Preparing the Essential Saltes
A Call of Cthulhu Guest Article by 2014 World Champion Jeremy Zwirn
“The essential Saltes of Animals may be so prepared and preserved, that an ingenious Man may have the whole Ark of Noah in his own Studie, and raise the fine Shape of an Animal out of its Ashes at his Pleasure…”
–H.P. Lovecraft, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
The portals have opened, and it's as good a time as any to experiment with new decks for Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game. The game's eighth deluxe expansion, For the Greater Good, has recently arrived and given new strength to the Agency as well as a host of other strategies that make use of the different characters it offers each of the other factions. The 2015 Store Championship season has just closed, and some of the season's better decks are now appearing for review in the darker, eldritch corners of CardGameDB.com. Finally, tournament players everywhere have a little over a month to play around with all manner of new strategies, in order to pick their favorites by the time the 2015 Regional Championships begin in May.
So what will you do? Will you explore a new Agency build? Will you look at partnering some of the Agency's strongest new cards with a second faction? One of the most compelling apsects of Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game is the way that its rules for deck-building and resourcing permit the exploration of all manner of wild, hybrid decks and strategies. The only "essential saltes" are your cards, but the ways you can combine them are nearly infinite.
Do you want to pair your Government operatives with alien Mi-Go? In Call of Cthulhu, you can do that. Do you want to equip your Explorers and Miskatonic University Faculty with the most powerful Relics from the Cthulhu faction? It's not only feasible; it's an unholy strategy that has met with a great measure of success. Still, as often as players have chosen to pair two different factions together to gain the strengths of each, few players have fully explored the possibilities from mixtures of three factions. One of those who has, though, is two-time World Champion Jeremy Zwirn, and today he calls upon you to reach through the portals into the other realms that lie beyond.
Two-Time World Champion Jeremy Zwirn on Three-Color Decks
I'm a fanatic for three-color decks. They're risky, but I feel the increased power and synergy of playing three factions can outweigh the risks and is worth exploring.
In Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game, no single faction can do everything. Each faction has its strengths and weaknesses, and each can complement your deck in a unique way. Deciding which factions to play is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the game; the freedom to mix and match whichever factions you'd like is invigorating and intriguing. Deck-building Cthulhu is nearly limitless. We have eight factions from which to choose, plus neutral cards. I find it nearly impossible to restrict myself to a single faction, and it's still very hard to restrict myself to only playing with two. Why not turn the dial up to three?
The Pros and Cons of Three-Color Decks
The addition of a third faction to your deck comes with several advantages: access to more powerful cards, improved overall deck synergy, and the means to cover the weaknesses of your other two factions. For example, many of Shub-Niggurath's cards splash very well in nearly any deck. Many factions have problems destroying support cards, but Shub excels at it with cards like Grasping Chthonian (Initiations of the Favored, 51), Burrowing Beneath (Core Set, 137), and Thunder in the East (Kingsport Dreams, 34). The faction also boasts numerous other strong cards such as Shocking Transformation (Core Set, 140) and Book of Iod (Ebla Restored, 52) that can strengthen your deck and increase its synergies. Shub also has Black Dog (Words of Power, 29) and Snow Graves (At the Mountains of Madness, 15), both of which can be used without even having any Shub resources.
The biggest risk of playing so many factions is inconsistent resourcing. Sometimes you'll have to resource a powerful card because you didn't draw enough cards of that faction. Even worse, you might only draw one card from a faction and cannot even play it until you draw another matching card. However, you should rarely find yourself in these circumstances if you build your deck properly. Still, cards with loyal or steadfast become much more difficult to play and should probably be left out, and neutral cards need to be kept to a minimum.
I've found the following guidelines to be helpful whenever I've built a three-color deck:
- Use only one or two main factions.
- Include twenty or more cards of each main faction.
- Include ten or more cards of each splash faction.
- Include as much card draw and card filtering as possible.
- Use few, if any, cards with loyal or steadfast.
- Use few, if any, splash cards that work best early in the game (such as one-cost characters).
Finding the right balance between three factions is difficult, but it can be very rewarding. You can find that balance by repeatedly playing and tweaking your deck through multiple iterations. Feel free to experiment and make drastic changes to your deck. I played roughly thirty games with my World Championship deck, constantly making changes to it, before I was satisfied. It's still evolving, and I'm tweaking it to this day!
My Three-Color 2014 World Championship Deck
With my Worlds deck, I strained my basic guidlines a little further than I'd like, but I still didn't have any major problems throughout the tournament. I focused on Miskatonic University (nineteen cards) and Yog-Sothoth (eighteen cards) and splashed Silver Twilight (nine cards). Part of the reason I got away with reducing the ratio was that I included numerous card draw and used no cards with loyal or steadfast. Also, the Silver Twilight cards that I splashed all cost three to play and generally weren't impactful until the mid or late game, and that meant it wasn't too problematic if I only drew one copy early in the game. That didn't mean those cards weren't important, though, and all its powerful three-cost cards makes Silver Twilight one of my favorite factions to splash.
Miskatonic University (19):
- 3x Alternative Historian (Seekers of Knowledge, 15)
- 3x Archaeology Interns (Into Tartarus, 97)
- 3x Lucas Tetlow (Seekers of Knowledge, 9)
- 3x Magnetic Spike (Never Night, 78)
- 3x Matthew Alexander (Seekers of Knowledge, 7)
- 3x Professor Morgan (Dunwich Denizens, 64)
- 1x Stone Calendar (The Cacophony, 109)
- 3x Faceless Abductor (The Order of the Silver Twilight, 7)
- 1x Mind Swap (Denizens of the Underworld, 55)
- 3x Professor Nathaniel Peaslee (The Key and the Gate, 6)
- 3x Pushed into the Beyond (Touched by the Abyss, 109)
- 2x Rite of the Silver Gate (The Key and the Gate, 25)
- 3x Stalking Hound (Perilous Trials, 39)
- 3x Vortex of Time (The Key and the Gate, 34)
Silver Twilight (9):
- 3x B. Ramsdale Brown (The Key and the Gate, 52)
- 2x Carl Stanford (Seekers of Knowledge, 51)
- 3x Josef Meiger (Denizens of the Underworld, 52)
- 1x Professor George Angell (The Sleeper Below, 48)
Shub-Niggurath and Neutral (4):
- 2x Black Dog (Words of Power, 29)
- 1x The Claret Knight (Seekers of Knowledge, 38)
- 1x Descendant of Eibon (The Terror of the Tides, 75)
This deck uses its three factions to balance good measures of both rush and control strategies. With all of the early acceleration the deck gains from its Miskatonic University contingent, it can take on the role of a rush deck and win quickly, or it can use the removal, card draw, and recursion from its Yog-Sothoth and Silver Twilight cards to play the long game and outlast your opponent. Depending on your opening draw and what you recognize from your opponent's deck, you can decide which role to take. You can even switch between roles throughout the game; a bit of early aggression followed by late-game control can punch holes through your opponent's defense and win games. The fact that the deck uses the best of its three factions makes it extremely multi-faceted, and that lets you to adapt to the situation, making this deck a lot of fun to play and very difficult to play against.
Under the Spell of Deck Synergy
One of my favorite aspects of the LCG experience is the time spent constructing decks and finding synergies between multiple cards. Done well, you can create a deck that's much larger than the sum of its parts. I love using multi-purpose cards that make other cards even better, like Vortex of Time. In my Worlds deck, Vortex of Time can draw cards and cheat Professor Morgan into play, it can reveal the top card of a deck and help you decide how best to use Rite of the Silver Gate, and it is a Spell that can be recurred by Carl Stanford. Carl Stanford, meanwhile, may be often overlooked, but in my deck, he can return nine cards from the discard pile to your hand; at the very least, those cards can then be fed to Alternative Historian to cancel story struggles.
Then there's possibly my favorite card in the deck, Josef Meiger. This guy is amazing! His skill and struggle icons are solid for his cost of three, but it's his searching ability that puts him over the top. He can pull an Ritual or Artifact card out of your deck every time he commits to a story. Rite of the Silver Gate is often my first choice, but Stone Calendar is also a good candidate. Together, these cards add a tremendous measure of control and card draw to the deck, and Josef Meiger's ability to cheat them into play, by itself, justifies the inclusion of Silver Twilight in the deck. However, it's not just Josef Meiger; when he's combined with Carl Stanford and B. Ramsdale Brown, Silver Twilight's card searcha and recursion can lead to an incredible amount of card advantage over the course of a game.
It's that long-game card advantage that really merits the splashing of a third faction in this deck. Without it, the deck would look and play quite differently, and it would probably lack the depth and persistence to compete with decks of the highest competition. Other decks, focused on other primary factions, might not need that same depth and persistance the Silver Twilight cards lend to my deck, but you might find that the inclusion of a third faction gives them a stronger early game presence, or the means to reset the board and fight back from a disadvantageous situation before the game is lost.
However, you use your third faction, I hope you enjoyed taking a look at the general principles of the three-color deck and why I love them. The next time you build a deck, try turning the dial up to three!
For the Greater Good has exploded onto the Call of Cthulhu scene like a ton of dynamite, offering a wealth of new characters, supports, events, conspiracies, and deck-building possibilities. Will you make use of its new heavy-hitters like The Foundation (For the Greater Good, 20) or Jeremiah Kirby (For the Greater Good, 20)? Will you explore horrifying new strategies built around the Obsessive Elder Thing (For the Greater Good, 54) or Restless Mi-Go (For the Greater Good, 45)? Or will you stretch beyond the limitations set forth by other mortals, and dabble with such three-faction strategies as the Old Ones themselves might embrace?
Whatever you decide, there is no better time than now to begin your explorations into the arcane mysteries of Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game!