To the Cardcycle, Batman
by Shaun McIssac
One of the surest ways to lose a game of V:TES is to have a hand full of cards that don't help you in the current situation, and not discard to any cards that would help you in the current situation. This is commonly known as "hand jam" or "not $#@%ing drawing one of my 10 wakes." It will happen to most decks regardless of their composition because pretty much every card is at least in a somewhat similar situation and those that aren't tend to be weak (read: Ascendance). That being said, there are things you can do to significantly reduce the chances of getting hand jam.
The first thing to do is look at the deck your building or reworking, and determine what the "half life" is on each card in the deck. No, you don't need a Geiger counter; You just want to sort the cards by how long they sit in your hand for, on average. If you constantly discard a card (via your discard phase or an effect such as The Barrens), that counts against it too. Chances are that the cards that either sit in your hand for a bunch of turns, or always get discarded, are too situational. Sometimes situational cards are quite handy and there's no real replacement available. Deflection is situational, because it's unplayable in a one on one scenario, and because it only works against a bleed aimed at you. Deflection is also a card that virtually all decks with Dominate or superior Dominate in them use. You could replace this card with Telepathic Misdirection, which also provides intercepts against non-bleed actions and as such is less situational, but it taps you and that's often a significant weakness. Triole's Revenge has a powerful effect, as it ties up the affected Ventrue and under certain circumstances can burn them outright. However, the card can also be a complete waste if there are no Ventrue on the table, or if the Ventrue is in a position where you wouldn't want to destroy/incapacitate their vampires. It also cost blood and requires a ready Brujah, which further reduces the cards utility.
What can you count on happening? You can count on bleeds happening, even if only for a basic one bleed. You can count on having a master phase. You can count on combat; it won't always be a vicious flaming aggravated death combat, but at some point someone will block you or you'll block them. You can count on having vampires in your crypt showing up, and assuming you've got a consistent crypt, their disciplines/clans/etc., as well. You can count on taking actions and usually, you'll want to block some as it is hard to make a deck that is capable of winning without blocking. You can't count on (someone else's) political actions. You can't count on someone else having a specific clan (even a popular one like Malkavian or Ventrue). Thus, you tend to see a recurring theme in The Lasombra's deck archive. Deflection, Redirection, or Telepathic Misdirection, some form of combat (Strike: Combat Ends counts), stealth (whether by action modifiers, actions with inherent stealth, or unblockability), intercept (or stealth reduction), Blood Doll or Minion Tap. At the last Seekonk tournament, all five decks in the finals had all five of these aspects except the winning deck, which didn't really have much in the way of combat other than Lucian's special. Everyone else had either a weapon or discipline-based combat.
Keeping you're deck stocked with cards that are usually going to be playable is good, but you can also add cards whose entire purpose is to cycle. The most popular ones ent of the Book of Nod sees the least play because of the fact that it can be stolen, but it still deserves mention as a strong card in a dare The Barrens, Dreams of the Sphinx, Visit From the Capuchin, and Fragment of the Book of Nod. Fragmeck that can protect it, especially since the card can help you protect it by cycling to your intercept and/or combat. Ben Peal has already written a nice article on the The Barrens, so I won't get into a lot of detail here. Just replace "The Barrens" in Ben's article with "Dreams of the Sphinx" and "it's free" with "it's almost free." At least one of these cards is in pretty much every one of my decks.
The last thing you can do to avoid getting hand jam is to reduce the number of cards in your deck. Let's say there are two decks, each of which has the same starting ratio. Deck one has ten KRC, ten Voter Caps, ten Bewitching Orations, ten Forgotten Labyrinth (FL), ten Minion Taps, and ten Deflections. Deck two has the same cards but fifteen of each. Deck one plays a game and finds no Forgotten Labyrinths in it's initial draw. This is bad because after two turns of transfers you have almost finished bringing out Arika, and your prey has just brought out a Vampire with a base of +1 intercept, making the KRCs, Bewitching Orations, and Voter Captivations in your hand useless. The deck discards for the third time and still is waiting for a stealth card. Now imagine Deck two doing the same thing. What are the chances of Deck one pulling a FL compared to Deck two? Deck one has fifty cards that it has not yet drawn, and ten is the "correct answer," so there's a 20% chance the next card will help. Deck two has eighty cards left and fifteen is the "correct answer," so there's a 18.75% chance the next card will help. Seem small? Well, as the game progresses, the gulf between the two decks is going to widen with every draw. If the sixty card deck is now down to thirty cards and the ninety card deck is now down to sixty, the difference would be closer to 9%. Playing with less cards makes a deck more "true" in its draws, with the trade off that you cannot fine tune your percentages quite as much and you might run out of cards when you don't want to. Fine tuning can be important, but running out of cards can usually be remedied by having more powerful cards and thus needing less of them to oust 2-3 opponents (5th Tradition instead of Restoration, Conditioning instead of Threats). He who dies with the most cards in his library, still dies.
By doing this you can help to minimize the effect of the random shuffle on your game, making your strategy, skill, and metagame choices much more important.
Shaun McIssac has mastered the art of confusing his opponents with arcane odds and percentages. If this tactic fails, he can be found bloating with Etrius.
Monday, August 17, 2009
Here's an old article by Shaun McIssac, originally published on the now defunct Rustwurk website in November 2001. He writes about the importance of card cycling and card flow: