Archetypes are one of those strange things. Just about everyone seems to know what you mean and at first everybody is on the same page. However if you’ve ever participated in any card game conversation you’ll probably have discovered the Dr. Cox phenomenon.
Over the years I’ve learned to just step away when I begin to recognize the red flags in a conversation. It isn’t uncommon for people to “wait to speak” rather than actually listen (or read) to what is being presented by the other people. It is no longer an exercise trying to uncover knowledge, but instead an echoing keening wail. Explaining how archetypes interact in a given game isn’t really an exception. As such I’ve tended to endeavor to explain what the definition of certain terms I am using are whenever a debate comes up, as well as reiterate those definitions throughout.
The problem I am attempting to solve is a classic one, just simple miscommunication. If person A thinks a certain term means one thing and person B presumes it means something else it is quickly going to devolve into a waste of time for everyone. This approach of course doesn’t 100% cure the disease, but it will prevent some of the headaches. Even if it isn’t quite as efficient.
This brief history lesson may seem extraneous, but it sort of underscores the purpose for this article. I wanted to spend some time talking about archetypes in Runestrike. There are a couple more things to outline before we do that though. To preface everything you must realize that this is all in a way just theorycrafting. The population for Runestrike at the moment is small and in general not necessarily focused on esoteric card game discussions or even particularly concerned with competitive optimization. It matters because when you look at games that are small ponds, even minor shifts or changes can lead to enormous ripples that impact much larger percentages of the game and/or game’s population than you’d normally expect. We just do not have the population of Magic or Hearthstone which provide colossal amounts of warm bodies to try and dissect and iterate upon…well everything . Nor do we have the architecture that underpins those games from a competitive analysis perspective.
To some extent it is unexplored wilderness.
With that last prologue out of the way let’s get down to business. Being a what I generally refer to as a “linear resource game”*, meaning that you get one extra resource each turn either automatically or through playing card (think WoWtcg, Hearthstone, etc) and they refresh on your turn, there is a fair amount of overlap with existing games. This means we can lean on previous knowledge and mold it to suit our needs for Runestrike. Alternatively if we had a more action-based economy such as games like Lightseekers, Transformers, or even Gwent then we would need to reference something else.
*Note: I am just making these terms up, see above for defining things
Speed Kills Baby
Wins are of course what we are talking about and what better way to get those W’s immediately than playing aggro? Well, there could be better ways but we’ll get to that. Aggro is the common shorthand for aggressive decks. Typically these are characterized by low cost minions, usually filling out the deck in a curve so that you have more options filling out the low end of your mana cost brackets than higher up. You need to close the game quickly as pound-for-pound your cards are not as powerful or efficient as what is probably populating your opponent’s deck. The trade-off being made is staying power for early game consistency and an enormous tempo gain.
There’s some adult language in this clip in case it matters to you.
That’s the entire game plan. Your opponent is trying to build up this massive board state? Just go win.
They want to assemble a weird combo? Just win.
They want to…just win.
But what if they…? JUST. WIN.
To put in more technical terms, aggro decks excel at applying pressure early to ensure your opponent is unable to address both the threats presented as well as advance their gameplan. Either you put them between a rock and hard place and they choose incorrectly. Alternatively their available cards don’t come online quickly enough or in the appropriate order to fend off the onslaught. The aforementioned mana curve allows you to optimize your resources each turn to ensure that you are getting ahead, and staying ahead.
Over the course of the game that tempo advantage will be eroded and you will need finishers either in the form of burn, blitz, or other effects to allow you to get through for those final points of damage. There are a bunch of ways that can be achieved but you may recognize these from some ladder games.
Let me axe you a question. Have you heard the phrase there are no wrong questions, only wrong answers? It’s a common one in card games because threats are the question. Effectively “can you stop me?” and the removal is the answer. Those answers don’t always line up well against the threat, and sometimes they may not line up at all. Aggression will lead to victories simply by virtue of actively advancing your gamestate whereas trying to parry every play your enemy makes could lead to failures despite your best efforts.
This one I am granting it’s own section because despite common wisdom, burn and aggro are NOT the same thing. Naturally it is different here in Runestrike compared to most other games where burn is a thing. The reason is, in those other games your spells are the burn cards. You get less value out of them than you do here since your Sicklestalkers, Mastodons, Iron Bulls, etc all stick around and require something to address the body. Even at their least expensive you are waiting for Viking Raider or Mastodon to come online though. We’re ignoring Puff Adder and the like for now. This is significant as traditional aggro wants to start playing things on turn 1 and continue investing threats without walking into a board clear.
Burn is different. Since you get immediate value from the blitz cards played you can just focus on open lanes and push face damage. Your opponents likely need shield or life gain to survive the onslaught on top of removal to prevent a persistent clock. This presents unique problems for the game overall as it’s a point of no return. A slower aggressive build (e.g. less blitz focused) is likely just worse than a deck filled to the brim with blitz minions as it is allowing your opponent a chance to take a breath and deal with your stuff. Sure the lifegain and shields would help against aggro as well but usually they could outpace the fiery spells. Here that isn’t quite the case. There’s an argument that there ISN’T any aggro in Runestrike and simply the blitz decks have sucked up all the oxygen from that space.
Get it? Because burn.
My preceding statement stands though. There might not really be aggro at this stage, or at least not “good” aggro because you need to be all in on blitz. That’s a larger discussion however, but it is important to make the distinction between the archetypes.
Slow and Steady
What if you want to take your time, maybe stop and smell the roses before obliterating your opponent? Control decks may be for you then. Sometimes these are referred to as “greedlord” decks, but that’s really just a subset. These builds come in a variety of flavors and can be fielded by a wide array of champions. They are essentially on the other end of the spectrum from aggro as they want to elongate the game, generate card advantage, and then pulverize opponents with powerful end game finishers. At least generally.
For what possible reason would you want to delay your victory? Well aside from getting to use cool stuff like dragons, demons, and other impressive monsters to end the game is style, it also provides you the opportunity to outplay your opponent more often. The common adage is that as the game length increases the better player’s chances for winning goes up. This is due to the fact that there are more decision points as there more turns and cards being played. That can be a double-edged sword as your decks are inherently more inconsistent. Opening a grip full of eight cost cards then topdecking two to three more doesn’t feel fantastic. There’s a degree of inconsistency, but in Runestrike that is watered down as a direct result of the smaller deck sizes.
In concert with a plethora of of board sweeps, efficient removal, and for the most part subpar aggro options, control decks are well positioned within this game. Whether you want to go over the top with big minions, or bleed your opponent out with chip damage thanks to things like Torment you can wrest control of the board state and then the game, resulting in a win when you never allow those things to pass back to your opponent. The card advantage, whether literal or virtual, provided by various blood abilities also support the entire gameplan. It’s tough to get out from under the sometimes oppressive thumb of these late game builds and that can start significantly earlier in a game than one might think.
At the end of the day Runestrike gives you a large assortment of tools to construct a powerful endgame. Games very frequently hit maximum mana and grant you the opportunity to start swinging for the fences with high cost cards. It’s only a matter of whether you’ll seize those opportunities.
Do You Want to Play a Game?
Combo is a an oft-maligned archetype in card games. There are a myriad of reasons for that, some have merit, others not so much. Regardless of how you feel about dedicated combo decks they are a legitimate archetype in ccgs. Combo builds, such as the recently nerfed Salin and Ogma lists, can turn the game on its head and leave opponents feeling as though they were in one of Jigsaw’s puzzle rooms. Playing some insidious, contorted, malformed version of Runestrike before an untimely death greets them in a brutal way.
Why is that though? Well combo decks are a unique beast. Usually a competitive deck has some level of synergy. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts because the cards included work together. Combo decks take that to the extreme. It isn’t simply rubbing a couple of cards together and presto I clear the board, or draw some cards, or maybe do more damage than normal. No, we are talking a grouping of two or more cards that create either a loop or a gamestate that immediately ends the game. In the case of the recent Salin deck, it involved several things from the Divinity season, including the new champion Salin himself. Leveraging Spirit Barriacde, Flamewalker, and either Harvest Knight or Mihr you could loop Salin’s A1 ability to generate “infinite” blood (really just arbitrarily large quantities) and eliminate the board opposite you and the opponent opposite you in a very flashy turn.
Combo decks require specific answers or reworking your gameplan on the fly to address them. That isn’t always possible and part of the reason that they frequently have a bad reputation. they are kind of egotistical in a way. If we assume Runestrike is intended to be about minion combat, combo decks make it all about themselves because they force you to fight them on an axis other than the typical one. Maybe it’s blood denial, possibly it’s hand disruption, but whatever it is you have to account for it if there’s a viable combo running around the ladder.
This archetype can aim for an early win or try to just assemble Voltron (or Exodia if you prefer) and win in one fell swoop on a late turn. It really depends on the matchup and the combo in question. If you enjoy puzzles and a race against the clock then combo might be for you.
Just Tap Water Please
We’ve covered two ends of the spectrum in aggro and control. We’ve also talked about left field somewhat with combo, what else is there? Well what if you want a little taste of everything? Midrange is a very aptly named archtype. You sit in between aggro and control with the ability to morph into one or the other depending on what is staring you down. The malleability is both a blessing and a curse however.
On the up side you can adapt to most scenarios. If you are fighting aggro you are now in the control position. Your cards are probably more valuable, your threats sturdier, and likely your deck is packing removal. If you have a control opponent though your cards will come down quicker and you should be able to disrupt them long enough to score a win. This is before you consider that you can be a very strong predator in any metagame if you can correctly predict what you’ll be facing.
On the flip side of the coin you could guess wrong and have brought an anti-aggro midrange list to a field full of control. Let me be the first to tell you (I’m probably not the first), you’ll be in for a bad day when that happens. It’s a tense situation making that call as you prepare for an event, or even just to queue up for the ladder. You have the tools to fight anything, as long as it is the thing you are preparing for. It’s possible you can adjust midgame to try and defeat someone but sometimes you’re deck just isn’t positioned how you need it.
One way to continue to blend ideas in the midrange category is to play a ramp focused list. I may catch some flak for this because in the macro sense all of this is a sliding scale. There’s a blurry line between a fast midrange deck and aggro, just as you have to arbitrarily decide whether a slower deck is actual control or just a later game midrange-y monster. Personally I classify things such as the Majus Ramp builds as midrange because while you can go over the top with Odin, powering out something ahead of schedule through the use of Transmute, or A2, or both can allow you to get a strong foothold in the game. You then ride that advantage to take the victory. Although it may have appeared that Odin followed by buffed Centurions and Zephyr Knights won the game, the reality is that by slamming down threats before they are “supposed” to be on the board gave you the leverage you needed to get to the other bonkers plays.
Lights in the Rearview
Lastly I want to talk about lock or prison decks. On my Twitch live stream typically I call this deck “The Fun Police”. The reason for that is this archetype prevents your opponent really from playing the game at all. It can be quick or it can be slow, but eventually you find yourself locked out of playing cards. Due to some quirks about how Runestrike operates you may not be able to draw cards either leaving you at the mercy of your opponent.
Personally, I don’t think this should exist. However, it does and you need to prepare for it. It’s also incredibly fun. Albeit in a somewhat sadistic sort of way. While as an archetype grouping there may be other ways to construct this in the future right now it revolves around locking down your lanes with zero attack minions. Cave Raider, Curse of Narcissus, Flesh to Soil. These cards and others all get dumped into a pot, stirred, brought to a boil, and then dropped directly onto your head. The ensuing board state is one where you are left watching your opponent pick apart your life total with champion attacks as well as the occasional Banshee strike.
It isn’t unbeatable but similar to combo decks requires either more unique deck construction
*cough* consume *coughcough*
Sorry. Something caught in my throat there.
As I was saying either deck construction or a more tactical change in game. You need to take serious note of what cards can remove you own, or other ways to can alleviate yourself of having a board full of zero attack minions. Usually the lock isn’t a hard lock, it can be picked, but it can be a challenge to get out of the way of the steamroller. You can kind of see it coming if you line up against Keeper as it is probably the most prevalent deck for that particular champion at the moment. If you don’t pick up on the signs quickly enough though you could find yourself clicking end turn a lot instead of getting to play the game.
To All a Good Night
This is just a brief description of some prominent archtype categories within the game of Runestrike. There is overlap with other games but it is important to look at the unique aspects which separate Runestrike and its facets from those other card games. Debates over what things fit where are of course going to continue, but hopefully this will allow you to evaluate the discussions more accur
As always thank you for coming by and Black Lives Matter.