SolForge players often talk about which cards are strong and which are weak, whether a card is brokenly unbalanced or unplayably weak. However, cards aren’t strong or weak in a vacuum—their strength can only be evaluated in context. Is Windcaller Shaman a strong card or a weak card? If you played it in a deck with only cards from the Version 1.0 Demo, it would be at best average. 3/7 is right around par for a Level 1 card (Attack+Health=10). Getting through a little damage is nice but not a huge deal. Better to play Wind Primordial which doesn’t requite that you have a creature already in play, and use Move to damage your opponent at least once and occasionally multiple times. But add in a bunch of cards that trigger on damaging your opponent (Flameblade Champion, Riftlasher, Rageborn Hellion, Cinderfist Brawler), and Windcaller is suddenly a must-play for many Tempys decks. Many players would list Windcaller Shaman as one of the most powerful commons, or perhaps even one of the most powerful cards overall. The difference is entirely a matter of changing synergies.
In today’s column, I’ll discuss synergies. Two cards have a synergy if they are more powerful when played together than when played separately—when one of the cards makes the other card more useful. Synergies are what make a deck strong, by making each card worth more than it would be worth in a vacuum.
Synergies are the difference between an average card and a good card. Cinderfist Brawler and Volcanic Giant have comparable stats. Before the starter decks came out, Volcanic Giant was viewed as a pretty strong Tempys card. It has solid stats (5/5, 10/10, 15/15), with good trade potential, and a nice
ability that can end games. Post 2.0, Volcanic Giant has a better ability (average damage went up at all levels)… and is played much less. Volcanic Giant is rare in the current Forum Games scene—only 4 out of the 32 decks in Community Tournament 5 included it, even though 18 out of the 32 decks played Tempys. Why? Volcanic Giant has very little synergy with other Tempys cards, whereas there is a ton of synergy among the other Tempys cards. Volcanic Giant is still a strong card in a hypothetical environment without synergies, and may be a good fit for some decks, but Cinderfist Brawler with its synergy with Windcaller Shaman and Flamestoke Shaman is much stronger.
The Starter decks are a good place to develop your skills at identifying synergies and seeing how they fit into deck design. Every one of the four Starter decks is built around a set of effective synergies. Not surprisingly, they’re more powerful decks than the Demo decks, which have fewer and weaker synergies—the Demo decks have comparably powerful cards, overall, but the synergies in the Starter decks make them more effective.
With Tempys, the key synergy is between cards that have beneficial triggers upon hitting your opponent (Flameblade Champion, Cinderfist Brawler, Riftlasher, Rageborn Hellion) and cards that help you damage your opponent unexpectedly (Flamestoke Shaman, Windcaller Shaman, Uranti Bolt, Firestorm). It’s worth noting that some of the cards have synergies with themselves—an offensive Flamestoke Shaman’s power makes another Flamestoke Shaman in hand more valuable. Some of the cards have fewer synergies—Ashurian Mystic synergizes with the Hellion, but less with the other cards; Primordial Surge synergizes with Flameborn Champion and Cinderfist Brawler, but less with the rest. The importance of synergies doesn’t mean that you should expect every card to have synergies with every other card. Still, the Tempys Starter Deck is a great example of how synergies make a deck effective.
The Uterra Starter Deck’s synergies are built around getting large numbers of creatures out and buffs that benefit multiple creatures or benefit from multiple creatures. Spring Dryad has obvious, strong synergies with the swarm cards (Echowisp and Hunting Pack), as does Uterran Packmaster. Less obviously, Uterran Packmaster has synergies with Spring Dryad and Shardplate Delver. Both Dryad and Delver have the potential to grow to sizes that make them hard to kill, making Uterran Packmaster more valuable. Also, because of their ability to grow, they are high priority targets for your opponent—which makes it more likely that your opponent will be unable to both kill them and your Packmaster. Deepbranch Prowler and Lifeshaper Savant are both relatively hard to kill creatures, which makes it more likely that you will have multiple cards on the board to benefit from your Uterran Packmaster, Soothing Radiance, or Ferocious Roar. Even Toxic Spores has some synergy—at Level 3, it allows you to play an extra card, which fits in with the swarm theme of the deck. Again, not every card has strong synergies; Fangwood Ravager, Grove Huntress, and Glowstride Stag have less obvious synergies with the rest of the deck, although they may still be useful to its overall ramp up over time design, and Grove Huntress can keep your growth cards alive long enough to grow more. Of course, just because a card has good synergies is not reason enough to want to play it. Many players would rather replace Toxic Spores with a faster removal card (Cull the Weak or Uranti Bolt, perhaps), even though those cards don’t synergize with the swarming aspects of the deck. Even so, the strength of the Dryad-Echowisp-Hunting Pack-Packmaster synergies are still key to the deck’s effectiveness.
The Alloyin Starter Deck has four main sources of synergy. The most obvious are the Robot “tribal” synergies, with
unusually strong bonuses that apply only to Robots. Brightsteel Sentinel’s ability would be broken if it applied to all creatures, but limiting it to Robots makes it reasonable, and at the same time creates a synergy with every other Robot card. The second main synergy revolves around leveling: cards like Synapsis Oracle and Technosmith have a strong synergy with cards that have weak Level 1 versions but are strong at higher levels (Scrapforge Titan, Technosmith, Forgeplate Sentry). Technosmith is another example of a card with a strong synergy with itself—the downside to Technosmith is its weak Level 1 stats, so if you can level a Technosmith 1 with another Technosmith, you have a potentially strong play. The Alloyin deck has several cards that provide Armor boosts (Steelshaper, Brightsteel, and Tech Upgrade); those cards have a synergy with cards that have Armor, either intrinsically or because of a previous buff. Each additional point of Armor is more valuable than the previous point, because it increases the likelihood that an attack will not penetrate at all and increases the number of times that the Armor is likely to matter. A Forgeplate 1, with 1 point of Armor, is likely to be killed in a single attack. Increase its Armor to Armor 3, and there’s an excellent chance that it will take at least two attacks, getting double value from the Armor, to kill it. The Alloyin Starter Deck takes advantage of the synergy between multiple sources of Armor and multiple cards with Armor. Finally, the Alloyin Attack debuff (Sonic Pulse) can make opposing cards incapable of penetrating Armor or incapable of killing high defense creatures quickly, allowing Alloyin General and Synapsis Oracle to use their powers more often.
Nekrium has sacrifice related synergies. Grimgaunt Devourer’s Attack and Health grow when creatures die, so it has a synergy with cards that require sacrificing creatures like Scourgeflame Sorcerer, Corpse Crawler, and Grave Pact. Epidemic runs a risk of killing your own creatures—which gives it a synergy with creatures that don’t mind dying, like Death Seeker and Vengeful Spirit. Scourgeflame Sorcerer, Corpse Crawler, and Grave Pact have powerful effects that require sacrifices to trigger (or to play, in the case of Corpse Crawler). Those effects basically require creatures that you don’t mind sacrificing, which makes Death Seeker, Vengeful Spirit, and to a lesser extent Graveborn Glutton and Fleshfiend, indispensable. In fact, the connection between the sacrifice requiring cards and the sacrificial fodder cards is so strong that it almost rises to the level of a dependency, which I’ll talk about in a moment.
It is no coincidence that all of the Starter decks have a great deal of internal synergy. Every good deck is going to be built around a cluster of synergies. When you build your own decks, synergies are an excellent place to start. Why are your cards stronger because they’re being played together? What does a card need in order for its value to increase? Whenever you think, “wow, if I had this on the board and drew that, it would be awesome,” you’re noticing a synergy. Playing off those synergies is key to building a good deck.
Timing and Synergies
An additional point to consider is the timing needs of your synergies. Some cards need to be Offensive in order to make the most of their synergies, and thus must typically be played in a prior turn—for example, Scourgeflame Sorcerer must be played on the previous turn to get a full synergy with Death Seeker, and Flamestoke Shaman must likewise be Offensive to grant Swiftness to a Flameblade Champion. Other cards, like Spring Dryad and Grimgaunt Devourer, benefit from being played before cards with which they have synergy, but need not be played on a previous turn. Yet other cards need to be played after the cards with which they have synergy (notably Corpse Crawler, Grave Pact, and many spells). And some cards (Windcaller Shaman, removal cards) benefit from being played when the cards they have synergy with are already Offensive. Those issues are mostly issues in play, not deck building, except it’s worth keeping an eye on the timing of cards as you build your deck. If you find that a very large number of your cards need to be Offensive to gain benefit (or a very large number need to be played after other cards are in play) you may have a conflict that will make your deck less effective—you’ll find that you often can’t make the most out of your synergies. Playing a deck with a good mix of timing requirements for your synergies will let you make the most of them.
Building Your Deck with Synergies
Synergies provide many useful tools for building a deck. I often begin building a deck by identifying some synergies that interest me. Spot a few synergies, toss those cards in a deck, look for other cards with synergies to fill it out, and you have a draft deck list. Also, when tuning up a deck list, you can look for cards that lack effective synergies to drop, or for other cards with synergies to add in. It’s not the entire process of deck building–you may find that there are cards without synergies that fill holes in your deck, or protect against weaknesses.
What are your favorite synergies? How do you use them as you build your decks? Tell us about them in the comments.