Building Your First Deck

So, you’ve played a few games with prebuilt decks or using templates or, like me, went crazy and bought all sorts of chapter packs to try and build what you saw as one awesome deck you found over at CardGameDB. Now, you want to build your own deck – from scratch. While there are a lot of articles that talk about deck building, and a few of them seem geared for beginners, I found myself going all over the place looking for some specific advice. Well, since I just went through all of this for myself, I figured I’d share what I’ve learned. I’m long-winded, so go get a cup of coffee or a Dew before you start in.

Now, in a meta, there are few real rules with regards to your deck size and it’s just a gentleman’s (or lady’s) agreement on how you play. In our (very new and very small) meta, we agreed to use tournament rules so that if any of us took part in one, we wouldn’t have to seriously rethink our deck strategy. So, this article will be built with an eye towards making a deck that can play in a tournament (but I’m not guaranteeing anything regarding having strategy on how to win one since, well, I’ve never been in one).

The general consensus is to try and get your deck count to as close to 60 cards as possible. For a newbie, this can be very difficult because there are a lot of awesome cards out there – even if you only have a core and an expansion. It can be really hard to decide which cards to use and which to throw out. You can always opt for the chaos route and just build a mondo-huge deck like NikNok and his 90-card deck of Targaryen awesomeness. But, I’ve never played a deck like that and can’t speak to how effective it would be (sure seems fun though). What I’ll focus on here are strategies I’ve picked up in these early days (only been playing for a few months) as guidelines for an effective deck.

Let’s break down each card type first and then discuss the 30/15/15 ratio that’s put forward as the general rule.

These cards are pretty much the point of the game. They do the fighting and the defending of challenges. Almost every deck focuses on the characters. The ability and types of characters, more often than not, seem to be the driving force behind whatever strategy you’re employing. Whether you’re building an army deck, a creature deck, a shadows deck or a control deck – most likely, you’re going to want to ensure you’re picking characters that support this strategy in some way.

When you’re first starting out, it’s very tempting to just pour in every awesome character card you can find with high strength so you can own the field. The problem with this, in actual game play, is those strong characters tend to cost a lot of money or influence to bring into play. Typically, what you’re going to want (as a guideline) is to ensure you are balancing your characters with some low cost characters as well. A low-cost character does a few things: 1) it gives you characters on the field for claim soak (to ensure you aren’t having to kill one of your prized characters when you’ve lost a military challenge or encounter a character with the “Deadly” keyword), 2) it prevents unopposed challenges, and 3) it can help refresh your playing field after a Valar Morghulis.

If your deck is saturated with high-cost characters, you’re either going to find that you have a really hard time getting those characters into play, or you’re going to have to do something that tweaks your ability to gain income… a lot of income. And, unless you’re playing Lannister, there tends to be only so much you can do to gain income. Your income and resource curve is most often bolstered by…

These cards can have a lot of purposes depending on the card and the house, but the most common use for Locations is to manage your resource curve. There are a lot of locations that either give you extra gold to use during marshaling or reduce the cost of characters through discard or kneeling effects. The higher your average character cost is, the more resource specific locations you’ll need to ensure you can field the characters you want through marshaling. Some decks will ensure that every single location affects resource curve, while others split that between resource and card effects (some locations can have amazing effects on game play – this is why it’s so important to consider your average character cost when deciding on which locations to put into play.) There are exceptions here, of course, if you have specific cards that let you put characters into play for free, you don’t necessarily have to consider the weight of those cards in resource management, but there’s always a cost.

One example is almost anyone who plays Balerion the Black, a 10-gold dragon, tends to use the attachment Dragon Lore and a Maester to bring that character onto the field for no cost. While that’s a cool combo (and there are others), that’s three cards I’m now using to ensure a single character combination. Now, in this example, Dragon Lore works on all dragons, but my point is that you have to be aware that your combos can reduce your overall card pool, so you need to be sure the combo is what you really want or that it’s vital to your deck strategy.

Honestly, I think these are the hardest cards when it comes to deck building. They’re just so varied and can be so incredibly effective. Some decks have great burn attachments that can be devastating when attached to an opponent’s card. There are also attachments that give your own characters incredible boosts and attachments that hurt locations and attachments that randomly discard opponents cards and attachments that get you extra power and attachments that get free pizza… no, wait (though that’d be awesome). Then you add Events… oy! There are SO MANY! Deciding which to use can be incredibly frustrating. Sometimes your deck strategy will simplify this selection a good bit, sometimes it makes it maddening. Most often, what I try and do is to see what my deck is lacking then I’ll try to find events that bolster that capability. Do I have a lot of high cost characters which means I’ll have fewer in play at any one time? Maybe Distinct Mastery is in order so that I can stand one at a crucial moment. Is my strategy to perform a Power rush, maybe Superior Claim could win the game for me at a critical point. Like I said… maddening.

Final Thoughts
I mentioned the 30/15/15 ratio earlier. That means 30 characters, 15 locations, and 15 attachment/event cards. Why this ratio? It’s about card pull. You need to be able to field characters, but you also need locations to help reduce character cost. Those are typically the two most important card types to put into play. With 30 characters in a 60 card deck you have a 50% chance that any one card you pull will be a character. 15 locations gives you a 25% chance that any single card will be a location. I’m not a statistician, so I’m not going to bother trying to calculate the probabilities in the initial 7-card pull or subsequent draw phases. Suffice it to say that the 30/15/15 guideline is a great starting place. Oh, and one other bit that took me a bit to grasp – notice that the 60 card count does not count your House card, your Plot deck or any Agenda cards you may be playing.

But, why 60 cards? Two reasons, the fewer the cards, the more likely you are to get the cards you need for whatever strategy you’re trying to implement; and, 60 cards is the tournament minimum. While there is no maximum (except for what it’s humanly possible to shuffle with sleeves), every card you add to your deck that goes beyond the 60 card minimum reduces your chances of getting the cards you need. More characters will reduce the chances that you get the vital resource locations you need (or attachments or events), more locations and you can suddenly find yourself with locations and few characters, more attachments and you affect… well, you get the picture. While 60 isn’t a hard and fast rule, for a beginner, I would strongly recommend doing everything you can to stick to that limit. The biggest reason is the ability to learn your deck and card interactions. The more cards you put in, the greater the degree of unpredictability you’re putting into the play and the harder it is to learn how your strategy is interacting with the rest of the field. 60 cards will help you to get a good feel for your deck reasonably quickly and you’ll find it easier to make decisions about card changes after a few solid games.