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Strategy Articles

The Cost of a Card Play

by Lucas Thompson, Guest Writer

4th March 2014

What Is Worth a Card Play?

As a returning player to First Edition (1E), it has been a slow process of reacclimating myself to the old systems of the game. Things like setting up predetermined dilemma combos, choosing which stealable missions to use (or not use), and figuring out which non-dilemma seeds I've got to have instead of another dilemma are skills that have atrophied over time.

But perhaps even more central to the game than those elements is the almighty card play. Sure, some cards let you play other cards for free, some cards directly allow you to play themselves for free, and some whole card types don't even take your card play; but every turn you get one full normal card play that can be used on any Personnel, Ship, Event, Incident, or Objective. There are a wide variety of cards that cannot play for free or seed, and the card play is the only time you can use them. The very length of the game limits how many of those cards you'll ever be able to play.

So, I wanted to know, what cards are worth that card play and how much of my decks should be allotted to cards that can't play for free. Is it worth planning for the game to be a certain length, and only stick to that many card-play-cards (hereafter, for brevity, CPCs), or would I find my hand clogged with them in that scenario? Are some of the cards that play for free already so good that I'd happily use them for my card play in lieu of those CPCs?

The debates on the forum regarding the Continuing Mission errata, the power of decks from worlds, and the comparison of TNG decks to DS9 decks have also informed my query. TNG decks do tend to use fewer verb (non-Personnel/Ship/Equipment) CPCs - why is that? Is it inherent to the Continuing Mission engine, or is it player style/choice?

Well, I had questions, and wanted answers, so I did what I usually do in this scenario: I went to the decklists to gather data.


The Data

Rather than analyze bulk data, this seemed like a situation which could benefit from a more focused, detail-oriented approach, so I looked only at the top 8 decks from 2013 Worlds Day 1. I also solicited commentary on the decks from the deck owners. As such, unlike my prior data delves, this one looks more like an article, so that's why you see this here instead of in a forum post.

I looked at each of the decks and worked out what cards were CPCs. I loosely categorized them and worked out what percentage of the CPCs in the deck belonged to each category. I also included Handshake - from my very limited experience, it does seem to be used for its card play (Functions 2 or 3) at a decent rate and, for the decks it was used in, it appeared to at least partially be needed as a card-churning mechanic.

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The Commentary

The Borg Decks:

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Obsessed Deck List 

CPCs: Cortical Node Implant, Alas Poor Drone, Handshake x4

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Kurtis's Borg Deck List 

CPCs: None

Borg decks were the hardest for me to analyze, due to a couple factors: I have never played 1E Borg (I hardly even own any 1E Borg cards), and I've only ever even played against them twice (well, two times against each deck, but one of those decks was back in a tournament some time after the release of The Dominion). Fortunately, Stefan S. and Ken had some good insights to share with me:

Stefan S.: "Borg are a bit of an outlier, as (most of the time) a card draw can get you anything, and Seven of Nine turns the card play into just one more card draw... usually I'll just use that to download a drone to hand which I can play for free afterwards just to keep my one download to play/turn available for later.

Generally, when I don't convert the play with Seven, it's to do one of these things:

1) Using Construct Starship to download an Outpost in place of the card play.

2) When I have multiple cards in hand that can't play for free/download in one turn sometimes I'll play one of them as my normal card play.

3) There are a few copies of handshake in my deck, but I'll only use it as my normal card play if I need to cycle my hand very early. Later in the game I'll usually have lots of doorways / interrupts in my hand that I downloaded in place of card draws and don't want to discard."

Ken: "The Borg deck normally card-plays the Queen. After that Seven of Nine tends to turn the card play in to a draw, that then turns in to a download. Gowron can be a card play OR a free play with We Are the Borg, normally it is better to turn a card play in to a draw and play him for free, forgoing the draw from WAtB because card draws in play-phase are better than end-of-turn draws.

Borg are odd in 1E in that they don't follow most typical deck ideas, they really are their own special thing and should be thought of separate from any other general rules for deck building."

While both Borg decks had different Objective goals, deck sizes, card type ratios, and Ken's deck didn't even include any cards that explicitly required a card play, it seems that they fundamentally played fairly similarly. Most traditional CPCs (well, and many other common interrupts) are eschewed by the Borg because they are simply bad probes. It is my understanding that, even when bad probes are included, Borg decks are likely to be built in a way that involves removing those cards from the deck before they start scouting their missions.

Furthermore, both players made a point of mentioning Seven of Nine's very valuable ability to turn the normal card play into a draw (and then, into a download by the Borg Queen). That function, and as Ken mentioned, the power of a play-phase draw, largely makes the normal card play, well, irrelevant to the Borg. It is especially irrelevant to They Will Be Coming Borg, since ships, a traditionally card-play-requiring card type, aren't getting played in those decks. They have no delta quadrant missions, and thus no place to put a Borg facility in a matching quadrant, and thus no ability to even play a ship if they wanted to (I suppose it should be noted that Ken's deck included a second ship, but it appears that that ship is there simply to be a download target for Federation Flagship: Recovered should the unthinkable happen).

Since that's the case, it should really be no surprise that neither of these alpha quadrant Borg decks has more than a handful of CPCs. Well, no surprise to anyone who really knows how the Borg work, a group of people that did not include me until now.

The TNG Ferengi Decks

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DAS Ferengi Worlds 2013 Deck List 

CPCs: Oo-mox x2, Regenerate, Handshake x6, The Trois, D'Kora Marauder, Krayton, Kreechta, Kurdon

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Cybernetic Mercenaries Deck List 

CPCs: 62nd Rule of Acquisition x4, Oo-mox x3, Handshake x8, Dr. Soong x5, Krayton, Kreechta, Kurdon

Sebastian thoughtfully wrote me a very in-depth review of his deck and the games he played with it - I'll only reproduce a section of it here, but the whole piece is a great read and I've encouraged him to submit it as an article or use it to make a tournament report.

"The draw- and play-engines of the deck are pretty obvious and safe explaining. Besides the Continuing Mission draws I went with Handshakes always using the function of discarding and drawing seven, deciding against Kivas cause the deck would’ve not kept up against decks with more free plays then itself provided. Play engines were Continuing Mission, Attention All Hands, Cybernetics and to a far lesser degree the Tower of Commerce.

Personnel selection was heavily centering around Androids and Gozar, of course, who has an amazing skill set and grants acquisition. Also added a fair rate of lesser skilled Ferengi-TNG universals for the CM draws, Nanoprobes for an additional Assign Mission Specialists-fetch and Hidden Fighters for an additional free and landable ship. I included all unique ships and matching commanders plus a Ready Room Door for possibly setting up ship battle. There’s also the idea included to download Morta with Defend Homeworld, fetch the champagne, turn the Marauder into the Kurdon, download Bok and fetch RRD via Make It So. In fact I never fetched Bok and used the download of the Kurdon mainly for solving, thus the Make It So could be cut and probably 1-3 RRD added.

The only things that probably differ a little from the standard Ferengi-TNG-mainstream are the inclusions of the 2E RoA which is a great cheater and safed me from a four turn Linguistic Legerdemain in one game, the 62nd RoA which is a little of an underused card in my opinion which bought me one game and Oo-Mox which is pretty useful when luckily drawn into in the early game."

When I think of TNG Ferengi, I usually think of a Tufts design like the one he used at the North American Continental Championship 2013. What I found really interesting about these decks is that they made some pretty different choices when it came to which CPCs were included. Sure, the Handshakes are a constant, but the defensive options that Ken included are gone in favor of several other things.

Both players opted to use multiple Oo-mox which, while I've never tried that card myself, I imagine provides a substantial dilemma-busting boost. +2 attributes across the board for male Ferengi, on top of the boost from Lower Decks (which all players used) is potent enough, but the doubling of skills (which is much less common in 1E) really helps overcome the cost of not only using a card play but also essentially losing the execute orders phase of the turn you play it... if you play it early (as Sebastian mentioned). Thus, Oo-mox likely would make a worse choice in a more battle-oriented TNG Ferengi deck, since it will be competing more fiercely with ships for the card play during those early turns.

Sebastian also chose to fuel one of his free-play engines with a card-play (Dr. Soong) and extra Handshakes presumably in order to draw him early enough and discard the extra copies later. This choice further solidifies early normal card plays as non-ships, though it does appear that he had a strong contingency plan for battle.

The 62nd Rule of Acquisition was also an interesting inclusion, which I'd bet had good synergy with the use of Oo-mox. Boosting the power of your mid-sized Ferengi crew or away team should significantly increase the likelihood you won't need to attempt with more than 7 personnel - and knocking an opponent's score down by 10 will likely force them into one more mission than they had planned. And, with In the Zone, that change of plans usually means adding turns to the game. What’s more, adding turns to the game will buy you more normal card plays.

All of that said, despite these interesting individual choices, these decks both generally fit the model for what I expect from a TNG Ferengi deck: lots of free personnel, a handful of ships, a fistful of handshakes, and a few slots to play around with.

Finally, super bonus points to Sebastian for clueing me in to using Nanoprobe Resuscitation in order to replay the seeded copy of Assign Mission Specialists. I'd often see several Nanoprobes in a deck without blue Borg, and wonder why. Now I know, and I'll probably use that technique myself at some point.

The Bajoran Resistance Cell/Son'a deck

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An Education in Rebellion Deck List 

CPCs: Kivas Fajo - Collector x4, Dr. McCoy, Dukat (Pah-Wraith Puppet), Jo'Bril (Patient Schemer)

Unfortunately, Danny wasn't able to get back to me, but Ken Tufts had some interesting feedback on his own version of this deck (which he played on day two, and can be found here.)

"Well, it's going to depend on the deck a bit, but the key things to think about are: what can I get for free and what I can't. Often the main answer is: personnel for free, and ships and card draw mechanics will take card plays. With that in mind I then look at: "Okay, how many of my card plays do I need for required items [ships and draws]?" The left over card plays can be personnel (if, for example the personnel is so good they are worth a card play anyway, like UR McCoy). Because free card draw mechanics can be exploited, most card draw mechanics need to take your card plays most of the game.

You may note that my Worlds Bajoran deck has some card play personnel (McCoy, the 2 backwards compatible ones, possibly Beverly and Will as well). That deck can do that in part because it gets free ships and some card draw support in a free sort of way with the Bajoran Resistance Cell, but even then most of my card plays are dedicated towards more draw engines - while the Bajoran deck gets SOME card draws for free it doesn't get enough for free."

This deck was, in my mind, exhibit A in terms of the question: when all of your ships, personnel, and card draws are free, what do you spend a card play on? And the answer, it seemed to me, was more draws and personnel! Use beefy backwards compatible skill-laden guys like Jo'Bril, or people with powerful abilities like Dukat or Dr. McCoy (also, a side benefit of using cards that don't care about property logos). Use Kivas Fajo - Collector, because you're still going to end up ahead on total draws even if Mirror Image gets popped.

I now know, based on decks found later on in this list, that this deck's answer to that question would not be every player's answer. But still, the continued effectiveness of this deck type, even against decks that were made specifically to beat it, remains a powerful example.

The TNG Romulan Diplomacy Denial Deck:

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Das Diplomacy Denial Deck List 

CPCs: Q-Net x3, Reflection Therapy, Anya, Kamala, Madam Guinan, Suna, The Foragers, Vash, Will Riker, Toraan, D'deridex x2, Devoras, Scout Vessel

"For free plays: eighteen personnel play for free to various places, eight personnel don't play for free (one of which is, however, downloaded with Defend Homeworld most of the time), five otherPersonnel are only accessible via download. People that don't play for free are mostly there for either an important / useful download or because they have Anthropology which I need to fuel Duck Blind. The card play is used on them most of the time when I don't get two CM draws from my free plays, otherwise they are only played situationally. Other card plays are required for Q-Net and Reflection Therapy. They are highly situational in this deck, as it is built on Diplomacy Denial Dilemmas and has a lot of Treachery. There are also four Masaka Transformations in there which can require a card play if I don't have enough free play which give me card draws in the hand. Normally, however, they should be downloaded. Additionally there are nine interrupts. So in the draw deck, seventeen out of fifty-one cards don't play for free and another five cards also don't but should be downloaded most of the time.

I ended up having a real card play in most turns, not needing to waste a play on a free card. This, sometimes included playing another ship, which may not have been necessary, just to save the free play (+ card draw) for the next turn.

I don't know about the priorities: depends on the situation. In the first turn, highest priority is an Anthropology, afterwards the first ship and then it is more or less an open game, although having a ship most times had the lowest priority, and playing something else was superior most of the time."

This deck is what I consider to be the counterpoint to the Bajoran deck. No other deck used as high a ratio of CPCs to free plays, but the difference between this beauty and other decks is deeper than that. No other deck used as many interference/interaction cards. I mean, Q-Net in a world-caliber deck was super exciting for me to see.

Additionally, all of this verb-based interference happened in a TNG deck. Actually, among the top eight decks, it is perhaps worth noting that this interference only happened in a TNG deck. While it is true that the Continuing Mission draw mechanic encourages a high ratio of personnel to non-personnel, and it is true that this deck skirts around that by moving more personnel to the normal card play, it is also true that at least Stefan found the flexibility in a TNG deck to do the interesting things that he wanted to.

Using Duck Blind for draws looks like a very important part of not including any draw mechanisms as CPCs (at least, not ones that afford card advantage) - and also afforded more space for personnel and utility cards that take the card play. Doing so means to me that this deck, more than any other in the sample, would sadly be the most hurt by the Continuing Mission errata. With the need for more draws, some of the important personnel and utility CPCs would need to be cut in favor of some additional draw mechanics.

The TNG Klingon Legitimate Leader Deck:

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A Deck for Europe (My Lovely Horse) Deck List 

CPCs: Regenerate x2, Duras, Koral, Suna, I.K.C. Hegh'ta, I.K.C. K'Vort, I.K.C. Pagh, I.K.C. Vor'cha, I.K.S. Bortas

"I was playing a Legitimate Leader deck, so my first card play was always replaced by a Gowron download. Very often my second would be a ship download. As such, I tried to keep my deck pretty light on stuff that required a card play / didn't play for free. Mostly, that leaves ships. My draws were based on Continuing Mission and Mutuations, so didn't need to use card plays for that either (I'm not a fan of Handshake anyway). I did have some Regenerates in there but never really needed to use one. So often I'd use it for a third personnel (in addition to my 2 free play engines). Mostly my personnel were all free plays with the exceptions of (I think) just Duras (LFL), Data (TSTL) and Suna. "

Of the decks in this sample, this one most closely matches how I typically build TNG decks. I use ships as my primary card play, and a couple Regenerates or Isomagnetic Disintegrators as my back-up plan. Better to have a back-up plan and not need it, than to need it and not have it, I say.

Going ship-heavy gives the flexibility to either battle, or be prepared for battle should it come to you. Klingons have strong, fast ships, they have good skills on their free-play personnel, and the ability to churn out a bunch of bonus points from interrupts (which Paddy took full advantage of), leaving little need to pay full price for anything but a ship. He also used plenty (8) of free Mutations that helped him maximize those free plays each turn.

The TNG Klingon Illegitimate Leader Deck:

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Doq'a'Suvwl'pu'? ghobe' , SuD! Deck List 

CPCs: Dr. Tolian Soran, Evek, Lore, Soong-type Android x3, I.K.C. Maht-H'a, I.K.C. Qam-Chee, I.K.C. Vor'cha

"My plan was getting Ocular Implants out early (oops, forgot about that. That’s a card play, too).

Therefore, if I don’t have an Android in hand, I´ll download Lore. Often enough I ended up with a generic Android, so I could save the download for Riker/Tallera.

Evek was in the deck, if I remember right, because I didn’t have enough Diplomacy. He also had only three skill dots so he could draw for Continuing Mission.

I wouldn't ever include Abandon Mission in my regular deck because I KNOW I am stuck with it in the moments where I don’t need it and need it in the moments where I don't have it. That counts for many cards. I was able to use it on an Enterprise-E deck and I guess, once on another player. It is very mean because you just can’t do anything about it. You just have to wait.

Where No One Has Gone Before was ... well, I thought it was worth a shot - it COULD be potentially very surprising to just fly around the other corner in order to battle the opponent. I didn’t play it once in the tournament (in contrast to Prefix Code Transmission, with which I was able to destroy two Outposts, yay!).

I only used the Ref-cards that I deemed absolutely necessary and was kind of pleased with how easy I could get rid of them. Playing the deck today, I would include Scorched Hand (But today the deck wouldn’t work that well with the Continuing Mission errata)."

Like seeing Q-Nets in Stefan's deck, I was also thrilled to see a deck that actually stocked Q's Tents in the draw deck. For all the decks that use a tent, it is so rare to see one that actually uses some of the other five lines of text on the card. Even though it meant that my collected statistics for the deck weren't very reflective of the actual CPCs used, it was cool to see.

Most people just use the tent as a place to store cards that can be downloaded by other things (like Defend Homeworld or Ready Room Door) but stocking it in the deck allows you to include more situational cards, including CPCs that might be worth that cost... under the right circumstances. Sure, Ocular Implants is very often worth that card play if you've got the androids/Borg, but something like Abandon Mission? That right there is pure tent material.

Also of note is that, since Andreas did not use Q's Tent: Civil War, he was the only player to stock a significant number of referee cards in his deck. I haven't tried this myself (all of my 1E tournaments in the last 10 years have been post QT:CW, and all my 1E tournaments in the old days were before Q the Referee came out), so I had specifically asked him if he had any trouble with them clogging his hand. His answer is above; at some point I'll probably give the old style a shot.

Andreas' justification for the use of Evek also highlights my favorite part about the Continuing Mission engine. Rather than the standard 1e cost structure of Card Play/Plays For Free (or Downloadable)/Plays Free With Multiple Engines, CM adds an interesting additional layer by making some cards with fewer skills generate a card draw. That extra layer makes a player's evaluation of a card's cost significantly more complex, and to me, more compelling. Andreas needed a Diplomacy, but ran out of ones that play for free. He could have gone with someone like Will Riker, but when choosing, he valued the ability to activate the CM draw enough to go with Evek. I like that kind of player deckbuilding choice.


So, we know that card draws and ships are worth card plays. We knew that before I did all this. What do we know now?

Well, I now know that there really isn't a fixed ratio of CPCs to free plays, or a hard upper limit on the number of CPCs to include in a deck. I thought there might be a limit - since your number of normal card plays is limited to the number of turns your games last, I thought it possible that the top performers might set a limit based on the number of turns they expected to have. While an interference deck like Stefan's certainly included more CPCs than other players' did (as I would expect that deck to see more turns than other decks), but there was certainly no hard cap on the total CPCs, or even the ratio of CPCs to free play cards.

It's a good thing that there isn't a remotely fixed ratio, because the ratios of five of the eight decks I reviewed are likely to change before the next Worlds. With the Continuing Mission errata, those decks are likely to need to shift some CPCs to draw mechanics, but the degree to which that happens is still highly up to player choice. However, decks like Stefan's (with the shift of personnel to the card play) or Andreas' (with the tents removing the end of turn draws) will be affected more than others.

Oh, and speaking of player choice: if you want to use your card plays for evil, you can. You can use them all on ships and people and more draws if you want to, that's cool. But you can also use them to do other things like wall-off your opponent, or take away their points, or things like that. You can do those things, and you can still do really well in a world championship. I suspect that the reason we see more solvers than interference deck has more to do with player style than it does with the power of interference overall.

One thing that Andreas' use of tents alerted me to, though, is that CPCs are not situational. If you're going to use a card play to wall-off your opponent, use your dilemmas and other cards in your draw deck to make sure it will work. As much as Abandon Mission will be awesome against your First Contact opponent, it won't do you much good against your Klingon opponent (he wanted an excuse to attack you anyways). Now free plays, those can still be situational (things like The Devil, in Stefan's deck), but card plays are so valuable that it does not appear to be worth it to use those slots on cards that might not be worth the cost.

The one exception to CPCs not being situational comes in the form of deck recycling cards (like Regenerate or Isomagnetic Disintegrator). As Paddy noted, he didn't end up ever using his Regenerates in the tournament, but as I noted, I'd rather have them and not need them than need them and not have them. I suppose the lesson here is if the situational use of a CPC is powerful enough, it can still find a slot. Perhaps it is also relevant that deck recycling cards are self-targeting, so that it's more of a situation that you've put yourself in (by using a smaller deck and/or one with fewer battle defenses) than one your opponent put you in. That said, only two of eight players in this sample even used CPCs that fell in the deck recycling category.

I guess that's all that I have to say on the matter. What conclusions do you draw from the data? I hear there are fancy forum posts that automatically pop up when an article is posted. Use that to share!





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