Hello all! We missed a week due to approximately 300% more real life work than I wanted to do, but we pushed through it and now we’re back for another edition of Building Better! This week we’ll be talking about how many copies of a card you should run in your deck, depending on how often you want to draw it. Now there are some obvious rules that apply (more copies = draw more copies) and these are guidelines rather than hard and fast rules, but they should help you with the deckbuilding process, especially the final cuts. We’ll start at the low end, skipping zero copies of a card (I think we can all figure out when you want 0 copies of a card).
One Copy (Singletons)
Singletons (silver bullets, one-ofs, etc) are the lowest amount of copies you can run in a deck, and with only a single copy you won’t draw it naturally that often. It is rarely correct to play situational singletons if you are only relying on natural draws, since the odds of seeing a single card in any particular game is quite low. Singletons are most frequently found in decks in one of four strategies: as part of a tutor package, as a control finisher, as a control closer, or as a redundant copy of an effect you already have four of.
The Armory deck we talked about last column helpfully includes and illustrates singletons in a tutor package. Rise for the Challenge acts as the tutor, selecting whatever singleton (Furnace Mage, Stonescar Maul, Icaria) you need from the deck depending on the situation. Furnace Mage is often just a 4/3 for 4, but having access to a copy that you can tutor for when you need it gives you another angle of attack against certain decks. Icaria is tough to draw naturally, but being able to tutor for your win condition allows you to run fewer copies and more copies of other cards. Tutor packages are most effectively used when they search for powerful situational cards or win conditions. The trap that players fall into is getting too cute with their tutor targets and including weak situational cards, or fewer copies of key cards with the intent of tutoring for them. You don’t want to be planning on using your tutors to search up generic answers like Annihilate or Harsh Rule, since that just adds the card and power cost of the tutor to your answer.
We don’t see them as much anymore as control decks lower their curve, but including a single copy of your control finisher used to be quite commonplace. In Justice based control decks, this was often Sword of the Sky King, while in Feln this was usually The Last Word. Including a single copy was fine because you didn’t want to draw it early, and the card won the game on its own. Both of these decks focused on locking down its opponent and running them out of resources before eventually drawing their finisher. Most control decks have moved away from this strategy in favor of more proactive ones, but its still a viable strategy.
This is something of a controversial section, as its very easy to get misled by its inclusion and use it to justify poor card choices. A control closer is a card so powerful that a single copy will swing a matchup in your favor. The primary example of this in Eternal is Azindel’s Gift, which is gamechanging when played on a control opponent with 6+ cards in hand. Including just a single copy in your lower curve Feln or Stonescar deck can completely swing your control matchup – you’ll draw it eventually, and it will be fantastic when you do. Technically this category could include cards that swing other matchups other than control, but most aggro and midrange matchups end too quickly for you to reliably draw your singleton and there aren’t really any gamechanging tools for those matchups.
How not to use this category: include a single copy of Lightning Storm as an “aggro gamechanger” and hope really really hard to draw it.
Another category rarely seen in Eternal, mostly due to us only having access to one set and few redundant effects. Sometimes you aren’t satisfied with 4 copies of an effect and really wish you could run 5 (or more). That’s when you include a redundant copy of the effect from a different card. Most frequently seen in Eternal by players running 4 Deathstrike 1 Feeding Time, although I’m sure some players would love to run 5 effective copies of Harsh Rule. Another example of this is players running Lifedrinker in Armory lists as Sword of Icaria copy 5. You really have to want 5 copies of a card to use this category, otherwise you’ll likely run 6+ or a 3/2 split rather than a 4/1 split.
Two copies is strictly twice as many as one copy, and its probably the second most frequently seen number in decklists. With two copies in your deck, you’ll draw the card in long games and sometimes see it in short ones. Situational cards and late game cards fit right in here – you’ll statistically draw them at the frequency you want (part of the time/in the late game) but won’t see them every opening hand. Card splits often end up in this category as well.
“Situational” is maybe a touch misleading, as it refers to good cards that are stronger or weaker depending on the matchup, rather than actual situationally playable cards like Ruin. Good examples of these kinds of cards are Lightning Strike, which you want primarily to deal with relic weapons, or 2 copies of Vanquish in Justice based aggressive decks. You don’t want to flood on removal, but when your opponent drops a Sandstorm Titan in your path you’re glad to have one in hand. Removal in Aggro generally falls into this category.
Late Game Cards
A perfect example of this category is Smuggler’s Stash in Armory decks. You don’t want to draw it until you have a well stocked void in the later game, but when you cast it and redraw your 4 best cards, its pretty backbreaking. Another good example of this category is Soulfire Drake in older Rakano builds. You can’t play infinite five drops in a 25 power deck, but having access to a copy in long games gives your deck a lot more closing power. Any card intended to provide late game power usually falls into this category.
Sometimes, you’re just not sure what you’re going to be up against. Is it going to be all Feln Bloodcasters, Sirafs and Statuary Maidens? Better pack Suffocates. Is it instead Sandstorm Titans and Impending Dooms? Annihilate them. Hedging against an uncertain metagame or just covering your bases often leads to card splits. 2 Suffocate 2 Annihilate is a very common removal package in Shadow (especially from lazy deckbuilders like aReNGee). Both handle early game units like Oni Ronin, but cover different bases in the midgame.
Including three copies of a card in your deck is the best way to make it look like a tuner has streamlined it. Only many hours of play can truly show that you want three copies of a card instead of two or four. Alternatively, you can skip the practice and just assume three is correct. You generally end up at three copies of a card in one of two ways – either you want to draw the card often, but don’t want to see multiple copies, or you’ve found two copies of a situational card didn’t give you enough redundancy.
Down From Four
Cards in this category are generally found as four-ofs in other versions of the decklist, but the particular deckbuilder has decided to include only 3 copies. I’ve most frequently seen this in Eternal on three cards – Marshal Ironthorn, Flame Blast, and Permafrost. Marshal Ironthorn has a powerful effect, but the Combrei decks that make use of him often have stronger plays past turn 5 and he isn’t critical to their gameplan. As such, they include 3 copies – nice if you draw him by turn 5, but not a big deal if you don’t. He also has somewhat diminishing returns in multiples if he survives – a 5/5 for 5 isn’t the best cost-to-stats ratio around. Regarding Flame Blast, going down to 3 copies is usually in order to make the power base of the deck a little better or smooth their draws. Flame Blast is pretty good when it does 9 damage, but you don’t usually want to see 2 copies in your opening hand (most of the time). The card is also very influence heavy, which can be difficult to achieve in a 2 color deck (or god forbid 3 color Flame Blast). Fewer copies mean you’ll still draw the card you want, but you won’t be stuck with multiple uncastables in hand. Finally, Permafrost is a very powerful removal spell when it has targets, but sometimes the metagame is mostly tokens/unit light control decks/endurance units and you don’t want the full four.
Up From Two
This category is almost exclusively a metagame reaction. Sometimes big units wander free, and you want the third vanquish. Sometimes small units abound, and you want the third Suffocate or Copperhall Baliff or whatever. Rarely, you’ll find that a card split is better achieved by a 3/1 split instead of 2/2. All of these card changes are in direct response to the metagame that the deckbuilder is playing in and are rarely if ever included in an initial or stock build of a deck.
Four Copies (Playset)
We’ll end off on the simplest category, bar zero copies – four copies of a card. The majority of decks are made up of mostly playsets. If you want to draw multiples of a card, you want four copies. If you want the best chance of drawing it early, you want four copies. If its absolutely core to your strategy or a key part of your means, you probably want four copies.
That’s all for this week’s building better! 1500 words on how many copies of a card you should run in your decks – hopefully I’ve covered most of the main reasons for each number of cards. I expect a spirited discussion of ill advised singletons in the comments – please justify your one of Lightning Storm splash in your Rakano Aggro deck. Until next week!