Deckbuilding is more of an art than a science. As you play, you learn your play style and the things you enjoy in the game. Your deck should fit you like a tailored dress or suit. At the end of the day, you are the only one who needs to be happy with your deck.
All that said, there are some good fundamentals I can share with you when it comes to constructing a deck. Following these tips is a great way to start deckbuilding, and as you get more experience you can venture away from these suggestions as desired.
The Core Concept
When you sit down to make a deck, you usually start with a core concept. This is the purpose of your deck and often the key cards for that build. For me, I usually see a new card and think, “that would be cool to try with XYZ card!” And then go from there.
This central idea is important to remember throughout the deckbuilding process. The cards you add should be more than just useful – they should fit in with the overall strategy and play style of the core. When you inevitably cut cards at the end of the process, you will be cutting ones that don’t directly fit with your scheme.
Example: The Lightning Gun seems really cool and I like Roland. But I want to make sure I see it if I spend that much XP on it, so I’ll include 2x Prepared for the Worst. And it only comes with three shots so 2x Extra Ammo is going to be in there. Watch out monsters! I am impatient, though, so I’ll use this for a stand-alone scenario so I don’t have to play through 3 scenarios just to get the XP for this build.
Example: I’m going to play a solo game, and I think I want to go with Jenny because she’s well-rounded and also badass. I want to find ways to boost her stats because 3’s aren’t good on their own. St Hubert’s Key boosts two stats for a single card, so I’ll try that. And then I can use Jenny’s funds to fuel Hard Knocks. That covers all four stats!
Example: My friends and I make plans for a 3 player game on Friday night. They are going to play Minh, primarily a cluever, and Ashcan, leaning more towards clues but still able to defend himself. I want to be a well-rounded fighter, and magic is intriguing, so I will play Agnes. Forbidden Knowledge is a good way to get horror when I want to trigger her ability, but I want to heal that horror too. That’s about as far as I got.
Player Count and Roles
Generally, the more players you have, the more specialized your deck should be. The inverse is true too – fewer investigators means more generalist decks. This is because your team has to tackle a wide variety of threats each scenario. If there’s only two of you, you might need to bail yourself out of bad situations. Conversely, a 4 player game means you’re drawing more threats in the mythos phase each round and your fighter is almost guaranteed to have enemies to fight, so they can focus on doing just that, and doing it a lot. Your cluever will have twice as many clues to pick up in a 4 player as in a 2 player game, so they need to be hyperspecializing into getting clues. They can also sacrifice some self-defense because your fighter is so good at baddies that they can take care of your enemies in addition to their own.
If you’re playing solo, you want to split evenly between clues and enemy management. If you’re playing duo, you pick one of those and then have 4-6 cards to help with the other. If you’re playing multiplayer, you go all in on one or the other, OR split down the middle if you already have someone all in on those two roles.
Example: Neither Ashcan or Minh can kill a lot of enemies, so Agnes needs to be the primary fighter. I want to make sure I can help out with a few clues, so I slot Rite of Seeking and Drawn to the Flame. Everything else in the deck is pretty much going to be enemy focused.
Example: If Roland is spending 12xp on Lightning Guns and Extra Ammos, he should be using them! I tell my SO that I’m going to mostly fight with Roland, picking up an occasional clue with his ability or some tricks. My SO decides to do the opposite and picks Ursula. She plans on evading a lot, plus includes “I’ve Got a Plan” to take out an enemy or two. She eventually wants to buy Disc of Itzamna with XP to also mitigate an enemy that shows up at a bad time.
Example: My Jenny deck is a solo deck, so I want to be able to handle a variety of threats to a certain extent. She will be decent at taking low-difficulty tests of any kind, but needs help with both high-shroud clues and tougher enemies. I’ll give her Flashlights (upgrade to Lockpicks), Working a Hunch, and Perception for clues. For enemies, in addition to evading with Hard Knocks, I’ll put in Derringers, a Machete, and a pair of Sneak Attacks.
Copies and Consistency
In general, most of the cards you include should be 2 copies in your deck. You’re including cards for a reason, and that reason is probably enough that you want to see those cards almost every game. If you have two copies of it in your deck, you will see that card MUCH more consistently than if it is a single copy.
The only 1x cards should be the situational events or cards you specifically want later in the scenario. I usually have 4-6 singletons in my decks (not including signature cards).
Example: Jenny has the one Machete, and because it doesn’t use ammo that should be okay. I like Elusive, but it is a bit situational, so I only have one copy. Although Lone Wolf is “Limit one per investigator,” I want it early to maximize how much money it makes me, so I will keep it at 2x.
Example: Although Roland could get by with 1x Prepared for the Worst, I keep two in the deck so I can find the Lightning Guns more easily. Inquiring Mind, which needs clues to be able to use, is situational, so I only put in one. Also, I’m nervous about Roland’s low sanity, so I spend some XP on an Elder Sign Amulet (but only one, as I think my XP is better spent on upgrading both Beat Cops).
Example: I throw in a Storm of Spirits in my Agnes deck; when it’s good, it’s great, but if I’m doing my job we don’t need it every game. I put in a single Painkillers to convert damage into on-demand horror (or to offload damage onto my horror soaks), but only one because I don’t want to see it before I’ve taken damage.
Card Counts and Slots
The classic spread of a deck is 12 Assets, 10 Events, and 8 skills. This has been the case since the core, and I think it’s still a good suggestion.
For each asset slot, you can have 2 cards (probably 2 copies of the same card). Or, if you plan on playing cards in that slot repeatedly, 3-4 cards.
When it comes to weapons, a specialist fighter wants 6 weapons. Note that evasion abilities can count for this, as can investigator abilities and cards that find those tools for you like Prepared for the Worst. My guardians are often something like 2x .45 auto, 2x Machete, 1x Survival Knife, 1x PftW. My solo decks have lower weapon counts, especially if evasion is an option. I’ll even go as low as 3x weapons in an evasion-based solo deck.
Example: In my Jenny deck, I just want Leo de Luca as my ally. I don’t plan on letting him die because I want his ability active the whole game. So my only Allies are two copies of Leo.
Example: My Roland has Beat Cops to pump his combat. But he also needs horror soak, and I may want to discard Beat Cop for its damage ability. So I include Art Students to get him some clues and horror soaks.
Example: Agnes wants to maximize the use of her high Willpower. She starts with 2x Shriveling and 2x Rite of Seeking. However, those spells will probably run out of charges and we will overplay them, so 6 spells is an easy justification. I add in 2x Mists of R’lyeh to give her more options for enemies. Finally, I want to try out Clarity of Mind as a horror healing option (there’s a level 3 version out now!), but I won’t need it until late in the scenario once I’ve taken some horror, so I’m just adding 1 copy. 7 cards for two slots.
Let’s talk money. If the only money card you have is Cache, you want as many cards to be 2 cost or less as possible. Limit how many 3+ cost cards you have to like 6-10. If your build can’t stick to that, you need more money cards.
Let’s say you’re Skids or another investigator who intrinsically has a way to spend resources. Your ability costs money, so you’ll want more than just Cache.
Remember that Skills are free. If you’re worried about your expensive cards (like you’re Roland with Lightning Guns, Beat Cops, and Brother Xavier’s) compensate with more Skills.
Pay-to-win Talents (like Physical Training, Streetwise, or Plucky) are expensive to fuel. You will want some economy in your deck to fuel those cards. I rarely include these cards until I have played the deck and have felt like I have excess money to dish into them.
Example: Agnes is using Forbidden Knowledge for on-demand horror, but it also gives her lots of money. I’m also adding Uncage the Soul because there’s lots of spells it can give me discounts on, and I like the double Willpower icon. With those in place, there’s not much more need for money, so I don’t include Caches in favor of some skills.
Example: Roland is very poor. He has these big guns and cards to get him more ammo for those guns. I’m worried Cache won’t be enough, and I don’t own many other cards he can take that give him resources. I don’t envision him investigating enough to make Milan Christopher worth it (plus maybe my SO wants Milan). So I keep the number of assets and expensive events to a minimum. I compensate by going up to a lofty 11 skills.
Example: Jenny has a very strong economy card built into her. However, I’m focused on using Hard Knocks to pump my strength, and I’ll be using it almost every time I attack or evade. I’m going to want a lot of money. I already have her ability, plus Cache and Lone Wolf. I’d like one more economy card to even things out, so I’ll include “Watch This!”, which is a gamble but acts as an actionless Cache if it works out.
Agnes is very spell-heavy, but that’s putting her high Willpower to good use. The skill of playing this deck is going to revolve around playing the right spells at the right time. I’ll need to conserve my Shriveling charges for the enemies I can’t evade, trying to use the Manual Dexterity and Peter Sylvestre when I don’t have Mists out to evade more consistently. Ashcan can kill a few enemies too. I’ll probably want to upgrade Mists into Song of the Dead or Shards of the Void as a way to do more damage. Also, if I’m feeling confident, this would be a good deck for 2x Arcane Research.
Roland is looking pretty sharp. He only has two singletons, so this deck should be very consistent. He’s also pretty resilient to damage and horror with four allies and the Elder Sign Amulet. After playing some Roland, I found it was sometimes hard to position myself in locations with clues when the enemies spawned, so I’ve included two Shortcuts to assist with that (you’re not spending an action to move, so you don’t provoke an attack of opportunity if you’re engaged with an enemy – but the enemy stays engaged with you!). With Machete as a backup weapon, this Roland should be ready to take on any number of monsters.
Jenny is very well-rounded, but in true Rogue fashion she is susceptible to bad luck. If her core stat boosts (Hubert and Hard Knocks) are buried in her deck, she may have a rough time. The cantrips (neutral skills that give you a draw) should help get through her deck and hold her over until those core pieces show up. While she’s not too resilient to damage and horror, she has a lot of clue tools; ideally she ends the scenario quickly before things get too out of hand. With the Derringers and Flashlights, this could be a fun deck for Sleight of Hand instead of Think on Your Feet. I would probably upgrade the Derries into Switchblade, which makes Sleight less good, so then you could turn your Sleights into Think on Your Feet or anything else you like. Alternatively, Narrow Escape is an underrated card that would go nicely in that spot.
There’s a lot of info here; hopefully my examples helped to clarify my points. Again, deckbuilding is an art, and the suggestions I’ve laid out here are by no means the “correct” way to build decks. At the end of the day, you should actually play with the decks you build and take note of what works and what doesn’t. Which cards sat in your hand, or never made an impact? What problems did you not have enough answers for? These are the kinds of questions that make card games interesting and make you a better deckbuilder.