Deck Building Guide — Shadowverse
Not at all random song highlight: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATcKBMYYSJs
Disclaimer: This article’s principles are timeless and universal, but examples may not be relevant at a later date.
Disclaimer: All card images in this article is hotlinked from the Shadowverse Gamepress site. I’ve no association with them.
This is a basic to semi-intermediate guide to deck building. It’s a lot better if you already have a decent collection with you, but in terms of pure enjoyment, anyone can do it. I’ll try to be brief this time, promise.
For the purpose of this guide we’re not too focused on making a “good” deck, but rather a deck that’s coherent and whose cards work in tandem. This is because whether or not a deck is good depend on the match up it meets on ladder on any given day, which is in turn very meta dependent. I cannot account for this, and this is left for experimentation.
Should you build your own deck?
Netdecking is fine. It works for the most part. If you don’t have a few thousand vials lying around to try new things there’s nothing wrong with netdecking to be more efficient. It’s not unethical to save vials for new expansions or new popular deck archetypes either.
Build decks if you enjoy experimenting on your own, and don’t mind losing some ranks. The process will be better if you’re willing to spend some vials, since experimenting can be severely limited if you just don’t have the cards you want to try out.
- Pick a win condition
- Assemble a shell
- Fill holes
- Smooth out the curve
- Put in finishing touches
- Understand limitations
Pick a Win Condition
A win condition is very important. A random deck thrown together by the computer for you can win games sometimes, but it is less of a deck than a mess that sometimes happen to high-roll your way through some unlucky sod.
A win condition is something that wins games, and for the most part this means dealing 20+ damage to your opponent while staying alive at the same time. There are exceptions, but they are mostly fringe, but this guide will help build decks for them anyway just by applying core principles.
Now a win condition can be a card, a set of cards, or just a general strategy. “Playing 40 cheap followers and hit face until the opponent dies” is a win condition. It’s bad, but you can do it if you want. A deck’s play style will most likely be determined by its win condition, so we’ll take it from there. For the purpose of this guide, we’re going through these steps together. First, the win condition:
Maelstrom Serpent (henceforth abbreviated as Snek) is a cool card. Some may argue it’s bad design but that’s besides the point. It’s strong when it goes off, but it’s slow, high-cost, and unreliable. We’ll try to make it work. You can just slam this card into a Midrange Blood Vengeance deck and hope it goes well, but in this article we’re building a deck around it.
Now let’s take a moment back to analyse what we have. As a win condition, this card floods the board with multiple midrange minions that totals a tonne of stats. This concept is called swing turns. Naturally a deck built for it would be hoping to get to these swing turns consistently, and win off of it. This understanding helps us proceed.
Assemble a Shell
We have 3 Sneks in our deck at this point.
We’re now going to put together a set of cards that supports our win condition, also known as a “shell”. Previously we’ve identified two things that we should try to be doing: make Snek consistent. This is a combo, so we’re a combo deck. What a combo deck needs is card drawing and tutoring (searching for specific cards from the deck).
To make Snek consistent, we should take a look at the card’s conditions again: it floods, and it needs Vengeance. That means that our deck needs to not put out small, trashy followers that will take up valuable space of 5/5s, which naturally lends the deck to be slower, and also means that the followers which we do decide to put in the deck will have to be directly helpful in some way, and just being “good followers” isn’t going to cut it unless we have flex spots.
As for the Vengeance part, there are 3 cards that activate Vengeance reliably: Blood Moon, Belphegor, and Soul Dealer. Blood Moon is very good, since it makes you not be in actual Vengeance. Combining it will give you 1 fewer Snek, but it improves the matchup versus aggro by not actually being under 11 health, and in slower matchup you just don’t play this card if you don’t want to. Belphegor and Soul Dealer both puts you into actual Vengeance by turn 4, but Belphegor is obviously safer, and she also draws cards, something that a combo deck really wants. Soul Dealer is a better body, but that’s not what we’re looking for.
A 4th card we also want is Blood Pack. It’s not as reliable, but it’s like a cheap version of Belphegor. Redundancy is preferred (more of a good thing etc.), and its slight difference makes the shell more flexible. At this point, we have 3 Sneks, 3 Blood Moons, 3 Blood Pacts, and 3 Belphegors. We already have a lot of cycling too, which is good.
Now we have to find a tutor for Sneks. It’s no good if we’re in Vengeance but can’t draw Sneks. At the time of writing, the only tutor is Baphomet. If we want our search to be 100% reliable, Snek should be the only card you can search from your deck. This means every 5+ ATK Bloodcraft card is out of the question. Now Baphomet also has an enhance effect that’s very good for us, since it lets you put out Sneks by turn 6 instead of turn 8, and that’s a very big deal.
Our deck now has 15 cards, and the shell is pretty much complete.
Holes mean weaknesses and inconsistencies. Since our win condition revolves around playing a lot of mid-sized minions on turn 6 or 8, we’ll be trying to account everything that may stop us from getting to where we want to be, or to counter our win condition.
Since the deck plays very anti-tempo cards like Blood Moon and Baphomet, it’ll have an innate weakness to aggressive decks. We should then include cards that help us against these archetypes. Thankfully Bloodcraft has a lot of these anti-aggro reactive healing and removal cards. Of course, these cards have to be adequately powerful by themselves. We’re not going to put bad cards in our deck (except the shell). Cards such as Vampiric Kiss, Diabolic Drain, Revelation, and Hungering Horde could all make the cut. Since we’re still theorising, let’s just say we put 3x of all of these cards in our deck. Our deck is now 27 cards deep.
Righteous Devil is a special case. It only fills our need if we have a spare evolution point for it, but it’s so strong and it also does everything we ever wanted in a non-shell card that we run it anyway, especially since in our deck it’s semi-reliable too.
A weakness of the deck is that huge AoE kills Sneks. Things like Bahamut, Themis’ Decree, and Revelation all do this. Unfortunately, Bloodcraft doesn’t have anything to stop this at the moment. You turn and weep silently for a moment, and carry on.
Now we need even more consistency, because it’s easy to brick with so many reactive cards. A proactive follower that tutors for tutors is also very good, especially since she’s 3 mana. Imagine a sequence of Goblin Mage -> Blood Moon + Diabolic Drain -> Enhanced Baphomet -> Sneks. It lines up so nicely because we really only need to draw two cards to make that sequence reliable. For consistency purpose we’re also not playing any other 2 drop in our decks. Our deck is now 33 cards deep, 3 more selections and we’re good to go.
Smooth out the curve
The faster a deck is, the more it needs graceful PP curve. Our deck is a mid-game combo deck so our curve doesn’t need to be that smooth, especially with so many tutor and discounts which we run.
However, to speak more of a general purpose, aggressive and midrange decks often have very tight curves.
An aggressive deck, let’s use Aggro Blood as an example, runs a very early game focused curve. 1 drops are usually strong because reactive cards often don’t trade properly in terms of resources with them, so they’re of high priority. An aggro deck runs 7–9 of these. 2 drops are important, since they’re usually followers with strong effects and can double-dip on turn 4 to smooth out plays. Most aggro decks runs a lot of 2-drops, usually 12+.
3 drops are different since not many of them are really that good, and they often trade badly with 2 drops. If an aggressive class has access to semi-decent 3 drops they’ll run as many of them as they could find. Cards like Veight and Novice Trooper are always sought-after because they’re actually good. Don’t run Grimnir though, please. He’ll be in every other deck, just not these.
4 drops on the other hand aren’t that important. You’d play them because they’re strong and fit the deck, such as the pictured Orthrus, but usually two 2PP followers work well enough on turn 4 that you’re not too bothered by it. Play them if you have them, but it’s a filler otherwise since you already have so many 2 drops.
Any 5+ cards an aggro deck runs has to be exceedingly strong, since they’re going to literally be unplayable during the formative phase of the game plan. These cards have to close out games by themselves to be considered. That’s pretty much the aggro deck curve.
The Midrange deck curve is different. You want to have just enough reactive cards and high value minions to beat aggro decks, but also just enough fast cards and low curve to outpace control decks. Most midrange decks play anywhere from 3–6 1 drops to capitalise on a good turn 1 draw or going 1st.
2 drops are going to be played for more power than curve, but you’d want a good amount of them anyway, since turn 2 is where the early-game power play comes into effect. Usually 10+ is a good reliable amount.
Every midrange deck has a 3 drop because Grimnir exists. The same good cards from the above section can also be played here to make the curve easier, and they can also afford to be a little slow as your deck can afford the drop in speed.
The same logic behind choosing 4PP followers for aggro decks can also be applied here. The only difference that you could afford to be more reactive with these cards, but essentially they’re the same.
Your 5+ are still your power play, but they do not need to be fast like aggro decks. Cards like Immortal Thane or Deaths’ Breath don’t have Storm to hit your opponent’s face with, but the value and tempo they provide is well worth playing. This is also where you’d see the win conditions of these midrange decks for the most part.
In contrast to this, combo and control decks usually fill their early curve with reactive cards (or ramp if you’re Dragon) and pack their power plays into the late game. Their curve is defined by unique win conditions and cannot be generalised, which is the case for the very deck we’re building here.
Put in the Finishing Touches
These are usually “filler” cards that don’t necessarily help your game plan directly, but it’s strong enough for you to run regardless of that fact. In a more curve-sensitive deck, these cards will fill out the curve for you. In our case, it’ll be cards that substantiate our win condition, or are just that good.
A very good finisher for our deck. Your opponent can usually remove a few Sneks by the time they come out, so having Storm minions on hand to deal the last points of remaining damage is always good. You can choose among Dark General, Soul Dominator, or Alucard as they all hit the same damage cap with different utility.
Mad Cyclone btw. We’re not playing an aggressive deck (or Runecraft), so we put in 3 Grimnirs.
From here’s it’s kind of a free for all, since we have a few open slots. You can play more Storm minions, or big removals like Dance of Death, or whatever you fancy. At this point our deck looks something like this.
Every deck has strengths and weaknesses. A list can only hold 40 cards, and you’ll either have to balance between fixing weaknesses and being consistent with one’s win condition. A top-tier deck is strong because its weakness is limited, its consistency is high, and its win condition is strong. The philosophy to building a deck is to make every deck as close to this ideal as possible.
In our example list provided above, and through previous analysis, we’re aware that this deck lacks damage outside of big Snek turns. Due to a lack of tempo minions, being able to do chip damage and finishing the opponent off with Storm minions are rather difficult, and thus our entire game plan is dependent on dropping Sneks and swinging face with them. Thus, any deck that counters this strategy is naturally favoured.
Pictured above is Bahamut. This is a card most commonly found in Ramp Dragon, and sometimes Aegis Haven. Incidentally, these two decks also have access to other board wipes such as Lightning Blast and Themis’ Decree. You can cheese Haven out with early repeated Snek flooding before they Baha, as your deck’s consistency in Sneks tutoring would likely fair better against their raw draw chances. On a side note, they shouldn’t ever get a chance to Test of Strength + Aegis without dying, if anybody is still running that terrible combo. Against Ramp Dragon, however, you usually can’t win. You play against them like you play against Haven, but you can actually just get bursted from Zell Ouro or Genesis Forte. If you start dropping Grimnir in the midgame, they’ll ramp past it, and when they get to 10PP, you’re practically just folding. Know that you’ll most likely lose against decks like this just by virtue of card selection, and plan accordingly.
No one plays a deck well without actual experience with them. Midrange Sword is probably the easiest deck to play in the meta at the moment, but frequent misplays can be observed at pretty much all levels even for decks that are relatively easy to pilot. On the other hand, a combo deck like what we’ve made is far more complicated than a normal curve deck with mostly proactive cards.
While your personal sample size will always be inadequate, it’s important to get a feel for the deck as well as the meta it’s currently being tested in. This is highly reliance on your own skills as a player, and requires time and dedication. The deck we made above probably isn’t very good at its current state, but it’s a good starting point. If you find glaring weaknesses that can be covered, cut out some flex cards and plug those holes. If you find a deck too inconsistent, add more card draws and tutoring (although in this specific case there aren’t many more to consider).
Through testing you’ll also see easily what the matchup spread for a deck is, and how common it is to play against said matchups. If a deck loses badly to a very unpopular deck, but wins against most others, it can be reasonable to ignore this bad matchup altogether if ladder win rate is your goal. Naturally tournament play demands different play testing, but that’s a different matter that isn’t supposed to be covered here.
This guide assume you’re building a deck from the ground up. You don’t ever actually have to do this, of course. There’s nothing wrong with taking an already existing shell and replacing win conditions, or vice versa. More options will open up the more cards there are, and previously unviable decks may become meta in the future.
Also be aware of a rule. Your deck may be fun and you’re free to play it however many times you want, but it isn’t competitive unless you can climb with it. It’s important to be aware of how good your deck actually is, and how it can be (perhaps with better or future cards) and adjust your expectations accordingly.