Key Concepts: Resource Curves

Bear Population GraphEven with mono-sphere decks on the rise, resource management remains vital to successful deck design. Whether you are building a Rohan quest-rush deck, a Gondorian Ranger deck with traps and staging area tricks, or a deck featuring the power of Elrond and Vilya; resources are the engine which drives these decks.

Building a deck is a multi-faceted discipline, and depending on the specific goals of your deck, you will need to balance several different factors. As we discussed in our deck building articles for Beorn’s Path, choosing heroes is one of the first and most important decisions that will make when building a new deck. Once you have the heroes picked out, you will know your resource ratios. In a mono-sphere deck, this is simple: almost all of your cards will be of the chosen sphere. With the exception of neutral cards, and out-of-sphere cards if you are using Songs or other similar options, most of the cards in your deck will need to match the spheres of your heroes.

While this concept is simple with mono-sphere decks, it can get a bit more complicated with multi-sphere decks. In the Leadership/Lore deck in Beorn’s Path, we used two Leadership heroes in Aragorn and Theodred, and one Lore hero in the form of Denethor. In this case, our resource ratio is 2:1. In other words, because we have two Leadership heroes, we should have about twice as many leadership cards in our deck as Lore cards. While a 2 to 1 ratio is a helpful guideline, this is by no means an absolute rule.

Steward of GondorIndeed, we deviate from this ratio considerably in some of our incarnations of the Leadership/Lore deck for Beorn’s Path. The reason we can break this guideline underscores another important facet of deck-building: resource acceleration. Because the deck includes Theodred as a hero and Steward of Gondor as an attachment, it possesses multiple means of accelerating the hero’s resources. In the case of that deck, we included about a 1 to 1 ratio of Leadership to Lore cards because we could attach Steward of Gondor to Denethor. Between Theodred and Steward of Gondor, that deck could often provide 3 resources for each sphere, which makes a 1 to 1 ratio a good match.

A deck with heroes that belong to three different spheres is even trickier. For three-sphere decks, it is strongly recommended to include a hero from the Leadership sphere. While it is possible to make a deck with one Tactics hero, one Spirit, and one Lore hero, such a deck will probably struggle without the resource acceleration that Leadership provides. In three-sphere decks, the ratio guideline becomes that much more important. Skew your deck too far by including an excessive number of cards for on sphere, and you risk getting stuck with a hand full of cards, and no resources to spare.

ElrondIt is also worth noting, some heroes and card combinations completely break these rules. Elrond and Vilya, for example, make it easy to play expensive cards from any sphere. While this combination is undeniably powerful, it is not the best example to serve as a lesson for proper deck-building techniques. In fact, one of the aspects which makes an Elrond/Vilya deck so powerful is precisely that it can flaunt normal resource constraints. These decks are the exception, this article is going to set them aside for the moment, and talk about the rules.

Once you have your ratios figured out, the next step is to work out what your resource curves will be for each sphere. With any deck-building based card game, the number of combinations of cards is too great to even conceive, much less predict over the course of a full game. The idea behind a resource curve is not to know exactly which cards you will play at what times, there is too much randomness to ever make that realistic. Rather, a resource curve is a way of creating cost slots, and distributing cards into these slots to ensure that you will be able to be able to play cards effectively in each stage of the game.

As we’ve covered previously, the timing of a card is a very important criteria for judging the value of that card. A simple, and useful way of thinking of a resource curve is as a tool for balancing your early game, middle game and late game cards while tracking their cost distribution. This might sound complicated, but as you will see it is actually quite simple. Rather than waste more words on talking about what a resource curve is, let’s go ahead and create one for an existing deck.

For the recent episode of The Grey Company Podcast, I create four mono-sphere decks. One of my favorites of the group was the mono-Leadership deck Boromir Leads the Charge!. Since this is a mono-sphere deck, we will only need to create a single resource curve. The deck does include some neutral cards, but we will include these on the Leadership curve, since they aren’t any easier to play in this deck. Obviously, in a multi-sphere deck, including neutral cards is a good way to avoid dead cards. Not matter what resources you have available when you draw a neutral card, you will be able to play it.

This first curve will represent all of the cards in the deck, regardless of type, in ascending order of cost.

0 cost 1 cost 2 cost 3 cost 4 cost 5 cost
8 cards 14 cards 20 cards 2 cards 3 cards 3 cost

Before we dive into the numbers, there are a couple of notes to make about where certain cards were classified, in terms of their cost. Technically, Citadel Custodian has a printed cost of 5 resources. Realistically, his average cost in this deck is about 2 resources, and you will often be able to play him for absolutely no cost. Because the custodian does not actually cost 5 resources, I chose to categorize him with his average cost of 2. Likewise, the printed cost of Gaining Strength is 0, but because you have to have 2 resource available on a single hero in order for it to function, I went ahead and categorized it as costing 2 as well. Lastly, Envoy of Pelargir always returns a resource to a Noble hero after it is played (in the case of this deck, Boromir), so it was counted as costing 1 resource.

These decisions are not science, I am going with my instincts after having played the deck several times. No model is ever perfect – the value of a model is that it is accurate enough to serve its intended purpose. In this case, the purpose of these graphs is to get a general sense of how easily we will be able to play a given hand from this deck. The important thing to think about is not the cost on a printed card. We are interested rather, in how likely we will be able to play a given card, in some combination with other cards in our hand and in play, when we draw it.

Battle_of_Minas_Tirith
In the case of this deck, we can see that the curve skews towards the inexpensive end. In fact, outside of three copies each of Faramir and Gandalf, everything in the deck costs 3 resources or less. Ordinarily, a deck with as much resource generation as this deck includes would want to skew a bit higher in the resource cost. Indeed, you could safely swap out a few of the cheap allies in this deck for more expensive ones, and it would still perform quite well in most games. The reason why this deck was designed the way it was has to do with the particular cards involved, and is at the heart of more advanced deck-building concepts. This deck is built upon a strategy of numerical superiority.

visionary-leadership-smallCards like Visionary Leadership and Strength of Arms, along with the abilities of brothers Faramir and Boromir, all allow us to transform a ragged band of mostly mediocre allies into a powerful Gondorian army. One other important factor to consider is that this strategy requires us to leave some resources in reserve. Both Visionary Leadership and our General Boromir add nothing to this deck when we spend all of our resources each round. With that in mind, the strategy of this deck is to draw and play as many cheap Gondorian allies as we can, while leaving at least one extra resource on Boromir to drive our global effects. The power of an individual ally is far less important than the power of the army as a whole – quite thematica for an army of Gondor, as I see it.

This brings up one other fundamental requirement in effective deck design: card draw. With so many inexpensive allies, this deck would be woefully ineffective without some mechanisms for drawing more cards. After the first couple of rounds, you would easily play most of the allies in your hard, and you would find yourself with no cards left, and a growing mountain of resources with nothing else to play. This is why I chose to take thematic license, and include King Under the Mountain. With this card, and occasional support from a sneaky Gandalf, we can continue to draw a steady stream of allies to fill the battlefield. In a deck without a truly excellent defender (Boromir and Balin are decent), this is also important to replace allies that have to be sacrificed for the greater good (chump blocking for fun and profit!).

The other main aspect of a resource curve that we mentioned was the timing. Lets rework these numbers and see how many of our cards are early game, middle game and late game.

Early Game Middle Game Late Game
25 cards 15 cards 10 cards

To provide a bit more detail, here are the categories (with some explanations) for each card:

Early Game: 25
Errand-rider x3, Squire of the Citadel x3, Envoy of Pelargir x3, Pelargir Ship Captain x3, Guard of the Citadel x2, Steward of Gondor x3, King Under the Mountain x3, Wealth of Gondor x3, We Are Not Idle x2

Middle Game: 15
White Tower Watchman x2, Visionary Leadership x3 (can be used early, but really needed by the Middle Game), Dunedain Warning x2 (we chump block before this card comes into play), A Very Good Tale x3 (difficult to pull off optimally in the early game), Gaining Strength x2 (could arguably be early game), Sneak Attack x3 (wait for Gandalf in hand)

Late Game: 10
Faramir x3 (can be middle game as well), Gandalf x3 (can be any time with Sneak Attack), Citadel Custodian x2 (you will often wait to pay less for this ally), Strength of Arms x2 (often a game-ending play).

Again, you can see a definite descending curve, where the early game is emphasized, with a healthy number of middle game cards to bolster the decks development. Finally, a few very powerful late game cards help provide the knockout punch that this deck needs to complete most scenarios. Obviously, the categorizations of what constitutes an early, middle, or late game card are somewhat subjective, particularly in a deck with so much resource acceleration.

Strength of ArmsThe point of these tools is not exact classification, it is to provide an impetus to think about the deeper workings of a deck. I say somewhat subjective because there are some very clear observations that we most certainly can make about these cards. Strength of Arms is a poor first turn play, just as a late game Squire of the Citadel will likely do little to alter the outcome of a battle.

In the middle however, there is a vast gray area of cards that can be good in some circumstances, and useless in others. For those who enjoy these sorts of puzzles, this is real the fun of deck-building. Whether you are deciding which cards will shield a decks weaknesses, using cards with high affinity to create amazingly powerful synergies, or you just want to design the ultimate support deck to play with a friend; the incredible variety of this game allows for any deck you can imagine.

So don’t think of the concept of resource curves as a constraint to prevent you from building your favorite deck, think of it more as a friendly guideline, to help you improve a deck that might not be performing as well as you would hope. Like all of the other key concepts on this site, these ideas only become real when you put them to the test. Playing a deck will always be the best way to get an idea of what is does well, and where it can be improved.

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24 Responses to Key Concepts: Resource Curves

  1. shipwreck says:

    Brilliant. It’s this kind of high level meta thinking that makes your blog such a resource. Way to go, nerd!

    • Beorn says:

      As a giant bear, and shameless Orc-slayer, I am not familiar with this term: “nerd”. Is that some kind of deformed Troll, that lives in a cave and only comes out to throw rocks at passing travelers? If so, I may have eaten one once – it tasted horrible and gave me indigestion for almost a week.

  2. I find it interesting that you classified Envoy at Pelargir by its net cost, but Gaining Strength is classified by the number of resources that you need to play it. If EaP is classified as 1, then GS should actually be classified as -1. Or you can classify them as 2 and 0 or 2 and 2. But I think the 1 and 2 classification is inconsistent.

    • Beorn says:

      You are correct about the net cost of these cards, but net resource cost is not the whole picture. Resource curves are also about timing, or *when* you will be able to and will want to play a card. In this regard, assigning a cost of -1 to Gaining Strength would be deceptive to its actual use. Without the aid of other cards, this is not a card that you will be playing on the first round. Because you need to save up 2 resources on a single hero to play it, I chose to count it as costing 2 – to reflect that the timing of this card is a bit slower than something like Wealth of Gondor.

      On the other hand, there is never a case when you will draw an Envoy of Pelargir and will be unable to play it – that is simply impossible in this deck. Indeed being able to add an extra resource to Boromir after paying 1 each from the other two heroes is actually a great benefit to this deck’s main strategy. As I said in the article, these categorizations are subjective – there is no good way to even categorize a card like Citadel Custodian as his cost will be completely dependent upon the game state when you draw him. Even so, using these rough guidelines helps to give a sense of how fast or slow a deck is, and whether it wants to establish dominance in the early stages of the game, or will wait to put together some crushing combination in the end game.

      I encourage you to use your own metrics for resource curves in your deck. The specific numbers that I used in this article as far less important than the underlying concept of analyzing the cost and timing of the cards that you choose to include in your deck. Best of luck!

  3. Good stuff as ever.

    I use a slightly different analysis. I try to get the total resource cost of the cards in my deck to be in the ratio I expect to generate resources, so usually 2:1.The actual number of cards is sort of irrelevant though to make it smoother I like to be closer to 50:50.

    Many resource generation cards can smooth the flow & relax the exact ratio you need. SoG will tend to fix the ratios but Dain with Steward of Gondor accompanied by Ori & Balin can be close to 50:50 as you will generate 3 purple & 2 green & can use Balin to wash spare Leadership resources.

    0 cost cards do not count as either faction – effectively neutral. Neutral cards can act as resource smoothing cards as can the obvious smoothers like the envoy or errand rider. I would also not count the full value of a unique card I am putting in 3 of as I will not be playing it twice, I hope.

    I have side tracked this one aspect of resource curve a bit 🙂

    Anyway my usual conclusion is to play more cheap cards though mono sphere decks are more forgiving.

    • Beorn says:

      You bring up a very good point about 0 cost cards effectively not belonging to a sphere (assuming you always have the resource match). That is something that I will definitely mention in a future article. Even so, I like listing them in the resource curve because it gives me a general idea of how many cards I will be able to play out of an average hand.

      Now that the card pool includes a fair number of 0 costs cards for each sphere, I consider these cards important in the design of most decks. They will often be the mortar that holds the bricks (stronger allies and attachments) together. In many deck I will specifically be looking for these cards in an opening hand. Thanks for your feedback!

  4. Matt says:

    This made me positively smile. I seem to always create a spreadsheets that manages this aspect of the game. A few key metrics that I like to use: Cost to Play all cards in the deck. Cost to Play all cards (but only one copy of unique cards), and average cost per card. For a secrecy deck I would shoot for a 1 resource per card average (or less is if possible), but for a leadership deck with SoG i might let it increase to 2.5 resources per card. If I have a tone of card draw, I’ll usually need to drop it back down to an average closer to one.

    I’ve also dabbled with estimating when my deck will ‘break the resource curve.’ I’ll plot cumulative resources earned, that is, on turn one it’s three, on turn two it’s six. I’ll estimate when acceleration cards like SoG or Thorin will kick in. In the example above, turn three would be 10 if i think I can get 5 dwarves out on turn two. Next I’ll plot cumulative average cost to play all cards drawn. So, it starts out, for example, at 7 cards x 1.5 resources per card, and then I add 1.5 each round. In my opinion, these curves must intersect or the deck costs too much to play and I’ll be resource starved for the entire game. The intersection means that I now have more resources to use than cards to play, I’ve then ‘broken’ the resource curve threshold. It’s an ongoing project, but turn 8 it currently where I like to see this. Of course breaking the curve at too sharp of an angle means that I will then be card starved.

    I suppose my goal is build a deck that causes these two curves to converge (maintain the same slope). In such a case, there are exactly enough resources to fuel card draw and card draw to match resource acceleration.

    • Beorn says:

      This is great stuff, Matt. I was tempted to cover the topic in even greater depth, but it would involve a discussion much too lengthy for a single article. Your focus on where the resource curve meets the card draw curve is absolutely vital to understanding how a deck will perform. At some point, I will have a Resource Curves pt 2. article that talks about these kind of advanced concepts. Thanks for sharing your methodology.

  5. Tonskillitis says:

    For the reason of his invaluable resource generation, Theodred has always been one of the best heroes in my opinion, and with the coming Rohan themed expansion, Whether you’re running a multi-sphere deck where he provides resource smoothing, or just a mono leadership deck which uses expensive cards he is always effective. I feel he will only improve. I wonder how long it will be before FFG releases another hero with an inbuilt resource boost. Thorin of course is another viable option but I seldom venture into the dwarven halls in these, the glorious days of men… A leadership version of Theoden anyone?

    • Beorn says:

      I absolutely agree about Theodred being a very powerful and underrated hero. His resource generating ability consistently provides an advantage, particularly in multi-sphere decks or multi-player games. I would not be surprised to see other heroes with a built-in resource boost, but I doubt they will be as consistent as Theodred’s ability. I also had hoped that Theoden would be Leadership, it seems like a natural fit for the leader of Rohan, after all. His current form remains an enigma to me.

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  7. Tracker1 says:

    When I build decks it think I usually just do this stuff intuitively and in playing the deck I’ll see if it leans towards tons of cards that I can’t pay for or a mountain of resources with no cards. This was usually the case early on in my deck building experience. These lessons were usually learned from the school of hard knocks, but I do appreciate your key concept articles breaking down what was going on in my learning process, although i think I would have a difficult time building a deck thinking about it in spreadsheet kind of way.

    Some questions, since you often use early, mid and late game classifications. Do you see those as clearly defined categories based on rounds? Or does that take into account the type of deck? Does the scenario influence that these categories?

    I think mid game starts later in a deck that takes awhile to set up it could be like 8 rounds in, which for some scenarios could be getting towards late game in terms of the number of rounds, but that type of deck will get victories at 14 or more rounds. Some decks can start get to mid game results by round 3, and some scenarios late game might only be a few rounds in like Return to Mirkwood,

    So, there is a lot of variability and complexity when we classify early, mid, and late game. How do you look at it?

    • Beorn says:

      Yes, the timing of a card (early game, middle game, late game) is very much dependent on context. In a deck such as “Boromir Leads The Charge!”, a card like Faramir, which would be a late game card in most decks, can easily be played within the first few rounds. Resource acceleration and card drawing effects can change the timing of cards in your deck.

      You bring up a very good point about scenarios effecting the timing of a card. In a scenario like Conflict at the Carrock, you will not necessarily want to proceed to the second stage until you are ready to deal with the Trolls. In this case, using willpower-boosting card to quest as hard as you can is not the ideal strategy. This would push a card like Faramir from being an early to middle game card to more of a late game card. As you rightly mentioned, Return to Mirkwood is a “rush”-style scenario, where you want to quest as quickly as possible.

      With all of these insightful comments, I have a wealth of ideas for a follow-up article. Thanks for your great feedback.

  8. Tracker1 says:

    I was hoping you would say “follow up article” looking forward to it.

  9. Tracker1 says:

    Something else that came to mind about a decks performance and how it can vary from early, mid, late game is just based on what your opening hand is and the cards you draw in the first few rounds. If certain cards that are the backnone of the deck are not had early on then the deck might hangout in early game limbo if as long as it’s able to handle what the encounter deck is bringing.

    I played 3 games of Nightmare THfG today with my Caldara solo spirit deck. First game had Stargazer, FoF, and Zigil miner in opening hand. By round 3 I was bringing in Mid to late game allies. And won in 8 rounds. Second game had Zigle miner in opening hand, but stargazer did not show up until round 8 and FoF did not apperar until round ten. At the point the deck could not handle the Encounter deck any longer and the game deteriorated into a loss. For that game I was stuck in early game for 8 roumds. The third game had decent opening hand and by round 5 things were set up and by round 5 I was pulling late game allies in and won in round 12.

    I know this is describing more of a Vilya type strategy and does not have to do as much with resources, but importance of the opening hand and the cards that show up early are going to determine much of when a deck reaches mid to late game results. Many really good decks are able to compensate for poor opening hands by having multiple ways to get the cards they need, these decks often have different cards that can fill the same niche and can be a decent replacment for a key card that just manges to elude being drawn. Like in a mono leadership Gondor deck with Aragorn. There are 3 great cards to increase willpower. Visionary Leadership, TSTWB, and Faramir. If you through 9 in the deck it’s a bit overkill. 4 to 6 is a resanobale number. Like 3 VL, 2 TSTWB, and 1 Faramir. Or 2,2,2, or 2,1,1. It all depends on how important the willpower boose is. If you have Multiple cards that boost willpower in the deck there is a good chance you might get all three in play, or that one will show up early at least even if the one you really wanted does not, you still hbe that base covered.

    Sorry, don’t know where I’m going with this, thanks for giving the old noggin a jolt.

  10. Tracker1 says:

    Hey Beorn, maybe you have seen this deck already:
    http://community.fantasyflightgames.com/index.php?/topic/96984-deck-boromirs-fire/

    but it really turns the use of resources upside down. The more resources you have the better, and the most expensive card in the deck you want to see early. Not to mention that it only has 3 copies of 1 ally in the deck.

    The break down of the cost of each card in the deck is:
    0 cost- 21
    1 cost- 20
    2 cost- 6
    4 cost- 3

    It’s amazing how much variety this game offers!

    • Beorn says:

      Yes, this is a great deck Tracker! Using the action advantage of Boromir with the low starting threat of Glorfindel and the threat-reduction of “Strider” is a really nice combination. Lay of Nimrodel was seemingly the missing piece, as it gave you a way to transform all of those extra resources into willpower for the late game quest push. Kudos to you sir, on a truly innovative deck.

  11. Candice says:

    Hello me again 🙂 I’m a bit confused as you mentioned attaching steward of gondor on denethor when I thought attachments need to go on Heros with the same sphere? Or is denethor the only exception as he is the steward? Thanks

    • Beorn says:

      Unless its says otherwise, an attachment can go on any character. Steward of Gondor says “Attach to a hero.” so you cannot attach it to an ally (which makes sense, as allies don’t collect resources). Some attachments are limited to characters of a certain sphere. For example A Burning Brand can only be attached to Lore characters. Steward of Gondor has no such restriction and can be attached to any hero. Just remember, when in doubt, do exactly what the card says. I hope this helps clarify things!

  12. benoitpoulin says:

    Greetings! How useful / consistant / workable to create a mono-deck sphere with songs in it (or narvi’s belf) to access to other spheres? I suppose it is more easy to do with ally like Ministrel to be able to draw more rapidly to songs? I just have the whole Mirkwood cycle, the khazad-dûm expansion and the first 2 Dwarrowdelf expansion, and I want to try everything “in order”, so my question might be a little outdated for new “playstyle”. Thanks 🙂

    • Beorn says:

      I find that I deck which includes Bifur along with a Leadership hero (Theodred is a great choice from the Core Set) for access to Narvi’s Belt is a great foundation for a multi-sphere strategy. Once you get the Belt Attached to Bifur you are guaranteed to have at least 2 resources of whatever sphere you need, every single round. Rivendell Minstrel’s are also a fine strategy, but at 3 cost they can be expensive. Bifur helps in this regard, or including multiple Lore heroes is another option. Beravor can also help, assuming you can afford to use her ability for card draw, instead of saving her for questing or combat. Multi-sphere decks become much easier to do once you get to the Heirs of Numenor expansion as Errand-rider is one of the best solutions – especially when you combine it with any of the options that I mentioned above. Let me know if you have any other questions about this.

  13. benoitpoulin says:

    My current deck is Bilbo / Bifur / Dain, with lots of Lore allies (mostly dwarves) and attachements and events from leadership to give leverage to a lot of aspects of the game. It works very, very well. There is something super-fun by drawing 2 cards a turn ; I don’t know why, I like to play with, say, 8-10 cards in my han. The theodred-thing sound like a good idea to me : I could switch it from Dain, and then I will have to be more inventive… I don’t know If I am correct, but I think Dain + Dwarves allies make you a bit lazy… So powerfull!

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