Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
 
Free Realms Trading Card Game - Deckbuilding 101

15 years ago Magic the Gathering became very popular, made a ton of money, and started a huge wave of trading card games. Magic and Pokemon were the most successful ones, but there were also lots of other games. But after a few years, the popularity faded, and although many of these games are still around, there isn't all that much buzz around them any more. Now Free Realms contains a online trading card game, of which a paper version is also available. And while this is a new game, it uses a lot of the fundamentals of Magic the Gathering. So in a blast from the past, I'm going to talk a bit about building a deck for the Free Realms Trading Card Game (FRTCG).

First some basic rules: A FRTCG deck contains a minimum of 40 cards, with every card having a maximum of 3 copies in the deck. Now picture in your mind two different possible decks: One that has exactly 40 cards, of which 13 have 3 copies each, and a second deck with over 40 cards, in which every card has only 1 copy. It is easy to see that the deck with the minimum number of cards and maximum number of copies of each card is "less random", and gives more reliable results than the more varied deck. Having 40+ different cards in your deck yields a lot more surprises, and can be fun too, but if you run into problems winning because you never draw the card you need, going for the less random deck is the more reliable way to success. That is an universal rule valid for practically every existing and future trading card game. Play random for fun, reduced randomness to win.

In the FRTCG, there are three different types of cards: Creatures, resources, and tricks. You can play only one resource every turn, so in your first turn you'd usually have 1 resource, in your second turn 2 resources, and so on. Creatures cost resources to play, so that big creature costing 5 resources can't possibly be played before turn 5. But unlike other trading card games you don't need to worry about the chance that you don't draw enough resources: You can play ANY card as a resource face down. Nevertheless it is a good idea to pack around a dozen resource cards (the ones with the chest symbol) into your deck, because a resource card can be played face up, and then turned face down at some point during the game for some additional effect.

Tricks (cards with a star symbol) in FRTCG can only be played during combat, and most of them make your creature stronger in that fight. Thus if you have a trick and your opponent doesn't, you can possibly beat a stronger creature of his with a weaker creature of yours. Again I'd go for around a dozen of these cards in a 40-card deck.

Creatures are the most important part of a deck, because they are the only cards that can hunt and win fights to gain the 12 points you need to win. If you put 12 resources and 12 tricks, you'll have room for 16 creatures in your deck. Creatures (like tricks) cost resources to play. So don't put a lot of powerful but expensive creatures in your deck, but rather build a pyramid of creature cost, with more low-cost creatures, and few high-cost creatures. By the time you have the resources to play an expensive creature, you will have drawn a lot of cards, so chances are you will have found one. But on turn 1 you can only play a cost 1 creature, and if you have too few of them, you won't have one in your starting hand.

Unlike many other trading card games, resources in FRTCG do not have a color. This makes it possible to build decks with cards of all colors, even true rainbow decks. Nevertheless there can be an advantage to building decks of only one or two colors, if you have cards that give special bonuses to other cards of a specific color. If you have a creature giving an attack or defense bonus to red allies, you're best served to build a deck around it which is mostly or only red.

The final thing to consider in FRTCG is the combat system. The attacking creatures attack value is compared with the defending creatures defense value, but both sides flip the top card of their deck and add the number of diamonds on the bottom of that card to the result. And many creatures trigger special effects if there are diamonds of the right color showing up that way. So cards with lots of diamonds, having the color of diamonds that your creatures need, are better than cards with just one diamond.

Of course all of these tips are just basic advice, and there might be tricky decks that are good without following these rules. But if you are new to deckbuilding, try a basic deck as I describe here first, play a couple of times against NPCs, and see how you fare. From there you can experiment, taking some cards out, putting others in, and see whether your deck improves or gets worse. Against NPCs you should always be able to win after a couple of tries, because you know what they will be playing, and can build a deck to counter their specific threat. For example a card protecting your creatures from stuns might not be all that useful in a regular deck, but becomes very useful once you found out that the NPC wins by constantly stunning your creatures. Experimenting with deckbuilding can be a lot of fun: Try it!
Comments:
Hi Tobold,

This is a little off-topic, but have you ever played the card game Dominion? I was just introduced to it a few weeks ago, and it seems like the kind of game you might enjoy.

It's similar to CCGs in that you build a deck of cards representing various actions, and then you randomly draw a hand from the deck and play it. The neat thing about the game, though, is that you build the deck while playing the game! You start with only ten cards, and your actions allow you (and your opponents) to purchase additional cards from a supply, to be shuffled into your deck once you've gone through it. In addition to action cards, you can also purchase money cards and victory point cards. Victory point cards count for nothing during the game (and take up space in your deck), but at the end of the game, the player with the most victory points wins.

It's a very clever and entertaining game, and it manages to include the "deck-building" mechanic while still keeping all players on equal footing. If you get a chance, give it a shot!

P.S. Thanks for the blog. I look forward to it every day!
 
Anywhere to find and play against you Tobold once servers go up?

/DeSlisser
 
While M:tG's popularity seems to be on the wane alongside the general trend of TCG's, I'm still fascinated by its ability to adapt and evolve, while keeping the same general spirit of the game intact. Even moreso, I am in love with the universes that they create through each new expansion. Their most recent expansion cycle, Alara, is ripe with an awesome story that ties both game mechanics and flavour in a way that Blizzard constantly falls short on.

That said, I'm definitely curious to see how FR will fare.
 
Anywhere to find and play against you Tobold once servers go up?When the servers go up, I will only be able to create a temporary name using the child-safe name creation wheel system. And I'll propose a permanent name for approval by the GMs. Once I have my permanent name, I'll post it here, so people can put me on their friends list and find me in game. But remember I live in Europe, so I guess I won't meet my American readers very often.
 
i miss yugioh. played the hell out of that back in the states.
 
Talk about deja vu -- I used to always read your posts in the early days mtgo forums including some of your deck-building guides. I'm still looking for something like the mtg PC game where you battle creatures by duel and win/lose cards as a consequence.
 
Ah, but you've forgotten the very best-est part of the TCG. Those 13 cards that you need 3 copies each of to field a competitive deck? Those are rares, found at a frequency of no greater than 1 per $4 booster pack, and half of any given TCG's rares aren't actually worth using (and therefore can't be traded for much of anything).

Attempting to play the LOTR TCG (made by SOE Denver back when it was a freestanding company) has done more to sour me on transaction-based business models than anything that actual transaction-based games have actually done.
 
I'm still looking for something like the mtg PC game where you battle creatures by duel and win/lose cards as a consequence.

I think the concept of losing cards you paid money for isn't going to happen online, due to various gambling laws. Winning cards is okay, and in Free Realms you DO win cards when playing NPCs.

Those 13 cards that you need 3 copies each of to field a competitive deck? Those are rares, found at a frequency of no greater than 1 per $4 booster pack

You couldn't buy boosters in the beta, only got the starter deck, two free boosters every week, and the cards you won from NPCs. With that you easily could build a deck "competitive" enough to beat every NPC, even those who cheated by starting with cards in play. Of course being competitive against other players in a tournament environment might look different, but I don't see the FRTCG taking off into a competitive tournament scene.
 
I was in the beta for a whole two days before it went down for the launch prep, but I did have fun with the TCG.. It should be interesting to see it evolve since the rest of the MMO is rather casual.. Will there be broken then banned cards? Since there's a paper version changing the cards shouldn't be an option.. How active will the meta game be .. ?

I definitely like the MtG roots I see, while worrying a bit about possible elements I didn't like from Yugioh.. I guess it'll depends on trick balance to see if it keeps things interesting.. Only 3 creature slots sure is a different dynamic than let's see an elf, goblin or any kind of token generator deck from MtG !

Looking forward to see you blog more about this, since I too was a follower of you posts on the Wizards boards for MtGO. By the way, have you tried v3 ? I keep trying... but it's too darn ugly.
 
Quoth Tobold: "You couldn't buy boosters in the beta, only got the starter deck, two free boosters every week, and the cards you won from NPCs."

I would be very surprised if the live game provides players with two free bosters every week. You have to provide players cards during a beta test that you're going to wipe later if you want anyone to test the game (the LOTR TCG run by Worlds Apart/SOE Denver gave out a $10 daily cardstore allowance during its beta), but offering up that many boosters completely free would remove most of the incentive to purchase them. Perhaps some card allowance can be included in the monthly fee, or perhaps I'm going to be proven completely wrong whenever the servers come up, it just doesn't seem like a game that is based around transactions would be well served giving away the cash cow that is the TCG. In fact, you could argue that a TCG that does NOT make players feel that they need to buy more cards is actually doing it wrong.
 
I played all the way to the end of the Duelist track without ever opening my booster packs, using the Beta Nature deck, and my worst string of losses was 4 on Shifty, so the boosters are certainly not required, but they make the game a lot more fun.

I think FR's TCG is best played with either single flavor or two flavors, as a lot of cards strengthen only specific ones. Each type is different. Nature tends to be more neutral to defensive, with fire very offensive. Machine is essentially a trick deck (many cards have dual functions), and I didn't get a chance to play with the others. It was my favorite part of the beta.
 
"But unlike other trading card games you don't need to worry about the chance that you don't draw enough resources: You can play ANY card as a resource face down."

That's a straight lift from the World of Warcraft trading card game. I thought that was its biggest innovation, so I'm glad to see other people are taking that idea and running with it.
 
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