Cannon's Deck-Building Basics for Beginners

Building a deck in Call of Cthulhu seems at first to be quite simple because of the wonderful resource system the game employs. Because any card can be a resource, you don’t have to worry about balancing your deck with the proper number of resources. However, upon closer inspection, this benefit can also make for some very difficult and uncertain choices for the beginning player to struggle with.

In this article, I plan to give you some simple guidelines to follow when constructing decks. Let me just state again that these are merely guidelines, and particular strategies or decks will always have exceptions. Also, feel free to disregard any or all of these suggestions once you’ve gotten a little experience in the game.

How many factions?

When starting out, I would stick to decks that use either two factions or just one. Three-faction decks can be difficult for new players when figuring out how to lay resources, and anything higher is asking for trouble. If you don’t have enough cards to work with only the one faction, it may be best to stick with two-faction decks.

Two-faction decks are generally a good idea anyway. All of the factions have their strengths and weaknesses (as it should be for proper balance) so pairing them together appropriately will help you iron out those weaknesses and make for a stronger deck.

What factions work well together?

Well that’s a topic for an entire separate article. For the purposes of this one, I’m going to assume you’ve already decided what factions you want to pair together. But if you’re really stuck, I would try pairing similar factions together. Take a look at icons and abilities of cards and see what strategy you can make of that. Decide what you’re most interested in, and then find factions that go well with your chosen strategy.

How many characters do I need?

Characters are the fundamental way to winning this game. With the exception of discard, you win the game by placing success tokens at stories, and you do that mainly with characters. Because of that, at least half of your deck should be characters. I will even go a little beyond that myself, sometimes going up to 30 characters in a 50 card deck.

That leaves you with between 20-25 additional slots open for other cards. My personal opinion is that you should lean toward more event cards than support cards, simply because they are more versatile and don’t have the same problems with removal that permanents like support cards tend to have.

When starting a new deck, try to stick to this format until you’ve got a good hang of what I’m talking about:
  • 28 – Characters
  • 16 – Events
  • 8 – Support
This isn’t perfect, but it gives you a good place to start. And of course please keep in mind that some decks just won’t conform to this. If you’ve got a very “event-heavy” deck (one which has a lot of events), then you’ll need more card slots than what I’ve allotted here. Decks are like snowflakes, each one different, and you need to play the deck for a while until you figure out the right balance for yours.

How many cards should I put in my deck?

With any CCG, the answer to this question is almost always, “As close to the minimum as you can get”. The general tactic you want is to use 4 copies of each critical card, and stay as close to 50 as you can. You do this so that you increase the likelihood of drawing the cards you need for your strategy, thus making your deck more consistent.

Consistency wins games, and with that in mind you should pick your strategy, then find about 13 cards that help you in that strategy and put them together into a deck. As with everything, there are exceptions, but here’s a decent guide to follow:
  • Cards critical to your strategy – 4 copies
  • Cards you need/want in the early game – 4 copies
  • Cards you don’t need until mid/late game – 2 copies
  • Cards you don’t need in the early game, but help boost your strategy – 3 copies
I included the “3 copies” possibility because sometimes it’s necessary when you have several cards you need to include, but try to stick to 4 copies of 13 different cards. The cards with only 2 copies should really only be things that you do not want to see in the early game. GOOs are excellent examples of this (unless of course you’re playing a GOO deck).

If you don’t have the cards, don’t sweat it. Figure out what works best, and then try to trade to get more copies of the cards you really want. Most new players won’t have 4 copies of whatever they want, but the point of this section is to let you know that to make good decks, they need to be consistent, and to be consistent your critical cards need to have a high percentage of being drawn.

There is one last thing I’d like mention in this section: If you’re worried about discard decks, DO NOT ADD MORE CARDS TO YOUR DECK! Adding more cards will not help you win, it will simply make your deck less consistent, and in most cases will only mean your opponent needs another turn or two until they win. Work on making your deck faster than the discard, instead of making discard take slightly longer.

What cards should I put in my deck?

Another wonderful question which I intend to devote an entire article or perhaps series of articles to. This is such a hard question to answer, but mostly because it’s all relative. All I will say for now is that what to include in your deck is almost entirely dependent on your strategy.

Of course there are always a few really good cards that I will include, at least initially, in almost every deck I build. Whenever I build a Cthulhu deck, I almost always include Sacrificial Offerings, Forgotten Isle, and Deep One Assault.

Play, play, and play again

With any deck, the only way to know what to change and what works well is to play it often and against as many decks as you can. There’s nothing worse than being in the middle of a game and drawing cards that are useless to you at that moment. Every card you draw should be one that will help you in the middle of a game, even if that makes it more difficult to choose resources at the beginning of the game.

Don’t get discouraged if the deck doesn’t do well at first. Take that time to figure out what doesn’t work and then replace it. A very important thing to think about during your game is to take notice of what cards you always resource. When you go back to work on your deck, remember those cards and take them out in favor of something more useful.

The process of tuning your deck by play-testing it is just as important as the other points I’ve mentioned in this article. Don’t be quick to tear your deck apart after just a couple of losses. By playing, you get to know your strategy and cards. You get to see how well your strategy works, and which cards fit it best. There is also the possibility that you’ve overlooked a certain threat and by play-testing you’ll realize what your deck is vulnerable to and be able to add cards to make the deck stronger.

I hope this helps and have fun building your decks. And always feel free to post your deck on the message boards. Plenty of people would be more than willing to help you out, regardless of skill level.

- cannon