Building a Game of Thrones LCG Deck

House Martell

A Games of Thrones: The Card Game is a relatively new thing for me. For those unfamiliar with the game it’s very much like other CCGs (Magic, Pokemon, etc). One of the big differences though is that it is an LCG instead of a CCG. The principle difference is that LCG card packs have fixed predictable content. Meaning that if there is a card you’d like to include in a deck you know exactly what pack to buy. In addition packs include three copies of every card included in the pack (which is the limit of the number of one specific card you can have in a deck).

Take Them By SurpriseLike all other CCGs, GoT: LCG requires players to build decks in order to be competitive. One of the things about GoT that I like the most is the Plot deck. Each player builds a plot deck along with the “regular” deck. The plot deck serves several purposes for a player. It determines initiative/turn order, gold income, and claim. In addition to that each plot has some effect in the game. These are wide and varied. I won’t go into the machinations of the rules since that’s too much to discuss here; suffice it to say though structuring the plot deck is fundamental to the success of a GoT deck overall.

So what makes for a successful deck? Perhaps we should first clarify what’s considered to be a successful deck. In my view, a successful deck is one that consistently performs well. Note that I make no mention of win/lose ratio in that. Outcomes are highly dependent on what cards are drawn and the decisions your opponents make so expecting to win 100% or even 75% of the time is unreasonable. What matters is that your deck is often able to threaten a win. Losing by two or three power is still a success (though not a victory, of course) because it’s very possible that had your or your opponent  made one decision differently you would have come out on top. So, if your deck manages to win and be competitive most of the time by coming in a close second or third then I would argue that you have a successful deck.

Now that we’ve defined what a successful deck is let’s move on to making one…

Choose a House / Develop a Concept / Follow a Theme

The absolute first decision that you need to make when building a deck is choosing the house you wish to play. Note that Fantasy Flight has developed this game so that each house as a “skill set” or sorts as well as major and minor themes for each. What’s important is to understand what each house is good at and working within that framework. For example: House Stark is the strongest when it comes to military challenges. They have strong military characters and events that play of winning military challenges. Conversely they are very weak when it comes to intrigue challenges; having just enough characters to handle some intrigue defense but no more than that. Don’t try to be clever and figure out some way to make an intrigue strong Stark deck. You’ll be going against how Fantasy Fight developed the game, not to mention the theme of the house in the story, and you’ll just look silly. There are plenty of ways to make a successful military deck with Stark. If you want to innovate, innovate where the house has strength.

All the houses have a few sub-themes to them. Do a little research to see what the strengths and weaknesses are of each house and build a deck around a house and theme that sounds interesting to you. Try and choose a “main” and “minor” theme to your decks as well. If your deck is to “monotone” it risks being easily countered especially if a crucial combo gets broken. Try and build a deck with characters that are double duty and can work in alternate combos if your main combos don’t work or are unavailable.

Proportions

A GoT: LCG has be a minimum of 60 cards (not counting the plot deck which is a fixed size of 7). In the deck you can have characters, events, locations, and attachments.

GoT Character GoT Location GoT Attachment GoT Event

The current meta-game rule of thumb is to construct your deck to have approximately 30 characters and 30 of everything else. I’m pretty much in agreement with this. Only characters can participate in challenges and winning challenges is key to winning a game. Additionally, I find that keeping your deck as small as possible is advantageous. In many cases less is more. Resist as much as possible stuffing your deck with too many events, characters, or locations. The larger your deck gets the slower it will be.

Proportioning how many locations, attachments, and events you will need is a bit more difficult. In my view, you should have a minimum of 10-12 locations that provide either income or some sort of cost reduction. Balancing that is also a challenge in of itself. If you have events/characters that call for the use of gold you’ll want to load up on +gold cards. If you don’t then cost reduction is probably the better way to go. Depending on the nature of the deck you are building you’ll probably have to toss in a few other lands for special effects to build combos. Attachments and events are also highly variable. When it comes to both take only what you absolutely need  in order to make your combos work or keep them safe (save and cancel events for example).

Uniques vs. Non-Uniques

Now is probably a good time to discuss how unique characters fit into the design of a deck. Unique characters, locations, and attachments have the benefit of duplicates in order to protect them from kills and discards. In my view, duplicates are the easiest and most reliable mechanism in the game to protect your key characters. In addition to the ability to have duplicates unique characters are usually immune to some of the more annoying events in game (Seductive Promise for example). As characters go roughly 15-20 of your characters cards should be uniques. In the count should be 2-3 characters where you have all three copies of their card. Most decks rely on a build where two or three (sometimes more) characters are fundamental to the success of the deck. The same goes for your unique attachments and locations. If there is one that is particularly important to the theme and build of your deck put in multiple copies. It allows you get the card out faster as well as protect it with duplicates once in play.

Don’t Plan for Every Contingency

Avoid the trap of trying to build your deck to account for every contingency that might occur in the game. Doing so will lead to un-disciplined deck building. Stick to developing your core combos and finding ways to sustain them and keep them in play. In other words…

KISS (Keep it simple stupid). This sage advice applies universally. For example, if you are doing a Baratheon power rush deck you more than likely would want Robert Baratheon, Ser Courtnay Penrose, and Ser Axel Florent in your deck. Those three characters alone will allow you to make two strong power challenges every turn. Right there you have a simple functioning combo. Toss in a few Heart of the Stags and you expand on it more. Build simple combos that are easily replicated and easy to execute. Powerful combos that are dependent on high amounts of resources and (even worse) certain reactions from your opponents are unreliable and dangerous. In the Baratheon power rush example, even if Robert were to be killed so long as you retain other strong power challenge characters and have events like Superior Claim to capitalize on power challenge wins the deck can still be successful and victorious.

The Plot Thickens

The plot deck is the trickiest deck to build and I usually build the plot deck last. Some houses or deck concepts have plots that are “must haves” (Martell and To the Spears! is a good example). I found this aspect of deck building is the part that is the most subject to experimentation though there is a breakdown I believe that will work for most decks. Let’s call it the 2-3-2 rule.

First, two “setup” plot cards. Summoning Season and Building Season are perfect examples of what I mean. They have a fair amount of gold and allow your to pluck out a key card from your deck so you can start building your combos. Other good “setup” plots would be high gold plots with effects that either protect you from challenges or otherwise provide you space to recovery from a previously bad turn. The newly released Across the Summer Sea is another excellent “setup” plot.

You’ll then want three “action” plots. These plots could be almost anything. Usually you’ll want them to be a plot that opens up an opportunity to make some challenges. Examples here can be Game of Thrones or the previously mentioned To The Spears! The options are very broad here so keep in mind the type of deck you have made and how the combos work.

Finally, I feel that most plot decks should have two plots with a claim value of two (or more). High claim plots are good for when you are making an attempt to zero in on a win. They also all you to wear down an opponent who is too far ahead. High claim value plots tend to have a downside (usually low gold and initiative) so keep that in mind when making your choices.

A quick word about The Power of Blood

Resist putting this plot into every deck you make. Initially it looks like a great plot to put into any deck heavy with noble characters (especially when the noble character is critical to a combo). There are several problems though. First, it will only protect your character for one turn. What happens on the next turn? How will you keep the character alive then? Second, it shifts kills to other characters you want to keep. Keep in mind that Power of Blood also prevents noble characters from being the target of military claim and any kill effect. If by chance you have many duplicates on your noble or some attachment that would save him you could have used him/her to soak the kill, keep them alive, and not shift kill effects to important secondary characters. The Power of Blood takes away that ability by forcing you to choose a character that is eligible for a kill. Finally, The Power of Blood extends protection to all noble characters in play. You might be doing an opponent a favor by playing it. Even worse you maybe protecting their combos while they have a plot that allows them to be more aggressive.

The Power of Blood is a powerful and useful plot card but make sure it’s necessary for your deck and remember the consequences when playing it.

EmptyRepublic’s Tips for Strong Deck Building

So here’s my short list for a building a GoT: LCG deck…

  • Develop a concept and a theme for your deck and think out how it’s executed. Don’t try and be clever and work outside of a house’s strengths.
  • Stay disciplined and keep your deck size as close to 60 cards (not counting the plot deck) as much as possible. If you can make it 60 and keep it there, all the better.
  • Follow the current meta-game and stick with an overall ratio of 30 characters to 30 of everything else.
  • Among your 30 characters make half to two-thirds of them uniques with plenty of copies to protect the important ones.
  • For the rest of the deck make sure to have enough income and cost reduction locations so you can get cards out quickly. Don’t go crazy with events.
  • Make sure that the combos you are building to support the theme are easily replicated over the course of the game with more than one character or event.
  • When building your plot deck remember the 2-3-2 rule.

A Simple Simulation

Now testing a deck before you play a game with someone is a bit hard. I use a simple system to “simulate” how a deck performs. I use this system for both joust and melee decks. This is far from a perfect system. Simulating like this misses a lot that can happen during a game, but it’s a simple way to experiment and have a sense if your combos can “hold up” to typical punishment. So here’s the rules for the simulation.

  1. Start with the usual setup rules.
  2. Regardless if the deck is for joust or melee do not assume any benefits from titles (namely the +2 gold title or the +1 draw title).
  3. Begin playing a “full turn”. Pick a plot, reveal it, draw two cards always (unless you meet the requirements for an agenda), and then marshal.
  4. When you are done with marshaling then pretend you suffer one kill effect on any character (this could be from military claim or some sort of targeted kill) and one discard effect (from intrigue claim or some discard effect).
  5. If you have the ability to save a character or prevent discard from step 4 then do so (if you want). The intent of the simulation is to see how your deck handles punishment. If you can’t save/cancel then kill the character and/or randomly discard your card. Stand your characters, and then tax yourself.
  6. Repeat steps 3-5 three more times (so you simulate 4 total turns). Don’t bother going past 4 turns of simulation. That far in any attempts to simulate an actual game become very inaccurate.

In each of the turn of the simulation never assume you win a challenge. Never collect power to “guess” if you won on that turn or not. The purpose of the simulation is to see how well your deck performs to “typical” punishment in an average game and get a sense of its “staying power”. This simple system allows you to see how quickly you can pull out combos, how easily you can save against minimal loses, and how the deck endures. If you are having trouble getting cards out or keeping them in play under these conditions you’ll then know it’s time to go back to the drawing board and reconsider how you have structured your deck.

Finally, Remember Your Clausewitz / Moltke

German General Helmuth Graf von Moltke (a student of Carl von Clausewitz) is famous for once having said… “No campaign plan survives first contact with the enemy”. No matter how well thought out and designed your deck might be you need to remember that once a game begins your opponent will likely do something you did not anticipate and your grand plan for victory will be undone. Always find ways to adapt, alternate paths to victory. The map you lay out with your deck is not likely the one that will always take you to victory. You will make a mistake, your opponent will make mistakes. The nature of the game will shift, and no two games are ever the same. Play, watch, and learn.

Too Quiet… As Usual

Blogging is hard work. It’s easy to start one but difficult to keep it going. I’ll have more to talk about soon enough though. Stay tuned.

The Failure of Cataclysm

This has been cross posted on my blog at elitistjerks.com.

Some people might call this post a troll, but I mean it very seriously. I think by most objective measures World of Warcraft: Cataclysm can be classified as a failure. Not because production value was poor (in fact it was excellent). Not because there was insufficient content. It failed simply because Blizzard has fallen into the trap of trying to please everyone and as a consequence is pleasing almost no one. Since the release of Cataclysm, World of Warcraft has seen its subscription base drop by nearly 1 million users. This is important to note because since its launch in 2004 Warcraft has never seen a net drop of subscriptions until this year. I’ll be covering territory that’s already been covered in previous posts of mine. However, this time I’m going to drill down to what I think the core of the problem is: Blizzard has unintentionally caused a sort of “class warfare” between Warcraft players and as a result of trying to appease both groups neither is content.

To better explain my point I want to reference a two year old blog entry from Blessing of Kings (On Difficulty and Guilds). The essence of the post is that the population (at the guild level) of Warcraft is stratified into five groups with the top most guilds being a very small number of super elites able to clear the hardest content quickly and the bottom being casuals who very rarely, if ever, raid. This stratification has existed pretty much from the beginning and while some people were probably not happy with this system it seemed to largely work for pre-Burning Crusade Warcraft. A creeping problem began to occur though. Even though in the game the most elite player had status (and possibly some fame) in the context of Warcraft, outside the game that player is equal to even the most casual of Warcraft players because both of them pay the same $14.99 every month to play. Casual players make up a much larger percentage of revenue for Blizzard than the core elite players, and early on many casual players have resented the more elite players who have seen end game content and have the gear, titles, mounts, and achievements to prove it. A risk that I think Blizzard saw early was the need to keep revenue coming in and the game growing; thus I believe they felt it was necessary to do something to prevent a possible exodus of casual players.

Before I get to the “something” let me return briefly to the Blessing of Kings post. Rohan breaks down the hierarchy into 5 groups. The granularity of the structure was good at the time though at this point I think it’s possible to flatten that stack and simply say there are two groups: casuals and elites. It’s very easy to delineate between these two groups…

  • Casuals either complain to Blizzard or demand Blizzard to make changes to the game or its mechanics in order to satisfy the “value” problem. The value problem being that they aren’t able to see all the content despite the fact they are paying for it because the casual player is unable to pass the current raid threshold (be it lack of skill, lack of guild, lack of time, etc).
  • Elites desire the opposite of casuals. They maintain that current end game content needs to remain challenging in order to validate the effort and skill of those who are able to clear it. They do not want content “dumbed down” in order to satisfy the desires of casuals. Such a dumbing down, in their minds, reduces the value of the rewards from the content and risks an entitlement attitude when new content rolls in.

At this point I’m going to become biased and fall on the side with the elites. The prime reason being that the “value” argument is a weak argument. On the surface one might quickly agree and say that of course you should be able to see all the content because you paid for it! The problem is though the same argument can be applied to any other video game that  ever was. Warcraft is no different than any other game. You must take the time and effort in order to unlock all that is available to you. The difference with Warcraft is that since it’s a “living” game players know that developers can make changes and adjust the fundamentals of the game world. In Warcraft parlance, patches are not just bug fixes (like they are in the rest of the computing world) they also add content and restructure the game in ways that the developers feel are appropriate. All other non-MMO games are essentially fixed; the world that are you are given will be the same forever and you must contend with it if you desire to get ahead in the game.

The “something” that Blizzard has done has been a series of increasing actions in an attempt to bridge the “class” difference between elites and casuals. Arguably the badge system introduced in Burning Crusade could be considered the first step. Some might argue the restructuring of raids in to the 10-man/25-man model would be another though I’m not sure if I agree with that. Nonetheless, the badge system opened the door to epics for all. The process continued with Wrath of the Litch King. In this expansion though Blizzard went to far. Dungeon and raid difficulties were not on par with Burning Crusade and not long after its launch heroic dungeons and most raids became nothing more than an AoE (area of effect) grind fest. Acquisition of gear was very easy with the exception of only a very few items. Raid difficulty was tuned to allow even the most novice of players to clear end game content. Blizzard had set the bar very low. Unfortunately they only seem to truly realize this at the end of Litch King. The problem is after two years and massive growth the player base was used to this particular paradigm and when Blizzard tried to put the cat back in the bag there was significant push back.

The bottom line is that we want Heroics and raids to be challenging, and that is particularly true now while the content is new and characters are still collecting gear. They’re only going to get easier from here on out. We want players to approach an encounter, especially a Heroic encounter, as a puzzle to be solved. We want groups to communicate and strategize. And by extension, we want you to celebrate when you win instead of it being a foregone conclusion.

We didn’t like that the Heroic dungeons in Lich King and early Naxxramas had become zerg-fests. It made the rewards feel like they weren’t earned.

Finally, the encounters, even the bosses, ended up having a sameness to them because you could ignore their mechanics. It didn’t matter — in fact, you didn’t even notice — if the dragon breathes or silences or drops a void zone. The fights all felt the same.

From: Wow, Dungeons are Hard!

Blizzard realized their mistake too late though. Attempts to raise the bar back to pre-WotLK levels of difficulty was met with a lot of resistance and Blizzard for weeks after Cataclysm released had to explain and calm many Warcraft players who did not like the changes. This did not last though. It’s not clear to me what changed Blizzard’s thinking, but what is clear is that they have once again caved in and nerfed content severely in order to appease the base of players who were not satisfied with the “value” they were getting in the game. Given the recent nerfs to Firelands content it appears that the changes are a response to the speed at which players are leaving the game. I, obviously, do not have access to Blizzard’s numbers directly, but the nearly 1 million drop in subscriptions are perhaps only the tip of the iceberg. Those 1 million are people who actively stopped paying. I suspect there is an equally large group of players who have stopped playing but keep paying. I think that changes Blizzard is making is an attempt to keep those people who are “on the fence” at least marginally interested in the game and paying for it. Unfortunately this seems to be only exasperating the problem between casuals and elites.

I call the conflict between elites and casuals “class warfare” because it’s a paradigm that is not too dissimilar from real world ones. In almost all of written history societies have always had a small prosperous class and a larger poor one, the differences being relative. The poor aspire to move up and become wealthier. What has generally been understood though is that one must earn their way up the social ladder. In very few cases is it possible to move up with little or no effort. Most individuals then must learn to be content that they can only aspire to something that they might never attain. This real world paradigm applies to Warcraft as well. The difference though is that in Warcraft individuals can choose to opt-out by not paying to participate. Blizzard understands this and in a noble attempt to bridge the divide began re-shaping the game to make it more equitable. The result is a disaffected elite who no longer see the value of their efforts and casuals who clamor for more but never seem satisfied.

The one last point I want to make is that I sympathize with Blizzard. I’ve been particularly harsh in how I have characterized some of their decisions but I understand that they are balancing two very difficult things. The first is making a fun, compelling, and long lasting game that appeals to a broad audience. The second is making a profit. Without players there is no revenue, but without a good game there are no players. So despite my criticism I do acknowledge that managers and game designers at Blizzard do not have it easy. They need to make decisions that are unpopular but at the same time insure that the company remains solvent and makes money. What I’ve been trying to do in this post is explain events from my understanding of them with the information that is available to me. I feel pretty strongly that I’ve grasped the larger issues.

So in summary, Cataclysm is a failure because Blizzard attempted reverse course on core game design decisions they’ve been making for the past several years and they found that in reality the direction they chose was really a one way street. The fallout of this is that Cataclysm is now the expansion that marks the point of Warcraft’s decline as the powerhouse MMO of the past decade.

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The Return?

Playing around with the idea of starting this blog back up.

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