Team Building for the masses

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I am hoping to start a discussion about game balance and "deck" building for the non-tournament scene. For me, this means that a group of friends buys a few sets between them, and they want to make teams that are fun, without assigning any homework for themselves.

The first reply is going to be, "Just play it straight out of the box." My experience has not been positive in this regard. I find the Drow to be well synergized and balanced, while the Cormyr set (and now the Goblins) tend to swing between worthless or abusive. I attribute this to the fact that the Drow can use almost every Order card with every character, which removes most of the randomness that the deck provides. Also, the speed boost granted by the female drow leader makes them more mobile than anyone else, which is something that cannot be gained easily with Cormyr and Goblin order cards. I'd love to hear why I am wrong about this, but keep in mind I am talking about the basic set only here.

Now, we can talk about mixing order cards and creature cards from different sets to make the optimal warbands, but this is not what I am looking for. I feel like there is a disconnect when mixing the factions, but also you will end up with everyone playing the same team with minor variations. Instead, I would like to devise a way in which decks can be built using only the same faction so that each one has a distinct flavor, but also synergy akin to the Drow.

My thoughts thus far:

1- you can only mix within the same set, and have a max of 2 of each card (which means you only really need 2 boxed sets of said faction)

2- you can have up to 36 levels of creatures in your deck . You must have at least 18 levels worth, but there's no limit to the number of cards. This means if you stack your deck with big boys, you actually have less cards to cycle through. Not sure if this works out, but its better than having 4 of each with no limit on levels. 

3- you can have up to 2 of any order card, but the minimum AND maximum number of order cards must be 30. This way you must swap out cards, rather than just adding more (which is counter productive anyways). It's more about picking and choosing the best for your team and dumping some you might want but don't need. Ultimately, I think there might be a way to limit the max level of cards per stat, but that's a lot more work to sort through. 

 I made some tests last night, and I found it to be fun but not too difficult to perform. My mind started racing to cards from the other sets, and that's when I started to get the headaches ;) It's pretty easy to pick out the few things you know you want to have, and from there it is only minor tweaks to add here and there to have a final team and deck. If you are interested, and get a chance, just try it and see if it works for you. I could use more feedback.

Personally if you already allow two sets of each I'd just allow mixing everything willy nilly and using the deck construction rules as is (30 Orders min, 12 creatures min, no more than 4x of any card, no other restrictions). Each of the sets have basically two 'obvious' almost-preconstructed warbands in each of them (mostly driven by the Commander abilities) and you also get enough cards to build DEX, INT, STR and CON oriented warbands (if you're not a stickler on such things as 'flavor'... I mean, these Dwarven Defenders might just have tamed a Feral Troll, ya know?). That's IMO roughly 10 warbands archetypes right there, and each of them probably have a half dozen variations (easily) for metagaming purpose, and that's before you even start discussing the Orders you'll be packing.

I never see the need for alternate rules set to tournament rules beyond limiting access (say, by sticking to Limited and only using straight out of the box, or by limiting to something like maximum 2 boxes of each set, or something like that). WotC is basically balancing the game around Limited and Constructed, alternate rulesets are by definition untested and can therefore have hidden balance issues. Furthermore, it teaches you to play under assumptions that don't hold in tournaments, which means that if you do want to dip your toe in them, you'll be starting from the wrong basics.

The one rule I don't understand is limiting the total levels of creatures in your deck. You already have a minimum of 12 creatures (which in practice, for any decently competent gamer, is also a maximum) and high level creatures are self-balancing in that they cost more Morale when they die and take up more Leadership to spawn. In fact, I have a very poor impression of high level creatures in the first place, I think most of them are overcosted.
As I stated, this is the opposite of Tournament play. In a Construct tournament I imagine we will see 4-5 minor variations on one "warband" that everyone is playing. And Limited play (IMHO) will be Lolth warbands.

I was hoping to start a discussion about alternate rules for games between friends that doesn't require each person to own multiple copies of every set. If we can buy enough sets, and make a few teams from them that we feel good about, then we have 3-6 pre built teams any time we need them. They don't change when a new faction is released, and it's just easier to keep track of. Building meta teams from all the decks would require each of us to have ALL the cards from every pack, which is just cost prohibitive.

In my concept, there is no 12 creature minimum, that is why I wanted to base it on levels. I'm still on the fence about high level creatures vs. a bunch of weaker creatures, especially with the potential for 4 fireballs in a deck ;)

I respect WOTCs game balance as a whole, but I think they dulled down the individual factions so that it wouldn't break the game when combining the factions. This is something I can't fix directly so I'm just trying to find a decent solution. I feel like some of the game design was "weighted" in order to make decks "better" if you have 4 of the best cards, therefore buying 4 of each set. I don't blame them for wanting to sell copies, but I don't want to go down that road myself. 
As I stated, this is the opposite of Tournament play. In a Construct tournament I imagine we will see 4-5 minor variations on one "warband" that everyone is playing.

I expect three tier 1 archetypes, like for every collectible game that ever existed in the history of the Universe (except for the occasional One Deck To Rule Them All degenerate meta, as under Cawblade Standard last year in Magic the Gathering), because every metagame is at heart a variation on Rock Paper Scissors. The total number of pieces in an environment usually has very little incidence on the number of tournament-viable decks/warbands. It usually only affects the number of pieces that are unworthy of being put into a tournament deck/warband.

And Limited play (IMHO) will be Lolth warbands. 

What I love about this statement is that for the first two weeks or so after release everyone was saying how OP Cormyr was compared to the Drow box.

Personally I think both of the original boxes are very well balanced against one another and I have a better appreciation of Goblins after having played with the cards, even if it wasn't as part of the original out-of-the-box warband.
What I love about this statement is that for the first two weeks or so after release everyone was saying how OP Cormyr was compared to the Drow box.

What I love about this statement is that it is condescending without offering any real help or advice.

Originally I said that if I was wrong about the Drow faction, I would love to know why. So how does Cormyr (out of the box) compete with the drow speed and synergy? I can totally see how people would assume Cormyr was stronger just looking at stats, before even playing a few games. You don't really feel the disconnect until you have a hand full of Dex and Int cards with all your Str characters.

Originally I said that if I was wrong about the Drow faction, I would love to know why. So how does Cormyr (out of the box) compete with the drow speed and synergy? I can totally see how people would assume Cormyr was stronger just looking at stats, before even playing a few games. You don't really feel the disconnect until you have a hand full of Dex and Int cards with all your Str characters.

The Drow is a collection of DEX creatures with very little synergy as part of the *creatures* deck, actually. Cormyr has synergy built into its creatures. Dwarven Defender and the Cleric makes the low offense creatures of the Drow warband ineffective. The Drow have a large collection of defensive cards, which are inherently inferior to offensive ones (like Killing Strike, Heroic Surge, Power Attack, etc) and they have a lot of utility cards that are a bit trickier to use. And the weakness of the Cormyr band (that they have a larger variety of abilities in their Order cards) is shored up by their Commander, which gives them a 6 Order Cards hand and allows them to chuck the useless ones for replacements.

Cormyr also has the best ranged attacker (War Wizard) and the best high end figures (Dragon Knight, Copper Dragon) while the Drow is all about their low-end and has so-so middle-high end cards (Shadow Mastiff, Drider). Umber Hulk is good but not as good as Dragon Knight/Copper Dragon. Finally, Cormyr has the best draw engine in Arcane Circle, and it can actually use it on two excellent figures instead of having to spawn a mediocre one (Drow Priestess) to make use of it.
The Drow can use all their order cards at all times (with the exception of the Wis ones), and the creature synergy is over rated in my opinion. First off, you only get to play a few creatures depending on your leadership and it's mitigated by what's in your hand as well. We can agree that if Cormyr could choose their creatures at will, they would be much better, but that's not the case. I haven't really seen a Cormyr band that managed to keep the dwarven defenders alive long enough to be of much use, and every cleric I've played has been eaten alive. Maybe I am playing it wrong, but short of turtling up on my start tile, I can't keep the drow from out maneuvering me with 9-12 move speeds and scuttle!!!

On top of that, how do you keep the Drow from taking all the freaking treasure? Assuming they don't get the Shadow Mastiff in the initial draw, they can still run the board with speedy spiders and house guards. By the time Cormyr get's out of their starting zone, they are usually down 3-4 of the treasure on their side. That not only means the Drow gain 3-4 morale, but Cormyr loses 3-4 treasures that they can even reach in time. Then they take the last 3-4 treasures on your side, at the cost of a spider or two. No big deal for them, since they are already up 6 morale and can harvest their own treasure without fear.

Also, maybe it's just me, but I find the high end pieces to be mostly ineffective. They only get one attack (without cards), and they don't have much room for allies that can "tap" creatures. So using 3-4 low end pieces usually means that you can bombard the big piece with middling attacks that will either do damage or force it to tap, and then unload on it. In response, the big piece can kill one low level piece (maybe) and then the process repeats until the big boy is dead (usually in 1 round or two anyways). It's especially effective when the Drow are cowering away all their extra morale gained from treasure, and you can't kill a freaking spider!
The thing with Cormyr is that I think it has more variance in its Order cards. I believe it has a lot of cards that are much stronger, but the deck is diluted into many attributes and it also has cards that are inferior to the Drow cards.

I think if you pick up two Drow sets against two Cormyr sets, bands made from those are a lot closer in power levels.

I read this in another post, and I was shocked. Why are you griefing me so much DarkAngel, if we have the same basic idea? The reason I would like to cap the cards at 2 instead of 4 is to prevent abuse and foster some creativity (never mind keep everyone from escalating the game by buying more sets to fill out those cards that only come 1 per pack).

I'm not married to the idea of a min/max level of creatures, but I find it also leads to creative use of levels to design a real team, and not just "all the monsters." 

Other than that, I'm just suggesting a simple 2 box maximum for each set, and restricting decks to factions. 
Well where to begin. 

In all honestly as far as mixing sets I agree on the thought that creatures shouldnt really be mixed.  but in order to make a good order decks its imparitive to take from the other sets.  Even the Lolth deck benefits from spells and any cards like poitions of healing.  (obivously depending on how you build your creature deck)

With the level limit on creatures.  I think this is a bad idea.  Put simply It does limit the amount of creatures one person can have IF they decide to fill their creature deck with 5-6 leveled monsters its actually a hug disadvantage based on the simple fact that if you wipe out the board and he only has 6 creature cards instead of 12 hes going to lose period.  That seems a bit unbalance however if someone is foolish enough to do so well hopefully they learn from that mistake.  I perfer the established rule in the book of no more than 4of each for creatures and order cards.  I have contemplated however limiting high level creatures 5+ to perhaps 2-4 per deck.  But I havent tested this yet.

Limiting the number of order cards.  This is something that I have been doing as well.  Keeping to 4 of each.   and limiting to 30 or 60 (we sometimes play double decks)  we limit creatures to 12 or 24 with no more than 4 of 1 creature.  What I did was buy 2 of each set then went ahead and purchased singles of creatures that I wanted more of at a second hand store they also had full order card decks for $4.00  So I purchsed and extra order deck from each set.  So I have a total of 3 sets of order cards from each faction.  So we were able to make a more well rounded goblin faction.  (sometimes we play 3 player so there was a need there to get a third deck built) (oh hey if you want to check out singles and the like look up Auggies.  His store is awesome Ive been buying DDM from him for years. he has full order decks map tile singles for sale.) 
I would like to add a comment about the factions with built order decks.  Things can be evened out among the 3.  I think the Drow box doesnt benifit as much from the other order decks but the same can be said for Cormyr.  The goblins however benefite from both decks and their own.  They have turn out to be a pretty good match for the other two.  

I know people say the Drow are overpowered and honestly out of the box they seem to be the best, but that doesnt mean cormyr cant compete.  Once you get the hang of the style in which cormry plays they are extremly powerful.  I would also like it known that with the one commander (valanar or whatever cant think of his name off the top of my head.) you can double move any unit using up your standard action.  This allows you to get into good position early to either protect treasure or steal it.   

The goblins Im still getting the hang of but I think they benefit more from thier level 2-4 units the most.  Wolf rider is fast and strong and almost counts as two since you can plop a champion down when he dies.  Its actually pretty good. 
I have made a few warbands.  This one attempts to combine stregnth, dexterity, constitution, and charisma.

Delthrin Everet
Gain one leadership for each enemy creature destroyed during your turn

Creatures (12)
Dwarven Defenders, level 2, Str Con
Gravehound, level 2, Dex Con
Human Ranger, level 2, Dex Str
Dwarf Cleric, level 3, Str Con Wis
Half-Orc Thug, level 3, Str Dex
Goblin Champion, level 3, Dex Cha
Vampire Stalker, level 4, Dex Con Cha
Bugbear Berserker, level 4, Str Dex Con
Goblin Wolf Rider, level 4, Dex Cha
Dragon Knight, level 5, Str Con
Feral Troll, level 5, Str Con
Horned Devil, level 6, Con Cha

Order Cards (36)

Strength (6)

Level 2
Seize the Opportunity (2)

Level 3
Forceful Strike

Level 4
Invigorating Smash

Level 5
Killing Strike

Dexterity (12)

Level 1 
Acrobatics (2)
Loping Stride (2)
Piercing Strike (2)
Quick Jab (2)

Level 2
Fire Trap
Parry (2)

Level 6
Sneak Attack 

Constitution (6)

Level 2
Tough as Nails
Devensive Advantage (2)

Level 3
Undaunted Surge (2)

Level 4

Charisma (5)

Level 3
Death Sentence (2)
Warning Shout (2)
Unending Horde
Hypnotic Gaze (2)

Any (5)
Level 1
Heroic Surge (2)
Behind Enemy Lines
Magic Short Sword
Healing Potion

Only eleven of the order cards are defensively oriented.  Since Delthrin Everet is my commander perhaps I should have even less defensive cards.

Conceptually, I am trying accomplish two opposing goals with this set.  First, I want my creatures to destroy enemy creatures as quickly as possible in order for my commander's abilities to be realized early in the game.  Secondly, i want to be able to build powerful creatures though order cards that attach to them and make them deadly and hard to kill.  I called these opposing goals since the first really requires damage to be done early and hard so that I can make long term use of more creatures.  The second goal is focused on doing more ongoing damage and making one or two of my creatures particularly powerful.  However, the one order card that ties these goals together is Magic Short Sword and since I only have one I am concerned two of basic premisese of my costomized conflict too much and as a result my stategy is poor.

On the other hand, I like how all of my creatures have access to at least two of the four abilities that my order cards require.

Being a bit self-reflective, I have noticed that I often build decks in a way that I think that they will be most fun to play.  Two examples: I love basing my warbands on multiple abilies (Str Dex Con Cha) and I love attaching order cards to my creatures.  Unfortunately, I have discovered that designing decks around having fun does not make for winning warbands.  The strength of the Sting of Lolth is that almost all of the order cards can be used by every single creature.  Though I want to build that are based around more than just dexterity, I recognize this is not strategic.
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