Deckbuilding in Flesh and Blood – Starting and Refining Part One
With the recent increase in new interest for Flesh and Blood, I’ve had a few questions come to me about deckbuilding. Let’s try to answer a couple. This is going to be a two-part series that aims to explore some of the concepts and philosophies of deckbuilding in this game. These articles won’t be any type of comprehensive guide, as that is generally best presented on a class-by-class basis. However, I hope they provide some guidelines and ways of thinking for players new and old alike.
In the process of deckbuilding – two key things should be considered: the micro and the macro. The micro aspects include individual cards and what they do, how much they pitch for, block for, etc. The macro aspects, to be discussed next week, include the core idea behind the deck, your personal expression, your intentionality of design and play, and how that has to shift each game (including sideboard building. I would also like to note that all of these deckbuilding ideas generally apply to constructed formats (like Classic Constructed or Blitz) and limited formats (like Draft and Sealed) alike. Today’s article focuses on the micro: the individual aspects of cards which are usually printed on the corners. Each card in FaB has a pitch value, a block value, an impact on action points, keywords and its unique text. These functions should almost always be balanced in the context of a four-card rotation each turn. Let’s go through each element.
Pitch Value: Red cards are the most powerful cards to play in Flesh and Blood, in terms of raw numbers. Generally, we want to maximize the amount of those we can have in the deck to help develop a proactive game plan. We want to have more cards that we want to play (not pitch or block with) in our decks. However, we still have to pay for them somehow. Establishing your resource base is crucial in most card games, and FaB is no exception. Most classes want one blue card per turn because it allows them to play out the highest amount of powerful red cards without needing to pitch a second card. Assuming a 60-card constructed deck, and the idea that most classes want to see one blue card per turn, it would serve to reason that 15 blues is a good starting point. However, most decks are punished heavily by not drawing a blue card each turn due a dearth of yellow cards in the average deck. Because of this, our concern now becomes how we can have the best chance at having exactly one blue in hand while minimizing the chances of not having any in hand. 17 blues is generally a good number to start with. Some decks go higher, pushing into 20 or so. When building your deck, I recommend trying different builds ranging from 15 to 21 blues and fiddling with the amount until you find your preferred balance. If you want to dive deeper into the exact odds, I highly recommend playing around with a hypergeometric calculator online. These ratios of between one-in-four and one-in-three cards being blue hold true for other formats like Blitz and Limited. There are notable exceptions to these blue ratios, such as Guardian, where the number of recommended blues is closer to two-thirds of the deck. Other decks do not need three resources each turn due to alternative resource generation (such as by utilizing Death Dealer’s card draw), which can allow an even leaner blue count.
A quick word about yellow cards: No one really likes them, no one really wants them. They aren’t as strong as reds and can’t fund full turns like blues can. But sometimes they’re just too good to ignore. A lot of the best majestic-rarity cards in the game are yellow and are worth having in your deck because of their unique text and powers. Beyond the use of yellows for uniqueness, they are otherwise used for redundancy. Yellow cards that come in other colours are usually only used when the deck is looking for the fourth (or ninth) copy of a card that is just so good. When evaluating these cards, keep an eye out for cards that have effects independent of their numerical effect. For example, Plunder Run was not run as a rainbow because of the +3/+2/+1 power effect, but because of the draw-on-hit effect, which does not change depending on colour. Mauvrion Skies provides Go Again at every colour, and Chilling Icevein can force a discard at every colour. Both of these effects are better options than the next best red alternative, even if the red alternative threatens one extra damage. It is because of this that the mentioned cards are frequently run in the generally-substandard yellow.
Conventional wisdom also states that blue cards should also serve as additional resources, such as blocking three damage, or being used for Talent purposes like Fusing. The blues available to each specific class or deck archetype may change this. Elemental heroes that require fusing usually use their blue cards to fill out their Earth/Ice/Lightning requirements and leave space for stronger red cards that get powerful effects from their fusion. For example, blue Winter’s Bite is a popular Ice card for decks that require Fusing because it can be used to pitch or fuse and is a standalone playable card to arsenal and play out next turn. Zero-cost with Go Again and an independent effect from a resource card is a gold standard. The only problem is that it only blocks for two.
The block value on FaB cards is one of their most important values in my opinion. It doesn’t matter how proactive, aggressive, or perfectly-tuned a deck is, it will eventually have to block. This could be because an opponent has forced it by presenting an on-hit effect, or simply because not every hand can play out every single card every turn due to a shortage of resources or action points. My personal favourite class has long been Guardian, which used to run around 52-54 cards that block for three or more in a 60-card deck. Now, because of some strong Generic and/or Talent options, most Guardian decks are running 13 to 20+ cards that block poorly. Luckily the class has the saving grace of high-cost defense reactions that allow bad-blocking blue cards to pay for high-blocking defense reactions. Beyond that, I am always nervous knowing that I will have to block at some point with a card that defends for a suboptimal amount. Looking at the base rates for the attack values of cards (four power for zero resources, five power for one resource, etc., at red), one can see that the ratio of sacrifice for a “downgrade” from a red to a yellow is, at most, a fourth. A downgrade in blocking from three to two is a third, which is, and feels like, a much more noticeable drop. If you have built your deck to be proactive, which is generally an excellent plan of attack, and you are often coming up short and having to make painful blocking decisions, I advise revisiting the average block value of your aggregate hands and individual types of cards. When classifying these card types, I like to separate them into resource cards, marginal cards, combo cards, and must-plays. Resource cards have been discussed previously. Marginal cards are cards that can improve your turn but are not strictly necessary, and are most commonly non-attack action buffs. Combo cards require other specific cards and large hands to work, and usually block in pairs. Must-play cards are cards that are too powerful to not play because either they are core to your strategy or are too efficient. Tuning the balance between how much your deck can and is willing to block takes time and playtesting. It will also depend on what other decks are popular at any given time.
Action points are another important consideration, as decks generally want to make use of every card they draw. The easiest way to do this is to employ a generous amount of cards with Go Again. However, cards with Go Again are usually weaker than those without, almost always blocking for less, and often also having reductions in power. This is another process that requires trial and error. Consider that if you are consistently ending your turns with a spare action point, you are losing out on at least one point of damage each time. There can be multiple ways to remedy this. You can add chain-ending cards without Go Again but with some on-hit effect, add more cards with higher block values (Go Again cards often block for two), or utility cards that consume action points such as Energy Potion.
Overall, deckbuilding is a process of coming up with an idea, putting a sketch together, then erasing the rougher edges as you iterate through and see what works in context. Context is always crucial in deckbuilding, since no card exists in a vacuum. A card is always being played against someone who has a plan of their own. Next week I will be discussing some broad conceptual ideas in deckbuilding such as personal expression, building a sideboard, and some steps on how to work through the process of iterating and refining. In the meanwhile, I encourage you to review some of your early deckbuilding efforts and review them to see how they have evolved into your more recent decks.