Hello and welcome to my first (of hopefully many) Star Wars: Destiny strategy article. Today I want to talk about deck building. More specifically, I want to talk about the most important elements that I want my decks to have. I want to acknowledge that I may leave out something you believe should be on this list, but ultimately I can only write about so much. The elements I will be discussing are ‘starting hand consistency’, ‘unpreventable/unseen damage’, ‘removal’, and ‘handling your character deaths well’.
Starting Hand Consistency:
What exactly do I mean when I say ‘starting hand consistency’? It’s simple really; I want to start a vast majority of my games happy with the cards I drew. I don’t want to end up saying 50% of the time, “if only I’d drawn my Sith Holocrons”. If I’m going to lose, I want it to be because of my errors and my opponents play, not luck of the draw. Destiny is a luck mitigation game, and when you are deck building, you need to be thinking about how you can mitigate the “luck of the draw’s” effect on the rest of your game. If your thinking to yourself, “But I can always draw holocron turn 2 or 3”, or “but I win games with bad starting hands anyway”, then I ask you, how often do you win? If you’re looking to win tournaments, you can’t afford to lose ANY games. Cuts, are tight, and usually losing even 1 will put you at the mercy of ‘Strength of Schedule’. With that in mind you really can’t afford to EVER start with a bad hand in a tournament.
Why is this such a big deal? Why does a starting hand matter so much? Think of each turn in the game as an investment. Each action you take will either remove or add funds to your account (they either help you lose, or help you win). The account also gives you interest off of anything in it (your actions on turn one will compound in turn 2, 3, 4, 5 etc. as all your possible future moves are affected by the initial move). Putting money down early into an investment will pay huge dividends later on, as it earns interest for the longest period of time.
Destiny is no different, actions that you take early will have a much larger impact on the game than your last ‘game winning action’. It is only because of all the actions that you took beforehand that you were able to get to that ‘winning action’ in the first place. With this in mind, you have to be considering how good of an investment you are making on each of your starting turns, and if it is low, you need to change something about your deck. Your starting hand has a huge effect on the game, and if you don’t draw a good starting hand consistently you cannot expect to also win consistently.
So how do I build a deck with starting hands in mind? It’s relatively simple. For a vast majority of decks it means putting in upgrades that you want to play on turn one, and in most decks that’s easy. A lot of ranged-damage decks don’t even have to think about this, because all the upgrades they run are also good to play on turn 1 (excluding DL-44 Heavy Blaster Pistol). A Jango/Bala/Trooper deck is perfectly happy starting with any one of the following: DH-17, Holdout Blaster, F-11D, Jetpack, etc. All of these cost 2 or less and are a great start for the deck.
There are however, a couple areas where I think people are making mistakes. First and foremost, blue decks. The tendency of most players is that as soon as they have blue they throw in Mind Probes, Force Throws, Lightsabers, OWTF, etc. This is especially true in villain decks, where the holocron only makes it more tempting to throw in all the expensive upgrades. These upgrades take up too many cards in their upgrade slots, and often times blue decks will have far too few cheap upgrades as a result. The solution most players offer to this problem? “I have It Binds All Things, and (if villain) holocrons.” If you’re playing hero and your solution to the problem is 2 cards in your deck, you really need to rethink your strategy. Even with villain and having 4 possible cards, there will be some games where you won’t draw any of your solutions, and when that happens, it’s going to hurt. What this means is that you really do need to slot in some 2 cost upgrades that can provide resources as another means of ramping. A perfect example of a card that I think should be in a holocron deck is Force Training. It has a natural resource side and it’s special can provide resources. If you don’t draw your holocrons, and you do draw the Force Training, at the very least you can play a cheap upgrade that will return money to you, and can be overwritten if you want later on in the game. While this is obviously not as good as a holocron, it’s still better than having to wait to play a 3 cost upgrade turn 2.
The second area I think people are making mistakes is in undervaluing cards that are strong early, but fall off late game. The best example of this is Jedi Robes. I hear a lot of people talking about how much they dislike the card, and how its sides are just underwhelming. Jedi Robes is insane. Not only can it give you 2 free shields turn one, its die sides are amazing early on in a game, as it has 2 resource sides. Resources are most valuable at the beginning of the game, where they will be able to affect your ramp for the longest part of the game. Yes, I understand that on turn 3 or 4 you might not want to play it (side note: any Rey deck will be able to just use it as an ambush version of Take Cover anyway.) However, the potential gain from drawing it turn one is completely worth the investment. There is no better upgrade to start with in a blue hero deck. Since turn one is the most important turn of the game, how can you justify not putting the card in the deck.
Unpreventable / Unseen Damage
Moving on to another critical part of any successful deck is Unpreventable/unseen damage, which is anything that your opponent cannot prevent. Typically that is because the action in which you reveal that you can do the damage is the same action (or multiple if action cheating) in which you actually deal it. I’ll go ahead and list some of the obvious examples of this: Rey’s action cheating, Tusken Raider’s ability, Jango’s ability, All in, Riposte, Fight Dirty, Force Strike, Armed To The Teeth, etc. Most decks do run a lot of these types of cards, but there are some fringe decks that don’t use many. Those decks will never be tier one.
Why? First, these forms of actions allow you to push your damage through your opponents control. All tier one decks are going to have at least a third of their deck be control/defensive cards. If you don’t have a way to cheat out damage, then there are very good odds that you will simply not be able to deal the damage when it counts. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it makes it harder for your opponent to predict the future. Destiny is similar to a game of chess. Based on the current board state, both players will be thinking all the way to the end of the round, predicting which actions their opponents will take, and trying to determine the best possible actions they can take. If your opponent knows that what you have on the board is all he has to play around, it is so much easier for him to make the correct choices. If however, he has to be thinking about the potential for Tusken’s ability, No Mercy, and Force Strike (if he’s playing Vader/Raider), then he has to consider sub-optimal plays to ensure that the worst possible future doesn’t happen. This is so important. Decks that have a high enough threshold of unpreventable/unseen damage force their opponent into making more cautious choices (or they can punish them when they don’t).
If then, you are playing a deck without many of these type of plays, you need to add as many viable options as you can into your deck. Even in mill decks. Theoretically in a Dooku/Jabba deck, you could do something like All in, focusing to 4 discard, and eliminating your opponent’s entire hand unexpectedly. You can also make plays like Ace in the Hole > Crime Lord. Just by adding those 4 cards into your deck, if you ever have a focus and 5 resources, your opponent can’t claim. He has to wait so that he can remove the Crime Lord die when you roll it in, and he has to do that regardless of what you actually have in your hand. These type of cards, regardless of how much actual effect they have on the game will force your opponent into sub-optimal choices. Thus, if a deck that has a large amount of unpreventable / unseen plays is facing a deck with few or none, it will be far easier for the first deck to make optimal plays, and thus easier for the deck to win. Don’t make it easy for your opponent, make it as hard as you can.
This is perhaps the most obvious element I will discuss, but it’s so important that I can’t not talk about it. Any and every deck needs removal, and lots of it. Look at any tier one deck, and even the most aggressive decks will be running 10-14 removal/defensive cards. The reason for this is simple: if you don’t disrupt your opponent’s game plan, and he disrupts yours, he will execute his game plan faster than you can execute yours. Another way to think about removal is realizing that removal you play is often actually increasing your effective damage. This is because if you play enough removal cards to enable your character to live even one turn longer, he will get to deal one more turns worth of damage. Anyway, I am going to assume you likely already know the basics of removal, and will instead talk about a less obvious aspect of it.
Removal comes in two forms, ‘limited’ and ‘unlimited’. Limited removal hits a set number of dice (almost always 1, sometimes 2) and is usually easy to use. Unlimited removal hits a classification of dice and has no limit to how many that ends up being, but it is typically more difficult to use. Limited removal is often used each turn in order to slightly hamper your opponent and keep him from getting out of control. Unlimited removal is used maybe once or twice in a game, and is meant to completely shut down an opponents turn. Limited removal wins a game through consistency, while unlimited removal wins a game through devastating a single round. When building a deck you need to be thinking about which forms of removal you have, and how that will affect your playstyle. Ideally, when you make a deck you would have about a 3 to 1 ratio of limited to unlimited removal. This would allow you draw enough limited removal to hopefully play one each turn, while allowing you a good chance at having your unlimited removal when your opponent satisfies its targeting conditions at least once at a key point in the game. However, I do not believe this 3 to 1 ratio is a law, and there are some decks that simply don’t have enough good options in one of the aspects to have a 3 to 1 ratio.
Ultimately what I’d like for you to take away from this is an awareness of how the style of removal you run in your deck will affect your game. If you run a deck like Vader Raider which has tons of limited, but almost no unlimited removal, then you really do need to play it as often as you can because you won’t be able to remove many dice at once. You also don’t have to be too concerned about setting up your removal as it’s very easy to use. If however you are running a deck like Poe Rey, which relies on its unlimited removal (Force Misdirection and Defensive Position), then you need to spend much more time thinking about how to set up your removal. Claiming early to enable your Defensive Position/ being able to roll out a blue die for Force Misdirection can be really important in that deck. However, on the average turn you might not be as concerned about letting a die hit you, as you know that by claiming early, next turn you could remove upwards of 4 dice with a single card.
Handling Deaths Well
What do I mean by handling deaths well? There are essentially 2 main points I want to focus on. First, your deck needs to have ways of conserving resources when a character dies. It is already devastating to lose a character, but to additionally lose 2-10 resources worth of upgrades will make it much worse. Make sure you are finding ways to slot cards with redeploy or similar effects (OWTF) into your deck to minimize your loss of value when a character dies. Second, try to build your deck such that multiple of your characters can finish the game. Consider your characters and how your deck functions once a specific character has died. If you realize that once ‘x’ character has died, your ‘y’ character really can’t do much, then you need to change something up. When I initially built Poe Rey decks, I ran lots of cards that were good for Poe (IQA, DH-17, It’s a Trap, etc.) The problem with this was that if Poe ever died too early, Rey would have almost no chance of winning the game. I then began making iterations that only ran upgrades/cards that Rey could use (Lightsabers, Rey’s Staff, OWTF, All in, etc.) After this, when my opponent would kill Poe, instead of losing 3 resources worth of upgrades (IQA) and having lots of useless cards, I would have a stacked up Rey, ready to finish the job. Instead of drawing a useless It’s a Trap, I’d draw a useful All in that functions well with the focuses on Jedi Robes or OWTF. Fortunately, even if my opponent kills Rey first, Poe is still able to use all those cards for himself, and usually Rey will have redeploy weapons such as Holdout Blaster, Lightsaber, or OWTF, and thus I wouldn’t lose the resources I had spent on those upgrades.
Why is this so important that I put it on the list? We are in a very aggressive meta, and the simple fact is – your characters will die – sometimes extremely quickly. If you’re deck is hurt badly by its first death, you simply won’t be able to win consistently. However, if you’re deck can still function well after its first death, then a large number of games that were previously losses could now become wins. Yes, you can build a deck that relies on a single character and win a majority of games. However, to have a tier one deck that wins at tournaments, you can’t afford to run a deck that will lose when your opponent wrecks you early, because the fact of the matter is, by the end of the day there will be at least 1-2 games in which your first death occurs on turn 2. Yes, by designing your deck with the idea that one of your characters will die can limit each of your characters’ maximum potential. However, the peak performance of your deck is not as important as your average / bad game performance. If you have a great game with your ‘optimized for one character’ deck, and you have a great game with your ‘optimized for first death’ deck, sure the first deck might win a turn earlier. However, the second deck still got a win. If instead you look at a bad game with the ‘optimized for one’ deck and it’s a loss, and you look at a bad game for an ‘optimized for death’ deck and it’s a win, you must realize that the ‘optimized for death’ deck wins more often. How much you can beat your opponent by is not as important as how often you beat your opponent. Design your decks for a better average win percentage, not for wider margin of victories.
I want to restate that there are plenty of topics left untouched by this article. There are also plenty of good decks that are missing one or more of these elements. However, the goal of this article was to identify the main elements that I believe give tier 1 decks an advantage over tier 2 decks, and what I try hardest to include in my own decks. Hopefully in reading this, you were able to identify an aspect in which your deck is weak. Maybe you only run 4 good starting cards, try to slot in more. Maybe you don’t have enough unseen damage, slot in a card or two to fix that. At the very least, I hope that what I have written has helped you to see deck building and analysis from a new and helpful angle.
May the force be with you and with your deck building.
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