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Game of Thrones Deck Building: Crafting the Cost Curve

Game of Thrones agot strategy deck building

New players often ask me for tips on how to build a Game of Thrones decks. There are, of course, many perspectives on the most important aspects of deck building. Frequent online advice address amount and type of card advantage, removal, and number of characters for a given deck archetype. More specific or advanced advice may guide players to consider metagame trends. However, one of the most challenging aspects of deck building for new players, and an aspect that continues to perplex many players as they gain experience, is crafting a deck’s overall cost curve.

For those unfamiliar with the term, “cost curve” refers not to the average cost of a card in the deck, but rather to the range of gold costs in the deck. For example, a hypothetical deck comprised of three cards—two 1-gold cost cards and a 4-gold card—would have the same average cost as a deck comprised of three 2-gold cards. However, the cost curve of the former deck would vary while the curve of the latter deck would be flat. (Given Thrones’ use of gold to pay costs, this is also referred to as the “gold curve.”)

The reason cost curve is significant, and we cannot simply look at average card cost, has to do with how collectible card games tend to build over time. The longer the game runs, typically the more capable a player is to marshal more expensive, and typically more powerful, cards as that player has more resources later in the game. While Thrones’ unique plot-gold mechanic arguably makes the gold curve less important than other games such as Magic the Gathering, since a player can marshal expensive characters from the very beginning of the game, Thrones’ setup phase creates an incentive for multi-card setups. In short, and while there are exceptions based on deck archetypes, a player typically wants to play less expensive cards early in the game, and more expensive cards later.

As someone who learns best visually, I find the prevailing Thrones deck building sites (agotcards and CardGameDB) a bit challenging to use. They are useful for sharing lists among players, and the user-interfaces are generally simple and easy to use. However, current sites are generally not designed to provide the type of analytical information at a glance that would be useful to me. I realize this is a subjective criticism, and as a free-to-use tool, I do not mean to sound at all unappreciative—both sites are fantastic, and I use them frequently for other purposes beyond deck building. But I do want to draw a distinction between online “deck builders” and the in-person deck building experience, because I believe that even while technology grows, there’s a space and a reason for in-person deck building.

The Optimal Triangle-Shaped Curve
For me, the deck building process begins and ends with a deck “break down” (though there are, of course, a lot of steps I take in the middle). To break down a deck, I arrange the cards by order of card type, and then cost (see image below). Within each category, cards with identical titles are grouped together. The least expensive (in terms of gold cost) cards are placed on the left, with each new cost in a separate column. Importantly, non-setup cards such as events (and attachments in 1.0) are placed to the far right so they are not confused with the low-cost cards, which are critical for good setups.

Attached Image: Annotated deck.png

I realize the above image is poor quality (I'm in need of a mobile phone upgrade), but hopefully the above “break down” of my Baratheon Knights deck offers a few (mostly clear) takeaways:
  • As the cost rises, the length of each column (and number of cards in each) decreases.
  • The majority of cards fall into the 0-2 gold cost.
  • 4+ cost cards are limited to the extremely powerful.
And here’s what it looks like when the card types are combined to emphasize the focus on cost. I realize it's difficult to make out each card, but note the triangle-shape of the overall deck, excluding plots and non-setup cards, which should be kept to no more than 14 (ideally closer to 10-12).

Attached Image: Annotated deck triangle.png

Most optimized decks will not fit this triangle shape perfectly, but the important takeaway is that this approach prescribes a tradeoff. More powerful characters at higher costs should be significantly outnumbered by less powerful (and sometimes even less efficient) characters at lower costs. It can be a difficult tradeoff for a player to make, because it means lowering the overall power level of the deck. Nevertheless, establishing a dominant position early requires making such a tradeoff; “early game cards” allow for a stronger early board position and create momentum that can carry into the late game . The longer the game runs, the more opportunity one has to draw a specific card, so each deck will typically need many “early game” cards and fewer “late game” cards. (Of course, cards that scale well early and late game, such as inexpensive draw effects, are especially powerful.)

Exceptions to the Triangle Rule
Certain deck types may disregard some aspects of the above approach, or ignore it altogether. A few general categories include the following, with examples from Thrones 1.0:
· Decks with a critical number of cards subject to setup. This currently applies in Thrones 1.0 to decks that run agendas such as The Maester’s Path and Knights of the Hollow Hill (KotHH), and even House of Dreams falls into this category to some degree. In decks that run these agendas, cost curve is still important, but tends to be treated a little differently. For KotHH specifically, a player may run up to nearly twice the number of events as normal because the disadvantages of running numerous non-setup cards can be disregarded if all cards are effectively non-setup (per the text of the KotHH agenda).
· Combo builds. In Thrones, pure “combo decks” are less common than some other collectible card games, but they periodically emerge. A few examples include the pre-errata Bloodthirst decks as well as the King Viserys all-attachment deck that made an appearance at GenCon this year. Such builds tend to take an all-or-nothing approach and thus rely on a specific combination of cards to achieve victory. Usually the gold cost is secondary to accessing the right cards in the right order.
· Other agendas that provide powerful incentives for taking a different approach. For example, Noble Cause provides such a powerful boon to 2-gold characters that there is an incentive to increase the percentage of such characters in a deck. In this case, the average cost can still be maintained by also reducing the number of characters that cost 3 gold and above. It’s worth noting, however, that such a cost curve has significant disadvantages—a flatter curve can result in a weaker board position early or late game. In the case of Noble Cause, typically the late game is weak because high-gold (stronger) characters have been replaced with lower gold characters to keep the average cost down; however, a Noble Cause deck can suffer from a poor early game as well due to a poor setup of only 2-3 cards (as opposed to the average competitive 1.0 deck that will have a 4-5 card setup), given the fewer number of 0- and 1-gold characters in a Noble Cause deck.

As players explore a Game of Thrones 2.0, I hope that the above tips will help them, as well as others looking to get a better handle on deck building essentials. I have found deck break downs to be critical to my success as a player. I hope others find it useful as well.
  • WWDrakey, JCWamma, istaril and 10 others like this


11 Comments

This is the method I was taught to me by Twn2dn and Vaapad when I began competitive Thrones and is a really fantastic way to break down a deck and see where it can be tweaked. Well developed for 1.0, it can really help the transition into the new edition of the game.

 

Twn2dn's previous article on 2.0 theorycrafting is found here: http://www.cardgamed...on-the-ga-r1434

Excellent article. It's worth pointing out to people that obviously second edition has slightly different rules, with the expanded gold curve making it harder to get the neat triangle shape, and attachments being set-uppable but not quite subject to the same rules as other cards.

 

I wonder if, for second edition, it might be worth combining piles - have one for 0-2 cost, one for 3-5 cost, and one for 6+ cost, and try to stick to the same shape as described here? What do you think, Twn2dn?

    • r480 likes this

 

I wonder if, for second edition, it might be worth combining piles - have one for 0-2 cost, one for 3-5 cost, and one for 6+ cost, and try to stick to the same shape as described here? What do you think, Twn2dn?

 

Was gonna ask almost the same :D
Really good stuff to read. Oh, and proxies FTW!

I haven't built enough decks in 2.0 for certain, but my sense is that the cost curve is even more important, though of course depends on the deck. If one builds as I do and aims for an overall efficient build (referencing my previous article here), rather than going for uber Tywin or whatever (which is more like combo, and thus less affected by gold curve), then curve is definitely extremely important.

As for combining piles, I don't see much value there, but could be convinced otherwise. Is there a compelling reason to combine them?
    • fauxintel likes this

The logic of combining piles was essentially a short term measure from necessity due to the limited cardpool. Unless you're playing Greyjoy and have access to Iron Fleet Scout, you cannot have more than 6 0-cost cards that can be set up, 9 with a Banner to not-Night's Watch (and technically 12 if you run Noble Lineage, but I'm assuming you aren't). Likewise your 1-cost options are in most factions limited to The Kingsroad, your reducer, maybe your in-faction attachment. It's not until you get to the 2-cost mark where there starts being a significant amount of options.  So if you don't have some sort of combined piles system, you're looking at piles of something like ~6, ~6, ~12, ~8, ~6, ~3, ~3, ~3 (with some events), and that will make your triangle look like it's got the point in the wrong place.

    • fauxintel likes this

This is a 1.0 article , not 2.0.

Oh I see, yeah I haven't been combining piles in 2.0 but completely agree that the optimal build is pretty hard in the limited card pool. Still, the closer a player can get to a triangle shape, the more consistent the deck will feel. The three decks I have built for 2.0 more or less follow this approach, though as you point out low gold options are few, so the overall curve is a little higher than I'd like (though I've mostly kept the average cost down).

For banner decks, it's a little easier. My NW build, which admittedly may be an awful deck, comes pretty close with nine 1-gold cards, and fewer of each cost as it scales up... Currently trying five 5-gold characters, three 6-gold, and no 7-gold characters. We'll see how it plays (probably not strong enough, but the setups and overall curve do feel good).
    • fauxintel and Thyrkill like this

This is a 1.0 article , not 2.0.

It's of course up to each player to find that personal balance in cost curve, but my view is that this will also apply to 2.0, especially as the card pool expands. I used 1.0 examples because I am most familiar with those and they came to mind. But fundamentally 1.0 and 2.0 are still the same game, so as we have more card options (and especially as we have more 2-claim plot options), I predict we'll see cost curves that begin to look more like 1.0 decks. It might be take 6 months of chapter packs before we have enough cards to do that though.
    • kizerman86, fauxintel and Thyrkill like this
Totally agree this is easily applied to 2.0 deck building very easily. Great article.
Thanks for the article. I'm a brand new Thrones player (new to LCGs actually) and your points are helping me figure out how to deck build effectively. Can't wait to actually play the game soon!

Which, if any, revisions would you add to this article in the post-FSoW meta?