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Evading Authority: Avoiding the 8-Slot Syndrome

When I was first introduced to the Star Wars LCG, I was told that the game was designed around having few decisions to make, each with large consequences. The first of these decisions to be made is in deckbuilding. Whereas typical card games give a player 40 to 60 choices, each decision affecting a small percentage of their deck, SWLCG’s pod system is an environment where a deck is only 10 choices, each with much larger ramifications. The constraints inherent in pod-based deckbuilding drew me into and keeps me in love with this game.

Let me introduce myself. I’m Colby Bennardo, a member of the New York SWLCG meta and someone who thinks about this game way too often. Although I’ve been playing the SWLCG for about 2 years now, I’ve been playing card games all my life. I’ve had my love affairs with Yugioh, Magic, and Pokemon, but I can honestly say that the SWLCG has so many things I did not even know I wanted in a card game.

Throughout my career, I have always seen myself as a deckbuilder. I would rather top 4 at a major tournament with a deck of my own design than with a standard deck that did not have my personal touch. I live for the excitement that grows in online forums when a star player creates a deck that nobody expects to work and makes it all the way to the top. Yugioh had a 30-minute, OTK solitaire deck made by Vincent Tundo; Pokemon had a perfect lockdown deck with so many components that when it made second place at worlds, they simply named it “The Truth.” Star Wars has also had its share of secret decks, like Mick Cipra’s Ewok/Trench run deck that took worlds 2014 and Leopold’s 11 pod RSXWing deck that earned 3rd place in 2015. Also present at 2015’s world championships were Zach Bunn’s and John Heath-Clark’s aggressive star destroyer deck that raced faster than the dominant, controlling Jedi decks could handle. The identical lists were made completely independently by both the Team Covenant playgroup and by myself, with plenty of help from my testing partners.

The success of these decks comes from a mixture of knowing the intricacies of the game, the meta, and the creativeness of both the engineer of the pilot respectively. A well-made rogue deck squeezes out advantages from an opponent unaware of tricks and tactics you may be packing. Popular decks rely on consistency, well-roundedness, and high overall synergy and power level to win games as efficiently as possible. Rogue decks try to maintain that level of consistency and efficiency but in new and interesting ways.

Having built more decks than I can count, I have learned a bit about how to create that consistency within 10 pods. Every pod you choose is 10% of your deck’s overall composition; choosing Xizor as a 2x in your scum deck or May the Force Be With You in your Jedi deck takes up 20% –  one fifth – of your choices. When people perceive these pods as too good not to include, staple pods if you will, it directs the course of the deck in unintended ways. This is an illness that I call 8-slot syndrome – a condition that arises when you feel your deck simply must include a certain card and therefore really only has 8 slots of flexibility. What I will now attempt to do is argue the impossible: why you should not be using some of the best pods in the game.

I would like to pause here for a haiku that illustrates my feelings about deckbuilding:

Do not add a pod
Until all its beauty can
Blossom before you

~John Heath-Clark

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This sentiment is true in all constructed card games, but I feel it is most pertinent in a pod-based system. When you choose a pod, you really are choosing 5+1 cards for your deck. If you are not letting each card blossom, keep looking for a better pod. If you can’t appreciate the dark side apprentice’s white bomb, then reconsider running core Vader. If you can’t learn to accept Twi’Lek Smuggler’s 1 hp, then reconsider running core Han.

The Main Culprits

 

Masterful Manipulation

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When this scum pod was released, it pulled what was the worst faction out of the dumps and put it on the map. This pod has everything, a big main with 2 tactics and built in capture, a secondary chud that is both destructive and unkillable, seemingly endless money both within the pod and on the objective, and a disgusting fate card that turns the light side’s best edge card against them. Any self-respecting scum deck should be running a full set of Xizor and all of his tricks, right?

Well, not exactly. As I have built decks and played with this pod, I have found its Achilles heel: this pod completely lacks focus. It is the personification of the saying, “jack of all trades, master of none.” What exactly is this pod trying to accomplish? When you try to stall with edge and tactics, you end up stuck with the headhunter and its 1 dot and offensive statline. When you use it to ramp, the objective is inconsistent, the debt collector is a tempo hit, and both the event and headhunter become too expensive for the task at hand. If you run this into Sith for another imposing main, you are again stuck with the headhunter that locks your green money, but also with a fate card you rarely get to play. Not to mention that Masterful has obvious dissynergy with capture effects and a glaring 4 health. It’s an objective you don’t want to see with the hunters for fear of it turning off your bonus health for a split second, or with Dengar for not being a location to store captured cards or a fortified holding cell. Xizor is a major target for a T1 seeds of decay and doesn’t get much value out of striking alongside Guri. This pod has looked appealing to me as many times as it has disappointed me. I’m not saying that it’s a bad set, just that it doesn’t do any one thing particularly well.

If you are currently running this pod, yet feeling dissatisfied, simply call our toll-free hotline and we can suggest a different pod more focused to your needs. Looking for endless money? Try out Feeding the pit. Need imposing mains and capture effects? Try looking to Merciless tactics or Schemes and Intrigues. Need to protect your objectives and have dirty edge tricks? Lucrative contract! Need more bombs? The Spice trade, No disintegrations, Carbonite transport, Feeding the pit, the list really goes on forever. By switching to pods more focused for your particular needs, you will certainly find yourself with a stronger deck. Remember our motto, Step 1: Get There; Step 2: Be There.

May the Force Be With You

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Alright, this pod is strong. It is so strong that it has defined the game since its release, and will continue to do so until its rotation. It is the main cause of 8-slot syndrome, and possibly the most difficult case to cure. Let’s talk about why it’s so powerful.

112-02For anyone not already familiar with this pod, I’ll break it down for you. First off, you have Yoda, a main unit that is ludicrously undercosted and overpowered at the same time. Yoda has 5 dots, every type of icon (all black), and gains an excessive number of guns as the game progresses. Past turn 3, he will reliably stop 2 units with a single strike, showcasing terrific strike economy. The only balance that Yoda has as a card is his terrible art. His pod also comes with a tutor for Yoda that is not only cheaper, but can also be played at any time as an action. Yoda can enter play after the dark side’s units have struck and get damage and focus as he pleases.

The pod also comes with a free 2 dot unit that delays the game in hilarious fashion, and a seeds of decay to make your light side attacks scary in the early and the late game. The pod has a money, which allows it to support other, more expensive, pods. Finally, the objective breaks a cardinal rule of the game. Normally, when you play a unit, it has a choice to make. It can attack, defend, or take the force – the focus mechanic really allows for only 1 of these options. But with May the Force Be With You, any unit can do all 3. It can get its combat icons twice in a round and take the force once or twice as well. This all amounts to MTFBWY being an incredibly efficient pod that adds consistency, economy, tricks, and edge to almost any deck.

However, I have a sneaking suspicion that Yoda comes at a major cost. The light side player has a single goal in the game. To blow up objectives. Although Yoda and his pod can facilitate that process or drag the game out long enough to make it happen, the entire pod is only packing a single bomb, and what’s worse, sometimes the cost of that bomb is literally putting your opponent closer to winning. The search card Yoda, You Seek Yoda is oftentimes played in the early turns, and players forget that its secondary cost of a dial tick is what allowed the dark side to win when they did.

Beyond the explicit cost, the pod creates different modes of play for the light side – games where you have MTFBWY and games where you don’t. When in only about 60% of games you have the ability to go fast and still defend, I definitely feel off balance when I can’t attack, commit, win force, and defend all in one go. And of course, since the entire world knows about the existence of Yoda, they know how to deal with and play around it. Everyone is prepared for a seeds of decay from set 112, but maybe one from set 123 will slip by (Impersonating a Deity, if you didn’t remember). A Jedi board with 2 money available and 1 card in hand will obviously be either seeking Yoda or rejuvenating something this turn. It’s strong, but its’s predictable and that’s an important metric that’s hard to quantify.

One way this predictability has shown up for me is when building dark side decks. Often I have a checklist of things I need to be aware of. When I’m thinking about the Jedi matchup, that list includes:

  • Large quantities of damage from Endor Luke, Yoda, and Brainiac
  • Force tricks like Seeds, My Ally is the Force, and MTFBWY
  • Surprise units and attacks like Bamboozle, Unfinished Business, Force Rejuvination, and YYSY

I’m trying not to sound biased in this list but Yoda’s pod is one of the main things I try to combat when creating a dark side list. I am almost certain to see Yoda when fighting Jedi, so I can be confident that certain tricks will work. In Sith decks, I often think about Brothers of the Sith. Gorc with a telepathic connection is one of the best ways to kill an unarmed Yoda on turn two (t2) while the dial is still low and Yoda is searching for his guns. Additionally, a late game force stasis on Luke can buy another turn regardless of Qu Rahn, Outer Rim Mystics, or Yoda’s 8+ guns.

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Recently released pods also have tools that seem tailor-made for fighting Yoda and his tools. Force hunters such as Bane Malar and Ambitions Palpatine both have tools designed for killing units committed to the force, and they pack the strongest, yet most unassuming tool against Yoda: Echoes of the Force. A simple echoes in a t1 engagement can commit Yoda as he prepares to strike. This leaves Yoda double focused and unable to refresh himself with MTFBWY, likely winning the force for the dark side. Then, Yoda is a single white tactics away from being triple-focused, and unusable for longer than expected. An added bonus to Echoes is that it protects you from any stray seeds of decay. Since Echoes resolves in an edge stack before seeds, you can de-commit your Palpatine before he is focused down. Echoes has always been a strong tool against Yoda, but now it is found in some more mainstream dark side pods, so its effects should become much more common.

I’d also like to talk about an unintended cost of MTFBWY’s popularity: the restriction of The Master’s Domain. With the two pods together as a restricted pair, it basically bans a fantastic pod from the game. Master’s Domain Yoda has tricks that are completely different in form to MTFBWY Yoda, and might be stronger in some decks. Having 3 tactics on a main lets this yoda attack in entirely different ways, focusing out entire fleets before they can strike. Having lightsaber deflection means more protection for your units and more damage for theirs. Bogwing is a unit that although it has no dots, it won’t be a high priority target and will likely live to block for a few turns. Both Jedi’s Resolve and Yoda’s hut are great ways to take the force while also attacking with your units (and circumventing dark side Echoes of the Force). Finally, The Master’s domain allows for explosive starts from the light side player. Combined with A Hero’s Journey, A New Beginning, Matter under Mind, or even Owen Lars, the light side can consistently have 6 to 9 money on the first turn and begin putting pressure on the dark side before they get their footing. By deciding to run MTFBWY, the light side player concedes the likelihood of a first turn objective (and that’s perfectly fine). But in a deck that wants to come out of the gates racing, May the Force might be limiting things more than expected.

Enforced Loyalty

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Enforced Loyalty is a pod that has been oppressing players ever since Imperial Entanglements was announced. It is one of the two main culprits for the Navy “Negative Play Experience” that people were complaining about – and with good reason.  Combined with The Tarkin Doctrine (don’t worry, it’s on my list for another day), Loyalty gave Navy decks a terrible case of 6-slot syndrome where the final product was about control, damage mitigation, having money and resources, and making the light side sad. This pod has a motif – punishing a light side player’s slow game – and it executes its plan with the effectiveness of the entire Imperial Navy.

The pod is dominated by 2 cards, Yularen and The Imperial Fist. The effect of moving damage is powerful because it works for the DS win condition and simultaneously against the LS win condition. Between Fist, Yularen, and Loyalty, the dark side can hammer out light side objectives passively and without risking their forces into popular Light side defenders (looking at you, Yoda). Furthermore, if the light side tries to attack with units that only have 1 or no bombs, the dark side can just let the attack through and heal it off on the next turn (looking at you again Yoda). Having this pod forces the light side to make small attacks to shut off Loyalty, but also to make big attacks to avoid Yularen or fist negating all of the hard work. Combined with Mithel, an efficient defender who eats bombs and has a tactics, the mouse droid which grants draw power in a game where it is powerful to do so, and a control room to count as a “money pod,” this pod certainly begs the dark side to run 2 and figure out the rest later.

180-02But of course, I have issues. The first is a logistics issue. Yes, this pod is incredibly focused towards winning the game, but I believe it forgets how it needs to get there. One thing the pod assumes is that the light side is being punished for attacking into you, but that is simply not the case. With a defensive statline identical to a Heavy Stormtooper Squad, it’s unlikely that Yularen is going to be preventing your opponent’s strikes and not being elite makes him an uncomfortable unit on the Force. If the response to an attack is to play Yularen, the DS hasn’t really improved their board state much.

The light side player loves to attack, it’s what they do. Having to turn off loyalty or being at risk of fist is just a risk they have to take. Both Yularen and Mithel are decent distractions, but they are not full-fledged defenders. They can both certainly get in the way, but with the pod’s less than impressive edge count, each of them will likely be firing off only one gun. And if they did win edge, a single shield negates their effectiveness, not to mention outer rim mystics, Qu Rahn, rogue squadron x-wings, and bamboozle. These officers get played and utilize their text, but then end up committed, focused, and ultimately shot down.

Yularen costing 3 is the perfect balance for him because even with a control room out, he is probably the biggest unit getting played that turn. A navy player’s resources are scarce with expensive units like Chimera, Thrawn, and Tarkin (taking into account his reaction). Simply look at the list of incredible navy units that defend objectives with more effectiveness than Yularen does. Similarly, navy has plenty of strong cards that are not unique, such as the DP20, Golans, Endor ATST’s, and gladiators, none of which can trigger Imperial Fist and are just as expensive as Yularen was. Sure, there are turns where you can play Yularen and a gladiator, but then you probably have to commit both of them to the same fight, and it does not take much Heat to kill Yularen before he can trigger his fist. As a parting thought, if you run Loyalty into another faction, Imperial Fist becomes clunky and predictable.

Like MTFBWY, Enforced Loyalty has found itself on a restricted list with an incredible pod: Deploy the fleet. I think the distinction between the two pods is a little clearer than the Yodas. If you are playing Deploy the Fleet, you are likely playing large capital ships that want to attack and race to win the game in a proactive way. If you are playing Yularen, you are sitting back and delaying the game, trying to blow up a few objectives in a reactive way. Whether or not your Navy deck includes Deploy the Fleet, it is important to ask how you plan on winning. One advantage of racing to win is that if you win the game, you can’t lose the game on the next turn. Yularen’s tricks might be just a little too obvious to expect your opponent not to have a plan for.

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There are over 100 options for both light and dark in the game right now, and only 10 of them should go into a deck at once. Too often do I see players resort to adding an 11th pod to their deck before questioning decisions that they made on autopilot, and that is how suboptimal decks are born. When building a deck, every card should have a purpose – even a small one. Learn to love your Wookie Rages, your Stygeon Prime Guards, and your Battle of Endors. When a deck is right, each card should look individually handpicked and an outside player shouldn’t be able to recognize that you were bound to a pod system. Oftentimes, that will mean to add pods such as Yoda or Xizor to a deck – they’re popular for a reason. Just be sure not to add them blindly. If you ever feel yourself coming down with a case of 8-slot syndrome, stop, take a step back, and ask yourself is every card really worth it?

This was the first article in a series of articles about deckbuilding fallacies. It is my goal to look critically at every great pod and explain when, where, and why they might not be as strong as you think. I plan on using my experience to dive into deckbuilding fallacies, so that creative players like you can build the next secret world champion deck. If you know of a pod that everyone says is incredible (but you just don’t quite agree) let me know about it! Although I have ideas on dozens of other pods, it is always a community effort getting to the bottom of it all. Stay tuned for next time where I take on Tarkin, the Falcon, and a few other pods that you used to think were great!

Thanks for reading,
Colby

2 Comments to Evading Authority: Avoiding the 8-Slot Syndrome

  1. Johann's Gravatar Johann
    September 18, 2016 at 6:14 am

    Awesome article, I have all these 3 pods in my 3 main decks and yes it blinds you in a way that you now are down to 8 pods. Thanks for this awesome article, definitely brings some thoughts into my decks!

  2. Joe B's Gravatar Joe B
    October 5, 2016 at 5:55 am

    Very thoughtful and interesting article. I was just about to go and build a Scum deck and MM was top of the list to include. Now I’m actually going to think about whether it needs to be there, autopilot disengaged!

    More please!

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