Hi and welcome to part 3 of the deck building options series. Today we’ll be going over my favorite style from a flavor standpoint, trait-based deck building. This might get a little long as we go through each investigator and the variance between each set of options, so this will be the first part, going over the more straight-forward ones and we’ll leave some of the more special ones for the next article.
Trait-based deck building options were introduced in the second expansion to Arkham Horror, The Path to Carcosa, which is the main reason we’re covering it first. It’s also the second largest option in terms of investigator quantity, right after the 5-2 split. The reason I enjoy this option so much is the marriage between the theme of an investigator being able to take a given trait and the power that can come from that trait. This power might be evident at first or it might come later as the card pool develops. We’ll take a look at various levels of power and flavor in the abilities, but generally, I enjoy building decks for these characters a lot.
Some of the investigators in this set are often overlooked, but I think the trait-based options have a lot of potential for very strong decks. The main reason for this is that most of these options add cards above level 2, the usual barrier for off class cards. In fact, outside of Lola Hayes, Carolyn Fern and Akachi Onyele, traits are the only way to get access to higher level cards outside of your main class. Akachi could slot in this article since she can take occult cards level 0, but she’s got some other tricks up her sleeves so we’ll discuss her later. As I discussed in my article on the 5-2 split, level 3 and above is usually where we see more impactful cards and some of the investigators we’ll see today can take those cards due to their trait access. The ability to take cards over multiple classes is also not something to be overlooked.
The second reason I think this group is pretty strong is that each trait has potential for an influx of cards either due to other investigators or mechanics being supported or for thematic reason. We have an ongoing example with Father Mateo and the blessed cards from the Innsmouth Conspiracy. Our resident priest went from having a total of 7 off-class options to currently 30 cards with many more surely on the way. These cards have also added a brand new play style for the priest, allowing him to generate and take advantage of bless tokens. Other investigators may not experience such a huge rise, but over the course of a few cycles, many gain the occasional augment that can build up into very interesting strategies. For example, it’s very likely we’ll see spell cards in every cycle of this game, which benefits two investigators in particular. Keep an eye on some of the more esoteric traits, and they may surprise you!
Keeping it simple
For the first group, we’ll focus on investigators that can take all cards from their main class and some level of cards from their trait. This is the simplest form of trait-based deck building but in the next post, I’ll talk about some interesting variations. Generally, the investigators in this group also don’t stray from the usual other options either, be it with additional restrictions or variance in deck size and composition. So, let’s dive in!
We’ll start off by talking about one of my favorite investigators, who I just mentioned and has until recently been strongly looked down on, Father Mateo. The priest can take blessed cards levels 0 to 3 but notably he also starts a campaign with an additional 5 experience. So far, he’s the only investigator to be given such a boon, which makes him very special. First and foremost, the flavor here is on point especially paired with his main ability which resembles some sort of divine intervention, mirrored in some of the cards he can take, like Eucatastrophe, an amazing option for him. The blessed cards in Arkham mostly come from the Survivor class (embodying some aspect of luck) and Guardian class (displaying righteousness). As I said above, the influx of cards from The Innsmouth Conspiracy cycle have given Mateo a whole new strategy, notably with all of the bless generation (e.g. Keep Faith and Predestined) and also being able to take higher XP payoffs (e.g. Ancient Covenant). Aside from that, there are some generally powerful cards like Hallowed Mirror or Fortune or Fate in this category.
There are disadvantages to Mateo’s signature trait, mostly that they mostly play off the one strategy, bless generation. The other disadvantage is that most of the cards he has access to are present in The Innsmouth Conspiracy, despite Mateo himself being from The Forgotten Age. This is more of a logistical issue, but hopefully if you’re looking to play with the holy man himself, you can get access to him as well as the cards he can play with. Overall, Mateo to me is a perfect example of the coming together of a theme and a mechanic, leading to fun deck building that can take cards from multiple factions that synergize with each other and Mateo’s own mystic pool.
Next up, we’ll take a look at another investigator from The Forgotten Age, this time one with some experience in curses, it’s Calvin Wright. He’s part of a select group of investigators who have some sort of supernatural presence in their life, in this case one who brought him back from the brink of death. Calvin’s will to live is represented by his access to spirit cards level 0 to 3, which is present in cards of all factions, but mostly in Guardian, Survivor and some in Mystic. I’ve seen some debate on what the spirit trait actually means, especially when it comes to cards like “I’m outta here!”. Considering the overall card pool, I think it embodies courage and determination which gives Calvin access to a lot of cards to fight back against the mythos and monsters in Arkham. Like Mateo, Calvin also received a big influx of cards recently, but in Mr. Wright’s case, the cards came from the Nathaniel Cho starter deck.
Taking a look at the spirit cards currently available, we can see some generally good options such as Ward of Protection, which can protect Calvin from a test he isn’t ready for while also letting him take some horror to boost his stats. Other good choices include multiplayer all-star Stand Together or cards that give Calvin some appreciated trauma in “I’ll see you in hell!” and Ghastly Revelation. Overall though, the most interesting theme that has come from Calvin’s trait is that of a tank. Absorbing the negative consequences from other’s tests using cards like Self-Sacrifice and “I’ve had worse…”. Then, after taking enough beatings to get his combat to a high level, Calvin can unleash with the new events such as Counterpunch and One-Two Punch. Round that off with some card draw in Glory and maybe some healing with Second Wind and I think Calvin can be a great enemy handler.
Now we move on to the first set of options that deviates from the main template we’ve seen so far with the explorer herself, Ursula Downs. This is another thematic hit for me with the deck building and investigator connection. Despite being a trait that could have suited future release Monterey Jack, the archaeologist is also a great fit and I just love the idea of Ursula just showing off all these cool random relics she acquired from her expeditions. Mechanically, this trait is composed more of silver bullets that interact well with other cards in the seeker pool such as Dr. Elli Horowitz, which is why, I think, Ursula has the additional level of access to her trait. The options for relics are vast, despite many already being in Seeker and I think in the future we may see an investigator in another class that shares this trait and could lead to very different decks than Ursula.
As for what is available to the explorer, there are options for almost all deck styles and player counts. Charon’s Obol is an amazing card for full-length campaigns if you’re willing to take the risk. Hallowed Mirror is another generally a great card that can also provide some support for others on the team. Crystalline Elder Sign is an all-start in solo, but may fetch some looks at a multiplayer table. The Gold Pocket Watch and The Skeleton Key bring some rogue “cheatiness” into play and can bring some huge turns and momentum spikes in higher player counts as well. Notably, a lot of these cards do take the accessory slot so two copies of Relic Hunter are strong considerations. Lastly, you can also go super outside the box and include some combat relics such as Enchanted Blade or The Hungering Blade both which can be wielded by your favorite assistant curator. I’m very curious to see some sort of combat competent Ursula list, especially after we get some new toys from The Innsmouth Conspiracy.
For our next investigator, we’re back to level 0 to 3 off-class card, but with an interesting distinction. Rita Young is can take trick cards level 0 to 3 but if you add up her stats from the front side, you get a total of 13, one more than most investigators have. From a design perspective, this might be because the focus on evasion generally doesn’t lead to progressing the game state, but I find it interesting that Ms. Young isn’t the only investigator we’ll see today with above average stats. Thematically, it makes sense for Rita to take trick cards, she’s trying to outrun and outsmart her enemies and many trick cards, such as Slip Away highlight using agility to succeed. This suite of events compliments Rita’s lack of investigation skills very well with cards like Breaking and Entering or add to her mobility with Think on Your Feet.
While Rita does have access to very strong cards such as Ace in the Hole or Pilfer, there are two big issues with her current card pool. The first is the volume of cards, considering a big chunk of trick cards are already in the survivor class, Rita doesn’t gain much from her trait (20 cards at the current time). Secondly, her options also don’t giver her much support for the trait. The theme of trick cards are somewhat costly events that give you big payoffs. Survivor doesn’t really help pay or help recur those events, especially unless they are survivor cards. Overall, it feels like tricks are supported more by rogue economy and cards such as Chuck Fergus which Rita unfortunately doesn’t have access to. Nevertheless, there are some very strong options and hopefully we’ll see some more in the future!
Moving on, we have a very recently released investigator in the form of Amanda Sharpe. She can take practiced skills level 0 to 3 and despite the additional restriction on skills, that trait is only present on those types of cards. Amanda also has a unique stat line with 2 across the boards which ties closely to her ability to commit a single card multiple times in a turn. This ability also works very well with the practiced skills, allowing her to perform almost any function well. The theme of a student being able to perform any duty with sufficient practice is also spot on and definitely means Amanda is doing better in university than I was. Ms. Sharpe. The options in this pool are present in all factions, but least so in Survivor. When looking at cards in this pool, it’s also important to evaluate them in the context of Amanda’s ability which can often bring out great power in some cards.
When we look at possible strategies that arise from the practiced trait, there’s plenty to choose from. Like I mentioned, there’s many wild icon options such as the new Promise of Power or cards like Prophesy and Momentum. As a Seeker, she already has plenty of options to investigate, but she can also take cards like Overpower (2) and Vicious Blow that she can pair with neutral weapons or the Acidic Ichor to output huge swaths of damage. Lastly, there’s also plenty of shenanigans to be had with her ability and cards like Enraptured and Three Aces. Amanda definitely has a very fun card pool and it has the great advantage of being present in all most cycles we’ve seen and almost certainly with more to come.
For our next character, we have the a familiar face but one that also got its official release in Innsmouth, it’s Silas Marsh. The sailor is the first investigator we’re looking at that has less than usual access, in his case, to innate skills level 0 to 2. Just like Amanda’s trait, Silas’ is also only present on skill cards so far, so there’s no additional restrictions here. The level limit here is something that is very confusing to me as the only level 3 innate card is Rise to the Occasion (3) which Silas can already take. Maybe there’s something behind the scenes going on here with future cards, but only time will tell. From a thematic point of view, Mr. Marsh’s natural talent might explain his access, but I think this option comes more from a mechanical perspective. Out of all the traits that define skill cards, the two biggest are definitely innate and practiced, so I see Silas more as counterpart to Amanda as the two main skill-focused investigators.
So what new strategies does the innate trait bring Silas? The cards here are spread across all classes and each bring a little bit of its identity to help the sailor out. Guardian cards like Daring and Steadfast can help with enemies while Seeker cards like Inquiring Mind and True Understanding help him when he’s around clues. Rogue cards can complement Silas’ already high agility with Manual Dexterity and Nimble as well as allowing him to leverage high test values with Quick Thinking or even Opportunist. Lastly, Mystic innate skills help shore up a measly 2 willpower with cards like Guts or just generally help out with Defiance. Overall, Silas gains a toolbox of skills that can be recalled at will with his ability, allowing him to do some fun stuff but also not pulling away from his main monster management strategy.
The last investigator we’ll cover today is actually the first one to feature trait-based deck building but that also has some oddities about him, it’s Mark Harrigan. Mark has the most restrictive trait-based deck building we’ll see with only level 0 tactic cards. He also doesn’t feature another set of options like his cycle buddy Akachi. The Soldier also has a stat total of 13 like Akachi and Rita but differently that many investigators he comes with two signatures, one of them being permanent. His signature asset makes Mark generally a very strong investigator, being able to pump his stats by two on any test combined with above average stats, maybe the designers toned down on his card access. In terms of theme, being a soldier, it makes a lot of sense for Mark to be experienced in tactics and I think it fits well were.
All those design considerations aside, let’s see what Mark’s trait access actually get him. Most of the cards are in his native faction but there’s plenty of options in Survivor, Rogue and some in Seeker. Notably, there is one yellow card that is an all star for Mr. Harrigan in the form of Practice Makes Perfect which as we’ve seen from Amanda, can fetch out Vicious Blow and Overpower as well as his signature skill, The Home Front. Shortcut is also a good option for action compression. Survivor tactics mostly help him avoid enemies, which is not Mark’s first option but that can lead to some fun builds along with cards like Telescopic Sight. Act of Desperation can also find its way into his deck as well as Winging It to help investigate, but I think there are usually better options. Rogue gives a small group of cards, but notably “Let God sort them out…” works with Mark’s strategy of getting rid of enemies and extra experience is always good. Finally despite the taboo, Elusive is still a level 0 tactic and can be very strong as an emergency button or as another copy of shortcut.
That’s it for this article! We’ve gone over a lot, but there’s still more to talk about with traits. Next time, we’ll talk about some more out-of-the-box trait-based options, including what I’ve dubbed a super trait and also the parallel investigators. I’ll also be discussing traits that haven’t been seen in any deckbuilding options, so if you have one you’d like to see, let me know! Otherwise, if you have any comments, questions or general thoughts, leave a comment below or find me on Facebook, Discord or Nightgaunt Mail. See you next time!