V:tES has been played for years, and this has given birth to a number of efficient decks archetypes. Given the multiplayer nature of the game, many archetypes are valid choices at the highest level, as the efficiency of a deck depends a lot on its table placement and on the negociations skills of the player. Even on the modern tournament scene, dozens of different archetypes are usually played in a single event.
As such, having a basic understanding of the most common archetypes and their strong and weak points is a very important skill for a player. Knowing the inner workings of the archetypes on the table is the only way to fathom the table balance and detect the opportunities as they arise during the game.
The archetypes are usually divided into broader categories, as presented here.
Bleed decks are focused on prey aggression and use bleed actions to inflict heavy pool damages. d is without question the most damage-heavy bleed discipline, plus it does come with bounce cards. r and e are good second choices.
Stealth & Bleed and Powerbleed
There are two ways to get bleeds through: using stealth is the most obvious one. o is the best stealth discipline, but it does not often come along with d. $ and j come second.
The other way to get bleeds through is to make sure the prey has no minion available to block the action. Along its strong bleed capabilities, d offers the excellent Seduction. O Elder Impersonation, N Call of the Hungry Dead, f Daring the Dawn and r Mind Numb are also effective tools. Combining these options with the few Master cards that can prevent block or lock minions — Pentex™ Subversion, Misdirection and Anarch Troublemaker — makes stealth and intercept irrelevant.
- Lasombra and Kiasyd have a strong combination with d for bleed and $ for stealth. Check the Kiasyd Stealth & Bleed and Lasombra Nocturn archetypes.
- The Malkavian can use e, alone or alongside o, for devastating bleeds, like in the Weenie DEM archetype.
- Assamite also have a nice combination with q and o, as in the Black Hand archetype.
- d also works well in weenie archetypes, like Weenie DOM and Bima Dominate.
- Using J for stealth gave birth to powerful bleed deck, as in the Stanislava archetype and its variants.
- Toreador with R and Ventrue with DR can produce strong powerbleed decks like The Bleeding Vignes or Jost Powerbleed.
- Inner Circles also deliver a very strong bleed as they have a +2 bleed ability. The Mistress archetype is a good example. They are often combined with Multi Master Phase Actions (MMPA), like in the Girls Will Find Inner Circle or Council of Doom archetypes.
- Using J to bleed multiple times during the opponents turns with Homunculus is also powerful: The unnamed and Rachel Madness are built around this idea.
Bleed decks have the highest prey damage. They tend to oust their first prey quite often, but it also attracts the table attention on them and one oust is not enough for a game win. They are usually weak in combat. They tend to rely on « combat ends » effects, but some flavours can have aggravated damage or torpor strikes as a threat.
Stealth & Bleed archetypes have a strong stealth module, but it can jam the hand. If the prey assumes she will not have the means to block, she should decide not to attempt to block at all, and try to jam her predator hand on the stealth module. Well constructed Stealth & Bleed decks include some rotation tools to help with that.
As they are focused on their prey, bleed decks have a weak defence against their predator and do not try to intercept actions. They usually use d or A for bounces or strong bloat modules to survive.
Vote decks usually have a strong pool damage module to deliver to their prey. The difficulty to gather enough votes to get the referendums through is balanced by the constant +1 stealth bonus of vote actions. There are basically two ways of building a vote deck: either breed and find a way to give votes to all your vampires, or use older vampires with titles themselves.
- Inner Circle can be used in strong vote decks, as in The Dark Side of Politics and Lutz Politics.
- Camarilla Princes also often use votes, like in the Nosferatu Royalty archetype.
- Non Camarilla vampires can also build good titled crypts, especially Ishtarri with Ishtarri Politics and Daughters of Cacophony with Scout and Daughters Politics.
- Baali offer a nice political angle with The Dark Side of Politics.
- Assamite also have good options, like in the Amaravati Politics or the Death Star archetypes.
- Ravnos have a unique breed archetype: the Ravnos Clown Car.
Votes decks deliver high pool damage once they get the vote lock. They also have a good bloat, using Consanguineous Boon, Parity Shift, Ancient Inluence or Political Stranglehold depending on the build. Depending on the exact build, stealth vary, but they are not easily blocked. Builds that do not have high stealth levels rely on a swarm of minions that make it hard to block them all. Finally, vote decks have a very weak combat module and — especially the swarm builds — a weak bleed defence, relying exclusively on bounces, if at all.
Votes can go either ways and can be targeted effortlessly across the table. This gives unique negotiation options to vote decks, that can be used to keep a low profile and a lot of friends throughout the game. Table Talk is always important in the game, but even more so for vote archetypes.
Wall decks maximise their defence, trying to block their prey and predator actions alike while slowly building up bloat and pool damages. The ability to intercept and wake are tantamount in these decks, so a and i are the most common options here. a gives more options and a higher intercept all in all, with the excellent Eyes of Argus atop. It is also the only discipline besides d that provides bleed bounce reaction cards. i also has good intercept cards though, and better combat options than a: it can be used with no additional equipment or discipline. Sabbat, Camarilla and Laibon titled vampires each have access to excellent intercept cards: Eternal Vigilance, Under Siege, Second Tradition: Domain and No Secrets From the Magaji.
- A is the best intercept discipline, and the Weenie AUS wall is an obvious idea.
- The Tzimisce Wall is also a very classic archetype, as the combination of iv offers even better intercept capabilities.
- Tremere in general, but Goratrix in particular offer excellent wall capabilities in the Goratrix High Tower archetype.
- The Cats archetype uses Ahrimanes and their ZI disciplines combination.
- Saulot and The Capuchin provide a nice discipline combination, as they both have ATF and +1 bleed. The Saulot & Friends archetype is built around them.
Wall decks obviously have an exceptional defence. Moreover, having high block capabilities let them play fragile master cards that need protection to be efficient like Smiling Jack, the Anarch, The Rack, Powerbase: Montreal, Powerbase: Barranquilla (Sabbat) and Anarch Revolt (Anarchs), helping both with bloat and offence. Still, wall decks tend to have a weak offence, dealing only a moderate amount of damage to their prey. They're very good at exhausting other decks around the table though, and will get eventually win a game if no other player can get enough Victory Points first.
Eagle's Sight and Falcon's Eye are the only minion cards in the game that let a vampire block any action, even if it is directed upon another Methusalah or undertaken cross table.
This ability to cross block is an excellent asset in wall decks with A or Z as it enhances table control and allows for example to intercept a dangerous vote from the grand-predator or a bleed from the prey that could be lethal to the grand-prey. Wall decks that do not use these will often include some rush capabilities instead.
Toolbox decks balance their offence and defence capabilities. They have good intercept, a decent combat module and efficient pool damage options to use on their prey, sometimes even some votes they can try to pass or a bit of stealth. The key to this archetype is to use versatile cards offering multiple play options.
- Using Camarilla Princes and Justicars with their access to Second Tradition: Domain and Parity Shift led to good toolboxes like the AAA, Euro Brujah and Ventrue Royalty archetypes.
- A lot of archetypes using allies also fall into this category, like Khazar's Diary, Emerald Legion and Nephandii.
- Ventrue Antitribu provide excellent toolboxes with the Anti ventrue Grinder archetype and its variants.
- Tremere have a good disciplines combination for a toolbox too, as proves the War Chantry archetype.
Versatility is obviously the best asset of a toolbox deck. It can handle and exploit any table configuration. To make the most out of toolbox decks, one has to display excellent table awareness and negotiation abilities. For the toolbox to have a proper effect around the table and display all its efficiency, one needs to play their hand, whatever is in it. The deck chooses the strategy as much as the Methusalah. The player still chooses on which target to use its cards, but the cards in hand demand to be played for the deck to shine.
The Heart of Cheating
The Heart of Nizchetus is often included in toolbox builds, as it gives more control to the Methusalah over what his play can be. Its effect makes such a difference in efficiency it has been nicknamed The Heart of Cheating.
Finally, toolbox decks have strong defence, although not as strong as wall decks. They tend to have good intercept options and/or rush capabilities to handle their predator. Having much less offensive options than a vote or bleed deck, they cannot rely on pure speed to best their predator: they have to deter its actions actively using blocks, bounces or combats depending on the build.
Rush decks use combat as their main weapon. Many disciplines have good combat options and they are also good combat cards with no discipline. Getting vampires down around the table is fun, but does not help so much to get the prey's pool down. To this effect, a handful of cards can help, namely Fame, Dragonbound and Tension in the Ranks.
- The Tupdogs archetype is a classic, using a dozen Tupdog along a Tremere Antitribu.
- Allies with a rush ability are also good, like in the War Ghouls and Shambling Hordes archetypes.
- Guruhi provide a strong rush build too with their PI disciplines combination, like in the Guruhi Rush and Nananimalism archetypes.
The ability to take down any minion provide these decks with a strong defence against their predator. Depending on the predator archetype, going against its minions first is a common strategy for a rush deck: it may take some combats to get them down, but they can disable their predator very fast. On the other hand, they have a weak offence and have trouble finding a way to deliver pool damage to their prey. This is the core issue of the archetype.
If they do not take down their prey very fast, rush decks have a unique control over the table balance as they can take down the minions of any Methusalah. Proper table control is essential to the succes of such builds, but it also opens a unique strategy for negociation: using the threat of combat to get things out of your neighbours.
The finnish players have perfect this negociation strategy to such an extent, it is now known as "Finnish Politics" among seasoned players.
Some decks do not fit into any of the aforementioned categories. These rare constructs are unique combinations of cards that proved unexpectedly efficient. The following examples are not exhaustive.
- Some archetypes focus on stealing the vampires of their opponents, like Mind Rape, Spirit Marionette and Baltimore Purge.
- The Cybelotron is an archetype created by Erik Torstensson in 2007 and refined by Ben Peal. It uses a complicated combination to play Call the Great Beast efficiently.
- The Madness Reversal is an archetype created by Orian Gissler in 2009 and refined by Danilo Torrisi in 2017. It uses Reversal of Fortunes to play twice as more as its opponents.
Special decks tend to use complicated card combinations to a devastative effect. Their strenght is in the absolute advantage their combination provide if all goes well. Their weakness is the frailty of such a combination. Blocking the right action or countering the right Master can often stop them dead in their tracks. Moreover, known combinations tend to attract the attention of all players, often leading the Methusalah to lose all its allies very early in the game.