Building Better – Identifying (Un)Successful Brews

Hello everyone! Hopefully this column has inspired some of you to start brewing, and given you the tools to build decks, but we’ve never really sat down and talked about how to differentiate a successful deck from an unsuccessful one. This can be fairly tough to do on the small scale – small sample size with an unknown deck can easily skew winrate results one way or the other, and even a good winrate is not necessarily indicative of a successful brew. It can be just as important to identify an unsuccessful but winning brew as a successful but poorly performing brew.

To that end, I’m suggesting a few simple indicators that you can use to indicate whether a brew is a successful experiment or a failed one. The indicators are: Power, Consistency, and Innovation. Doing well at the first two indicators is generally a sign of a good brew, even if winrate is low, and doing poorly at both is generally a very bad sign. Innovation is a special category – if you fail at Innovation, your deck is likely dead in the water. I’ll expand on each of the categories in the following sections.

Power

Power is a somewhat subjective value that combines both individual card power and card synergy. Basically, it’s a measure of how strong the deck is when its running on all cylinders – exclusively good draws. When some decks get in the groove, they can be tough to stop – similarly, some combo decks have a god draw that just wins the game. These decks would be said to have high power, because you’re building towards something that will probably win you the game. Other decks aren’t doing anything quite so powerful – synergy based Strangers decks come to mind here. At the end of the day, you’re flooding the board with cheap units, tossing some buffs and keywords on them and hoping that carries the day. The deck doesn’t have much individual card power, and the synergies combine to make a mediocre aggressive deck –  even when it’s working, its power level isn’t very high.

Decks with powerful individual cards can cheat a bit on synergies, because your cards are strong enough that you’re not giving too much up by not having a super powerful strategy. Conversely, decks with low card power need to rely on powerful synergies, or you’ll fall well behind on card quality – Unstable Form style combo decks often fall into this trap.

If a deck has low power, it’s going to struggle to find a home because the deck may be defeated by more powerful decks or cards even when its incredibly consistent. Conversely, a high enough power deck can be worth playing even if it isn’t the most consistent deck around.

Consistency

This section is relatively self explanatory – it refers to how often the deck is able to bring its disparate pieces together, and also to the power base of the deck. Brew decks often include three or more factions, which can lead to some tough power decisions when you’re playing Icaria alongside Champion of Cunning. If your power base isn’t consistent, the deck is going to lose a lot – unless it can make up for that sacrifice with tons of power, a la super old school oops-all-champions Felnscar decks.

A combo deck that rarely comes together isn’t ideal, but one that happens nearly every game is extremely desirable. Redundant pieces or lots of draw can help improve the consistency of your deck, and an incredibly consistent deck can actually have a higher average power level than a powerful but inconsistent one (Always 60% power is better than half 100% and half 0%, to use a simple example).

Innovation

Most players can figure out how powerful or consistent a deck is after playing it a number of times, but Innovation is the most subject section of them all. Innovation does not refer to how many unique cards you’re playing in your deck or anything like that. Roughly, Innovation means “Why am I playing this deck”.

The obvious fail case is when you’re too close to an existing deck – if you list is comparable in power and consistency to Rakano, but is only 2 cards different, what’s the reason to play your list instead of the established archetype? Alternatively, it could be in completely different colors than Rakano, but if it ends up at a similar level its going to be a tough sell. Another common fail case is twisting an existing archetype to fit in a brew card, like slotting Call of the Ancients into Chalice as a kill condition. Yes, you can do this, but it doesn’t really improve the deck or change it very much, so it lacks a compelling argument to play that version.

Sometimes, the problem with Innovation has very little to do with the actual contents or performance with the deck. The best example of this is Hooru Control. Yes, you can play Hooru Control, and there are tuned and successful lists. However, since there are 0 actual Hooru cards you want to play, there’s very little draw to the archetype – players are better off playing a different Control archetype entirely, or adding time for powerful Combrei cards at very little cost.

On the other end of the spectrum are decks that work. Examples of past brews are fringe* decks like Kalis, Crown decks, Haunting Scream. Decks that are powerful in their own right, have their own unique playstyle, and at least enough consistency to usually go off. Each of these decks is built around its namesake card, which is a common starting point for most brews. Another good example of a brew deck that made it all the way was Feln Tempo. It had something that other decks didn’t (speed and disruption), was in a color combination with powerful cards, and enough consistency to do its thing.

Innovation is probably the most important of the three indications in terms of encouraging other people to play your brew. If there’s no draw towards the deck, nobody is going to want to play it no matter how powerful or consistent it is.

The Brew Success Scale

We’re going to end the day by talking about a scale I made up that can be used to indicate how well a brew deck did after it was built. With every new iteration of your deck, aim to climb one level higher on the scale!

Got There – New Archetype

The slam dunk of brew decks, the deck has been accepted as a legitimate archetype in its own right. Every meta deck technically starts out here and moves from there, some brews (Stonescar Weapons) go no further. At this point and beyond, you’ve made it as a brewer. Congratulations!

So Close – Deck of the Day

You’re so close! Maybe you made a popular post, maybe a lot of people saw you play and got inspired – in any case there’s copycats all over! Most of them will put the deck back down, and it never quite breaks though into the mainstream – but don’t give up! Decks and brewers have languished here for months before finally breaking through. 4F was a ridiculous pile the first time someone tried to push it, and it turned into one of the strongest decks at the end of closed beta.

Gaining Ground – Heard of It

Maybe you’re the one guy always bringing Feln Midrange to tournaments. Maybe you’ve been pushing Icaria Gold for the last three months. We’ve heard of you and some brave souls have copied you, but the masses are waiting for proof or at least enough hype to draw them in. One chance is all you need to potentially launch your deck from fringe to core.

Well, it works – Functional Deck

All right, we’ve built Hooru Control. …now what? The deck wins, and that’s great, but you’re going to need to push it out to the people if you want it to hit the mainstream. From here on out it’s less about deckbuilding an much more about promotion.

Something’s Missing – One Card Off

You’ve found the optimal configuration, but it’s not going to happen. There’s something you can’t beat, or your power and consistency are just too low across the board. You’re waiting for a single new or discovered card to give you the boost you need to push the deck to stardom.

Back to the Drawing Board – Unsuccessful Configuration

There’s definitely SOMETHING good in this pile of cards, but this isn’t the right build to draw it out. Maybe you’re in the wrong factions, or you’ve building the deck for aggro when it would be stronger as midrange, but whatever it is, it’s not working. Plenty of tuning will be required to figured out the missing pieces. Identifying the difference between this kind of deck and one with no promise whatsoever can be almost as valuable a skill as being able to identify what is missing.

Total Failure – Nothing There

You tried, but it just didn’t work. Icaria Crown didn’t have the consistency you were looking for, and even when its powerful combo came together you rolled over to aggro. It was a failed experiment, but now you’ve eliminated one more thing that didn’t work. One to the next build!

Conclusion

Thank you all for reading today! My article today was inspired partially by my own frustration with Hooru Control, partially by MillerTool sticking Light the Fuse in every deck and calling it a “new archetype”, and partially by a post on Reddit about Call of the Ancients. “Why play this deck” is a question all decks will eventually need to answer, and they’ll need serious competitive reasons if they hope to see more than fringe play.

*Fringe: I’m aware that these are popular decks with strong followings and have all been meta at one point or another, however they are not format pillars like Rakano or Combrei or what have you so I’m calling them fringe to simplify “sometimes-popular-but-rarely-meta-defining”.