Getting Started in Shadowfist With Minimum Expense

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Home > Shadowfist Newbie Help > Getting Into Shadowfist With Minimum Expense
[posted 16 Sep 2003; updated 10 Jun 2011]

You've read the general stuff, maybe you've tried the tutorial, and you're in. Now what? Here's some advice on getting started in Shadowfist with minimum expense and effort. Unfortunately, it's not so easy to get started right now, since there are no starter decks in print, distribution is limited to a few retailers, and the on-line services are experiencing service outages. Sigh.

The 0-Cost Approach (no resources required, either)

Ask at your local store if there is an existing Shadowfist play group, or check the retailer list on [10 Jun 2011] for stores that carry Shadowfist (the opponent finder is no longer on If you can find an established group, hook up with them, borrow a tuned deck and try a game or two. Or if you want to make your own deck, an experienced group may have piles of unwanted commons sitting around for the asking, and they can help you to make a playable deck with just commons/uncommons. The deck won't be great, but you'll be able to try a few games and find out if you like it enough to stick with it.

If there is no local group, try one of the Shadowfist on-line programs. Apprentice and Cardtable are 2-player only, but LackeyCCG also handles multiplayer games. All three come with pre-made decks so you can get started quickly. It's not the same as actually buying cards since there's no new-cardboard smell, but it's about as cheap as you can get. Sadly, almost no one actually uses Apprentice, Cardtable, or LackeyCCG for Shadowfist so this isn't a real option.

I plan to make a set of downloadable PDF decks that you can cut up and try for free, but I'm not there yet, sorry. (and don't wait for me, it's not imminent)

If you go these routes, you'll need the rules too. They're available for download from [10 Jun 2011], and the "how to play" section from the Year of the Dragon rulebook is also on-line. The 10,000 Bullets rulebook is the most current work, but is intended for beginners. The Year of the Dragon rulebook has two sections: the front part is for beginners, and the back part is a detailed reference.

The 1-Cost Approach

For most people, the easiest way to get in is to buy a preconstructed starter, either Year of the Dragon or 10,000 Bullets. Unfortunately, both are out of print and very hard to find these days so "easiest" is a relative term. If you find one, buy it. They are not tournament-caliber, but they're fun to play against other decks from the same set. I have a bias toward Year of the Dragon, but either will do. You and your friends each need one starter deck, then you're ready to go. Read the quick-start part of the rulebook and jump in.

You may find some old Limited or Standard Edition starters sitting around, but I don't recommend them for beginners. The decks are randomly assorted with a slight bias toward "very common" cards, so in most cases the decks are playable out of the box, but only barely. You'll have many cards you can't play (usually the proble is not enough of the required resources). Games using stock Ltd or Std starters go much slower and tend to have waxy Character build-up to a much greater degree than "real" games—in other words, you'll get a false impression of the game if all you have is a Ltd/Std starter. Add to that, the rulebook was missing a few key sections (like the timing rules!) so you'll need to hunt down the old Daedalus FAQ or download one of the new Z-Man rulebooks anyway.

Going Deeper

After you're hooked, you'll undoubtedly have the urge to get more cards (the hallmark of this hobby is a somewhat compulsive need to accumulate little pieces of cardboard). Where to go next?

Starter vs. Boosters

The preconstructed starters are focused on a single faction, so you know what you're getting when you start. Booster packs are randomly sorted, so you'll get a bit of every faction but the exact mix depends on the set. The main problem with buying boosters is that you need to buy a lot of them to get a high number of any particular card. If you're hunting for multiple copies of a specific card, you're better off trading for it or trying to buy singles.

If the game intrigues you but hasn't hooked you yet, buy a second copy of the same starter you already have (or get the one from whichever set you didn't have, i.e., end up with 1 each of 10,000 Bullets and Year of the Dragon). You can make some worthwhile improvements in the preconstructed decks just by merging in the best cards from a second copy. Since it's so hard to find starters these days, you may be stuck here, in which case look for a cheap box of boosters.

Assuming that you're hooked now, you need to decide how much money to spend. Set a budget. That sounds silly, but CCGs are not cheap, and if you just start buying you're going to spend a lot more than you think. A full box of boosters runs about $85 at retail price, although you can get them on-line for about $65; less for older Daedalus sets, much more for some out of print Z-Man sets. For a typical Z-Man/Shadowfist Games/Inner Kingdom Games set, you will need at least two boxes of boosters to have a chance at a complete set of cards (that will give you 1 of each rare, 2-3 of each uncommon, 5-6 of each common), so you're looking at about $130 per set, or double that if you want to have 5 of each uncommon. Inner Kingdom Games' release schedule so far has been erratic (one set, then a two year gap and growing...), so keep that in mind when you make your budget. It may help to see where you fit on this cheesy list of stereotypes that I just made up:

The speculator: You're in this for money, primarily. You intend to purchase cards (either new or opened) and then resell them at a profit. My advice: Shadowfist is not your game. A few promos sometimes run over $10, but it's unusual for any other cards to go for more than $5. If you buy a box of boosters and sell all the rares in the box, you might break even on the cost of the box, if you bought it cheap.

Daedalus (1995-1996) vs. Z-Man (2000-2005), Shadowfist Games (2006 - 2009) and Inner Kingdom Games (2009 - today)

Should you buy old Daedalus cards? (Limited, Standard, Netherworld, Flashpoint)

If you want to collect a full set, you should try to buy an already-completed set of each, since Limited and Netherworld are hard to come by these days. If you want to buy boosters to do it, a Flashpoint set requires 4 boxes minimum plus trading. A Netherworld set requires 2 boxes minimum plus trading, and you need to be lucky enough to pull a Ting Ting because buying/trading for one isn't easy (it took me 4 boxes before I saw my first Ting Ting). A Limited set requires 3 boxes minimum, but in practice is more like 5 or 6.

If you just want cards to play with, then buy Daedalus cards only if they are cheap ($1 per pack, preferably less). There are still a lot of great cards in the old sets (Nerve Gas, Covert Operation, Confucian Stability, Final Brawl, etc.) but also a lot of unplayable crap. Many of the good cards have been reprinted over the years, but those sets have also gone out of print. If you can find the originals cheap, go for it.

The collector: You want to have one of each card, nicely displayed in a binder. For the Daedalus sets, you are best off buying a completed set (this is especially true of Netherworld) because it takes a lot of boxes to finish those sets. For the Z-Man and Shadowfist Games sets, you could buy a couple of boxes of each, and then trade for the rest. Before you start buying, read about the sets to see how big each one is and how many boxes you should buy to complete one.

The broad-spectrum player: You want to have lots of cards so you can make lots of different decks, and you like to change your decks regularly. You should just buy boxes of boosters, probably via internet since it's much cheaper. Normally I recommend that you buy from your local store, to keep your local store open, but the price difference is significant if you're buying multiple boxes, and these days a lot of local stores just aren't carrying Shadowfist. Note that it doesn't hurt to ask your store if they will give you a discount on an entire box if you special order it.

The single-faction player: You have a favorite faction, and it's the only one you're interested in. Aside from the preconstructed starter you already have, accumulating cards of only one faction isn't as easy as it sounds because the boosters are randomly sorted. It helps if your playgroup is all like this, and each of you likes a different faction, so finding someone to trade with is easy. Otherwise, check out the sets to see where your favorite faction is most heavily represented, then buy boosters from that set and try to trade away anything that doesn't fit your world-view. My kung fu here is weak, since this isn't me—I like to play a little bit of everything. If you are this player and have better advice, please pass it along to me and I'll post it here.

The casual player: Stick with the preconstructed starter you already have, maybe get a starter or two from different factions so you have a variety on hand. If you have other folks to trade with, build your collection slowly by buying a booster or two every so often (once a week? once a month? depends on your budget), then trading to get something useful for your deck.


Where you go next depends on what you need: sample games to give you an idea of what's going on, some basic hints and advice, or instructions for building your own decks.

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