Lorcana is a simple, yet deceptively deep game that I’ve been deeply enjoying lately, and while I’m not going to pretend to have mastered the game at this early stage, in this guide I want to share some tips I’ve learned while playing that have made me far better at the game.
I’m not going to cover the absolute beginner stuff here, the starter decks include some fantastic rules that make it simple to pick up the game, and you can find guides to that over on other sites like Dicebreaker or the Official Lorcana website that’ll help with that stuff if you need more than that (honestly, you probably don’t).
What we’re here for is some more advanced strategy. The things that help you take games against the uninitiated, and leave people wondering just how they lost. They may blame luck, or your deck, or whatever else, but don’t underestimate the impact that a few minor improvements on how you play can have on your win rate. I went from losing every game, to not dropping a single game using a starter deck against invested players with custom decks, just by following these rules.
1. Who’s the beatdown?
There’s an incredibly famous article in the Magic community by a pro player-turned-writer by the name of Mike Flores, that boils down high level strategy to a single question. Who’s the beatdown? Let’s ruin his work, and translate the theory to Lorcana.
In every game, there are two sides – the beatdown, and the control. The beatdown player is trying to push to win the game as fast as possible, while the control deck is trying to stabilise and stop them. Sounds easy, right? The hard part is identifying who is who, and in Lorcana that question is fundamental to all else. Decks will typically be built towards one or the other, but in Lorcana, you’ll find that because you use the same characters to control as you would to quest, the question remains fluid at all times. Let me give you an incredibly simple example.
The player who goes first plays a character. Let’s say it’s Minnie Mouse, Always Classy. This is an aggressive play, because Minnie has great willpower for a 1-drop at 3, but is bad at challenging. Being aggressive means that you’re looking to generate lore as fast as possible, and the first player has an inherent advantage at that. So your assumption may be that the first player is the beatdown in this case. They’ve got an early character on board who is hard to challenge before she can quest for a chunk of lore. If their deck is built around this, they’re already committing to the strategy.
But the second player plays Maleficent, Biding Her Time. Maleficent only has 1 strength and 1 willpower, and quests for 2. There are two ways this goes. If Minnie quests the way she probably would normally, Maleficent can also quest unopposed, because let’s face it – she’s not going to challenge. Suddenly you’re in a race, one side questing for 1, another questing for 2, and Maleficent just wins that race outright, even though Minnie was down first and starts questing first. This is effectively a signal that Minnie’s player is actually the control player in that matchup. The other way is for Minnie to challenge, putting Maleficent out of the picture. No progress on lore has been made, but they’ve controlled the board and stabilised the situation back to where they were, just with a slightly bruised mouse.
By challenging instead of questing, Minnie can remove the threat and go back to being on offence. This is a very basic example, but it’s one that can be extrapolated to any board state. When you are behind, you are the control player. Your priority is to stabilise the board and bring your opponent back down to your level. When you are ahead, you are the beatdown. Your job is to finish it as fast as possible, unless you can disrupt your opponent’s strategy by removing a crucial character.
Any time you’re tempted to quest for lore, ask that question – “Am I the Beatdown right now?”. If the answer is no, then your job is not to quest and you shouldn’t do it. It’s that simple, and yet you’ll find a lot of players get it wrong constantly. Identify when your opponent has played control when they’re meant to be the beatdown, and you’ll find an opportunity to strike.
2. Don’t underestimate tempo plays
Tempo plays are plays you make to either build momentum or disrupt your opponent’s progress while advancing your own. New players often heavily underestimate the value of this. Here’s an example.
Let’s say you’ve got a character in play, any character, doesn’t much matter who, and your opponent spends all their ink dropping a massive high-cost threat like Stitch, Abomination. You don’t have an answer to remove it immediately, but you do have a copy of Mother Knows Best, which can return it to hand. Bouncing a card back to hand doesn’t stop them from having it, but it means another turn for it to matter, another turn for it to be a problem, and another turn for you to draw an answer.
By buying time and disrupting your opponent’s game plan, you can put them off their rhythm, and it can get you an entire turn of unopposed questing (provided you’re the beatdown, of course), which is regularly enough to win games. Lorcana is a game of small incremental advantages that add up over time until you’re suddenly at 20 lore, so take every single inch you can get.
3. Try to stay ‘on curve’
Playing on curve means that every turn you’re dropping a card into your inkwell, and playing a card that allows you to use that ink. So you’re dropping a 1-cost card on turn 1, a 2-cost on turn 2, a 3-cost on turn 3, and so on.
One of the biggest mistakes that people make is they’ll do things like drop two inkable 1-cost characters on turn 2 simply because they have 2 ink to use. While you need to keep up with your opponent, don’t ever play inkable characters just because you can. You need to ensure that if you hit that amazing 6-8 cost card in your deck on turn 6-8, you can immediately drop that sucker on the table. It may cost you a little lore early on and force you to play the control side of the matchup, but it’s better to have the ink down every turn than another copy of Flounder on the board.
Don’t over-ink, however. While it’s always tempting to keep going so that you can play multiple cards in a turn, most decks don’t have the drawing power to keep up. Get your ink to the amount you need to play the top end of your deck, and stay there unless you know exactly why you want the additional ink. By holding cards in hand you can play around removal (which we’re going to talk about in a sec), and keep enough characters on the board to keep pace with your opponent.
4. Play around removal
Lorcana doesn’t have a ton of removal cards that are played from your hand. Most of the time, removal comes from characters challenging each other. Ruby and Steel are two colours that buck this trend, and the scarcity of removal means you can pretty reliably memorise those threats. Ruby decks that hit 7 ink pose a constant risk of singing Be Prepared out of nowhere, and they’re probably packing 4 copies of Dragon Fire.
When you suspect those are coming, whether it’s because you’re the beatdown, or because your opponent is paying far too much attention to the board state, play a little cautiously. Don’t throw down a whole bunch of weak characters to get exiled by the board wipe, and if you can, play a different threat to bait out the Dragon Fire before you play your biggest character, just to test the waters.
Similarly, Steel may be running Grab Your Sword, Smash, and Fire the Cannons, though they’re less certain bets. If you see one copy come out, assume there’s probably 3 or 4 and plan accordingly. Keep some characters in your hand to replace the ones that are removed. Playing 5 weak characters that have 2 or less willpower is a great way to have no characters and nothing in hand.
Keep up your tempo, but don’t overcommit to the board if you’re up against Ruby and Steel.
5. Trade up
Trading up is effectively exchanging a card for an opponent’s card that is of a higher value. The easiest way to do this is by ink cost, though if the opponent’s deck has synergies or a combo, that adds additional value that won’t necessarily be written on the card.
What this means is that challenging with your Duke of Weselton, Opportunistic Official to take out an opponent’s Aladdin, Cornered Swordsman is a good trade. Your Duke costs 1 ink, and their Aladdin costs 2. By removing both from the board, you are ahead.
Whereas using Scar, Fiery Usurper to remove a Horace, No Good Scoundrel is… no good. The two will trade off, but you’ve just burned a higher value card to remove one that’s lower value.
An equal trade only works in your favour if you are ahead. So ideally when you trade, you want to trade upwards in value at every possible opportunity, or you’ll either stagnate or fall behind.
6. Be patient
Last but by no means least, just be patient. Lorcana isn’t won by racing your opponent to 20 lore, it’s won by building and maintaining a board state that eventually just so happens to reach 20, while preventing your opponent from doing the same.
Keep calm, follow general rules for good play, and save those hail mary “throw everything on the board” moments for when your opponent is at 15+ lore, and what’s on the board tells you that you’ll lose within the next 2 turns unless something changes. Until you get to that point, only quest aggressively if you’re the beatdown, disrupt your opponent’s tempo where you can, play your ink and cards out on curve, don’t get baited into a board wipe, trade your cards to remove higher value cards from your opponent’s deck, and just plain keep your cool.