You’ve done it. Scoured your entire collection, pondered every cause-and-effect, character, and color you could use and now it’s sitting there, sleeved and ready to go. It’s tournament time. Only it hits you, on your way out the door, that as much as you love this game, those cards, it’s hard to bring it up with your buddies, your brothers and sisters, partners and parents, because nobody you know can sling spells or drain a deck like you can. Worse still, those binders filled with memories have been stuck an awfully long time in the basement, no longer legal or belonging to games long departed from the competitive scene.
Chin up, captain. Go win that tourney, and when you get back, get ready to take your best collectible card games (CCGs) out for a second life, one that’ll last as long as you can shuffle ’em up.
Sit down across from a chess master when you barely know a pawn from a queen and you’re liable to get smoked. Same thing when someone hands you a stack of Magic cards and says it’ll be easy, then starts licking their chops while openly plotting a mana massacre. Drafting, the delightful deck-building design whereby you pick and pass cards till you’ve chosen enough to make a Frankenstein creation, levels the playing field just enough to bring people leery of your skills back into the fold. Even if your knowledge gives you an edge, they’ll still have fun seeing how far their dubious decisions can take them, and who knows, that Angel/Skeleton creature pairing might just be better than you think.
Normally, doing a draft means buying up a bunch of booster packs and having a merry time, and that’s perfectly viable if you don’t mind a little cost and a few more cards in your collection. If you’d like to take the old favorites for a run-back, though, a draft cube’s the way to go. Some upfront setup to ensure you’ve got a competitive mix of cards, and enough of them to satisfy your player count, and you’ll have a pull-out-and-play opportunity every time the group gets together.
Drafting cubes normally align with Magic – WoC – MTG Cube Building Guide — but if you’re a Pokemon fan, there are ways to do it too: TCG Player Pokemon Cube Building Guide. Really, if a CCG has a drafting mode, you can spin up one of these. Depending on your collection’s size, you could get really spicy and make set-specific cubes, or ones covering different mechanics.
But what if your game doesn’t do the drafting thing, or maybe you’re looking to get right to the table, smashing skulls and taking life?
As an often-lapsed Magic player, among others, I find pre-made decks are a great way to have an evening with a game you love without burning hours coming up with a new deck, finding the cards, and getting it all together. Instead, snap up a few of these and you can get your Flesh and Blood or Magic night rolling in minutes. These tend to be balanced, and many are inviting for newer players, making it less likely you’ll get voted off Gaming Island for your skills. Better still, all these decks have themes, letting your players pick the ones that speak most to them. Before long, you’ll have the necromancer crowing about his vampires, or the five-color dragon boasting about her blasting victory.
Pairing these decks with a friendly tournament helps tie the evening together too. If you have the time and four or six players, spin up a round-robin set to give everyone a chance to test their deck and get used to its little tics. Then slap those names onto a bracket and see who gets crowned the night’s champion. When it’s done, either you can keep all the decks yourself or let everyone take theirs home. Repeat with new decks a second or third time, then let people mix-and-match between the decks they’ve chosen throughout and play a championship bracket. By then, everyone will know the game’s ins and outs, with plenty of stories to tell along the way.
Or, if you like, you can take all those pre-made decks and turn them into something else entirely . . .
There’s a card game, Smash-Up, where you blend together two absurd themes, like dinosaurs and time travelers, and face off against similar combinations to score points. That’s all well and good, but you can create true chaos by taking Smash-Up’s idea and stirring it into your favorite CCG. This idea works easiest when you’ve got clear splits in deck construction, like with Destiny’s characters or Magic’s colors, but as long as you get a bit creative, you can use it just about anywhere. The goal: make half a tournament-legal deck, and center it around one particular mechanic or theme.
Say you’ve some old Decipher Star Wars cards lying about: maybe take a bunch of those bounty hunters and Jabba’s Palace, set that aside. Make up another one with good ol’ Darth Vader and his TIE fighter. Smash those two together and you have something that might get blown up in a real tournament, but will definitely be a fun one to pilot at your home table.
With Magic, it’s easy enough. Thirty cards extolling the virtues of goblins? Mash them with thirty merfolk and see what happens. In Final Fantasy, build a twenty-five card set around a particular game or character style in the series. Who wouldn’t want to see Cloud team up with Tidus, uniting their angst to defeat your opponent?
Ah, yes, we forget about them didn’t we? Using the Smash-Up style comes with one of the easiest ways yet of getting your game to the table. Dubious Dan, normally skittish about building a deck of any kind, need only pick two halves, shuffle up, and he’s good to go. Lest the prospect of making all these half-decks make your head spin, there’s numerous YouTube and other online resources flush with deck lists to take and make. Or let your creative mind whirl and embrace the chaos. Every half-deck can tell its own story, which, speaking of . . .
Narrative and Variant Play
Another way to dig back into your card collection? Tell a story with them. Make some decks, but do so around a theme. Maybe that aforementioned Magic dragon lord could fit in with a bunch of wyrm minions, facing off against a soldier-based deck flush with the armies trying to drive the dragon from his hoard. Or maybe it’s Ash and his pokemon facing off against all the gym leaders, capping it off with a duel with Gary. Building decks with a narrative bent can make balance tricky, but that’s part of the fun: how can you make the game match the movie, the book, the moment?
The more creative here, the better. Bend rules in the favor of entertainment or to throw more experienced players into situations they’d never encounter in a normal game. Pit Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon against a horde of battle droids in Destiny, but throw in Padme as the target that they need to shield. Tweak those Final Fantasy decks and mimic the videogame’s stories, using only monsters that’d match those settings.
Or shake up the game with a variant twist, something to level the playing field. Throw a bunch of cards into a single mega deck that everyone draws from to add in some luck while still allowing for skilled play with whatever comes off the top. Give team play a shot, or pit the strongest player against two or even three others. While you might have to massage some rules, breaking a part to play the whole can let you introduce your favorite game to folks who might otherwise stay away.
With all these suggestions, the goal is the same: give your beloved cards a second chance with your gaming group, whether they know what a meta is or not. Almost all CCGs have a competitive lifespan, but their games remain just as good long after the tournaments have gone away. You might even find completing or fleshing out a collection is far cheaper when a game has been discontinued. Singles, pre-mades, and booster packs can all get snapped up for a discount, making drafts and special, Ewoks-only decks easy to pull together.
Give it a shot, and even Dubious Dan might find himself willing to pick up a hand, dial in that life counter, and make some magic.
Written by Adam Knight
Spinning stories and playing games under the direction of his two cats, Adam delights in the roll of the dice and a well-told tale. Find more of his adventures at Black Key Books.
[ More from Adam: Three’s Company: Best Three-Player Board Games]