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Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Strategy #3—Knowing Your Cards

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

This is the third installment of our strategy blog written by game historian Shannon Appelcline. You can read the first installment here.

The cards in your character deck require a variety of different actions to play them. To optimize the flow of your cards, you should take advantage of these different actions to make sure you have just the right cards in your deck.

Reveal: The Worst of the Best

Cards that you reveal to play seem like the best thing since sliced goblin. After all, you get their great power, then you put them right back in your hand to use again. The problem is that they tend to be the weakest cards. Yes, a Headband of Alluring Charisma can give Lem a +1 to every Diplomacy, Arcane, and Divine check, including combat... but it's just a +1! Compare that to Lem's ability to continually pick his favorite cards out of the discard pile—including Cure spells, allowing him to quickly cycle through a lot of cards—he can do a lot better!

This isn't to say that reveal cards are worthless. You'll often want to reveal weapons instead of discarding them, particularly if you're fighting weak monsters or you need to make a single weapon stretch over a few explorations. There are even some reveal cards that are widely useful. For example, the Ring of Protection is pretty great for staving off a variety of 1-point damage annoyances. Alternatively, some reveals give a +2 or more to an important skill, which becomes more worthwhile.

However, the best reveals are those that also have another power, such as armor that can be revealed to prevent minor damage, but still recharged at the end of the turn. The Magic Shield, the Elven Breastplate, and many similar items are great examples of this.

So think before you hold onto a low-power reveal-only card.

Recharge: The Great Cycler

Recharge cards tend to be the next most powerful, and they're a good compromise between reveal powers (which tend to be weak) and discard powers (which cost you a card).

The big question with recharge cards is when to use them. My suggestion is: almost always. If a recharge card could help you on a roll, then go ahead and use it. Maybe it was necessary and maybe not, but there's little cost to using it. The one exception is when you have a card that can be recharged for a power or discarded for an explore. (Many allies fit into this category.) In this case, you should probably still use the card, because you'll eventually get the card back, and can explore then—but late in the game you might flip this assessment, since you'll be less likely to see the card again.

You might take it a step further and recharge cards whenever it's legal to do so, even if it's totally unnecessary. The goal here is to get non-useful cards out of your hand. So if you hit the last ally in a location deck, it might be worth playing your Crown of Charisma, even if your roll is a guaranteed success. It's also generally useful to recharge cards that affect singular skills; yes, you might need them on the next turn, but absent foreknowledge you're just as likely to need whatever you draw, and it's better to keep cycling to get to your good cards.

The biggest deficit of a recharge card is that it gets placed at the bottom of your deck. If you're recharging something you don't actually want, that's fine, but if you're recharging something that's pretty great, you may want to figure out how to get back to it sooner...

Shuffle: The Lost Action

The rulebook describes a variety of card actions, from reveal and display to bury and banish, but it doesn't tell you a lot about one of the most important: shuffling. You'll often shuffle your deck when you receive a major healing, such as a Cure. Some characters also have special shuffle powers, such as Weapon Master Valeros or Skull & Shackles Lem.

As long as you're not purposefully trying to keep bad stuff at the bottom of your deck, shuffling rocks because it allows you to more quickly revisit recharged cards—cards that were good enough that you already used them! After you've put a couple of great cards at the bottom of your deck, you might want to be cured primarily for the shuffle ability.

So, to make your recycling strategy that much better, think about how shuffling might enter your deck and your play.

Discard: The Standard Action

Discarding is the way that most things work in PACG. Some characters are pretty good at avoiding it, but most characters will discard over time. Don't be afraid to do it!

You should definitely discard blessings, and you'll frequently discard allies and weapons. You just need to make sure that you're not discarding too much: you should never reduce your deck below your hand size, because doing so can cause instant death if you take a lot of damage.

However, you should start being a bit more conservative a little earlier than that. If your character becomes unable to discard without courting death, he's going to be crippled for play: you won't be able to use good card abilities and you'll become afraid of facing danger. So, start going lighter on the discards when your deck is only four or five cards larger than your hand size; then you'll have four or five opportunities to play a discard card when it's really important.

When a character is a heavy discarder, be aware that he'll need regular medical attention. This creates the discard/heal cycle, where a heavy discarder gets healed so that he can discard again. It's every bit as good as the simpler recharge cycle; it just requires an appropriate healing power to get it going. Ideally, a heavy discarder should have his own heal cards, such as Father Zantus, Staff of Minor Healing, or various healing spells. Kyra is a fine example of someone who can always take care of herself: she tosses out blessings like crazy, then can Cure them back. If a character can't support his own discard habit, then make sure you have a healer in the party who keeps regular tabs on him.

When you're playing a character with a discard/heal cycle, you should also think about what's in your discard pile. If you make sure it contains great cards like nice blessings, strong weapons, or exploration allies, then their healing will be that much more powerful. So if you can, avoid discarding the random junk you pick up in the dungeons until just after you heal.

Display: The Weird Action

Display is a relatively infrequent action in PACG, primarily used by spells like Strength and Toxic Cloud. When you can use it, it's pretty great, because it tends to extend an effect over the length of a turn or longer. Play display cards when they're immediately needed or when you think someone will explore a lot during their turn.

To better assess the value of display spells, it's important to understand whom they can affect. Strength and Toxic Cloud offer a good contrast: Strength gives +3 to one person for the turn, while Toxic Cloud gives +1d6 to everyone at a location for the turn. Strength is a fine spell to use if someone is fighting alone, but when you're doing the final fight against the villain, and multiple characters can pitch in, Toxic Cloud is much better.

It's also important to know what happens to a card after it's displayed. Typically, it'll use one of the less weird card actions. Strength and Toxic Cloud are (hopefully) recharged, but other display cards might be discarded or even buried. This ultimate fate of a display card can tell you more about how and when to use its action.

Bury: The Action You Fear Too Much

Though you should try to work through your deck quickly, that doesn't necessarily extend to burying cards, because that takes them out of your play cycle. With that said, don't be afraid to bury your cards. Some characters, like Father Zantus, exist solely to be buried; sometimes Amiri will earn boons that she's happy to bury because they're no good. Even when an armor has a reveal or recharge effect, the bury is usually still its main purpose, so there should never be a qualm about using that either.

The trick comes when you need to determine whether it's worth burying something good. This most frequently comes up for Amiri, when she wants to juice her Strength, Melee, or Constitution. Then you have to decide: to bury or not to bury.

Sometimes you really don't want to bury cards:

  • Don't bury cards if you think you'd have a good use for them later.
  • Don't bury cards if their absence would make a big dent in a specific category of cards in your deck.
  • Don't bury cards if your total card count is too low; that's a good way to end up dead.

But sometimes you do:

  • Do bury cards that you've acquired and don't really need; it's a great use for them.
  • Do bury cards if you've got plenty of similar cards in your deck.
  • Do bury cards more aggressively late in the game; if you're not likely to get healed again, then a card buried and a card discarded are the exact same thing.

Banish: The Action You Maybe Fear the Right Amount

Finally, we come to banishment. Obviously, you want to avoid banishing your good cards if at all possible; in fact, if you will eventually need to banish something to close a location, then you should go out of your way to pick up something worthless.

However, there's one situation when you want to banish: when you have cards that specifically work when they get banished, such as Ameiko Kaijitsu and Mayor Kendra Deverin. Either use them by banishing them or dump them from your deck. But whatever you do, don't just sit on them, letting them take up space in your hand and your deck. Yes, it's tempting to save their one-use power for the perfect moment, but if you don't use them, they're worse than worthless. They're deck cloggers. Get 'em out.

Next time: Choosing location decks.

Shannon Appelcline
Game Historian

More Paizo Blog.
Tags: Adventure Card Game Strategy Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

Being too afraid of burying cards is what kept me from seeing how great Amiri could be when I first started playing. Used appropriately, that is an awesome power.


Pathfinder Card Game, Class Deck Subscriber

Regardless of what the sub-title is trying to convince us, this is in fact the *third* installment...


These blogs are interesting.

Minor nitpick: Toxic Cloud affects all characters at all locations. It's ideal for those multi-location bane-spreaders (unless they're undead).

Banish can be useful if you're playing a higher-level adventure and you banish a card type the party doesn't acquire, so you can pull the AD-2 card you want from the box after the scenario. This is how my RotR Kyra filled out her deck with all 5 Blessings of Sarenrae.

Silver Crusade

I spend a lot of time thinking about another mechanic between discard and bury: Discard the top card of your deck. It never seemed worth it to me on Seelah, and that made me reluctant to try CD Alahazra. I realized that there's a big difference, though, between discarding the top card of your deck for a d6 (never seemed worth it) and for a combat check (actually quite awesome, because you could safely explore with an empty hand).


Pathfinder Card Game, Class Deck Subscriber

I recommend giving Seelah another look sometime. :D The d6 definitely seems underwhelming at first, but by the middle of an AP she can add 1d6+3 to any check, giving her an extremely high chance of succeeding at many BYA or checks to close a location without need for blessings or other external help--essentially Seelah's worst stats are at least 1d4+1d6+3. I was initially hesitant, but having played her through Season of the Shackles, I'd take that gamble even before you factor in that you can load her deck with spells/blessings, which get recharged.

Lone Shark Games

Eliandra Giltessan wrote:
I spend a lot of time thinking about another mechanic between discard and bury: Discard the top card of your deck. It never seemed worth it to me on Seelah, and that made me reluctant to try CD Alahazra. I realized that there's a big difference, though, between discarding the top card of your deck for a d6 (never seemed worth it) and for a combat check (actually quite awesome, because you could safely explore with an empty hand).

In addition to all the Paladins, Chuffy from Goblins Fight is another one you should look at, perhaps with the ally Kupmuk.

In Oracle playtests, my CD Alahazra and Ramexes always, always, always packed a Helpful Haversack.


Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

I ended up with Valeros because of his power to recharge weapons. I'd considered both Amiri and Seelah, but bury cards? Or discard cards unseen? Madness.

Then we added Seelah in half way through Rise of the Runelords, and she proved far better at fighting than I was (I certainly wasn't trying to fight henchmen barehanded, but Seelah did it a number of times). And I've seen how effective Amiri is in the app.

I was also worried about running out of weapons, but I've found with other characters, that's not usually a problem.

I'll also cop to falling into the Reveal trap. Ring of Protection may be my favorite item, but I'd have that, and a belt of strength, and a couple weapons (figuring I'd find a monster and recharge one), and then I'd do one exploration and be done because I didn't have room in my hand.


Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Card Game, Class Deck Subscriber

Great blog. Just an additional idea:
We always play with a large (5-6) group, so from a single player point of view, the end of the scenario... pretty much starts nearly on the first turn (in terms of chances to get back a given card that you play). This balances a bit differently the relative values of the cards actions. Also with an average 7-8 locations, the balance of banes/boons locations impacts our strategy on playing cards. For example, if there is a lot of boons vs banes in the locations at the start of a scenario, you can estimate you will aquire more cards and lose less of them as damage, so we are less reluctant at burying or discarding vs recharging in that specific scenario.

Silver Crusade

Dave Riley wrote:
I recommend giving Seelah another look sometime. :D The d6 definitely seems underwhelming at first, but by the middle of an AP she can add 1d6+3 to any check, giving her an extremely high chance of succeeding at many BYA or checks to close a location without need for blessings or other external help--essentially Seelah's worst stats are at least 1d4+1d6+3. I was initially hesitant, but having played her through Season of the Shackles, I'd take that gamble even before you factor in that you can load her deck with spells/blessings, which get recharged.

Yeah, my problem was I never put any power feats into upping the power, which I eventually realized was a mistake. And compared to Lini sitting next to me for her reveal for d4+3 on all checks, and Seltiyel across the table with his 8 dice per combat check, I still felt pretty underpowered. I am about to try Koren in PluTo, so we'll see how that goes.

Mike Selinker wrote:

In addition to all the Paladins, Chuffy from Goblins Fight is another one you should look at, perhaps with the ally Kupmuk.

In Oracle playtests, my CD Alahazra and Ramexes always, always, always packed a Helpful Haversack.

I'm actually playing Chuffy in SotGobs, but I still rarely use his discard from the top of the deck power. He's actually pretty powerful without it with his evasion of banes, an additional d6 on his combat checks for a recharge, and his high Dex, Con, and Wis.

I actually ran CD Alahazra all the way through SotRu without taking the Helpful Haversack. When I first saw the character, I thought the HH was going to be absolutely necessary. But there were so many good items in the Oracle deck that I always wanted other ones more. And once I got my role card and could recharge spells or blessings, I was recharging most cards anyway.

Scarab Sages

Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

It seems to me that player preference does play a significant role in this - preferences make certain actions subjectively feel better, and lead people to place higher value on certain mechanics (and certain characters that use those mechanics). I personally dislike burying cards and love recharging, so I gravitate more towards some characters that can recharge (Lem, Tarlin, etc.) and away from characters that bury (Amiri, Ramexes). No matter what the raw calculus would say, I'm just not going to like it.

I wonder sometimes whether we tend to discount that emotive aspect of the player experience when arguing which characters are best.

Sovereign Court

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Card Game, Class Deck Subscriber
Calthaer wrote:

It seems to me that player preference does play a significant role in this - preferences make certain actions subjectively feel better, and lead people to place higher value on certain mechanics (and certain characters that use those mechanics). I personally dislike burying cards and love recharging, so I gravitate more towards some characters that can recharge (Lem, Tarlin, etc.) and away from characters that bury (Amiri, Ramexes). No matter what the raw calculus would say, I'm just not going to like it.

I wonder sometimes whether we tend to discount that emotive aspect of the player experience when arguing which characters are best.

I fully agree with this. I realize that Amiri is a powerful character, but I am very unlikely to play a character that buries cards as a default mechanism. I am all about trying to play as many cards per turn as possible, and pack as much healing and self-recharging as I can in my decks. Amiri and the other barbarians really don't fit that playstyle.


In regards to displayed cards, it's worth noting that these are especially powerful if they can remain displayed before resetting your hand. This results in an increase in your effective hand size, which is awesome.


Pathfinder Card Game, Class Deck Subscriber

Discard from top of deck (DFTOD) is an odd cost, in that it's close to discard, but both better and worse. In the short term, it's substantially better. You get a bonus (often a strong bonus) without spending anything from your hand, and without having to keep a bad card in your hand like with reveal. If you're on your last turn of the game, unless it will kill you, DFTOD is literally free. On the downside, it's random. Whereas discard from hand is always going to be the worst card in your hand, there's a substantial range that the top of your deck can be (from the best card in your deck to the worst card). Therefore, in the long term, it's a bit worse than discarding from hand. All told, I'd argue that DFTOD is about the same as discard, maybe slightly worse, but it's value increases as the game passes.

That being said, very few DFTOD effects are just that. Most have a secondary effect that allows you to recharge instead of discard (ie Seelah can do this with blessings and spells if I remember right). What this does is allow you to enter a state where DFTOD turns into RFTOD (recharge from top of deck) well over 50% of the time. In those cases, the value skyrockets from slightly worse than discard, to probably better than recharge, since you aren't hurting your card quality or your hand quality. For me, that's what makes Seelah's power so much better than it looks. It's a cost that reads like 'possibly worse than a discard for barely better than Lem's recharge' but actually ends up being 'better than Lem's recharge with even less cost'.

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

isaic16 wrote:
Discard from top of deck (DFTOD) is an odd cost, in that it's close to discard, but both better and worse. In the short term, it's substantially better. You get a bonus (often a strong bonus) without spending anything from your hand, and without having to keep a bad card in your hand like with reveal. If you're on your last turn of the game, unless it will kill you, DFTOD is literally free. On the downside, it's random.

As you get closer to the end of the game, though, unless effects are shuffling your deck, all the cards you have recharged are getting closer to the top, so at some point, if you're keeping track, you will know exactly which cards are coming up. (There's no reason you can't keep track of things that somebody with a perfect memory could simply remember, so when my group examines or recharges cards, we put them back them face up—though if we need to shuffle the deck they're in, obviously we have to flip them back over.)


@elcoderdude:

Great point on banishing to improve a deck late in the game!

@Dave Riley:

I'm a big fan of Seelah too. Especially since you can insure that her best cards (blessings & spells) get recycled and you can also build her deck up to be mostly that.

The only time I don't like Seelah's power is at the start of the game, when you can accidentally lose your Cure. So, first power feat goes into recharging those spells on the DFTOD power!

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