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Release Review: Resistance and Rebellion (Pod 243)

AussieJedi: Its Smuggler Wednesday and time to review a really interesting set to get in this cycle. Before I delve too deep into the set there is just a few quick points I want to mention. This set is really interesting since it is further exploring a mechanic that we got in the Rogue Squadron Cycle; Pilots. This is something that we rarely get in the game. Once a cycle has been released for the six months, we usually move onto a new game mechanic. For the designers to keep on with this idea of making new pilots is really exciting. I hope that we get more examples of this in the near future, but for now onto the set…

A simple 5-1 objective but a pretty awesome ability. Since you get extra health just for placing pilots onto Transports, I get really excited when I look at examples of strong transports in the Moldy Crow and The Millennium Falcon. For the Falcon to get extra health from a pilot means that it is that much more durable, and that can’t be a bad thing, especially if you  use the Duros Smugglers from set 162 (Breaking The Blockade), which are free.

Dav Flamerock: Damage capacity is a very strictly-controlled resource in this game. The difference between 1 and 2 is often the difference between winning and losing an edge battle, while the difference between 2 and 3 is the difference between being killed by a 2-cost unit or a 5-cost unit. If a unit has 4 damage capacity, it basically can’t be killed outright, which means your opponent needs tactics icons to prevent you from striking. This objective may require Pilots to work, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it improves the strike economy of your Transports tremendously. This is an excellent objective.

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Release Review: A Legend Begins (Pod 242)

Dav Flamerock: Having gotten to play a bunch with Vader and Ahsoka, it looks like these objectives are really designed to be combo pieces that are both hard to pull off and huge payoffs when you do. Removing 2 focus? Big effect. Focusing an enemy objective? Big effect. Ejecting an enemy unit from the engagement? Holy crap! I cannot emphasize how big this is. I’ve played with plenty of Underground Entertainments, and they’re always stronger on offense than defense. You could argue that this is more analogous to Lando Calrissian, since they’re both on the same side of the Force, but being on an objective and costing no resources makes this tremendously stronger. When you have this on the board and a Tactical Planning in hand, your ability to control how your opponent defends is incredible, and your opponent has to respect the fact that if they ever defend with only one unit they could just… not be blocking. At least this still allows the dark side player to contribute to edge battles.

AussieJedi: I actually quite like the objective. Sure it’s 5 health with one resource but the ability is always invaluable. On reveal of rebel fate cards (before they have resolved) you get to remove a dark side unit from  the engagement. What makes this ability shine is that although it’s one per engagement, you can do it each and every engagement, usually three. Should a mission be out and you or your opponent decides to go in for a fourth attack, then you could trigger this again for a fourth time. Really nice. Generally this could help remove the one unit that the DS needed to get that unopposed damage and destroy a LS objective.

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Release Review: Daughter of Tanaab (Pod 241)

Dav Flamerock: Any objective that says “draw 1 card” on it is good, especially if it’s followed by a limit (as that generally indicates that the ability is easy to trigger). This one is… no different? Being “while unbloodied” is a little annoying, considering it’s not hard for some dark side decks to turn it off these days, but I suppose my Planning the Attacks are online often enough to make it still relevant. It is worth considering the fact that playing events happen very often, and this ability is FAR stronger on an objective than on General Vanden Willard… so I wouldn’t be surprised if this objective turns out to be quite powerful.

AussieJedi: This is a set that I have been playing a lot recently in a slightly similar deck to one pioneered by a fellow SWLCG player David Tietze, you may know him by the name GreedoShotFirst on the forums. It makes heavy use of core Obi Wan, littered with Force Users. I tweaked it somewhat and found the objective set to be super useful. So what do we have?

The objective seems only just okay at first glance, but you have to remember that in a pure Jedi deck, you are going to have lots of other tasty objectives that your opponent wants to take away. In a Yoda/ Qu Rahn deck, there are two objectives he wants to wipe out before this one (MTFBWY and Survivors), in an enhancement deck with Shadows Luke, the opponent really needs to take away the ability to surprise enhancements in the conflict phase and there is also Ties of Blood which can tend to cause big problems. Daughters of Taanab  tends to slip under the radar and for that I love it. Card draw is always useful and so if I can really defend this well, it can take sometime to get to three damage, and by then I feel I can get a few triggers off of it.

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Release Review: Meditation and Mastery

We continue in our tradition of week-long release reviews. Where the last pack brought Smugglers one of their better sets in recent memory, this pack is all about the Rebels. Wedge is explicitly the strongest objective set in the pack, and might be one of the better Rebel sets that’s come out for the past year or so. But the other pods are exciting for different reasons—where Wedge is powerful, the likes of Sarenda, Nien Numb, Admiral Screed, and, yes, even Djas Puhr all have huge potential but ask you to build in a very different way. This pack is a deckbuilder’s dream, so let’s get into it!

Remember: Each objective set will get its release review on a different day, starting with Sarenda on Monday and ending with Hunters in the Night on Friday.

Meditation and Mastery

Worlds 2016 Day Two: Top Cut

What a day! After four grueling matches against some of the toughest opponents I know, I took Top 8 and learned something very important: you can’t win Worlds with decks you’re not intimately familiar with. If you followed my livetweeting of the event, you’ll know that my light side deck swept every opponent but my dark side deck struggled in every matchup, which makes sense when you consider that the light side deck I brought was one I knew very well, and the dark side list was one I’d been given by my teammates the night before, as I didn’t have a dark side list that could function properly.

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The Fight For Top Eight

My first round opponent was World Champion Tom Melucci, and was one I was definitely not looking forward to. When we finally sat down, he chose to play dark side (something that ended up working in my favor, as I would have chosen dark side were I given the option), and set up his board: a turn-one Mara Jade. My opening hand was horrible, but I was banking on turning it into something good – Knobby White Spider, Dagobah Training Ground, R2-D2, Jubba Birds, and a Nudj got my resources set up so that when he deployed only a Lannik Lackey on his second turn, I slammed Owen into Luke with his lightsaber, and just started making chump attacks to get his Lannik to focus out Luke so Luke could throw his lightsaber around long enough to kill Mara Jade without even engaging her. By the time Mara Jade had been dealt with, I had avoided combat (and relevant edge battles) enough to mean that I was up significant strategic card advantage on him and he had been forced to use his kill spells on my chuds like Jubba Birds and Speeder Bike. Luke subsequently turned an open board into a victory, just as I had designed the deck to.

I defeated the reigning World Champion in my first round, and quite handily! I was feeling good! My second round would put me up against another (soon to be) World Champion… Brad Emon’s light side deck is truly a marvel to behold. While it seems light on blast thanks to two Kyle Katarn and two May the Force Be With You, it’s actually got enough tricks to turn the more blast-heavy sets, namely Luke Skywalker and T’ra Saa, into a huge amount of burst damage. And I’ve never seen anyone use Sulon Sympathizer to as much deadly effect as Brad does.

On to the game—I drew an opening hand that was actually perfectly acceptable, but as I didn’t understand the deck, I wasn’t thrilled about playing a turn-one Boba Fett/turn-two Captured without any starting resources, and mulliganed into a worse-but-technically-playable one. Unfortunately, “technically playable” isn’t good enough to defeat a World Champion, especially not a deck like Brad’s that’s designed to turn any on-board opening into a victory. He started with a Kyle to put some damage on my objectives (since my Zuckuss couldn’t defend) and then when I let Kyle become double-focused and then captured him, another Kyle appeared to wreck my plans alongside Yoda and Sulon Sympathizer. On his final turn I thought I could squeeze another turn cycle out of him to try to stabilize, but A Gift From the Past alongside May the Force Be With You gave him exactly the number of bombs that he needed.

Now in the loser’s bracket, I had a long way to go if I wanted to win the final trophy. But I was back on light side, which meant I felt I had a strong chance of victory, especially since I was paired up against close friend Colby Bennardo. I knew what dark side deck he had brought, as I had been trying to learn how to play it myself, and I felt confident that with the amount of focus-manipulation tricks in my deck it wouldn’t be difficult to keep a board larger than his and just overwhelm him with strong units. As usual, the correct strategy to a turn-one Chimaera was to play Yoda with three creatures (Jubba, Nudj, Nudj) and commit the creatures so not only could he never take the Force, my Mains would also be safe from any focus tokens he might want to leverage against me. By sitting back and accumulating strategic card advantage, as well as accumulating Balance of the Force damage, I was able to clear a simple path to victory. I didn’t need to win edge battles, because as long as T’ra Saa could get in unopposed I could keep his Chimaera locked out and I had enough Size Matters Not, Double Strikes, and Luke’s Lightsabers to beat his single-tactics Gladiators.

If you would have asked me what would have knocked me out of the tournament, I would not have been surprised if the answer was Mick Cipra. Not only is he the 2014 World Champion, he’s also my personal Worlds Nemesis (and a good friend) as I’ve played him in many high-stakes games over the last few years and have yet to win a single one. However, I would not have believed you if you had told me that the card that would eliminate me from Worlds would be Mon Mothma. Yes, that’s right, Mick had slotted a single Mon Mothma and a single Bren Derlin into his otherwise normal Jedi deck and when my strategy revolved around attacking to destroy objectives, a deck that could put out damage against Yoda, Luke and Qu Rahn couldn’t then retaliate when there was 3 HP (with protect) and a black tactics icon on the table. For an affiliation supposedly flush with cheap tactics, I was sorely lacking in them, as I drew mostly 4-LOMs, Boba Fetts, and Energy Spiders instead of Zuckusses and Dengars. I just wasn’t quite fast enough.

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The Road to the Finals

That put Mick up against Donovan from the NYC meta, and while Mick’s Force Hunters deck is strong, Donovan had mastered the art of winning with Brainiac. Expert piloting by Donovan and no small amount of luck allowed him to emerge victorious against the former World Champion, and propelled Donovan into the Top 4! There he would be forced to go up against Norman Horn, the Massachusetts Regional Champion, and once again a turn-one Brainiac utterly dominated Norman’s Navy Fortress.

This meant that Donovan, Nathan Nuhring, and Brad Emon would claim the Top 3 positions, with either Donovan or Nate advancing to face Brad. The game was tense and tight from as early as turn zero, and while Donovan had already piloted his light side deck to victory twice in a row, the third time would not end up being the charm. An inability to win edge in critical turns prevented a lot of Donovan’s crucial blast damage, and thanks to the defensive strength of Gladiators and the game-extension ability of Yularen, Nathan was able to claim the title of “Worlds Finalist.”

At this point, as you might have heard, there was a bit of a dilemma. FFG had scheduled the event such that the finals would occur at 8:15pm so that they could be streamed after a day of streaming X-Wing preliminaries. That seemed fine, except that it was now 4pm and everything had been worked out such that the players were ready to play the finals. We knew it was Brad vs Nate, and now we needed to wait four hours so the stream would become available. However, Brad was “local,” in so much as he lived 3 hours away. And between feeling poor because of how intense yesterday had been, and the fact that he had plans already in place for Sunday, he wasn’t about to wait around for 4 hours, play under the stream, and then do a 3-hour drive back home and get in at 1 or 2am.

This meant that FFG had to change some plans at the last minute: were they going to change the streaming schedule for X-Wing, so that Star Wars could have its time in the sun before the finals were over and Brad went home, or was Star Wars not going to be streamed at all, and they would just rely on Team Covenant and Fully Operational to film the game for later commentary?

The decision ended up being that the X-Wing stream couldn’t be changed (there was too much of an audience already watching), so the SWLCG stream would have to be canceled. It fell, then, on the FFG Organized Play and Shadow Archive twitter accounts to provide coverage of the match… and so we did. Here is a full recap of the final game of Worlds 2016. Be sure to keep your eye out for the Youtube recording of the game, which was done by Team Covenant and FullyOps, coming soon!

The Play of the Year

A setup of Tarkin Doctrine, Entrenched Defenses, and Enforced Loyalty had Nate Nuhring in a dominant position out of the gate, especially when his immediate plays were a pair of Mouse Droids. The card advantage engines were supplemented by a Fleet Staging Area and an Early Warning System, two resources to set up his second turn. To take the Force, Captain Zed.

day-2-p1

Brad’s initial turn seemed weak, with only a resource, a Twi’lek Loyalist, and a Sulon Sympathizer to his name, but Protection kept the Sympathizer ready so that once the only defender was out of the picture, he could Seek Yoda! Yoda then put a third focus token on Zed and dealt a couple early damage to the Entrenched Defenses to start the train rolling.

On the back foot now and forgetting to trigger Enforced Loyalty, Nate recouped what he had available and put out a new defender: a Golan Defense Platform. However, he was both unwilling and unable to take the Force, meaning it was back to Brad with a free point of damage on Enforced Loyalty.

This time another resource into Luke set Brad up for the one-two punch, and while Yoda threatened the Entrenched Defenses and subsequently got himself killed by a Golan Defense Platform, Luke and the Sulon Sympathizer charged in to get revenge. Enforced Loyalty fell to the jedi, and two points of targeted strike damage brought the Golan to a more reasonable health value. Knowing Luke wasn’t long for this world, Brad committed him to keep a strong hold of the Force with May the Force Be With You.

This time, Zed would be ready to fight, and he and his Defense Platform were quickly joined by Grand Moff Tarkin leading a DP20 Corellian Gunship and more resources. But as Nate was forced to commit Tarkin to keep the Force away from Luke, he was made vulnerable for Brad’s next play: Kyle Katarn!

Not only had Brad drawn Kyle, he had also drawn his second Luke, and he had Heroes and Legends and plenty of resources to use. So to draw out some of Nate’s defenders, Luke charged into a defensive wall of guns, lost the edge, and bailed from the engagement with Heroes and Legends. However, Zed had use the Imperial Fist to put some damage on Heroes and Legends, setting him up for his next big turn.

Yularen and an Interdictor arrived to lay the beatdown on Brad. The one point of remaining damage left on his side of the board was moved to Heroes and Legends, and when the Interdictor brought Kyle into the engagement to be killed, Brad burned the Luke he had in his hand to protect Kyle by winning the edge and destroying the Interdictor. However, that opened the door for Yularen to destroy Heroes and Legends by attacking… perhaps exactly as Brad had anticipated?

Brad then drew his hand… and found nothing. A Lost Master stuck around, but with no other relevant units he needed to add more blast to the table. Thinking creatively, he decided to put everything on his committed Kyle instead of on Luke; attacking this turn would do him no good, so he would be better off keeping his three Force icons alive, and making Kyle’s one strike count. Two Jedi Lightsabers and a Shien Training suited Kyle up, though Tarkin promptly destroyed one lightsaber and the Shien Training over the next turn cycle. Pushing what he had, Brad managed to get four damage onto the Tarkin Doctrine and hoped not to see the other Imperial Fist from his opponent.

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With the Jedi clearly weak, Nate pushed his advantage. A new Interdictor attacked and pulled Luke in to be slain, and a smattering of blast that went unopposed destroyed May the Force Be With You. The dial was now at 8… and Brad had to destroy two objectives!

With only a Lost Master, Kyle, and a Sulon Sympathizer, Brad needed to draw something good or he was going to lose the following turn. What did he draw, then? Dagobah Nudj, Force Rejuvenation, Ataru Training, Dagobah Training Grounds, Echoes of the Force, and A Gift From the Past. He had been fortunate enough to flop into another May the Force Be With You, which meant the last two would have some utility, but this was far from the hand he needed. To make things worse, Kyle was double-focused, meaning he would need to use Force Rejuvenation just to fight with Kyle at all. How could he deal 6 (actually 7) damage with so few units and resources?

After thinking long and hard, Brad decided what he needed. His opponent had two defenders: Zed and a Golan Defense Platform, and if either one of them struck he would lose Kyle to three guns or a black tactics. The only way to win was to strike twice with Kyle, as that plus the Lost Master and Sulon Sympathizer could destroy the six-health objective (though one could be substituted for an unopposed if he could somehow kill both). But that meant neither Zed nor the Golan could strike, and he had no tactics icons. There was literally only one path to victory, and it was the longest of shots. If he could win the edge by 2 with Ataru Training, he could destroy the Golan during the edge battle and kill Zed with Kyle’s black guns. That would clear out not only the units that might prevent Kyle from striking twice, but it would also leave a clear board for his Nudj to deal the final point of damage to the Tarkin Doctrine to win the game.

However, this was a huge risk. After playing the Ataru Training and Force Rejuvenation (leaving 2 resources to pay off the Tarkin Doctrine), he was left with three cards in hand he could edge… and one of them was a Dagobah Training Grounds. Not only did he need to win the edge, he needed to win by 2 or more—meaning that the two cards in Nate’s hand couldn’t have more than 2 Force icons between them. This was the longest of shots, but it was the only way this hand could get him to victory, and if he didn’t win this turn then it was certainly game over. Projecting calculated confidence, Brad took the play.

Kyle, Lost Master, and Sulon Sympathizer attacked. Zed and the Golan defended. Brad edged Echoes of the Force and the Nudj, while Nate edged both his cards. They revealed their edge stacks… and Nate had only two Force icons! Echoes of the Force uncommitted Kyle, Ataru Training destroyed the Golan, and Kyle killed Zed. Then A Gift From the Past recommitted Kyle, refreshed him with May the Force Be With You, and allowed him to strike again for two more blast alongside his supports. The objective was destroyed, and the Nudj waltzed in to get a single unopposed damage and win the game.

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Not only was this an incredible game to watch, considering Brad’s line of play here continues to be fascinating. That hand should not have won Brad the game, but he was able to turn six seemingly useless cards into the riskiest of strategies, knowing that if he was even remotely unlucky he was guaranteed to lose the game. Not only that, but with the exception of the Dagobah Training Grounds, every single one of those cards was critical. Ataru Training was necessary to prevent the Golan from killing Kyle on the return strike, Echoes was necessary to uncommit Kyle to set up the Gift from the Past, and the Rejuvenation was necessary to even fight with Kyle in the first place. Even the Nudj was important for contributing exactly the two Force icons needed to win. It’s these mental puzzles and these incredible plays that recognize and accept their risk for their even higher reward that make this game so interesting, and which define our incredible World Champions.

Congratulations Brad Emon, and I look forward to playing you again in May!

Ion Control Podcast #29

Famous Last Words

“I was wondering if you just could explain how your DS deck works”
~RoyalAegis

Since the 2016 World Championships ended, I’ve been getting some questions about my deck choices for the event. For some reason, people didn’t expect to see a Hoth Speeder deck paired with a Fate Vader into Navy Cap ship deck place so well. I chose my decks very carefully over the course of the previous two months, and it took a long process to arrive there.

The light side deck was born of lots of frustration. I was tired of not winning edge and not winning the game, so I decided to put as many cheap 2-bomb units in the deck and win every edge battle and see what happened. As my results show, lots of success happened. As for the dark side deck, the tale is a little more intricate and complicated. It started in a very different, very aggressive place and ended up as one of the most defensive and intimidating decks I have ever built. The deck started as something I thought was set in stone, but ended changing drastically by the time I made it to Worlds. Let me start at the beginning.

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Old Tricks Are Still Good

This deck was born at the US Nationals (at Origins) when my friend Phillip ran a Mission Palpatine / Colonel Yularen / Inquisitor / Core Tarkin / Counsel of the Sith deck to a strong finish. I had never considered Mission Palp to be a solid pod (he always felt inconsistent), but this proved to me that there is something to be explored. One week after Gen Con, Pablo Tobías, the Spanish National Champion, showed me a similar version of the deck, one which included Mara Jade, Sariss, and Ambitions Vader. The deck was close, and showed me that it had potential, but I wasn’t quite on board yet. I had testing to do.

I spent a lot of time tweaking Mission Palp in different variations. Full sith variants were too passive. Playing on-board bombs always costed 4 and 5 resources and I couldn’t afford to attack with those units. Inquisitor / Yularen builds felt more aggressive, but didn’t have the board control I wanted. Stealing your guy is nice, but if it gets to strike then maybe I should just be shooting with Guri or nuking with Zekka or lightning instead. There was a cool build I had with 2 contract hunters, sate, and navy tricks. The deck had lots of edge because the only units it played were efficient 2 drops with low dot counts (keeping all the dots in my hand). This deck felt cool, but if I didn’t flop the right way, I would lose aggression, lose tempo, and have no way to deal with big units like Luke, Yoda, and the Falcon. So I kept looking.

I really liked the aggression and edge philosophy of the 2 drop deck, but I was tired of having dinky small units. I needed things that could stick around and fight off serious threats, but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my aggression. So to get that, we turned to capital ships. We looked back at our last years Worlds deck (which was Capital Ship Aggression with Tarkin and Forward Command Posts), and we said, hey, this deck never stopped being good. But now, we had a new tool; Lure of the Dark Side and Mission Palp were reasons to attack as the dark side. The first draft looked something like this:

Sith Affiliation
2x The Emperor’s Promise
2x Might of the Empire
2x Deploy the Fleet
2x Sector Lockdown
1x Sabotage in the Snow
1x Imperial Blockade

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We tried the deck and saw potential. The deck had plenty of money and did all the things I wanted it to do. The Emperor’s Promise was a crazy amount of passive damage and gave Death Squadron Star Destroyers nice parity when going unopposed. Also, we could defend well with all the shields and 3 gun units we had. But Sector Lockdown didn’t feel right. Even with shuffling in Palp, the deck won by attacking before Zed or Stalker had any real impact. So we switched out the Sector Lockdowns and I landed on Gladiators.

Gladiators quickly became the heart of the deck. Having six 3-cost ships that could take the force and effectively defend a turn-one assault was huge. Further, Entrapment was the “Survivors” of the dark side, keeping my ships around for longer than expected. With Mission Palp’s 11 dot pod, and the deck’s high edge count, gladiators won me every edge battle I needed. Also, the Interdictors were great because in this deck that is already accustomed to attacking, the ship gave me a strong form of tempo and removal. Entrapment was solidly the core of the deck.

I learned through testing that a single gladiator could fend off most attacks on its own, often deterring them from attacking entirely. This caused the deck to slow down a touch (which I was fine with), and I swapped out Needa for a Thunderflare (another way to get bombs on defense alongside The Emperor’s Promise). The deck had earned the name “Death and Taxes,” because there’s only two things that I can promise: death (at the hands of Death Squadron) and taxes (for every not-Promise objective you attack). It always won before the light side was ready.

The ultimate linchpin of the deck was using a DSSD to put Lure of the Dark Side at exactly 4 damage, and then sitting back on 2+ Gladiators and either Thunderflare or Emperor’s Promise. If I can stop 1 attack or you attack not-Promise, I react, get a free bomb, steal your favorite attacker, and focus out your board. The deck was terrifying and had the early, mid, and late game on lock. We thought it was perfect.

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Sith Affiliation
2x The Emperor’s Promise
2x Might of the Empire
2x Deploy the Fleet
2x Endor Entrapment
1x Sabotage in the Snow
1x Repair and Refurbish

If you look at the list now, it has one single, major, weakness. The deck can stop any unit, any swarm, and most events (be smart about Unfinished Business and My Ally is the Force… it’s tough but totally doable). But there is this unit named Yoda; you may have heard of him. He has enough guns to shoot down my big ships, he doesn’t care about my high edge with his black icons and shields / Survivors / Qu Rahn / Mystics, and he has too many dots for me to take with Lure. A unit like Luke or the Crow is tough, but I always had the ace in the hole that was Lure of the Dark side (or Palpatine). A single Yoda with Shien Training spelled the end for the entire deck, and going into Worlds, I wasn’t going to accept that.

Killing Yoda is a tough ask. Having a tool to deal with him reliably is even tougher. The best option I had was to get to him early. Let him attack me on turn one, use Entrapment to save my 2-health ship (because Yoda has 2 guns after Seek), let him commit, and respond with an Interdictor. That was my game plan against Yoda and although it happened frequently (especially the 2hp Entrapment thing – all the time), if Yoda decided not to refresh or I didn’t draw what I needed to, the Jedi board would snowball to victory. A smart player would sit back and wait for Luke and Qu and suddenly I couldn’t deal with Yoda in a meaningful way. The one time in testing that I did, there was a Yoda and a Qu Rahn with Shien Training. I had nothing but gun-units. My only out was to send all 5+ of them in and shoot Yoda enough times to kill him through Rahn, Survivors, and Shien Training. Yeah, rough day. I had to find another out.

I looked all over the place for an out. Also, this was around the time when Willard’s pod came out, and I was terrified of it. A New Hope wrecks my high cost, large board that I probably Deployed the Fleet for, and a single Peaceful Resistance on a Forward Command Post or a Death Squadron Command was practically game-ending. I was very happy to find a reason to drop a single Deploy the Fleet pod. Also of note, I had found that without Tarkin and his Doctrine, I was less good at defending Deploy the Fleet and actually wanted them to attack it to proc Emperor’s Promise. It was practically bait. This turned out to be more greedy than effective, and ever since I’ve been less prone to flop that objective.

With a Deploy out of the deck, I had a slot to play literally any pod that would stop Yoda. That was this pod’s goal: stop Yoda. I tried Echoes pods like Jerec and Victory or Death, but those pods fell flat for being unimpressive. A single echoes wasn’t enough to stop Yoda without more support from Bane or Ambitions Palp. I tried Hoth Vader. He had event hate and 2 droids that could get me damage on defense. I thought that using the event hate could stop Yoda, You Seek Yoda on the first turn or Rejuvenation / Unfinished / My Ally on later turns. Vader would also give me more bombs on offense. What I learned is that the pod is still bad.

Then, among other options, I turned to Fate Vader. What I wanted was his trooper – nothing else (yet). The trooper was a great defender that gave me an option on the turn I drew all Control Rooms and ISB Officers. He stops Yoda, Luke, Speeder Bike—truly anyone in a Jedi deck—and only gives them only 2 real attacks. Or, I win the edge with gladiators and I have a great body with 2 damage capacity and 2 black guns. He was worth considering. In the first few games I played with him, he did exactly what I expected… somewhat to my surprise. He added another element to my defense grid that wasn’t just “more icons.”

Vader Banner

But I found the pod was also doing other things. Looking at Vader, he has almost the same body as the Chimera. He trades the tactics for a dot and the reaction, and honestly there are games where I had both and chose to play Vader (often saving Chimera for Entrapment). Note the fate cards in the deck: all of them are used for dots. Battle of Endor, Battle of Hoth, Secret Objective, Supporting Fire, and Ancient Rivals have no effects other than winning edge (as is the concept of the deck). Adding Vader took that thing we were good at (edge battles) and gave them another dimension.

I found Vader’s ping was often the difference between killing through Survivors, or killing a nudj, or stopping a Qu Rahn that suddenly couldn’t soak 2+ damage at a time. Ancient Rivals was, surprisingly, a great tool against Jedi. As the only faction that could even come close to me in edge, having Ancient Rivals assured me that I would be safe. If Ancient Rivals is used to stop Yoda, it’s basically a 5 dot card—this makes Vader pod effectively 16 dots—an inflated statistic that had lots of truth to it.

Join Me started as a joke card, something to pitch most of the time. But then I realized that it was the best tool against Yoda’s friends. Turn-one, Jedi plays cards like Guardians, Sulon Sympathizers, and, my favorite, Outer Rim Mystics. That, along with the resurgence of yellow Characters (Cloud City Operative, Freelance Slicer, and the elusive Aquaris Freeholders), meant that Join Me was one of the strongest kill options in the deck, netting me tons of tempo that I absolutely have the resources for.

The objective was odd, but as we learned from the strength of Imperial Blockade, the Jedi’s resource curve is very delicate. Taking one money away from them can mean they play Luke without a Lightsaber, or being stuck on 3 money and not playing a main at all. The best use of it is to take away their combat tricks. All of the scary Jedi events cost a Jedi money, so a Jedi player leaving up a money on the objective tells me that he or she has an Unfinished Business or a Luke’s Lightsaber or something I won’t like. Two money means Rejuvenation and 3 means My Ally is the Force. On more than one occasion, I found myself taking that last Jedi money and obliterating a board that was obviously expecting Yoda to Rejuvenate or a Crow to fly in after the fight.

Although Fate Vader testing started as a risky joke, it proved instrumental in the tough Jedi matchup and added tons of versatility to my defense grid. Seeing as both Vader and Palpatine are no-money pods, I swapped one of my Palpatines for a second Vader. Something occurred to me that in my efforts to become more defensive, I became too good at it, and Mission Palp suddenly wasn’t getting any value. With my opponent too scared to attack, they were sitting back and I wasn’t getting Promise’s passive damage. With fewer Death Squadron Star Destroyers and them controlling a ready board, my smaller ships didn’t dare attack for fear of a no-hand counterattack. Lure wasn’t going away and it stopped being a part of my strategy. Without Lure, I suddenly lost my way to deal with a tough Luke or Qu Rahn with Shien, and my deck was out of auto-kill options (although it had Join Me for small units). What I needed was a direct kill card and a unit with black tactics to fight alongside the 501st Commander. I was looking at Navy Officers and Thrawn, but none seemed great. Then I came back to the obvious answer: Core Palpatine.

Core Palp was another set of new options for the deck. Suddenly, I had yet another way to deal surprise damage (huge in the top cut vs a lightsaber deflection). Choke alongside Fate Vader gave the Interdictor a way to get its 3rd damage without bringing another unit along. Lightning took out units I couldn’t afford to shoot. The Protectors were great because I now had main characters worth protecting, as well as little Logistics Officers and the 501st Commander. The money was actually nice as a 1/1 in the deck to not lose tempo.

Of course, Palpatine was critical: he’s a unit capable of stopping 3 units at a time without using guns. Not having guns was huge for the deck as it allowed both DSSD and Palp to be offensive or defensive options in the face of Shien Training. I was reluctant to swap out the Sabotage in the Snow pod, but I needed trickier, more defensive options. I tried Decimators for a little, and although the Customs Blockade was cool, the (mandatory) extra gun from the objective was more often a liability than help in the face of Shien and Deflection. Instead of the Decimators, I added a second Palp, because that is what I wanted all along:

Sith Affiliation
2x Might of the Empire
2x Endor Entrapment
2x The Emperor’s Web
2x There Is No Conflict
1x Deploy the Fleet
1x Repair and Refurbish

The deck was about having a unique defense matrix. Often in a deck, you find yourself playing more cards but not more answers. Turn-one Mara, Turn-two Boc, Turn-three Vader… and you’ve played 3 of the same unit. Sure, redundancy and consistency go hand in hand, but as a light side player, a single Shien or Guardian might stop the whole board cold. Scum and Navy can be guilty of the same flaw (too many little units with low strike economy, not enough little units, not enough edge or surprises in hand), but this is truer of certain archetypes than others. My deck is built to avoid this fallacy entirely. Every unit in the deck adds a different dimension to the board. Gladiators give edge, DP20 brings shields, Thunderflare and Chimera bring 3 guns while also having their own unique offense, and the list goes on.

I can argue that not a single unit in the deck is without use (maybe the Navigation Officer, but he works as an Entrapment card and has a tactics and a money). This is why the Gladiators are so important to the deck’s success. Not only do they win your edge battles, but they let you hedge them. I never have to play a Palpatine into an edge battle I was already going to win, and that’s a huge deal. Gladiators let me hold chokes, high edge cards, tractor beams, and Entrapment cards all as a contingency for if things go well, and they push me over the edge if things don’t. This deck takes a high level of skill to pilot effectively, but if you make not even a single mistake, you can win every matchup, guaranteed. The inclusion of Gladiators gives you a buffer so that the outcome is always exactly what you need it to be.

worlds-ds-5

So, what do I mean when I claim that “this deck takes skill?” For some decks, it’s deciding when to attack and when to sit. Some decks need to choose how to attack. This deck here needs to evaluate the value of each card in the deck as the game evolves. I’ll give an example. In the top 12 of Worlds, I was matched with Tyler Parrott, who you might know as Dav Flamerock and the head of the Shadow Archive. I remember my flop clearly. I flopped Might, Entrapment, Web, and Conflict. Now, normally I’ve decided that this deck wants to flop Conflict (especially in the Jedi matchup). But I knew Tyler, I knew the deck he was playing, and most importantly, as one of my main testing partners, he knew my shit as well. I knew that he wouldn’t fall for the lock-out-your-events trick. Further, I knew that striking with Luke and friends a bunch was a huge part of his strategy (a part of the deck, but from Tyler as a player more so). That’s why I decided to flop Emperor’s Web over Conflict in that game.

In this game, I concluded, I will need to Lightning Luke at least once, or I’ll have no chance. I put Lightning and Web as high priority cards and let that 4 health be a target so he wouldn’t kill my other 2 objectives. Every turn the board evolves and your unit choices need to represent that. I played a turn 1 Chimera, to which he responded with a Yoda, 2 Nudjs, and a Jubba Bird. At that point my plan had to change: Emperor’s Royal Guard and 501st Commander lost value, but so did Entrapment. I had a 4-health ship and Yoda oddly went down to 0 guns. This let me be a little more aggressive with my edge battles (notable when I didn’t draw a Gladiator the next turn). Everything in the deck has a job, and knowing what needs to happen when is what separates the good from the best.

Now, don’t be intimidated by this “evaluation of value.” Something I learned in testing is that any handful of units from this deck is sufficient in defending a board. In testing, I played the same matchup back to back to see how different it could be. In the first round, my first 3 turns were Gladiator, Gladiator, Palpatine, and you know what? My board was terrifying to attack into (and I won). The next game, my setup was entirely different. With no Might of the Empire, I had Thunderflare, Chimera, DP20, 501st Commander. This board, although completely different, created just as many problems for the Jedi deck I was facing.

As a rule of thumb, the deck takes 3 turns to activate. Gladiator, Chimera, Vader – that’s a 3 turn start that won me a game against David Tietze’s Spark deck in the top 16. As long as you keep your units around, you should be able to stabilize and find more of the puzzle as the game progresses. Normally, when you find that your first 3 turns include 3 strong units (or 2 strong units and lots of money), then you should be set to win, given you play your edge battles right. The deck is oddly consistent in that manner.

Lots of decks I tested heading into Worlds needed to find very specific cards in the right order – Yoda first, then Luke and Qu Rahn, but not all the little units and enhancements until late; or, money first, then Palp and Vader. If you look at my light side Speeder / Fighter / Hoth deck, you’ll also see an abundance of strong units and not much in between. I need my deck to be performing at 90% efficiency every time, even if it comes at the cost of not having that 200% strength of a turn one Spark into Zeb. The advantage of that is that the deck runs at 80% efficiency minimum; that’s a start of T1 Chimera, T2 Royal guard (70% looks like T1 Gladiator into T2 Royal Guard – and that’s rare).

I can recount most of the games I played at Worlds and in testing, and rarely would the deck fizzle out. The deck is loaded with strong units and loaded with money to play them, and with little else in between, the deck should find something it’s looking for. On that note, I was at one point very reluctant to add core Palpatine and then more reluctant to add the second core palp. I was very afraid of his events and money clogging my hand when I needed to be drawing units, high-edge cards, and entrapment targets. It turns out that Force Lightning is usually as good as, or better than, most units.

What this deck comes down to is pilot skill. Sure, I added lots of money and strong cards into a deck and explain that you need to build a board and win edge often. But for some reason, people that I share the deck with (my meta and Tyler included) have trouble making it work the way that I do. For me, the deck makes sense because I immerse myself in it. I think about the big picture and the little interactions. I take notes on things that happen and tweak my play for the next time (My Ally is the Force; I’m looking at you). I’m willing to take the risks of a bad hand in practice so that I know what to do when the pressure is on. I know the deck inside and out, and am always looking 3 and 4 moves in advance and am digging for a way out.

A great example of this is in the 3rd round of Swiss at Worlds against National and North American champion, Josh Johnson. I made a big play in that game where, after he flopped 2 Survivors, I played an early Death Squadron Star Destroyer (instead of a Chimera) and attacked into a large board (with Shien but no tactics). I used that ship because his board was getting very defensive and scary and I decided that I couldn’t win without blowing up one of his Survivors and then picking off units. I attacked and used the Chimera with entrapment to soak 3 of the 6 guns he had defended with. If I had fought with the Chimaera, he would have just used Shien Training to decimate my board, but if I could race him with the DSSD then there was a chance I could maintain a board presence long enough to win. He ended up winning the game but he had to do it without the edge for most of the game. I’ll probably commentate that game when it drops (FullyOps recorded it), so keep an eye out for it. It’s a great match and I can’t wait to live it again.


Over the two months leading up to Worlds, I played games with this deck more times than I can count. Each change was always pushing the envelope of power while maintaining that consistency was key. When the tournament finally came, the deck performed spectacularly on all fronts. It was nice to see scenarios that we had gone over dozens of times actually play out in front of me. Choices I made actively paid off. I had a game against an Endor Han and Home 1 deck where my two Chokes took out two key Ewok Scouts (one on the flop after impersonating a deity). I had fate Vader pinging Yodas, Nudjs, and units all day long and actually making the difference. Join Me caused Josh to leave a damage on a wolfman (so I would be stealing a “dirty” unit) instead of landing on Qu Rahn, and later, Join Me stole a Freelance Slicer that netted me a Sith library and a bunch of laughs.

I was entirely prepared to play a diverse field, and I think I brought a deck that matched my pilot skill. Overall, I ended up in 5th place after swiss and 9th place in the cut. As all of the players ahead of me were playing Scum and Navy variants, my deck was the highest ranking Sith deck of the tournament, and I was awarded the Sith spot gloss card. In the near future, the New York meta will also be celebrating my success, along with our other high-placing friend, Donovan McFeron (4th in swiss, 3rd in cut), with another round of NYC exclusive alt art cards. Donovan will likely be choosing Brainiac, as he was instrumental in his deck’s success and a signature of his playstyle. As for me, I think that the Gladiators could use a new look. I know I’ll be playing them for a long time to come.

See you all in May,
Colby

Worlds 2016 Day One: Swiss

day-1

Unlike last year, we got to play in the FFG Event Center! However, I’ll admit that after having judged the Conquest Swiss in the Radisson… the event held in the side event space was way nicer (though maybe it’s because we were the only event in the space so we could spread out). But everyone was really excited to play this year. I think even more than last year and the year before, the passion for this game surprised even me. While we may be few in number, our dedication is exceptional! I knew that no matter who I went up against, the competition would be fierce and I’d have to fight my way to the Top 16. I certainly did so, but it was a long and difficult climb.

I came to the event expecting a lot of Scum and a lot of Sith, with a smattering of Navy, but I was wrong. Navy Fortress is still alive and well and was all over the tournament space. While that might have made my anti-Scum Jubba Bird Tech worse, it actually didn’t because the games where I got the Jubba Birds they did work. To recap, here were my decklists:

Toolbox Jedi

  • 2x A Hero’s Trial
  • 2x May the Force Be With You
  • 1x A Journey To Dagobah
  • 1x The Flight of the Crow
  • 1x The Forgotten Masters
  • 1x Journey Through the Swamp
  • 1x Watchers in the Wasteland
  • 1x A Hero’s Beginning

Aggro Scum

  • 2x Heartless Tactics
  • 1x Lucrative Contracts
  • 1x Out of the Mists
  • 1x The Findsman’s Intuition
  • 1x The Hutt’s Menagerie
  • 1x The Spice Trade
  • 1x “No Disintegrations”
  • 1x The Hunters
  • 1x I Don’t Like You Either

In the first round I went up against Roy Engenbachen, a gentleman from Norway who played well and reminded me how difficult Navy could be. We split dark side, with my Scum deck removing each threat he deployed exactly as it was supposed to and attacking into the open board with impunity until he was dead. When I played the light side, I was forced to play conservatively because his turn one was a Stormtrooper Assault Team and his turn two was a Grand Admiral Thrawn. I didn’t see any Owens or Dagobah Training Grounds basically the entire game (though he didn’t see any resources either) but that meant I couldn’t get through the double threat of Thrawn/Assault Team until his board had plenty of other defenders and the dial inevitably reached 12.

Next I went up against Brian Ruptash of the First Planet Podcast, and while I was able to sweep him, it was largely due to a misplay on his end as the dark side player when he got too greedy about taking out one of my objectives and leaving himself open to a timely Moldy Crow. I started as Scum and easily out-raced the Rebels (I had Heartless Tactics… he didn’t), but as usual I had to play carefully as Jedi to dodge his Force Hunters until I was able to create an opening and punch through it. He was able to push the dial up to 10 before I stole the win out from under him, so it was hardly a decisive victory.

In the games against Mark Kramer I took out his light side deck pretty effectively but lost to the Imperial Navy by the tiniest margin. His turn-one Yoda set up an early defense but when Containment Field hit he was forced to fight, leaving him exhausted when Zuckuss & 4-LOM arrived to capture him. Everything he played after that to stabilize fell to Springing the Ambush and Captured while I blew up his objectives and won the game.

On the light side, I learned how valuable an opening hand of Dagobah Training Ground, R2-D2, Ruusan Colonist can be when there’s also a Luke’s Lightsaber in it. Sounds pretty bad, right? Well my following turn was Owen, Luke, attack, My Ally is the Force and I immediately reset his board. Major props to Mark, though, because despite being obviously on the verge of tilting out he managed to scrape together a couple dead objectives throughout the game as I walked over him, and when his final turn came I foolishly destroyed his 1-health Chimaera during his refresh (with Luke’s Lightsaber) and he turned the tables by deploying Yularen and a new Chimaera to destroy the third objective and win the game. I definitely learned my lesson from that one (destroy uniques in conflict), though he was quick to point out that he needed to topdeck both Chimaera and Yularen to win that, as either one alone wouldn’t have been enough.

After taking a break and grabbing some cheap food with a couple of the other players, I went up against Ryan Koch and went 0-1-1. In the first game (as I always random’ed into playing Scum first), I played the deck the way I thought I was supposed to play the deck: attack. Unfortunately there was a turn when I wiped out his defenders and did exactly that, forgetting that my already-committed Dengar would have been better served as a blocker and Force Hound considering he had the Force and he had Against All Odds. I can take a hit from a Spark deck with only a chud, right? Wrong. The amount of damage he dealt that turn set me back so far that I was scrambling to not die outright and fell to his swarm. He didn’t even have Spark.

My Jedi game against Ryan was even crazier. We both agreed that were it not for the time limit I would have won, but he had a swarm of big scary Sithspawn units with lots of guns, meaning if I made a wrong move and got one of my mains dead it was game over. Even worse, while I could tactics-lock those big scary Terentateks, my epic My Ally is the Force swing didn’t kill them (they’re immune to Force events) and he ended up with three on the board at one point, meaning I never had an opening to go blow up his objectives. I was whittling him down pretty effectively, but there was no way to make sure the game ended in time without legitimately losing. Fortunately the extra point from the tie worked in my favor, but it was a grueling game. Thanks to a Nudj I think the game lasted 9 or 10 rounds?

Round six put me up against MasterJedi Adam Howland, and because I didn’t win any games in the previous round I needed to sweep both him and my next opponent. The pressure was on. First, I was put up against a Spark deck that didn’t flop Spark, so while the first couple attacks were somewhat risky my units ended up being simply better than his and I was able to close out by nuking three objectives. The following game was defined by our first turns: He had a Gladiator, I had Yoda and some support. I put the Force on lockdown and moved to get his units out of the way so that my turn 3 Moldy Crow hit three objectives over the next few turns, doing more than enough blast damage to win the game. In what other games have you seen the Moldy Crow deal 13 objective damage? He did throw a few damage back at me, but by the end of the game I had Moldy Crow, Red Five, Yoda… plenty of blast.

I’d made it this far, so I just needed to close the next two games to advance. Paired against a good friend Scott Armstrong (also of the First Planet Podcast), we concluded that if we split, neither of us made the cut, but if one of us swept, we were guaranteed a spot. As usual we randomly decided who would play what, and we random’ed into me playing my Scum deck and he playing his Sleuths. Wait, Sleuths? At 19 points? Scott had figured out the Sleuth deck and while I wasn’t too worried… man I needed to be. In an exceptionally close game where my turn-one Malakili/Bubo had to face down a Well-Paid Leebo (unit), Sleuth Scout, and Stolen AT-ST, and then my turn two Zuckuss/4-LOM were added to a board that also acquired another Well-Paid Stolen AT-ST, two Stolen Speeder Bikes, and a free Undercover Operative. While I managed to keep the Sleuths on the back foot long enough to win, it was a horribly difficult game that relied on using tactics icons on Stolen AT-STs after they’d already hit me for 3-4 damage (so they wouldn’t refresh) and which a single wrong move could have cost me everything. By the time the game was over, it was 11:15 and we were both so drained from the 11 games we’d already played that Scott conceded the final game, both so we could call it a night and so he wouldn’t keep me out of the cut.

What a day! For most of it I was actually certain that I wouldn’t make the cut this year, considering I didn’t test nearly as much as I needed to, but thanks to some good luck and some careful playing I was able to pull it out. Next up… the Top Cut!

Star Wars 2016 World Championships Preview

We’ve reached November again, which means it’s time for the best players in the world to converge at FFG’s headquarters in Roseville, Minnesota for the chance to compete for the ultimate prize: the World Champion trophy, and the chance to design a card for the game. Before we go deep into the nitty-gritty of the tournament, reporting round-by-round highlights and how we’re doing and what we’re up against, it’s worth sitting back and considering what the expectations are for this metagame, and what we learned from all our playtesting (special thanks to my local team and Team NYC for doing a lot of this investigation for me).

If you want a recap of what we learned from playtesting, and what Team Battleground Games’s expectations are for Worlds, read on. I’ll start with the elephant in the room, which was supposedly nerfed by the latest FAQ (spoiler alert: it wasn’t)… Scum and Villainy!

beginning-01

It’s a Wretched Hive…

It’s no secret that Scum and Villainy is a strong faction. A mono-Scum deck won US Nationals at Origins in June, and despite the North American National Championships going to the ways of the Sith, Josh Johnson’s “Force Hunters” deck would not have been possible without a few key Scum pods. That’s not even considering the fact that the pod that’s generally agreed upon to be the most powerful pod in the game—The Spice Trade—is on the green team. For a long time, mono-Scum was the laughing stock of the dark side. Those days are far gone.

The joke, of course, is that shortly after Scum won US Nationals and pushed Josh Johnson to back-to-back victories, two Force packs were released that contained some absolutely incredible Scum pods. First we got Dengar, who was a unit capable of fighting with three black guns, two bombs, two tactics, and/or some combination of those, all adapting to the immediate need. And as if a powerful, flexible Main wasn’t enough, his pod comes with Captured!, one of the best removal cards in the game, and an event to make Captured! cheaper. Then, in the next pack, Scum got a pod with okay units and fair tricks operating under a truly busted objective… one which is capable of resolving Captured! twice without any additional cost.

A lot of variations on mono-Scum exist, but most of them revolve around the core of Prince Xizor and Dengar. The crazy resource potential from two Masterful Manipulations are no longer supplimented by the Spice Trade, but the deck’s overall resource situation is still excellent. The deck is loaded with a versatile set of powerful mains, from the all-stars like Xizor and Dengar all the way down to more situational units like Snoova and Ephant Mon. The deck also has excellent chuds which can speed up the end of the game, most crucially: Black Sun Headhunter.

It’s access to Scum’s shockingly effective chuds that have made them such a popular and successful faction recently. While Sith continue to durdle around with Dark Side Apprentices and Imperial Functionaries, Scum get hyper-efficient, hyper-specialized units that they can flood the board with to do the job usually relegated to a Main. Black Sun Headhunter and Energy Spider do an absurd amount of damage given their cost, even if they have glaring downsides. And with proper edge tricks, any Galactic Scum or Dr. Evazan can stop a Yoda in his tracks.

That’s where Scum’s other strength lies: in their ability to win edge battles. With the Prince’s Scheme, Quick Hunt and Preparation and Planning there are a lot of options for the deck during the edge battle. They can threaten to steal the edge with Prince’s Scheme or Twist of Fate, or they can just unload a ton of effective edge cards that appear randomly throughout their objective sets (see Relentless Assault, Identity Crisis, and Coerced). Alternatively, they can use Preparation and Planning or Hallucination to generate exceptionally powerful game effects at no cost without any warning. Captured for 1? Don’t mind if I do!

While it’s doing all this, the deck also has Heartless Tactics, the Hunters, Fortified Holding Cells, and Corrupt Officials which make it surprisingly more difficult for the light side player to actually win. Colonel Yularen is lauded for his ability to heal your objectives while he puts you closer to winning, but the problem with Yularen is he only works after the fact. You might draw him when your objectives are undamaged, and your opponent can play around him by going all in on a single big attack. When your damage prevention works proactively, it doesn’t matter when or how your opponent attacks. They need to destroy your objectives to win, and Heartless Tactics and Fortified Holding Cells just make that combat math painful.

I Don’t Like You Either hasn’t seen much tournament play yet due to how recently it was released, but it seems very likely to show up here thanks the controlling power of Dr Evazan and the objective’s ability to combo with strong events like Captured. Having mediocre units is its nomial weakness, but Scum now has a host of excellent units to help make I Don’t Like You Either a powerhouse. How does the light side player combat the incredible versatility of a Scum deck?

There are three general strategies: to be so fast that the scum player is always on the defensive and never has time to set up a decent board, to wipe the board with My Ally is the Force and A New Hope, or by having protection against events either through defensive enhancements like Sabine’s Armor and the DL-44 Blaster Pistol or via straight up event cancel like Counter-stroke or Trust Me. All of the pods just mentioned have major weaknesses, so that was the primary avenue to explore. Can any of these actually beat Scum reliably?

beginning-02

Your Inevitable Destruction

To a certain extent, the answer was yes. But unfortunately, beating Scum isn’t enough anymore. One thing about being the weakest dark side affiliation out of the core set is that by the time Scum reached its peak, Sith and Navy were well-established powerhouses. Scum might be good, but it’s only marginally better than Sith and Navy (if it’s better at all), and a Scum deck plays very differently from a Sith destruction deck or a Navy Fortress deck. I said that Scum had become the top faction in part because it supplemented Josh’s powerful “Force Hunters” Sith deck. And I haven’t even mentioned the reigning World Champion’s Black Sun Sith.

Those decks are still as powerful as they ever were. Some might say that since both of these Sith Destruction decks prominently feature Scum cards, they’ve only gotten better.

Yoda is ubiquitous on the light side these days, and a lot of Yoda’s strength comes from the fact that his objective can so strongly manipulate the Force struggle—by using May the Force Be With You, a single unit can attack, contribute to the Force struggle, and defend in the space of a single turn cycle. In addition, Yoda helps manipulate engagements and control the Force by virtue of the fact that he comes with a copy of Seeds of Decay. Both of these strategies are nullified by a dark side Echoes of the Force, which can either commit an attacking light side unit (preventing the use of May the Force Be With You) or uncommit a defending dark side unit, preventing the use of Seeds of Decay. The power and flexibility granted by having  dark side Echoes of the Force cannot be understated, and that’s why Force Hunters is likely to be a popular and effective deck.

But Echoes of the Force (and by extension, Abandoned Hideout) isn’t the only reason that Force Hunters is so strong. The deck comes with access to both Power of the Dark Side and Hunter for Hire, which means if your opponent ever wants to commit to the Force, their units are facing inevitable destruction. These objectives can provide access to truly free removal for the Dark Side: with enough accumulation of damage, the dark side doesn’t even need to bother spending cards or resources to remove your units, because their objectives are doing it for them.

This, in addition to the plentiful removal already available to Sith (Force Lightning, Deadly Sight, Force Choke, Ambitions Vader), is why Force Hunters is so strong. They’re designed to take away some of the strongest aspects of Yoda’s objective set and to destroy light side units at almost no cost. This leads to games against Force Hunters resulting in the light side trying to never stay committed to the Force to protect their units from those objectives, but being forced into it by virtue of the four Echoes and two Abandoned Hideouts in the deck. Even if they somehow were to avoid ever competing for the Force… the light side’s time window suddenly becomes really short with the dark side capable of winning the game within 5-6 turns.

But building a Sith deck and splashing in Bane Malar is hardly the only way one can leverage powerful Sith cards. If the plan is to kill everything, almost nothing enacts that plan better than All Out Brawl, with both Zekka Thyne’s printed board wipe and Armed to the Teeth’s ability to turn any unit into a deadly force to be reckoned with. Combined with the edge manipulations of Guri (as well as four Heat of Battles and Hallucination), it quickly becomes apparent that the “kill everything” strategy holds up to harsh scrutiny.

The deck won Worlds in 2015, and there’s no reason it couldn’t repeat the feat when none of its pieces have changed, and it’s even gained value by adding Bane Malar… another source of incidental damage and another unit with lots of black guns!

beginning-03

Galactic Failings

Force Hunters was always largely a Sith deck, while Bane Malar gave it tools that just dramatically increased its effectiveness. But for those whose hearts are given over to the dark side of the Force, what possibilites exist for mono-Sith? What we discovered was that there were a couple problems that surfaced when a player sleeved up ten Sith pods. The value gained by going true mono-Sith was not zero, but it never really seemed to hold up in comparison to the value gained by even a small Scum or Navy splash.

The reason to go mono-Sith largely came down to two pods: Scouring the Empire and Dark Lord of the Sith. Scouring gives you lots of resources, good edge, and a potent board wipe, which looks especially appealing in a world where everybody seems to love Spark of Rebellion. Dark Lord of the Sith, on the other hand, only cares if you’re mono-Sith because of the objective, but the objective can randomly hose decks that don’t have a fantastic opening turn. Both of these are very appealing considerations, but Sith has always had certain weaknesses which is why it reached out to other factions to begin with.

The Sith rely very heavily on their mains to do the heavy lifting, meaning their chuds are either underwhelming (Dark Side Apprentice) or super vulnerable (Advisor to the Emperor). This hasn’t changed much, with the best Sith chud showing up as probably either Sith Warrior or Imperial Royal Guard, both of which are units that will never do more than 2 damage and can’t stop someone like an early Luke or Yoda on their own. Compare them to Scum chuds like Lannik Lackey, which can be a Dark Side Apprentice if your board is already established or which can transition into 2 Force icons and a black tactics if it needs to slow down the game.

Scum has been splashed into Sith for years to give Sith access to good chuds and even a couple years into the game’s growth, that hasn’t changed. Sith can still struggle when they’re relying on their cheap units, and that’s why we never found a consistently powerful dark side deck that wasn’t at least part Scum or Navy.

What’s the appeal of Navy? If Scum helps smooth out the cost curve by giving Sith more volume of powerful, cheap units, Navy helps speed up the end of the game in Sith’s favor. Usually, when you see a Sith deck splashing Navy, you see it because they feel confident about their early game with units like Stygeon Prison Guard and Sith Warrior and want to make sure that a slow start on the light side gets punished by ending the game quickly, whether that comes in the form of Colonel Yularen or the Chimaera.

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The Promise of Loyalty

This leads us to the next archetype that’s become popular very quickly: The Promise of Loyalty. Featuring Endor Palpatine and Colonel Yularen, this is a deck less focused on controlling the board and more focused on controlling the game. Neither pod has great defensive (or really offensive) units, but when you’re turning your opponent’s damage back against them, and more importantly when you’re turning destroying their objectives into taking their units, it can see why this deck is appealing.

The moment Endor Palpatine and his mission were spoiled, people pointed out the obvious combination with Superlaser Blast. As it turns out, it’s pretty good! One of the best parts of the deck is the objective flops, which frequently place your opponent in a situation where they must attack and damage objectives on your first turn. With the Enforced Loyalty and Emperor’s Promise objectives together you can put damage on enemy objectives regardless of where the opponent attacks, and if you can draw Bones of the Fallen Master you can do even more damage without really trying.

When the deck is working, the light side player will be so busy dealing with all of your punishing objectives that it will leave you plenty of time to set up either Palpatine or his mission and Superlaser Blast (sometimes even all three together!). At that point you leave your opponent with the awful choice of either playing his best units and letting you steal them or just not playing his best units and losing. Due to the way the unique character rules work, if you have stolen a copy of a Luke or Yoda, then the light side player cannot play any more copies of them until they are removed from the board.

That said, the easiest way for this deck to fail is if it does not get the defensive cards it needs right away, and that can be a real problem. An early Inquisitor or Mara Jade goes a long way towards holding off enemy attacks, and Stygeon Prison Guard and Lieutenant Mithel can try to help, but there are precious few units that are good early game defenders and there will be games in which you just don’t draw them.

The multiple sources of extra card draw such as the Mouse Droids and The Inquisitor can help you cycle through your deck quickly, which shores up some of that weakness, but a lot of it comes down to how well the light side opponent plays. The deck feels favored against most Jedi decks, given the popularity of units like Yoda and Qu Rahn, but against an aggressive Rebel or Smuggler opponent, or against a Jedi player attempting to pack as much burst damage as possible, it can be difficult to stop a swift opponent.

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An Unassailable Fortress

The archetype which sprang from the Navy sets in the Imperial Entanglements deluxe expansion has only gotten better since then. The addition of Endor Entrapment and Entrenched Defense both really empowered the plan of creating a complete defensive lockdown that the light side player can’t get through, and while some of its late game punch got removed by the restriction of Deploy the Fleet and Enforced Loyalty, that doesn’t mean that the deck is any less effective.

The deck features units like the Golan Defense Platforms and the Gladiator-class Star Destroyers, which are incredible defenders, and they’re supplemented by all-around all-stars such as the DP20 Corellian Gunship and the Chimaera, which are excellent on either defense or offense. These potent Star Destroyers continue to dominate the board until their Grand Moff comes down to make sure the light side isn’t trying any funny business with attachments or abusive unit abilities. Grand Moff Tarkin’s set has been one of the best in the game across the board, and that’s no less true now (even when Rule By Fear no longer repels most Mains).

If damage does get through the defensive blockade, cards in the Enforced Loyalty and Repair and Refurbish pods can remove that damage and throw it back at the light side player to start speeding up the end of the game and to make the light side’s job that much more difficult. Getting fifteen points of objective damage down through one of the most solid lineups of defensive units can be tough, but getting nineteen points of damage through is worse, and above twenty is just a slog. This deck masters the long game.

Perhaps one of the more underrated strengths of the deck is that it contains a strong resource base. Tarkin may be particularly resource-hungry, but Thunderflare has two resources, Chimaera has one of the better resources available to Navy, Entrenched Defense has an incredible non-limited resource, and the Gladiators and Yularen provide plenty of control rooms. By the time the game gets to turns 3 and 4, the Navy deck should have more than enough resources, meaning they’re free to play (or not play) the cards in their hand as precisely as they see fit.

The deck’s main weakness is how defensively oriented it is. Outside of a few ways to interact with the opponent like Tarkin and the Interdictor, the light side can generally have the time they want to set up a board and begin attacking, without fear that their units will start disappearing off the board against their will, and that can make a deck that leans heavier on the Force struggle might be more effective. But for what it lacks in “point-and-click” board control, it makes up for in its ability to end the game on its own terms. Yularen and Imperial Fist throw early damage back on light side objectives, and then their giant late-game star destroyers like Chimaera or Thunderflare can knock out the last couple light side objectives needed to win.

So the deck is good, probably very good. But is it going to appear at the tournament? Because the deck is so slow and grindy, there’s a good chance players might find it too much of a slog to play over a long tournament, and it certainly doesn’t lack the assertive punch of Scum. But the trustworthy standby continues to remain very popular in Europe and so it wouldn’t surprise me to see a European contingent attending Worlds to be building the Fortress, and for those who really enjoy ominous defenses, it’s easily of equivalent power to the other most powerful dark side lists.

Fighting Ten Thousand Swords

The power level of Sith and Scum were expected, and while they can do things in different ways (from a lethal Sith list to capture-heavy Scum control), they all more or less operate on the same principle: prevent light side strikes and remove light side units from the board. Adding the very real power level of the Navy Fortress deck to the mix, as well as the potential for a breakout hyper aggressive Scum build maximizing Moruth Doole, Boba Fett, and Feeding the Pit, means that the light side has a lot of different strategies that they have to be ready for.

If a light side deck is too slow, they lose to Navy Fortress and Scum Aggro.

If they’re too fast, they don’t have the survivability to keep a board presence and start losing card advantage and edge battles.

If they don’t have event cancel, they’re hyper-vulnerable to cards like Vicious Counterattack, Force Lightning, and Captured.

If they don’t have enough resources, they can be choked out by the Tarkin Doctrine and There Is No Conflict.

If they rely too heavily on Mains, they crumble against Dark Lord of the Sith… and if they don’t have enough mains, Tarkin will ruin them with his Moment of Triumph.

Where could a safe middle ground possibly be for the light side?

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Day of the Smugglers?

Before we can get to “how the heck does the light side deal with all these different dark side strategies,” let’s talk about the exciting new light side cards that have come out recently. While Rebels got some interesting support in the recent Galactic Ambitions box, a lot of attention has been focused on the Smuggler pods in Ancient Rivals and A Wretched Hive. Han, Chewie, and Zeb have all made a huge splash, both because they’re sets that are very capable of killing enemy units on-demand, they both have additional ways to gain blast from otherwise blast-light Smuggler units (whether through killing defenders or through equipping Bo-Rifle).

Both pods appear very strong, either with two Mains in the case of Han & Chewie or with a single Main capable of doing lots of damage and a recurring Weapon that can go on any Smuggler and turn them into a Main. Han & Chewie conspicuously lack a resource, which makes it much harder to fit them into a deck, and one of the two Mains is so defensive as to be largely irrelevant unless you’re playing the long game. The other is a very potent brawler but is very vulnerable to tactics and removal. Back in the early days of the game, Smugglers were considered to be ubiquitously the most powerful affiliation, but they’ve fallen pretty out of favor. What can Zeb and Han do to bring them back?

Han & Chewie seemed like the first critical piece to mono-Smugglers coming back as a competitive powerhouse, but their lack of a resource has proven to be tremendously problematic. Han is an incredible unit, making his core set version seem almost irrelevant, but Chewie is a bit more expensive than what he needs to be, and Don’t Get Cocky is usually a liability. The DL-44 is a solid way to help keep your units on the board, but it often doesn’t get the chance to get played and the unit wielding it usually ends up getting gunned down the normal way anyways. All of these weaknesses add up to making Han & Chewie actually surprisingly fair given how powerful Han and the objective (and the Heat) are.

Zeb looked to be more promising for the Smuggler cause, given he has a solid resource, an enhancement to make your Mains more dangerous (and your support chuds into Mains), and a fate card that really enables the Bo-Rifle combat tricks the set needs to shine. Unfortunately, despite Zeb being another targeted strike unit, he isn’t elite, and his objective is pretty irrelevant. Perhaps more importantly, Zeb doesn’t have much support for his “enhance everybody” strategy within his own faction, meaning he encourages you to play him alongside Luke Skywalker for even more targeted strike. Once you pair these two together, you’re looking at building a Falcon Jedi list, which is a known quantity that’s quite strong. But then at least half your units can’t wield the Bo-Rifle, which is the biggest draw to Zeb’s set in particular. You can see where this gets difficult.

At the end of the day, Smugglers are still good… as a splash into a Jedi deck. Along the Gamor Run is always at its best in a Jedi deck, and while the Millennium Falcon might be one of the best pods in the game it’s still more effective dropping in Obi-Wan and Luke than dropping in Han and Zeb. There aren’t really any incentives to stick with mono-Smugglers, and given how efficient and varied the dark side pods are, even the very powerful new Smuggler sets have enough weaknesses to make them not something that can alter the light side metagame.

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Breaking Through

With no new pods standing out to improve the light side’s potential, it falls then on various light side lists’ ability to find a deck capable of beating the variety of effective dark side lists. A deck needed to be fast to deal with Navy, but not so vulnerable that they lose to an aggressive Scum list or Sith removal. They need to control the board to prevent the dark side from simply overwhelming them with units while also providing enough blast to actually end the game in a reasonable time-frame… that’s a lot to ask for.

The answer that surfaced was that the light side needs to be able to do a lot of damage very fast, which pushes them towards a combo play-style. If the game goes on too long, the dark side will win simply due to attrition of powerful cards (the dark side has access to more powerful cards than the light side). But if the light side can’t detect itself in some capacity it will simply fold to a removal-heavy Sith or Scum list. Yoda helps defend and control the board, as do units like Speeder Bike and Obi-Wan Kenobi, but a lot of the importance falls to having enough units with two blast and ways to allow them to strike multiple times.

Shadows Luke is the poster-child for this, given he can combo with the lightsaber within his own pod. A single Luke that strikes twice will usually take down whatever objective he’s attacking. But other two-blast units are necessary to support Luke’s strategy, whether that means T’ra Saa, Luke’s Landspeeder, or Ahsoka Tano. And to make those units capitalize on the turns when the dark side finds itself vulnerable, you need cheap events that let those units strike additional times: Luke’s Lightsaber, Force Rejuvenation, Double Strike, Size Matters Not. With powerful board control options from Yoda and Obi-Wan, any opening provided by the dark side can be capitalized on, which is why super blast-heavy units like Red Five and Moldy Crow become crucial options when pulled in for a cheap attack via Unfinished Business.

When a dark side deck starts out strong, or survives until they have a strong board state, it can be incredibly difficult to break through and actually damage objectives. So difficult that it was impossible to find a light side deck that was ever capable of completely controlling the board. The most effective strategy ended up being to build a deck that could put combo pieces together to capitalize on a sub-par dark side draw, or punish a slow start with Owen, Luke, and some means by which to strike multiple times with Luke. Sometimes those pieces don’t come together, and you’re forced to stall until you can find them, but if an opening ever appears you need to have some means by which to capitalize on it.

It was a sad day when the conclusion was reached… when both are operating at full strength, the dark side will always defeat the light side.

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The Yoda Dilemma

May the Force Be With You is a strong pod. Some would say even the best pod. That said, it’s been the best pod for a long time, so no self-respecting dark side player is going to be fielding a deck that can’t deal with it in some way. Whether that means Echoes of the Force, Bane Malar, Captured, Jamming Protocol, Seeds of Decay, or even Containment Field, Yoda is a known quantity and everyone will have tech to beat him. That’s why we wanted to play something else.

The first suspect was Rebel Capital Ships, attempting to race to victory. However, if that deck ever lost the edge battle then it would lose the game as its turn got nullified and it quickly fell behind. It could deal a lot of blast, but unless everything had plenty of shields and didn’t go up against defenders with three guns, its lack of ability to control the board would mean it was very possible to simply run into a bad dark side start and immediately flop, or simply get a weak start yourself. If it ever fell behind, it couldn’t get back in the game.

The second suspect was mono-Smugglers, or Smuggler/Jedi targeted strike. This one could pump out a ton of damage, and keep the board clear, but it relied very heavily on specific units (Luke, Han, and Zeb) and had no ways to really protect them from Sith or Scum removal. For every turn it dominated the board, it would immediately crumble under the slightest pressure. It also was a bit more expensive than it could afford.

We even tried playing a different Yoda: The Master’s Domain. That Yoda is incredible, and with his Hut on the table he can really make taking the Force a nightmare for your opponent. In a game where the light side needs to make sure it has access to whatever it needs the turn it draws it, to capitalize on the dark side’s weak turns, having an objective that can generate three resources when you need them is going to be great. Unfortunately, Scum is exceptionally good at winning edge battles, and if Yoda ever loses the edge… the game goes downhill very fast.

What it came down to was… Yoda is good for a reason, and that reason comes down to two things: The pod comes with two Yodas, and all of Yoda’s icons are black. Having a plan for losing edge battles on the light side is critical, because you’re going to go up against a lot of Prince’s Schemes and you’re going to lose some of your edge battles. Also, one-unit pods are inherently problematic and Jedi have a lot of them already, so leaving out a pod with two very good units is really costing you some games.

Yoda is so good, not only because of his icons and his event but also because of his edge and his Seeds, that we were considering putting it into Solidarity of Spirit Rebel Capital Ship decks simply as a “sometimes you get Yoda” and “sometimes you get great edge.” The pod really can just operate in almost any deck, so I expect to see Yoda in most, if not all, of the Top 16 lists.


All-in-all, we expect to see a lot of Scum, some Navy, and a bunch of Sith/Scum Force Hunter lists. Some oddball brews might appear, but none of the “oddball” decks really stood up to focused testing so I’m not worried about them so much as I am the raw power of mono-Scum and Force Hunters. If the light side list is well-piloted I think it could do well, but I’m going to be relying on my opponents also not drawing great.

See you at Worlds!
~Dav Flamerock

Brad Emon Breaks Through To Victory!

worlds-header

Welcome back to the Star Wars: the Card Game World Championship coverage! Like each year, I competed in the event and provided up-to-date live coverage of the event, particularly in the final rounds. Most of the information was on Twitter, but this page should sufficiently archive the proceedings for those who couldn’t attend.

If following the moment-to-moment coverage is something that interests you, you’re going to want to follow our Twitter account (@LCG_Archive), which carried my own progress throughout the tournament as well as any interesting plays or board states I witnessed. I have a full-day recap for each day that covers the highlights of that day and which decks and players did particularly well. Fighting into the top sixteen this year was particularly grueling, and while I was able to leverage some play advantages to get to Day Two, the top cut was a brutal affair in which my inexperience with mono-Scum proved my undoing. On the other hand, my mono-Jedi deck was on fire all day and really showed how it could outplay my opponent.

But the real standout of the top cut was the finals, in which Brad Emon went up against Nathan Nuhring. Because the schedule had to change at the last minute to accomodate Brad’s 3 hour drive home, it wasn’t streamed, though both FullyOps and Team Covenant recorded it for later commentary. Nathan started out excellently with his mono-Navy fortress, and while he did forget a couple crucial card triggers, Brad ended up winning by taking a remarkably high-risk strategy that would only work if his opponent had 2 or fewer Force icons for the final edge battle. And when his gambit worked… he won! Huge congratulations to our new World Champion Brad Emon, eternal champion of Kyle Katarn and Captain Needa.

We look forward to seeing you at Worlds next year!

FFGLive Twitch Stream
(canceled due to player scheduling)

 

Event Updates

Instead of photographing the standings during the Swiss, I decided to report the rounds of the event by recording brief audio clips and uploading them to Soundcloud. As always, the most up-to-date collection of clips were posted to my twitter account (@LCG_Archive), but they have all been compiled here as well for easy reviewing. For after the event, this should give a sense of how the tournament went in a more visceral manner. Read below for a more complete recap of each day’s event.

Final Standings

World Champion: Brad Emon
Second Place: Nathan “Nuhring” Nuhring
Third Place: Donovan McFeron
Fourth Place: Norman “NormanH” Horn
Top Six: 2014 WC Mick “MacRauri” Cipra / Daniel “Kiramode” Trujillo
Top Eight: Tyler “Dav Flamerock” Parrott / Nathan “Revanari” Ferraro
Top Twelve: Matt “Hida77” Kreideweis / Colby “CCBPE” Bennardo / Josh “Letux” Johnson / Nate “Ketricel” Tripp
Top Sixteen: Matthew “Mattropolis” Saloff / David “GreedoShotFirst” Tietze / 2015 WC Tom “Ozrix” Melucci / Ryan “Rune42” Koch

Supplemental Articles

I wanted to provide a few more articles to dive deeper into the metagame and experience of Worlds, so as they’re written and available, these articles will be going live. The first one is scheduled to begin on the morning of the tournament, with the rest coming after the fact, so I actually have time to write them!

Introduction (by Dav Flamerock and Farsight)

Day One Recap (Swiss)

Day Two Recap (Top Cut)


Thanks for tuning into my coverage of the event! I enjoy doing these kinds of things and hope to do more text coverage of events in the future. Worlds is a fantastic event and if you can get out to Roseville in May you won’t regret it.

~Dav Flamerock

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