So you want to build a deck. Maybe you’re prepping for a tournament, or maybe you just want to blow the nips off of everyone at your next local game night meet-up. The process of building a thrones deck can be daunting, especially as a new player. This guide should hopefully serve as an introductory primer to get you on your way to building your own decks and putting your own theories to the test.
How to use this article:
I’m going to preface this by saying that these are the opinions and musings of one player. Everyone has their own style of deck-building and the ways that I talk about here might not work for you. I’m going to go over a few different methods that I’ve learned throughout the years in the hope that at least one of them will work for anyone reading this article. Also, this article is very long and is meant to be a reference guide. Future articles in the series will be significantly shorter. This article also only focuses on the draw deck, the information on how to build your plot deck will be the main focus of Lauren Fitch’s article which will be posted on Dec. 28th, I will link the article in the comments when it comes out.
The Article is broken down into two big sections: Drawing the Blueprints and Building the Draw Deck. The draw deck section is further broken down into Characters, Locations, Attachments, and Events. If you are struggling with one of those areas in particular feel free to skip ahead to the section you’re looking for.
Drawing the Blueprints
The first step to building a deck is to essentially figure out what deck you want to build. The most important pieces of this step are choosing a House and Agenda and deciding what you want your deck to do, which will often include your victory condition. It is worth noting that while the section is structured in the order of Theme-> House-> Victory Condition, your deck does not have to be built in that fashion. You could easily start with a House and go from there or even start from a victory condition and decide how best to accomplish it.
One way to start the deck-building process is to start with a theme or goal. A theme could be something nedly that you want to experience (e.g. I want to play with Direwolves) while a goal could be something in the game that you want to focus on (e.g. killing everything). Starting with a theme or goal is often a very interesting way to build a deck as it gives you a very wide base to build from. If you start off with the intention to kill everything, you might end up going the obvious route and playing a Stark deck with Ice, Put to the Sword, Sneak Attack etc. and leverage military challenges, but you could also go a more subtle route, perhaps using martell to combine Confinement with Tears of Lys, or maybe you’ll use Targaryen for their burn effects. The possibilities are endless. Because a theme can be such a broad base it is important to narrow down how exactly you want to execute that theme and more specifically, what deck exactly do you want to make, which brings us to…
Choosing a house and agenda is a tricky process. The first decision to be made is usual which house to play. If you already have a theme or goal in mind then choosing the right house for that theme should be fairly simple. If you started with a Nedly theme, it’s very likely that your house will be chosen for you, if you want to play Direwolves, you’re playing Stark, if you want to defend the Wall, you’re playing Night’s Watch (at least in some capacity). Starting with a goal on the other hand can make the House decision a bit harder. If you’ve narrowed down your goal enough (From all out murder to, say, military aggression) then you should be able to focus on which houses excel at your desired goal. At this point, you should compare and contrast these houses. What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? Do they fit your play style? This last one is more important than it might seem. Not all good decks will fit your play style, especially if you are newer at the game. Just because one deck is supposedly better or worse than another does not necessarily mean that you will be able to pilot it to better results.
The next step is to choose an agenda. In the current pool your first choice in the realm of agendas is to banner, or not to banner. As the pool expands the number of non-banner agendas will grow, for now the only options are fealty or no agenda. Personally, when I first imagine my decks, I picture them as either fealty or no agenda and then ask myself, is there a banner that will give me twelve cards that improve my deck? If the answer is yes than I will switch to that banner, if not, then I’m sticking with either fealty or no agenda. (It is important to note that this process could be accomplished during this step by imaging what you think your deck might have or if a banner provides an obvious advantage, but it is also possible to build the core of your deck and make the decision a bit later). Once you have decided to go mono-faction, you should decide whether or not to use an agenda. Currently, that means running fealty or not. The main reasons to not run fealty are: Your deck relies heavily on neutrals, you don’t play (m)any loyal cards, or you have a lot of house card kneeling effects. If your deck hit any of those roadblocks, go ahead and slap fealty on the table.
The final step is to decide how the deck is going to win. Every deck has to be able to win the game in some way or another and different decks do it different ways. If your goal was to kill everything, your victory condition could be wiping the board and getting to 15 through unopposed and easy power challenges, if you decided to build a Night’s Watch deck, your victory condition could be the wall. The game does not simply have to be a sprint to 15 power, there are plenty of ways to get there and finding out which way your deck can best defeat your opponents is crucial to building and playing a competitive deck.
Building the Draw Deck
There are two schools of thought among thrones players that are as polarizing as butter side up and butter side down: building the plot deck first and building the draw deck first. In second edition, I have found that because of the economic disparity between different decks and how much the plot deck has to compensate means that building the draw deck first will often give you a better idea of how many economic plots you need and how many can be more effect based. The process of building the draw deck is itself far from uniform. Some players like to start with their events, some with characters, and others (probably) with attachments. Based on the facebook poll I made, a majority of players prefer to start with characters, so in the interest of democracy that is how I will be demonstrating deck building for this article, and this series.
For most decks, characters are the single most important card type. By winning challenges they allow you to control the flow of power, the state of the board and your opponents hand. Many of the most common deck building questions center around characters, how many should I have? What should the cost curve look like? Should I use seven cost characters? Within these questions lies the key to developing refined decks that can perform their function correctly and consistently.
In the current pool you should aim for between 30 and 35 characters trending higher rather than lower. Fewer than 30 characters is very rough at this point in the game as there is really no consistent way to win without them. There are certainly builds that could survive with 25ish but its really not necessary to go that low. Going above 35 on the other is not nearly as much of an issue, some decks specialize on putting out huge numbers of characters very quickly, forcing their opponent to use their reset if they have one, or be slowly crushed if they don’t.
Not all decks have the same cost curve nor should they. For the sake of brevity I won’t delve to deeply into each of the possible cost curves but if you want to hear an in depth analysis check out the White Book Podcast Episode ____. In general though, you want a fairly balanced curve, the two main methods of this that I have found in second edition are a standard bell curve centered on two, three, and four cost characters with a few high cost bombs and a few low cost chuds. This curve is common in fealty decks as you have very little choice on which characters you have to include. The second option is what I am calling a “Disruptive curve”. This curve has a large amount of one and two cost characters and a large amount of high cost characters. They often run very few if any four cost characters and plan to put out one or two power character with a consistent flow of chuds to serve as claim soak to protect the power characters. This curve is most often seen in Targaryen, namely the Targaryen Banner of the Lion deck (which will be covered in a later article). This gist of all of this talk on curve is that it is important to have enough impactful characters for you to win the game; renown is crucial for this, as is high strength. It is also necessary to have enough low cost characters that you can keep up with your opponent and can continue to play cards even if you’re economically starved.
Unlike first edition, second edition is based around powerful expensive characters. But I have frequently seen people question whether these expensive characters should actually be used or relied on in competitive decks. There is a very specific kind of deck often called a “mini-curve” deck that focuses solely on low cost characters and will very rarely include characters will a cost higher than 5 and generally very few copies of those expensive cards. While those decks (like Sam’s worlds winning deck) are very effective, they are far from the norm and data from the meta on the whole suggests that using big characters is just as effective, if not more effective, than not using them. Especially the truly game changing ones like Balon, Tywin, Daenerys, etc. when those characters hit the table the entire state of the game shifts.
When building a deck I like to start by putting in the characters I know 100% that I’m going to want, for example 3x Tywin, 3x Lannisport Merchant, 3x Tyrion, etc. A lot of these characters will be expensive bombs but some will be chuds that you know you can’t live without. Once I’ve finished that, I’ll go through and fill out my curve, typically starting from bottom up; that way if I hit 35 characters before I’ve made it all the way up my curve my error will lower it rather than raise it. It is often advisable to go over your characters a few times and make sure you have the curve you want, and have a nice balance between power and affordability. Don’t worry if your first draft of a deck ends up over 60, it just means you have more cards to evaluate during the early testing stages.
Final Character Count: 30-38
There are two basic kinds of locations in the game: economy locations and utility locations. At this point in the game the typical break down is about 7-9 economy locations. In a banner deck I like to play all 6 neutral locations and breakdown my reducer locations based on my character counts. I will typically play two reducer locations from my main faction and 0-1 from my banner. However if a deck is made in which the split is more even on characters, you should probably attempt to be more even on your reducers, either playing one of each or two of each. It should be noted that such an even split may give you some issues with economy as even if you play 4 reducers there is a higher chance that you’ll see characters from one faction and reducers from the other.
As far as utility locations go, the basic idea is to take the ones that you need and don’t fill up you deck too much. It’s easy in some factions to put in three copies of all the good locations which could stop you from filling those slots with other, more useful cards. When deciding how many copies of a certain location to play, I find the best way to think about it is 3x if you need to see it every game or it is really good on setup (i.e. zero cost and/or non-unique), 2x if you want to see it in most games, and 1x if it’s a good boost but you really don’t want to see two of it. Support of the People can change these dynamics slightly, but I would caution against running less than two of your primary draw location, seeing it is crucial and you will want to find it if Support of the People gets canceled or if you can’t trigger it.
Final Location Count: 10-15
Attachments can also be divided into two categories: negative and positive. Positive attachments provide boons to your characters, typically STR pumps or other helpful bonuses which often involve standing. The number of them you include is relative to how much they improve your decks general strategy or progress towards your victory condition. For example, if you make a Stark deck focused on killing, multiple copies of Ice could be very valuable, or if you are building a rush focused Tyrell deck, multiple copies of Heartsbane could ensure that Randyll Tarly is doing his job.
Negative attachments, on the other hand can be thought of more as events than attachments. Many of them are terminal and thus can’t be setup (unless you want to blank your own character like Jorah or The Hound, which is not necessarily advisable). They focus primarily on hurting your opponent rather than helping you directly. It is important to find a balance between kill events and negative attachments so you don’t clog up your deck with things that redundantly hurt your opponent. Lastly, realize that a huge majority of decks currently run confiscation so if you want your attachments to stick around, you might want to run multiple copies of them.
Final Attachments Count: 2-6
The last card type in the draw deck is event. Because of the specific triggering conditions for events, they are ineligible for setup meaning if you play too many of them your setups may suffer. Events can however provide huge swings in the game, cards like Put to the Sword and Tears of Lys can create huge shifts in board position by killing key characters. Others, like Confinement can temporarily stop powerful characters, like Asha Greyjoy, from pressuring the board. At this stage in the game I would advise having between 3 and 7 kill events/milk of the poppy. Controlling your opponent’s power characters is crucial to your success. From there you should play a few other supporting events, the exact amount depends which house you are and what kind of deck you’re building.
Final Event Count: 5-10
Well there you have it folks, a few things to keep in mind while you’re building your next deck. It should be noted that plots are obviously immensely important for your deck but seeing how long this article is already I’m going to leave that section for Lauren to cover next week. If you have any feedback for the article let me know in the comments or email me at [email protected], also if you have any decks that you would like featured in the series, send them to the above email address with a brief description of how to play the deck and any tournaments it has won/done well at.
Look for my next article: “Winning Strong: The House of Roses and Thorns” in two weeks!