drawing a particular card, but there is a lot you can do to reduce the impact of failing to draw a particular card.
Be very careful of building a deck around one particular card -- especially if that card has no channeller. Any deck that effectively cannot win without a particular card will, at best, be inconsistent. Even more importantly, do not build around one vital combination. Repetedly throwing a wolf pack into a tornado to strengthen another wolf seems like a great trick. Let me assure you, it does not win many games, although it can, rarely, be very impressive.
Having multiple card types that fill vital purposes will usually increase a deck's consistency. If you depend on reducing strength of you opponent's biggest minions, you may want more capable of doing so than just aqualid hunters. Even within the ocean faction, there are several choices: sink, shimmer squids, water elementals, triton assassins. At the broadest level, there are lane controlling cards (mostly minions and barriers, but you might include auras like narrow tunnels and tornado, and some spells -- taken under, meteor -- that partially do this), and effect cards ( most spells, items, barriers, and traps). I very much believe in something between a 3:2 and 3:1 ratio of these card types.
Having cards that fill multiple roles will also stabilize a deck. For example, I very much like undead tritons. Not only do they have a useful effect ( stealing strength), they remain to block a lane. In the right deck, I also love tornados. They work in combo with any quick minion to strike my opponent round after round; they open space for effects like tide caller; by pulling cards back into hand, they allow repeated use of "when played" effects. And in a pinch, they can deal with cards like blood vapour and deepspawn that have grown beyond my ability to contain.
Along the same lines, variety of response is helpful. How will my deck handle things if I don't draw my dragons? What alternatives do I have to control my opponent's big minions? How else will I be draining my opponent's life? The flipside of having four copies of important cards is the risk of getting a hand full of that card when it is inappropriate. I lost a match very badly once when I kept drawing copies of burning world when my opponent had two pyrohydras in play. And I have trounced other players whose hand full creature destroying spells could not touch my magic immune minions.
Ideally, luck is overcome by every hand holding cards appropriate to every situation. And this must be effected by not the cards drawn (which I cannot control) but by the cards available to draw.
Quintivarium wrote great notes about luck minimization and there is very little I can add to it:
1. If you have just 1 card name drawn by a channeler you have 100% chance to draw that card. If you have 2 card names this becomes 50%!!!!
2. If you want to add several card names make sure they have similar effects (i.e. backup channeled cards). Red fire spells are a great example. Unfortunately not all cards have their backups and therefore you cannot rely on this.
3. Luck minimization is not only about channeling the combo card. It happens also on played effects. You must find an effect which minimizes the random effect. Example: Lost, return RANDOM minion to opponent's hand. If you add other effects which destroy other minions (Aquamancer) you are sure that there is only one opponent minion in game and that will return for sture to opponent's hand.
Other example: Rise again: RANDOM minion in your discard pile enters play...if you had only 1 minion type and all other creatures are barriers you minimize the random effect. But you can also add Eternal knight because it is still a minion but when placed in discard pile goes back to deck.
4. About funnelling: there's also a very important component which is timing! Yes, you can add other items in the wrong paths to prevent strangle vines to move there, but it is also very wise to play strangle vines only when opponent has minions in most paths. I.e. I'd never play that card as opener or associate it to a deck tailored to destroy creatures with fire spells.
Power Point Utilization
As I experiment with different decks, I increasingly realize that the ability to make effective use of almost all power points available is absolutely critical to the deck’s success. Probably more than any other factor, power point utilization makes or breaks a deck.
The basic principle is simple: barring cards that either limit or generate power points, one will get 5 power points to use per round. We want to use as many as possible. Playing a four point card will result in wasting one power point unless that card is either coupled with a cost 1 card or a cost 1 creature power (like the darkling assassin’s power). Playing a three point card “wastes” 2 power points – although 2 power points can always be used to tap the deck for an extra card. Thus, in creating a deck, one wants a good balance of cards that can be jointly utilized for 5 power points. (Here, utilized means either played to the board, or buying a use of the card’s special power.)
But the issue is surprisingly deep. It is very closely tied to both tempo and card management. Tempo refers to playing cards at a pace that is ideally faster than your opponent can respond. It is almost always the case that spending an entire turn in ways that does not substantively affect the board concedes tempo to your opponent. Because the first turn only grants 3 power points instead of the usual 5, effective power point utilization would expect a deck to be able to make a useful play on the first turn – which in turn forces a number of 3 point cards into a hand (or at least one and two point cards). But first turn aside, it is nice for tempo purposes to be able to make (or to counter) two threats in the same turn – usually something that requires multiple cards. Because one starts with five cards and draws only one free card per turn, it is impossible to play two cards in tandem on the same turn without depleting one’s hand – unless one draws cards beyond those automatically given. This I term card management. Effective power point utilization must also support card management by allowing the occasional purchase of additional cards.
Valentino is a real master at effective power point utilization. He has shared his favorite formula: 12 five point cards, 16 three point cards, 12 two point cards. He prefers 3 point – 2 point tandems over 4 point – one point tandems because the 3 (or 2) point card can be used with drawing a card. I find it an interesting idea to try to fit card to a power point value, rather than choosing a card and then checking the deck to see if the power point costs are in a reasonable ratio, although rigid adherence to a formula reduces flexibility. (I am quite certain Valentino breaks his own rule if there is reason to.)
I may not follow a formula, but I think it is helpful to have at least 12 (preferably 16) cards I don’t mind playing on the first turn, and to ask myself what I could do with left over power points for any card that costs less than five to start. Even in some cases where I can consume all my power points, I may be unhappy. For instance, suppose I take law of the jungle (a 3 power point card). Suppose also, that the 2 power point options I have in my deck are 4 aquamancers, 4 savage shaman, 4 toxipedes, invoking a toxipede’s poison special, or drawing a new card from my deck. Even with all these options, I will never be happy playing law of the jungle. If I play either aquamancers or shaman, I am just setting the card up to die (and prevent law of the jungle from hurting my opponent). Toxipede is only slightly less likely to interfere with my hope for law of the jungle. I will be unable to invoke the toxipede special more than once per enemy opposite, so it is not likely to be an available option, and even if it is, may simply affect a creature destroyed by law of the jungle anyway. And that leaves drawing a card. Since law of the jungle has no effect until the start of my next turn, I will essentially be taking an entire turn without impacting the board – a very bad idea from the point of view of tempo.
So how many viable tandem playing options do I need for a given card? The answer really depends: it depends upon probability of having those options available, the severity of the disadvantage to playing only the card in question (I am usually happy with undead giants or ancient ghosts even if I waste an unused power point), and the stage of the game (tempo is far less important when all lanes are deadlocked than when most are open). But it is hard to dispute the benefit of numerous options.
Now there are still other considerations. Certain cards change the pool of available power points: many cards grant extra power up to a power point maximum. Even more impactful is psychic vortex which reduces the maximum power allowed. Deck construction should at least consider dealing with these events, but discussing them here is beyond the scope of this article.
I am happy to read such notes which I approve fully.
Yes I do break my own pp law when I feel I get an advantage to do that.
There is a very interesting consideration that came to my mind reading your notes: Aquamancer is NOT a card to be played at first turn! If you do so you waste 1 pp.
It's better to play a 3 pp card at first turn, wait opponent to cast a spell to destroy it and then play aquamancer in a tandem with another 3 pp card! ;-)
The Vortex effect
Vortex reduces the maximum amont of PP per turn of 1 unit
This means that if you have 1 Vortex in play then your max pp is 4.
I shall stick this message to only 1 Vortex in play as my interpretation of this card is to prevent opponent to play 5 pp cards.
my 5/3/2 theory with a vortex changes and becomes a 4/2/1 Theory.
If you play a vortex you can play a 1x4pp, 2x2pps or 1x2pp + draw a card.
However there is a strong backfire for this: if you cannot play a vortex then you waste 1 pp per turn.
Have you ever felt a Spellcraft game to be going along well, when all of a sudden everything changes? Or have you ever felt absolutely hog-tied from the very start? You are definitely not alone! In this article, I want to identify the cards that tend to do that – both so I can counter them and so I can use them.
Let me begin by identifying some of those game-winning cards; later I will add a more general discussion. In the list below, the parenthetical comment is the frequency with which I have observed their use in PVP.
pyrohydra (very high) – strength easily gets out of control
rubydragon (very high) – cannot be blocked for long
primeval flame (low) – magic immunity thwarts typical counter-measures
meteor (very high) – destroys nearly any major minion
catastrophe (very low) – nothing changes board more dramatically
fire rain (moderately high) – multiple minion deaths possible
implode (moderately low) – “invincible” units aren’t so invincible
burning world (moderately low) – ongoing damage across board
inferno (low) – lots of lost units
rage (moderately low) – disruptive of strength balance
lavapult (moderately low) – disrupts blocking strategy
living essence (moderately low) – bolsters threats by reducing vulnerability
evolve (low) – transforms creatures in potentially dangerous ways
deepsea thing (high) – grows beyond control
dragonfish (moderate) – 5 strength
giant volta (moderate) – impacts up to three lanes
triton aquamancer (very high) – persistent thorn that becomes increasingly hard to remove
crushing waves (low) – potential mass creature elimination
calm seas (moderate) – auras become unreliable
floods (moderately low) – short lived strength shift dramatically alters lane control
lost at sea (moderate) – deprives players of creatures at worst possible times
darkling assassin (high) – killing potential; hard to block
deepspawn (moderate) – grows out of control
primal ooze (moderately low) – cancels relied upon effects
darkling slavers (moderate) – your best becomes opponents
taken under (very high) – most widely applicable creature removal available
psychic vortex (low) – dramatic impact on cards and tandems playable
bone dragon (very high) – hard to block
ancient ghost (very high) – combat immune and unblockable
undead giant (moderately high) – high health, erodes opposing force
stitched golem (moderate) – potential 5/5 stats with no drawbacks
blood vapour (moderately low) – can grow out of control
bodyswap (high) – your strength becomes dangerous to you
blood orb (moderately high) – potential for quick damage at low cost
sky hydra (moderately low) – grows out of control
archmage (moderately low) – can be hard to stop
astral armour (low) – spells lose impact
uncontinue (moderate) – entire creature type disappears.
spell net (moderately high) – suddenly your cool spell is used against you.
giant constrictor (high) – quickly erodes blocking opponents
ravager (moderately low) – 5/6 stats and massive disadvantage transforms board
gargantula (moderately low) – minion loss can really become oppressive.
strangle vines (moderate) – can erode opposing forces
drums of war (low) – magnifies advantages/disadvantages
1. I’m sure this is not a comprehensive list. It is not intended to list all good cards, but those that can change the complexion of the game. Please add other cards to this list as appropriate.
2. The large number of fire cards is due, in part, to several with similar effects.
3. Even though I call these game changing cards they usually don’t act alone. It may seem like these are the cards that defeated you, but a skilled opponent usually bolsters them in subtle ways and they are far less effective when one does not know the little tricks that make them really work.
4. The large number of these cards makes it infeasible to expect to plan independent defenses against all. One needs more general defenses.
5. Several game changing cards require skill to make the change beneficial. The only time I had catastrophe used against me, I had a favorable board wiped out, but, because my deck was generally stronger, I simply rebuilt a superior position. On the other hand, I’ve had my ravagers destroy my cards far more effectively than my opponent’s. Many of these game-changing cards are used with low frequency because they are two edged swords.
6. Kudos to the goblins for excellent balance. Several game changing cards help mitigate others. For example, meteor can help with an overgrown pyrohydra, while bodyswap or darkling slaver is excellent against an opponent who pours all his resources into deepspawn.
7. Sometimes it is not just one copy of a card that is overwhelming – it is multiple copies. One astral armour will rarely be a big problem, but when a player gets four or five magic immune cards on the board, the opponent becomes very restricted in possible response.
Exploiting Your Opponent’s Moves
This article discusses ways you can use your Spellcraft opponent’s plays to your advantage. I can think of 5 ways that your opponent can (inadvertently) be helpful to you. I will discuss these from what I consider the most obvious to the most obscure.
First, you can use an opponent as provider of things to steal. Darkling slavers, bodyswap, essence exchange, and tentacles from below allow you choice in what you might steal; while spell net, darkling snatcher, pirate raiders, pilfer, essence jar, and skeleton crew steal without the choice. In a sense, both grave robbers and gargantula also steal; although it is harder to access their loot. And if you wish to consider duplication as theft, don’t overlook shadow dragons, shadow fiend, delusion, and evolve. Many of these creatures/powers dare an opponent to become strong, then use that strength against him. (Implosion and savage spite, while technically not a theft at all, share this characteristic.) They are great equalizers. But be aware that they can be used against you as well.
Second, you can use your opponent as a trigger for powers/effects. Traps are an obvious example of this, as well as auras like burning blood or items like heart of darkness. But your opponent’s cards can also be used with your minions. A pyrohydra is great opposite deepwood ash, spore farms, or lavapults, as they trigger its regeneration/growth. It is similarly excellent at thwarting specials of giant voltas or howling banshees. It is even good played opposite a strength 4 enemy minion. Berserk djinn can use stronger opponents to trigger a death explosion. And don’t overlook ominous eggs’ use of enemies to summon a free creature.
These first two uses of an opponent are sufficiently obvious I feel no need to elaborate. The next two are more subtle.
Although the following does not commonly arise, it can be very devastating to use an opponent’s forces to negate negative characteristics of your own cards. Dragonfish, reavers, magmaspheres, and molten golems all have special abilities that you would rather not have. Whirling djinn, saberines, jungle dragons all have traits that can be mixed blessings. Sometimes, you would even love to be rid of a magic immunity. Placing creatures opposite a primal ooze eliminates their bad effects. Except for magic immunity removal, you can use evolve to even better effect – you might actually pick up a good power. I’ve had great fun turning a magmasphere into an aquamancer or a reaver into a giant constrictor.
A fourth use of an opponent can be for sheltering your units. Place an aquamancer, a pyromancer, a necromage or a chronomancer opposite, say, a necropolis. Your opponent now cannot reach them with a stronger minion – except by sacrificing the unit behind which you hid. This also works with strong units. It is better to place a jungle dragon opposite a kobo miner than in an empty path. Not only does this destroy the miner when it has to attack the dragon, but the miner prevents an elusive unit (like dark fey) from moving into the path to block that dragon (and significantly weaken it). This technique also works with items/auras traps. If I place a dragon in a lane with a heart of fire, I prevent my opponent from using lavapult or wild strength or ambush or any number of other nasty devices opposite my dragon – unless they are willing to replace their heart of fire.
Finally, one can use one’s opponent as information provider. Most good players have learned to observe the power point expenditures of traps – combining knowledge of the cost of the trap with knowledge of opponent factions often identifies the trap played. But there are other important things revealed with every play. Suppose your opponent plays a narrow tunnels opposite your 1/1 blood vapour, and then plays flamespike on your howling banshee. This should tell you several things: obviously your opponent is playing fire and underearth. Assuming your opponent plays well, they either saw the banshee as a bigger threat than the blood vapour (is this likely?) or they plan on dealing with the vapour later – which suggests they have the means to do so. I would either expect another flamespike next turn, or something like meteor, taken under, or darkling slavers in the future. That very much informs my next move – either I protect against spells or I cover the vapour before it harms me further!
As another example, suppose my opponent opens the game by playing kobo tunnelrunners and then drawing a card. This is very informative on two levels. What does it say about my opponent’s deck that it contains tunnelrunners, and what does it say about my opponent’s hand that he would choose this as his opening play? I can think of only one good reason to include tunnelrunners in a deck. It is not strong enough to be a threatening minion, its special (damage to barriers) rarely comes into play (especially in PVP). It is very cheap (cost 1), but if you are only seeking a cost 1 card – say to utilize a left-over power point after playing a cost four card – there are numerous spells and items that are far more influential in most games. A tunnelrunner has some value as a cheap minion – or as a creature channeled by a kobo summoner. So I am expecting a Kobo deck. Most kobo decks currently in fashion also involve blood orb, although other combos are conceivable. Now, if my opponent opens with a tunnlerunner and card draw, I figure he is grasping for an opening. If his hand held a good cost three minion – such as deepspawn or phantasma – surely that minion would have been a preferred play. If he held a cost two minion (such as a kobo summoner), that would have been played with the tunnelrunner instead of the card draw. Even a blood orb, if available, might be preferable to the tunnelrunner. True, one could wait to play the orb until it will be used, but there is no guarantee three convenient power points to play the orb will be available later. So if my opponent holds none of the alternatives preferable to this play, what can I infer is in his hand? Expensive cards, spells, or cards like dreamfeeder or swarm of bats that would be premature to play immediately. So how do I respond? I definitely want to conserve cards capable of immediately destroying kobo summoners. And I probably don’t want to expose my best minion to a spell like darkling slavers or taken under. On the other hand, I definitely don’t want to be timid. If my opponent is playing a blood orb deck – or an inferno deck which seems a viable alternative), it is important to inflict damage quickly before his tactics come to fruition. Playing a couple of mid-strength minions seems ideal – they are sufficient to outmuscle my opponent’s kobos, but are not great targets for expensive spells. Alternatively, if I have spell counters (like spell net or mesmer), those might be in order to prepare play of big minions.
The point of this article is that you should not plan your tactics in a vacuum. There are many instances where your opponent can help advance your strategy, or guide you in thwarting his. Use them!
Making Quick Decks Work
Valentino, among others, has observed that “quick decks” in Spellcraft tend to not work as well as muscle decks, and I concur. This article is intended to examine the quick deck, seeking ways to improve its competitiveness.
First, for purposes of this article, I consider a quick deck to be a deck that wins by creating too many threats too quickly for an opponent to respond. Thus a deck in which, every turn, you play a dragonfish (strength 5) that your opponent cannot effectively block is a muscle deck, not a quick deck – even though it might win in only 4 turns.
In many ways, this article is a work in progress – I am hoping that through talk and analysis, I will get the insights required to create viable quick decks. I do not know the solution as I begin.
I think it is helpful to begin by observing how quick decks can ideally work, identifying factors that keep them from working in this ideal way, and finding ways to address these factors. I would like to begin with some (idealized) simulations. What I will do is not really Spellcraft because I want to see the issues in their simplest manifestation – but it should apply to Spellcraft. As I have not really played other CCG’s, I cannot bring in that experience (perhaps a reader can). I am limited to my own brainstorming.
Let me start with an example where quickness works. Suppose we consider a game where we are always allowed to play 2 quick minions with 2/2 stats (think dactyl hatchling) every turn – except the first turn where, with only three power points, we can play 1. Our opponent can play 1 4/4 creature with no special traits (think underdark worm) each turn. Suppose we never run out of space to play, and creatures can never oppose each other. Here’s what happens round by round:
turn creatures in play damage done cumulative damage
1 1 2 2
2 3 6 8
3 5 10 18
4 7 14 32
5 9 18 50
turn creatures in play damage done cumulative damage
1 1 0 0
2 2 4 4
3 3 8 12
4 4 12 24
5 5 16 40
Notice how our speed allows us to jump out to a quick lead (in terms of damage inflicted), and allows us to grow that lead every round. That is how I would like my quick deck to work! But, of course, this is not a realistic situation.
So let me change my simulation slightly – let me allow our opponent to place units opposing ours so his stronger units will, eventually, kill our units. Now the results go as follows:
turn creatures in play damage done cumulative damage
1 1 2 2
2 2 4 6
3 3 6 12
4 4 8 20
5 5 10 30
turn creatures in play damage done cumulative damage
1 1 0 0
2 2 4 4
3 3 8 12
4 4 12 24
5 5 16 40
Notice how we jump out to a lead, but our opponent eventually catches and surpasses us. In this case, it is a nail biter, but because we inflict our damage before our opponent inflicts his, we will still win Spellcraft on turn 4 as we inflict 20 damage first. But we would lose if the game started players at 21 life! This is very typical for quick strategies: we get a good start, but have to win before our opponent catches up.
But let us look deeper at why the outstanding results of our first simulation turned to the mixed results of the second. And I think it is easy to see the difference is the attrition our (weaker) units took. With a quick deck, we are generally giving up strength for speed – it is inevitable we will have higher attrition than our opponent. But a viable question is how we can switch the tipping point (the point at which our opponent over-takes us)?
Suppose we were allowed to play two 3/1 quick units a round (think giant owl reduced to cost only two power points). Now the results become
turn creatures in play damage done cumulative damage
1 1 3 3
2 2 6 9
3 3 9 18
4 4 12 30
5 5 15 45
6 6 18 63
7 7 21 84
8 8 24 108
turn creatures in play damage done cumulative damage
1 1 0 0
2 2 4 4
3 3 8 12
4 4 12 24
5 5 16 40
6 6 20 60
7 7 24 84
8 8 28 112
The tipping point has switched from round 4 at 20 points cumulative damage to round 8 at 108 cumulative damage, and our nail-biter is now a decisive win. How did we enact this change? By inflicting a higher rate of damage. It really doesn’t take a simulation to believe that more damage equates to a better tipping point, but the simulation does re-enforce our intuition.
It would also seem that a lower relative attrition rate could have the same effect, so let’s try simulating this. Same as above, but this time, let’s suppose we could play two 2/3 quick creatures a round. Essentially, we simply allow our minion to survive long enough to block our opponent’s for 1 round. We obtain:
turn creatures in play damage done cumulative damage
1 1 2 2
2 3 4 6
3 4 6 12
4 5 8 20
5 6 10 30
6 7 12 42
7 8 14 56
turn creatures in play damage done cumulative damage
1 1 0 0
2 2 0 0
3 3 4 4
4 4 8 12
5 5 12 24
6 6 16 40
7 7 20 60
Again, the tipping point has shifted in our favor, but not as dramatically as in the previous simulation. If we assume the two modifications to be equivalently easy to achieve, the simulation suggests that increasing damage will have a bigger effect than decreasing attrition. Yes, that is a big assumption, but still is worth considering.
But tipping point is not the only issue to consider with quick decks – there were several unrealistic assumptions in all my simulations to date – at least two of which are critical to my analysis. The first is unlimited lanes. We all know that Spellcraft only provides 5 lanes – I cannot have 8 “dactyl hatchlings” in play at once! To remove the variable of attrition (so we can look at lane limitation in isolation, without confounding effects) let me change my simulation again. We can play up to 2 “dactyl hatchlings” a round. Our opponent can play one combat immune unit a round (think “smoke elemental”). Obviously, with unlimited lanes, we inflict 2, then 4, then 6, then 8, etc. damage in successive rounds. Our opponent has no threats, and cannot keep up with blocking. But now limit the board to the actual 5 lanes allowed. We inflict 2 points damage round 1, then 4 in round 2, then 6 in round 3. But here all lanes fill, we have no meaningful plays. So round 4 we inflict 4 damage, round 5 we inflict two damage, then our opponent clogs the final lane. We have inflicted 18 damage, and the game stalls. Our decisive win becomes a deadlock. It should obvious that quick decks must deal with stalled lanes. This can be done in multiple ways: lane clearing (e.g. tornados), board clearing (e.g. catastrophe), stall inhibiting (e.g. poison darts), non-lane based threats (e.g. heat seeker), etc. I will defer analysis of these to keep this article manageable.
The second issue that quick decks face is hand exhaustion: -- running out of cards to play. Suppose I devise a clever way to play two 3/1 stat quick units a turn: I play a 2/2 dactyl hatchling, then play fire shroud on it. Unfortunately, playing this combination twice also requires 6 power points, so I will assume the goblins magnanimously give me a 0 cost fireshroud. I begin turn 1 with 5 cards in hand; I use two. Round two, I draw a card, bringing my hand to 4 cards. I have good luck! Those cards happen to be my two dactyl hatchlings and 2 fire shrouds. I play 4 cards. My hand is now empty. I cannot continue this pattern another round, and I lose the game catching up on cards. Again, there are ways to cope, but generally quick decks will exhaust hands quickly. Without bogging down in details, I would consider the following solutions: channeller cards (e.g. kobo summoner), hand growers (e.g. sunken treasure), multi-threat cards (e.g. swarm of bats), super-cheap cards (e.g. cave rates) with intent to draw a card while still playing 2.
There are probably other challenges a quick deck faces, but these three (viable tipping points, lane stalling, and hand exhaustion) are the major ones I have found.
At this point, I want to examine two quick decks that do work. It might be instructive to investigate how they deal with these issues.
The first is my take on the now familiar kobo-blood orb deck:
4 x kobo summoner
4 x darkling schemer
4 x kobo miners
4 x kobo tunnelrunners
4 x ominous eggs
4 x darkling slavers
4 x undead tritons
4 x bodyswap
4x cloud of bats
4 x blood orb
This is a quick deck in at least two ways: the kobos give it an initial rush, while the blood orbs – combined with cheap minions pose threat of sacrifice damage from multiple sources.
The deck (when it works) wins the tipping point battle because it is capable of massive damage per turn (8 with cloud of bats and 4 blood orbs in play). It mitigates high attrition with cards like darkling slavers, body swap, and ominous orbs (which effectively have to be destroyed twice), although its attrition is still very high.
The deck has minimal issue with lane stalling: body swap helps, but the bulk of the damage inflicted is from blood orbs which don’t require open lanes.
Hand exhaustion can be a problem, but the problem is reduced by the kobo summoners, the ominous eggs, the darkling schemers, the cloud of bats (able to produce numerous creatures at once – allowing card draws or numerous sacrifices at low cost), and the extremely cheap cards allowing multiple plays along with a card draw.
The second example of a viable quick was submitted as an entry in the deck design contest and is reproduced here with permission of the submitter (who remains anonymous to protect the integrity of that contest).
4x deepwood ash
4x forest dragon
4x faerie enchantress
4x nobbling trickster
2x deepwood fey
3x fey spirit
3x horde of animals
4x giant constrictor
4x hungry crocodile
4x pack attack
I classify this deck as quick based upon its numerous cheap cards – minions that both threaten to inflict damage and to trigger the pack attack aura.
This deck appears to deal with the tipping point issue by compromising speed with enough big minions to hold their own – at least for some time (basically reducing attrition to almost zero).
The deck deals with lane stalling in two ways. Ideally, enough pack attack auras trigger to prevent an opponent from establishing himself on many lanes. When pack attack is unavailable or not triggered, the giant constrictors and deepwood ash are very inimical to stalled lanes.
Finally, the deck primarily deals with hand exhaustion (when it works) by clearing enemies through cards already played – allowing opportunities to draw cards, usually before the hand becomes exhausted. Of course, the channeling of fey enchantress and hordes of animals doesn’t hurt.
I’m still not sure how to make consistently viable quick decks. The three issues I’ve identified (regularly achieving a favorable tipping point, managing stalled lanes, and avoiding hand exhaustion) are all significant problems for such decks, and very difficult to deal with – especially since we need to deal with all three while still keeping the deck quick. But I think there are models of how such decks can work. We simply need the right ideas.
I have the idea that quick decks in Spellcraft cannot be purely quick. They need a side strategy to have the final hit in most cases because of the limits you mentioned (cards in hand and paths).
In the case of kobo you have the blood orb to sacrifice kobos which are already on their way to the discard pile. Perhaps any quick deck needs the support of auras, traps or items to cause the additional damage which brings them to the victory.
Deck Building on a Budget
It is very obvious that newer players do not have the resources (cards and gold) that more experienced players have; and hence, are far more limited in options and challenged in construction of competitive decks. In this essay, I would like to examine issues in deck construction when one has limited card selection and limited gold to buy cards.
Let me begin by discussing what I think are the four main issues in any deck constriction. Although only one is strongly impacted by limited resources, decks that do not consider all four will very likely fail – thus wasting the resources invested therein.
Probably the most critical aspect of deck building is power point utilization. Although there are a couple exceptions, the goblins have done a superb job pricing the cards. In a typical situation a five cost card is far superior to a three cost card which is better than a two cost card. But a three cost card together with a two cost card is nearly equivalent to a five cost card. The biggest problem with many decks is having a hand full of three cost cards: cards incapable of keeping pace with an opponent’s five pointers, but cards still too expensive to play more than one a turn. Tapping the deck to draw a new card is not viable in this situation – unless you occasionally play more than one card a turn, you hand remains full and you have no place for drawn cards. Now there are times when I will gladly play a 4 point card (or even a two point card!) in preference to a five point card, but, on the average, such is not the case. I want the playing of a cheaper card to be a deliberate choice, not something forced by the composition of my hand. Three point cards should always be balanced with one and two point cards to play in tandem.
Now, for the most part, power point utilization is a function of card costs, not of the particular cards in a deck – the principles are essentially the same whether you own a complete set of four cards of every type, or merely have two or three booster packs to augment your starter deck. But there are a couple of exceptions. If you have a card in play with a triggerable power that costs power points, the potential to implement that power is akin to holding a card of equivalent cost – e.g. you can use the two power points remaining after playing a three cost card to grow an underearth deepspawn instead of using them to play a cost two card. This also implies that if you expect to be using ruby dragon’s (fire faction) power – which cost three points, you want some cost two cards to play the same turn, even if you have no cost three cards in your deck. Beginner’s decks are slightly less likely to have this concern since most special powers like this appear in less common cards.
Valentino has recommended 12 cost 5 cards, 16 cost 3 cards, and 12 cost 2 cards, and no cards of cost 0,1 or 4 as a good distribution. While there are many other very workable choices, this does appear to work very well. But here, the beginner does encounter an issue. Most cost 5 cards are rare, and only the underdark worm (underearth) is a cost five common card. Thus, newer players may not have sufficient cost 5 cards for this to be an option. Rest assured, there are distributions more appropriate for low-resource decks. For example, 6 cost 4 or cost 5 cards, 12 cost 3 cards, 18 cost 2 cards, and 4 cost 1 cards also works well for me.
I believe the second most important aspect of deck building is card management – it is important to hold a significant number of cards in your hand – both to be able to play multiple cards in one turn, and to have reasonable choice in what you play. Aside from occasional (relatively rare) situations where cards are taken from you hand, hand depletion occurs because you play two (or more) cards in one turn, but do not replace the extra cards by drawing more into your hand. Essentially, every time you play a card, you are using two resources: power points and cards in hand. Thus destroying a forest dragon by using a flame spike followed by a forked lightening spell is not an even exchange – the two spells cost 5 power points combined – the same as the dragon – but the spells used two cards instead of one – a deficit without compensation. Card management, in its most general sense, is arranging to have the cards you need where you need them – usually in hand. It is both a play issue and a deck construction issue. From the construction point of view, it is essential to design a deck with potential to gracefully regain cards in hand. Generally there are two ways to do this: either by playing cards that summon other cards into your hand (e.g. ocean faction’s sink card or air’s aeromancer), or by buying card from your deck at a cost of two power points.
It is hard to overstate the usefulness of summoner cards: not only are they usually more efficient (for example. not only does ocean’s sink card, for cost 1, have a significant impact weakening an enemy, it’s free draw replaces it in your hand), summoner cards can often channel specific type of cards (e.g. forest’s faerie enchantress calling auras), or they draw cards from places where cards would normally be inaccessible (such as ocean’s sea dragon dragging a spell from the discard pile). Unfortunately, many of the summoner cards are rare, and most of the rest are uncommon – a player with limited card choice might not have access to a full selection of these cards. In addition, because “cheaper” decks have fewer 5 point cards, they will more often need to play two cards in one round – depleting the deck more rapidly, and needing more opportunity to replenish a deck. Three point cards to supplement a card draw are essential – but not just any three point card, three point cards that have the ability to hold against costlier cards (such as fire’s magma sphere) even if they don’t stand for very long. Although low resource decks tend to encounter slightly greater challenges in card management, the basic issues and approaches are essentially the same as with full resource decks, and the magnitude of the challenges is similar.
The third key area of concern in deck building is type balance. Spellcraft cards are minions, barriers, auras, items, spells, or traps and these cards play vastly different roles. Holding 5 auras like forest’s wild strength or barkskin is of little use in stopping an enemy screaming skull (swamp minion). There are different opinions on how many of each type card a deck should hold, but poor balance is a recipe for disaster. I can think of no reason “cheap” decks need to approach this issue differently than “expensive” decks.
The least critical, in my opinion, of the deck design issues is win strategy, but this is the one area where low resource decks are severely disadvantaged relative to high resource decks. The most obvious win strategy is to play stronger minions than your opponent. Eventually the lower strength enemy minions lose their health, die, and you then hit your opponent for life damage. The problem with low resource decks is that they very likely have far fewer big minions than a resource rich deck – they cannot count on winning by overpowering an opponent in this way; they must find a way to win by working around strong opposition. They can focus on removing enemy opposition, say by using lost (underearth) or flame spike (fire), although enemies can be expected to have even better removal tools such as the rare meteor (fire) or the uncommon taken below (underearth). They can try to impede enemy deployment (e.g. ocean’s lost at sea trap), or to evade it (say by ocean’s tide shift). Or they can use cards like undead tritons (swamp) to reduce enemy minions to strength comparable to their own minions. The point is that cheap decks need some win strategy that overcomes their innate disadvantages – ideally a win strategy as easily implemented by common cards as by rare cards.
Most players, when constructing a deck will find themselves with at least a little gold they can spend to complete the deck. Let me talk a little about game economics. By far the cheapest way to acquire cards is by buying booster packs, then selling back any useless cards (any copies beyond 4 of the same card), until one is only missing a couple of cards, then to purchase those cards outright. It cost me about 4000-5000 gold to purchase a complete jungle faction – 4 copies of every card – in that manner. But pragmatically, it is a rare player who will want to wait that long to get certain highly desired cards. A reasonable compromise is to purchase only those cards that really make a difference, but to purchase them when truly needed. My suggested priorities are: big minions (ruby dragons, pyrohydras, deepwood ash, forest dragons, sea dragons, deepsea things, underearth worms, deepspawn, bone dragons, undead giants, stitched golem, jungle dragon, giant constrictor); summoning cards in factions you use (especially those that call specific types of cards or those that call cards onto the board); special utility minions (lava giant, living essence, triton assassin, triton aquamancers, darkling assassin, primeval ooze, ancient ghost); and nasty effects cards (meteor, lavapults, evolve, liquefy, sink, darkling slavers, taken under, bodyswap, blood orb, null wand, stranglevines). Avoid the two edged swords – cards like psychic vortex (underearth), catastrophe (fire), or ravager (jungle) with significant negative effects that impact you – it normally takes building an entire deck around such cards for them to be effective, and if you are building a low resource deck, you don’t want to have to acquire the eclectic mix of supporting cards such a deck usually demands. One should also avoid buying cards specific to “gimmick” decks – decks built to exploit a particular card or card combo. For example, it is tempting to load a deck with 4 fire wolves and 4 wolf packs thinking you can play the wolf pack cards to quickly grow several cheap wolf minions to dangerously high strength. The problem is that, while occasionally this deck will win in impressive fashion, most of the time, even with 8 wolf cards, you do not draw the wolf cards fast enough for them to be problematic before they are destroyed. The odds of getting even one copy of a particular card in your starting hand is under 50%; the odds against getting several specific cards quickly are very small. It is true that there are several very nasty AI wolf pack decks – but the AI cheats in the sense that it is not bound by the four copies of a single card limit players have. The AI wolf pack decks probably have 10 or even 20 wolf packs in them.
Now, there is a sometimes subtle difference between a “theme” deck and a “gimmick” deck. A theme deck is focused around particular ideas; a gimmick deck around particular cards. Theme decks usually have considerable flexibility – they contain multiple good combinations and tend to be effective with a wide variety of possible draws. Gimmick decks require specific cards and combinations to arise. Theme decks tend to be consistently effective while gimmick decks are very hit and miss – usually miss.
So let me try to build a cheap theme deck. I have a plan (theme) to open attack lanes for hard hitting minions. As I search cards, I find ocean has a couple of common cards that can inflict bonus damage: razor sharks and sea snakes. I also find ocean can move minions with the common tide shift card. Even if I do not have 4 copies of these three cards, I am willing to purchase them – they are only 10 gold per card. Tide caller and ocean mist can also move minions, but as these are uncommon, I may not want to buy them. But choosing ocean as a primary faction seems appropriate. Choosing a secondary faction is a little harder – fire, swamp, and underearth all have attractive elements for this theme. Fire has nice common removal cards: flame spike and fire rain which could clear lanes for my sharks. It also has lava elementals, another bonus damage minion. But underearth has lost, wrong tunnel, and burrowing under as common cards to allow my hard hitting minions to evade blocking units. And swamp has horrify to both move and weaken enemy units; decay and necromages to help remove troublesome enemies. However, I’m seeing another feature of swamp that I like with the ocean components of this deck – an ability to weaken my enemies. I like combining an offensive theme with a defensive scheme, so I will take swamp as a second faction. Grab four copies of the common spell horrify, and, for now, four copies of decay. I love the common minion undead triton for both its immediate weakening effect and as a cheap blocker so take four of those. Back to ocean, I notice both shimmersquid and aqualid hunters are common cards with a weakening effect so grab four of each. Aqualid mages are also a common card that can play havoc with enemy strength – I think I want those, too.
Let’s see where I stand: I have 24 ocean cards (4 each of razor sharks, sea snakes, aqualid hunters, aqualid mages, shimmer squid, and tideshift) and 12 swamp cards (4 each of undead tritons, decay, and horrify). I have 4 more cards to go, cards which could be either faction. I also note that I have 24 “presence” cards (minions) and 12 “effects” cards (spells) – a very reasonable mix. And I have 4 cost 4 cards, 8 cost 3 cards, 20 cost 2 cards, and 4 cost 0 cards: a lot of combinations that use 4 power points, relatively few that use 5 power points. I also have a lot of low cost cards – which means playing two cards a turn and depleting my hand. I have no summoning cards (not a surprise with a low resource deck), but I have few cost three cards to supplement a deck draw, so I anticipating pairing draws with cost two cards. I am already thinking – before I even commit to buying the missing cards to test the deck – that I need to shed some cost 2 cards for cost 3 cards. For that matter, I wouldn’t mind some cost 5 cards. If I choose to remove some cost two cards, it’s probably the decay and shimmersquid that I would miss least. So let me look further. There are no common cost 5 cards in either swamp or ocean faction. The only common cost 4 card remaining in either faction is ocean’s triton warmachine, the only cost 3 common cards are ocean’s triton wave riders, ocean’s calm seas, ocean’s lost at sea, and swamp’s waiting grave. At one cost, I can get swamp’s flesh golems, zombie mob, or murder of crows. None of these is particularly appealing. Lost at sea is an ok card at a needed cost, but it does not advance the deck’s themes or needs. Triton warmachine has good health and solid strength, but at cost four exacerbates the power point utilization problems of the deck. If I had to stay with an all common card deck, I would probably settle for the previously mentioned necromages.
But this is where the flexibility of theme decks comes in. If I were realistically creating this deck, I would probably have already purchased a couple of booster packs from ocean and at least one from swamp. So I have a few rare cards, and several uncommons – probably not four copies, but certainly cards I might use in whatever quantity was available. And purchasing a few uncommon cards or one rare card is also probably not out of the question. So what else goes well with this deck? Deepsea things (rare, cost 5) benefit from cleared lanes so they can grow. Sea dragon (rare, cost 5) gives a nice strength 4 minion and also recalls a spell from discard (helping my card management). A giant volta (uncommon, cost 3) is the right cost and can help destroy dangerous enemies – although it will also destroy my fragile units if I am not very careful. Sirens (rare, cost 3) give more ability to call units away from my sharks and the combat immunity gives them great defensive value vs. strong enemies – but they do tend to get clogged with enemy junk they can’t remove. Water elementals (uncommon, cost 3) also reduce enemy strength, but despite their attractive cost, the cost of their special power (2) is not good for my power point utilization. And of course, triton aquamancers (rare, cost 2) can play the same role as necromages – but at no life cost and with better durability. Liquify (rare, cost 1) is frequently invaluable and a helpful cost. I don’t think I would buy it as a rare card, but I would certainly use it if available. Sink (uncommon, cost 1) is an excellent addition, It fits the strength reduction scheme, has a helpful cost, and summons a replacement card to hand. I would probably pass on ocean mist (uncommon, cost 0) – it’s too random for my taste even if it fits the deck. But sunken treasure (uncommon, cost 2) is valuable to restock my hand even if its casting cost is wrong, and tide caller (uncommon, cost 1) is also a wonderful addition (although I don’t want too many of them). From swamp, I would be delighted with bone dragon (rare, cost 5), ancient ghost (rare, cost 4), eternal knight (rare, cost 4), or undead giant (uncommon, cost 4). howling banshees (uncommon, cost 3) would be excellent with the deck – in fact I would probably buy a couple. Flesh golems (rare, cost 3) would also be worth including. And bodyswap (rare, cost 4) cannot be passed up if available. I may include one or two blood orbs (rare, cost 3), but would probably pass on other swamp cards. I am happy to reduce my shimmersquids or my decays to accommodate most of the listed cards.
To have something to test, let me take my common card only version of this deck.
4 razor sharks
4 sea snakes
4 aqualid hunters
4 aqualid mages
4 tide shift
4 undead tritons
I realize this is not a true beginner deck: 4 copies of every card is not efficient until one has acquired 3 or 4 booster packs in a faction, and swamp is not even available until a certain level is reached. But only the razor sharks and sea snakes really require 4 copies for this deck. For example, one could replace one aqualid mage with a triton wave rider and probably never notice a difference in performance. And buying common cards is not expensive – buying the entire deck card by card would only cost 400 gold. Also, swamp is probably available before one is really able to do much deck building beyond enhancing one’s starting deck. So let me go test….
After maybe 25 games vs. the AI, I am quite pleased with the deck’s overall performance. It is winning about 70% for me. As expected, it does have some power point utilization problems – I frequently only spend 4 in a turn. But only occasionally (maybe 25% of games) do I feel my opponent is gradually over powering me with consistently stronger 5 power point plays – and although I think human opponents would better exploit this weakness, I think much of the feeling is simply do to limitations of common cards rather than the power point utilization. I am also pleasantly surprised at the deck’s card management. Although I do usually play 2 cards a turn, I find I can usually pause after blocking a big minion with an aqualid hunter, shimmersquid, or undead triton and use the remaining power points for a draw. My cheap minion blocks a weakened enemy long enough to afford this luxury. The necromages are also a pleasant surprise. Although I almost omitted them, I find their ability to clear lanes – and especially to deal with combat immunity invaluable. But there are some areas of deck performance where I am unhappy. I should have predicted this, but my minions have no durability. Fire rain is pretty devastating and I don’t cope gracefully with cards like undead giants. I should probably reconsider some cards like triton war machines, giant urchins, and zombie mobs. Another problem, again predictable, is a bit of inconsistency. I sometimes do not get any of my heavy hitters (sea snake and razor sharks) until well into the game. Sometimes the aqualids and necromages are adequate to fill the void, but at only two damage a turn, they are really too slow. If all 5 lanes get filled, my enemy displacing strategy will not work. The deck can definitely benefit from more units capable of inflicting 3 or more damage. The final weakness I noted really did catch me off guard – I sometimes found myself with a hand full of spells and no minions! Even though the deck has 28 minions (well above the normal number even I am prone to want), the deck plays like one that has too few minions. I think this is because most of the minions in this deck are “throw-away” units – I burn them quickly out of my hand. I especially find decay unappealing. It is too slow; I prefer to deal with removal through necromages or through throwing undead tritons in front. Perhaps I need to alter my play; perhaps I should replace decay.
Overall, I like this deck. I don’t think it ranks with my best decks, but it is already solid. And I am pleased with my common card deck experiment. I not only have a nice deck, I have learned quite a bit about card management. And I have gained insight into elements of my play style that cause me to need more minions than most players I talk with. May you find this essay as useful!
I think this thread should be renamed - Masterclass.
So much information and depth.
In many ways, Spellcraft is a game of resource management. Virtually everything in the game can be viewed as a resource. Let me briefly discuss these resources – beginning with the most fundamental (major) resources.
1. Power points. Power points are, in many ways, the in-match currency of Spellcraft. For power points, cards can be played to the board, powers invoked, or cards drawn to the hand. As discussed in earlier essays, one of the best measures of a deck quality is how completely it utilizes power points each turn. The goblins have done an excellent job pricing various items (like playing a card), so one who spends only three power points a turn will almost always lose to one who spends all five power points.
2. Cards on the board. Most cards have little direct value until they are on the board acting – minions on the board can damage the opponent, traps on the board inhibit enemy plays, etc. Players definitely maneuver to have more (and better) cards on the board than their opponent.
3. Cards in hand. With few exceptions, cards cannot be played to the board before they appear in one’s hand. More cards in hand equates to more choice and more opportunity to play multiple cards to the board (creating an advantage in cards on the board). Hand management is an essay in itself.
4. Life points (or player – as opposed to unit – health). Life points are a resource that can be traded to power certain cards (dragonfish, dark secrets, etc.) or directly attacked (heatseeker). There are certainly times when this resource can be exchanged for some greater good.
More minor resources include:
5. Undrawn cards in deck – run out of this resource and you lose! But I list it as minor because running out of cards is rarely a deciding factor.
6. Cards in discard piles. Several cards do draw upon discards – both friendly and enemy. This is especially true for the swamp faction. One very viable use of cloud of bats is to provide “discards” for undead giants to throw. A few ocean and one forest card recall things from discard piles.
7. Unit statistics. Card health, strength, time remaining on timers, special powers, even certain unit names (e.g. “wolf”) can be viewed as a resource.
8. Card readiness. Only ready cards can attack or invoke certain powers. Readiness is the primary value of cards with the quick trait or of the energize spell.
Finally, there are a few structures of the game that might also be viewed as at least quasi-resources. These include:
9. Attack lanes. That there are only 5 lanes available does limit actions and requires management.
10. Turns (or turn phases such as the attack phase). Oh how my plans go awry because my opponent gets a turn in between mine!
11. Space in deck. There are many cards I do not take because I am limited to only 40 cards in a deck. The only drawback I can think of to a card like sunken treasure is that it takes deck space I want for other cards.
So now that I’ve talked about how elements of Spellcraft can be viewed as resources, I’d like to talk a bit about the value of viewing them in that way. It is probably easiest to begin with some examples. My opponent plays an aquamancer (ocean). I counter by playing meteor (fire) on the aquamancer. We have both “lost” one card (my opponent’s aquamancer, my meteor) and neither of us has anything tangible to show. But I spent 5 power points for my action, my opponent only spent 2. Assuming he did something useful with the other three, my opponent definitely came out ahead. A second example is playing and then activating a sunken treasure (ocean). I spend 2 power points and one card to draw three cards to my hand – a net two card gain for 2 power. Without sunken treasure, I can only draw one card for the same cost – clearly sunken treasure will always be advantageous.
Now let’s consider some ambiguous cases. Should I use forest’s dragonfly in a deck? The dragonfly is a 2 strength, 1 health creature with quick and elusive traits costing 3 power points. When I compare other creatures, I note that a chronomancer (air), an aqualid mage (ocean), a firewolf (fire), a necromage (swamp), and a swamp faction undead triton (at least after being played opposite an appropriate minion) are also 2/1 creatures with nice secondary powers that only cost 2 power. On the other hand, all cost 1 creatures have at most 1 strength except flesh golems (swamp) which is also 2/1 but has a significant drawback. So I figure, were it not for the quick trait, a dragonfly would only be worth about one and a half power points. Of course, the quick trait could very well allow the dragonfly to inflict a quick two health damage to my opponent, and might allow an immediate kill of an enemy aquamancer. It is unclear to me whether this is advantageous. In contrast, consider including air faction’s aeromancer. Like dragonfly, this is a 2/1 card with the quick trait costing 3 power. It lacks the elusive trait, but instead draws a spell from one’s deck to one’s hand. I figure this card draw ability to be worth about 2 power points (what it costs to tap my deck). Since a 2/1 card is probably worth more than 1 power point, I would consider an aeromancer worthwhile even without the quick trait. Finally, let’s consider ocean’s lost at sea trap. Three power points is pretty pricey for a trap, but I am virtually certain my opponent will trigger it. Clearly it is to my advantage it the trap destroys a cost 5 unit, and to my disadvantage if it destroys a cost 1 unit. Since the only other cost three trap is air’s spell net, I assume an attentive opponent will know what it is and avoid wasting expensive units. If that were the end of the story, I would probably reject using lost at sea unless I also had air faction in my deck to keep an opponent guessing. But lost at sea also impacts the turn resource. If my opponent has to delay playing a cost 5 minion to first defuse my trap, that might be worth the cost.
Valentino, CW88, I, and others have spent considerable effort trying to quantify these concepts and to effectively model the resource allocation ability of different decks and cards.
One final observation: as much as I try to quantify the value of resources, part of the richness of the game is that the value of resources is not static. It changes with circumstance. I recently berated (well, I hope it would be more accurate to say I gently corrected) a relatively inexperienced opponent for playing sunken treasure. In a previous paragraph I argued that sunken treasure is always advantageous. But my opponent had only 6 cards remaining in his deck – 3 cards after using sunken treasure). Normally games end well before decks are depleted – cards in deck have very little value. This particular game was an exception – cards in deck were worth more than cards in hand or even on board.
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