Clash Royale Deck Building is an engrossing topic, and one that we no doubt will spend many articles dissecting - but before you can get into the deeper aspects of which exact cards to farm and upgrade, there are some basics you need to understand.
Cost and Cycling
You've probably noticed by now that Clash Royale Cards each have a unique Elixir cost. What's less obvious though is how this cost affects a Deck build. Expensive Cards of course take longer to cast, but also have the effect of getting "stuck" in your hand as you are forced to make quick decisions and often use cheaper troops to react to your opponents actions. In contrast, cheap Cards are often in and out of your hand quickly, which keeps new options coming through your hand frequently and also means that same cheap Card can get cast again and again more often than the expensive one. This is called Cycling, and the faster your Deck cycles the more nimble you can be to respond to offensive and defensive opportunities. A good measure of Clash Royale Deck cycling is the "Average Elixir Cost" shown directly below your Battle Deck cards.
We already talked a little about Targeting in our Clash Royale Beginner's Guide, but it bears emphasis that this is one of the most important parts of building an effective Deck. You need to consider each of the basic Target types (Ground, Air, Building), and how your Clash Royale Deck will deal with each of them. Ground targeting troops will be exposed to Air attacks - how will you protect them? Many Air targeting troops are weak and need Tank or Tower support or they will burn up too fast. The single minded focus of Building targeting troops means they may get chewed up by Hordes without ever landing a blow. Consider each Card in your deck and what support it will need based on its Targeting preference.
Read on for a detailed break down of Card Archetypes: Using them on Offense, on Defense, and Defending against them.
Like we talked about in the Clash Royale Beginner's Guide, there is a core Paper/Rock/Scissors structure to Card mechanics that creates ideal "counters" for each Card Archetype (Tank/Horde/Spell). Each type can be used offensively or defensively though, and there are special types and nuances to consider, so read on and we'll break it all down.
The first thing you are going to need in any Clash Royale Deck is some Troops that can take a punch. There are a lot of harding hitting Troops and Spells out there, and most of the higher damage Troops can't take much damage before they fold. In fact, many of them will die running at a Tower before they even land a blow. This is where your Tanks come in. Tanks attract "aggro" from Troops and Towers, until pretty quickly everything is shooting at them. This allows your other weaker Troops to either move up without being challenged, or better yet deal damage without taking any. Some Tanks like Giants can even add the benefit of gently pushing a mass of troops back as they march on towards a Building. Tanks come in "Strong" varieties (Giant, Giant Skeleton, P.E.K.K.A) and "Weak" varieties (Knight, Prince, Valkyrie, Mini P.E.K.K.A). Strong Tanks can asborb more damage, but tend to also deal out less damage and move more slowly. Weak Tanks absorb less damage, but often have hybrid attributes like high damage or fast movement which can make them more versatile.
- On Offense - Pretty obviously, send out a Tank and drop weaker troops behind. Be sure to account for movement speed, so that weak troops don't get ahead of the Tank.
- On Defense - A Tank dropped in your home base, especially near the middle or to a far side, can draw troops together for a Spell or drag them away from a Tower (while the continue to get pelted).
- Defending Against Strong Tanks - Strong Tanks are best dealt with using Hordes. Place Hordes "in the way" for Building targeting Strong Tanks, and off to one side for Ground targeters.
- Defending Against Weak Tanks - In many cases Hordes are still be best option, but be wary of Area Damage from units like the Valkyrie. Air troops are the best bet in that case, and in general it pays to know the special abilities of Weak Tanks to choose a good counter.
Hordes and DPS
Now that you've got some damage absorption, it is time to lay out some damage of your own. With the exception of a few Spell Cards, all Cards have a Damage stat (or "Area Damage" if applicable, more on that below). Troop Cards also have a Damage Per Second or "DPS" stat, to give you an idea of their continuous damage output. The highest DPS Cards in the game tend to be Hordes - groups of 3-6 Troops of a given type which are deployed together and move en masse. Most Hordes left unchecked can cripple or destroy a Tower, but the trick is keeping them unchecked. Alone, most Hordes will get torn up, so they need to be deployed in formation so that Tanks distract Towers and other Troops and let the Hordes do their work.
- On Offense - Let your Tanks move up and get attention before committing your Horde troops to an attack. If an push is going especially well, consider sending reinforcing Horde troops to press the advantage, especially if they are fast moving.
- On Defense - Big Hordes can effectively neutralize a Tank that has no back up, but they are worthless if Area Damage is in position. If you lack a counter-Tank, let your Towers gain "aggro" before you drop your Horde.
- Defending Against Hordes - Area Damage is the best way obliterate a Horde in an instant. The Arrows Spell is a Horde-killing All Star with its cheap cost and effectiveness against a wide range of Horde troops. Lacking an Area Damage, it is sometimes worth sacrificing a Tank to buy time for your Towers to do work.
Read on for more analysis on Spells, Area Damage, Spawners, and Defensive Buildings - all key aspects of a strong Clash Royale Deck Build.
Spells and Area Damage
While there are a few spells like Rage and Freeze which have other status effects, most Spells are focused on Area Damage. Area Damage, also known as "Splash" damage, is a really key component of any Clash Royale Deck. It is the primary method to deal with Hordes. Spells also gain the huge strategic advantage of sidestepping all pathing mechanics to target damage right where you want it. Beyond Spells, numerous Troops also deal Area Damage as they attack - making them mobile Horde Death Squads. Take some time to review the damage type of each Card in your Deck, and make sure you have several Area Damage options available.
- On Offense - Spells are a great way protect Tanks and clear the way for a good push. Equal or sometimes even better is to send an Area Damage troop escort with a Tank, to instantly squash any Hordes that pop up, before they can do any damage.
- On Defense - Spells really shine on defense. A failed or overwhelmed push can lead to a turn in tides that sends a massive Horde marching toward your base, and a well timed (and targeted) Spell can wipe out a Horde just before it does any damage - wasting all of that Elixir your opponent committed. Area Damage troops are also defensive MVPs and can be very effective when dropped behind an advancing Tank, right in the mix of the vulnerable Hordes which will never see them coming.
- Defending Against Area Damage - Area Damage punishes Hordes, but has less, sometimes even negligible effects on Tanks. Try to drop Tank troops on defense first, and use Horde troops sparingly as a sacrifice. Try to gauge when you opponent may be holding a Spell or Area Damage troop based on earlier match play, and wait for bigger Horde commitments until they are exposed. Above all, if Hordes are your only current defense, try to benefit from the Tower DPS and damage absorption, to stretch out the benefit of your Horde troops.
A special, perhaps even infamous subset of Troop Cards have the unique ability to fly and avoid many Ground targeting Cards altogether. These cards can be great nullifiers to otherwise powerful Ground only Troops, and having them in your Clash Royale Deck, or at least a counter for them, is essential.
- On Offense - Use Air Troops to complement a push with extra DPS and improved penetration. Some defending Troops won't be able to strike back, and this will mean more of your push will make it through to the Tower. Many enemy Defensive Buildings also can't target Air units, so use this advantage to wipe them out and protect your Ground Troop reinforcements.
- On Defense - Air Troops on defense are a tricky balance. Since most Troops won't target them, they'll get in good licks and help bring down attackers fast - but they at the same time they won't prevent your Tower from taking a beating in the process. Paired with a quick Horde unit, or better yet a Tank, Air units can make short work of any uninvited guests.
- Defending Against Air - But EBongo, what about the Baby Dragons? Yes, I know... they are annoying aren't they. Air troops can seem threatening, or even impossible to defend if you face them head on. Most Air troops in the early Arenas will target anything though, so the trick is to drop a Tanking unit just as they enter your territory, but before they attack your Tower. If timed correctly this will cause your Tower to start attacking them, while they focus on the Tank. You are then also free to drop any Horde troops that can add some DPS and eliminate the airborne plague. Minions (a common Air Troop) can also be wiped out with any Spell. Eventually you'll have to deal with Balloons, but we can address that in the Defense Building section below.
Spawners and Defense Buildings
As you climb up the Arena ladder, you will eventually unlock Cards that create two main types of Buildings. "Spawners" continuously release Horde troops, which automatically head off to attack your opponent just as if you'd deployed them. Spawners usually deploy troops in smaller quantities than you could with similar Horde cards, but they often deploy them at a higher level, especially initially (since a Level 1 Spawner spawns level 3 Troops). Defense Buildings act as added defensive "towers" that act to protect your territory with a variety of unique attack mechanics. Both count as "Buildings" for Troops which target Buildings, which we'll discuss more below.
- On Offense - Spawners start a trickle of damage that slowly whittles away Tower health. In isolation they won't do much because the spawn rate will limit Horde troop effectiveness, but drop a Tank and they will build up and create a mini-Horde that can start to do significant damage. Spawners gradually lose health until they are destroyed, but if you manage to have enough Elixir to double up on one lane, you can also get a mini-Horde effect temporarily. Defense Buildings aren't very useful for Offense with the X-Bow which is pretty self explanatory. Once a Tower goes down though, a Defense Building behind enemy lines can help you maintain pressure to finish off the Crown Tower.
- On Defense - Spawners and Defensive Buildings are an amazing way to lock down one lane and make it almost impenetrable. You can protect a 1/0 or 2/1 win very effectively by simply turtling up and filling one lane with Buildings. Spawners tend to work best Defensively at the very back of your territory, while Defense Building are often best in the center, but can also sometimes be effective in front of your Towers.
- Defending Against Spawners - Defending against Spawners can be vexing - repeatedly charging a Tower and spending Spells only to fail again and again to dislodge a well placed Spawner - or be insulted with a second Spawner placed before even the first has expired. After a lot of failed attempts, the best strategy I've found to deal with Spawners is to push hard in the other lane. Spawners are expensive and yet can't do much damage alone. If you keep your opponent busy with defending the other lane, you'll initially have an Elixir advantage and you can likely prevent your opponent from supporting their Spawner with other Troops that will make it more effective. In a best case you can knock out the opposite Tower, and then leverage the added Drop Zone to press the Crown Tower and either destroy it or keep the focus off the other lane.
- Defending Against Defense Buildings - Well, usually these Building are dropped defensively - but you may eventually come across some, like the X-Bow, that tend to be used more offensively. The best approach I've found for dealing with these is Air troops, especially when they are placed in the middle - since Air troops will fly straight across and start attacking immediately. Lacking those, Ground troops can be a good distraction and if they are placed fast they may get some licks in before the X-Bow comes online.
Well that concludes our Clash Royale Deck Building Basics. Yes, that's just the basics! There are many more match ups and advanced strategies to unpack, but if you master these concepts you'll be on your way to climbing the Arena ranks. See any Clash Royale Decks tips we missed? Leave a comment below and let us know!