Deckbuilding in Flesh and Blood – Starting and Refining Part Two
Welcome back to this two-part article series about deckbuilding in Flesh and blood. Last week’s article focused on the individual elements of cards and how stats add up across your 40- or 60-card deck. Today’s article is looking at bigger picture ideas. What is your deck trying to do? “Win games” is never a specific enough answer. There needs to be intention behind how the deck is structured, both in the main deck and in the sideboard. I will also briefly discuss what to do when you’re uncertain of what some next steps could be for a given deck.
Intentionality is a key part of structuring a deck. What is the aim of the deck? It can be trying to fatigue opponents, it can be trying to throttle opponents with constant aggression, it can be responding to what your opponent is doing in varied and efficient ways. It can be just about anything, so long as you and your deck are prepared to enact that strategy. There are many different philosophies of how to go about this effectively. Some builders like to focus on maximizing value in their decks, ensuring that each and every card provides four points of value. Many Kassai Blitz decks aim to block with a couple cards and then respond with a two-card hand that deals eight or more damage and makes use of the cost reduction that her hero ability provides. Additionally, they get an extra point of value from removing a battleworn counter from Valiant Dynamo, advancing their efficiency.
Recently I built a Viserai deck that centres around the new Runeblade cards which care about which card was pitched to pay for them. The overall idea was to overpitch for Cryptic Crossing and Deathly Duet with a non-attack and an attack, activating the fullest extent of their abilities, and use the two floating resources from the overpitch to follow them up with a Pummel. This actually worked a lot better than I expected it to. As I refined the deck down, the Pummels and Cryptic Crossings became more of a sideboard package to provide disruption against the aggressive decks, like Fai, that usually outcompete Viserai. The aim of the deck is to extract the maximum amount of value out of the specific cards, as when both effects of a Deathly Duet are triggered it effectively provides eight points of damage for a two-cost card.
Intentionality and specificity can also be used as a workaround to not having key Legendary equipment, as some single-use Common or Majestic equipment can open the door to previously unavailable combos. Heartened Cross Strap allows even the largest of Guardian attacks to be both Dominated and Pummeled by Bravo. Mask of the Pouncing Lynx allows Katsu to play out two Tiger Swipes on a Crouching Tiger turn, almost always ensuring that one hits and allows for the large damage extension that the tiger cards are looking for.
Personal expression and doing what you want is also important. This is a game after all, and whether or not you want to win, fun is always going to be an important component. The Pummel Viserai deck I mentioned above is something I put together to make Viserai more appealing to me, as someone who likes to have disruptive options available. It’s not the best Viserai deck out there, but the disruption it has gives it access to some unique advantages that more streamlined decks do not have. In my personal estimation (that weighs both function and fun), this was worth it for my deck. Another example of this is people who are very focussed on developing decks for heroes that the broader community finds to be lackluster (such as Boltyn or Levia). One nice bonus of personal expression is that people generally react less perfectly to an unexpected card, deck, or situation, than they do to one that they have practiced against. Consider what your strategy would be if you sat down and your opponent revealed a Levia to you. How would you sideboard? How would you play your game? Do you even know if they’re playing a high or low Blood Debt deck? With Pummels? How much recursion and cards playable from the banished zone do you have to worry about? Odds are that your answers to those questions are a lot more uncertain than if your opponent revealed Briar, Fai, or any other popular hero.
Even though I talked about how important intentionality was earlier, sometimes it’s easier to just put 100 cards together and see what works. Particularly if you’re newer to the game, starting with a clear idea of what exactly this deck wants to do can be a challenge. If you don’t know where to start, I would remember the following: Class cards are generally stronger than Generic cards (and block better); cards, especially Majestics, from within the same set are more cohesive with one another; and certain equipment can make or break a deck. If I had no clue where to start, I would put all the decent looking class cards for a hero into a stack, add some staple generics (Sink Below, Pummel or Razor Reflex, Snatch, Scar for a Scar, etc.), and try to make sure that the Majestic cards are able to do their job (e.g., the Fuse cards can be Fused, Aim Counters can be placed if relevant, there’s enough blues to pay for them all etc.). Then I would play a bunch of games and take out what isn’t working.
Torrent of Tempo and Soulbead Strike look like amazing cards as they block for three, do the right amount of damage, and usually have Go Again. I always put them in my Ninja decks to start with. Despite this, they almost always get cut because they just aren’t good enough to compete with other cards and can make hands awkward. They’re great cards, but they aren’t usually the best card in any given deck slot. Even as an experienced player, there are certain cards that I try in most decks even if they may not seem a great fit initially. My personal favourite cards to do this with are Energy Potion, Timesnap Potion and Flock of the Feather Walkers.
Once you have the cards you like, it's time to start fine-tuning down until you have a core set of cards (usually 45-60) that you bring into every matchup. Even if you really like all 72 of your cards and want to run them all the time, I can guarantee you that those extra slots above 60 could better be used for some type of tech against specific opponents. Defense reactions are necessary against certain decks, disruption is necessary against others. Every hero has access to these tools, and they are frequently popular sideboard options. To add to those standard options, I usually like to reserve the last few spots for either very specific matchups or for addressing very specific weaknesses of a class.
A sideboard is critical in FaB since you only have one game to use it and get it right. This is where the game may be slightly less friendly to newer players, as it is harder to adapt mid-set when the set is best of one. You need that knowledge as a prerequisite. I subscribe to the philosophy that I have X playable cards in my deck (usually around 72) and I’m looking to cut a certain number before each match. Some matches I cut none and run everything I have to avoid fatigue. Some matches I run the leanest 60 that I can, with a focus on defense reactions to help me survive until I see my combos in the second cycle of the deck. The best way to figure out what to bring when is to just practice and play. This can be done quickly and casually on Talishar.net, or in specific testing conditions with friends in person. If you keep losing against a particular hero, dedicate a good chunk of your sideboard to them. During the Monarch meta, my Bravo deck had 8 sideboard cards dedicated to Chane and 10 dedicated to Prism, with very little consideration for any other hero. And it was effective, because that is what was needed at the time.
Finally, you should always consider any additional resources or keywords that your deck needs. If you’re building an Elemental deck, the amount of Fuse cards and Fuse targets is critically important, if you’re building a Ranger deck, the amount of arrows you have is crucial. There is no correct answer for these ratios, it all depends on how much you want to rely on the given card type. Some Ranger decks aim for roughly 25 arrows, hoping to shoot one per turn for 10 or more damage, ensuring that the key on-hit effects land and disable the opponent. Other Ranger decks run 36 or more arrows, seeking to give them Go Again and fire as many per turn as possible, extracting maximum value from Rain Razors and Three of a Kind.
Hopefully by reading these articles you have discovered something new to think about, or a new way to think about things while building your deck. This was far from a comprehensive guide, but I think that aligns with what the deckbuilding experience is at its core: an exploration. You can poke your head down different paths, tunnels, and alleyways until you find that gem that clicks. Whether that is a specific deck, combo, or just a new way to use a card is up to you. I wish you luck and fun as you go through this process.