A couple weeks ago, a major bomb was dropped on the community in the form of a new FAQ (pdf). However, unlike the previous FAQ updates, this one was actually more like a pinata of joy! Ever since May the Force Be With You and The Master’s Domain were put on the restricted list, players have been begging FFG to change the way the restricted list works to allow pods to be played alongside one another that are on the restricted list for different reasons. For example, Against All Odds and The False Report were put on the restricted list because the combination of those objective sets was simply too strong for the game to handle, and allowed for turn-one light side wins that the dark side player could do nothing to stop. The two Yoda sets were likewise restricted because the ability to play Yoda, You Seek Yoda and reliably get Yoda into play very early in every game and use him multiple times with May the Force Be With You was simply too oppressive for the dark side to keep up with. However, not being able to play May the Force Be With you to support a Dash-based Smuggler deck, and not being able to splash Freeholders into a Jedi deck, was very off-putting to many people. And then things got far worse when another turn-one combo deck was restricted (That Bucket o’ Bolts and Rogue Squadron Assault), putting Well Paidand Holding All The Cards on the restricted list together and inadvertently shutting down another deck that could have had legs.
However, with some smarter errata’s (Well Paid is now Deploy Phase only) and making the Restricted List operate in groups as players long requested, the Yellow faction that dominated the early part of the game has finally gotten its chance to return to the spotlight and remind the Rebel Alliance and the Jedi why it was so darn good in the first place.
Cut Off At the Knee
When the game was young, there were only a few deck archetypes on the light side that could even hope to compete with the triumvirate of (still very relevant) Sith Powerhouses: Counsel, Vader, and the Emperor. Because those decks basically all relied upon Smugglers cards, whether it was Asteroid Sanctuary and Han Solo in a character deck or Sleuth Scout and Blockade Runner in a vehicle deck, it was generally agreed that the Smugglers were the best light side affiliation. The Hoth Cycle ended and not much changed, then a long gap occurred before any new cards were released. The first thing that the Smugglers gained access to after the Hoth Cycle and Balance of the Force delxue was The False Report, and it was introduced with cries of “more insane Yellow cards!” However, after The False Report and Against All Odds released and the incredible combination of Holding all the Cards fueling multiple Aquaris Freeholders took over metagames across the world, a Restricted list put an end to that nonsense. Then, May the Force Be With you appeared, and the Smugglers would only get one more chance at life (in Along the Gamor Run) before disappearing from competitive tables for over a year.
It feels like ages since the first two Force Packs of the Echoes cycle released, but not a lot of Smuggler cards have actually come out since then (IE notwithstanding). Let’s look at all of them:
- The False Report – Quickly restricted two months after release
- Against All Odds – Quickly restricted a month after release
- Along the Gamor Run – Dominated in Jedi decks until errata’ed to “Limit One Per Deck”
- A Wookiee’s Journey – Unplayable outside of Wookiee tribal, which isn’t good enough on its own.
- Impersonating a Deity – Fun Ewok decks made some rounds, but ultimately didn’t make a showing.
- Calling in Favors – Too gimmicky to compete.
- Memories of Tanab – Immediately panned, basically unplayable.
- The Daring Escape – Too fair to compete
- The Smuggler’s Gambit – Too weak to compete (outside 2v2).
- Breaking the Blockade – Made a small splash alongside Rogue Squadron Assault, but its units are still too weak.
- That Bucket o’ Bolts – Quickly restricted a month after release
Then Imperial Entanglements came out, whose best Smuggler pod was a “fair” Chewbacca set and whose headliner (Lando) was basically unplayable. The flaws of the IE Smugglers have been documented elsewhere, though they range from “not strong enough” to “missing elite” to “overcosted.” None of them have made a tournament showing at all to my knowledge. So when we look at the Smuggler sets that came out since the start of the Echoes Cycle, we see them fall into two categories: the majority of them were just too weak to compete, and those that were strong enough to present tournament results were quickly restricted or errata’ed, limiting the ability of the Smugglers to combine their best sets in the same way that Jedi and even Rebels are able to do. Certainly mono-Smuggler decks were unable to grow alongside the other affiliations, and even splashing Smugglers became less important, as they didn’t get anything significantly new over the course of two years and the new tricks available to the other factions (especially Jedi) made the unique Smuggler cards unnecessary. At the same time, the one Smuggler deck that was really dominant in the early part of the game, the tools to which still existed, found that the world had changed around it… and not in its favor. Sleuths always operated under the assumption that their opponent’s best units were big expensive Mains and that their cheap two-cost units weren’t all that great. Then The Slave Trade came out and suddenly filling a Sith deck with lots of cheap sources of tactics (alongside the Jawa Scavenger) was exceptionally easy. I made second place at Worlds 2014 with a Sith Slavers deck, and when I played against a Sleuths opponent in the Swiss it was a cakewalk. Ever since the release of the Slave Trade Sleuths just haven’t been competitive, both from a metagame perspective and because they’ve been unable to evolve to keep up with the times.
However, the restricted list has been overhauled and now the only things you can’t do are run Dash with Freeholders. So what kinds of insane options open up for the Smugglers when they can pair their best pods with the best Jedi sets? What kinds of tricks can the Smugglers add to a Rebel Vehicle deck since they can play Han Solo with Rogue Squadron X-Wing? And how have Sleuths evolved to keep up in the current metagame?
I’m discussing the Smugglers and Spies affiliation today, but I’d be remiss not to discuss the Jedi at some point. One of the oldest versions of Jedi, dating back to the Edge of Darkness deluxe release, is “Falcon Jedi.” As you might expect, it largely revolves around playing powerful Jedi Mains alongside the Millennium Falcon, which drops them into play for free when your opponent’s run out of defenders. As you’re likely to see below, one of the best characters to drop in is Dash Rendar, since you can deplete their defenders and thus their ability to get cards out of their hand. However, there’s another unit that people have been wanting to pair with Yoda since he came out, and you can’t play them with Dash.
Smugglers and Spies Affiliation
2x May the Force Be With You
2x Asteroid Sanctuary
2x A Hero’s Journey
2x The Survivors
1x Watchers in the Wasteland
1x The False Report
The biggest problem with Jedi decks have always been a low concentration of relevant units. If you look at most of the Jedi objective sets, especially the popular ones, you’ll find that a lot of them only really have one unit: Luke comes with a Twi’lek Loyalist, Yoda with a Dagobah Nudj, Obi-Wan with R2-D2. Qu Rahn’s a little better off by having a support unit who’s at least decent at helping win the game. What this contributes to is an issue that sometimes happens in the card game already, but is exacerbated in Jedi decks: the no-unit draw. When half the units in your deck are tiny, barely-significant characters like Owen Lars, Twi’lek Loyalist, and Dagobah Nudj, sometimes you just don’t have anyone in your hand or on the board worth fighting with. Even if you have units, if they’d just get immediately slaughtered by enemy Stormtroopers then what’s the point? You want characters who can stand up to Darth Vader, but you can’t really have more than ten in your deck! Kyle Katarn was the one who really addressed the issue of not having enough Mains. If you built a Jedi deck with two Millennium Falcons and one (or even two!) copies of The Secret of Yavin 4, you might have a bunch of characters to put into play with the Falcon but only six or so main characters to really help you win the game. If some of the objective sets you put into your deck contained two “Mains-quality” characters, then you could afford to run “Mains-less” pods like Secret of Yavin 4 and Beyond the Rim that do so much great work supporting your Mains and keeping them alive. Heroes and Legends is a pod that came with two Mains as well as an event to help fetch one if you drew a hand without one, but those Mains only have one blast and really need the stars to align to reach their full potential. If only there was a pod that came with two Character units, each with two blast and a tactics icon…
These units were restricted due to their unacceptible interaction with Holding all the Cards. May the Force Be With You was restricted due to its interaction with Yoda. But why couldn’t you play them together? That way the Jedi decks get to punish Sith players that would want to hold a hand full of cards to beat the Jedi’s inherent strong edge. The best Freeholders are the Freeholders your opponent isn’t expecting, and when you see some Cloud City Guest Quarters and Jedi cards on your opponent’s side of the board it’s easy to assume your opponent is simply running something like Gamor Jedi with the Falcon, which was so popular for so long. Certainly without the extra incentive of running something like Freeholders, it can be difficult to justify splashing a whole affiliation for something, even something as strong as the Falcon, when mono-Jedi is so consistently among the top decks. Having access to a free board wipe, or even the threat of a free board wipe, can also mess with your opponent’s strategies when they bring a deck like mono-Scum or Trooper swarm. Zach Bunn brought a Jedi deck to Worlds this past year that splashed one Falcon, one Gamor Run, and one Core Han… and the Han could easily have been a Freeholders if he felt so inclined (and the FAQ allowed it at the time).
One final note about Freeholders: It’s very tempting to see the two very strong units, the great objective, and two good events and assume that you’d want to include two copies of the set in your deck, as it’s full of good cards! I wouldn’t fault you if you did it, but you’ll find most people prefer to run it as a one-of, and I’ll explain why. While I’d love to have four Freeholders in my deck, Clearing House is not a good resource. I’d hesitate to call it a resource at all, because without elite you’re most likely barely using it for more than one or two cards, and then the fact that it’s limited means you’re often not even going to be playing it (it pales in comparison to every other resource with limited). Technically it can be elite, but since your opponent is going to know you get the refresh ability when they trigger their card effects, they’re most likely just going to not trigger them unless you’d be refreshing the last token on your turn anyway. And therein lies the real problem with going heavy on this set: once your opponent knows it’s there, which will happen really early if it’s 20% of your deck, they can pretty easily play around it. Freeholders get a lot worse when the only way to put them into play is via the Falcon’s reaction, and you can’t afford to have 20% of your units, especially many of your Mains, to be purely unplayable. Thanks to the surprise factor, however, it’s an excellent one-off splash set if you’re running the Smugglers and Spies affiliation.
Given how powerful mono-Jedi can be right now, you need a strong incentive to splash Smugglers into the strongest affiliation, and I believe Freeholders are a big part of that. For those that want to go heavier on the Smugglers and splash the Jedi, there are other options…
This is a deck I never would have even considered, but given I’ve never beaten good Hidden from the Empire decks, I’m not surprised it crushed me when I played against it on OCTGN. Turns out Smuggler Tricks(tm) are a lot better when your opponent can only have one or two units a turn. Mad props to Yodaman on the forums for designing this beauty.
2x Hidden from the Empire
2x May the Force Be With You
2x Against All Odds
2x Asteroid Sanctuary
2x Impersonating a Deity
The basic premise of the deck is to choke your opponent out of their ability to play units, and when they’ve only got a couple units on the board to focus those units and blow up objectives with Dash and the Falcon. Hidden From the Empire is the key piece, though the deck can still function without it (in which case I’d hope for an early Harassment). The deck’s biggest weaknesses are Enforced Loyalty and Shadows of the Empire, as against any “fair” DS deck you’re basically never going to have a problem with their units. When they do open up their defenses to try to turn the darn thing off, they’ll make themselves far more vulnerable than they’d be against Leia Organa, who’s designed to break up DS defenses.
When your opponent can play only one unit on their first turn, you really want it to be a big, powerful unit. After all, that lets you do things like drop Vima Da Boda into play for free, and since they used all their resources, they’re done for the turn! And speaking of using all your resources… have you seen Rash Action? Now imagine a world where they get to play one unit… and that unit comes into play focused. You keep the Force on your first turn, and you can do as much blast as you want because they have no defenders. Sure, you can only play two units yourself, but when you have access to the Millennium Falcon it almost doesn’t matter because it represents one unit that can strike twice (as the Falcon and as the unit it drops in).
If you don’t have Rash Action in your hand when the game begins, it’s okay. They’re basically obligated to commit their one unit, at which point the FOUR Seeds of Decay that this deck packs takes that unit out of commission. Limit your opponent to only a couple of units, then use Seeds and Rash Action to focus them out to clear the way for Falcon and Dash. And if you need to stall, Yoda can handle a board all by himself and Vima is incredibly difficult to get off the board. Even C-3PO is great when he’s accelerating your card draw, providing resources, and/or defending with your edge-enabled tactics. This deck defends like a pro, so it can afford to wait for Dash or the Falcon to show up to get the engines rolling.
I haven’t figured out how to beat this particular contraption yet, though I’m pretty sure damaging or removing Hidden From the Empire without attacking seems crucial. Yularen helps with that, though Dash is partial to simply nuking objectives, and Shadows of the Empire is probably the most reliable if you’re running mono-Scum or Black Sun Sith. I’m super excited to see Smuggler Tricks leveraged in such an outstanding way, as that’s their big defining feature, and Jedi have kinda taken that from them lately. If you’re a Smuggler Loyalist and want to see your yellow cards shine, this is a deck worth trying.
Card Advantage Corvettes
There’s a central core to this deck that most people have picked up on. Command and Control is a set with three four-cost units with lots of blast, which sounds fantastic (remember how I was complaining about the problems Jedi had having enough relevant units?) until you realize they come in a set with no resources and relatively poor edge, making getting them into play a big problem. Fortunately, they’re in the same affiliation as The Defense of Yavin 4, which lets you pitch cards in your hand to lower the cost of your Vehicles so you can swarm them onto the table. This looks a lot more appealing when the vehicles you’re playing draw you a card when they enter play… at which point even just cycling one bad card in your hand lets you play a Corellian Corvette for a much more respectable 3. What starts looking even better is when the cards you’re discarding are Cloud City Technician and are immediately replacing themselves in your hand. You could play two or even three Corvettes in one turn with enough resources and/or Technicians! And that’s not even considering the fact that they can help pad an edge battle, draw a replacement card when the edge resolves, and still give you fodder for Resupply Depot, a card that’s great with Corvettes and insane with Rogue Squadron X-Wings (especially piloted ones!).
Smugglers and Spies Affiliation
2x Command and Control
2x The Defense of Yavin 4
2x Fortune and Fate
2x Rogue Squadron Assault
0-2x That Bucket o’ Bolts
0-2x Against All Odds
I’m partial to Against All Odds as the last slot, as it helps to fuel your Defense of Yavin 4 and the objective can get really nutty when you’re messing with card advantage, or when you have access to cards like Resupply Depot. But if you prefer to use Well Paid as backup versions of Defense of Yavin 4 (in case you don’t get the objective) I certainly wouldn’t fault you for it. Either one works in a pinch, and neither would have been allowed by the old FAQ. I’ve explained how the deck functions above, but I haven’t talked about how the two formerly-restricted Smuggler pods fit into it. The game plan revolves around abusing the pilot mechanics with Rogue Squadron X-Wings and Resupply Depot, allowing them to either do lots of blast very quickly or to apply tactics across the board. Alternatively, it’s to vomit out very fast Corellian Corvettes and getting in with as much black blast damage as possible. Thanks to the fact that both strategies are in the deck, you can adjust based on your objective flop and what you draw. Each of these two Smuggler objectives helps the general strategy in different ways, and in different amounts.
Bucket o’ Bolts, or Han’s pod, gives you more support for the X-Wing plan without sacrificing much for the Corvette plan. Han, of course, gives you another pilot you can put on your X-Wings when you need to get extra strikes out of them (as well as granting a very potent ability when attacking), and the Falcon operates almost like another Corvette, being an expensive vehicle with two black blast icons and some sweet upside when attacking. But as always, if you’re running Han’s pod you’re doing it for Well Paid. While it’s not a great card in this deck (that’s four Limited cards to smash up against the two Hidden Outposts and two Central Computers), if you find yourself unable to get a Defense of Yavin 4 into play, it can serve as backup to help get a bunch of ships into play in one turn. And if you draw it among a hand of X-Wings, it can really churn out quite the fleet! If you want your deck to be more balanced between X-Wings and Corvettes, I’d put this in to reinforce the X-Wings and make them that much deadlier when fully stocked at the Resupply Depot.
I love objectives that give me blast damage, and Against All Odds is one of the better ones that does. While Bucket o’ Bolts is fine when you want to actually play Han as a unit, I’ve found the objective is usually just blank. On the other hand, this objective can turn your fleet of X-Wings (or even your Corvettes) into absolute monstrosities. For that reason alone it might be worth running the Rebel affiliation so you never have to bottom this objective. But even when you’re not getting your extra blast from the objective, Dash can one-shot objectives if they spend all their time trying to block your Corvettes (or if your X-Wings can tactics-out their defenders with a Resupply), Shifty Lookout provides a small amount of control, Target of Opportunity gives you even more blast, and having four Holding All the Cards can fuel your card advantage engines like Defense of Yavin 4 and Resupply Depot. It also helps simply smooth out your draws, making your engine more consistent, so you can get to the Technicians and Capital Ships you need to get your black damage onto the table. If you don’t need it for anything else, you can always use it to make sure Against All Odds is active! It’s a bit more gimmicky and draw dependent, but that’s always been somewhat of a feature of the Smugglers and Spies affiliation. Consider their original Vehicle powerhouses, which tried to win with insane turn-one plays…
The New Sleuths
When Edge of Darkness came out, two units made their way to the top of the metagame because they disrupted the best dark side deck by a fairly large margin: Sleuth Scout and Blockade Runner. Combined with cards like Han Solo, Swindled, and Rebel Assault, it became very difficult to defend against these units, and with objectives like Across the Anoat Sector and Raise the Stakes it became very easy for the light side to just pile incredible amounts of damage onto dark side objectives on turn one, meaning that with the right draw the light side could just win without having to really try. This lead to decks running lots of two-cost units like Heavy Stormtrooper Squad to try to beat out the Sleuth Scouts, and while Dash & Freeholders stole a bit of their thunder, Sleuths continued to be one of the best light side archetypes until Galactic Scum came out and promptly ended the reign of the Smugglers. (Yoda came out a month later and it was all Jedi after that.)
Just prior to being restricted, however, there was a chance that Pilot Han could breathe life back into these forgotten Unblockables. Now he’s back off the restricted list and it’s time to give them a shot!
Smugglers & Spies Affiliation
2x Across the Anoat Sector
2x Raise the Stakes
2x That Bucket o’ Bolts
2x Against All Odds
1x Rendar’s Wrath
1x Along the Gamor Run (soon to be Secret Weapons)
Basically everything in this deck revolves around having cheap vehicles and using your objectives to give them stupid amounts of blast. Across the Anoat Sector buffs your Sleuths, Blockade Runners, Arcona Rumor Mongers, and even Dash Rendar. If you don’t get your Anoat objective, you can replace it with Against All Odds, which more or less does the same thing but grants blast to all your units, even if they attack as a group. This is particularly useful if you find yourself with a bunch of Bothan Spys, Shifty Lookouts, and Hired Hands. If you have unblockable units, you can get extra damage out of Raise the Stakes. And if your opponent has only a few fragile units that can defender, you can really wreck their board with Rendar’s Wrath. Really the only objective that you never want to see is Bucket o’ Bolts. Even Along the Gamor Run can help steal the Force for you if you can deplete your opponent of committed units.
The reason Han is in here, then, is because of Well Paid. Dash gets included because you want two more objectives that grant blast damage, but it turns out that Holding All The Cards interacts really great with Well Paid, allowing you to draw a ton of cards, play Well Paid, and then drop something like three Sleuths and Han, or a Blockade Runner and Han, or some Sleuths and some Hired Hands, or really whatever you want. There’s essentially no real resources in the deck, but if you can make most of your units cost one with Well Paid (the Characters already do cost one) then it almost doesn’t matter. You’re unlikely to win edge battles… but then that’s always been the case when your deck has ten edge icons across two sets (Sleuths). As has always been true with Sleuths, a bad opening draw (or a good opening draw from your opponent) will likely spell your doom, and I continue to believe that the Sleuth deck is incapable of winning against a deck with two copies of The Slave Trade, but compared to previous versions of the deck, it’s improved exceptionally. As before, Han’s event gives you an alternative to the Defense of Yavin 4 objective, and Han himself is incredibly relevant on a Sleuth Scout or Blockade Runner, probably more so than on any other Vehicle. Both versions of Dash are excellent here, both with their useful objectives and their stellar support units (Arcona Rumor Monger is almost like a Sleuth Scout himself).
If you like Smuggler Vehicles, if you like taking advantage of your opponent’s weaknesses (and expect them to be running heavy on Mains), and if you like decks with a high risk, high reward playstyle, this is a deck to check out. It’s a ton of fun to pilot, even if its two biggest silver bullets (Galactic Scum and Decimators) are decently popular within their respective affiliations. So beware of those two pods, and otherwise sneak your way to free victories!
To be honest, I’ve never been much of one for the Smugglers and Spies affiliation, but it’s been sad to see all their strongest cards in the recent expansions be errata’ed or restricted to minimal use. So in the wake of the new FAQ, it’s been a ton of fun to get to reëxplore these old powerhouses and see what crazy shenanigans they can cook up in the right environment! I know a lot of people like the Smugglers, and I expect them to improve significantly as people figure out how to use their (fairly inscrutable) new cards, and as even more cards come out that bolster the affiliation back into the echelons of the Jedi and (to a lesser extent) the Rebels.
Join me next week, when I address one of the more important, but less-considered parts of the game… Turn Zero!