Empire at War (EAW) has been released for around a week now, and although the meta is nowhere near settled, there are some early trends and popular decks that are arising and representing change from the previous Spirit of the Rebellion (SOR) meta. Knowing the popular decks and what cards are strong against them can help give you an edge over the competition and help you decide what cards to include in your 30 card draw deck. With so many different kinds of decks, we are reaching a point where not every card in your deck may be useful against every deck, so it is becoming increasingly important to have an understanding of the popular decks and to see those decks influence the individual cards that are used. Let’s examine some of the standout and popular decks that are being discussed and played, along with some of the popular removal and defensive cards that are useful against each deck.
The Old Standby:
Poe/Maz is a deck that was adopted early on during the release of SOR. It abuses Poe’s powerful dice and special along with Maz’s action cheating to consistently fix and resolve Poe’s dice to resolve powerful die sides on cards such as Thermal Detonator, U-Wing, Millenium Falcon, and Rocket Launcher. This deck’s strategy didn’t really change very much with the release of EAW, but EAW brought some more powerful cards that can be utilized with Poe’s special, such as the LR1K Sonic Cannon.
Another old standby, Rainbow FN is another deck that is based on playing a slow game and generating value out of getting multiple rolls with weapons off of FN’s ability. It utilizes economy generating cards such as Enrage, Logistics, and Aftermath to generate resources and constantly playing and overriding weapons on FN to get ahead of the damage curve. This deck gained access to a lot of new weapons in this set and while the overall strategy has not changed, the weapons you may see can differ.
For the sake of brevity, I’m putting these characters together into the “blue/X villain” deck category. These kinds of decks can vary widely with their builds, but all of these characters are very powerful with access to some of the best support cards in the game. Even without EAW cards, the options and the support that these characters have access to with additional options from their supporting characters makes them a contender without any new cards. Some of the more popular supporting characters include the new 2 player phasma and FN-2199, but older partners such as AWK Kylo, Royal Guard, and Tusken Raider can also be potent. Builds can vary from heavy holocron suites to low upgrade suites and anything in between. Chances are, if Vibroknife is a concern, then it’ll likely be coming from a variant of Blue/X Villain.
The New Decks:
One interesting and unique standout deck is a combination of Hera and Maz, paired with either Ezra or a Rookie Pilot for a 5 dice start. This is the first time in Destiny’s history where 5 dice starts are possible, but the strength of this deck comes mainly from its ability to support vehicles through Hera’s effect, Maz’s Focus, and just being a resilient 3 character deck that can survive long enough for you to get value out of your vehicle dice. This deck is slow, but has the most reliable removal options that hero has access to in the form of Flank, Honor Guard, Pinned down, and field medic.
Another unique deck that has become very popular as of late is Thrawn/Unkar. This deck aims to generate a lot of resources and either win by deck out with tools such as Buy Out, using cards like Crime Lord to pay its way to victory, or just dropping a lot of big supports. Since the deck makes a lot of money, the world is your oyster when it comes to defensive options, but the most common seems to be hedging on cards such as Hound’s tooth, personal shield, and armor plating to just constantly generate shields faster than your opponent can deal damage through any sort of other mitigation, along with Prized Possession which slows any big character deck down by a lot. The mill and crime lord variants of Thrawn/Unkar also have the advantage of completely blanking all damage based removal, and cards such as deflect, honor guard, high ground, force illusion, and field medic which directly interact with damage are more or less completely useless against this deck. and knowing that a good portion of your opponent’s deck are just blank cards makes Thrawn’s ability more frustrating for your opponent to handle.
Cad/Phasma is one of the new standout pure aggro decks coming out of EAW. Although Cad’s effect is a once-per-turn version of AWK Rey, being able to action cheat into resolving damage out of Cad’s powerful damage sides is potent enough to see experimentation and early play. This deck’s action cheating can get around dice removal and with strong enough economy, Cad’s character dice becomes very scary when paired with the ability to immediately resolve them without interaction. Although this deck’s damage potential is high and it has the ability to get around mitigation, it’s still slowed down significantly by shields, and any deck that can consistently find shields may be able to survive long enough to stabilize against it.
We conclude our analysis of the popular EAW decks with decks centered around Sabine. Sabine’s effect presents constant action cheat by cycling ambush upgrades, allowing her to activate and resolve her dice freely without any interruptions. With a 2 and 3 damage side, neither of which are pay sides, and the fact that you can play upgrades from your discard pile from her effect, makes Sabine’s action cheating a lot more consistent and scarier than Cad’s with the right setup. Sabine has a variety of partners and it’s not exactly clear who she would pair best with, but common pairings are Snap, Ezra, Ackbar, and even 2 player Poe (Sabine is not elite in this setup). Sabine also has access to the widely controversial running interference loop, which takes some setup but can lock your opponent out of the game when set up properly. Overall, I think the loop may not be the best option to play for, but Sabine has a really strong action cheating game and enough survival tools, especially with second chance, to see play without the combo.
Looking at the big picture of the previously mentioned decks, the majority of the strong aggro decks feature mixed or ranged damage, with some strong damage specials weaved into the mix. Many of them, including Poe/Maz, Cad/Bane, Sabine, and FN variants, feature some sort of action cheating, or the ability to otherwise resolve dice freely without any interaction. With so many of these decks in the format, pure dice removal becomes much less potent as a form of mitigation and cards with healing and shield effects such as Dug In, Caution, Field Medic, and force illusion become more potent. Damage prevention was weakened greatly by Vibroknife, but if the meta starts to move away to a point where Vibroknife based decks are less of a concern, shields and damage prevention will become more reliable.
Now, while damage prevention works fairly well against action cheating, it’s important to remember that perfect damage rolls will not happen every time, so dice removal as a form of mitigation won’t be totally useless against action cheating, especially if it presents a big damage swing, such as deflect. Most playable dice removal cards have some sort of condition, and many of the common impactful ones are targeted to remove dice showing damage, as damage is generally what you would want to mitigate anyway, but consider adding some generic dice removal that may be more flexible but present less of a damage swing. Remember that Thrawn/Unkar is one of the upcoming decks that is looking to break into the meta, and cards that interact with only damage such as Deflect, High Ground, and Honor Guard are completely useless against many builds of Thrawn/Unkar.
In conclusion, we only have access to 30 cards in our deck, and deck space can be limited when you have to consider the various other cards that need to go into a deck outside of just dice removal and mitigation. It’s important to remember to tune a deck’s defensive mitigation suite based on the expected decks you will be seeing and what your deck may be weak to. Your mitigation choices present a way to shore up your deck’s weaker matchups, increase your deck’s stronger matchups, or provide an opportunity to tech against the expected metagame. For this reason, it is important to keep up with the meta and the discussions and to have some ability to anticipate the popular decks.