This articles was written by Johaggis and edited by Sevenzh.
Hey Gwent Community, seeing as data gathering has become more difficult and the snapshots are on hiatus, I figured it might be helpful to share some advice on how to make a deck that doesn’t attempt to pull you to rank 31. I’ll be going over some general principles for making a deck, which will hopefully help you build your own!
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Johaggis, a longtime pro rank player and member of Team Rankstar. I won’t claim to be a master-class deckbuilder, but I know a bit about the subject and have seen a lot of metas go by. Also, Wusubi once said that he feared that my weird, janky lists were somehow becoming actual meta calls (with old Eldain). Anyways, let’s get to it:
Every deck starts with an idea. Maybe it’s a particular card you think could have a deck built around it, like Harald Gord, or a particular theme/archetype that you enjoy, like Pirates/Ships. Maybe it’s something like just a general style of playing, such as no-unit lists or Pajabol’s Carapace lists. In any case, there’s a kind of founding principle that you build your deck around. But throwing 12 specials, Harald Gord, and 12 random units together doesn’t make for a great deck.
Principle 1: Deck Plans
Every deck has an optimal strategy. A lot of the weaker homebrews I see don’t have a sufficiently coherent plan. You should be able to answer questions like:
“How important is it for my deck to win round 1?”
“How does it contest round 1 or stop a round 2 bleed?”
“How long do I want a round 3 to be?”
“How important is last say?”
If we’re playing a deck focused on overloading engines, we probably want to guarantee round control to avoid a devastating bleed and get a long round 3. If we’re playing a deck relying on Gedyneith and Second Wind, we need all of our combo pieces in the graveyard and the scenario in hand by the time round 3 rolls around. And we probably want a short round 3.
So how can we make sure these conditions happen? What do we want in the deck that allows us to enact our game plan? Let’s say we’re playing Harald Gord, like the list below:
Our plan is clear: we want to spend round 1 playing out specials and thinning our deck. We want to win so that our last play being Harald Gord can’t be countered by cards like Morkvarg. We can play things like Isengrim’s Council on Sage to set up a high-powered engine that’s hard to stop. It plays well with thinning, it lets us play specials that might otherwise be low-tempo, and it also counts as a special for Harald Gord. For round 3, we’d probably prefer a short round to maximize the impact of Harald Gord. So we probably want to win round 1 and bleed the opponent round 2. If we lose round 1, we still need to be able to hold Harald Gord for round 3, as we struggle to win a short round 3 without him. Keeping these dynamics in mind makes our deck plan more cohesive and helps us pick cards to enact our plan.
But what was wrong with our first list? Well, more specifically than it just being bad, it’s playing a lot of cards that do different things, but it doesn’t really work towards a strategy. How does the first list win round 1? It basically has to count on pressuring someone out with just some removal and some pretty basic bronzes. It also doesn’t really have a lot of tools to resist a bleed. It doesn’t have a lot of ways to generate value in a long round, and lacks proactivity and points (but more on that later).
Ultimately, without a strong strategy, our options in a match won’t be very clear.
Principle 2: The Right Amount of Removal
If you’re someone who watches a lot of streams or tournament play, you’ll often hear the streamers/casters talking about how a deck struggles with proactive plays or is running out of them. Adding removal to your deck isn’t always a bonus.
“But Johaggis, sir, don’t I want to kill their stuff? Why wouldn’t I?” I’m glad you asked. The reason is that there are only so many targets your opponents will play, and sometimes their units trade up to removal. In the first case, you might run into a situation where you’re against a deck like enslave NG, and your hand is mostly removal. If you’re going first, there are only so many plays you can make while they have an empty board. That can mean that you have to play big units/finisher units earlier than you’d like just to avoid discarding removal. It can also mean that you might just have to use removal on units like Fangs of the Empire, which means your cards are capped at 4 points, with poison on your unit. Alternatively, maybe you’re playing against a monsters deck, and they play a bunch of Endrega Larva. Your Alzur’s Thunders start to look pretty bad when the result of playing them is that they still have one Endrega Larva.
The more removal you have, the more likely you are to run into a situation where you either lack good targets or don’t have a proactive play. If your deck is trying to play a unitless strategy and play only removal, you can sometimes get wins against opponents by providing no targets for their removal, but not consistently and those decks almost always lose if they have to play first in round 3.
However, removal is not a strictly linear scale of a great deck to a bad deck. It’s more like… a bezier curve?
The point being that while having too much removal can be wasteful, having no removal in your deck at all is usually worse than having at least a little. And there’s a decent margin for how much removal is acceptable before it starts becoming the above problem. Why have just some removal? Well, because the right removal can really mess up your opponent’s day. While having Scorch and Igni in the same list often leads to one not getting great targets, the first one can be a big blowout. Playing Hjalmar to kill their 9-11 strength Stefan Skellen is fantastic value and makes their Bribery and assimilate strategies way worse. Stunning blow to kill Percival Schuttenbach round 1 can be the difference between winning and losing round 1.
So while you shouldn’t overload on removal, it’s important to have at least a few removal cards that you’ll want to play in each round. Let’s take out some of the removal from our list.
And now we’re not gonna struggle with proactivity and waste our specials!
Principle 3: Make Your Opponent’s Removal Worse
Remember way back when in principle 2, we talked about removal not having enough good targets? The same principle applies both ways: don’t make your opponent’s removal have easy targets. Basically, we want to minimize the lose conditions you have.
A lot of people will have some kind of way to deal with strategies that swarm the board and strategies that play tall units. Let’s say everyone in the meta plays Geralt of Rivia. The worst thing you can do isn’t to play a bunch of tall units, but to play one tall unit that you can’t use for last say. If you play a bunch of tall units, most of them won’t get killed by Geralt of Rivia, and they’ll dodge smaller removal, like Stunning Blow or Natural Selection. Alternatively, if you play no tall units, Geralt of Rivia won’t have any targets and will play for 3 points. But if you play a deck that has pretty low power, but also has, say, only Ozzrel and Golyat round 3 (with Yghern in your graveyard), Geralt’s gonna have prime targets, and you’re not even taking the hit for other tall units. And your opponent might throw a taunt your way after they kill your unit — we definitely can’t be having that.
So let’s say you’re playing a bunch of tall units. Since people often tech either anti-tall or anti-swarm cards (and sometimes both), you probably don’t want your opponent to get great value on both. So if you’ve got these tall units, having a bunch of swarm cards as a backing strategy is a bit risky. Now if your opponent plays Lambert or Surrender, you could lose to that, and if your opponent plays Geralt, they’re still getting great value. Trusting your opponent to not have these punish cards is a
bad bold move and not great for laddering.
Let’s look at our deck and see what kind of strategy we’re going for:
We’ve got Harald Gord and Sages as tall units, and a lot of smaller units otherwise, many of which have a duplicating effect. However, that does mean that if we’re against Skellige, we might have a hard time denying them either Morkvarg: Heart of Terror value or Wild Boar of the Sea value, even if we’ve got last say in round 3. So it seems that we could try and play our Sages out round 1 or cut them for swarm cards to stop the Morkvarg value. Alternatively, we could cut some swarm cards for more tall units so that Wild Boar won’t blow us out.
In either take, we’ve reduced the lose conditions of the deck and made the opponent miss out on value.
Principle 4: Tech to what you see
But how do we know what removal cards we’re trying to weaken? Well, that’s simple: what’s being played right now? In the absence of the meta report, you’ll have to either ask around or just study what you encounter on the ladder. And when you know what you’re trying to play around, tech for it! If Blood Scent MO is everywhere, purifies and tall removal are probably your best friends. If you’re seeing a ton of Masquerade Ball, swarm strategies are probably a great call, as poison gets bad value against little units. And remember, you don’t have to tech for metas that don’t match yours. If people on pro rank see a ton of tall removal, but you don’t, there isn’t really a reason to tech for tall removal. But do tech based on your meta, and try and flip those even or slightly disadvantageous matchups in your favor.
Based on what I’ve been seeing on pro rank, tall removal and Masquerade Ball are pretty common, so I personally would go with the first list from above. I would try and describe what makes for good teching in more detail, but that’s a much larger topic than a subsection of this article.
Principle 5: Finally done… OR ARE WE!?
Well, we’ve finally finished our deck, we’ve teched it, trimmed the fat, and fixed our removal concerns. But our work is not done! Every deck is a work-in-progress. You shouldn’t consider this deck done, no matter how good it feels. You haven’t even played a game with it, and even if you have a good sense when it comes to cards and their strength, you need to see how well it actually plays out. And as you play more games with it, you’ll find that X card doesn’t work well, or Y card has actually been insane. And so you’ll make more changes as you gain experience with it. Not to mention, metas change over the course of a patch. Keep an eye out for what’s beating you and consider whether your tech choices are still the right ones. Almost every good deck goes through several iterations before finding something that works well.
Also, you might lose some games when you start out, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your deck is bad through-and-through. Try to review your games and figure out what went wrong as you lose. What’s not working? Or perhaps you executed your core plan perfectly, and you just found its points weren’t enough, so the core plan could use a change. Observe what happens in your games, and change your deck as needed.
Conclusion: Damn, our deck is lookin’ spicy
Now I don’t want to bait the readers. I don’t really know how good this Gord deck is, and it’s likely not gonna smash the ladder. It’s just an example of these principles being executed. Don’t make Johaggis garbage, make glorious <insert your name here> piles, and hopefully, these principles help. And if they don’t, that’s too bad, you got baited into reading this article. Either way, thanks for doing so.
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