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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.

worlds-ds-3

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.

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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

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