An Abstract Philosophy of Deckbuilding in Mythgard
Updated: Oct 18, 2020
The original publication of this article took place on TRS over a year ago. Some aspects may be slightly dated but the core of the article and what it discusses remains the same.
Back to Basics: What Defines a Deck?
Deck construction in collectible card games presents a singular joy in the process of putting together a deck which is uniquely your own. Chess and the Avalon Hill wargames of the ‘60s and ‘70s presented a rigid set of scenarios in which predetermined pieces in set positions test the tactical and strategic prowess of players. Starting with Magic: The Gathering, and through the many collectible card games and deckbuilding board games which followed, the pieces were not only variable but represented an almost unlimited set of combinations. Bringing your own pieces to play on a blank game board without fixed positions for game pieces was exciting enough, maybe reminiscent of Games Workshop’s first printing of rules for Warhammer 40,000 miniature combat in 1987, but the random draw of pieces from a shuffled deck allowed for procedurally generated play.
Not only did a player need to devise the strategies and synergies which would propel them to victory, but they needed to do so without being completely certain what elements of their deck would be available at any given moment. Without being able to plan every specific detail and interaction, the necessity of a focused plan of attack becomes vital to finding consistency in an inconsistent game. This premise extends very much into Mythgard, perhaps especially because it’s system of resources permit every card in one’s deck to be a tool at your disposal.
It is true that your deck will be unlikely to be flooded with or deprived of resource cards, but it also become clear quite quickly that your opponent will also not be drowning underneath card which do not immediately contribute to their strategy. The large hand size and consistent stream of resources allow decks to have many paths forward and flexible approaches to the game. In this way it is also crucial to have a clear vision for how your deck can proceed.
When I am not playing card games, I teach college writing and English courses and the single best insights I can offer to any rhetorical or analytical task can be summed up in a single word: thesis. The problem indeed for most arguments, probably about anything but certainly about interpreting literature, is not that someone is making an argument that is simply incorrect. Interpretation is just that, up to an individual’s personal reading and interpretation of a text. Where many arguments fall short is not that they have an incorrect core premise, but that they lack a motivating premise in the first place. Without knowing precisely what you want to argue, it can be impossible to know how you should go about it, much less why.
While I am likely biased, I think this insight has helped me also consider how to go about constructing a deck in Mythgard among other card games. It isn’t very helpful to say that a new deck you’re building is simply “bad” without having a strong sense of what exactly it is bad at. By defining the goals and methods of the deck, it can become much clearer how it can be improved and what sorts of choices you can make in order to refine a deck into the best possible version of itself among other decks. I will break down the rest of this article into these three categories: what, how, and why.
It is also probably helpful to note that even though I have lots of experience, unlike competitive players, my interests in conceiving of decks is rather abstract. Understanding matchups and very specific interactions are necessary to truly manage competitive environments. Knowing what kinds of things will happen is useful but understanding how to react to specific interactions what to anticipate, all the way down to individual cards and interactions, is critical to competitive play. Instead, I think this generic philosophy of how to imagine decks and deckbuilding, might serve as a starting point and a framework which could ultimately incorporate the more exacting thoughts of more competitive players.
What Are You Trying to Accomplish?
I find it helpful to historicize decks as a concept and then imagine what we might want and expect from decks. Ultimately thinking of how you want to win seems really useful. The answer can be simple, like "attack with minions until your opponent's life is zero," or complicated, like "play Zira Sablewing on Bald Mountain and recycle Volitions so that it can attack for tons of damage in a single turn.” A clear premise which motivates your deck not only provides an answer to the question of what you intend for it to do but filters down to all other concerns.
Determining which cards to add, which cards to remove, can emerge readily from how they interact with the deck’s central premise. If your deck is designed to win with a quick aggressive fleet of creatures, slower and more deliberate cards may become obviously less desirable. Alternately if you plan to win a slow grinding march to your opponent’s deck running out, being able to attack for quick damage starting on turn one is almost certainly not going to contribute enough to your central strategy enough to justify taking up a slot in your deck.
Historically the most common way to try to win has been minions or their analog, like creatures in Magic. Magic was originally conceived maybe with some of the aforementioned tabletop strategy games in mind, using a stable of creatures attacking and defending and over time to win a war of attrition. We can even see this in cards like Raging River in Magic’s original Limited print, which attempt to make the board a bit more of a staged area for your game pieces. The focus on attacking and defending with game pieces remains a very common mechanic across card games because they are renewable sources of damage, which can help defend against your opponent's units as well. Mythgard pushes this even further by allowing for blockers to stake out lanes and a zone of control in the three opposing lanes. Enchantments can directly or indirectly establish such a zone of control and thus position on the literal game board is even more critical to contest.
If your strategy is minion-based, finding the right ratios and costs of creatures to make sure you're playing them every turn, escalating with your increasing resources (in magic, playing lands, and in this game burning cards) is a good place to start. Strategies that rely on more slowly controlling the board or assembling a specific set of moving pieces may not have the same exact focus on maximizing resources every single turn to generate an escalating immediate threat.
Again, it is uncommon that there is an explicitly “wrong” way to organize your strategy, so long as you have some organizational premises motivating your deck. A deck which does not utilize every scrap of mana by the end of every turn is not doomed to failure so long as this behavior is intentional. Having in mind this clear design goal also allows the other aspects of deckbuilding to fall into place as they are all oriented toward this central premise, creating a clear trajectory for the deck according to this roadmap. Even if things don’t fall easily and obviously into place, you know where you intend to go and can always refer back to this kernel as you develop the means to arrive at this goal.
How Are You Going to Accomplish This?
Considering again the question of our simple minion-based deck, we can imagine the process of deciding what cards go in the deck. If our goal is to attack with minion then adding minions seems like a slam dunk. But does this mean you should play only minions? Some obvious advantage would emerge from this plan. You would always have minions to play, and the variety of minions available could even ensure that they are the ones you want in any situation! Of course, if your opponent did the same thing and they played first, you would always be behind. Even worse, if they have spells or other combat tricks which allow them to force unfavorable trades, you would similarly find yourself on the losing side of a war of attrition.
So then we can imagine using spells as a form of removal to make way for your minions to attack or to protect your own minions from enemy removal. If your goal is to win by attacking with minions, you can find spells and other solutions that help advance that goal, either by making your creatures more effective, harder to block, or by drawing more of them. Again, referring to the central premise of the deck can ensure that the “how” of your offensive strategy is well represented in the cards for your deck. If a card isn’t pulling its weight according to this blueprint, you can seek out alternatives that most efficiently advance your deck’s agenda.
We can observe the progression of concepts in the history of early Magic by looking at the famous example of Brian Weisman’s “The Deck”. While the common premise a few decades ago was based on setting up a creature beatdown, Weisman’s deck, what would now be identified as part of the “control” archetype, had radically different goals. As Mike Flores notes above, the pertinent concept here relies on efficiency and value over time, staging a war of attrition and slowly draining an aggressive opponent’s resources. Removal, rather than contributing to the project of reducing an opponent’s life to zero as fast as possible, combines with life gain and continuous effects from non-creature permanents which cannot be dispatched with removal. This defensive posture allows the player to safely establish their own gameplan on their own time and respond more flexibly to a variety of offensive strategies.
The concept of “card advantage” as it is now recognized seemed at first glance to be a little counterintuitive. Life gain and removing and opponent’s offensive tools by themselves can’t win a game on their own. However, when this strategy is examined in terms of a win condition, in Weisman’s case two Serra Angels, what seem like merely stalling tactics instead become the means by which this deck can achieve its ultimate goal. Defensive strategies in many games, including Mythgard so far, also can lend themselves to alternate win conditions. Simply running your opponent out of all resources can be a winning strategy in and of itself, in Mythgard exemplified by Burn’s supercontrol, a BYG deck which relied on, now nerfed or outright changed cards, to control the board at the expense of basically any offense. While it had some defensive tools that involved minions, most notably Serpent's Den and Magnus Thorsson, the goal was to be able to win without ever attacking. By using old versions of The Recursionist, the deck was capable of cycling its cards back into deck, clearing the board and slowly waiting for the opponent to run out of cards!
This synergy can be very powerful, especially as it means that conventional removal and disruption may be ineffective against a deck that has very few minions at all. Unconventional strategies, provided they have a clear motivation and a deck organized around achieving these unconventional goals, can be thoroughly effective, especially as you consider the potential context of your deck.
Why is This the Best way to Accomplish Your Goal?
There can be many answers to the “why” question, ranging from personal preference and style to trying to manage a ladder full of decks which may be vulnerable to particular strategies. Mythgard as a game, perhaps particularly because it lends itself to reasonably consistent outcomes and snowballing in combat where attackers choose their blockers, may reward even more careful consideration of what sorts of decks you want to play and why. As described above, a variety of playstyles are possible. The acute specialization in Mythgard’s deckbuilding, in the form of Paths which reward specific synergies in deck design, rewards a strong commitment to certain styles of play, which in turn will reward players who design decks that they feel especially comfortable playing.
Mythgard has been described by many players as having a very high skill ceiling, providing the player with many opportunities to make decisions, to determine what resources and cards they want available, and how they can react to the unfolding game state. Choosing a deck which suits your individual style can not only be fun but provides you with the comfort level and familiarity to make the most of your deck’s capabilities. Style of play, aggressive or defensive, focusing on early game or late game, all have particular skills and tactics associated with them and some techniques or decks just click well with some players. Constructing your deck according to a specific paradigm will only take you so far if this isn’t a paradigm that you actually want to play, independent of how effective it may be against other decks.
Metagame, so called, the competitive environment in which your deck will compete whether it is your local card shop or a global online ladder, is also a crucial element of determining why you might design a particular sort of deck. Not only can you consider your preferences, comfort zone, and expertise with a variety of decks, you can consider everyone else’s preferences. Mythgard is still growing and the community is continuously developing new decks, so searching for a well-defined metagame is difficult. That being said, there are certainly trends and, barring anything else, knowing what kinds of decks you are matching into at any given moment can offer some guidance into what kinds of things you want to build. You may want to ride the wave of a Red Orange midrange deck or roll out your removal-heavy control deck when you see three Red aggro decks in a row. This external information can also feed into your decision-making process.
Where Do You Go from Here?
The experiences of discovery in deckbuilding transcend any one game, and while Mythgard is, in my opinion, and exceptional card game, it also benefits from being familiar. The generic processes of designing decks in Mythgard has wrinkles and specific dimensions, but ultimately resembles the creative process in any card game. I will similarly not claim to be a brilliant deckbuilder or competitive player, but tracing Mythgard’s place in the history of these card games, and especially looking at the most general principles of deckbuilding across games, seems like a vital place to begin in this vibrant landscape of possibilities.