Differences between Flesh and Blood and Magic: the Gathering
Magic and Flesh and Blood both share the same spirit: playing cards, thinking hard, making strategic decisions that can change the course of the game at any moment, regret it, all in a wealthy and beautiful medieval fantasy setting.
Flesh and Blood, however, has very different characteristics from Magic, such as not having an ever-increasing resource generation system, not having a great focus on permanents and not having rotating formats, among others that we will explore in this article.
Where to start?
First of all, I recommend watching a video or read an article about the game's basic rules, as we won't cover them in this article. If you did, then you're probably familiar with stuff like where to find the cost of a card and how to play them, how to defend, and what the basic structure of a turn is, but — other than that — I'll assume you don't know anything else about the game.
The second suggestion is that you watch a game or two with the starter decks. You don't need to understand all the cards or the reasons for the players' decisions, but learning the basic flow of the game will make your reading more enjoyable, after all, without having questions, there's no reason to look for answers!
Where are my lands?
As you may have noticed, Flesh and Blood's resource system is quite different from Magic or even similar games like Hearthstone. In FaB, you need to pitch a card to generate resources. To do this, you simply announce what you want to do and pitch cards until you have enough resources to pay for the desired action. Those cards that have been “pitched” go to the Pitch Zone, and at the end of the turn they are placed under your deck, being able to be drawn in the future whenever your deck gets there.
Almost all cards have a pitch value that varies between 1 and 3. Most cards also have three versions, which are separated by “color”: one that pitches for 1 (which has a red stripe at the top of the card) , another for 2 (yellow) and another for 3 (blue).
But then, why would I choose to put a red card if there is a blue version of it that pitches for more? Well, let's look at these cards:
They are very similar, but the red version is better than the yellow one (as it attacks for 4 instead of 3), which in turn is better than the blue one (which attacks for 2). Everything else on the card is identical: its cost and its defense, and sometimes part of its effect.
This brings an interesting challenge for deckbuilding in FaB: Do I want this card in a red version because it's stronger, or in another version because I need to generate more resources?
This is a difficult question to answer definitively, but know that all colors of a card can be useful in different contexts and according to different needs.
How does a game without lands work?
As you “spend” cards to do things in the game, along with the fact that the amount of cards in your hand is always around 4 (which is the Intellect of almost all heroes released so far), a game of Flesh and Blood winds up being very different from a game of Magic.
You are just as capable of playing the cards in your deck at the beginning as you are at the end of the game. Every turn you can use the cards in your hand as pitch and the amount of pitch you have access to will not change during the game, unlike Magic where the more turns that go by, the greater the amount of resources you have access to is.
A consequence of this is that there are no “win conditions” like in Magic. By win condition, I mean the kind of card that is expensive in terms of resources needed, but which - when played - gives you a huge advantage.
Another consequence of this is that cards are all very close in power level. For a card to be in your deck, it can't be just something to do on your way to the ideal board . All cards must have a good enough impact that when you draw it, it does something.
This becomes very easy to do with the defense system. As all cards can be used as pitch, or used to defend (as well as, of course, being used as something you play), it is always possible to find something to do with the cards that are in your hand, and a big part of the skill in a game of Flesh and Blood is figuring out how best to use the cards you're dealt turn by turn, not unlike in Poker.
Who is winning?
Unlike Magic, at the end of your turn you will always draw cards up to your hero's Intellect (remember: except for the first turn of the game, in which both players draw up to their Intellect at the end of turn).
And here comes a question that I had when I first discovered FaB, and that remained unanswered for a few games: how do you get an advantage in a game where there are practically no permanents on the field and where the amount of cards in your hand is something so easy to get back? Or even, how do I know who is winning?
The first observation is that a life advantage is something significant in FaB, which is something you realize has no intrinsic value very early in your Magic career. Life gain is rare in the game, and in a match where you "recharge" your strength at the end of each of your turns, once you're behind in life getting back will be an increasingly arduous task.
If you have 10 less life than your opponent, and they effectively lost nothing to gain this advantage, then you have used the resources the game has given you less efficiently than your opponent. This is sometimes unavoidable, but can often be remedied by better planning your turn.
In Magic (and most card games) the first thing used to judge who's winning is to look at the battlefield: if I have more than you, then I'm winning. In Flesh and Blood, there are almost no cards or effects that stay on the field for more than a turn. Another way to judge who's ahead in a game of Magic is the number of cards in your hand: if I have five more cards than you and our field is similar in terms of permanents, then I'm winning. In Flesh and Blood, at the end of each of our turns, we draw back up to 4 cards.
To then transform the traditional view of advantage in a match to something that fits Flesh and Blood, it's interesting to introduce the idea of a turn cycle.
A turn cycle is two subsequent turns. If I have a turn in the middle of the game where I start with 4 cards and force my opponent to use all of their cards to defend, then on my opponent's turn they will just pass without doing anything, after all, they have no cards to play. In this turn cycle, then, I have the initiative.
If this happens consistently, and I manage to gain some life advantage from accidental damage (which the opponent can't defend efficiently), then I'm winning.
Obviously, the advantage in terms of permanents is also useful, and even more than that, it can be significant: if I have the same life as my opponent, but they used up all their equipment while I still have mine, then I'm winning.
One last simple way to judge a FaB match uses the concept of deck damage. This concept is not always applicable, but for some matches it can be the determining factor in deciding who is winning.
By pitching blue cards, we are doomed to draw them if the game doesn't end early. A FaB deck can only hold so many red cards before it runs out of resources to take turns, so it's inevitable that blue cards will be used as a pitch.
This becomes a problem when pitching many blue cards in a row because — if the game isn't over by then — we'll eventually draw a handful of blue cards that can't put enough pressure on the opponent. If that opponent still has red cards to attack us with, we'll end up falling behind, and we may not have enough damage left in our deck to end the game.
Remember: red cards defend for as much as blue cards (except for Defense Reactions, but let it go for now), so if I defend multiple red attacks from my opponent and I pitch in a more balanced way, I will eventually draw good offensive cards while my opponent only has bad offensive cards.
The idea of deck damage, as you might imagine, is the concept of gaining an advantage simply by having a more balanced (and maybe even bigger) deck in terms of blue and red cards for the late game.
Everyone is Aggro!
... Was something I said when I started playing FaB.
In part, this impression came from the fact that I rarely blocked. Why spend a card of mine that hits for 7 to defend 3 damage?
Defending doesn't cost resources, unlike playing that card. It felt wrong to defend for 3 with a card that I could use to hit for 7, but you have to remember that to hit 7 I'm actually using two cards: one for the attack and one to pay for the attack.
If I defended with those two cards, I could defend for 6 instead of hitting for 7. When I finally thought about it more carefully, I started to better understand the value of blocking.
Another easy way to figure out when you should block is by looking at your turns after taking them: if you've ended your turn with cards in hand, and they're not essential for the future (and if they are, that's what the Arsenal is for, put them there!), then you should have blocked with those cards.
It wasn't uncommon for me to end a turn with two cards in hand, only to draw two more cards (which would have been four had I used them). Each card left in your hand at the end of a turn cycle is a card that could be used to block without any loss.
The thought that all decks are Aggro is partially justified for a specific definition of Aggro.
In Magic, aggressive decks are those with well-defined curves, which gain advantages using the board and try to win before a deck with a larger curve can stabilize. In FaB there is no such notion of Aggro, since there is not much board presence, and “stabilizing” is a concept that doesn't make much sense.
Since almost no FaB deck can win the game by tanking the pressure and "stabilizing" itself, then, in this view of what characterizes an Aggro deck, almost all FaB decks are Aggro.
I propose here, however, a different definition of Aggro that best fits FaB: a deck is Aggro if your game plan prioritizes putting on pressure by playing cards while not blocking beyond vital.
Under this definition, not all FaB decks are Aggro.
I find it helpful to think of different ways to judge the “macro strategy” of a FaB deck. My criteria are:
- How interchangeable are the cards in the deck? Every deck tends to have “key cards”, but some have a lower reliance on combos of two or more cards, in addition to having access to different cards that serve the same purpose.
The less interchangeable the cards in a deck are for developing your game plan (that is, the more reliant on combos of two or more cards), the more “combo-centric” the deck is.
- How good is a deck with different amounts of cards in hand? Obviously, the more cards in hand, the better a deck's turn will be, but some decks play better with smaller amounts of cards in hand than others.
Usually, the ability to play better with few cards comes from your hero's weapon, but that's not always the case. Having one less card in hand for some decks can represent a difference of 6 or more damage, while for others a 2-card turn is only 2 damage better than a 1-card turn.
The better a deck is with smaller amounts of cards, the more “midrange-centric” it is, as the deck is more comfortable using part of its hand to defend. Similarly, the worse a deck is at playing with fewer cards, the more “aggro-centric” the deck is.
- What factors define how the deck wins a game? Some more “aggro-centric” decks have a wincondition, forcing the opponent to use the cards in their hand to block by being able to apply greater pressure than the opponent with a greater diversity of hands.
This type of deck often has cards that have synergies with each other (therefore they depend on more cards in their hand to perform a good turn), and they have numerous cards with the same purpose (dealing damage).
Other decks have the win condition of trading cards efficiently, blocking when advantageous and putting pressure when, looking at a full turn cycle, the damage presented is greater than what would be stopped by blocking. These differences between winconditions indicate whether a deck is more Aggro or more Control.
These factors add up and interfere with each other, but serve as a basis for ranking a deck's macro strategy relatively well. The usefulness of sorting decks is, in my view, to facilitate communication and boxing in ideas that would otherwise be difficult to keep in mind, and these three factors do this job well.
And where's the Elves deck?
If there's one thing that Magic players enjoy, it's doing the same thing in other games as they do in Magic, and I don't blame them.
If you've reached this section, you must have already noticed that FaB is a very different game, in addition to not having a card pool as large as Magic's, so finding a deck similar to High Tide or Kiki Pod (God forbid it) is impossible for the time being.
That said, there are what I call "spiritual parallels" to some Magic decks. These spiritual parallels don't always have cards or turns similar to their Magic counterpart, but they do have some philosophical similarity in FaB, in my opinion.
I'm going to make comparisons to some decks that are famous in Modern, in no particular order.
Warning! Don't play the decks I'm suggesting here hoping you'll have the same experience playing Magic. FaB (again) is a very different game, but maybe these decks can help scratch that itch of wanting to play something familiar in another game.
Decks with similar philosophy between MTG and Flesh and Flood
Hammer Time: Aggro Katsu, Dawnblade Dorinthea. These two decks need you to know how to use your window of opportunity well and know how to bluff, and have (especially in the case of Dorinthea) the ability to play long games and win via attrition.
Azorius Control: Bravo, Dash, Oldhim. These are great attrition decks for making efficient trades, gaining small margins throughout the game. Most of your cards block well, and the advantages are gradually won, mainly through the use of your weapons (Anothos and Teklo Plasma Pistol).
Izzet Murktide: Midrange Katsu, Midrange Viserai, Raydn Boltyn. Decks that are comfortable with trading cards every turn (blocking a little, hitting a bit), but that can also swiftly win the tempo of the game and turn small advantages into scenarios that are impossible to swing to the opponent.
Burn: Lightning Briar, Kano, Levia. This is probably the hardest to find a parallel in FaB because there is no deck that goes all in and tries to win as fast as possible and has no chance after the opponent "stabilizes". That said, these decks are extremely proactive and demand some kind of interaction; otherwise they will simply run over the competition.
Jund Saga: Rhinar, Aura Prism, Ice Lexi. These decks are good at exchanging resources and disrupting the opponent's game plan in different ways. Rhinar hampers the opponent's ability to block, Prism is good at protecting board advantages, and Lexi taxes the opponent's resources with on hit effects.
Yawgmoth Combo: Chane, Earth Briar, Saber Boltyn, Kano, OTK Viserai. All of these decks have in common the ability to have huge turn sequences, often being able to kill an opponent 100-0, and, as is traditional in FaB, are still capable of playing fair until then.
Esper Reanimator/Living End: Chane and Levia? There is no deck that interacts frequently with the graveyard, as recursion is a tricky word for FaB (see Drone of Brutality (1) being the first card banned from the game). That said, these decks care about cards in the Banished Zone and also in the Graveyard in one way or another.
Amulet Titan: Chane, Kano. No deck equals the madness of Amulet triggers and sequences, not even in Magic. These decks rely on sequencing things correctly, often several turns into the future, requiring mastery from the player to pilot the deck correctly. Analogously, a bad Kano or Chane player leaves a lot on the table that a more experienced player would be able to optimize, and Chane even has his “Primeval Titan” called sur, the Soul Reaper
Mill: Oldhim, Dash, Bravo. There are no decks that interact with your opponent's deck in FaB, and that probably won't change for quite some time. FaB is a game that rewards good pitching and in some matchups it's not uncommon for all cards in a deck to be used to win the match.
That said, these decks can - depending on the matchup - win by wiping out the opponent's deck (not directly, but when someone runs out of cards it's hard to win the game) by blocking all of the threats your opponent is capable of throwing at you.
Ad Nauseam/Belcher: OTK Viserai. There's nothing that wins the game "without setup" in FaB, and there's nothing that draws your entire deck (card draw is expensive in FaB), but OTK Viserai has a plan to defend the entire game to then draw 7 to 10 cards during your combo turn by using the Bloodsheath Skeleta with Arcanix Sonata interaction, having more than 20 Runechant on the field to draw a bunch of cards and win the game in a single gigantic turn.
Storm: Kano. Storm is a different combo deck than Ad Nauseam, Belcher and other “I have these cards, I won” decks, which, as I said, don't have good equivalents in FaB. Storm is a deck that needs a huge advantage in resources and cards that eventually culminates in a win, and Kano is a deck that looks to do something close to that. Top deck manipulation, access to many cards with explicit synergy between them (see Blazing Aether) and the ability to catch people off guard are all qualities of Kano.
Tron/Eldrazi Tron: Dash. Dash's game is to amass items on the field to make her Teklo Plasma Pistol stronger, eventually spawning an engine that - quickly - overwhelms the opponent. It's not always easy to do so, but when Dash manages to get her items on the field, it's hard to hold her back.
Affinity/Scales: Lightning Lexi, Lightning Briar, Raydn Boltyn. These are all fast, synergistic decks that require, in one way or another, good sequencing. There's no such thing as the "permanent spew" that Affinity does in FaB, but turn planning, knowing when to go hard and when to hold back, those things these decks can encapsulate well.
Hatebears/Humans: Ice Lexi, Oldhim, Azalea. These decks are the best at being disruptive while putting on pressure. Azalea's on hit effects are impossible to ignore, and the Frostbite tokens of Ice heroes can tax the opponent's hand and resources.
Dredge: Chane. As I said about Reanimator, no FaB deck interacts with the graveyard very often, but Chane, through his ability, creates several Soul Shackles that banish his deck and then uses cards with Blood Debt like Rift Bind (1), Ghostly Visit (1) and Howl from Beyond (1) to cast spells directly from the Banished Zone.
Elves/Goblins: Lightning Briar, Prism. Creatures aren't very common in FaB (so far there are only two, and they are locked behind difficult conditions to complete), so tribal decks have no parallel in this regard, but Briar manages to pull off the Goblins' plan to throw a swarm of attacks at their opponents, while Prism manages to do the “Elf combo” of generating numerous resources while having several Spectral Shields on the field that hit the opponent.
How do you build deck without mana curve?
The first concern when creating a Magic deck is a consideration of a balanced curve. Making a deck with 30 cards of mana value 7 is going to cause a big problem in the early turns (unless you're Tron). In Flesh and Blood, the card pool is limited to cards that fit your hero (think of it as Commander) or that are of the Generic type, and this greatly reduces the amount of possible cards that can be in a deck.
In FaB, too, there is no concept of balancing the deck in terms of card costs necessarily, as there are no lands that are played every turn. Unlike Magic, FaB is concerned with the average cost of a hand.
In a deck where your weapon hits for a resource and its cards mostly cost 0 resource (like Lightning Briar, for example), there is a lower need for blue cards (which are those that pitch for 3 resources), thus freeing up space for more red versions of the cards that are more efficient in their effects.
In contrast, heroes like Bravo who use their 3-cost hammer Anothos and whose strongest attacks are expensive (see Spinal Crush and Crippling Crush), need a large amount of resource generation, which is why competitive Bravo decks have more than half of their deck with blue versions of their cards.
In FaB, the colors of the cards are different versions, even though all versions of a card have the same name, and this means that a deck can have 9 (or 6 in Blitz format) copies of the same card, 3 of which are red, 3 yellow and 3 blue.
Compared to Magic, where a specific card represents 4/60 = 1/15 (or 6.67%) of your deck, in FaB you can have up to 9/60 = 3/20 (or 15%) of your deck being a specific card, disregarding its color. This brings more consistent draws to FaB, ensuring that every game you'll see (perhaps even multiple times) a specific effect.
This effect is potentiated by the fact that, since turn 0, you basically draw 4 cards per turn, so even in the most aggressive match ups it is common for more than half of your deck to be drawn during the entire game.
There are, however, cards in FaB that don't have all color versions, which is the case for all Majestic rarity cards. These cards, therefore, can only come in with 3 copies in a deck.
In slower matchups you will also see the second cycle of your deck. The second cycle refers to the moment you start to draw the cards you pitched since the beginning of the game. These cards will be ordered in, more or less, the exact order of pitch that occurred during the game, that is, when you reach your second cycle, theoretically, it is deterministic and public information the order of the cards in your deck (only theoretically because, in practice, it is not practical to count the exact order of cards that were pitched in the middle of a game).
More experienced players can use this second cycle as a way to create an all-stars-aligned turn, but with no stars, simply by pitching with extreme attention.
Personally, the mere possibility of securing an unstoppable hand in the late game through “responsible pitch” attracted me to the game early on, even though I was definitely incapable of doing so. In deckbuilding it is also important to consider how your deck will work in this second cycle, when you will have seen all the cards in your deck at one point or another and will need to decide which cards will be played now and which will be drawn in the future.
FaB deckbuilding, therefore, requires great consideration of ratios, that is, proportions between different categories of cards. We looked at considering the average cost of cards to decide which colors of which cards we need to play, as well as considering the amount of redundant effects in the same deck. In addition to these reasons, some decks also require consideration of:
- How many Attack Actions versus Non-Attack Actions do I have in my deck? (Important for every hero playing Rosetta Thorn and every Runeblade-type hero so far, at different weights);
- How many Items do I have in my deck? On average, can I use all my cards efficiently? (Important because you may lack Action Points to do everything if you draw more than 1 Item in a hand, for example);
- What is the average Block of my hands? (A low Block average can simply prevent a deck from being able to compete against aggressive decks, unless you're extremely agressive yourself);
- Is the average of my hands functional enough, or do I rely too much on having 3 different card combos to do something substantive on my turn? (Arsenal manages to make sure you save a card for later, so it's not uncommon for "combos” of two cards being used, but if your deck depends on 3 or more specific cards to get off the ground, then that is a bad sign);
- In my second cycle, do I get stronger or weaker? (Aggro decks generally get weaker in their second cycle, as they're likely pitching blue cards to play their efficient red attacks, while decks that defend more often tend to be able to control their pitch choice better, after all, just don't block with the card you want to pitch, and they can often get stronger on their second cycle).
Most FaB heroes also have specific considerations about some card ratio, such as Chane who needs to think about the ratio between cards with Blood Debt and without, or Elemental heroes who need to consider the ratio between element cards like Earth and cards that have Earth fuse.
In short, FaB deckbuilding trades Magic's considerations of creatures, mana colors, amount of land, mana curve, finishers, removal, etc., for other very strategic considerations.
It is worth mentioning that, for now, the game has only 6 sets, and as each hero's card pool expands, more interesting and different deck possibilities will appear in the game. Compare that to 75 sets that are legal in Modern in 2021.
What about Limited? Do you have draft?
Yes, we do! Flesh and Blood was created with Limited in mind from the beginning. Both Sealed and Draft in the game are extremely fun.
There are very few filler cards in FaB. Common cards are close in efficiency and power level to Rares and Majestics. This makes the Limited format have an excellent power level and is not dependent on "bombs", like some Limited formats from Magic are.
A FaB Draft proceeds exactly like a Magic Draft, and at the end of the Draft the player can choose a hero and a Token weapon and make a deck with that hero. Equipment is drafted normally, so it is possible to start a game with all equipment slots full or even all empty.
In Magic, there are archetypes that build around some key cards, and there are color combinations that have great synergies. In FaB these archetypes are given by the hero, so they are more “limited” in that sense: a card from one hero cannot be played on another, which forces you to think carefully about which class to invest in during the Draft.
There is, however, a greater competition for the same archetype (since most FaB sets have 4 heroes), which makes the Draft more “interactive” in the sense that it is more important that you pay attention to what you are being passed, so you don't end up competing for cards with 4 more people.
I want to pay special attention to the Tales of Aria set. In it there are 3 Elemental heroes (a Runeblade, a Guardian and a Ranger), which makes the competition in the Draft more fierce, after all there will always be a hero being less coveted by other players.
There are "generic" cards that fit all heroes (they only have Elemental type) and there are also three elements: Earth, Lightning and Ice.
Each of the heroes can play cards from 2 of these 3 elements. Briar can play Lightning and Earth cards, Oldhim can play Earth and Ice cards, and Lexi can play Ice and Lightning cards. These cards that are specific elements are, then, for two of the three heroes, and are essential to make a good deck, whatever the final hero is.
That is, there are cards that fit all heroes, cards that fit two out of three heroes, and cards specific to a single hero. It's really cool to navigate through a Tales of Aria Draft. There's always a consideration for picking up an important card for a hero while trying to stay open enough by picking up specific element cards or even the "generic" cards.
At the end of the Draft, there will always be a less contested hero, and generally the player who builds for the less contested hero will end up having a good deck.
Flesh and Blood is a relatively new game on the market, and one that has captivated many Magic players. The game's systems are very different from other classic TCGs, including Magic itself, and so it can be very difficult to initially adapt the "Magic mindset" to FaB.
The purpose of this article is to show some of these differences, as well as how to adapt to FaB with a language familiar to Magic players.
I hope I was able to help you with your first steps towards being a better FaB player, and I welcome you to the wonderful world of Flesh and Blood!