A combination of two things inspired this post. First, there’s the newsgroup topic about how someone’s group isn’t having fun wherein I emphasize the need for people to build new decks regularly. Second, there’s the ongoing conversation with Azel in the comments section of the first Virgo post.
One distinction paramount to framing the discussion is whether we are talking about building any deck or building a good deck. Building any deck can be a matter of slapping together the minimum number of cards and promptly being eviscerated by someone who built a competitive deck. The extreme, therefore, is irrelevant; however, as with most things, there’s a spectrum and I’m more concerned with people building passable decks than with them building some sort of masterpiece.
There’s a line, somewhere, between the desire to build a masterpiece and the general desire to build decks well. I think these get confused in people’s minds even when there’s no real interest in trying to build the best deck.
Different CCGs have different thresholds of viability. Even choosing the opening hand wrong for a Wheel of Time deck means losing an hour or two later (if you are quick). Rather than take the approach of looking at a number of CCGs, I’d rather focus on the one that makes a difference to me these days and one that people often complain about in terms of length of time building decks.
Yes, it’s time for another V:TEScentric article.
What seems to give people trouble with building V:TES decks is … I’m not sure what it is for any particular person. I could guess, but I don’t think it matters. Nevertheless, here are some possibilities.
- Most cards have small effects and the game in general is about building off of numerous small effects, whereas many other CCGs have cards with more obvious strengths.
- There are a lot of disciplines, and there are tons of ways to combine disciplines. Other CCGs may have deckbuilding components with more obvious themes.
- The lack of card limits radically increases the number of choices. With a four card limit game, most good decks are likely to play four copies of the best cards and look for support elsewhere or specialty plays elsewhere. With V:TES, whether to play 6 copies of a card or 8 copies may be agonizing.
- There are lots of clans and multiple sects. I don’t know that this is anywhere near as troublesome as the number of disciplines because it’s just so easy to build monoclan or like-clan decks. Most people don’t build a deck for each clan in the game, so a simple place to start in one’s deckbuilding career is to build decks for clans never played before.
There are different types of deckbuilders as CCGers have a large variety of desires and eschews. It’s amazing sometimes, actually, how stubborn some people can be about what they won’t build. Anyway, I can’t cover every personality type and what they are looking for and what they aren’t, so my focus is on helping people who aren’t terribly experienced with the game build rather ordinary decks. Even if ordinary doesn’t cut it, maybe there’s something about philosophy that will help.
Fortunately (as I left this hanging above), building a viable V:TES deck isn’t terribly difficult.
The single most desirable element in a V:TES deck is bleed bounce. Yes, it’s arguably not the best defense in the game. Even if it isn’t, bleed bounce isn’t (just) a defense. Bleed bounce is the most efficient way to win the game being both an extremely powerful defense combined with an, on average, medium level of offense.
Any deck without it better have a great reason why. As to quantities, an old belief was in minimum six in a 90 card deck, but I’m more of the minimum eight or 10% of the library. There is a maximum that makes any sense, of course, even for bounce that doubles as intercept. I ran 20 bounce cards in a major tournament and discarded a number in the finals, though that was mostly due to using ones that didn’t work against larger vampires.
But, what about bloat?
Some argue bloat is the best defense since it doesn’t limit itself to any particular attack strategy (well, ignoring that combat stops your ability to act and most bloat comes from actions). What do we mean by bloat? It matters. I tend to think of the term referring to substantial bloat, such as Tap & Cap, Con Boon, and the like.
If we are talking about any level of bloat, then only the most aggro weenie decks can get away without it. If we are talking about substantial bloat, then there are pros and cons to relying upon it instead of something else.
One of the dumbest things I’ve ever done was to forget to put Blood Dolls in decks. Whether it’s BDs, Vessels, Minion Taps, or Villeins, there needs to be a strong reason not to play with the blood management masters.
I put the number of Blood Dolls at five, i.e. in an eighty card deck, a minimum of five slots should go to them. If I play Vessels, I’ll probably play more or combine them with Villeins. Back when Minion Tap was worth playing, I’d play at least six or play less and add some BDs. With Villeins, I’ll tend to run four or five and play some BDs.
I started with bleed bounce because it is both offense and defense. Bloat can turn into offense by enabling bringing out more minions. Waking is squarely in the realm of defense, the realm of not getting ousted.
In certain environments, I can imagine not caring a lot about wakes and certainly some deck types don’t gain much from them. But, if there’s anything that boggles my mind more than why people so often short the number of wakes they play, it’s probably just why people continue to play Elder Library.
Unless you think you are a better deckbuilder than I am, and you probably do, minimum 10% wakes. The days of six WWEF in a 90 card deck ended for me at least five years ago. Even for my unordinary decks, it’s unlikely I’ll play few wakes. After all, the wakes in the game worth playing are either Freak Drives that cost no blood or give +2 intercept.
Moving from how not to get ousted to how to oust, it was probably after Bloodlines came out that I really thought about how important stealth is in the game. I was trying to decide how to best win with !Salubri and realized that Kennies (Embraces) with Dominate (this was before Camarilla Edition made Embraces something of a specialty play) was not the best way to go about it. Kennies with Obfuscate made a lot more sense because it doesn’t matter how good your actions are if they don’t go through
While I’ve done many, many things with !Salubri and finally decided to play !Salubri vote in a major (2007 NAC, day two), my current view on building a !Salubri deck with comfortable viability is to graft/splash Obfuscate.
Stealth enables victory. Given an infinite amount of time and an infinite amount of your predator not killing you, getting actions through will eventually oust your prey. Contrast with bruise and bleed’s philosophy. There’s a reason evasion bleed has been many times more effective in the history of the game than B&B. Okay, smash all of your prey’s vampires, now watch the table rescue empty chump blockers. Not to say that there aren’t good B&B decks, weenie B&B decks have that winnie magic. But, it’s so much less work to just not have people block.
Other evasion can be as good but rarely is. Crocodile’s Tongue is not Lost in Crowds. It’s not even Resist Earth’s Grasp.
The other reason to stress stealth (delivery) over payload (+bleed or whatever) is that it’s actually really easy to find payload. Computer Hacking, bleed retainers, bleed equipment – common like dirt.
Many decks aren’t going to be stealthy. It’s just not worth forcing stealth on every deck. But, if trying to build a viable deck is an issue, it’s better to start by looking for where stealth is easy than where it isn’t.
Enchant the Unaligned Spirits
There’s a reason that Govern the Unaligned, Kindred Spirits, and friends show up so often in successful decks. In one card, you get offense and defense, sort of like bleed bounce only bounce doesn’t require a successful action.
I don’t play these much anymore, but then, I don’t play ordinary decks much anymore and too many of my decks aren’t really viable. While I’m no fan of Social Charm and Legal Manip, even Enchant Kindred makes a huge difference over not having these sorts of two-way cards.
Putting it together, my idea of an ordinary deck is going to have 10% wakes, 10% bounce, 5-8 blood management masters, 10-20 stealth cards, and …?
Maybe a better way to envision the process is to thing about where to find the things you want. Bounce only really comes from two sources. Stealth is best from Obfuscate, but there are other possibilities. Govern is Dominate, Kindred Spirits is Dementation, Enchant Kindred or Public Trust or Undue Influence are Presence. Dominate + stealth, yeah, that’s a winning combination. Auspex plus bleed plus stealth – I think that has worked, too.
It may sound like I’m being overly limited in how to quickly throw together new decks. The reality is that AUS and/or Dom are everywhere in this game. Evasion is pretty damned common as well. What about vote decks, you say? Combat decks?
I think too often people play too many votes. I have two ordinary tournament winning vote decks (Mellow-Yellow Drama, Pale Panda Warriors) that have a fair number of votes – 17 out of 80, 14 out of 75. I’m not thrilled with having an ordinary deck be more than 20% vote cards. Vote decks can (almost) always bleed, and vote damage is often pound for pound much higher because a successful vote won’t be bounced. If you want an idea of an absurd vote deck, check out the Guruhi precon.
Stealth isn’t as important in vote decks and room needs to be devoted to things like establishing vote control, but the other principles of bleed bounce, wakes, blood management masters still apply.
I think of two sorts of decks when I hear someone say combat deck: rush; intercept combat. B&B is a bit different in that it’s far more successful if it never gets into combat.
I would imagine that building a decent rush deck is one of the harder things for people to do. I don’t feel qualified to dispense advice as I’ve never had any tournament success with rush.
Intercept combat, I’m much more comfortable with, whether people who play with me agree is questionable. The main problems I see with people playing intercept combat are relying upon too few minions and putting too little ousting power in. It’s possible to win games by not dying, but it’s a hard way to advance in larger tournaments. It’s still worth considering stealth since, at some point, you are likely to need to get actions through to be successful. Propping up empty chumps works against an intercept deck that destroyed its prey’s minions just as much a rush deck that has.
The problem is striking the right balance. If you don’t run enough intercept, mighty stealth will annoy you; if you don’t run enough combat, fighty decks will annoy you; if you don’t run enough preykill, not getting any VPs will annoy you. Judging the metagame well is a big help, where a stealth bleed deck can pretty much hope for the best against anything. A low stealth, high combat environment means very different card choices from a high stealth, low combat environment.
V:TES has tons of good stuff cards – cards that are just generically useful in lots of situations. Information Highway, Sudden Reversal, Wash, Direct Intervention, .44 Magnum, Ivory Bow, Heidelberg, Parthenon, Carlton van Wyk, Mylan Horseed, and on, and on, and on.
Once you get the basics of your deck in, made sure you had enough blood management, made sure you had enough wakes, made sure you had enough bounce, top off with whatever good stuff you prefer, there really isn’t a whole lot (or any) space left. Bam! New decks just roll off the assembly line.
Then, if you don’t like your decks, well, changing them shouldn’t take that long or be that painful. There are a lot fewer things going on in this game mechanically than people seem to think there are.
But, what about ideas? First, if you haven’t built a deck for every clan, do it. If nothing else, it will force you to think about the strengths and weaknesses of each clan and make you familiar with a lot more cards. If you haven’t built a deck with every discipline, do it. Same reasoning, plus since you probably aren’t going to be using just one discipline, the number of combinations means building an absurd number of different decks.
Honestly, there are some really terrible deckbuilders out there who post decks publicly. I find that they focus way too much on flavor, specific vampires, convoluted strategies, and the like to where they miss that even unique decks should be viable and play good cards. I’m not going to worry about how someone wants to build their one vampire, nine discipline deck that wins off of The Path of Lilith and Leadership Vacuum. I’m concerned with those people who really can’t seem to frame basic deck construction to where somehow they are discouraged by the idea of building 1+ new decks a week.