Last week I started taking a look at the issue of deck-building, via my ultimately unsuccessful attempt at a quad-sphere Hobbit deck. Whilst that enterprise was unsuccessful, I’m still looking at the issue of deck-building, this time with a slightly different deck, before going on to look at some more general principles and tips.
In High Spirits
The other deck I’ve been inspired to build recently, is a mono-spirit one. Instantly, the one-spirit limitation puts some useful restrictions on what I can possibly include (unless I start getting carried away with Songs) so I was more optimistic about getting a compact build out of this one.
The plan here is for something involving Hero-Arwen, Caldara, and Sword-Thain. Arwen makes it easy to put allies into your discard pile, and generates some money, Sword-Thain gives you a 4th Spirit Hero, so Caldara can return 3 allies instead of 2, and the combination of Arwen’s resource-generation and that extra hero make it easier to pay for Fortune or Fate to bring her back and go round again.
There are 12 unique allies in Spirit, of which one is Arwen, who can’t be in play at the same time as her Hero version. Out of the remaining 11, there are various good candidates for who to make the Hero although as Seastan noted on a recent Episode of Cardboard of the Rings, Dwalin is a good choice as you can use Well-Equipped to put Sword-Thain on him for free – an easy thing to set up if you’re using an Imladris Stargazer.
The first run at this deck then, felt like it should be a lot easier that trying to build a slightly schizophrenic quad-sphere: the deck has a clear idea of what it’s doing, and isn’t pulling in too many directions. Lots of Spirit Allies are the obvious starting point, including high-cost ones to maximise the benefit of Caldara-ing them into play, rather than paying normally. You also need some key glue cards like Sword Thain, Imladris Stargazer and Fortune or Fate, utility cards like Elven Light (Card-Draw), Dwarven Tomb (recycling) and the Spirit Staples such as Test of Will, Hasty Stroke, Elrond’s Counsel. Just sitting down and throwing things together, I came out with a first pass of 65 cards.
I managed to do some whittling just by leafing through a couple of times, but suddenly it became apparent that the “clear idea” this deck had wasn’t as clear as it might seem. I knew I needed lots of Spirit allies, but how many? As noted above, I put in lots of the high-cost characters to maximise the resource gain from Caldara, but I also needed some low-cost options for early rounds where I was playing normally. I’d chosen Frodo as my third hero, which also raised question-marks about how much threat control I needed. With defence taken care of, there was still the question of attack, which remained a slightly hazy area, depending on whether I was using the deck Solo (in which case it really needs to be able to handle combat) or multi-player, where it could be a question deck opposite a Tactics Aragorn and the Dunedain deck.
The large amount of discard involved in this deck, through cards like Zigil Miner, Well-Equipped, and even a copy of Emery, plus the repeatable draw from Arwen + Elven Light mean that I’m likely to see more cards than usual, and a slightly over-sized deck isn’t necessarily the end of the world. However, every extra card in the deck makes it roughly 1% less likely that I’ll have drawn my key card after Mulligan (with multiple ways to draw/discard, I think the Imladris Stargazer is probably the key card to set-up everything else).
I gave this a couple of runs in Khazad-Dum, 2-player: it managed to pull-off the discard for a Northern Tracker and a Lorien Guide, getting rid of a pair of watchful eyes that were attached to Caldara, before bringing her back for +2. As expected though, combat was a challenge, and the swarmy nature of all those little goblinses meant we were often in danger of getting overrun. I’m fairly confident of getting this into a decent shape with a bit more table-time, and whilst 50 is probably not likely to happen, at-least sub-60 should be doable
Going back to the decks which bloat then, the question remains: how do you decide what to leave out?
Speaking as the person least equipped to answer this question, I think it’s important now that the card-pool has reached this size, to have a clear idea in mind of what do you want your deck to do? There is no “One Deck to Rule Them All” – you may be able to build a deck which is sufficiently good at something (such as getting allies out) that it manages to cover a lot of aspects of the game, but it will be doing it from a particular direction. The crucial second step of this process, is to recognise what your deck isn’t trying to do! To put all this another way, don’t just include something because it’s a “Good Card” – include it because it’s a Good Card for this deck.
You also need to think about your Resource Curve. Better Men and Bears than me have explained this concept in a lot of detail before, but it’s possible to state fairly simply: If you have one Hero in a particularly sphere, you need to think hard before you put a 4 or 5-cost card in of that sphere. Or before you put in loads and loads of 3-costers.
The next thing is probably the one I struggle most with, but there are times when you need to ask yourself, what is an unaffordable luxury? Something might seem like a really nice effect, but if you can’t really set it up, pay for it, or in other ways trigger it, then it’s probably time to think again. Ally Faramir and Sword That Was Broken on Aragron, are both great cards in a deck focused on spitting out dozens of cheap allies to swarm the quest with. If you’ve got a build which focuses on getting 2 or 3 big allies into play, you’ve potentially just spent a lot of money on a fairly limited effect.
Obviously, there is a certain amount of overlap between all these areas. The Galadhrim’s Greeting is a great card- who doesn’t love -6 threat (or -2 threat each for several of you). However, if you’ve only got a single spirit Hero, who is saving resources for cancellation, and trying to put out some key allies, are you really going to have 3 spare Spirit Resources to play it? It’s not doing what you want your deck to do, it doesn’t match your resource curve, and overall, it may well be an unaffordable luxury.
The last thing I’d add, is that you need to make the hard choices. Despite all I’ve said above, it’s very rare that I build a deck with Spirit in that doesn’t have at least one copy of Galadhrim’s Greeting. And an Unexpected Courage or Two. And some Northern Trackers… Every time I touch on an area, or a sphere, there are a dozen other cards I just instinctively want to drop in alongside it. If you want to build effective decks for this game, you need to avoid my mistakes, and stay sharp.
As an aside, it’s worth mentioning the possibility of making deck-building decisions based on theme. Obviously there is a mechanical element to this: If you’ve got Celeborn in play, lots of Silvan Allies and lots of bouncing effects will make sense – it helps you maximise that +1/+1/+1 benefit. Equally though, you may choose to leave out the Warden of Healing, and include the Daughter of Nimrodel because she’s a better fit thematically, even if the Warden is more flexible (and in the same game as Hero Elrond, just plain better).
As noted at the start, I’m a terrible deck-builder, and probably the last person you should be taking advice from, but I hope this has been a helpful pair of articles, as a cautionary tale, if nothing else, offering hope to those of us without the skills to build like the masters. I’d be interested to know what strategies anyone else uses when building- how you decide what to leave out, and how you keep that deck trimmed.