Deck Tuning for MECCG

By Nigel Buckle

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion

Copyright ©2000

For this article I’m going to assume you have already built a deck – maybe not a very competitive deck, but a deck of some sort. The next stage is to tune your deck, which means modifying it slightly (or considerably) based on your experience of playing it.

Unless you own a complete play-set of all the MECCG cards you may also have to trade for cards you don’t own that you think would work well in your current deck. Spoiler lists (lists of cards and their text) are very useful for this, along with the player guides that ICE produced for the Wizards, Dragons, Dark Minions and Lidless Eye. Seeing the cards that other players use can help too.

The main appeal of CCGs for me is the variety of decks you can build – even changing a few cards can drastically alter the way a particular deck plays. Similarly certain strategies by your opponent can make for a very different game.

Most competitive players do not pull some cards out of their binders and play. They build a deck and then test it, either solo or with the help of other players, either casually or by going to tournaments. Based on the success of the deck they modify it and then retest. A deck is probably never completely tuned – there is always some change you could make.

In this article I’m going to explain how I tune and test my decks for competition. I’m not suggesting that my way is the best, or even that it is good, but just that it seems to work for me.

First I have an idea for a deck, and build it (including the sideboard – I think you should consider the sideboard when building the deck, not bolt it on later as an after thought). I call this deck the proto-type, it is very rare that the proto-type makes it through to a final deck without some major modification! I play the proto-type deck a few times to see how it performs. I note what cards I didn’t use, what cards I wished I had in the deck and how fast it played. By fast I mean how many turns did the deck take to get to the end of the first deck cycle, and how many MPs did I get at that point). In my experience most competitive decks are fast, they cycle in around 5-6 turns with around 25MPs so the player can call the Council and end the game, assuming they are in the lead. Of course this assumes a reasonable starting hand, and no mid-game disasters (such as losing a key character, failing an important corruption roll, etc).

Based on the initial testing of the proto-type deck I make a decision to stick with it (and tune it) or to abandon the design and try again. Nothing beats actually playing your deck to test it. Deck construction is only half of the story – you have to be able to play the deck too. Ideally you test your deck against other players, but that is not always possible.

I often do not get the opportunity to test a deck, except at a tournament (which is leaving it rather late if it turns out the deck doesn’t work at all!), so I’ve developed ways of testing my deck playing ‘solo’.

You could use the solo rules ICE supply (where you play the resources and a system handles the hazards), but I find this unsatisfactory for two main reasons:

You are only playing half of your deck, the resources. Which means you don’t really test playing your hazards. And also you never get a chance to test your deck in its complete format, with hazards and resources working together.

What I do is play the deck against another complete deck – and I take the role of both players. I try to decide which cards to discard or keep based on what I would do in a game, rather than with the additional knowledge I have looking at both hands/decks. As I play I record the turns and MPs gained, along with anything else I think I is important.

I find the challenge decks quite useful for this purpose – and if my deck can not beat a challenge deck then I know it needs some serious adjustment!

It might be useful to give an example of a recent deck I played and how it evolved over the weeks before I finally played it in the tournament. This particular tournament was a restricted one, which allowed ANY hazards from all the MECCG sets (including the Balrog), but only resources from The Wizards, Dragons and Dark Minions. This meant of course all the decks would be hero.

In a previous tournament I was quite impressed with a deck which used Elves and Dunedain enhanced by "Star of High Hope", so I thought I’d combine that with Vilya, and concentrate on diplomats to make recruiting factions (and passing corruption checks) easier. In the UK ‘man’ hazards are quite popular (especially Assassins) so I decided to use man hazards and rely on my opponent’s enhancers, saving me deck slots for a couple of sub-strategies, River and influence denial.

The proto-type deck looked like this:

Deck List: Of Elves & Men

(Hero resources up to Dark Minions, Hazards from any/all sets)

Character Draft (10) & Minor Items (2)

Bombur
Boromir
Elladan
Elrohir
Elrond
Eomer
Furlong
Halbarad
Peath
Thranduil
Potion of Prowess
Shield of Ironbound Ash

Character Pool Saruman, Gandalf (x2), Fram Framson, plus some characters from Draft

Resources (30)

A Friend or Three
Emerald of the Mariner
Forewarned is Forearmed
Forewarned is Forearmed
Glamdring
Gollum
Great Eagles
Lordly Presence
Lordly Presence
Marvels Told
Marvels Told
New Friendship
Old Friendship
Orcrist
Rangers of the North
Riders of Rohan
Risky Blow
Risky Blow
Risky Blow
Sacrifice of Form
Scroll of Isildur
Shadowfax
Smoke Rings
Star of High Hope
Star of High Hope
The Windlord Found Me
Vilya
Waybread
WoodElves
Wormsbane

Hazards (30) * indicates Creatures & ½ Creatures

*Assassin
*Assassin
*Corsairs of Umbar
*Corsairs of Umbar
*Lawless Men
*Lawless Men
*Lawless Men
*Pirates
*Ren the Unclean
*Sellswords Between Charters
*Sellswords Between Charters
*Sellswords Between Charters
*The Mouth of Sauron
An Unexpected Outpost
An Unexpected Outpost
An Unexpected Outpost
Foolish Words
Foolish Words
Foolish Words
Longing for the West
Lure of Nature
Lure of the Senses
Lure of the Senses
River
River
River
Shut Yer Mouth
Shut Yer Mouth
So You’ve Come Back
Stay Her Appetite

 

Sideboard (30) – Resources then Hazards

Beornings
Dreams of Lore
Gwahir
QuickBeam
Vilya
Vilya
Withdrawn to Mordor
Withdrawn to Mordor
Wizard Uncloaked
Wizard’s Ring
Wizard’s River Horses
Wizard’s Voice
Wizard's Laughter
Bane of the Ithil-stone
Beorning Skin-changers
Flotsam and Jetsam
Lure of Expedience
Lure of Nature
Mordor In Arms
Muster Disperses
Muster Disperses
Seized by Terror
Seized by Terror
Seized by Terror
Siege
Siege
The Ring’s Betrayal
The Roving Eye
Twilight
Twilight

The Characters are Elves and Dunedain (to benefit from Star of High Hope) with the ideal starting companies being: Elrond controlling Elrohir who has a potion of prowess, Boromir who has a shield controlling Furlong, and Halbarad on his own.

Most of the Resources are playable at sites working out of Lorien, so depending on what the initial hand is, either all the characters except Halbarad move to Moria on turn one (and hope for an item) or split up and go to the appropriate sites. The Hazards are Men covering most of the areas, some corruption, rivers and a little bit of influence denial.

The sideboard contains anti-one ring cards (such as Seized by Terror and Mordor in Arms) anti Gondor Cards (Lure of Power, Siege) along with useful resources (such as additional copies of Vilya). I did not put 3 copies of Vilya in the main deck, as Elrond is quite a popular character in the tournaments I play and there is a very real chance I would not get to play him in some games.

I tested this proto-type deck and problems came to light almost immediately with the resources/characters:

Rangers – a company without Rangers is very vulnerable to certain hazards (River, Enchanted Stream, Long Winter), my second company of Boromir/Furlong did not contain a ranger.

Halbarad – he was in the game to play Marvels Told, but I only have 2 in the deck, he really wasn’t that useful.

Thranduil is the backup for Elrond, but as he is not a diplomat he can not use the diplomat only cards – Cirdan is a better choice

Old & New Friendship/Lordly Presence – these cards are for diplomats only, which makes recruiting factions hard for the second company which has no diplomat. Although the company sizes are small I think a Friend or 3 is a better choice, as it can be used for both corruption help and influencing attempts, without the need of a diplomat.

Ranger of the North – a 3 MP faction that is too far from Lorien, a faction closer to Lorien (but still worth 3 MPs) would be preferred. Ents of Fangorn measures up nicely.

The influence denial part of the hazards (apart from Foolish Words) was not working at all, I felt it better to swap those cards for more corruption.

So I made the following changes:

Characters:

Remove: Boromir, Halbarad, Thranduil

Add: Beretar, Cirdan, Haladam

Minor Items: Remove both, replace with 2 Cram

So the ideal starting companies are now Elrond with Elrohir (with Cram) and Beretar (with Cram) with Furlong.

Cram is probably the best minor item (for hero companies) in the game. You can use it to untap a character (very useful) or to move an additional region – which is good in this deck, as either company can get to all the sites from Rivendell (eg. Fangorn is 5 regions away from Rivendell).

Resources:

Remove: New Friendship, Old Friendship, Rangers of the North

Add: 2 of A friend or 3, Ents of Fangorn

Hazards:

Remove: 2 of Shut Yer Mouth, So You’ve Come Back, Stay Her Appetite

Add: 2 of Alone & Unadvised, Lure of Expedience, Lure of the Senses

I then tested the modified deck and although the deck performed reasonably in test games I was not totally happy. In particular I felt the Man hazards were weak and often ineffectual. This caused me a dilemma, if I changed the hazards to include Man enhancers (Rank Upon Rank, Thrice Outnumbered) there was a danger my companies would be vulnerable to my opponents' Man hazards enhanced by my cards. A serious rethink was required.

At this point I received some email help from Arco der Boar, a Dutch player who I’d met at GenCon UK last year. Arco runs an on-line store (http://www.cardexchange.com/ – shameless plug!), but is a good player as well. He’d been working on an Elrond deck similar to mine, and we decided to swap ideas.

This really helped to focus my thoughts and be critical of my card choices. I ended up making some very radical changes to the deck!

Specifically, I dropped the Man hazards in favour of a Dragon/Drake hazard strategy. I also modified the resources to include Dragon Feuds which I believe is an excellent card if you suspect you might face Dragons/Drakes and you are playing those hazard creatures yourself (in the worse case I could use my own Dragons & Drakes to cancel dragon automatic attacks).

Arco pointed out he’s noticed a trend with UK players to include many MP cards, and reduce the number of ‘support’ cards. The idea behind having too many MP generating cards is you increase the chances of drawing a playable card at the right time and not have to hold cards from turn to turn. The problem is that with fewer support cards you take more risks with your companies, as there are fewer cards available to help them.

My new proto-type deck looked like this:

Deck List: Dragons Against Elves & Dunedain (I had to change the name!)

(Hero resources up to Dark Minions, Hazards from any/all sets)

Character Draft (10), Minor Items (2)

Beretar
Cirdan
Dori
Elladan
Elrohir
Elrond
Eomer
Furlong
Haladam
Peath
Cram
Cram

Character Pool Saruman, Gandalf (x2), plus some characters from Draft

Resources (30)

A Friend or Three
A Friend or Three
A Friend or Three
Dragon Feuds
Dragon Feuds
Dragon Feuds
Emerald of the Mariner
Ents of Fangorn
Forewarned is Forearmed
Forewarned is Forearmed
Glamdring
Gollum
Great Eagles
Lordly Presence
Lordly Presence
Marvels Told
Marvels Told
Orcrist
Riders of Rohan
Risky Blow
Risky Blow
Risky Blow
Sacrifice of Form
Scroll of Isildur
Shadowfax
Smoke Rings
The Windlord Found Me
Vilya
WoodElves
Wormsbane

Hazards (30) * indicates Creatures & ½ Creatures

*Agburanar
*Assassin
*Assassin
*Bairanax
*Cave Drake
*Cave Drake
*Cave Drake
*Cave Worm
*Cave Worm
*Rain Drake
*SellSwords Between Charters
*Smaug
An Unexpected Outpost
An Unexpected Outpost
An Unexpected Outpost
Foolish Words
Foolish Words
Foolish Words
River
River
River
Rumor of Wealth
Rumor of Wealth
Rumor of Wealth
Searching Eye
Searching Eye
Searching Eye
Summons from Long Sleep
Summons from Long Sleep
Summons from Long Sleep

Sideboard (30)

Beornings
Dreams of Lore
Gwaihir
QuickBeam
Vilya
Vilya
Withdrawn to Mordor
Withdrawn to Mordor
Wizard Uncloaked
Wizard’s Ring
Wizard’s River Horses
Wizard’s Voice
Bane of the Ithil-stone
Beorning Skin-changers
Flotsam and Jetsam
Lure of Nature
Lure of the Senses
Lure of the Senses
Mordor In Arms
Mumak
Muster Disperses
Muster Disperses
Seized by Terror
Seized by Terror
Seized by Terror
Siege
The Ring’s Betrayal
The Roving Eye
Twilight
Twilight

After some brief testing I was much happier with this deck – but it still needed some tuning. I decided to try Arco’s suggestion of cutting back on the MP cards and adding extra support cards, also I’d overlooked a powerful card from Dark Minions that would fit right into the deck and increase the playability of my big dragon creatures; the card – Long Dark Reach.

This card can be played on a company moving through at least one wilderness, you reveal the first 7 cards of your play-deck and can play a revealed hazard creature on the company. If the creature couldn’t normally be played it suffers a –4 penalty to its prowess. So to use this card I want big dragons so the –4 penalty doesn’t weaken the creature too much.

Hence, I dropped the 3 Rivers in favour of 3 of Long Dark Reach, dropped the Sellswords for another large dragon (Scatha) and also a searching eye for Itangast. I wanted as many big dragons in the deck as possible to maximise the effects of the Long Dark Reach.

On the resource side I decided to remove Shadowfax, as this ally was the only time I went to a border-hold. If I avoid border-holds (and just visit free-holds for factions) I avoid any hazards my opponent plays at border-holds (specifically Sellswords between Charters). I also intend to mainly visit Ruins & Lairs in the Northwest (Dragon Country) to maximise the use of Dragon Feuds. Avoiding Shadow/Dark holds (apart from Moria/Goblin Gate) also protects me against facing strong hazard creatures keyed to those sites (Nazgul, Undead, large trolls, etc). My original deck visited Angmar and Gundabad (because of weak Orc automatic attacks in those regions), but then the companies are very vulnerable to other strong hazards.

So Shadowfax went (replaced by the minor item Thror’s Map, which allows me to reuse a Dragon lair). The other MP card cut was The Windlord Found Me. I had this card in the deck for two reasons, miscellaneous MPs and to get my wizard back into play quickly after playing Sacrifice of Form. The big drawback is the time required to store it and the need to keep a character tapped (and I have to visit another shadow hold to play it). This card was dropped in favour of a Smoke Ring. Which I can use to either get a resource from the sideboard or recycle a resource from my discard pile (such as a Dragon Feud).

I also changed some of the support cards. I dropped the 2 Lordly Presence in favour of 2 Musters. As all my characters are warriors, it makes sense to use a warrior card rather than a diplomat card. This change means the second company is almost as good as the primary company in recruiting factions.

I removed a Marvels Told, as I only have one sage (Elrond) and replaced it with a Withdrawn to Mordor. This is a nice card, it is good against agents, but the ability to discard an ‘on-guard’ card is very underrated. Often players will put a nasty hazard creature on guard or a corruption card. Once I’ve discarded one on-guard card with Withdrawn to Mordor, the player thinks twice about putting cards on-guard.

I decided to leave the sideboard as it was, until I’d tried the deck out again.

This time I was able to test the deck against a real opponent. I played two games, one against a Dwarf deck visiting dragon country, the other against a Gondor faction deck.

I won the first game fairly easily. Although my opponent had anti-dragon cards (Old Thrush, etc), the Long Dark Reach meant I could play the big dragons on his company early in the game before he had a chance to collect weapons to help his dwarves. End result was lots of dead dwarves and only one dead dragon (Scatha got eliminated by a wizard playing Sacrifice of Form).

Given the success of the deck (and also time constraints) I decided to use it in this form for the tournament. The deck performed well, I won, the results from the 4 games were: 6-0, 5-1, 4-2 and 4-2. The 6-0 was against a One-Ring deck, I managed to get the Scroll out first and my opponent tested 4 rings and was unable to find the ‘One’.

With hindsight, the deck still needs work, it is vulnerable to corruption (it’s risky to play Vilya on Elrond if he has any corruption) and it has less MPs than I usually include in a deck. The lack of MPs mean it’s hard to pull a good win (6-0 or 5-1), as either it needs better/more MP cards or the deck needs to be faster in general (so I can play all the MP cards in less turns), or it needs more effective hazards (to slow my opponent down). In the tournament scene it is often not good enough to just win (a 4-2) you need to be winning 5-1 or 6-0 to stay competitive with One Ring Decks (which get 7 points for a ‘dunk’) and allow a small margin for error. If your deck wins 3 games 5-1 and then you lose 2-4 you’ll have 17 tournament points, one more than someone who’s won 4 games 4-2.

What I would normally do is readjust the deck following my experiences playing it in the tournament. However as this was a deck built for a restricted tournament (only resources from The Wizards, The Dragons and Dark Minions), I’ve decided to put this deck to one side and instead develop different decks for the remaining tournaments arranged for this year (which are mainly 2-deck standard format), leading up to the UK Nationals in September (at GenCon UK 2000 in Manchester).

I hope this article has given you a taste of way I tune my decks – but as I mentioned at the start this is just a method that works for me, other players may well do it in a completely different way.

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