Strategy Primer for EtG

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On a conversation I had with a perpetual loser wherein I tried to teach him how to successfully play elements with strategy and forethought rather than just picking random cards because "Dude, that dragon is awesome!"


“Hey Drag! Can you help me learn how to play this game. I keep losing against AI2.”

“Sure. Let’s see your account.”

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“Wait, what? How did you get a negative score? You’re such a loser.”

“I know. :( That’s why I’m asking for your help.”

“Okay, so yeah, let’s start from the beginning then. Time to start a new account. First we need an element. Every element has their strengths, but Fire is the best . . . at least for our purposes. Why fire? Because it has everything you need to learn how to play this game.”

“But I think Death is so cool! Can’t you teach me with Death?”

“Okay emo, do you want to learn this game or not? Then shut up and listen. We’re using fire, m’kay?”

“Well, okay, but I still think Death is cooler.”

" <Sigh> So you started a new account, right? Pick Fire. Now we'll play the first game with the starter deck."

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-Loser plays Level 0-

“Dude, I rock! I just beat Level 0 and I still had 23HP left.”

“You realize that’s the easiest AI in this whole game? That’s like bragging that you barely beat up a six year old. That’s just sad.”

“Whatever. I won. My deck is awesome!”

“No, your deck sucks. You noticed that time when you had Water cards but no Water quantum? Yeah, that’s because your deck is trying to do more things than it is properly built for. So here’s rule #1: Simplify. At your level, it’s best to just use one element.”

“But dude, there are some cool cards in every element, like the dragons. They look awesome!”

“No, you don’t pack one of every dragon in your deck because you think dragons are awesome.”

“But that’s what I did last time!”

“Yeah, that’s why you had a negative score. Right now, for a beginner like you, it simply means using only one element. Once you figure that out, we’ll start experimenting with more elements. But adding a bunch of different kinds of pillars and cards like the AI on Level 0 and 1 is FAIL. Don’t do that. There’s no strategy there and you gotta have strategy.”

“Oh yeah! I have a strategy. Crush the enemy with my dragons, bwahahaha!”

“Yeah . . . riiight. So, let’s simplify your deck. Get rid of all the Water cards and the Quantum Pillars. We’re gonna go for straight up mono-fire.”

“Awww, do we have to get rid of the Blue Crawler? He’s got these awesome tentacle-y things coming out of his head. I bet he can use those to whip—”

“Forget the pictures, okay! The pictures mean nothing in this game. If zanz added a fairy in a bikini as a card, it doesn’t mean you should pack 6 of them in your deck. If he added some fat sumo dude as a card, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t add it because he looks lame. Pictures are just that, pictures. It’s what the card does that matter, kapeesh?”

“Dude, I’d add 6 hot chicks into my deck if he added—”

“Okay, forget I said anything about the fairies. The point is, the pictures are just there to look at. They don’t help make better decks.”

“Yeah, yeah, I get it. Well, I got rid of the Water cards and the Quantum pillars, but my deck looked kind of weak so I added a few more fire cards to pump it up. Somebody call the fire department, because this deck is on fire!”

“Lol, yeah, how ‘bout you play Level 1 and see how hot your deck is.”

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-Loser plays Level 1-

“Oh yeah! No loser water cards to slow me down this time. Talk about the AI being totally and completely annihilated!”

“I wouldn’t call beating AI1 down with two Fire Spirits total annihilation. More like you stabbed him to death with a fork. But it’s a start. So, now that we simplified your deck, let’s tighten that deck up a little more. Here’s rule #2: Minimize. Basically, only pack as many cards as you need to reliably get the job done. Normally, this is pretty close to 30 cards. For right now, I want you to just make 30-32 card decks. Nothing bigger than that, got it?

“But dude, are you sure that’s enough cards to beat them? I mean, more creatures equal more damage right?”

“Yeah, potentially, but practically, it just means you get more bad draws. It means you’ll keep fishing for that one exact card you need because the probabilities are against you finding it in such a huge deck. For instance, say you have 2 Deflagrations in a 30 card deck or 4 Deflagrations in a 60 card deck. They both have 1-in-15 odds or 6.7% chance of drawing a Deflagrations in any given turn. However, there are exponentially more permutations in the 60 card deck where you wouldn’t draw a Deflagrations in ____ number of turns.”

“Permyoo what?”

“Permutations. Basically, there are way more bad ways to combine 60 cards where you don’t get a Deflagration in your first 15 cards then there are bad ways to combine your 30 cards where you don’t get a Deflagrations in your first 15 cards. That’s why smaller decks are more efficient and consistent. If you want consistency you have to maximize the number of key cards and minimize the size of your deck. Think of it like this, you’re trying to catch a bass. Is it easier to catch a few basses in a little pond or a lot of basses in an ocean? Even if there were the same amount of basses proportionately in the ocean as in the lake, there’s waaay more chances for you to be fishing in the wrong spots to try to catch any of those basses in the ocean than in the pond. Well, the same is true of your deck. Even if a 30-card deck and a 60-card deck had the same ratio of cards, the 60-card deck will be more inconsistent and prone to bad draws.”

“Hmmm . . . I guess that makes sense.”

“Small Deck = Fast, Efficient, Consistent. Less is more.”

“So I should make my deck smaller then, yeah? Let’s see here . . . 30-32 cards . . . man, that looks so puny though. Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure. Let’s see what you got.”

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"Okay then, time for you to fight the Level 2 AI."

-Loser plays Level 2 AI-

“Dude, I’m like the unluckiest person ever. I got like a bazillion creatures but I can’t get any pillars out. :( ”

“Well, that’s because your deck still sucks.”

“Hey, you’re the one who told me to make the deck smaller!”

“No, the problem is you put way too few pillars in relation to the number of other cards in there. So here’s rule #3: Balance. This is about balancing how many pillars you need to be able to pay for all of your other cards. The goal is to find the right number of pillars to make sure you don’t have too much or too little quanta. So, how do we figure that out? Well, one way is to play like a thousand games with a deck and keep track of statistics.”

“Dude, I don’t have that kind of time. Isn’t there a faster way of figuring it out?”

“Well, there’s also a handy formula you could try. It’s not perfect, but it’ll get you pretty close. For simple decks, just take the cost of all the cards you want to play and divide it by 5 and that’ll give you a rough estimate of the number of pillars+mark you should take. So if the total cost of playing all your cards is 70 Death quanta, then dividing that by 5 shows us that you need 13 Bone Pillars and a Death Mark. We’ll talk about this in a little bit, but for Rush decks, you’ll want to divide by somewhere between 4 and 5; and for Control decks, you’ll want to divide by somewhere between 5 and 6. Now remember those are just rough estimates. You often can go ± a pillar or so without too much of a problem. So for your deck now, add up the cost of your cards and then divide by 5 to see how many pillars you need. And remember, your mark counts as a pillar too.”

“Okay, let’s see here . . . carry the 4 over . . . then subtract that . . . hmmm . . . I need to have 16 pillars plus a Fire mark. But then I’d go way over my 32 card limit.”

“Well then, you should get rid of some of your non-pillar cards then.”

" -.- Are you sure? <sigh> Let's see here..."

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“How’s that look now?”

“Mmmm . . . yup, that looks fairly balanced. Let’s try AI3 now.”

-Loser plays AI3-

“ :\  I just lost. Dude, are you sure you know what you’re talking about?”

“Well, I didn’t say your deck was any good yet. I just said that your deck looked like it had the right mix of pillars and cards. But right now, there’s no rhyme or reason as to why you have those fire cards. You’re like a kid in a candy store just grabbing at whatever looks good. So here’s rule #4: Strategize. Strategy is for winners; luck is for losers. If you want to win more often, you need to have some kind of strategy when you build your deck. You can’t just throw in a bunch of cards and hope for the best. Cards need to work together with purpose. There has to be some kind of game plan that everything is working under. Now there are two basic kinds of strategies when deck-building: rush and control. Rush decks focus on killing the enemy as fast as possible. They set a speed, or tempo, that is too fast for the other to keep up with. They’re usually packed with creatures . . . lots of creatures. Here’s some examples:”

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“That Earth deck has 111 damage packed into 13 cards. The Death deck comes pretty close with 82 damage packed into 16 cards. And that’s only if they hit once. Although the Death deck doesn’t pack as much total damage output, the Poisons give it more versatility to work around the other player’s defenses. If your opponent doesn’t do something to stem the flood, they’ll drown in about seven turns. You notice something else about these decks? Yeah, they have the bare minimum number of cards—30. With a rush deck, you want to burn through your deck as quickly as possible. So, let’s see if we can build a Fire rush deck.”

“Heh, that’s easy, watch the magic.”

“Don’t forget about Balancing.”

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“Booya! Fire Rush in the house! 11 attackers and 107 damage. I haz strategee.”

“Nice. Let’s try AI3 again then.”

-Loser plays AI3-

“Oh yeah, baby. Who’s your daddy? That’s right punk AI3. I just took your sorry butt out to the woodshed and spanked you, ahahaha.”

“Lol, yeah, your deck is getting better. So you know how to make a rush deck. Now let’s see if we can put together a control deck. Now, with a control deck, you’re playing more defensively and reactively (usually). The goal here is to try to get control of the board while gaining quantum advantage and card advantage (we’ll get into that in a little bit). Control decks work because you have 100 HP to play with. You have enough HP to sacrifice a little along and along as you slowly get control of the board. Now whereas the rush deck had like 10 or more creatures, control-centric decks tend to have that many control cards, or possibly fewer cards but with reusable control cards like Otyugh, Owl’s Eye, Butterfly Effect, Pulverizer, etc. With the control deck you’re completely screwing up the opponent’s strategy. So, your opponent just played some uber-creature with a thousand-word-text and an ability you’ve never heard of. No problem. Just Bolt it, take your quantum advantage, and move on. What? He just did some crazy 5-card combo and now has a creature with more symbols on it than a virgin ready for an occultic sacrifice? Hey, no worries. One Rage Potion and that sucker meets the maiden in the afterlife. Take your card advantage and then hit him when you’re good and ready. That’s how control decks roll.”

“So control decks are basically the opposite of rush decks then?”

“Yeah, basically. And of course, there are other deck types too that take a more middle-of-the-road approach to rush and control. With heavy-control decks, you usually want to setup two win conditions. The first is usually deck-out. You want to have an answer to every card that they have so that eventually they deck out (of course you should have more cards then them, usually 34+). The second win condition is different depending on the deck. It could be that you save up enough quanta to Bolt them to death. Or it could be that once you get control of the board, you drop some creatures to slowly kill them. Or it could be that you throw some poison counters on them throughout the game and eventually poison them to death. Really, there are lots of different ways to kill them slowly, but surely.”

“So would Fire Bolt and Phoenix be good cards to use in a control deck?”

“Yep, Phoenixes are great because they’re so difficult to kill. Plus, even if they kill it you gain card advantage because it requires at least two cards to kill it and sometimes even more. And Bolts are perfect because they can act as creature control early in the game and then be used to finish them off in the end game. So here’s some examples of control decks.”

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“That Air-Death deck uses the reusable Snipe ability of the Owl’s Eye plus the growing, practically impenetrable Bone Wall to stop the opponent. A single Owl’s Eyes and Bone Wall will stall the other player; two Owl’s Eyes + Bone Wall practically locks him down. And once the lock is in place, the opponent will not be able to get any damage in. The Poison and Owl’s Eyes slowly whittle the opponent’s HP away.”

“Wow. That’s awesome how you can completely lock a person down.”

“Yeah, it is, unless you’re on the receiving end. The Fire-Light deck uses lots of control plus healing to outlast the opponent. All the creature control cuts the opponent’s army down to size, and whatever creatures are left, have to be able to overcome all the healing from the Sanctuaries and Miracles. Meanwhile, the Fahrenheit slowly builds in power, slicing ever-growing chunks of his HP off. And when his life gets low enough, you can finish him off with whatever leftover Bolts you have in hand. So now that you understand how control decks work, how about you build a mono-Fire one.”

“Hmmm . . . this is gonna take a little longer I think than the rush deck.”

“Yeah, control decks need a lot of forethought and tweaking to make a good deck.”

“So, how about this then?”

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“Hey, that’s not too shabby. I think that’ll work pretty good. So one last rule: Explore. In order to understand your deck, you need to play it and test it, fine-tuning it as you figure out ways to shield your weaknesses and enhance your strengths. If you want to be good at this game, you got to make good decks. And in order to make good decks, you gotta test those decks over and over again against all kinds of other decks. As you play, you’ll get a good feel for your deck’s strengths and weaknesses, and you’ll find different strategies you can employ in the various situations you’ll find yourself in. You gotta test your deck. AI3, Arena, and PvP are great places to test and see if your deck is any good or not.”

-Loser plays PvP1-

“Hehe, he had no chance. You could tell he was getting as desperate as a 40 year old virgin, lol. I love it!”

“Yup, he was top-decking. He was just playing every card he drew while you dealt with each problem one by one. And did you notice, you always had like four or so cards in your hand? During that whole game, you had card advantage. That’s the weakness of Immolation decks. You gain quantum advantage at the expense of card advantage. It took him three cards to play a Golem and it took you one card to kill that Golem, and every Golem that came out after that. And because he had a rush deck, he didn’t have much of an answer to your Phoenixes, much less those Bolts you used to finish him off.”

“So is card advantage just having more cards in your hand than the other person?”

“Well, that’s a very simplified view of card advantage. Obviously if you have more cards in your hand, you have more options available to you. But cards on the board need to be looked at as well when considering card advantage. Hourglasses give you the ability to draw more cards than your opponent. Firefly Queen, Pharaoh, and Mitosis give you card advantage through the ability to create more creatures with just one card. Reusable control cards give card advantage through the ability to destroy multiple creatures or permanents with a single card. Eternity and Reverse Time give card advantage by forcing your opponent to redraw the same card while you draw a new one. Earthquakes give card advantage by destroying up to three pillars with one card. That’s why all these kinds of cards are dangerous and high priority targets to be dealt with. If you ignore them, you risk losing due to overwhelming card advantage. This is also why, as a general rule of thumb, I don’t normally like doing three-card combos like Blessed, Momentum’d Pegasus. If you lose that creature, you’ve just lost a ton of card investment giving your opponent card advantage.”

“Wow, there’s actually a lot of depth to this game.”

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“Yeah, there is. Here’s a deck that creates card advantage through the use of Fractal. The insane number of creatures you can possibly create with Fractal is staggering. The number of potential creatures totally overwhelms a lot of control decks. And the built-in creature control with Scarabs is a killer feature of this deck.”

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“Here’s another deck that uses Firefly Queen and Owl's Eye to gain card advantage through spawning and reusable creature control. Also, this deck uses Rustlers to gain quantum advantage. Quantum advantage is similar in concept to card advantage. Cards like Immolation, Nova, and Rustler can you give you quick quantum advantage allowing you to play your cards faster or use abilities more often. Cards like Earthquake, Devourer, Discord, Black Hole are the opposite and screw up your opponent’s quanta allowing you to gain an edge on speed. Again, these kind of cards can be very dangerous if ignored. Some of the best decks out there use these kinds of cards to give them the upper hand. Even plain control cards give some quantum advantage. They play a 10 quanta dragon; you play a 3 quanta Rage Potion. You just gained 7 quanta advantage over him. He plays a 7 quanta shield; you play a 3 quanta Deflagration. You gain a 4 quanta advantage. Now just having quantum advantage doesn’t mean you’ll win. But it means you have more resources available to get your strategy going before he gets his going. Even better than these one-for-one card exchanges are the reusable control cards like Otyugh. With only four quanta to play and one quanta to devour a creature, you can quickly rack up quantum and card advantage with a card like that, which in turn, can easily seal the game.”

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“Here’s a deck that has both a lot of punch and control. The combination of Earthquake + Reverse Time is killer. Not only do you starve them of quantum, but you also force them to use what little quanta they have to replay the same card. This combo of quantum and card advantage is powerful.”

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“Here’s another deck that tries to gain quantum advantage. Novas give you a quick quanta boost letting you play creatures quickly, sometimes on the first turn even! But not only does this deck speed you up, it slows them down by destroying their Pillars with Earthquakes, and then scrambling whatever quanta they’ve managed to get with Discords. At the same time, you’ve got Graboids who quickly put pressure on their HP. As you can see, some of these decks can get pretty complicated using multiple elements and strategies. One day, maybe we’ll talk about more advanced deck-building strategies. But for now, master making mono and maybe duo decks using the rules and strategies that I mentioned.”

“Wow, I need some time to let this soak in. Thanks for all the help.”

"Hey, no problem. :D "


~ 3 months later ~

“Hey Drag, thanks for showing me some of those tips a while back. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve started a new account. I’m like on my seventh one now, but I think I’ve found a good deck to start with. Now I’ve been playing non-stop and winning like crazy!”

“Haha, glad to help. Who knows, maybe in another 3 months you’ll be the top elemental player, lol.”

“Lol, yeah maybe. Thanks again.”

“Yeah, no problem. Hey, you know, you should change your chat name to reflect how many accounts you started.”

“Hey, I like that idea! jmizzle7 . . . I think it has a nice ring to it.”




-For you new players, jmizzle7 was the top scoring elemental player for like 2 years as well as a master strategist. He’s actually been playing longer than I have, so obviously everything in this story is fictional. But, iirc, he did start several different jmizzle accounts until he finally found an element he liked with his seventh account, jmizzle7.




Review

Simplify: Only use as many elements as you need to execute your goals. Start with mono elements, then go to duo, trio, and finally rainbow as you get more comfortable with how to use and balance your cards.

Minimize: Only pack as many cards as you need to reliably get the job done. Start at 30, and then add cards only if necessary.

Balance:: Find the right number of pillars for your deck. Usually, it’s pretty close to the total casting cost of all your cards divided by 5: Total_casting_cost/5 = Number_of_pillars+Mark_you_need.

Strategize: Find what goal or goals your deck will focus on first, then pick the cards that will carry out that vision.

Explore: Experiment with different ways of accomplishing your goals. Test your decks against other kinds of decks to find weaknesses.




Disclaimer: This article was originally written by Dragoon on 4 August, 2010. The decks illustrated are solely used to demonstrate some popular deck archetypes, therefore they might not be optimized for competitive use.