Monday, August 11, 2014

CLA Series - Part 3: Building a Deck for Card Level Advantage

Hello and welcome to part 3 of my series of Card Level Advantage. In part 1 I presented with some ways to measure part of the luck factor that affects the game of Solforge, the main one being Accumulated Card Level Advantage (ACLA). In part 2 I explained how the cards themselves and how they are played can magnify or nullify the effects of ACLA and I showed a few extreme examples to clarify it. In this part I will discuss a few of the tools that Solforge has to deal with ACLA, in particular, the types of cards you can include in a deck to minimize negative ACLA. 

High Power Level 1 Cards

In draft, the most common way to mitigate a negative ACLA is with the use of creatures that have high power at level 1 so that when you play them as underdrops, they still affect the board significantly. Having high power at level 1 allows a creature to still have a significant impact on the board against higher level creatures and that's why they can work well without leveling them up.I classify these underdrops in 3 categories: Large creatures that level badly, High power, low defense creatures and Large creatures with a drawback.

Large Creatures that Level Badly

The large creatures that level badly are the most common of the three and are, for example, Deepbranch Prowler, Storm Caller or Scavenger Scorpion. These creatures have both high power and high defense at level 1 and have a decent body at level 2 but are usually underwhelming at level 3. They are generally better suited for aggressive strategies and unfortunately are the worst tools for mitigating level screw because, by playing them, you are missing out on improving your deck by leveling up a creature with a more impactful higher level.

High Power, Low Defense Creatures

The second group, creatures with high power but low health, are better suited for underdrops because their leveled versions will usually scale quite well. Examples of these are Grave Geist and Swampmoss Lurker. The fact that they have low health isn't such an issue when playing as an underdrop because a high level creature will likely destroy any underleveled  creature put in front of it. The important thing is that they have enough power to destroy the opposing higher level creature or at least leave it damaged enough so that just one more blow will finish it off.

Large Creatures With a Drawback

The last group only has a handful of instances and includes creatures with a large amount of both power and health but that have some kind of draw back. For example Ebonskull Knight dies at the end of a player level and Xithian Rotfiend will get weaker when a creature is placed in front of it. These are excellent creature to have in a deck because they can work well both as underdrops or as aggressive creatures if the situation arises.

Creatures that Enhance or are Enhanced by Other Cards

There are creatures that have an effect on existing creatures or that trigger an effect when a new creature comes into play. These are one of the most powerful types of effects in the game and are the best and most consistent at mitigating level screw. Examples of cards like these are Weirwood Patriarch, Battle Techtician, Tarsus Deathweaver and the Shaper cycle. These are usually cards you want to prioritize leveling up because they can greatly mitigate lower level draws with their abilities. For example, If your opponent plays two level 2s: 10/10 and a 9/9 and you play a Darkshaper Savant and a Grave Geist, you can use the Darkshaper's trigger to make the 10/10 a 7/7. Now both of your cards can trade with your opponent's cards so the board is basically at parity even though you played a level 1 and 2 while your opponent played two level 2s.

Cards that Affect Multiple Lanes

The cards referred to in the previous point are usually rare or heroic and are difficult to get in draft. Fortunately there are common options that have a similar effect: cards that affect multiple lanes. These are cards like Matrix Warden, Magma Hounds or Grove Huntress, which place a small creature in one lane and have an effect that can apply to another lane. The reason for why these cards are so effective is because it is very common to require just a little bit more damage to finish off a creature or to avoid getting a creature destroyed and these cards give that extra support. This means that they can increase the gain from a positive CLA by finishing off a creature and letting your threats stand unopposed, but at the same they can also reduce the effect of a negative CLA by allowing you to deal with two leveled cards with just three underleveled cards as opposed to having to use up four, which is usually the case.

Buffing or Debuffing Effects

Some cards have certain abilities like armour, regeneration or mobility, that make them almost immune to small creatures. In those cases having a powerful buff or a debuf spell in your deck is important so that you can combine them with a creature to take down the threat more effectively than continuously blocking it with multiple creatures. This is specially important in draft where there are hard to deal with bombs like Nightgaunt or Scrapforge Titan. Good examples of buffing effects are Enrage, Spirit Leash and Primordial Slam, while good debuffing effects include Vyric's Embrace and Electro Net.

Ungated effects

An ungated effect refers to effects and abilities that can apply to any creature, regardless of their level. There are also soft leveled effects, which refer to cards that can affect a card that is one level higher than their level. These effects are very important because they can allow you to play underleveled cards but have an effect over a higher level creature on the board. There are a number of spells and creatures that have ungated effects, for example Glacial Crush, Shallow Grave, Borean Mystic, Oxidon Spitter, Jet pack, Uranti Icemage, etc. Some of these cards require specific conditions in order to work, like Glacial Crush, and are better suited for constructed where a deck can consistently create those conditions. Others, like Jet Pack, will work fine in any deck and are great in draft.

Synergistic Effects

There are a lot of cards that have powerful effects when used together. These types of cards can be used on level to immediately generate board advantage and to take advantage of positive CLA but they can also be used very effectively to mitigate a negative CLA. For example, Xrath's Will combined with Vyric's Embrace will be able to remove larger creatures and still allow playing a Zombie of any level. This allows a Zombie deck to focus the first few turns on leveling their end game cards like Zimus, the Undying, and still be able to make effective plays in the later turns by combining a Xarth's Will with a Vyric's Embrace.

Cards that Level More Cards

One of Alloyin's biggest strengths is access to cards that let you level more than one card when you play them. Examples of these are Technosmith, Metasight, Metatransfer and Synapsis Oracle, among others. The other factions also have cards that allow this, though those cards actually let you play the cards, not just level them so they can also count as part of the group of creatures that are enhanced by lower level cards. Examples of these are Master of Elements, the Frostwild Tracker and Soul Harvest. Obviously leveling up more cards increases the probabilities of seeing leveled up cards at later levels however, it should be noted that if you only level up one or two cards the probabilities don't increase that much so the probability of a bad draw won't go down noticeably unless you have a deck made up of many leveling up cards. The best way to take advantage of such cards is for strategies that want to go into the later levels and so it needs to have other cards that can stall aggressive decks.

Cards that Draw Cards

Another Alloyin characteristic is to have cards that draw more cards. Card draw effects usually draw multiple cards and so they can actually give you a better chance of getting a good draw in the short term. Examples of these are Ghox, the Metamind Paragon, Metamind Adept, Metamind Overseer and Energy Surge. Constructed decks that take advantage of card draw always feel very consistent, but they are also slower and often lack proper removal so they can be susceptible to fast aggression and utility creatures.

These are the main types of cards you can include in your deck to make it more robust against negative ACLA. Understanding how these cards works and interact with ACLA also helps to improve your deck building skills, specially in draft. You can read some more suggestions for building draft decks in Konan's Introduction to Draft Deck Building and in Chad Ellis' The Care and Feeding of Underdrops.

But this is only one part of the equation. Make sure to read part 4 where I will talk about cards you can use to take advantage of positive ACLA and the types of play decisions you can make to improve your odds when dealing with any kind of ACLA.

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