Hello everyone! This week we’ll be talking about the three major deckbuilding strategies players have when tuning decks, and going in-depth about when and how to use them. I frequently see players decrying one deck or another as “built wrong”, simply because they deck uses a different deckbuilding strategy that what is commonly seen. This doesn’t automatically mean the deck is built correctly, either – simply that different trade offs are being made in terms of strengths and weaknesses.
Let’s start with the first two strategies, which are polar opposites: maximizing your strengths and covering your weaknesses. Both options can be applied to the same decks, and can actually be mixed together – some card slots can be dedicated to maximizing your strengths, while other can focus on covering your weaknesses. While most decks do actually use a combination of these, a sliding scale is somewhat overkill and we’ll just be talking about the absolute extremes of these methods for illustration. Finally, these are simply deckbuilding strategies for ladder games – decks with sideboards should be built differently.
Maximizing Your Strengths
At the extreme, this is a deck that complete focused on doing what its best at. Beyond its core Strategy cards, most or all of its cards are focused on enabling the means. Tech cards are usually not included, or included only to enable the deck to function optimally. When optimized in this way, decks usually have one or more crippling weaknesses – cards or archetypes they simply can’t beat. For the min/maxing deckbuilder, that’s an acceptable tradeoff – when they get a good matchup, it’s usually a VERY good matchup. Clever deckbuilders emphasize this strategy when their bad matchups are unpopular – you may never be able to beat Shimmerpack, but that doesn’t matter if you only face it once out of every twenty games.
Maximized decks are usually very, very good at what they do. Since these decks don’t sacrifice any card slots for tech cards, they generally have an abundance of redundant effects and are very consistent at pulling off their core strategy. If that strategy is powerful and effective in the metagame, these decks can be incredibly difficult to beat if they’re not facing a direct counter. Additionally, they are less likely to run out of gas or get stuck with a weak hand because they don’t run any situational cards that could get stuck in their hand.
The main weakness of the deck is the opposite of the strength: if the main gameplan isn’t good, or is countered, you’re dead in the water. A heavily maximized deck rarely if ever has a backup plan, so if you get stonewalled, you’re done. This can be a very frustrating feeling for players, knowing that they have absolutely no outs in a game.
Maximizing your strengths is a high-risk, high-reward strategy that emphasizes good matchups and totally sacrifices bad ones. Fully maximizing your deck is not recommended unless you have plenty of good matchups in the metagame, and the mental fortitude to handle occasionally running into unwinnable matchups.
Covering Your Weaknesses
Most decks feature some degree of covering for its weaknesses, be it a tech card to improve a poor matchup, a removal spell to deal with a problem unit, or simply a powerful late game card to bail them out if the game goes long. Taken to an extreme, players can end up with a toolbox style deck with a number of silver bullets to deal with any situation. This doesn’t usually work, because if you’re tutoring for a removal spell, you’re just overpaying for it and the flexibility doesn’t help (especially if you’re tutoring for something unconditional like Harsh Rule or Deathstrike). For this section we’ll be talking about a deck that has a minimal amount of cards dedicated to its core strategy and means, and uses the rest of its card to cover its weaknesses.
The deck is good at dealing with cards that are traditionally problematic for it. A void recursion deck may have some weaknesses to cards like Steward of the Past and Statuary Maiden, but throw enough Suffocates, Treacheries and Steward of Prophecy at them and they’re much less of an issue. An aggressive deck may have trouble with Harsh Rules – enough Sabotages and Backlashes or Stand Togethers cover that angle. Have trouble grinding out obelisk decks? Furnace Mages galore! This kind of deck is always ready for its traditional counters/weaknesses, so opponents will need to be one step ahead to beat it!
The core strategy of the deck suffers because so many cards are being dedicated to covering your weaknesses. When you’re running fewer enabler cards, you’re less likely to draw them in the correct sequence to actually get the ball rolling with your deck. You’re also in danger of drawing the wrong tech card at the wrong time – those Sabotages won’t do anything against units or an empty hand. Finally, this style of deck can overload on reactive answers, which is very weak against an opponent who doesn’t really care what you’re doing – if they have no real need to kill your units, holding 4xProtect doesn’t really get you anywhere.
Most decks should have some element of covering their weaknesses, to ensure that they have some game against their traditional counters. However, going super deep on this strategy can sometimes weaken a deck’s core gameplan to the point where it’s no longer a powerful strategy. This strategy is effective in two primary situations. Firstly, when everyone is leaning on a single card or card package that is difficult for you to beat, so including plenty of counters to that popular card will improve all your matchups. Secondly, when you’re trying to play a deck in a metagame that’s completely hostile to that deck. In theory (and often practice) you just shouldn’t play the countered deck, but occasionally completely rebuilding the deck to turn its traditional weaknesses into strengths can work out in your favor (Unearthly tried to do this at the Season Three Invitational, with his anti-Combrei Rakano).
Going All In
Sometimes, there is a deck that doesn’t let you make many deckbuilding choices because all or almost all of the cards are dedicated to the core strategy and means. Example decks include old Jito decks or the Rakito list – both require a huge number of one drops and supporting cards to function, so there’s not a lot of room to maneuver. When you entire deck is focused on executing a gameplan, and that’s all that it’s doing, you will win or lose based on whether that gameplan works. This is less a deckbuilding choice and more a nature of the deck – Rakito could never beat Lightning Storm but there simply wasn’t any way to build the deck to avoid that and keep the gameplan together.
This shares most of the strengths and weaknesses of Maximizing Your Strengths, but with one key difference. When you’re Maximizing Your Strengths, you’re choosing to spend your free card slots on cards that emphasize and enable your core strategy. When you’re Going All In, you don’t have a choice – you don’t have any cards slots free since your gameplan requires your entire deck.
All three of the gameplans can be effective strategies, depending on the deck they are applied to and the metagame. As with everything in card games, things are contextual and what works for one player may not work for another. The optimal strategy for deckbuilding is striking a balance between maximizing your strengths and minimizing your weaknesses, which leads to the most powerful decks. However, it is important to be aware that there are times when focusing heavily on one or the other can be an effective strategy. Additionally, it is important to be able to identify when a deck has focused heavily on one or the other, in order to allow you to adapt it for other metagames.