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How Variants Improve Skill: Overview

A while ago, I was honored to participate in a survey of top players by Oriol Pubil (BcnCrisis).  He compiled and analyzed the results for his YouTube channel.  The first question that he asked in his survey was "How good is your deck building skill? (1 worst to 10 best)."  I responded with 7.  I honestly feel that there are many better deckbuilders than me.  However, that question got me thinking more about how I improved my deckbuilding skill over the years.

The survey hit during the same period as the Week of Nightmares and Origins, so I was contemplating deckbuilding a lot as I saw what folks were playing.  For the Friday night tournament, I played a group 2 Setite (the old school guys will always be Setites to me) Death Star deck.  I won that event.  It was the third time that I've won with a Death Star deck and each with a different clan.

That's when I realized one of the ways I got better at deckbuilding: don't clone a deck, adapt it.  There's a powerful shift in skill that happens when instead of netdecking, you adapt the deck.  I made multiple variants of the same deck with each variant being a different clan.  Each clan will bring different strengths and weaknesses, requiring different approaches to the same problem.

Because this topic ended up being so long, I decided to split it into several posts instead.  We'll first take a look at the original Death Star deck and then in follow-ups analyze my various adaptations (including changes that I was able to make because of card text/ruling updates and new cards in the card pool).

The Deck

We'll use Matt Morgan's version of the deck, which won NAC 2008 Day 1 (and Day 2 thanks to Ben Peal).  There are two earlier winning decks using Revolutionary Council: Robyn Tatu credits Matt in her design and Peter Kapsalis's deck isn't a focused Revolutionary Council build.  I consider this the seminal version of the archetype.  It's also the version that I worked from when adapting this to other clans.

Deck Name: The Death Star
Author: Matthew Morgan

Crypt (12 cards, min=4 max=25 avg=3.5)
======================================
1x Amaravati            8 DOM OBF QUI ani chi      Banu Haqim:4
1x Hafsa, The Watcher   6 OBF QUI aus cel          Banu Haqim:5
1x Vardar Vardarian     6 OBF QUI cel pre          Banu Haqim:4
1x Janni                5 cel for obf qui          Banu Haqim:4
1x Layla bint-Nadr      5 CEL OBF qui              Banu Haqim:4
1x Michael diCarlo      5 CEL obf qui              Banu Haqim:4
1x Alu                  2 obf                      Banu Haqim:5
4x Anarch Convert       1                          Caitiff:ANY
1x Basir                1 qui                      Banu Haqim:4

Library (75 cards)
==================
Master (14)
------------
3x Alamut
1x Archon Investigation
1x Barrens, The
1x Black Throne, The
2x Blood Doll
1x Club Illusion
1x Garibaldi-Meucci Museum
1x Pentex(TM) Subversion
1x Seattle Committee
1x Twilight Camp
1x Yoruba Shrine

Action (18)
------------
4x Embrace, The
1x Fee Stake: Boston
1x Fee Stake: Corte
1x Fee Stake: Los Angeles
1x Fee Stake: New York
1x Fee Stake: Perth
1x Fee Stake: Seattle
1x Khabar: Glory
2x Undue Influence
5x Web of Knives Recruit

Political Action (17)
----------------------
1x Anarch Salon
5x Consanguineous Boon
1x Exclusion Principle
2x Firebrand
4x Kine Resources Contested
1x Patsy
3x Revolutionary Council

Action Modifier (23)
---------------------
3x Cloak the Gathering
6x CrimethInc.
2x Cryptic Rider
1x Domain of Evernight
3x Faceless Night
3x Lost in Crowds
3x Spying Mission
2x Veil the Legions

Action Modifier/Combat (3)
---------------------------
3x Swallowed by the Night

Analyzing the Original

Understanding what decks are doing is the key to playing them and playing against them.  When playing them, you need to be able to hide your weaknesses; when playing against them, you need to be able to exploit their weaknesses.  When playing someone else's deck or adapting someone else's deck, you have to take this first necessary step.

What does the deck want to do?

The deck, like many breed decks, operates in two phases: set up and payoff.  The set up here is more vampires and Baron titles.  The pay off is large, ousting votes via Revolutionary Council.  That's, perhaps, a little reductive, but true to the point.  Expect bleeds of one or two to be sprinkled in during the setup along with the occasional vote (usually to pool).

Wait...how does this thing not die?

You might have noticed that there's not a single reaction card in the deck.  This is pre-Bait and Switch and without any way to bounce bleeds the deck doesn't bother with reactions, even Delaying Tactics.  It's vote power should handle antagonistic voters.  Yoruba Shrine and its mass of vampires should help it recover versus combat.  Bleed is interesting.  Non-stealth bleed decks will just walk into a mass of vampires.  Stealth-bleed decks are unlikely to be blocked, hopefully jamming them on stealth.  Of course, there's always the Archon Investigation.  Backousting isn't out of the question.

There are two Blood Dolls and six pool-gaining votes (not counting Anarch Salon, which only gives 1 pool).  Given the broad play space, the deck should gain a significant amount of pool from each vote.  However, a lot of that is going to be reinvested in more vampires.

Lastly and most importantly, ousting gets you 6 pool (and a VP).  And, lest we forget, ousting is the point of the game.

What I Looked for in My Variant

I considered being able to produce good childer (not just The Embrace), vote support, and stealth as keys to properly creating a variant. I produced a list of clans with that matched this criteria.

Clan Childer Vote Support Stealth
Assamite
(The Original)
Web of Knives Recruit Alamut
Amaravati
The Black Throne
In-clan O
Daughters of Cacophony × Bastille Opera House
Conductor
In-clan M
In-clan R
Paris Opera House
In-clan M
Followers of Set Waters of Duat Ferraille
In-clan R
Opium Den
Saatet-Ta
In-clan O
Lasombra × Power Structure Elysian Fields
In-clan £
Ravnos Tumnimos In-clan K
Out-of-clan R
City Star Taxi
Fortune Teller Shop
In-clan K

Using that list I decided to start with Followers of Set. We'll see that attempt in the next installment.

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