Deck Construction For Ranked Play

Building and piloting a deck constructed by yourself from scratch is definitely one of most rewarding aspects of TCGs and CCGs. The intent of this guide is to help others discover the joy of the deck construction process and win more games in ranked.
Introduction
Selecting a leader
Select Leader

Select your favorite leader! The one consideration here is you should have a sizable collection of cards for your selection. Otherwise, you would just put the few cards you own into the deck, and nobody needs a guide for that!

The Win Condition

The first cards you want to put into any deck are the key cards you will build around to establish your win condition. These will be powerful cards with unique effects or a combination of cards that enable a specific plan of attack.

Examples Include:

CardCost
Heavenly Aegis Heavenly Aegis 9

Heavenly Aegis is a card that will just flat out win the game by itself in short order once played.  This would be an example of a card that you build a deck around to last long enough to play the card, and then win with the card.

CardCost
Dimension Shift Dimension Shift 10+
CardCost
Flame Destroyer Unevolved Flame Destroyer 10+

Dimension Shift is a card that you must enable by virtue of your deck construction with a lot of Runecraft's cheap spells to play it alongside threats such as Flame Destroyer to win the game on the spot. This is an example of a "combo deck", or a deck that does not win the game by dealing 20 damage over time. Instead, it chooses to end the game in one turn once its pieces are assembled.

CardCost
Sahaquiel Unevolved Sahaquiel 7
CardCost
Bahamut Unevolved Bahamut 10+

In Dragoncraft, if you manage to get to 9pp playing a Sahaquiel - targeting Bahamut - alongside Wind Reader Zell you can burst your opponent for 13 damage while also killing a follower with the evolved Zell! This is an example of a combination of cards that might not end the game, but in combination with the rest of a deck be a very powerful tool to help end the game. Most decks in Shadowverse employ this method of attack.

The Curve
Curve Slope

The curve refers to the cost to play the cards in your deck. One of the best ways to win duels in any card game with incremental costs is to play "on curve". This refers to playing a one cost card on turn 1, a two cost card on turn two, etc. Playing a three cost and a two cost card on turn 5 works as well, but this requires more cards out of hand.  Generally speaking, you want to have the option to play a card every turn of the game.  

Unused play points on a turn usually means you are doing something less powerful then your opponent if they have used all of their play points on a turn.  A good curve when looking at your deck will usually look like a downward slope with more options to play early (because you can play multiples on later turns) and less options on the higher end as you do not want to be stuck with a starting hand of all high cost cards.  There are two main considerations when thinking about your curve.

1. Proactive Plays

CardCost
Quickblader Unevolved Quickblader 1
CardCost
Novice Trooper Unevolved Novice Trooper 3

Proactive plays simply means you want to establish board presence turn after turn to make your opponent react to you. This is a strategy used by aggressive decks and mid-range decks to keep the initiative of the game in their favor. If your opponent is always on the back foot they have to have the specific answers to your cards or fall behind!

2.  Reactive Plays

CardCost
Elf Child May Unevolved Elf Child May 1
CardCost
Sylvan Justice Sylvan Justice 2
CardCost
Ancient Elf Unevolved Ancient Elf 3

Reactive plays refers to having "the answer" for what you expect your opponent to play on their respective turn. Instead of using board presence to your advantage, you choose to keep your opponent at bay while setting up for your specific game plan. This includes spells that destroy your opponents threats and followers with ward to halt their aggression. This is a strategy usually employed by mid-range and control decks.

The Meta
Meta

The meta, or metagame, in the context of competitive cards games refers to the popular winning strategies at any given time.  Once these strategies peak in popularity, decks will rise up to counter those decks, and so on and so forth.  The meta is a constantly evolving state of balance as players learn more about a format and what people are playing.  Some decks become so powerful that they define a current metagame, and sometimes a true counter never emerges.  Tempo Forestcraft springs to mind from the Rise of Bahamut format.

CardCost
Rhinoceroach Unevolved Rhinoceroach 2
CardCost
Goblin Mage Unevolved Goblin Mage 3

Goblin Mage originally read, "Fanfare: Put a random follower that costs 2 play points from your deck into your hand."  This allowed Forestcraft players to use Rhinoceroach as their only 2 drop to grab it consistently.  It ended up being so powerful that Cygames decided to nerf Goblin Mage into what you see today.

We need to keep the meta in mind while constructing a deck.  The goal is to analyze what people are playing, and then build something to beat those strategies.  In some cases, especially in new formats, a good strategy is to use the proactive play strategy to assemble something very powerful on curve that you believe opponents will have a hard time dealing with.

Playtesting
You Lose

No one will build the perfect deck on their first try. Just like a metal, a deck will need to undergo refinement to remove impurities. In this case, we have to lose!

Most importantly, after each loss we should take a moment and reflect on the game:

  • Why did I lose?
  • Could I have played differently?
  • What cards could have helped me?
  • Did they play something unexpected?

Once you answer these questions, you can go back into the deck editor and change it up by replacing one card with another. Repeat until we win more than we lose.

An easy way to keep track is to ask yourself if your Score increased or decreased after playing for the day. If it decreased, you probably need to take your deck back to the think tank.

Putting it all together
Putting it all together

Now that we know all of the steps and things to consider when constructing a deck, lets go through and use that knowledge to build a great deck from scratch!

So lets analyze the current meta (~1 week since release of Tempest of the Gods). Right now when I play in constructed in Master rank, the top 2 decks I see are:

Aggro Shadowcraft utilizes the proactive plays strategy to maintain board presence with early plays backed by Prince Catacomb, and finishes with the Cerberus and Phantom Howl Combo or with Demonlord Eachtar.

CardCost
Cerberus Unevolved Cerberus 5
CardCost
Phantom Howl Phantom Howl 4

So I'll definitely need plays that can fight against early board presence, some form of AoE removal, and a way to stop their end game burst damage combo.  I want to see if Bloodcraft Control can work for this example.  To the deck editor!

CardCost
Vampiric Kiss Vampiric Kiss 2
CardCost
Diabolic Drain Diabolic Drain 5
CardCost
Queen Vampire Unevolved Queen Vampire 6
CardCost
Revelation Revelation 8

This gives us a great core to work with that uses the reactive play strategy to counter what Aggro Shadow is doing. We have a good mix along the curve of removal, AoE effects, life gain, and ward followers to make sure we can stabilize at a healthy life total.

Now, Ramp Dragon essentially skips the entire early game in favor of ramping into their end game for super powerful plays. In addition to the Zell combo (mentioned above), it also has other tools we need to be mindful of in the form of Dark Dragoon Forte, Ouroboros, and Bahamut played without the Zell combo.

CardCost
Ouroboros Ouroboros 8

We have the wards to stop Forte, and the Zell combo already (nice!).  

We have the life gain to stay above the 13 life threshold the Zell combo can inflict (double nice!).  

We only have Righteous Devils or a combination of Revelation with another Revelation or our cheaper removal spells (not so nice!).  We also won't always have evolution points to use the Devil on Bahamut, so let's throw in a Bahamut of our own.

We have no way of dealing with Ouroboros (ouch!).  So let's throw in a comparable number of Odins to compensate for that (usually 2).

CardCost
Odin Unevolved Odin 8

Now that we have the tech choices aimed at the two strongest decks in the metagame let's focus on making our deck work to it's fullest potential. Bloodcraft revolves around the Vengeance mechanic, so we'll need enablers.

We are also a control deck looking to answer the format instead of pushing through it so we will need some card draw to ensure that we have answers when we need them.  Luckily for us, Tempest of the Gods gave Bloodcraft some sweet tools to do that!

CardCost
Belphegor Belphegor 4
CardCost
Blood Moon Blood Moon 3

While Belphegor does do double duty, we still would like some more card draw. We have two real options in the form of Blood Pact and Dire Bond. We already have a lot of 2 drops, and Blood Pact only draws us two cards instead of the three that Dire Bond does so let's opt for the amulet.

CardCost
Blood Pact Blood Pact 2
CardCost
Dire Bond Dire Bond 3

Finally, we need a way to win the game. Unfortunately, we ran out of space for win conditions (whoops!). We'll need a win condition that can win by itself like Aegis mentioned above then to accomplish our goal. Luckily, there is a card that has been a card around since the beginning of the game to solve our current predicament!

Deck at 40/40 cards! Feelsgoodman

Control Bloodcraft

Now we have a deck to take to the ladder to see how it does!  After a days worth of games we can take this deck back to the editor to tweak it after we know which cards perform well and which don't.  Remember that a deck will need continuing work to stay on top of the metagame as players will try to attack you from different angles.  Hopefully, this guide will help you ask the proper questions to figure out which cards to play.  Time to put those playtesting muscles to work!

Conclusion
Victory

The meta is constantly changing, and will be different depending on your current rank. So netdecking won't always be the best option for your win rate. You also lose out on a lot of fun in theorycrafting new deck ideas.

So hopefully readers can consider the meta at their current rank, and build the appropriate decks to counter them. How do we know what counters those decks? The best way is to play those decks yourself. Once you know how the deck functions, and see what others are doing to counter it you can make your own decisions on what to do.  Otherwise, analyze your losses and get rid of the weaknesses you find.

Good luck!