Deciding how to build the decks is one of the great joys of the game and I’m not going to rob you of it by prescribing a specific set of cards to “always take”. The fact is that you can win with any of the archetypes and within that, there are plenty of different ways to build each one.
However, there are a few things to bear in mind:
A small deck is always and in all ways superior to a large deck
Even where the cards are identical a small deck is better than a large deck.
If a deck has whatever you think are the five best cards, you will draw those cards every turn and have an endless sequence of perfect draws.
If a deck has ten copies of each of those cards then sometimes you will not get what you want. You might draw five copies of your favourite movement card and be unable to attack. Or worse, five attacks and be unable to move.
Also, consider that you wish to upgrade your cards. The first deck can be fully upgraded with five gyms. The second deck will not be fully upgraded even if you horde every coming game offers you.
So always be reluctant to add cards to your deck. You will do better to refuse an extra card on 80% of levels, only adding when you see the perfect one that exactly suits what you want your deck to do.
Some cards are better than others
Which is better: Throw or Front Kick?
It is a matter of opinion. A front kick can get you out of trouble and attack. It’s good for pushing people out of the area and its flexible range means you can position to do so more easily. It also chains with itself which is an excellent trait. On the other hand throw will disable an enemy for two turns and overcomes a host of annoying reaction attack and block style traits and it doesn’t depend on the terrain and your positioning for effectiveness. Both have merits.
Which is better: Step or Dash?
Dash is better. It moves 1-2 spaces, while step moves 1 space. There is literally nothing that step can do, that dash cannot – but there are things that dash can do that step cannot.
The game is full of cards that are flat upgrades on each other. As you learn the cards get used to the notion that some cards should almost always be rejected because a strictly better version exists.
There is also some “hidden” version of this where the basic cards are different but the upgraded cards are not. It’s tough to say whether Quick Kick or Push is better, quick kick does more damage but push doesn’t cost momentum, so they both have merit. However, the upgrade for push is “do more damage” and the upgrade for the quick kick is “cost 0 momentum” so quick kick+ is just a better version of push+ (they’re now exactly the same but the kick does more damage).
What are you doing with the combo?
There are three approaches to combo.
1) Ignore it. Don’t pick cards that depend upon, use, or interact with it. This lets you ignore the “lose a combo” disadvantage to movement and so make greater use of move cards.
2) Build it but never lose it. Remove all “combo finisher” cards from your deck, but include several cards that deal more damage the higher your combo is. Aim for your combo to get high and then deliver huge death blows for the rest of the fight.
3) Use it fully. That means including cards that build combo rapidly (like triple punch and other multi-hit attacks) and combo finishers that use all of your combos to massive effect.
There are pros and cons to each of these approaches, but pick one and stick to it. How you manage your combo each move depends on what you plan to do with it, it’s best not to occasionally draw a hand that makes you wish you’d done the opposite.
Some cards multiply each other effect
Under ideal conditions, a counter blocks one attack and gives you a free attack. Total 1 attack.
However, ideally, two counters block two attacks and give you 2 free attacks on each. Total 4.
Three counters could block three and hit each enemy three times. Total 9.
Similarly, one-push card is okay. But two push cards, two manoeuvre cards and a grapple mean tossing that 140HP enemy in the centre of the map off a roof and declaring instant victory.
When you’re considering cards that boost each others effectiveness it’s best to make a decision and commit heavily to it. Take several cards that do a thing (and more importantly decline cards that do something else, even if they’re good) or take none. Half measures will get you killed.
Your momentum will change over time
Most decks start with you having 3 momentum capacity and 3 momentum regeneration. This means each turn you can play 3 momentum of cards and don’t get to keep anything you don’t use. Thus the ideal hand is 3 “cost 1” cards and 2 “cost 0” cards, allowing you to play everything.
By the endgame you might find you have a capacity and regeneration of 9 – at which point “cost 0” cards suddenly look like the weakest thing in your hand and you wished you had something chunkier.
The upshot of this is that you rarely want to add cheap cards like “quick block” to your deck and deciding when to start removing them is a judgement call you need to make based on how well your momentum acquisition is going.
There’s also a flip side to it where cards that let you draw more cards are tremendously valuable in the end game and actively detrimental at the start. Deciding whether to take a ponder in act one knowing it’ll be great in act 5 but is a dead card more often than not in a 3 momentum card is a tough choice. How well are you doing? If you are storming every objective a slight disadvantage now might be worth the long term payoff.
Enemies scale further than your cards do
Each card can only upgrade once, but the end game enemies have hundreds of HP. At the start of the game-high damage can make a card very useful, but by the end bonuses like push, stun, throw, and the like become more important.
There’s a tension between “A card that’s good now” and “A card that will still be good at the end of act V” You rarely want to add anything you ultimately plan to remove, but it’s also important not to remove a card that’s currently useful too soon.
The best cards do more than one thing
This doesn’t necessarily mean having two explicit options like “Option Play” – this is more about picking a card that’s good in a variety of situations.
Push is often a great example of this, being an offensive and defensive tool at the same time since it lets you knock an enemy out of range of hitting you (even if they have reactive attacks) or kill high HP enemies from full.
Move cards with special moves also fit in here. Moving can be offensive or defensive depending on why you’re moving, but the more ways you have to move the more options you have. Slips and Vaults and the like simply give you more options.
The converse of this is that cards which only deal damage are almost always ones you want to remove from your deck sooner or later. Quick punch, long strike, and their ilk might be the bread and butter of your early game, but they’ll do nothing for you by the end. Ditch em when you can.
If you’re going to have more fun losing with a fun card than winning with a coldly efficient deck, then you build that deck based on flash powder you magnificent hero!
Fights in Tight Spaces – Special Attacks