Every game has a spectrum of play. When a game against a single opponent requires both that you reach your victory condition and that you prevent your opponent from reaching theirs, some people will gravitate towards being assertive and some towards being reactive. This concept is well known thanks to tons of scholarship headed by Magic: the Gathering describing the spectrum of aggro (seeking to win as fast as possible) and control (preventing your opponent from winning until they run out of options).
Because it has become clearly defined in Magic, and different points on the “aggro-control” spectrum even associated to specific colors, it’s common practice for card games to assign similar points to different factions during initial design. Thus you end up with the “control faction,” the “aggro faction,” and the “midrange faction.” In Star Wars, this means Jedi and Sith are control, Rebels and Navy are aggro, and Smugglers and Scum are midrange (all Freeloader instant-win tricks aside). But for a game in which the light side is encouraged to attack, what the heck would a reactive control deck look like?
Use The Force
Part of the “light side aggro, dark side control” mindset that everyone has comes from the dominant strategies that existed when the game first released. Right out of the box, the best light side strategy was to pair the most aggressive Smuggler cards with heavy-hitting Mains like Luke Skywalker to do as much damage as possible, while the predominant dark side strategy revolved around neutering those Mains with Emperor Palpatine and Force Lightning. Because the dark side wins the long game, and because the dark side usually had the Force, the dark side rarely had to do anything beyond successfully prevent fifteen objective damage to win the game, and if the light side player didn’t put all his or her energy into attacking they wouldn’t get that damage in before the Death Star Dial hit midnight. But now the card pool has grown, and such a paradigm isn’t necessarily the case any more.
The light side is defined right now by Jedi Dominance. I don’t mean to say that the other two factions can’t assemble decks that can compete, but right now Jedi have all the tricks available to them so there’s little incentive to go beyond mono-brown except for personal preference. A year ago it was the Smugglers who had all the options, and in a year who knows who it’ll be (hopefully Rebels… but probably not unless they get the next box). However, when the most powerful faction on the light side is the controlling faction, it lets us ask the question: how defensive can you afford to be and still win?
I built a deck to test this. It wasn’t explicitly designed to be slow and controlling, but when I finally assembled it and discovered it had five black blast damage and one Moldy Crow total among all the units in the deck, I realized it would have a difficult time winning games. For reference, here’s the decklist:
2x May the Force Be With You
2x Ties of Blood
2x Journey Through the Swamp
2x Sacrifice at Endor
1x The Flight of the Crow
1x The Master’s Domain
The plan was to deploy Funeral Pyre and fuel it with an endless supply of Dagobah creatures that would then come right back with Life Creates It. Considering I basically relied on unopposed damage and the Moldy Crow to punch through for damage, it’s incredible how much I was able to win with it (3-1 on assorted OCTGN games).
The first and most important way this deck was able to win the game was because it could easily control the Force Struggle. Three Yodas, plus May the Force Be With You, plus Sacrifice at Endor and Yoda’s Hut for incidental Force icons, meant it was very difficult for my opponent to take the Force. I could grind my opponent out with Balance damage and even occasionally Ties of Blood damage in addition to a few attacks to get damage on objectives when I didn’t have a Moldy Crow opening. But more importantly, it meant that my opponent had to delay me for 10-12 turns in order to win, and even if I only did two objective damage a turn I was still guaranteed to get the fifteen damage needed within that time frame.
The effect of controlling the Force struggle isn’t something that’s very well understood, because for the vast majority of this game’s lifespan it was dominated by the Sith. But when the light side player can consistently keep the balance of the Force, it dramatically changes the pace and outcome of the game. The overwhelming understanding that “the dark side player will win the long game” ceases to be true if they can’t at least take control of the Force sometimes, because while they’ll technically get the Dial to 12 before their opponent gets 15 Balance damage, it’s absurd to think that the dark side player will be able to deflect every single attack the light side player will make. If one player can consistently control the Force struggle, that player can safely sit back on defense and only crack in with attacks when their opponents have run out of gas and when victory is assured. If that player has Leia and Ties of Blood out, they may not even need to do that!
Manipulating the Weak-Minded
The ability to control the Force is the first step along the road to establishing Jedi Control, but it’s not the only requirement. After all, sometimes you need to strike with your committed Main, opening up an opportunity for your opponent to snatch the Force back from you. And sometimes your opponent is just going to ignore your Force control entirely and go for the objective-destroying strategy. For that, you need Tactics icons.
Fortunately for the Jedi, they have a plethora of tactics icons (and pseudo-tactics icons) that they can use to control the board. While cards like Twi’lek Loyalist and Jedi Mind Trick are the obvious choices for cheap tactics, I’ve actually found that the most reliable board management comes from Yoda (especially Yoda), from Kyle Katarn, and from Speeder Bike. However, it’s worth noting that Knobby White Spider should probably be on this list because it’s the most edge-independent tactics icon that exists in this game, being five-health/black tactics/only conditionally a unit. Being able to control which units can attack and block are the most important ways to open up attack windows for yourself, or to prevent your opponent from doing objective damage, or even from controlling the Force struggle. In fact, it sounds like I just said “if you can fire off your tactics icons you can prevent your opponent from doing just about everything.”
Well, that’s basically what they do. Back in the old days of Magic: the Gathering, blue was the quintessential Control color because it had access to so many “counterspells” that they could literally stop every single card their opponent tried to play before it even hit the battlefield, leading to a lot of games in which one player was unable to function because his or her opponent just shut them down at every juncture. Once that player ran out of cards, the control player would deploy some medium-sized threat and just win with it. In many ways, tactics icons are like counterspells. They don’t permanently remove your opponent’s unit once it hits the table, but if you can out-tactics their entire force (or even just their few critical Mains) turn after turn, your opponent can’t really play the game, let alone win. Imagine having a Kyle Katarn lock active against an opponent with a committed Vader and Palpatine with three Guards out. If you can use Kyle and Yoda to keep Vader and Palpatine from being able to strike or count their Force icons, the three Guards are basically irrelevant because your opponent won’t be able to actively progress towards their win condition while you dig for something like My Ally is the Force or an overwhelming attack force.
In the top cut of the World Championships, such a situation arose for me against FliptheForce, where I was able to lock him into having only three filler units committed to the Force which I kept out of the game with a super Kyle Katarn loop. Because he couldn’t control the Force, he was forced into unfavorable attacks and by the time he was able to get some Mains out my Yoda was able to tactics them out while I won the game. By the end he had a whole horde of units on the table (it took him forever to draw into his Mains, and I never quite reached the My Ally I was digging for) but none of them were relevant because the key players remained focused out.
He who controls which units can attack, block, and commit to the Force will control the flow of the game.
Knowledge and Defense
The final piece to the control puzzle is card advantage. In the example I gave earlier, of the “draw-go” counterspell deck in Magic, spending one card to counter one card eventually leaves you at a disadvantage because you have no way to win and eventually your opponent will draw more threats than you have answers. That’s why those decks have always been packed with card advantage engines (either cards that remove multiple threats or ways to draw more cards than the opponent). As I touched on in an earlier article, card advantage doesn’t work in this game quite the same way that it does in other card games, and that the most reliable way to generate card advantage is to make sure you cycle as close to your entire hand as possible every turn. However, being an intrinsically reactive strategy, control decks need ways to generate card advantage outside the draw phase because they don’t have the option of making a big attack and dumping their hand. A defensive strategy relies on your opponent making the first move to be able to cycle your hand, and any strategy that relies on specific actions from your opponent is more of a risk than I’m comfortable with. This is why Sith has always been such a strong control archetype, with access to Counsel of the Sith, Fall of the Jedi, and ISB Liason to make sure they can draw what they need without relying on their opponent.
When it comes to drawing cards outside the draw phase, Jedi runs into a bit more trouble. Basically the only two options for the Jedi are Ewok Hunter (which is why I think that pod is an excellent control pod) and Forgotten Heroes. Obi-Wan struggles from lacking a resource and being generally more underwhelming than his counterparts, which means his objective doesn’t really ever see play. I suppose you could count Rahn’s Guidance and a pre-draw-phase Yoda, You Seek Yoda as ways to help draw into the cards you need, though that’s a bit more limited. Compounded with the fact that Heroes and Legends actually generates card disadvantage (because it forces you to keep a card in your hand), this is an area Jedi could really use some help. Interestingly, the most reliable sources of card advantage for the Jedi actually come from the discard pile: the criminally-underplayed Wolfman-Obi-Wan Kenobi is a pod with three sources of free cards: two Wolfmen who return from the discard and Obi-Wan, who basically “draws” you one to two cards every turn when you win the Force Struggle. There’s also Life Creates It, which can generate virtual card advantage by putting a bunch of Creatures into play, but none of these cards help you dig into your deck to find what you need. Perhaps that’s why people have always had success including Asteroid Sanctuary in Jedi decks and why people are experimenting with Mission Briefing splashed into the Jedi build. I personally still like the Ewok plan because tactics, but all options are viable.
Control Mirrors for Days
So we return to our question… is Jedi a control faction? What does control look like on the light side? And, well, it looks about like what a control deck would be on the dark side. Control the Force, use tactics to prevent your opponent from advancing their victory condition (either destroying objectives or taking the Force), and draw cards. Thanks to the reserve mechanic, the last option isn’t as important as the first two, and as long as you can retain a hard Force lock you’re all but guaranteed to win the long game. Of course that means that at the moment we’re bound to run into mostly control mirrors of Jedi vs Sith, but that won’t always be the case, and at least now control players have a light-side option that they can turn to that matches their playstyle.
Look forward to a gameplay video or two some time next week!