Previous articles touched upon some general deck structure and strategies, and today I introduce Skill Decks.
What is a “skill deck” and specifically a spell deck?
One that takes skill to pilot?! No, in Doomtown: Reloaded, a skill deck is built around using dudes who have certain skills. In DTR there are 2 types of skills - Spell Skills and the Mad Science Skill. The spells are broken further into 3 categories of Hexes, Miracles, and Spirits. Mad Scientists use their skills to make Gadgets. This makes for a total of 4 different skill type cards - Hexes, Miracles, Spirits, and Gadgets. This article only considers spells, while a later article will cover Mad Scientists and their Gadgets. Each spell type has an associated spell-wielding dude who helps use them:
A spell card is a card that needs to be attached to its respective spell caster in order for it to be used. Let’s look at a staple spell for Hucksters, Blood Curse.
A spell usually has a keyword that demarcates its type. Blood Curse has the Hex keyword. However, let’s talk about the spell’s most important aspect (in terms of ability): Noon Hex 9. Noon demarcates when you can use the ability (in this case, the Noon phase) , but Hex 9 is the key part . That “9” is the difficulty in casting that spell. In particular, it’s the value you need to hit when making a pull (which is revealing the top card of your deck.) As a note, each time you want to cast Blood Curse, you’ll need to meet the difficulty 9 part!
When attempting to cast a spell, you need to make what is referred to as a “skill test.” This usually means revealing the top card of your deck and checking the rank (the value of the card). We refer to this process of making a pull (similar to how Legendary Holster uses the term “pull”). Normally, one checks the value of the card (the number in the upper left corner) you revealed (the card you pulled) against the numeral (in this case “9”). If you equal or exceed that value, it’s considered a “successful” casting of the spell. We also need to consider the spell caster’s skill. For example, let’s look at Steele Archer.
Steele has a Huckster 2 rating keyword. The Huckster part means he can attach hexes, however the “2” is also important. When attempting to cast a spell (in this case, the Noon ability on Blood Curse), you add the spell caster’s skill rating to the pull. For example, if you pulled an 8 when attempting Blood Curse, you would then add Steele’s skill rating to the pull to make a total of 10 (8 +2). Since 10 is greater than or equal to 9, Blood Curse would be successfully cast (and if the combined value was less than 9, the spell would be unsuccessfully cast )
How do spell decks win?
At the most general level, Spell decks win by using spells to take over the board through their commensurate spell casters. Whether using a spell like Blood Curse to strategically reduce your opponent’s influence, or using a spell like Sentinel to help rack up control points on your Blessed dude, the goal is to strategically use Spells to take control of the board and win. One of the keys though is that spells are a critical component to your game plan and either give you your primary win condition, help build your “machine,” or provide key components to your deck.
I want to make a clear distinction between decks that just happen to use a couple of spells here or there versus a deck whose real focus is on using spells. That’s not to say it’s an easy to define line, but there are some decks that just use spells to fuel certain things. For example, Sloane players commonly start Benny McGill, throw a Hex on him, and initiate call-outs with his ability regardless of the actual spell. With that, let’s go through the general archetypes.
Hucksters & Hexes - Hexes usually play tricks on your opponent or directly hurt them (usually referred to as “debuffs”) The goal is to strategically either weaken your opponent’s position with spells like Blood Curse, or straight up kill them with spells like Soul Blast, or indirectly with combos like Corporeal Twist and Shotgun. Hexes are generally the most flexible and straight-forward types of spells to use. Hucksters are generally members of the Fourth Ring and The Sloane Gang.
Blessed & Miracles - Miracles, usually provide power to your dudes (usually referred to as “buffs”) or punishing the wicked. The goal is to either setup a control point generating machine ( Sentinel gives you this option), provide strong abilities to fuel power cards (e.g. using Intercession to fuel Point Blank), or allow you to provide powerful support abilities to fuel certain combos. An example of the latter would be using Lay On Hands to fuel a card like Takin' Ya With Me (allowing you to cause your opponent casualties while saving your dude who you send repeatedly into shootouts). This type of strategy is called “Lose 2 Win” (meaning that you are converting what are considered “losses” into a trade that helps you win.) Blessed individuals are generally members of The Law Dogs and The 108 Righteous Bandits.
Shamans & Spirits - Spirits usually either provide “reset” abilities, spiritual Sidekicks to aid in battle, or unique “off-axis” abilities that open up interesting options for Shamans. Currently Shamans reside solely in the Eagle Wardens. Reset abilities (like Remedy or even The Mixer) provide Eagle Wardens the ability to reset the board (strategically) and gain an advantage. Fire of Nanahbozho, allows you to strategically unboot your dudes to get more actions in town (Totem is a specific keyword related to Spirits that will be discussed later). Crafty Hare provides a sidekick that can help a Shaman escape a dicey situation!
What are the strengths of a spell deck?
The core strength of a spell deck is that the abilities (once you get them on the board) give you a consistent action to help you take over the game. Do not underestimate the power of constantly hitting your opponent with Blood Curse and knocking off their influence. Similarly, Soul Blast can cause havoc on your opponent as you have repeatable ways to either ace dudes or at least send dudes home booted. Miracles like Sentinel help you gain control points (and combo especially well with Father Tolarios), or you can use Intercession to help fuel powerful kill actions like Point Blank. Red Horse's Tail can let you dominate a certain location, and use this to help fuel certain dudes. For example, you can “fortress up” on a deed, and then use a dude like Nicodemus Whateley, not for his Huckster skill, but for his ability to amass control points quickly by booting your dudes at a deed and having them be protected. In addition, spells generally have powerful actions that can key off them. Cards like Hex Slingin' can give a quick boost in hand rank to help finish off an opponent, while Martyr's Cry can help you shrug off a bad shootout round.
What are the weaknesses of a spell deck?
Spell decks generally have two primary weaknesses that need to be managed. First, until your spells are out on the board, it can be difficult for spell decks to apply pressure to an opponent. After all, if you don’t have the abilities of a spell to use, a sizable chunk of your game plan remains inactive, making it difficult to implement a strategy. Coupled with this weakness is that it’s always possible you don’t see your main spells, resulting in your deck “punting.” This is just one of the baked in risks of attachment based decks in any game. However, one can mitigate this risk by running enough spells to maximize your chances of seeing them early. Also, a job like Mugging can be brutal against you as it may ace two of your key spells on the board. That said, cards like The Whateley Estate can let you cycle them back into your deck (or even better, Ivor Hawley (XP1) can help you get them right back out of the your discard pile!)
The second weakness is that if you lose your spell casters, a sizable chunk of your deck now contains just dead cards. Spells aren’t very useful when you can’t attach them to your dudes! What this boils down to (and is somewhat related to the first weakness) is that spell decks need to be wary of aggression attempts to knock spell casters off the board. Law Dogs players often start Judge Harry Somerset (XP1) and “blitz” against a deck with spell casters. The goal here is to knock off the spell casters fast enough to cripple the spell deck. The game does have some built in ways of combating aggression. Many spell decks will start at least one defensive shooter like Jacqueline Isham or The Caretaker to help fight off reckless blitz attempts and give you a chance to attach your spells to your casters. One important note is that unlike goods, spells cannot be traded (they are learned). This means that you can’t bank on loading up one spell caster with the hope of spreading your spells out later to mitigate risk. Keep this in mind when picking who to attach your spells to during the course of a game. One of the most subtle and important skills a spell deck player must have is placing the right spell on the right dude.
Special challenges of a building / piloting a spell deck
Spell decks present some unique deck building challenges. First, is the management of values. Since spells require you to meet a pull each time you want to cast them, you need to consider the value of cards you are putting in your deck beyond managing your draw hands. Usually this means that your spell difficulties dictate what values you need to focus on. For example, Blood Curse has a difficulty of 9, and casting it consistently requires focusing on cards having a value of 9 or greater. Hucksters with positive skill ratings can mitigate this, but they usually come with a hefty price tag because of the increased deck building options.
Second, is the management of your deck itself during the game. As we discussed in the 16x3 article, playing cards out of your deck inevitably weakens your draw structure if you go with a stacked structure. Remember, the best way of guaranteeing you see the copies of spells you need is to include 4 copies of them. This naturally leads spell decks to be stacked decks. As a player, you need to manage whether that second, third, or fourth copy of a spell is worth it against possibly weakening your draw structure down the road. On the opposite end, some people try to make decks that are looser upfront, but get better as more spells are brought out. The only risk with this is that if your deck gets forced into an early shootout (e.g. via Kidnappin'), you can be forced to fight from a very weak position. In those instances, it becomes mission critical to have some strong defensive shooters to try and weather the storm.
Most important, spells sometimes fail, even in the most consistent decks. This can come about because a starting posse member finds their way back into your deck, or you just happened to pull that last remaining Soul Blast when attempting to cast Blood Curse to win the game. As a player, you always need to think about the consequences of a spell failing, and how you’ll adapt to it.
What should I learn playing a spell deck / playing against a spell deck
Spell decks are a unique facet of DTR that need some match-up knowledge to effectively pilot and play against. As the pilot, it’s important to know what spells will be the most useful for you depending on the match-up and how you can best leverage them. The key though is that all of these deck types take some practice to master, and require a pilot to adapt to situations on the fly to get the most out of their decks. Patience is the name of game with these decks and playing them enough to get a good feel means you’ll have to take some lumps upfront. The most important thing to learn is which spells solve which problems, and how many to play without hurting your draw structure too much.
Playing against a spell deck means that dealing with the opponent’s spell casters usually becomes their primary concern. After all, if your opponent doesn’t have any spell casters, they can’t use their spells. However, it’s not always wise to challenge them head on. Law Dogs Miracle casters can get big in a hurry and engage in drag out fights that put you at a disadvantage. Many times, a spell deck will be racing against itself to get spells out fast enough, so you need to consider how you will deal with this. One of the best solutions is to do an all-out Kidnappin' against a stacked spell caster, getting the dude and all their spells off the board. Another option is Mugging which can cripple a spell deck by acing the spells. If your deck is loose enough, Unprepared can absolutely decimate decks that try to stack spells on a single dude, but be mindful that you’ll most likely need to win lowball to get the most out of the effect.
In short, seeing how a spell can change the game requires some experience against them. For example, many newer players don’t initially consider Phantasm as powerful spell until an experienced player uses it against them. The next key then is figuring out how you can alter your play / deck to pack answers for these decks.
What are some examples of spell decks?
Here I’ll try to provide an example of each spell type. The purpose here is more to show good starting points, and how players construct spell deck. That said, do not hesitate to figure out your own style.
First, let’s look at a straightforward hex deck provided by @forkbanger
Notice how the values are all very high to fuel Blood Curse and Sight Beyond Sight with their higher difficulties. It also helps fuel Puppet, which can take over dudes! Also notice it has a 16x16x7 structure that helps its shooting strength.
Think about how this deck will fight against the three decks that we talked about in previous articles. What cards will be most critical against which decks?
Now here is a nifty miracle-based deck by @Neramoor
This deck runs REALLY tight at 16x16x13, which helps it see the key miracles it needs to fuel Point Blank, but also shoot consistently. In addition, Father Tolarios lets the pilot fish out key spells such as Sentinel to enable a control point machine, or to get out a critical Jael's Guile to punish cheaters.
Final deck is a Spirit deck of the dreaded “Fortress” variety by Tombstone_Frank
Since Shamans tend to be a little “off-axis,” take a look at the deck components and the write-up to figure out how the deck works. In particular, think about how the tricks in the deck, and the influence boosting trait of Beyond The Veil allow the pilot to deal with a variety of decks.
The next main article will cover Gadgets and talk about some of the zany things you can do with science! In addition, we'll hopefully be able to get some specialty articles dedicated to each specific spell type in the near future as trying to cover all 3 spell types in-depth in a single article would be a tad difficult
Cheers & I hope that helps!