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  • Richard Zapp

Deck Building 101: Interactive Practice at Deck Building Ratios


Deck Building 101: Interactive Practice with Deck Building Ratios One of the frustrations I see most frequently with players new to trading card games involves getting comfortable with deck building. Players can quickly get overwhelmed just trying to memorize the card pool, let alone coming up with a reliable paradigm to deck building. But fret not! I’m here today to give my introduction to the common question of “How many copies of X should I run in my deck?” Today’s article is intended to not only help you learn about the process, but to allow you to practice implementing it as well. Before I share my philosophy, I would like to make 3 reminders: 1.) There are a multitude of theories and paradigms when it comes to deck building. I cannot speak on how others approach their building, but only from the ideas that have led to my personal success. 2.) The rules of thumb I share in this article are a guideline that I use during my initial list designing. I have found the most success in following this paradigm rigidly for initial building, but have no problem deviating from initial ratios as quality testing facilitates. 3.) A guideline serves as just that. The ideas here are meant to give a foundation for deck building and not an absolute system. Often, cards in a deck fall under criteria that justify putting it at a multitude of slots. While I tend to follow the “whatever slot it fits best in” mentality when deciding how many copies of a card to test with, I will generally lean towards running multiple copies of a card and cutting back later, than the inverse. Criteria for playing 4x Copies of a Card When I am considering playing four copies of a card, the card generally falls under at least three of the four criteria below: I want to always open with this card - Any deck you play is going to falter if you cannot survive the early game. This generally means both having access to cards that will generate advantage for you until you get to the point in the game where your deck can start functioning as intended. Cards like Energy Boosted Majin Buu, Intensifying Power Trunks,

and Avenging Frieza are all cards I want to play on my first turn, regardless of what deck I’m playing. If my deck struggles with surviving the early game against rush-down strategies, cards like Senzu Bean and Flying Nimbus will be 4 of’s to ensure my deck can last long enough to accomplish its goal. I want access to this card at every point of the game - While I think this idea is fairly self-explanatory, I would like to mention this does reaches past simply cards in your hand. When I think about how I always want Evolving Evil Lifeform Cell in my deck while I’m playing Cell chain decks and how I need Towa, Space Time Unleashed in the Drop or Warp zones for when I want to play Dark Absorption Mira, it’s important that I max out on copies of cards that need to be in a specific place at a specific time for my deck to function. Super combos have powerful effects, but are balanced by the fact we can’t use them at the very beginning of the game. The metagame has evolved around this fact, and most decks work to awaken as early as possible so they can get the most out of these powerful tools. I am comfortable with having multiple copies of the card at the same time - Probably one of the concepts that I think players can incorporate more; if having multiple copies of the same card is something that will be unappealing to you at most points in the game, you should consider cutting down to 3 copies of a card. While in DBS, the mulligan system and energy system can help mitigate this cost, applying the logic of “if this card is dead, I can just charge it” to every applicable card in your deck can lead to dead hands. Not considering the quality of your opening hands is one of the opportunities for improvement I think all people struggle with deck building need to further explore. If having two copies of a card at the same time increases its power (like having multiple Android 18 in hand to evolve Increasing Evil Lifeform Cell into another copy of itself before Union-Absorbing into Perfect Force Cell, or having multiple copies of Unyielding Spirit Trunks in hand to extend plays), I’m almost always including 4 copies.

I almost always need the card to win / to set up my win condition - When we check out decks like Matt Coombs “Apes and Taxes” deck, we see that Forced Ejection Masked Saiyan is at 4. As you will see through this argument that there is a lot of evidence against this card deserving 4 slots in his deck, the fact of the matter is that the deck cannot function without it. I also think about cards like Hope of Universe 7 Son Goku in the Universe 7 Frieza decks; while the card itself is underwhelming in the deck because you lack a Green leader, the card is an important bridge that you always want access to in order to play Son Goku, the Awakened Power Playing 3x Copies of a Card While some deck building philosophies would consider running 3-of’s a sin the majority of the time, I think there are plenty of times where having three copies is the appropriate amount. I usually want access to a card, but do not want to open with it. Most midrange decks rely on cards that hit the board on turn 4-5. Cards like Kami’s Power Piccolo, Saiyan Onslaught Kefla, and Ghost Attack Super Saiyan 3 Gotenks are wonderful once the game gets going, but you need to get that late in the game before the card is impactful. These are all cards I’m generally playing as a three-of to start, especially if they are a 1 +10k on the combo and afraid of not being able to combo my hand in urgent situations. I rarely want multiple copies of the card at the same time. In the same hypothetical decks as above, having the second copy of Saiyan Onslaught Kefla doesn’t help you very much as you are already waiting until 5 energy to play it, and then using all of your resources to finally cast it. Compared to a card like Whis’s Coercion, where even if you cast the first one you will still have an energy to play the other, I am usually starting with three copies of a card if having multiple copies don’t synergize with each other. Mafuba can often be much more impactfu

l than Coercion, but I almost never want the second copy before I have casted the first.

This card is useful in almost every matchup- Some cards are situational in to what matchups they are useful in. In best of three formats, these are generally the cards that are in your side board. If you are playing a card that is not useful in enough matchups that running three copies make sense, you should ask yourself if all of your copies should hang out in the side deck instead. Playing 2x Copies of a Card Even if you believe running four copies of a card is always the correct answer, math says you will need to break that rule for the last 2 slots in your deck - here is how I would determine how to consider what cards belong in the slot. I only want this card at certain points of the game / I don’t want to open with it - If your deck is determined to close the game by turn 6 at the absolute latest, running 2 cards that cost six energy is generally the hot spot. Running two copies means you usually won’t open with either copy, but you can still feel okay about charging it if you end up needing to because you will have a second copy. This card is only useful in certain matchups - In a best of 1 format or a best of three format where completing three games within the time limit can be difficult (such as the current format), running 1-2x copies of a card makes much more sense. In a large tournament where you are not concerned about finishing three games in a timely manner, most players would encourage you to consider siding the additional copies of that card for the matchups that matter most. This card is intended to play the role of another card that I wish I could run more than 4 copies of, and it’s almost as good. Some cards are really good. In an Android list, Evil’s Creator is generally the premier 1 drop. However, only having four copies of a card you always want turn 1 isn’t enough. Create Android is debatably better and functionally completes the same task of drawing into your Cell chain pieces, so I would probably start testing with 4 Gero and 2 Create Android if I thought that having six cards to play on turn 1 was the correct number. I never want to see this card in multiples. I think Mafuba is one of the best cards in the game. In much the same way as Foreseeing Hit can take cards out of the game while you win before they retrieve them, Mafuba can do the same thing for attacking Battle cards. Unfortunately, most decks struggle with casting more than one Mafuba in the same turn. Most players would benefit from keeping Mafuba at a 2x tops unless they are playing a leader like Soul Striker Son Goku. Reasons to play 1x Copy of a card I’ll be the first to admit, I love playing single copies of a card in decks. I love having a shock factor that is almost impossible to see coming. But I’ll be honest, it’s usually wrong from an optimal game theory perspective. There are some exceptions, though.

This card is searchable by another card in my deck.

Let's say we are playing a decklist that uses a Blue leader and runs Fully Trained SS Son Gohan. In most cases, we are going to want to search out Boost Attack Piccolo or Ready to Strike Piccolo. However, there may be times that we need a more reliable Blocker to help seal games away. Focused Mind Piccolo is a card that will occasionally be useful in certain matchups or later in the game; Fully Trained SS Son Gohan allows us to access that card whenever we need to. I think in an engine like this that already has primary and secondary targets, a single copy of Focused Mind makes a lot of sense. My deck cannot afford to cast more than 1 copy of this card in a game, or the game generally ends by casting the card. Some cards can be very expensive; sometimes that cost is relative to what the deck is trying to accomplish. Bad Ring Laser is amazing at closing out games, but if my deck only plays 10 yellow cards, needing to have the Bad Ring Laser, the yellow card in hand, AND the free energy to cast it. That’s fairly situational, and it seems unlikely that I will be able to get the cards together to reliably cast a second BRL throughout the course of the game. Of course, cards like Fu, Shrouded in Mystery, have a very steep cost for most decks, and the ones that can afford to cast it will often forgo playing more than 1-2 copies. This card is intended to play the role of another card that I wish I could run more than 4 copies of, but it’s significantly worse. At ARG Philly this last weekend, I main decked one copy of Union Force Super Sigma. The fact of the matter is that turn 4 is a really important turn, and only have 4 copies of Foreseeing Hit wasn’t quite enough to reliably make the plays the turn I wanted to, and Chain Attack Trunks isn’t always the card I wanted to cast on 4. Union Force Super Sigma was my “5th copy” of Foreseeing Hit - I casted it on the turns that I didn’t have enough energy for Saiyan Onslaught Kefla, and didn’t manage to get to my Hit. I’m not going to claim the card is as good as Hit - it isn’t - but having another 4 drop that I could play after my opponent or I made a Zen-Oh the Plain God play was pivotal to my success; Super Sigma helped with that in a noteworthy way. Last Second Tips Before we begin with the interactive portion of the article, I will leave you off with a few other non-obvious rules of thumb that I have found helped me in my deck building over the years: 1.) When I need to see X before Y for Y to be good, I generally avoid running more copies of Y than X: This is a little convoluted, so I’ll share an example. Let’s say I am playing a Red Blue Hirudegarn deck that includes Hidden Darkness Minotia.


I will see every copy of Minotia before I ever draw into copies of Hiruduegarn, the Wanderer. In order to facilitate that process, I will never run more Hiru than I will play Minotia. Ratios like 4:4, 4:3, 3:3, and 3:2 Minotia:Hirudegarn all make sense, simply because you want to see those cards first. 2.) Building to focus on strong opening hands are more effective than building to focus on strong closing games: Now this is not to make broad statements like “aggro decks are better than control decks” or anything of the sort, but the fact of the matter is that if you don’t open well, you won’t be in a position to get close to winning in the first place. Especially in formats where winning being on the play (going first) gives the player a clear advantage, you will best be able to mitigate that disadvantage by building your deck with ratios in mind that allow you consistently open better than your opponent. When you are toying around with the last few slots, I generally encouraged you to be more generous on cards you hope to draw at the beginning of the game moreso than the end. To learn more about the specific math behind opening certain cards, do some research on hypergeometric calculations, or check out calculators like this: 3.) Build to consider 65, not just 50. I think one thing a lot of people overlook in their deck building construction is that they play more games with side decks than without, but people often spend their time only testing game 1’s. If in general, you think a card is underwhelming in most matchups, but puts in a ton of work against specific lists you are weak against, be comfortable forgoing a card choice or running a minimal number of those cards in the main deck. Even if you lose game 1, you will have access to the cards needed to win the other two games. When I played in the GENCON regional this year, I mained one copy of Mafuba, and sided a second. Aesthetically, I did not like what it did for my main 50. But, I knew that I wanted to run two copies within my 65, and when I was deciding what the last card should be in my main deck, Mafuba made the most sense. Most importantly, go into deck building being confident that your deck building philosophy is solid. Even if it looks poor from some perspectives, or you receive negative feedback, be confident that your reasoning is sound until testing gives you a reason to suggest otherwise. I received a lot of negative feedback from the 1 main deck copy of Mafuba I mentioned above; but I stuck with the 1 main/ 1 sided split for the event; there’s no way I would have went undefeated in Swiss that day without it. Putting Theory into Practice! In order to help you practice how you understand deck building, I’ve made three “quizzes” for you to try! Below are three different decks. I will present each of those decks and consider 1-2 cards within those lists, and ask you to consider if you think they choose the correct ratios for their deck. Of course, there is no objectively correct decision. Fact of the matter is, they probably did better with their deck than we would have - I’m sure their testing justified their decisions. It’s 100% okay to disagree with the deck’s pilot, or with my views. But most importantly, the reason why you believe the number of copies a card should be played in is infinitely more important than simply being correct. Using my rules as a guideline, or through considering your own rules, let’s look at some of these decks! Practice 1: Over Realm or Overwhelmed? Check out this amazing decklist by ARG Philly Invitational Top 8 placer Nick Brady. His Red Blue Hirudegarn deck is designed to win as fast as possible; somewhere between turn 2 and turn 4. When we look at his card ratios, he chose to keep his Over Realm cards to three copies of Scientist Fu.

Question:Do you think 3 copies of Scientist Fu are overkill? Is it so powerful he should run 4? Or perhaps Scientist Fu is too expensive to cast, and he should have considered a different black card to play in tandem with Scientist Fu. What do you think? Link to “answer” on Page 1 Practice 2: Successor of Hype

Over the last few weeks, fellow KTM member Danny Hype has been testing the below deck.

The deck concept is pretty straightforward; set up a board of multiple Ox King, Dad at Heart plus Scrambling Assault Son Goten to generate a constant stream of advantage. To decrease the cost of Scrambling Assault Son Goten and Caring Mother Videl, the deck abuses Bardock the Progenitor (pre-awakening) and Adoptive Father Son Gohan (post-awakening) to essentially make those cards one cost one energy. Danny’s last version of the list ran 3 copies of each. Practice 2 is a two-fold question: 1.) Do the 3/3 split ratio of Bardock the Progenitor and Adoptive Father Son Gohan make sense? Is there a ratio spread that you would test first? 2.) If a player wanted to include copies of Successor of Hope into the list, how many copies should he play? Why?

Practice 3: Trying the New Blue Judge Greg Cross (Thanks for the submission!) and I recently had a chat about this list - the goal was to design a deck based around the new Explosive Power Vegeta, in which players could hide their powerful cards in the Energy area until they were ready to resolve Chain Attack Trunks into Zen-Oh the Plain God, and then resolve powerful effects once the game state had been reduced. For round 3, we’re going to get a little more general. Check out the above list, and pick the three cards that you think have the most questionable ratios and why. Check out the link for the five cards that I think have the most room to play around with. Remember, for this exercise we are only considering changes the ratios of the cards selected, not card choices (but if you do think 4x copies of a card isn't enough, consider what substitute cards could fill similar roles.)

Link to “answer” on page 4 As we conclude this practice, I hope you take with you the idea that as long as your approach to deck building is informed by solid theory, your intentionality is going to allow you to improve in not only your card game career, but your holistic approach to problem solving. Theory does not always translate to practice, but identifying solid deck building theories will allow you to cut down on time it takes to build lists, allow you to make a more accurate list so you can begin quality testing sooner, and give you the confidence you need to believe that your ideas can and will work with time, research, and practice.

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