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In this article, we will go in-depth analyzing one of the most important skills you can have in a strategy card game: how to properly assess your situation at any point in the match and find an optimal course of play with the highest chance of leading you to victory.
In the first part, we’ll go over the theory, talking about the sources of information that you will use when looking for an optimal play. There are 4 sources of information, which we will talk about: our deck plan, our current hand-state, the current game-state, and our opponent’s deck plan.
In the second part, we’ll turn to a concrete example and see how the theoretical concepts can be applied in practice.
- Our deck plan
This is the most important source of information we have access to because this is the one area we completely control from the start. We know what cards we’ve put in our deck, and we know why we’ve put them there. Our deck will tell us what we are trying to accomplish in a general sense and will give us a direction for every game.
These are the questions that will be asking about our deck:
- What does our mana-curve look like? An aggressive deck will have a low curve and it will want to close out before reaching the late game. A control deck will have the exact opposite qualities.
- Are we built for a steady or explosive development? How does our deck develop its plan during the game? Are we looking to build our board over time (ex. Thresh Nasus) or are we looking for some huge power play that will suddenly put us at a great advantage (Thralls)?
- Are we a ‘pressure deck’ or a ‘defensive deck’? This stance can change depending on the opponent, but knowing our most likely role will give us clear directions as to what situation we want to create in a game.
These are examples of questions we might ask of our deck when trying to determine the course of play in a particular game. This is the first and most important level in your thought process as it is impossible to get good and consistent results with a deck that we don’t understand.
- Our current hand-state
If the deck is something that we are ‘aiming to do’, our hand is what we can ‘actually do’. Unlike our starting deck, the hand-state we have to work with isn’t something that we can fully control, and variance plays a role in what makes it or not into our hand.
Our hand-state carries two main pieces of information that are crucial to us: cards that we have and cards that we don’t have yet. In a lot of cases, the cards that are not in our hand yet are actually the most important ones to consider and plan around.
The most common example for such planning is the concept of playing “on-curve”. When we are dealt our starting hand with a deck relying on continuous tempo, we want to find a way to use up all our mana efficiently and keep our development steady in order to build pressure. So, looking at our hand, we will make plans on what to play and when, and we will need to account for the cards in our deck that could potentially fill some holes in order to keep our curve for as long as possible.
For most experienced players, planning based on their deck plan and hand state is something that they know well and do without much effort. The biggest skill factor usually comes in when it is time to assess the current game state.
- The current game-state
Your deck dictates an overall plan, your hand provided you with means to carry out that plan, but the situation of the game you’re in is the actual reality that we have to bounce our ideas and expectations against.
The game-state can give us a ton of information, we’ll narrow it down to the two most important questions:
- “Does the current situation goes along well with my plan?” It might be the single most important question to answer during a card game match, especially in LoR when the pass button is such an important mechanic. Being able to understand how reality and theory relate to each other is a great skill in order to be able to build or adapt your game plan.
- “Does my hand do enough given my current plan in this current game-state?” This question will help you figure out if your available resources can really help you in the current situation. It will allow you to better assess the amount of risk you will be willing to take: a great hand can play it safe, but a bad one might need to force something in order to stay on track.
These two questions are very helpful when it comes to comparing what we had planned to what is really happening in the game – and adapting your line of play based on available resources.
- Our opponent’s deck plan
First, we need to think about our opponent’s deck in the same way we did think about our own deck. What is the overall game plan for it, what speed their deck operates at? That should at least tell you how much time you have to develop your strategy or if you should play reactive from the get-go.
The second step is taking account of the power plays and the important threats that our opponent can present. This means, in addition to acknowledging our opponent’s general gameplan, we are trying to get more into details as to how they will make it happen, what specific cards they might use.
Knowing what our opponent can do is usually a great way to know what we are allowed to do in a game. It limits our game plan to what makes sense to do in a matchup and it can tell us when to play it risky or safe.
Understanding how the opponent’s deck works in detail and how to play against it in various situations is difficult and takes game knowledge, but it can sometimes dramatically shift your thinking process while looking for an optimal play.
Now that we’ve covered all the various sources of info that we’ll be using, let’s turn to a concrete example and construct an optimal line of play based on the information we are presented in the screenshot above.
- Step 1: Considering my deck’s plan
I am playing Ez Draven, a midrange deck, and I am looking to out-tempo my opponent through midrange threats and spells. Once I’ve pushed my board advantage, I need to switch to the intensive damage plan around turns 7 or 8 and try to finish the game with flipped Ezreal or Captain Farron.
Given that it is already Round 7 in the screenshot above, I will need to end it sooner rather than later as the next round is supposed to be the end of my deck’s curve. Things are looking bad as neither of the two of my finishers is available right now, and my opponent is at 17 health.
Knowing how my deck works, I would say the situation is currently pretty unfavorable and I need to start taking some risks as my list is exiting its comfort zone. My deck is telling me: ‘Close the deal, I’m not built for a late-game battle’.
- Step 2: Evaluating my hand-state
The only cards that are looking remotely like helping me to do what my deck wants – which is building pressure – are the Tri-beams. But I also have to admit that Nasus just by himself is probably capable of dealing with any pressure I would develop, so I guess I need to find a way to take care of him first. Additiionally, I have no direct damage in hand – so the burn plan isn’t available right now.
I have 4 cards in my hand, but the Culling Strike has no target and the House Spider is a little late to the party to be considered a card at this point. So effectively, based on what my general deck plan is, I really only have 2 cards in my hand.
Considering what my deck plan and hand-state are telling me, I will try to use my 5 damage Tri-beam onto the Nasus to build the biggest threat on the board possible.
- Step 3: Taking the current game situation into account
Based on the previous two sources of information, my plan is to try to develop some tempo and finish this, but the current situation really doesn’t show there’s a very clear way forward for me.
First, I’m not going to be able to attack the next turn. Based on that alone, I might want to develop pressure next turn instead of right now. Another very important point is that it is actually me who looks to be in danger going into the next turn. My Draven got marked by the Merciless Hunter so he won’t be able to block effectively, and my opponent still has mana to spend in order to build up offense going into the next turn.
Instead of looking for pressure, the situation is calling for a more careful approach and trying to slow down things. Luckily enough, the Tri-beam Improbulator can be a good defensive tool too. Considering my Draven is Vulnerable, I need to protect my Nexus from Nasus striking it. Killing Nasus is a priority – and because I don’t have any fast spells to remove it during the attack phase, I’d rather take care of it before it enters combat.
My 5 damage Improbulator could help me to that goal. I just have to hope my opponent won’t be able to do too much with the 4 mana they have left this turn. A 5-mana unit that will be generated from Tri-Beam should also help me defend against an open attack.
- Step 4: Assessing what I know about my opponent
All previous parts of my analysis led me to the same line of play: let’s Tri-Beam the Nasus so that we can swing the board as much as possible while protecting our Nexus from a possible open attack at the start of the round.
The problem here though is that my opponent runs Rite of Negation in their deck and has exactly 4 mana available. So if I try attempt that Tri-beam and it gets negated, I will have no plays and will be only relying on top-decks to find something to deal with Nasus open-attack.
With this key information, maybe I should take a step back, and re-evaluate analyzing my hand-state and the game-state to see if I could find another way of protecting myself while not risking running into a game-losing Rite of Negation.
- Step 5: Settling on an optimal line of play
The reason why I wanted to use Tri-Beam right now is that it is a slow spell, and I can’t use it to answer an open attack from Nasus next turn. But if there was a way to leave my opponent without a good open attack, then the need to play my Tri-beam right now would disappear.
Looking at my hand, I see another way to block my opponent’s Fearsome Nasus next turn – that is to play the House Spider and use one of Spinning Axes to get it to a 3/2. I also have another Axe to discard so this wouldn’t cost me an actual card.
While this play isn’t going to impact the game the same big way Tri-beam on Nasus does, it gives me more time to take care of Nasus, allowing me to see one more card from my deck. And if Tri-beam play is still the best choice next turn – I can always go for that line.
This whole play also fits way better with the current game-state where I’m looking to slow things down as I’m in no position to race my opponent right now and need to go back to dominating the board instead of looking for finishing damage.
In the scenario above, if the opponent doesn’t have Rite of Negation, the Tri-Beam is better than the House Spider, but it is a catastrophe if they actually do have it. This is what makes the process of figuring out an optimal line of play so difficult – but also interesting to do.
Are you the kind of player that plays it safe and goes for the spider? Or are you willing to take the risk and try your luck with that Tri-beam, hoping your opponent doesn’t have Rite of Negation in hand?
These kinds of decisions additionally rely on a ton of things and concepts that we might discuss in future pieces, like hand-reading or risk-taking for example.
These decisions can also be impacted by personal playstyles – where some players might be pushing for a riskier line, others prefer a patient and composed approach. We all have some preferences when it comes to establishing an optimal line of play, but finding one relies on the core theory pillars which every player should learn how to use and master.
Good game everyone!