In the mind of a Deck-builder – Fast building

One of the great difficulties I have in trying to start my own LotR LCG blog is that so much of the obviously good ground to cover has already been amply covered by other, better known blogs which have been around a lot longer than mine. Granted, that rings a little hollow when my primary idea for this blog is retreading the ground of one of the best known community resources we have, but still, I’d like to avoid too much direct copying.
What I’m moving towards here is that this is an article about deck-building, which has been talked about a lot, so it can be hard to think of new things to say. Which is why here I’m focusing not so much on how to build a decks well (though there’s obviously an element of that), but rather on how to build decks quickly.

This game can take quite a while to play, so obviously one doesn’t want to overextend that playtime by taking ages to build a decent deck. Personally, I’ve managed on occasion to build decks in as little as 5-10 minutes, while in contrast it’s possible to take more like an hour or so, agonising over what cards to use. So I figure advice on how to try and cut that down will be useful to people. So here I’m going to go through some principles that I try to follow which help me in cutting down my deck-building time, and then demonstrate those principles in action with a specific deck which as I recall took only about a few minutes to build.

1. Know the card pool.
This is the biggest and most important one. Also perhaps the most difficult, but you have to try. I am in the fortunate position of seeming to have a knack for memorising things which catch my interest, so I remember and know what the cards I’m considering do without needing to think about it too much. The biggest part of the deck-building can be cut out when rather than needing to go carefully through saying “This card is good for this reason, this one does this, this one could be useful because of that but I suppose since I have this other thing it’d be easier to manage without it,” you can instead just know those points at a glance. Developing this knowledge will most likely just happen over time – if you play more and build more decks you’ll get used to the cards. It also helps if you make the effort to use a lot of different cards, so then you won’t overlook a card which would really suit a certain specific deck because you’ve never bothered with it before.

2. Have an idea in mind.
It’s hard to build a deck at any speed if you don’t know what it’s supposed to be. Maybe sometimes you might just really want to build a deck, any deck, but even there you should try to figure out an idea pretty quickly otherwise you just have too many options to consider. The idea can take a variety of forms of course – it could be quite specific, like an Eagle deck or a Silvan deck, or maybe you particularly want to build a deck with certain spheres, or with a particular hero, or for use against a particular quest. Or sometimes it might be a lot more generic, maybe you just want to build a questing deck or a combat deck or a good solo deck.
More specific ideas will be quicker to build because they guide you more towards certain cards (e.g. if building an Eagle deck you can throw in all the Eagle allies, Support of the Eagles and The Eagles Are Coming, and that’s about half your deck already built); but regardless you need to have an idea or ideas and keep them in mind – also you may add more ideas for themes to the deck as you’re in the process of building it, and you should take account of these as well. This can make things easier by allowing you to follow a sort of chain of effects – card X works well for your initial idea, card Y works well with card X and gives you the idea of including a sub-theme, which leads you to card Z. Much easier than needing to consider every card in the relevant sphere(s) in turn.
Sticking to a limited set of things that your deck will be good at will make it more consistent than if you try to make it do everything, as well as simplifying and expediting the deck-building process.

3. Be systematic.
Or alternatively, “Do one thing at a time.” A whole deck is too big to easily contemplate as a whole throughout the whole process of building it. Consider allies first, then attachments, then events; first when considering what cards to include, and then again later when considering what cards to cut. Perhaps you start by putting in all the cards you want to consider and then come back and consider how many of each you want. Or not. The precise system you use doesn’t matter so long as it works for you.

4. Don’t dwell on things.
This seems like an obvious one – when trying to take less time, don’t take lots of time! But it can be difficult. This can run contrary to point 3 as well. One way this can work out is if considering whether to add a card – make a snap decision. Either you figure that since it’s only a maybe it’s probably going to be forced out for space by other cards you’re more definite about, so leave it; or maybe it could be really useful, so just add it and you can cut it out again later if need be.
More commonly though, the particular instance I tend to find of this is when I’m cutting cards from a currently oversized deck:
So I’m being systematic, looking at allies first. I’m sure I don’t need as many as I have, and either I’ve narrowed it down to cutting one of two allies but can’t decide which to get rid of, or they all seem too good to cut so I can’t decide, or some other dilemma. In these circumstances, don’t keep sitting there and agonising about it, because that’s a waste of time. Move on to attachments, and come back later. Things may be clearer later, either because other changes throw the decision into a different light, or because you’ve just managed to mull it over subconsciously while thinking about other things.
Alternatively, if you’re really not making headway, maybe find a different way of looking at it. Systematic allies-attachments-events leaves you with dilemmas? Look at your sphere balance. Sphere balance is fine? Consider cutting copies of cards rather than removing them wholesale. This can guide you towards which cards you consider less significant (because you can manage with less copies), which may then lead you to ones you can actually cut (0 copies isn’t that much less than 1…)
And in the end, if you really can’t decide:

5. It doesn’t need to be perfect first try.
This is one of the biggest ways to avoid that excess time spent dwelling on difficult decisions of cards to cut or include. Often, I’ll put together a deck which will be much too big. I can then cut a bunch of cards, but somewhere along the line I may well find that there are some I just can’t choose between. So rather than sit there for half an hour debating the relative merits of the different cards I could cut and weighing them against each other, I just stop. It’s a waste of time. The deck’s not perfect, but it’s close enough to try out. And so then I’ll play the deck a couple of times, at which point it generally becomes pretty easy to figure out which cards are the deadweight – they’re the ones which keep getting discarded to Daeron’s Runes, or which just sit in my hand because there’s always something better to play at any given moment. Practical experience of how a deck plays is always help than just theorising about it in the deck editor. A fair few times I’ve been unable to decide which of two or three cards to cut, so I test the deck in actual play, and end up concluding I should cut all of them and reinstate something else that I cut previously.

So there you go. Five suggestions on how to speed up your deck-building. Now here’s an example – not such a good example in some ways, I don’t think points 4 and 5 came up in building this deck, in fact it’s mostly just a lot of point 2; but it was one of the quickest deck-builds I’ve ever done. For a better example, maybe I’ll try and completely document my deck-building process for a new deck at some point. For now though, you get this:

Never Stop Sneaking!
A while back I was reading through old articles on Tales From the Cards, specifically the player card reviews from the Against the Shadow cycle; I saw a comment to the effect that the at that point unreleased Tome of Atanatar would be ridiculously powerful due to the potential for recycling Sneak Attack with Gandalf. So I figured I’d build a deck around that idea – this was my starting point as per my point 2. So:

Gandalf x3
Tome of Atanatar x3
Sneak Attack x3
Second Breakfast x3 (to recycle the Tome)

Now at this point I think I need some heroes. Knowing the card pool rather well (point 1) I immediately think of Prince Imrahil as a perfect hero for a deck which aims to be repeatedly Sneak Attacking. I don’t want my starting threat to be too high and in any case since Imrahil really fits the theme I want him to be the major player rather than being overshadowed by someone like Aragorn. Now there aren’t a lot of options for low threat Leadership heroes – it’s pretty much Sam Gamgee, Balin and Theodred. I choose the latter two, somewhat arbitrarily.
Now although Imrahil can be triggered by Sneak Attack, it doesn’t hurt to have chump blockers who can also trigger his readying. And other ‘character leaves play’ triggers. It would also be nice if Sneak Attack wasn’t the only big target for the Tome.

Gandalf x3
Snowbourn Scout x3
Squire of the Citadel x3
Tome of Atanatar x3
Sneak Attack x3
Second Breakfast x3
Strength of Arms x3
Valiant Sacrifice x3

Even without recycling, it’d be hard to leave Strength of Arms out of any mono-Leadership deck. Speaking of which, let’s add a couple of other Leadership staples and an extra potential target for Sneak Attack:

Gandalf x3
Snowbourn Scout x3
Squire of the Citadel x3
Beorn x1 (Sneak Attack needs no sphere-match)
Tome of Atanatar x3
Steward of Gondor x3
King Under the Mountain x3
Sneak Attack x3
Second Breakfast x3
Strength of Arms x3
Valiant Sacrifice x3

At this point there’s not much more to be done with the main theme of the deck, it mostly just needs to be fleshed out with more allies so it has a bit more to it than Imrahil + Gandalf. And extra card draw obviously is nice to make it more likely I might see those recycled events for a third time after they’re put on the bottom of my deck.

Gandalf x3
Snowbourn Scout x3
Squire of the Citadel x3
Beorn x1
Faramir x2
Erestor x2
Longbeard Elder x2
White Tower Watchman x3
Dunedain Watcher x2
Tome of Atanatar x3
Steward of Gondor x3
King Under the Mountain x3
Sneak Attack x3
Second Breakfast x3
Strength of Arms x3
Valiant Sacrifice x3
Campfire Tales x3
We Are Not Idle x3

And finally, as I recall I originally had Cram in, but after reading the TftC Card Spotlight on Grave Cairn I realised it was a perfect fit for this deck given the likelihood of Sneak Attacking the 4 attack Gandalf in the quest phase.

Heroes:
Prince Imrahil
Balin
Theodred

Allies (21):
Gandalf x3
Snowbourn Scout x3
Squire of the Citadel x3
Beorn x1
Faramir x2
Erestor x2
Longbeard Elder x2
White Tower Watchman x3
Dunedain Watcher x2

Attachments (9):
Tome of Atanatar x3
Steward of Gondor x3
King Under the Mountain x3

Events (20):
Sneak Attack x3
Second Breakfast x3
Strength of Arms x3
Valiant Sacrifice x3
Campfire Tales x3
We Are Not Idle x3
Grave Cairn x2

Decklist on RingsDB

In future, as I said, I may document my deck-building process as I do it (or perhaps record it so I know how long it took without factoring out the time spent documenting it) for a better example of all my above-mentioned principles; but as it stands I hope I’ve at least demonstrated the serious value of point 2 in allowing one to build a deck very fast. I had a very specific idea for what I wanted, which led me to a few other cards which help it to function better and just work well in general. There was probably a bit more to the ally-selection process which I’ve left out of the account here because I can’t remember that, but since I was picking from one sphere it still won’t have been much. I’m sure it could be a bit better, even disregarding that the card pool has expanded since I built it, but it has proved perfectly serviceable, and because I put it together so quickly it didn’t cut noticeably into my play-time, which I feel is what any sensible player of the game should really want.

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One Response to In the mind of a Deck-builder – Fast building

  1. Pingback: Deck Spring Cleaning: Gimmick | Warden of Arnor

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