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Variant Rules Proposal: Custom Starter Decks

I’ve been toying with the idea of a variant game mode that allows players to assemble a starter deck by choosing cards from the 7 standard starter decks, and what additional rules would best accommodate that. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  • Starter decks may contain at most 1 copy of any card.
  • Starter decks may contain any number of cards (fewer than 7 is not recommended).
  • Players must reveal their starter decks to their opponents before shuffling and drawing their initial hand.
  • Starter cards count when determining whether a player must pay the $1 multicolor building tax.

So, for example, a player could choose the 3 White heroes and build a starter deck of Neutral and White cards without paying multicolor penalties, but if they included a Graveyard in their starter deck, they would have to pay the $1 multicolor tax on their first tech building or add-on. Of course, casting a colored minor spell with a hero not of that color still incurs a $1 tax.

Questions? Comments? Testers?


My first thought: The current starter decks have a range of cheap to expensive cards that are balanced against each other. Black starter tends toward the cheap, and purple towards expensive, but they are a cohesive set and balanced on the whole deck. If I build a codex like Anarchy Strength Growth, how much more powerful would it be to swap in nullcraft?


I imagine that would depend on which card is being swapping out (if any) and why, as well as what cards the opponent is using, and what build path is planned to make use of that Nullcraft.

I agree that the current starter decks provide cards that are balanced against the other cards in their deck, although some starters seem to have an advantage over others (Black vs. Blue comes to mind). This variant would throw that internal balance out the window, placing a burden on the player to achieve their own balance, and punishing them if they fail to do so. It also enables combos that are otherwise only possible by stealing cards from an opponent (Skeletal Archery and Safe Attacking springs to mind), which may potentially give a player an advantage, but as both players have the opportunity to do this, I wouldn’t consider it an unearned advantage.

My hope is that allowing players to tailor their starter decks to compliment their long-term build plans will give builds that are interesting but struggle to be competitive a chance to shine. If a player is planning to use expensive Tech I units, they might do well by selecting low-cost Tech 0s, or vice versa. If a player is worried about upgrades but wants to use heroes that can’t remove them, they might mix in a Reputable Newsman as a preemptive counter, etc.

I think things could go way off the rails if you don’t enforce a certain number of starter deck cards. I’d recommend forcing the 10 card starter deck, but if you really want to give a range, I’d stil suggest forcing some small range, not leaving it wide open.

I could see some interesting, but also possibly broken, setups. Could be fun though :slight_smile:


I wonder if anyone would ever choose anything other than a 5 card starter deck? Perfect opening draw + the fastest possible cycling-in of Teched cards seems like a combination that would be hard to pass up, especially in an environment where your opponent would be doing the same.

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I expect diverging too far from 10 cards in either direction would punish the player doing so, and if that’s the case, I don’t see a need to enforce a size range via the rules. If it gets to be a problem, a size limit is might be necessary, but I’d like to try being lenient on the size to start with and tighten the reins only if necessary. I expect players will generally want at least 6 cards designated as worker fodder / counters to specific threats their build would otherwise be weak against, plus some number of core cards intended to be used throughout the game, but the exact number of each may not always add up to 10.

My first thought was that a 5 card starting deck would be ideal, but when I actually imagined how I’d play that, I spotted some problems. You’re going to want to worker a card on turn 1, and you don’t tech new cards into your deck until turn 2, which means you wouldn’t be able to draw 5 cards at the end of turn 1, and if you actually played a card from your hand, you’d be reducing your hand size even further. I’m not sure there’s a build that would gain enough advantage by starting so small that it would justify that disadvantage in hand size, but if there is, I’d like to see it.


I already thought of a beautiful way to break this.
Take a my deck, for instance [Future]/Peace/Blood.
Remove purple spells, remove Plasmodium+Tinkerer.
5 Cards left. Battle Suits, Fading Argonaut, Neo Plexus, Nullcraft, Hardened Mox.
Add Tenderfoot+Building Inspector.

Now you have everything you could ever need to accelerate into the Peace game plan immediately, while also having 1 drops.
Turn one, worker+card, you draw back to 5 and have no cards in deck or discard.
Turn two, you worker+card again, even if the card you played died, you’re drawing 5/6 cards in your cycle. If your card didn’t die, you guarantee your tech 1s.
Turn three, if you’re building your tech 2 that turn, you get to almost guarantee your tech 2s on turn four.

Basically, consistency is through the roof. Reduces draw variance by a lot.


So the question is, if consistency is up for both players, is that a problem or a feature of the variant?

I agree that seven is probably the optimum size for consistency, but that also means having fewer options… and in the case of the Peace engine specifically, a smaller deck size means Flagstone Garrisons provide less value, as you’ll run out of card draws sooner.

I think it just means the outcome is determined more by skill and less by luck.

Would the consistency affect player 1 more than player 2? Consistency’s nice for aggression.

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@Nekoatl how about we try it? I’ll always prefer to play something over talk about it :slight_smile:

I’ll commit to 3 sets of 6-game series (3 games P1, 3 on P2) where we try out a build, discuss it afterwards, and pick a new build after each set. That should take roughly until CAFS starts.

I think the first thing I’m going to try is a paired down Black Starter with Bloom and Tenderfoot added (maybe also Wither), in my Nightmare deck.

What have you got in mind?

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Sure, I’m game. I guess I’ll start with a Blue/Neutral hybrid for Finesse/Peace/Truth to see how it compares to what I’ve been playing recently.

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Anyone care to try this custom starter against me? I am going to see if I can make something really broken…

Proposed Broken Starter


Timely Messenger
Mad Man
Makeshift Rambaster
Bloodrage Ogre
Reputable Newsman
Grappling Hook
Safe Attacking

Possible additional cards
Young Treant
Verdant Tree
Fading Argonaut

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Let me finish my series again neko and I’ll try, @zhavier, if you don’t have a taker in the meantime

Are you still interested in giving this a try? My series with FrozenStorm ground to a halt when the tournament started up, and I still have strategies I want to experiment with.

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Sure! I will look at my thoughts and figure out if I want to change this starter at all.

@Nekoatl is that my fault? I’m game to keep playing it!

Well, I figured between being a participant and a judge, you were too busy, but it’s your turn when you have time: [Custom] Nekoatl Demonology/Growth/Strength vs FrozenStorm Demonology/Necromancy/Finesse

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