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Evading Authority: Infrastructure Required

Sometimes, when building a deck, there are options that simply cannot be left undiscussed. Powerful pods like The Tarkin Doctrine and Asteroid Sanctuary offer such a threating yet versatile toolkit that seemingly any deck could find a way to include them. They beg the question, when will my deck actually be improved by leaving these cards out? Does a navy deck really need to run a full complement of the Moff to be Tier 1? Or does his arrival come with hidden taxes, fees, and loss of synergy that may have been unexpected?

In this edition of Evading Authority, I want to talk about six pods, one from each faction, that are all undeniably tier 1, and how to go about considering them for your deck. When deckbuilding, I believe that every card needs to fit within the deck’s grand scheme. A pod like Asteroid Sanctuary comes with 6 incredible cards, all centered around making your characters dodge tactics and fight more, so it isn’t hard to consider it in any deck that already has Luke or Han. But there is an underlying problem behind the Falcon, Bamboozle, and Cloud City Operative: they all demand infrastructure. The Falcon gets stuck on turns before you find that fifth resource and bamboozle doesn’t really shine until you have 6 or 7. I feel that each of these six pods struggle with a similar problem – they cost a bunch. Each of these pods are expensive in a unique, sometimes sneaky way. Although they will present you opportunities to win the game, they are going to make you pay for it.

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The Tarkin Doctrine

When the Tarkin Doctrine was released in Imperial Entanglements, it gave the Imperial Navy all the tools it needed to dominate the board in an oppressive manner. Spearheaded by The Grand Moff Tarkin himself, Navy has the most powerful tool in the game to eliminate big threats with no questions asked. Backing him up is a trooper with enough unit damage to eliminate most Light side units not named Home One, and representing one of the quickest punishments the dark side has to offer. Moment of Triumph deals with swarms, Rule By Fear deals with units jumping into play, and Twist of Fate deals with dangerous edge battles. And to top it all off, the Doctrine lets your “while undamaged” objectives sit around to enforce loyalty or create a blockade for the first few turns. It’s fair to say that Tarkin comes with a tool that can shut out nearly any matchup and if left unchecked, his pod can tear whole decks apart.

Invariably, any navy list will come crawling to uncle Tarkin for support at some point. I’ve seen Officer decks, Trooper decks, capital ship decks, even tie fighter decks try their hand with Tarkin with mixed results. Typically, decks with big, scary units like the Chimera, Mohc, or Colonel Dyre fit very well with Tarkin, while troopers and Ties struggle to keep him around. I think this is true not due to the synergies within the pods, but with the decks overall. Normally, decks with big units are stacked with resources to play their mains. On the other hand, units with smaller units spend their cards on units and edge battles, often cheating units into play (see scout troopers or the escort carrier).

Tarkin’s printed cost is 3, which means he can probably be played on the board on any given turn. However, his reaction asks the dark side player to spend up to an additional two Navy resources each turn. In addition, cards like Rule by Fear and the assault team are far better on the board than in an edge battle, so it might be a better short term play to make a trooper than to play someone like Tagge or Renz. The instant reward is a strong unit and a (probably) stronger edge hand, but focus shifts away from the deck’s attempted synergies, weakening the deck overall. Maybe without Tagge and Renz on the board, the trooper deck ends up being short on blast damage it was supposed to have; Renz’s mission goes undestroyed (or gets edged) and the light side wins the game before the troopers hit their target. The moral of the story is, if you plan to play Tarkin, make sure that his cost doesn’t get in the way of the big picture.

Early on, Tarkin stands decently strong on an empty board, and it feels like he warrants the 3 resources he costs. On the first turn, there is rarely anything to blank, so his 3 dots, his elite, and his black tactics hold down the board effectively. But come turn 2, units like Yoda, Cracken, Han Solo, and Luke all might pose a threat to the navy lifestyle. It’s from turn 2 onward that Tarkin will cost the deck the most resources. Sometimes it is hard to know the value of Tarkin’s reaction will be against a Yoda that hasn’t hit the board yet. Will a Chimera be suitable defender or will it be Tarkin that prevents total destruction? Treat Tarkin like you would a 5-cost unit, and the rest of his pod as something to support an already intimidating board state.

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Asteroid Sanctuary

The Falcon’s pod mirrors Tarkin’s in both form and function. Whereas Tarkin’s pod is about removing cards and taking advantages away, the Falcon’s pod is about creating characters and creating advantages from very little. Each card in the Falcon’s pod gets you directly closer to winning the game, often by creating a unit in some way. The Falcon itself is one of the most imposing units that the light side has to offer. Not only does it have a crazy statline, it also makes ANY character in your hand – no restrictions. It will blow up units and objectives and unless its blanked at the hands of Tarkin or Dr. E, it will rarely be shot down (just be sure to watch out for the rare Armed to the Teeth). Bamboozle and the Cloud City Operative also serve to “make” a unit, one that was thought to be out of the way.

As for the money, I’ve had long discussions about how the Guest Quarters is the most balanced card in the game (especially in this pod). If you spend all of the money on turn 1, you don’t get the Falcon turn 2, if you be frugal today, you can have a Falcon tomorrow (but not with a bamboozle or CCO). And if you decide not to play it, it still has 2 dots for edge. Finally, the objective rounds itself out with a Twist, much like Tarkin’s does.

The ability to manipulate focus tokens at will is rare in this game, but the Falcon comes with 2 cards that do exactly that. Playing against a Falcon deck, the DS player has to be wary of leaving a lone Palpatine or Advisor to the Emperor to defend, or risk a bamboozle letting Han Solo waltz in unopposed and destroy their board. The issue with this play is that it assumes the light side player has an established board state to work with. The play I described above required the light side player to have 1) six money available and 2) a unit on the board with at least 2 focus tokens to bamboozle from after their turn begins.

Right now, it can be very difficult to keep even a chud unit on the board when the Dark Side has so much removal readily available to them. Lightning, Choke, Captured, Tarkin’s Assault Team, Ambitions Vader – the DS has all the tools they need to wipe the other half of the board clean nearly every turn, and the Falcon’s pod does not appreciate that. On the other hand, sometimes there are games where money just doesn’t come your way. If the first Cloud City Casino rolls in on turn 3, that is 3 turns that you didn’t have the Falcon on the board, couldn’t play both a main and a supporting event, and 3 turns that the DS had to set up before your big play can really start. By adding the Falcon to your deck, you risk the possibility of a bad draw giving you no way out of a bad situation.

Of course, that can be said about lots of pods or the game as a whole. Bad draws happen to everyone. But when you add the Falcon, the deck will be far more successful when you add support in the form of consistently finding money. Recently, the Falcon was introduced to its new best friend, Zeb Orrelios. Zeb brings a money card to the deck, as well as a unit that makes money cards sometimes for free. And sometimes, that free money card is the Cloud City Guest Quarters.

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Zeb is a great unit to bring in with the Falcon as he has targeted strike (sometimes) and black icons (so you don’t have to worry about that edge battle). Zeb not being elite makes him a prime target for getting focused down, and therefore a great target for bamboozle and CCO (not to mention his efficiency when double striking). Asteroid Sanctuary gives you a way to reset the top card of your deck, giving the Freelance Slicer another chance at finding an enhancement. The list of synergies between these two pods is immense, and they seem to shore up each other’s minor weaknesses. Together, they provide the damage and tricks required to win on their own, leaving much more flexibility in the last 6 slots for dumb pods with low bomb counts (looking at you again, Yoda).

I’ve found that when my 5+ cost unit is the strongest card in my deck, it pays to be able to play it as soon as possible. During most of summer 2016, my main dark side tournament deck had six 2-resource objectives (plus 2 emperor’s web) and operated on the guarantee that I would have 6 or more resources on turn one every game. Being able to always play Palpatine or 5 resources worth of units and events added an incredible amount of consistency to my game, and paid off when I had 6 potential resources on turn one with at least the typical 4 on turn two. This same theory translates to light side pods with 5 cost units like Asteroid Sanctuary and Renegade Squadron Mobilization.

Explosive setups are hard to make consistent, but when they are they put tons of pressure on a dark side board. The Falcon is friends first and foremost with 2 resource objectives. A Hero’s Journey, A New Beginning, and Trust Me give the Falcon a way to hit the board early and a strong main to follow right behind. A Journey to Dagobah gives the deck both a 2 resource objective and R2-D2, which is great for playing the Falcon and for finding focus for the Cloud City Operative.

But, the Falcon’s original soul mate has always been Calling in Favors. That set has the resources to play both the Falcon and Bamboozle on turn 1 and the blast to keep on swinging. Talon Karde is a light side main with 2 tactics that can refresh a fighter or transport or objective every PHASE. That means, if you play a Cloud City Operative to move a focus off him, he also fixes up your blastboats like new. And then on the same turn, if you bamboozle Karde for a second strike, he makes the Falcon strke again for ultimate efficiency. Finally, the set allows you to pull off the Kessel run, a signature move that involves playing Dirty Secrets on The Spice Trade and using the Falcon’s two black bombs to blow it up in under 12 Parsecs. High-resource objectives and burst economies, paired with expensive pods, run the risk of burning out after a failed alpha strike. But a successful one can put some dark side decks behind on tempo such that they might never recover.

Much like with Tarkin, if you add the Falcon, expect to play its cards, sometimes at the expense of playing other cards. If the game gets late and you find yourself with an excess of money, having the Falcon around will almost guarantee that you will get the most out of it.

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The Emperor’s Web

This pod embodies what a dark side deck should look like. Incredible defenses, harsh punishing effects, and a terrifying main character in both statline and appearance. Palpatine has shaped the game since it started by defending entire boards and winning force struggles all on his own. Bringing along the most cost-effective protector in the game and removal in the form of direct damage and direct kill, Palpatine’s only weaknesses may be his high cost and low objective health. Although perfectly capable of defending on his own, there are some scenarios where he needs a little outside help.

First off, Palpatine will really only show up to a planet if it has at least 2 Libraries on it. More often than him hitting the board, he will be thrown into an edge stack, where he’s likely to still pull his weight. The scenarios where money is in abundance and Palpatine becomes a real choice between edge fuel and board state are the toughest and separate the players from the champs, but they occur much more rarely than you might think.

Second off, there’s Force Lightning, the other real money sink of the pod. Force lightning is the other real money sink of the pod. Even with the Emperor’s Web in play, Lightning can be an expensive way to destroy a unit. Usually it is worth it to kill Qu Rahn and Shien Training all at once, but without those resources, you don’t get to develop a board and the light side counterattack may be painful. Conversely, when deciding to hold the Lightning for just one more turn, its one dot is dead weight in edge battles and a well-timed Well Equipped can unfocus the Qu you were planning on zapping.

His pod remains very expensive; but unlike the Falcon, his pod can sometimes seem to generate value for little cost. The royal guard protects any characters (not just palpatine) and has an impressive 3 health and 2 dots for only 2 resources. Force choke is free damage, technically, though it comes at the cost of a potential edge card. This leads into the pod’s final problem, one I see in a lot of pods: its cards are just “too precious.” Some pods are guiltier of this than others, but needing to hold a card for just one more turn is a cost that compounds on itself like interest. Every time you hold Palp for the next edge battle or the choke for the perfect moment is one more turn you didn’t draw the twist you needed or the Vader you were waiting for in the first place.

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The Spice Trade

You know, I have to be honest right now. Sometimes this article is really hard to write. I talk a lot about this game, and if you ask people, my opinions on cards can change in an instant. A frequent argument I make is that Twist of Fate is a bad card because it provides no dots and no board presence (I usually make this argument ironically and when I have a deck without a Twist in it). But sometimes there is a pod that comes along that is really, reeeallyy hard to argue against. I found a way to badmouth Yoda, Tarkin, The Falcon, and Palpatine all in the same breath, so I’m sure that I can find a way to call any pod bad if I put my mind to it.

This brings me to the worst pod in the game: The Spice Trade.

This pod is so bad, right? I mean it only gives you 2 money every turn and doesn’t count as a destroyed objective! It’s just asking to hear some of my dirty secrets. Moruth Doole (who has a thick Russian accent in the NY meta) only triggers when an objective is destroyed (that never happens right)? And he comes with these spiders that don’t refresh? The pod is a bad combo that will probably never happen ever unless we get a creature tutor somewhere. And the event that completely unfocuses any unit? Sure, until you have to bury it in focus for the rest of the game. And the fate card that doubles any other fate card? Probably needs a trigger or a unique scum unit or something. No? Ok. Fine then.

Seriously, why this pod exists how it does is beyond me. At some point Scum’s thing became having lots of black icons for incredibly cheap and having the ability to win the game out of nowhere. Scum has the removal, the tricks, the early game ramp, and the damage to propel itself to the top of the food chain with this pod at its helm. So why would you not put this pod in every scum deck you make? I’ve got two arguments that somewhat illustrate my thoughts on the matter.

Argument 1: Let’s hearken back to Yularen. When talking about where Yularen isn’t at his best, I mentioned that some decks want to be aggressive while others need to be defensive. The Spice Trade is an obscenely offensive pod, and only a mediocre defensive pod. Spiders are very sad on the first turn, as they rarely make it to the second without a focus on them forever. You never want to commit a spider because of the potential to one day strike again with it with Doole’s help. Also, being on the Force makes them a prime target for Seeds of Decay. Spice blitz may help you pull off a big defense, but it will almost certainly remove that character from engagements in future turns. Doole himself will help secure your second and third objectives blowing up in a single turn, but you really don’t want to fight with him if it risks a stray Heat of Battle causing his demise.

This brings me to my second argument: his cards are “the most precious.” When every one of his pod’s cards are incredible at certain times, drawing them at the wrong time puts you in a weird dilemma. I’m sure that everyone who has ever played his pod has had Doole in hand for an edge battle. It sucks, right? He has only one dot, so he probably won’t make a difference, and he will definitely make a difference next turn when you play him! But then things go south, and next turn you have no board. At that point you could play Xizor, Ephant Mon, or Doole. Well you need a defender with multiple tactics right? So I guess Doole has to wait another turn. I’ve run into this situation with every card in the set. Spiders that I don’t want to play on turn 1, a Spice Blitz that is just 1 money too expensive, even with hallucination that I wanted to be sure I used to double a Heat of Battle. Even though Doole’s pod is cheap, the rest of Scum has lots of important cards that need to hit the board, and Doole’s pod assumes that you’re attacking and playing from ahead. If the deck falls behind early, Doole may not be there to save the game later.

In those games where Doole did not hit the board for one reason or another, the deck always has this excuse that it’ll just play Doole next time and win. Maybe it will attack a little more next time and it will be fine. After all, if I just had the Spice Trade out or drew Underground Entertainment I would have been fine. Rarely, if ever does a scum player blame his game on Doole’s inclusion, and that level of immunity might be dangerous for a deck. In those games where the cards in the pod sit in your hand, the deck will draw its answers less often. Holding Doole for one turn might have been the difference in finding the underground entertainment that was necessary for defense. Sure, any pod with strong cards creates the same liability, but Doole is the strongest case for the argument.  When cards in your deck are unplayed, unedged, and unutilized, they reduce the quality of the deck overall. Add strong cards to your deck, but be sure you plan for how to play them. And please, don’t add a dumb pod like Doole’s just because it’s strong.

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The Survivors

The Survivors is an interesting pod. It’s a support pod with a main and also a main pod that requires support. On one hand, Qu brings incredible efficiency. All of his cards revolve around keeping damage off of your favorite units and sometimes sending it back where it came. But in that philosophy lies a problem: Qu’s pod is utterly useless without someone to protect.

Qu often finds himself at the heart of a Jedi core, rounding out the defense of Luke and Yoda. Jedi pods really appreciate their mains sticking on the board, and Qu can provide that better than any other pod not named Secret of Yavin 4. But Qu and his cards are sometimes prohibitively expensive. It is easy to count the high cost of Qu’s pod, (4-2-2-2-fate), but what else does Qu cost a Jedi deck? Qu’s addition means that your Jedi deck just shifted into slow mode. Any command card in Qu’s pod is not one you want to see in the first few turns; Qu and the Sulon aren’t good attackers or defenders and both cost you tempo. If you do end up playing Qu early, you will also likely end up committing him, which leaves him focused for most of the game.

Shien training and Rejuvenation are just as sad when drawn early too. Both require you to have someone already on the board who can learn the training or who’s in need of healing and refreshing. Now, Qu does make up for his slow start in a couple ways. Both his objective and fate card can create early damage barriers at no cost that give your favorite main one more turn to stick around and find the friends from this pod. By that time, you’ll have more money and some breathing room to enhance that Yoda or to rejuvenate Luke and start swinging for some real damage.

In this way, it is reasonable to cost each card in Qu’s pod by adding it to the cost of another unit. Force Rejuvenation costs 2 + the 4 you paid for Luke. Shien training costs 2 + the 3 you paid for Yoda. Lots of Jedi decks that include Qu are expecting to play patiently, and build a fortress before knocking on the Dark Side’s door. But recently, with the advent of aggressive Scum decks and the return of Captured, Qu might not provide the quick, cheap protection that worked in the days of Vader and Choke. Playing him might be the one turn Doole needed to waltz his spiders in and eliminate what is left of the Survivors.

None of the Survivors’ cards work unless played in tandem with another Jedi main. The standard way to make this happen is to play a main one turn, and then support him on the next. This strategy, admittedly made simpler with the help of Protection and the objective, has become harder and harder lately due to the rise of events like Captured, Force Manipulation, and He Doesn’t Like You, and the accumulation of aggressive early mains like Ephant Mon, Bane Malar, and Mara Jade. It is safe to say that any Sith / Scum “Force Hunters” variant puts some serious hurt on slow Jedi like Yoda and Qu Rahn.

To combat this, I propose going fast enough to make full use of Qu’s pod as soon as possible. Like the Falcon, Qu also appreciates early game speed in the form of 2+ resource objectives. A New Beginning, Matter Under Mind, and A Hero’s Journey all provide Qu with a way to go fast early and even stretch the available resources while the turn is underway. Journey to Dagobah, A Hero’s Beginning and Master’s Domain also provide burst economy, but often find that they need a bit more oomph to push through. All of these pods suffer from burning out after getting stopped in their quick early game. Qu Rahn might bring the strong support they need to coast by until their resources refresh and more mains show up.

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Resourceful Survivors

As far as costs are concerned, I have tried to cover two bases at once, the cost of playing a card and the cost of not playing a card. Playing costs money while not playing costs options (often in the form of edge and future draws). A deck becomes clogged when it has cards too expensive to play and too precious to edge. Resourceful Survivors is a pod that I think tries to mitigate costs in new and interesting ways, but is too greedy on its own to fill a support role. Before I dive in, I want to say that this pod is still new at the time of this article (Oct 2016), and the jury is still out on the pod. I personally think it is the expensive star of Rebel’s new core.

Each card in this pod provides some sort of card advantage or equal trade. Vanden Willard and the survivor passively add cards to your hand while providing a meager board presence. In this game, where the cost of a card means not having it for an edge battle, the ability of Willard and the survivor to keep your hand at a healthy 5 or 6 is not to be underestimated. Similarly, the objective letting you play cards from your discard keeps your hand full and your options open. If you can be sure you’ll see it consistently (possibly with GA Leia), then maybe the deck can count on winning more edge battles and being more flexible overall.

The events in this pod represent a shift in how the Dark Side can afford to play the game. Now, with access to an interesting board reset and a way to punish ramp, Dark Side decks that focus on playing lots of money and cards may find themselves vulnerable where they used to be unstoppable. With Resourceful Survivors in play and Prep and Planning an option, the light side can potentially play A New Hope at any time, resetting the board going back into their turn. That play may be the move that brings aggressive Scum decks to a halt, and places Rebel Characters firmly in the meta.

The pod is designed to pair with strong Rebel events. Cards like Inspiring presence, Rebel Assault, and Desperation can flat out win games, and this pod has ways to search for, discount, recur, and replace these events. I’ve seen a number of ambitious lists that threaten the toolbox that Rebels can now bring to the table. Being able to win the game by playing a combination of Operations Planners and Rebel Assaults is an unprecedented strategy for this game. A deck that can win with minimal conflict is a terrifying thing in the right proportion, and the all-out blitz style is terrifying.

But from what I’ve seen, 2+ cost events become really greedy really fast. Much like Tarkin’s tools, good events ask to be played, sometimes in place of other strong cards. Having two Preparation and Plannings in the deck can help, but the deck then becomes inconsistent, never finding the right cards all at the right time and never having a strong board presence. Operations planners need to die to be played again, and as long as rebel assaults are hitting objectives, Dark Side mains can freely engage. I’m sure that a viable build exists, but constructing it is a delicate balance I can’t get quite right.

236-02Willard’s pod joins other rebels like Dodonna and Hope of the Rebellion in giving the Rebel toolkit ways to improve their card advantage, but the faction still finds itself expensive overall. Leaders are providing card advantage and consistency in the form of card draw (Willard, Dodonna, Hoth Han), resource management (Mon Mothma, Core Leia, Ambitions Leia), and versatility (Endor Han, Blissex, Cracken). With Willard packing expensive events that may be essential to the Rebel blueprint, Rebels suddenly have the same conundrum as Navy. At which point is it important to play solid leaders and characters on the board to fight and when can the deck rely on short-lived events to get to the finish line? Rebels events are supported by great fate cards like Rebel hope, Preparation and Planning, and Twist of Fate but I am not sure that the deck can guarantee it will find the right pieces all at once.

However, I see a new hope in Willard’s pod, as I’m sure many others may see also. Willard’s niche may not be in abusing strong rebel events but in mitigating the cost of already cheap events across factions! Notably, Willard pairs well with free events and events that draw more cards. Scouting Ahead, You’re My Only Hope, Hidden Among Friends, Holding all the Cards, and Rahn’s Guidance all provide incredible consistency to a deck when you can find them with the Alderaan Survivor and draw more cards with Willard himself. Let the Wookie Win, Lightsaber Deflection, and Kanan’s Concentration are pure value when they become a cantrip. In this game, where expensive pods are the ones that can flip a game in your favor, maybe Willard’s cost-effective tools can make these plays at far less cost.

This deck can also add even more consistency in the form of search-based event cards like Rebel for Hire, Last Minute Defenses, and Yoda, You Seek Yoda. These pods allow a Light Side deck to find its units and still have cards left for the edge battle. But it would be important to support the deck with units that capitalize off the speed and early game consistency. This is the archetype I want to more fully explore. Units like Luke, Derlin, Beezer, and Kyle Katarn seem a lot stronger when you have ways to find both them and their support they demand in the same turn. The strength of a zero-cost event is that it is unpredictable. By filling a deck with free events and adding Willard to support them seems both unpredictable and explosive. I believe that Resourceful Survivors has the potential to play on either side of the card cost spectrum. In the right deck, it can be an expensive powerhouse that uses the discard pole to avoid clogged hands, or it can give a deck the confidence to find the tools it needs to put its plan into action.

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Closing Thoughts

Thinking about the cost of cards in your deck can be a tough subject. Expensive cards are strong, but not being able to play them makes them almost worthless. Randomness is inherent in playing a card game, so it is impossible to know in which games your deck will find its money and in which games it simply won’t. In games where your board is rich, cards like the Falcon and Palpatine will shine as they hit the board, and on their backs, the deck might just cruise to victory. But in games where the opponent seems to be playing just one turn faster, it can be hard to get back in control. Reclaiming control often mandates a big move – removing a main unit with Captured, Lightning, or A New Hope, or destroying a troublesome Tarkin Doctrine. The cards in these six expensive pods I have discussed all have the ability to make these big plays – that’s why they’re the best pods in the game. Some pods only work well when the deck is already ahead (see offense-heavy pods like Zeb, or Kallus). Other pods are defensively oriented and can stall a game, but struggle to finish things when it needs to (see Ferus or Tarentateks). The pods that straddle that line of all around usefulness, having strength on offense, defense, and unpredictability, those are the star pods of the game. Add them to your deck if you need that X factor, but be prepared to pay their price.

-Colby Bennardo

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