Ten Deckbuilding Principles

Ten Deckbuilding Principles

1. Decide what your deck wants to do

How do you want to win the game? Buffing creeps with Green? Buffing Heroes with Red? Controlling the board with Blue? Hard removal with Black? Knowing how you want to win is the first step to building a good deck. You might even have fallen in love with a specific card (, anyone?) and want to build a deck around it -- Awesome! Even if you were to want to build a deck around a specific card, you have to recognize win conditions that card can offer you.
In the case of , you might want to pair him with Heroes like and to spawn more Melee Creeps, then something like to damage your own Melee Creeps to feed your ! Is that a good deck? No, but I promise you, someone out there will try and make this deck work! More power to them!
Some decks might want to pair , his signature card, , and use to ramp up the gold total, allowing the deck to access high Gold cost items from the item deck. This is a viable strategy because of cards like and , which give you a clear win condition.

2. Know your win condition

When someone is talking about a win condition, they are talking about a specific line of play with which a player can win the game. This could be as something as simple as dropping a and getting enough Tower Damage in. It could be as something as simple as using on a lane with a bunch of Heroes, stacking Siege damage to kill a Tower. These are perfect examples of a win condition.
But sometimes it just isn't as simple as that. For some decks, their win condition could be a state of the board. For example, if a deck ran , they might only have their win condition be a state where all the enemy Heroes do too little damage versus Green's Regeneration from cards like . Here, this deck might use to do Tower damage. See this is a very complicated win condition, and it isn't as simple as just buffing your guys for the Tower kill.
It's also important to have a contingency win condition, if things don't go according to plan. For example, that deck might also run a couple of to drop down and buff its own Heroes up, instead of just focusing on lowering the enemy Hero's attack low enough.

3. Decide the split

First off, I'm not sure I would recommend doing a tricolor deck in the first place, which would be a 2-2-1 Split. The reason I would recommend against it is because by only having one Hero for a specific color, it becomes much more difficult to play certain colored cards. It also creates a higher opportunity for "dead" cards to clog your hands in your High Priority lane.
With that out of the way, I'd say most successful decks will run a 3-2 Split, but a 4-1 Split is not out of the question. I think a 4 Green 1 Black deck could be very successful, and if you were to ask me, I think the only current viable color to run a 4-1 Split would be Green. Just know that if you do run a color with a single Hero, you'll be very limited in the number of cards to run with that color.
A general rule of thumb, run 8 cards per Hero of a color. So if you run a 3-2 Split Red/Blue deck, you should run 24 Red cards and 16 Blue cards, including the Hero Signature cards. The reason is for consistency, giving you the lowest chance for having dead cards, and giving you the best chance to maximize a color's effectiveness.
If you wanted to splash a single Color, maybe consider running , 3 , 3 , and 2 . This gives you an easy 8 cards to ramp your gold total, which might go well with a deck that might have a poor late game win condition. By playing this splash setup and some really strong 25 gold cards in your item deck, you've just built a simple end game strategy for your deck!
Another example of a single Color splash would be something like , 3 , 3 , and 2 . When considering to splash a single Color, think of the best cards from that House, or even a good combination of cards that can benefit your deck's core strategy, which should be the focus point of your main Color.
What do you think is a good Hero and 8 Cards to splash as a single color in a deck? Do you think Meepo could ever work as a Splash Hero?

4. Choose the right Heroes

This is by far the most important thing for a deck to be successful. Heroes can single-handedly win you a game, and just as easily cost you a game. One way to look at Heroes that might help some people recognize their importance, think of Heroes as a 0 Mana Cost Creep, that also allows you to play Spells of their Color, in a lane. Not only that, but this Creep can come back to the board after dying, also for 0 Mana!
For this reason, Heroes like is considered one of the best Heroes in the game, period. Because of his stats (He doesn't even have a Hero Ability!) he can force an opponent to give up in a lane a lot sooner than they would have preferred! But for the same reason, Heroes like and will have a hard time seeing competitive play, because of their very low Health totals. It is never good to see your Hero constantly dying, feeding gold to your opponent!
But Heroes can sometimes be more than the sum of their stats! A Hero like is regarded as the best Hero in the game for a reason, Her Passive Ability, Precision Aura, is undoubtedly the strongest Ability in the game. On top of that, she has a Lane-wide silence that can stop an opponent from playing any cards at all? Yeah, she's broken.
One of my favorite things about Hero cards is how situational some are. Heroes like , , and , might be considered unplayable in constructed right now. But once the meta develops further, these could see a resurgence. And in my opinion, with more cards added into the pool with future expansions, some Heroes might completely surprise you. There is a future for , I just know it!
When deciding which Heroes to put in your deck, think about ways Heroes can cover each other's weaknesses. Something like might have problems staying alive. Maybe a would go well paired with her, instantly removing opposing Heroes from play. Or even , with , he can reduce the Attack total of enemy Heroes. Maybe just enough to keep Prellex alive?
Also consider Heroes which enable your deck's theme. If you choose to play Green and want to use Ramp cards such as and , maybe is a good Hero to run? His signature card, a Creep, fits well in a Ramp style deck. This might seem like common sense, but I'm spelling it all out here.
Is Outworld Devourer the worst Hero in the game? (The answer is Yes)

5. Watch the Mana Curve

If you've played a Card Game in a constructed format before, I'm sure you're aware of the "Mana Curve", a term used to describe the graph displaying the amount of cards across an increasing Mana value. I have prepared a hand drawn graph, showing you three main Card Game archetypes and their associated Mana Curves...
manacurve
Here, you can see an "Aggro" Deck, which focuses on overwhelming the opponent fast and taking dominance over the board, killing them before they can set up. Aggro decks will typically run many low Mana Cost cards, to give them a better opportunity of starting with cards they can play right away.
"Midrange" is a deck that attempts to survive the early onslaught from Aggro, while playing bigger and beefier cards during the middle stage of a typical game. Midrange typically runs a lot of 5, 6, and 7 Mana cost cards, attempting to use them at their maximum value.
Lastly, "Control" typically runs few low cost cards, and the ones they do are generally chosen to counter Aggro's aggression with things like low cost Board wipes. (Sounds like , right?) Control will focus most of its cards on late game, high cost cards, which gives them the opportunity to "control" the end of the game, and win on their own terms.
It's very important to recognize what type of deck you're running before analyzing your Mana Curve. If you want to play an Aggro deck but put a bunch of Late game cards in the deck, you probably won't be very successful. The same goes for a Control deck running a bunch of and .

6. The deck needs to be consistent

consistency
This image is displaying the percent chance you will have drawn a specific card, each round, based on how many copies of that card you run in a 40 card deck. So, if I am running 3 in my deck, there is a 33.75% chance I draw one in my opening hand. By Round Four, there is a 54.5% chance I'll have drawn a Cunning Plan, if I haven't drawn one up to that point. You get the picture.
The reason I have shown this information is to demonstrate a few key points. Running 3 Copies of a card, referred to as a "Playset", is very important for consistency! By Round Six, there is over a 75% chance I'll have drawn it! That's a pretty significant number!
If there is a card that is vital to the strategy of your deck, you must run 3 copies of it, period. But it's also important to remember, if a card is really good but a high Mana cost, like , you might want to run 2 or even 1 copy. Because if you run too many, there is a high likelihood you'll have drawn it before you even have enough Mana to play it!
That's why for me, personally, I prefer to run 2 copies of strong late game cards, things like and . I only run single copies of cards when it's a powerful card situationally, something I won't need every game, but if I have it at the right moment, in the very specific situation I run it for? Well, sometimes, that can win you a game on its own!

7. Run some "Goodstuff" cards

"Goodstuff" is a term used in card games to describe really strong cards, something that is just too good not to run. Unfortunately with Artifact only having a single set, there is a clear indicator of the first set's goodstuffs. Things like , probably the best Creep card in the game. If it can get a single kill against even a , it has stats better than most Heroes in the game! Nice!
Sometimes a Goodstuff card can just be something that forces your opponent to deal with it. Cards like , , , or even are perfect examples of this. If left alone, and not dealt with quickly, they can became a massive problem for your opponent. If possible, I'd recommend running a few cards like this, if they are available in the Color you're running.
One card I'd like to highlight here is , which has quickly grown on me over time. See, I love cards like and , but let's look at them purely for their damage dealt. Hip Fire is 4 Mana, Deal 4. Pick Off is also 4 Mana, Deal 4. Yes, they both have added effects, but ignore that part.
Now look at Assassin's Apprentice. 2 Mana, Deal 3. Sure, she can't hit anyone across Lane or Give you Initiative, she can really only hit a few guys directly in front of her, if you're lucky to be able to play her in front of something. But think about the situation where you might be able to play her at the end of a Lane, adjacent from an enemy Hero. She can redirect her attack to him for free. 2 Mana, Deal 3. And if she doesn't die that turn? It means she gets to Deal 3 again next turn! That right there is value. Albeit situationally, I still like it.

8. Tech cards

Okay, so one of the things I love talking about is 1-of cards or "Tech" cards. These are cards often used in reaction to a specific meta, or cards played to cover a deck's auto-loss.
Let's go over some examples, let's pretend the meta developed into a focus on improvements. Every deck is either full of and , or every single Blue Deck is using 3 and 3 . Maybe in that situation, running a single copy of isn't a bad idea. Using that on a lane where an opponent has stocked all their Selemene's and Mists could instantly wreck their High Priority Lane's progress.
is one of those cards that really jumps out at me as being a perfect tech card. It could win you the game on its own, removing a Hero or Creep that's blocking your high Attack unit, reading to crush a Tower. It could also save you in a Lane you would considering giving up in, pushing a beefed up Axe out of the lane. Or even in a much juicier way, you could push your own unit out of a lane, and if you're lucky, the unit moves to the lane you'd prefer, potentially winning you the game that way. These are all super situational uses, but there is also the potential of doing straight forward things with the card. It's one of the best and most clear cut tech cards in the base set.
But tech cards aren't always about countering the metagame and playing potentially useful cards. Sometimes, tech cards are just about running something that isn't expected. I could definitely see a future where a single copy of could be played. Deploy a Blue Hero into a lane that the opponent has gone wide in? Use Remote Detonation, destroying the entire Lane. Then play something like and Blink your Hero out of the lane!
But then there are cards like , that are one, really good, but also super situational. For Ravenhook to be useful, he has to be played across from an opponent Hero that has items equipped. He then has to survive the opponent playing a card, before he can activate his Ability. And then, it might not even knock off the item you want it to! Personally, I love the idea of running a single copy of Ravenhook in a deck with Black. Mostly because item removal is pretty hard to come by in the Artifact base set. ( and is about it?)

9. Multi-Purpose cards

Sometimes, these cards are referred to as "High Value" cards, because there is an opportunity to create value plays with them. You could also think of them as simple tools used in a specific way, but if you think about them differently, you can do much more with the card.
For instance, take something like , a simple +8 Attack, -8 Armor. Most people would think about using this to buff up their Hero that has a clear shot into the enemy tower. Or even a situation where you'd rather remove armor from an Enemy Hero and allow a little get a free Hero Kill. But wait a minute, is that all you can do with the card? What about a situation where your Hero is stuck in a Lane you've already won, and you need to get your Hero out of the lane for deployment into a High Priority Lane? How about Double Edge on your own Hero so that he dies, sending him to the Fountain? (Taps temple, with a smirk)
Just like the example I gave above, Green's is similar. It's a very straight forward card, buff your Hero, weaken the opponent's. What intrigues me most about Steal Strength is that it says Unit, for both selection targets. Let's take this creative thinking to the next level. How about a situation where the enemy Tower is just short of getting knocked out, and your opponent has a Hero that's going to die in the Lane to one of our ? If you destroy the enemy's tower, the opponent might be okay with their Hero dying, allowing them to redeploy elsewhere. How about we use and put the -4 Attack on our unit in front of their Hero, so we don't knock them out (Trapping the opponent's Hero in the lane), and give the +4 Attack to a different one of our units, allowing us to take the tower? (Double taps temple, with a smirk)
has just as many interesting uses as the above two cards, but it's slightly more straightforward. Of course, you can't ever choose your own two units to kill themselves, or force two opponent units to kill themselves, because that would be .
Lastly, is one of my favorite cards in the Artifact base set. Slay can be used early game, allowing you to quickly kill a Melee Creep, paving the way for early game tower damage, and netting you a quick gold piece. Slay can also be used in the mid-game, patiently waiting for a pivotal , , or even a . But then it gets even better, Slay could actually win you a game in the end game. It can kill a for a measly 3 Mana, it can remove something blocking your finisher, or it can slap off a nasty , before she gets to activate her Ability even once! Slay is an extremely multi-purpose, high value card, when played properly!

10. The item deck

The final piece to building a good deck, is preparing an item deck. Typically, you'd want to keep this around the minimum of 9 cards. The reason being, you'd like to maximize your chances of drawing the most important items for your deck to function.
Always take a look at what your deck's primary goals are. Sometimes if you're playing , , or , your Hero being in play is crucial to your deck's success. Most decks will want their Heroes alive, but for some its a critical part of the deck. For that reason, always consider 2 or even 3 . Easily one of the best item cards in the game, it's a very inexpensive 5 gold. The sooner you play it, the better it gets.
Mobility is a very important mechanic in this game, and it should always be considered in the item deck. Cards like and are massively advantageous cards to have in your item deck. Blink Dagger can mean all the difference when it comes to your Lane Priorities. For this reason, you should almost always buy a when you see one in the consumables shop, during the Shopping Phase.
Removing Enemy Improvements is actually pretty hard to do for some decks. That's why I love , a very inexpensive option for controlling the opponent's Improvements. While it might be difficult to get it going regularly, you can create opportunities to knock off an improvement or two, as long as you use your cards effectively. Removal cards to get enemy units out of the way of your Hero is the easiest way to use the Active Ability. But even some Mobility cards can put a Demagicking Hero in an unblocked situation! Maybe would pair well with the card?
Thanks for reading! You can follow Artibuff on twitter @Artibuff and you can follow me @rokmanfilms!
2 Comments
Tractionist
Excellent article, thank you
PorkBowl
The usage of Steal Strength is ... wow, I didn't even think about that. Thanks for the read!