Preparing for Winter: Planning with Oldhim
Flesh and Blood is a game that rewards planning. This planning is mostly within three areas: the 80 cards in your deck list, the 60 or so cards that you present each match, and how you navigate each game from beginning to end. Each of these elements requires intention and forethought. Choosing your 80-card decklist is the element with the least time pressure, as you have any and all time before the event to choose. However, if you show up with the wrong deck list, you may have lost before you begin. A universal example is how much Arcane Barrier to bring. One Arcane Barrier for most Runeblades and maybe Prism, two if you’re worried about Rosetta Thorn, and three or more for Kano. In short, the 80 cards you bring on the day should reflect what meta you’re planning to play against.
Now that Flesh and Blood is up to fifteen heroes, many of which have multiple potential archetypes, sideboarding has become more and more necessary, and has even begun bleeding into deck list selection. You can’t counter 15 heroes in just 80 cards. It is common for players to bring sideboard notes to be consistent in what to bring against who. This sideboarding is also key, as many cards are useless against certain heroes, such as red defense reactions against Kano. There are many excellent, dedicated articles to sideboarding in Flesh and Blood. This isn’t one of them, it's just aiming to say that sideboarding is an important part of planning out your match. This is because your sideboard determines your win condition, your strategy, and how you will spend the first two thirds of the game setting that up.
What I think it’s the most important element of planning in Flesh and Blood occurs during the game. How do you turn your 60 or more cards into 40 or more points of damage and defeat your opponent? Designing your win condition comes in the pre-preparation stages with your 80-card list and sideboard for each matchup. Your actual strategy in each matchup can be pre-planned. Are you a control deck playing against an aggressive deck? Racing them is a losing plan, but fatiguing them or out-valuing them may be a winning plan. Which cards in your deck make that work? Enlightened Strike (some good damage with no on-hit effect) may not get you where you need to go, but Sink Below (excellent blocking that denies on-hit effects and lets you stack your deck) might. Pitch stacking is probably the most important part of a game plan (in anything other than aggro versus aggro matchups). This can be a daunting topic, and can be difficult in a game where you’re already thinking about so much else. But it is worth it. If you are conscious of your pitch stacking and your opponent is not, then you’re effectively playing a different game. You have much higher quality information than they do, and each turn cycle can be planned well in advance. Do you know that they still have a powerful red combo pitched away? Arsenal a defense reaction or play out a defensive aura in anticipation. That will give you the space to respond with your own strong combo. Even if the life totals differ significantly in the early- and mid-game, the better-stacked deck usually comes out on top (all other things being equal). Oldhim can be behind by 15 life after the first deck cycle (when the first pitched card comes back into players hands) and still feel very confident knowing that the three upcoming Oaken Olds will level the field and give them tempo.
I think that Oldhim is an ideal example to highlight each of the three planning facets of setting your deck list, choosing your sideboard, and playing the game with a long-term intention. He is naturally built for control, and as such, required your 80-card deck list to be fundamentally reactive to other decks. Oldhim highlights all three of these elements with Forged for War. Firstly, do you even give it the deck space in your list? Do you bring one, two, or three copies? Bravo usually only likes one because of the high number of Battleworn equipment he has, but Oldhim can make any number work. Combined with Rampart of the Ram’s head, Crown of Seeds, and anything Ironhide, Oldhim sees plenty of upside from Forged for War at any point in the game. However, Forged for War is yellow and doesn’t have the Earth or Ice types attached to it. This means that unless Forged for War is doing something specific, it probably won’t be good to present for a match. Let’s assume that we’ve decided to bring three copies in our 80 because we think it shores up a couple of our weakest matchups, and we are expecting to see at least a couple of those. Now we have to figure out what to do with them.
Forged for War is great against Dash, who has to break the chain with every pistol shot, allowing for the now-buffed equipment to block three or four times if need be. It is also useful against Prisms with Library as one of the few yellow cards that can slot into the deck. It is a useful 3-block card against 0-cost Briars, and can be situationally useful (mainly on turn 0 or 1) against most other aggressive decks. Additionally, it has a lot of uses as a set-up card to try and block out opposing pivot turns (such as against Bravo), or to allow Oldhim space to set up his own combo turn. Deciding if and when to play Forged for War is not always an easy task. It costs two cards to play (itself and one to pitch). That translates to a very high opportunity cost of six points of damage (assuming each card blocks for three or adds three points of attack to your turn). There had better be a big pay-off for that.
In order to see a big pay-off, the timing of Forged has to be deliberate and achieve something for your plan. For example, playing Forged while arsenaling a powerful attack helps set up the next turn to be a big pivot or using Forged for War to let you keep a five-card hand for a final push with Last Ditch Effort. Forged becomes much more useful during the second cycle of your deck. You should know what cards are coming up and have an idea of what your opponent has remaining in their deck. Time it well, and it will make a pivot much easier to pull off. However, if you play it out blindly or without a specific plan, it’ll probably just end up absorbing a few points of damage and not being worth the opportunity cost.
Overall, this is a game that rewards forethought and intention. By planning out each step of your game plan at home, before your match starts, and during your match, you will be rewarded quite well. Pitch stacking is vitally important, but it must be combined with an intention to arrive at a win condition.
P.S. A short note to netdeckers: If you found your deck online, think about it critically. Flesh and Blood decklists are almost never complete information. They usually lack sideboard information, and even when it is provided, they lack tips on how to use specific cards in specific matchups. Many cards have many different uses. Art of War can be used effectively on both offense and defense. Tome of Fyendal can be used for life gain, big combo turns, or both. When you look at a deck list online, the most important thing you can ask is “Why?”. Why are each of these cards in this list? How do they get me to a winning game state? If your list is from somewhere online, you need to fill in the blanks to figure out how to turn 80 cards into 60 cards and then 60 cards into a lethal amount of damage against your opponent. This is not always an intuitive process, but it is necessary.