Making Epic Decks Part 1 of 3

With many new folks joining the Epic Duels deck-making community over just the past couple of years, I thought it might be worth a refresher on deck-building.

Although volumes have been written on this topic over the past 10 years, I wouldn’t know where to find much of that written right now.  Furthermore, most of it was written closer to 10 years ago, so anyone joining up the past 5 years or so might never have been exposed to that.  Finally, my own thinking on deck-making has evolved over the years, so not all of the old stuff would apply.

So for anyone new or old to Epic Duels deck-making, here are some guidelines on building good decks, based upon what I’ve seen work:

1. Start with why:  Why make the deck that you’re making?  Why does Epic Duels need it?  “Because I like the character” is a good start, but what about that character needs to be represented in Epic Duels?  What will this deck uniquely DO to win games?  Think of a combination of card effects that represents how that character will win a duel.

As an example, why make a Darth Vader, Jedi Hunter deck?  Because we weren’t satisfied with the Vader from the original, nor any of our attempts to tweak him.  To get the Vader we wanted, we had come up with a new deck, one that would represent him as a very powerful, fearsome melee combatant.

Another example is Bultar Swan, why create a deck for her?  Because we think she’s interesting in her dueling approach, to remain very still, then strike in a blaze of motion, and think we could capture that in a deck.  Shaak Ti crowd fights, plus has some interesting tricks.  Ki-Adi-Mundi leads clones into battle.  Director Krennic sets up his one big attack.

2. Path to victory:  Before thinking about defense and movement and healing and card draws, you want your character to have a Path to Victory.  You’re generally looking for a combination of cards and conditions that result in that character’s big advantage, or even outright victory.  It is also possible to have a Path to Victory without any direct combinations of cards.  In addition to forming any key card combinations, it is about making sure your character has enough offense to beat the other guy.  Offense can be in the form of power attacks (typically) or direct damage, but also forcing discards, the way Emperor Palpatine and Yoda do.  In relation to the Why of the deck, the Path to Victory will often consist of a special combination of cards, plus some other offense cards to make sure it can finish the job after the Path to Victory combinations and conditions give it the advantage.

It’s nice when you use a card combination and have your deck sort of revolve around that.  A couple of classic examples are Anakin and Palpatine, and we’ll start with Anakin.  Anakin’s deck has other things it can do, for sure, but the heart of the deck is ANGER-CALM.  Even without Padme, Anakin can defeat a lot of enemies by using that combo effectively.  The damage from even 1 ANGER and drawing 5 cards from CALM may not win the game outright, but it’s such a big advantage.  If the player does ANGER-CALM multiple times, he can cycle through his deck quickly for more ANGER cards, enough offense to kill another major, that and his Red basic deck.

Palpatine is best known for the YOU WILL DIE – MEDITATION combo, but what makes him so good is that he has a full 9-card set of card-denial cards that support that combo, and even FUTURE FORESEEN helps set it up.  YWD-MEDITATION gives Palpatine a big advantage, but his path to victory ultimately relies upon playing 4x FORCE LIGHTNING, plus his forced discarding allowing him to maximize damage from his strong minors, who are important to his deck.  FORCE LIGHTNING is what I call a Bread-and-Butter attack card, which I’ll cover in the next post.  It’s an attack you have 3 or 4 copies of in your deck to use as an anytime attack, and it’s offense helps support the PtV.  Other examples are ROCKET RETREAT and JEDI ATTACK.

Decks can also have the path to victory rely upon interplay between the major and personality minor.  The obvious example is Han & Chewie, but also Luke & Leia.  Mike Maloney’s Qui-Gon & Jar-Jar deck is one of the best fan-made versions of this dynamic.

Despite this, I would say that every major needs to be able to win the game on his/her own.  If Chewie goes down early, Han is in trouble, but Han still has his own Path to Victory, part of what makes the deck so great:  He can play his A5s and A4s, then reshuffle his deck with NTMTO and play them again.  Those A4s need to get lucky in taking away some of his opponent’s better cards, that’s also part of the conditions that Han needs to win without Chewie.  Similarly, Anakin is aided by Padme but he can win without her by using ANGER-CALM to cycle through his deck to play his A8s, maybe even a second time through.  Luke can obviously win both with and without Leia, part of his conditions are her dying to unleash the power of JUSTICE.  Luke and Anakin both share the conditions of needing to get their cards in the right order.

Not every deck is going to have a key combination like those decks have, but you want to make sure the deck has a way of delivering enough damage to knock out the other guy.  Take Yoda for an example.  He’s offensively challenged, but you can still see how 3x FORCE LIFT plus the 2x INSIGHT set up the 2x A6 and an A4 for 16 damage, plus 2x FORCE PUSH give him 22 total.  It might not be enough to defeat every opponent without going through the deck more than once, and Yoda is fairly unique in that regard, since most decks have more damage output and less defense.  He also has some damage from FORCE REBOUND, but the Path to Victory almost never includes defense, defense is typically soley for support.

Dooku is a little different, since he doesn’t have a card combination, and relies upon a set of conditions as much as his cards.  He beats you with his 4x A7, and the rest of his special cards give him a lot of draw power to get to them quickly.  His entire deck is basically to set him up to get those A7s, and against most opponents, that’s enough to do 20 damage or more.  Still, if you replaced Dooku’s strong minors with weak ones, he’d be lacking in offense the way that Yoda does.

I think it’s worth noting here that strong minors matter a lot and this is something I’ve noticed that Mike Maloney always considers in balancing his decks.  Strong minors play an important role in Dooku’s and Emperor’s decks.  You don’t just throw them into a deck, though I admit we’ve done that with Shaak Ti and Plo Koon, which makes both decks really, really powerful.  Strong minors plus power defense is tough to bring down, though Grievous goes down easily enough.

Vader‘s Path to Victory relies upon doing 14 direct damage to the major.  Against tougher majors, that isn’t enough, but it’s supposed to give him enough of an advantage to finish the job.  However, his red deck and his A3s generally don’t do more than squeak a little more damage through, in part because his direct damage cards don’t force defense to be used.  His Path to Victory isn’t quite worked out the way it needs to be, so we increased the value of his power attacks to rectify that, and he works ok with tweaks.

I’m not sure why Obi-Wan‘s works as well as it does, because 3x A6 and 2x A7 doesn’t seem like a lot, but I think part of his Path to Victory is just that he’s so tough to take down.  Also, unlike Vader, he’s always making you use your defense cards, and he wins the trading of blows because of his defense with draw power.  With the average defense card around 2.5, Obi-Wan dispenses over 18 points of damage and can retrieve an A7 from the discard pile for another 4-5 points of damage if he needs more (he often does).

Mace’s Path to Victory relies upon a set of conditions, which is to be playing a high-card game.  That lets him get the most out of BATTLE MIND and he has enough other offense cards to finish the job.  WHILRWIND doesn’t exactly combo with BATTLE MIND but you have to consider both cards part of his Path to Victory.  Darth Vader Jedi Hunter is the opposite of Mace, where playing a low-card game is part of the conditions that help him win, though he also has combos like MASTER OF EVIL and YOUR POWERS ARE WEAK.

Bultar Swan, who actually has a lot of direct damage and some A6s to go with her 2x A8.  If she had more hit points or strong minors, she’d be really tough.  Quinlan Vos is another good example of a path to victory:  He does some no-action attacks and takes damage, which powers up his BRINK card to be a killing blow.  The rest was just sort of filled in.  Kylo Ren has almost of all of his cards forcing discards and creating an advantage for him.  Our Plo Koon deck is more of a steady, wear-you-down deck, but it has some big attacks and enough direct damage to supplement that.

As you think about this winning combo and path to victory, a deck sometimes just comes together.  One I like to point to is Eomer from LOTRED, a deck that I like so much, I gave it to Enfys Nest to bring it to Star Wars.  Sort of the “why” behind his deck was the OATHS FULFILLED card where he and his horses ride over you for direct damage and action loss.  Then, CHARGING ATTACK and FLANKING MANEUVER all sort of came together around it, and I had an interesting, 6-card combo that Eomer can basically win the game with.  As for Enfys Nest, the “why” is I wanted to capture the marauder from the train robbing scene in the Solo movie, and felt that the Eomer deck had enough of what I wanted to use for that.  I may find more Enfys-y card ideas for the deck over time, but this is where I currently am with it.

There’s definitely more to making a good deck, but I’m going to stop here for now because these are the most important parts of making a deck:  Know why you’re doing the deck, what it does in Epic Duels to make it unique, and how that’s represented by a group of cards that results in that deck winning the game or having a big advantage over the other decks.  Figure that out, and the hardest and most important part of deck-making is done.


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