Deckbuilding - Volume 1
By Simon “Sottle” Welch
With new cards from the One Night in Karazhan expansion slowly trickling out into our eager waiting hands, knowing how to integrate them into your gameplan, and how to build a deck in general, is more important now than ever. As someone who spends a fair bit of time creating and curating decklists, I decided it was about time to share a few pieces of insight that I’ve picked up over the years. There are many aspects to deckbuilding, but in this first entry of what will hopefully be an ongoing series, I want to address two particular points; avoiding over synergising, and the role of single copies.
Okay, so it’s a natural reaction, and to an extent we all do it. You get a new idea for a deck inspired by a new card and get immediately carried away making sure that every card in the deck fits with that one singular gameplan. We’ve seen this happen time and time again over the course of Hearthstone’s history. Originally Miracle Rogues were all in on the spell cycle and combo pieces, Aggro decks used to jam every minion with the word “Charge” on the front of it, and the early N’Zoth and C’Thun decks played every Deathrattle and Cultist they could get their hands on.
For a more contemporary example, let’s take a look at a deck that has started to gain a little bit of traction since the release of some nice Token cards in week one of Karazhan: Evolve Shaman. On day one we all looked at the new cards and thought, “Hey, you know what might work? Evolving these Pantry Spiders into 4-drops, let’s do that!” And suddenly the deck became defined by being an Evolve deck. In went the Bilefin Tidehunters and Sea Giants, and Gormok got slammed in to make sure you won the game immediately if your tokens stuck to the board. Here’s the thing though - that build wasn’t very good.
If your plan is working, you don’t need a bunch of other cards to make it work even better. You need fallbacks for when your plan isn’t working. This takes different forms in different decks - it can be direct damage, it can be card draw, it can be AoE removal, things which help you catch you up if your original gameplan has fallen flat on its face. The mantra is simple, don’t let synergy stop you from playing the good cards. Once people got over the initial bright lights of Evolving an enormous board of tokens, we quickly realised that just Pantry Spiders, Nerubian Prophets and Thing From Below was already plenty of synergy for the gameplan, and that freed up spots for Lightning Storms, Hexes, and card draw. You know, the good cards.
The question to ask yourself is not how much synergy you can pack into one deck, but instead what the minimum amount of synergy you need is for your gameplan powerful. Once you’ve established where the line is, you know how many other slots you have available to play the core cards for your class. These cards are core for a reason: they’re good in almost every situation and are just too powerful to omit from your deck for the cutesy stuff.
The role of singletons.
When I’m asked to check out a decklist on Twitter or on stream, there is no more common offence than loading up on a bunch of single copies. There’s a cognitive trap here that tells us if we put a bunch of single copies in our deck, then we will be able to react a wider variety of situations. This is rarely true though, and a refined deck list will consist almost entirely of double copies outside of Legendaries and tech cards. So let’s go over the common mistakes that people make when evaluating this dilemma. Keep in mind that I’m talking in general rules, and that part of what makes Hearthstone so glorious is that there are no general rules. But, if you’re looking for guidelines to live by, the tips below won't steer you far wrong, even if there are exceptions to each of them.
“Why play two? I’m only ever going to need one!”
Yes, but if you’re going to need one, then you need to have two of them in your deck to make sure you draw one consistently. The classic example of this is Doomhammer in Aggro Shaman. Rarely will an Aggro Shaman have any use for a second Doomhammer in the course of a single game, but every list runs two because it helps you to draw your first one with overwhelming consistency.
Playing double copies helps your mulligans
If you’re playing two copies of important matchup cards in your deck, then you can choose NOT to keep them in your mulligan more often. This is an important and often overlooked decision point. Let’s say there’s card in your deck that is vital to the matchup, but it costs 5 or 6 mana. You don’t want to keep that card in your opening hand because it’s going to interrupt your early game cards and reduce your chances to draw the opening curve that you’re looking for. However, if it’s a single copy, you probably feel like you have to keep it, because probability states that you’re not likely to draw it again before you need access to it. When you double the amount of copies of it you have in your deck, you’re in a much better position to be able to throw that card away and trust that it’s going to return to your outreached arms in good time.
One of those cards is just better.
Sorry, it just is. If you’re playing two individual copies of cards that fulfill similar roles, the simple fact of the matter is probably that you just haven’t decided which of those cards is better most often. The temptation is to tell yourself that Card A is better in some matchups and Card B in others, and keeping both of them in your deck covers your bases, but this is counterproductive in the long run. You need to work out which of the cards is better most often and include that as a double copy. Let’s say you’re building an aggressive Hunter deck and you want a way to beat those stupid cheaty Taunt minions. You can’t decide between a Hunter’s Mark or an Ironbeak Owl. This is easy to test, just keep a note of every time you draw one of the single copies and wish it was the other. Over a large enough sample size, whichever cards is the winner gets that coveted double spot in your deck. Even when a card isn’t up against a direct competitor, there’s a good chance that if it’s good enough to see play in your deck, it’s good enough for you to play two. If there’s a card you’re including for a specific purpose, unless you’re playing a deck that cycles heavily and draws itself close to fatigue every game, you’re not going to see that card often enough in the right situations to justify the role you included it for in the first place.
That’s all i’ve got for now. Hopefully with this new found information you can out there and make the next meta-defining Karazhan deck. If you do, be sure to Tweet it at me, just be prepared to be shouted at if it breaks any of my rules...
About the Author
Sottle is no stranger to the competitive environment. The compLexity Hearthstone player comes from an unorthodox background of being a Yoyo Champion in Great Britain, as well as virtually beating people up as a competitive fighting game player. Nerve-damage in his hand forced him to exchange the button mashing for the virtual card game Hearthstone. As a pro player he made his mark in the scene, as a caster he is a rising force, now the next step for him is to build up his name as a personality in the scene as well. Follow the Brit cast tournaments, play games, interact with his stream and have fun in Arena, the ladder or just Q&A sessions - Sottle is always the perfect mix between entertainment and education.