Deckbuilding is an important part of every card game. The way you build your deck has tremendous effect on how you perform. And let’s be honest – not everyone is a natural deck builder. Majority of players aren’t great at finding synergies, pairing cards so they work best with each other, adjusting the mana curve to the meta etc.
There is an option to start “netdecking” (basically copying someone else’s deck you found online), but not everyone enjoys it. And there is another problem – while an experienced player can usually just copy the biggest part of the deck, new players are missing so many cards that it’s simply impossible.
No matter if you don’t want to netdeck, you can’t or you just want to get better at deck building, in this article I will share some tips about how to build a successful deck. These are only basics, things you should think about when creating your own build. Remember that practice makes perfect! I’ll also talk a bit about replacing cards in the netdecks when you find yourself wanting to play some established deck but you lack some cards.
1. Is It Worth To Build Your Own Deck?
It’s a really difficult question to answer, but generally I’d say that yes, it is worth it for a few reasons. But maybe let me start with why it might not be worth it. If you don’t like the deck building part of the card game, you shouldn’t force yourself to build a deck. Netdecking is not a crime. If you don’t feel like learning how to deck build and want to start winning as soon as possible (because let’s be fair, your first creations probably won’t be as powerful as the decks created by pros) – that’s also not a problem. That’s the thing – learning how to deck build will take some time AND your first decks will very likely be worse than what you could find online. But if you’re not discouraged by that, let me tell you why it’s worth to build your own decks.
- Playing with your own decks is more fun. When you build something you really want to test, playing with that deck should be much more fun than playing with some generic meta deck. Not to mention that winning will feel especially good – when you pilot a netdeck and win, you don’t feel like it’s 100% your victory. Winning feels more complete when you know that you’ve both built the deck and played it well.
- Homemade decks are more unpredictable. Most of the meta deck lists are known to everyone. When you face a Jade Druid or Reno Warlock, you generally know what you can expect, what cards they play. Even if they make one or two small changes, it shouldn’t matter that much. But if you build your own deck from the scratch and it will be different from meta decks, your opponent won’t know what to play around, what is your main win condition, what they can expect etc. It should give you a solid advantage.
- You can be the first one to build something. I’m having the most fun in Hearthstone just after the expansion hits when I’m browsing the new cards and building my own decks. When everyone is experimenting and there is no established meta yet, you can be among the first players to try some idea before it gets netdecked. Maybe if you tinker with a deck that’s successful in that early, chaotic meta you can climb a lot with very little effort. And most importantly, you should have much more fun participating in the big race to optimize the lists instead of waiting for someone to post the best decks online.
- Being a good deck builder might make you a better player. When you start to think like a deck builder, instead of seeing the deck as a whole you’ll start noticing every small synergy, how cards interact with each other, why X or Y card fits into the list and another wouldn’t. Deck building gives you a lot of knowledge about cards and about the game, which is exactly what you need to improve as a player.
2. Pick The Deck’s Theme
First thing you want to do when building a deck is – obviously – thinking about what deck you want to build. You need to start by picking the class you want to build a deck for and then a general theme for the deck. It might seem simple, but remember that the deck’s theme needs to be consistent. One of the most common mistakes is throwing a little bit of everything into the deck. Adding some aggressive 1-drops, then throwing in a big late game body, then adding removal, then some combo win condition, then a midrange minion with very specific effect… that’s not how you should build your deck. Remember that you can’t possibly make your deck good at everything – each deck has some strong points and some flaws. If you try to make it good at everything, you will fail and make the deck bad. When it comes to the deck’s theme, there are few things you need to think about:
- Choose the deck’s theme. While not every deck has some theme behind it, most of them do and it’s the easiest and usually the best way to build a deck. Each class has multiple different themes to choose from. Some more common themes (with example class) are, for example: Jade (Druid), Reno (Warlock), Dragons (Priest), Deathrattle (Rogue), Beast (Druid), Secret (Hunter). When building a new deck, I usually recommend picking a class first and then browsing the card collection. If there is a theme that seems interesting, pick it and try to build a deck around it.
- Pick the archetype. Think about your game plan/win condition. It’s really important and will help you with keeping up with your building plan. Three most popular archetypes are Aggro, Midrange and Control. There are also Combo decks, but they’re much harder to build and make them work, so if you’re a new deck builder, I would recommend you not try it just yet. This is the most important part. Most of the decks have one main game plan and try to stick to it. Of course, it’s not like you can’t make your deck a little bit flexible, but remember that you can’t really mix “rushing the opponent down in the early game” with “controlling the late game” game plans.
Those two points intertwine with each other quite a lot and you can actually change their order. When you pick a theme, your archetype options become limited and vice versa. Not every theme fits with every archetype, but there are some that do. For example, Jade in Shaman. Aggro, Midrange and Control all had viable Jade lists. Or let’s say Secret Hunter – you can build both an aggressive version and a more Midrange version.
3. Adding Cards
Once you’ve picked the deck’s theme and the archetype (game plan), you can start building your deck. Don’t be scared to add cards into the deck – once you hit the limit, you will be always able to remove them. You’ll go through a lot of adjusting, but there is a place you need to start…
3.1. Add Core Theme Cards
You know what class you’re going to play. You know the theme and archetype of your deck. So the most important question is – what are the core cards that support this theme? Which cards are the ones you absolutely need to have in your deck? You start by adding them. It will be easier to start with an example. Let’s say that you’ve decided to play Deathrattle Rogue. First, start by adding the most powerful Deathrattle cards that you really need to run in such a deck. Those are the cards like Undercity Huckster, Tomb Pillager or Sylvanas Windrunner. Once you have your Deathrattle core in the deck, add the cards that synergize with Deathrattles. It would obviously be N'Zoth, The Corruptor but also Unearthed Raptor in case of Rogue.
Remember that at this point you only add the most important cards that are related to your theme. Let’s say Backstab is a core Rogue card, but it’s not a core theme card – it doesn’t have anything to do with the theme.
3.2. Add Core Class Cards
The Backstab example I’ve mentioned. It’s here where you add cards like that. After you’ve already added the core of your theme, now you add some core class cards that also fit into the archetype. And so, you definitely add cards like Backstab or Eviscerate, because they’re both powerful and fit the archetype. You can add minions like Edwin VanCleef or SI:7 Agent which – once again – have nothing to do with the Deathrattle theme, but they are both strong and fit into the deck.
You don’t add every strong class card. For example, you won’t add Cold Blood, because you a) run no Charge minions and b) you don’t plan to rush your opponent down. Even though Cold Blood is a powerful card, it just doesn’t fit into the deck.
Let me give you another example – a Druid deck. Druid’s core, most powerful cards are e.g. Innervate, Wild Growth, Wrath or Swipe. And you’d probably add each one of them into a Midrange or Ramp list. But if you would build an Aggro Druid, you might drop Wild Growth or Wrath, because they don’t fit into the deck you’re building.
3.3. Add Complementary Cards
Now, after you’ve added both theme core and class core, the amount of cards you have really depends on the class and archetype, but you should have somewhere between 15 and 25 cards already (let’s say 20 on average). Now it’s time to finish your deck with complementary cards – extra cards that can’t be considered core, but fit into your deck. Those are the cards that can help you accomplish your game plan, they can be secondary win conditions, they can be tech cards that work well against the current meta etc. They can also be “curve fillers” – if you see that you’re really low on a certain mana point, e.g. you have no 4-drops, you can consider picking a powerful 4-drop to fill that gap.
Let’s follow the Deathrattle Rogue example. Here are few cards you can call complementary and consider adding to your deck:
- Acidic Swamp Ooze – Tech against weapon decks, you can add it if you face a lot of Pirate Warriors.
- Earthen Ring Farseer – Fills the 3-drop slot which is pretty weak in Rogue + adds the necessary healing to the deck.
- Azure Drake – Adds the necessary card draw, Spell Damage combos nicely with cheap spells like Backstab or Eviscerate.
- Dark Iron Skulker – Great tech against board floods, can be used if you face a lot of decks that spam multiple minions on the board.
- Cairne Bloodhoof – Adds another 6-drop besides Sylvanas, another powerful Deathrattle card to synergize with N’Zoth and Raptors.
Those are just a few examples. In first place, you should add enough cards to support your theme. Once you make sure that you have enough cards centered around Deathrattle, you should add the necessary tech cards. Remember to not add too many tech cards – people overestimate the value of tech cards as compared to just a solid, all-around card that works well in every matchup. After that, fill the rest of your decks with solid cards that are “neutral” to your theme.
3.4. Adjust Your Mana Curve & Trim The Deck
At some point when going through the last point, you probably ran out of space in your deck. Don’t worry, that’s normal. And that’s where probably the most difficult part of deck building begins. First of all – you need to take a look at your mana curve and balance it. The general concept is simple – Aggro decks should focus on the early game, Midrange on the mid game and Control on the late game. But in reality, while Aggro decks can indeed have a mostly 1-3 curve, you can’t focus completely on mid or late game with the slower archetypes. You always need to have some early game plays, even if you play a reactive, Control deck.
Remember that your mana curve is not something you need to judge in the vacuum. How fast or slow you will make your deck heavily relies on how the rest of the meta looks like. You can make an incredibly slow deck packed with value, but if the meta is full of high tempo decks it will be for nothing, because you will die before you get to your power turns. Current meta is relatively fast, so even Control decks should have a pretty low curve. For example, my current Reno Mage build runs 16 cards that cost 1-3 mana and only 5 cards that cost 7 or more mana. It’s really important to not make your deck too slow, because that’s one of the most common mistakes fresh deck builders make.
Another important thing related to the curve is that, most of the time, it should have a curve shape with no gaps. For example, if you run 2 and 3 mana cards and then jump straight to 5 mana cards.. it’s generally not good. Skipping 7 mana in a slower deck is not a problem, but skipping 3-4 mana for example usually is. Of course, there are decks that do just fine without a 3-drop, but they’re usually built by people who know exactly what they’re doing. If you’re building a novice homebrew deck, I recommend you filling every mana slot, because otherwise you’ll end up skipping a turn too often. In this meta turn 4 Hero Power + pass is often a suicide, so having that 4-drop is pretty solid.
Then, when it comes to trimming your deck – it will often happen that you forgot about a certain card and it turns out that you no longer have any space in the deck to put it in. What do you cut? Well, you definitely don’t cut the core. You most likely cut one of the complementary cards, probably the one that’s least useful. E.g. a niche tech card, a generic neutral card that you’ve put in just to fill the curve etc. You’ll go through a lot of trimming in the next step, so get used to that!
4. Playtesting & Adjusting
Now that you have your deck finished, you need to take it to the ladder. And let me tell you that – the first iteration of the deck is rarely the last one. Theory is one thing and practice is a whole other story. This is probably the longest step in the whole of deck building. After building your deck, you need to take it to the ladder and play a lot of games with it. After testing it vs different decks, you should be able to determine which cards are underperforming. Remember that tech card you’ve added to counter X deck? Maybe X deck is not as popular on the ladder as you thought and the card was sitting dead in your hand. You find yourself losing to Aggro too fast? Maybe you should consider adding some Healing or Taunts to your deck. Your late game isn’t good enough against other Control decks? Try to test another set of cards.
Most of the decks I’ve created have gone through 4-5 more cycles of playtesting & adjusting before I came up with the “final” list. Of course, it gets easier once you’re more experienced. It’s easier to tell which cards don’t fit when you have more knowledge about the game. But don’t worry, you’ll also get there after some practice.
5. Replacing Cards in Netdecks
And the last thing I’ve promised. It’s not directly related to building your own deck, but it’s close. If you’d like to play some archetype that has an already established, powerful list. But let’s say that you’re missing a few cards. What do you replace them with?
First of all, you need to determine whether the cards are key/core cards that the deck won’t work without. Sometimes you just can’t replace a card and playing the deck without it is pointless. For example, there is little to no reason to play a Reno Priest if you don’t have Kazakus and Raza the Chained.
If the cards aren’t key and you can indeed replace them, first try to look for the “direct replacement”. Look for a card that has a similar role in the deck, that accomplishes the same thing. For example, if you’re missing a card that draws (e.g. Lay on Hands) you can try to replace it with another card draw – maybe Solemn Vigil if the deck doesn’t run it, maybe Acolyte of Pain. If you’re missing a Charge finisher like Leeroy Jenkins, try adding another Charge minion (e.g. Argent Commander) or maybe a burn spell. If you’re missing a key, high value late game Legendary, replace it with another high value late game minion.
The thing gets much harder when you’re missing a card that has no direct replacement. If a card has unique effect, there is no card that performs similarly etc. you have to improvise. First and most important question you need to ask is – why is the card in the deck? Let’s say that you’re missing Doomsayer. The card is in the deck most likely to increase your win rate against Aggro, to stop some damage or remove early board. So if you’re looking for a card to replace it with – have that in mind. Try to put some early game removal or maybe a cheap board clear in that place. It might not perform as well as Doomsayer, but the general idea is that if you don’t have something that’s strong against Aggro, you want to add another card that’s strong against Aggro in the same place.
You can also go for the trial-and-error approach. Try playtesting the deck with different replacements and see which one works best for you. It’s probably the best option, although it’s also the most time-consuming.
Then, you can also ask the person who created the deck. But that’s not why I wrote this whole article, right?