The Deck Archetype Spectrum

If you’ve played a deckbuilding game before, such as Hearthstone or Magic: The Gathering, you may have heard other players talk about deck archetypes. Usually it’s in the form of an argument about what archetype a given deck falls under, or which one is the best/most fun to play. But the thing is, deck archetypes can be confusing and sometimes the lines between them are fuzzy. So today, I wanted to propose my way of classifying deck archetypes: The Deck Archetype Spectrum!

There are two axes to my spectrum: Speed and Synergy. Speed refers to how quickly your deck intends to win the game. For example, an aggressive deck that aims to defeat their opponent as quickly as possible would be a fast deck, whereas a deck that intends to make every card count and to outlast their opponent would be a slow deck. Synergy refers to how much individual cards rely on the other cards in the deck to be powerful. An independent deck would be a deck where the cards in the deck are powerful in their own right. By contrast, a synergistic deck may use cards that are fairly weak on their own, but that can be used in specific combinations to become extremely powerful.

To give some examples, I have plotted some of the most common deck archetypes onto the spectrum below. I’ve also given some brief descriptions of those archetypes in case you’ve never heard of them. If I missed one of your favourite archetypes, leave a comment and let me know. Or even better, see if you can figure out where it should go on your own!

Spectrum Image.png

A few final notes about this spectrum:

  • Both Speed and Synergy are relativistic terms. This means that where exactly a deck falls depends on what other decks exist in the game. So while one day a deck might be classified as Aggro, if faster decks get created it might shift to being considered Tempo or Midrange by comparison.

  • No deck archetype is inherently more or less fun than any other. Fun is subjective, so play whatever kinds of decks you want. We here at Cloudfall won’t judge you for the decks that you like to play, even if we personally don’t enjoy playing them.

  • I consider this spectrum a work in progress. If you have any suggestions for making it better, let me know in the comments below!

Aggro (Fast, Independent)

Your typical aggressive deck. Its goal is to finish the game quickly by playing lots of cheap, strong cards. It will sometimes interact with what the opponent plays, but will prioritize attacking the opponent directly.

Face/Burn (Very Fast, Independent-Synergistic)

A hyper aggressive deck where it only cares about beating their opponent as quickly as possible. It will always attack the opponent directly unless it is immediately apparent that it will lose otherwise. Cards in the deck tend to be independently powerful so that the deck can be more consistent, but will sometime utilize synergies.

Midrange (Average, Independent-Synergistic)

The middle ground between Aggro and Control, Midrange decks can adjust their speed based on what they’re facing. This allows the deck to be the aggressor or play defensively depending on the matchup. These decks vary a lot in terms of synergy.

Tempo/Zoo (Fast-Average, Independent)

Similar to Midrange, Tempo decks can adjust their plan somewhat based on what they are facing. However, their goal is to control the speed of the game and push incremental advantage over time. This means that in most matchups it tends to be the aggressor. Cards in the deck are independently strong since the goal is to play the strongest thing possible each turn, and synergies can make achieving that goal inconsistent.

Control (Slow, Independent)

Your classic slow deck. The goal of the deck is to clear the opponent’s threats over and over again until you can play a few large threats to end the game.

Fatigue (Very Slow, Independent)

An extreme version of Control that plays for the long game. Unlike typical control, Fatigue doesn’t run a specific win condition, but rather doubles down on survivability to outlast anything their opponent can throw at them.

OTK/Combo (Slow, Synergistic)

Similar to other slow decks, OTK decks also try to stall the game. However, their goal isn’t to outlast but rather to draw a very specific set of cards which, when played together, instantly win the game. This means that they often run a lot of card draw in order to reach their combo quickly.

Tribal (Fast-Slow, Synergistic)

Tribal decks are a difficult type of deck to classify. They can be any speed, though typically they are fast-average. Their defining trait is that all of the cards in the deck are highly synergistic, such as all being the same tribe or card type. Often this means that individual cards are relatively weak, but grow significantly more powerful the more of them are played.

Mill (Average, Synergistic)

Several card games have the rule that if your deck runs out of cards, you lose the game. In those games, some decks are created specifically to force their opponent to draw too many cards too quickly so that they deck out and instantly lose. These decks tend to play similar to OTK decks, except that they can often reach their goal faster.

Thanks for reading! If you’ve made it this far, why not sign up for our newsletter? That way you can stay up to date on all things Cloudfall. You can also like us on Facebook, or you can follow us on Twitter.

Stay lofty!

X-Disciplinary: Deckbuilder Deck Thinning and Creative Writing

I admit that I have an obsession with deckbuilder games. I also have an obsession with the idea of being a creative writer. So it was kind of nice when my skill in deckbuilding translated over towards my poetry / prose.

If you haven't read my other posts about deckbuilders, allow me to summarize. The "deckbuilder" genre is a game where you interact with game mechanics by playing from your personal deck of cards. Specifically, you get to add cards to & subtract cards from your deck in order to stack your draws and perform exponentially better as time goes on.

Well, a key part of the deckbuilder genre that pushes you from 'beginner' to 'intermediate' is when you start to realize how strong shaving down your deck size can be, as opposed to just making a big bundle of whatever value cards you kind of like.

Some people on Slay the Spire forums complain they can't beat the game, and then also refuse to remove Strikes from their deck... now it won't be you!

Some people on Slay the Spire forums complain they can't beat the game, and then also refuse to remove Strikes from their deck... now it won't be you!

With the "thin deck" strategy, you should focus on a few key cards with specific effects and remove as many middling cards as possible. By doing so your average hand will have a much higher chance of including the exact cards you want with none of the anti-synergistic fluff in between.

You've heard this kind of advice before if you've ever tried your hand at creative writing, or even academic writing. But I guess I never intuitively Got It as much until my descent into deckbuilders gave me a better sense of recognizing how different parts can interlock [or not] at a given moment.

When you're writing a story, or prose, or especially poetry, you want each word to carry as much impact as possible. And sure, you can choose stronger words, but that'll get you so far.

Eliminate unnecessary words.

You have to try and get rid of any words that aren't strictly needed.

Of the two above statements, one probably sounds a lot heavier, eh? I write in a freeform janky style in my blog posts because I prefer giving my tone a smooth and relaxed texture, but in actual creative writing [especially poetry!] it's important to make sure that your 'fluff' words aren't making the reader spend proportionately less time on the words that matter.

A reader taking in 3 words per second may be considered equivalent to drawing a hand of 5 cards a turn.

Thus, the quality of each hand/second is determined by the average quality of each card - or word - combined. 

THUS, one can improve the quality of any given moment [or hand of cards] either by adding more high-quality content, or by simply removing low-quality content. 

( And this somewhat explains why novels tend to be more permissable with rambly long passages. Similarly, fat decks that can stand up to curses or poor thinning options can be just as competitive if done correctly. Novels have the luxury of allowing overarching character development and plot points to somewhat make up for the lower saturation of impactful words. [Plus, you'd probably get exhausted.] )

So now it's time to add another aspect. In a deckbuilder, other than just getting rid of unnecessary cards, you ALSO want to make sure that your remaining cards all have a strong synergy with each other; this is especially true when you're more likely to see the same cards in the same hand together. Take advantage of your emphasized pairing!

When writing: you'll want to make sure that your words, ideas, characters, sentence flow, tone, syllabic emphasis, etc are all complimentary with each other. And by always checking to cut away unneeded bits, you make such little synergies become increasingly A) common, B) powerful, and therefore C) important to consider.

We all kind of know that this stuff is important to writing - synergies and shaving down your words, etc. But I can honestly say that getting waist-deep into deckbuilders has sharpened my intuition for how to shave down and sculpt a powerful written piece. Maybe it'll do the same for you?

Guide: Deckbuilder Tips for Beginners + Prompts for the Experienced (Part 3/3)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

So you're already a strong builder of decks thanks to the past two tips. I've only got one left to give you, one that will (hopefully) keep you improving forever. It's only listed #3 because I like the narrative structure of it being last - IMO, it's actually the most important of all.

Tip #3: Don't Play Every Game to Win

Don't click away! I promise this is still about optimizing your win rate and getting better at deckbuilders. This isn't me saying "remember to have fun, it's just a game. :)" Because while yes, that's true, I know that's not why we're here.

This tip should IMO apply to everything you do in life, but deckbuilding is a good place to start because their design rewards experimentation much more than other games.

Dedicate games to experimental strategies that you'd normally avoid. In order to grow, you must view cards/strategies from new angles, in case you discover something better than what you're doing now.

i understand the fear of trying something strange

i understand the fear of trying something strange

There's a kind of tension for players who are concerned about playing well, and it's this: if you care a lot about victory and defeat, and you're grinding out lots of games to try and improve, you'll naturally start adopting patterns of play. Developing patterns is mostly good: save mental energy by formulating frameworks and strategies to follow, right? You had a great run with a specific card, so every time you see that card, you remember what synergies generally worked and try to replicate them. 

But adopting patterns creates problems when you start to accept too many things as a given. For example, "thin decks can be good with certain cards" can easily become "always keep your deck thin". Or "This card combo is pretty strong" becomes "I see this combo is available, so I'll ignore other potential strategies".

My theory is that some games cause humans to generate a lot of inaccurate 'rules' whenever game variables have a massive influence on your outcome but are ALSO so numerous that it's hard to account for each variable at once.

For example: what if your OP card combo five games ago only worked because there wasn't another card in the available pool that your opponent would have otherwise grabbed in response to your strategy? That one game 'proved' that your strategy was strong, so now you're stuck with a big head and a big miscalculation of power level.

No good.

If you're like me, it's ridiculously hard (and kinda boring) to look at every single card combiniation available and ascertain all of the theoretical synergies and counters that are possible. And to do such a thing every turn would make your playgroup hate you. It's arduous to perfectly logically think your way through this stuff. (Which is by design - if you could, the game would be "solved" and become stale.)

experimentation doesn't always pay off, but it's always worth trying

experimentation doesn't always pay off, but it's always worth trying

So what do you do instead? The answer is, essentially, the scientific method: just play through a bunch of games and try out different strategies in different contexts, and make internal note of your observations. If you keep your attention open, you'll start to formulate (almost subconsciously?) the nuanced contexts that make a certain strategy better/worse in different scenarios. And that's how you get better.

Whenever you play to win, you'll find yourself kind of "locking in" a set of rules for yourself to give you what feels like a consistent game. But if you never have experimental games, if you never try out something new, you'll never open yourself up to evolving layers onto your strategies. On the obvious level, you might learn that you undervalued a certain card. But on a less obvious level, you might learn that you had overvalued your go-to combo and can produce an equivalent effect by doing some other thing.

Finally: yes, if you can give yourself "win conditions" such as having fun or seeing how far you can take some janky strategy, you'll probably just have more fun with the game overall and avoid burning out. So that's nice too.

Now get in there and do some science! :)

+: Seriously, Keep Experimenting

This one's going to be short because, by design, this third tip is something that you'll probably be doing 'forever' if you really want to get good.

In any half-decent game, you'll never really stop benefiting from experimentation. Yes, after a point you'll get diminishing returns. But if you always do the same things, you'll always get the same output. Sure, you won't get lower results by staying the same... but you give up the chance of higher results too.

At a higher level of play, your experimentation just gets more complex and nuanced. For example, maybe you'll start testing the quickest turn that the opponent's strategy can adapt to a change in your own strategy when doing x deck vs y deck with abcd cards in the pool.

You get the idea - there's always something to experiment with. Just introduce more contexual variables and you'll have a new experiment. 

BUT. This only works if you keep an open eye to your results. Trying an experiment multiple times is important to see the same strat across tons of contexts. Taking internal note of what you see - more than once, ideally - is the key to improvement.
I guess just in general, that's how you learn in real life too.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed reading this series, and hope this information can be useful to you. And I especially hope that I've made you excited to play some deckbuilders!

Good luck out there. :)