If you haven’t read the intro article to this series, check it out here.
Example decklist (courtesy of Will Klein)
- 13 hp is highest in the game.
- Great damage sides.
- 2 disrupt is strong.
- His trigger is incredibly strong for controlling your opponent’s options consistently.
- His dice, while having great damage, are also inconsistent. 33% odds may sound okay, but it’s not unheard of for you to reroll 3 times and not hit a damage. This sucks and can lose you a game (compare this to like Veers or Leia who, while having lower damage, at least have 3 damage sides making rerolls more consistent.)
- Note: his high value sides make up for this, he just has more luck built into his kit, since when you are spending 21 points on him, you really NEED him to roll damage, and can’t afford to take 1 shield/resource on 21 point dice. Note also that while his dice are inconsistent, one of the main reasons you play Vader is the consistency afforded by Force Strike, although that is draw reliant.
- His ability functions really well with Holocron abilities like Mind Probe, or his 3 damge.
- His ability can speed up the deck, making it easier to claim if you need to.
- 9 points for 8 hp is not that efficient.
Overall Character evaluation:
- This deck has one of the highest ‘out of the gate’ damage caps, it can deal 9 damage with its 3 dice.
- The natural control of Vader is crazy good.
- The deck is pretty top heavy, with 21 points sitting on Vader.
- 21 hp is relatively low.
- 3 dice.
The greatest strength of the deck is its ability to control your opponent. Yellow/blue villain has insane control options, and Vader’s ability really pushes it into a new level of control. Every deck in the game is going to have to reroll in order to win, and Vader significantly hampers this every turn. Not only does it hamper their ability to reroll, but it also hampers their ability to control you. Discarding reduces how many control options they have in their hand, and if they choose to hold onto their control, then they can’t reroll with that card. So either A.) they don’t reroll, or B.) they don’t control you. That 1 card really matters.
In addition to the decks’ level of control is the fact that VR doesn’t need upgrades to win the game. Don’t get me wrong, it certainly helps, but VR can deal 9 damage with just its character dice. On top of this, it can Force Strike or Backup Muscle for guaranteed damage, and it can utilize No Mercy for a huge burst, all of this with only character dice. This allows VR to actually spend 1-2 resources every turn on control effects, without hampering its offensive capabilities. Contrast this with a ranged weapon deck, where if they don’t play guns turn 1 and 2, they just won’t have enough damage to win the game. Now, against top decks, this kind of falls off, and the Holocron upgrades become really important. Many decks will simply have too much control for 3 dice to win the game. That being said, VR is the least upgrade reliant deck out there (at least in the top tier).
Another huge strength of the deck is that Holocron abilities on Tusken Raider are insane, and in general, any sort of consistent action cheat is strong. No one wants to be sitting across the table from a Mind Probe Tusken Raider.
The biggest weakness of the deck is that it relies heavily on Vader’s dice performing well. 21 points are sitting on Vader and he only has a 33% chance of rolling damage on each of his dice. If you fail to do so in the first couple turns, his dice simply won’t pay for themselves. I’ve seen games where Vader rolls 4-6 damage first three turns and the deck crushes. I’ve also seen games where Vader refuses to hit damage. Even if you can roll damage on Vader, decks with single die removal will wreck a VR early as 21 points of die value can be completely mitigated (contrast this with a gun deck, where each die deals 1-2 damage, but there are 6-8 dice. Single die removal is much more efficient against top heavy decks).
Another weakness of the deck is its draw reliance. A VR that plays Sith Holocron on turn 1 or 2 is so much more viable than a VR that doesn’t draw it. VR can also really need it’s Force Strikes early to guarantee the damage. Finally, if you ever don’t draw removal, there simply isn’t enough HP in the deck to handle an entire free turn of damage to you.
VR, more than all other Tier 1 decks, suffers from what happens when its main character dies. If Vader gets blown up on turn 3 or 4, there’s almost no way for it to come back. Even a Mind Probe equipped Tusken will have issues. I’m not saying that Tusken can’t finish a game, but if you’re opponent deals 13 early damage, the Raider very likely won’t be enough to turn the game around.
Playing with Vader/Raider
How to play early-game:
Mulligans are interesting, and can be match dependent. You’re always looking for holocron. Beyond that, you probably want to keep Force Strikes for the guaranteed early damage, and you should hold on to at least 1 removal card.
Make use of your crazy early game damage, getting as much use out of the 2 / 3 damage sides as you can. Ultimately, you’re trying to set up the early No Mercy on turn 2 or 3. If you can deal 3-5 damage turn 1, and then follow it up with a 4-6 damage No Mercy on turn 2 for a quick kill, the game is pretty much in the bag. This is pretty roll dependent on turn 2, as having to reroll nerfs No Mercy, but you still have a good shot at it.
Holocron goes on Raider first. If you can get your opponent to go for Tusken first, it’s so good for you, essentially giving Vader an extra 8 hp. If instead your opponent goes for Vader first, Tusken makes the best use of Holocron powers anyway, and you have a better chance of closing the game should Vader die.
Typically, you want to choose your opponent’s battlefield
How to play mid-game:
Mid game is typically about when you have killed an opponent’s character, or Vader is getting close to lethal range ( your opponent could 1 shot him).
If you have the upper hand, the game is pretty straight forward. With half of your opponent’s character dice gone, your single die removal is that much more effective, and you can choke your opponent for the rest of the game. No need to play greedy, just slowly tighten the noose with consistent damage and control.
If instead you are behind, then you really need to be greedy and go for as much possible damage out of Vader as you can (you still need to control your opponent’s dice). Hopefully, you can No Mercy and get a kill before Vader falls, allowing Tusken to at least potentially close the game for you. However, going for as much damage as possible needs to be balanced with the potential gain of rolling Vader first on the next turn, claiming early can be worth it. Ultimately, Vader is 21 points, and if you don’t get value out of him before he dies, you’re going to lose.
How to play late-game:
Late game is typically about when Vader dies. You may have already won during mid game.
At this point, the game is not that complicated for you. Roll Tusken, hope for something insane to use his ability on and kill the opponent’s character before they can roll.
Try to claim if you can, so that Tusken gets to roll first and potentially just win on the first action of the round.
Control, Control, Control. You only have 21 hp. If you have an upgrade you can play, or control you can use, use the control. You do not have enough hp to risk taking damage, and if Vader goes down early, you will lose.
No Mercy is pretty crucial if you want to secure an easy and less stressful win. At almost any point in the game, this is going to be a finisher. Don’t forget that you can use this on Tusken’s die, there is no “blue die only” text on the card. Basically, try to use this card because 3-4 unexpected damage can and will win games.
Reroll, Reroll, Reroll. Vader’s dice need to produce damage for you to win the game, so don’t settle for anything less. 99% of the time you are going to want to reroll until you get damage on his dice, just do it.
Try to keep at least one resource to threaten your opponent with control. Even if you don’t have any control cards, your opponent will often play around removal as long as you have the money to theoretically spend on such a card. Once you’ve spent that last resource, it’s open season and he will play much more aggressively.
Playing against Vader/Raider
How to play against early-game:
In your mulligans, don’t throw away single die removal if you can afford to keep it.
Go for Vader first, unless a Mind Probe drops on the Tusken, then you can almost justify killing him first.
Spread your starting shields if you get them. Lots of VRs run Intimidate, so taking 1 shield on 2 characters is a safer play.
Control Vader’s dice as much as you can. If you let one of your characters get to 5-6 hp left, then he can just die to a No Mercy, and if you let them get to 3 hp left, a Force Strike. Once you allow your characters to fall into this kill threshold, you no longer have a choice about whether to use your removal or not, you just have to use it in case Vader has FS or NM. This can hamper how aggressively you can play.
How to play against mid-game:
Finish off Vader at all costs.
Be wary of Tusken’s ability to kill your characters with his trigger. Going first against VR can be very important for being able to place shields/heal up/play cards to reduce Mind Probe damage. For this reason, be looking to claim if you can.
How to play against late:
If they just have Tusken left, most of their removal is gone, so if you can roll into lethal damage, keep rerolling and just end the game.
Continue to try to claim to deny the first action Tusken trigger, if you can’t kill him this turn.
Be very careful about the following unexpected kill cards: No Mercy, Force Strike, Raider ability.
Be careful about the potential Boundless Ambition which people have started running.
Do Not claim early if VR still has cards and dice on the board. If you allow him to reroll freely, you will take 4-6 damage every time. If Tusken’s die is on the board, then ⅙ or more of the time (depending on number of rerolls) you will end up taking 7-9 damage instead. Especially a couple months ago when people were still learning the game, I can’t tell you how many times I saw people claim when VR had 3 cards and then look surprised when they took 9 damage off of rerolls.
Be wary of Feel your Anger. This is VR’s only true unlimited removal (besides Dodge/Block), so if you roll out a minor character into double blanks, you need to seriously consider rerolling the dice before rolling your better character.
Don’t waste cards. You get 1 less reroll a turn, and if you’re not careful, Vader will have just rolled in his dice and have 5 cards left when you have 1. This is especially true in Rey decks, where you can potentially do things like: Holdout->Robes -> Roll Poe -> Comlink -> resolve dice. If you do this, as soon as Vader triggers you now only have 1 card for the entire rest of your turn.
This card is so insane in combination with Vader’s 3 damage side. Drawing both copies of this card will immensely mitigate the luck factor that can weaken the deck, for this reason, you should almost never mulligan the card.
This card will win you a ton of games. In combination with Vader’s high damage sides, it has the potential to hit for 6-7 damage and really catch your opponent off guard. One factor that can really hurt the card is that Rerolls reduce how much damage it does, so you have to get kind of lucky and 1.) roll damage on the first (maybe 2nd) roll 2.) Roll more damage than your opponent can mitigate 3.) Have 3-4 blue cards in your hand.
I don’t know whether I like this card or not. It’s very situational, but when it does get played, it can turn a bad turn into a great turn. A problem with the card is that it costs a resource, and VR is extremely thirsty for resources. Sometimes this won’t be an issue, but other times you may face a situation where you have Boundless, but you had to use both resources on mitigation. However, I’ve pointed out that VR can be inconsistent, and Boundless can help fix that with several extra rerolls at the end of a turn (or it can help you draw into a Holocron or Blue ability upgrade).
Phasma Bala Trooper:
This is probably one of VRs hardest matchups. Not only does PBT have lots of single die removal, but its Guardian can even help it shut down early No Mercys and keep you from killing off the key targets. One thing you do have going for yourself is that if PBT struggles to roll enough black sides, your single die removal can shut down the modifiers by removing the few base sides they do roll. Ultimately, you need to get going early against the deck, or it will simply out-dice and out-control you.
My general advice is as follows:
Deflect, Force Strike, Backup Muscle, and Tusken’s ability are all important in this matchup as they allow you to get damage past the Guardian. Ultimately, you want to put them on the back foot and threaten to kill Bala by getting him into No Mercy/FS range. Once you’ve done this, they can no longer play upgrades on Bala (except redeploy), which is a huge boon if they are going for Tusken first.
Read your opponent, if they ever look happy after rolling a focus while they have modifiers on the board, they probably have All In or Tactical Mastery in their hand. At this point, you need to consider removing the focus, or you might just take 5+ damage to the face.
Keep in mind that if your opponent isn’t careful, it is possible for you to actually kill Phasma first, removing not just half, but the best half of their character dice, and the guardian ability. If they use an early The Best Defense, and then you use FS, she’s only sitting at 5 remaining hp. Resolve a 3 for a resource from Tusken and a couple Backup Muscle ticks and she’s a goner. (She’s also in No Mercy range or Mind Probe Tusken range at this point).
Try to bait your opponent into rolling in Trooper early if you can. If they haven’t managed to roll base damage, and you proceed to use several soft-pass actions (like playing a Backup Muscle and moving a damage), your opponent will often become impatient and roll in the Trooper hoping for that black side. Now, you are free to reroll Vader and Tusken dice a couple times and hit that Bala for 3-6 damage. Now if you draw a FS it’s a dead Bala.
Be wary of a turn 1 Disarm. Try rolling in Vader first and forcing your opponent to spend resources on control until he has none left. Now you are free to play the Holocron without the threat of Disarm. Ultimately, you can’t play around this all game, but if your opponent rolls Phasma without first playing an upgrade, they may have held onto that Disarm and are hoping to hit your turn 1 Holocron. Just by not playing it first action, your opponent may make the assumption you don’t have it and use his resources and/or discard the card to reroll.
Take their battlefield
If your opponent plays this matchup well, there isn’t a whole lot you can do. However, if your opponent ever makes a misstep and allows you to deal honest damage to Bala or Phasma, you can really punish them and kill of their high value characters with a follow up No Mercy, FS, or a lucky Tusken roll. Overall, both decks are playing the same style of control with damage, but PBT is more comfortable going late and will likely win if you don’t get out early damage. The matchup is roughly 40-60.
This matchup can fluctuate depending on player skill, but I think VR has a lot in its kit that answers HR well. For shields you have Intimidate and Kylo’s Saber. For the ramp you have a ton of disrupt (especially if you get out Holocron abilities). You hamper their action cheats / play options by reducing their hand size by 1 each turn. For the Second Chance plays you have the unexpected burst of No Mercy, or you just deal enough early damage to kill Han before they draw into it. All this aside, I’ve seen good HR’s handle the matchup fine, so I won’t say you counter the deck, but you do have options available to you that help quite a bit.
You probably want to kill Han first. While killing Rey is easier, if you go for Han you will significantly hamper the HR ramp. Not only will you be disrupting resources, you will also force them into an early Second chance, and put them on the back foot. HR is a deck that wants to get setup and have its Han with 2 Blasters and action cheat each turn with Rey until she dies. The biggest counter point to this argument is that Rey can action cheat, which will nullify your removal, but I feel like that point is moot if you keep their resources from being spent on upgrades that would actually make the action cheat scary.
Be wary of Riposte.
Be wary of Negotiate, especially early. If they have Rey’s dice in the pool, you probably want to roll Tusken in first, so that negotiate won’t completely shut down Vader for a turn.
Never pick their battlefield.
Be wary of Unpredictable. If your opponent has a +3 modifier, and Vader has 5 hp left, take a look at their discard pile and how many cards are left in their deck. If your opponent has a good chance of having an Unpredictable, it’s a 33% chance at winning the game, so you probably want to remove the +3.
Resolve disrupt almost any time you can. This is one of the few matchups where the 2 disrupt is as good as the 2 damage.
A good HR can play against a VR, but a bad HR will make inefficient choices with both their resources and their cards, and your control will punish this, making the game an easy win. However, even highly skilled HR’s can struggle against a VR. It will simply feel bad for them, as you have an answer for everything they want to do. This is somewhere around a 55-45 or 60-40 for VR.
Jango Bala Trooper:
JBT should be a relatively easy matchup for you, as VR can dish out so much early damage. Killing Bala turn 2 or 3 should be a given, and you should never see him get a Bala re-activation off. Since 8 damage is so easy to reach in 2 turns, you end up removing half their character dice before they can afford to. All that aside, if you have a weak early game, and they draw into their removal, the game can easily be turned against you. If they kill Tusken and get that Bala activation for another 4-6 damage on Vader, you’re probably done for. Even after you finally kill Bala, the redeploy weapons on Jango will push damage through your removal and you won’t have enough HP on Vader to win.
Kill Bala as fast as you can. As stated above, this is half of their character dice, and will be a huge hit to them if you pull it off early.
Be wary of the many offensive cards they have that deal unexpected damage.
Take their battlefield and get yourself the shields.
This is a another deck against which you should be wary of Disarm on turn 1.
You have many tools in your kit and crazy turn 1 damage which allows you to kill Bala very early. This will allow to get ahead in most games and lead to easy wins. However, if you don’t put on enough pressure, the tables will turn against you and Jango will close the game for JBT. This is roughly a 60-40 for you.
JD is a strange matchup. In many ways it’s simply a different version of your own deck. I’d say it’s a more consistent version of your deck, but with a lower ceiling than you have. JD will more reliably ramp, but you have the higher early game potential. If you want to win this matchup then you need to make use of that early game advantage. Get damage onto the Dooku, and finish him off with an early No Mercy or Mind Probe, and finishing against a Jabba will be easy. While this may sound simple, it’s not, because JD has the same removal suite you do, and if it rolls on Jabba it hits harder than Vader’s ability. One interesting thing to note is that Vader’s trigger weakens Dooku’s passive by limiting hand size.
Kill Dooku first. The reasons for this are twofold. First, if you finish off Dooku, a late game Jabba simply does less damage than a late game Dooku. Second, going for Dooku first will limit your opponent’s rerolls (he has to discard for shields) even more than you already do with your trigger. If Dooku can’t reroll then it’s a simple enough matter for you to control the 1 dice that actually hits damage, and you will end up taking almost no damage yourself.
Be wary of the All In play.
Dont let the game go late. JD makes better use of Holocron (its focus sides guarantee special usage), and the deck also generates more resources (it has 4 character dice and runs Enrage) so it can more easily play sabers. If both decks simply mitigate the other decks opening turns, you probably are going to get out diced and lose the game.
Take their battlefield.
You are much stronger early than JD, but if you let the game drag on, you’re probably going to lose. This is something like a 55-45 for you.
This matchup tends to be draw reliant, if the Poe Rey draws what they need, you’re kind of screwed. If they don’t, you can easily wreck them with early game damage. If PR draws and uses its Defensive Positions (50% of the sides on Vader’s dice are 2 or more), Force Misdirections, and then Force Throws 2 3 for a 12 HP swing, you’re simply going to lose (not to mention the possibility of Mind Probes from Poe’s special). However, if they don’t draw those options early, PR has no single die removal and Vader can crush PR’s hopes and dreams with 5-9 damage every turn. You also have a lot of single die removal so you can shut down a lot of Poe’s early damage. Vader’s ability hurts them pretty badly as well.
Claim as aggressively as you can. PR thrives off of battlefield usage, as well as cards that need it.
Remove Poe’s dice, all the time. This is especially true if you are on Throne Room, but even if you aren’t, cards like Comlink or It’s A Trap can turn that innocent-looking blank or disrupt die into a nightmare.
Kill Poe first. Some players will make good use of Rey, but a vast majority of the time the deck will win or lose off of Poe’s dice.
Roll Vader in late. If your opponent goes action happy with Rey and plays several upgrades to make use of effects like Comlink or Jedi Robes, they sometimes won’t keep in mind Vader’s ability. When you roll in, they will realize their mistake, but too late, and they’ll have only 1 or 2 cards left for the entire turn, while you have 4-5. And most likely 1 of those cards is there for Poe’s special, so you’ve severely limited their options.
If PR doesn’t play smart, you should have an easy matchup, and even against a PR who is good, they sometimes just won’t draw what they need to deal with Vader’s damage. However, a good PR can deal way more early burst than almost any other deck, and they also action cheat out that damage much of the time. This means Vader is in real danger early game, more so than other decks. This is highly variant, but I’d say it’s around a 50-50.
While at face value, VR seems like one of the best decks, it has one striking issue in my mind. The decks ceiling is pushed not through any great plays made by the player, but through simple luck of the draw and rolls. Hitting those 33% damage sides early and drawing Holocrons and Force Strikes really isn’t affected by skill. The biggest skill factor of VR is learning how to best control your opponent’s dice and game plan. However, there are several top tier decks that make use of action cheats (HR, PR, JBT), and the more skilled the player, the better use they will get out of these cheats. The top decks that don’t cheat a ton of damage actually control dice better than you do (or at least as well as you do), but they also ramp faster than you and thus will simply out-dice you as the game progresses (JD and PBT). So when a skilled player faces you, your skill at control won’t stop his skill at cheating damage and that’s extremely frustrating. Or in the case of JD and PBT you can both end up controlling dice extremely well, but come turn 5, they have 8-10 dice while you have 5-6.
Essentially, I feel like skilled players differentiate themselves in these 3 areas:
- How well they set up high damage plays and make use of damage cheating cards.
- How well they ramp.
- How well they control their opponent.
A great Vader Raider is better than a good Vader Raider because he makes better use of his control, not because he makes better use of damage or ramps better. Why? The decks highest ceiling of damage is from things like FS, No Mercy, Raider’s ability, and simply rolling damage on Vader, all of this is pretty straightforward. The decks highest ceiling for ramping comes from Holocron, which is extremely luck based and straightforward. So we are pretty much left with differentiating yourself through control. Contrast this with the other top decks, and you’ll find that they all can separate themselves from the pack in at least 2 of these 3 aspects.
Thus, if I want to win worlds, I want a deck that can be pushed to its limits in more ways than simply control. I don’t want to go out there and hope that I can get lucky with damage and ramp. I want to win 60% of games because I outplay my opponent, not because that’s how often I draw Holocron or roll well on Vader.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a deck that doesn’t take too much play time on to maximize, pick up VR and start learning how to best control other decks and you should be able to perform well.