As I mentioned in my ConQuest post, I might be playing UC! more regularly in the future. I’ve never seen any analysis on the game, but there are some principles I have in mind when going to build decks.
UC! was one of the few CCGs ever to restrict deck construction by rarity. There are four ranks of decks: white, brown, black, gold. I’m not that into building white belt decks anymore as I think I’ve covered enough archetypes. While some deck concepts can’t feasibly work as white belt decks, I find that the real difference between belt levels is in consistency, in particular consistency of power generation.
I didn’t get the overriding importance of power generation when the game had a playerbase (1995-1997, let’s say). Now, I try to squeeze almost every bit of extra power generation into any deck.
There are similarities to Magic. In Magic, you have mana ramp decks. In UC!, every deck should be. The difference is due to the importance of card advantage between the two games. In Magic, it’s vastly important and playing cards to make mana may be direct card disadvantage for improvements in card quality; there are other aspects of mana generators that aren’t direct card disadvantage, but that’s getting off on a tangent. In UC!, every card played is replaced and there’s typically a small enough window in which the replacement hasn’t occurred yet that really the limitations on card play have to do with limits of power generation.
Almost every deck, very possibly every single deck, needs to run x4 Mantra of Power. Even if it’s blown on something it didn’t need to be used for, it cycles virtually for free. Next up is having a minimum of x1 Gi Patch for each foundation type that the deck needs to play. These days, I try to play all four foundation types as much as possible even if I have no cards that need a foundation type just to have Gi Patches for every foundation type to accelerate and increase power generation.
Then, we run into belt level considerations for other power generation. A white belt deck can probably run Yamashita’s Belt and every other level should, possibly in multiples even though you can only have one in play at a time. But, Elixir of the Gods or Bear’s Jaw, being gold belt cards, takes away ultrarare space from decks, crucial to white belt decks, significant to brown belt, and maybe not so important to black.
Speaking of Elixir of the Gods, it was one of the first two gold belt cards I cracked when I began playing UC!. For a long time, I didn’t think much of it, certainly didn’t like it as much as Bear’s Jaw. Now, I want it in every deck as it’s just such a hot first turn drop to accelerate into brutality.
On the other hand, for Magic players who are used to needing a significant amount of mana-producing land to hit land drops, I find that UC! decks can get by with lower percentages of foundation. Besides the ubiquity of Mantra of Power and Gi Patches, there’s the discard rule that, in a pinch, can be used to help smooth out power generation. On the other hand, that same discard rule means that it’s possible to unload excess foundation to get to kill cards, so the analyses of how much foundation to run is not straightforward at all to me.
Speed & Strength
Overrated? There was a time when I was thinking that people probably overplayed Speed I and Strength I. I was becoming more enchanted with control cards like Shake Up and, of course, things like power generators. I was getting enough offense out of my core strategy, whether it was combinations, Favorite Technique-ing out something monstrous, or whatever.
I’m still not clear whether Speed and Strength are necessary to every deck, but it is extremely hard not to play them. Not because of their cheap and easy offense – what I like them for is their cheap and easy defense that cycles me into the cards to support my core strategy. There aren’t many ways besides Speed and Strength to defend oneself besides what’s in play. UC! is often mathematical to where attacking or card play comes down to having just enough to knockout someone. Speed and Strength makes the math of the game probability calculations which significantly enhances the skill aspect of the game. Nevermind that defenses in the game are often poor and/or costly where Speed I and Strength I are absurdly cheap and okay in magnitude of power.
In most CCGs, you want a minimum deck size. Cards aren’t equal in power, so you want to get to your most powerful ones as quickly and as often as possible. Card draws become more consistent the fewer cards that could be drawn.
I find that far too often UC! decks are unnecessarily above the 50 card minimum. While decking is fairly easy, the fat in larger decks only makes the kill less likely, forcing card digs that ironically make decking easier. The game does have room for undeckable decks that just try to survive until the opponent decks. I saw one player play a deck that must have been 200+ cards in a tournament with this goal in mind. That can work in white belt on white belt matchups where control cards are much rarer, but against higher rank decks, it’s not the 26 point attacks that even white belt decks might throw out that will get you but having your board annihilated by Shake Ups and having a 8/4 Favorite Technique beat you down over and over again that makes such a strategy sketchy.
You have to have enough technique to get attacks in when you want to attack, assuming your deck relies upon technique based offense (as most do). But, what that means for particular decks is so different. Combination decks have to get out enough technique to do combinations (I know, shocking). My Instant Replay deck, I think, only runs x4 Black Belt Shoulder Throw for technique.
Always go with cheap. Cheap is way more important than what movement direction(s) the technique has. The only reason to play the expensive and costly gold belt technique is Favorite Technique where you pay FT’s 5 power cost rather than the 6+ that gold belts cost. Black belt technique are typically ideal, but brown belt decks may have issues fitting them in and white certainly will. Black Belt Shoulder Throw is worth it as a 6/5 for 4 and the basis of repeated attempts to abuse Instant Replay. But, most of the time, going to be looking for the 3/1’s for 1.
Then, there are the two 2/2’s for 1 at brown belt which have to be the most commonly played technique in the game. Superefficient, obviously so, so not that interesting to talk about. What is of much more interest is what white belt technique are worth playing. A lot of the 2 cost technique are 2/1’s, which I used to have little interest in. But, I’ve changed. Tempo is too important in the game to be throwing out a 3/3 for 3 when an opponent drops two 2/1’s for 4.
Three cost technique is often an unfortunate necessity to a particular deck but not something to fall in love with.
Drunken Style technique is one exception. While cheapest is usually going to be bestest, cheapest for Drunken is 4. But, the only real reason to play Drunken is in a control deck that needs to shut down brutal advantage based attacks, so you pay what you got to play. By the way, the rest of the expansion styles suck, having a bunch of overcosted technique with questionable special abilities.
Are Oxygen Burst and Healing Mantra worth it? The latter definitely is to some decks – control decks. I have a real hard time justifying the former. It’s fine cost to effect and cost in general, it’s the taking up a deck slot in the deck that usually causes me to leave it out.
How important is it to play broken cards like Mental Domination, Instant Recall, and (arguably) Focus? I tend to forget Instant Recall and Focus, which is bad. I can see an argument for “casual” use of broken cards like Mental Domination.
By the way, the single most important card in the Ancient Fighting Arts of China expansion is Psychic Delay. It’s so important just for annoying stuff like delaying a Mantra of Power that I can see an argument for x4 in every deck, though I typically don’t even play x4 in some decks. How often PD shows up may have a metagaming effect on how desirable broken (psychic) action cards are.
Favorite Technique (and Weapons)
Favorite Technique is insanely badass. It’s much more important in control decks, which I realized when I got off aggro decks and started making more control decks. The restriction on number of copies by belt rank of the deck is actually quite important.
Weapons are not insanely badass. I just find them to be too much effort for something I could do without them. But, they make for interesting challenges. In limited play (sealed deck anyway as I’ve never drafted the game), they are insanely badass, though.
I’m fairly neutral on Movement. Gold belt Movement is almost never worth playing (thus, why I like building Mark of the Cheetah decks to have an excuse). White belt is key to combination decks, but other decks can fairly often take them or leave them. Great cycles, cheap offense, but like cards like Oxygen Burst, there’s only so many slots in a 50 card deck.
A topic for another post since tempo has to do with play strategy and tactics and not deck construction, except in how cheap cards and mighty power generation should result in having tempo more often.