Star Wars LCG: Deck Building 101

Hello everyone!

My last couple of posts have looked at some of the design potential in the SWLCG’s future as well as my picks for the top three cards.  Today, I want to take a look at something a bit more practical for all of us playing the game: deck building.  Much noise has been made about the new deck building system for this game.  For anyone who hasn’t heard about it, the basic idea is that you build your deck in blocks of six-card objective sets instead of individual cards.  A more thorough description can be found on the FFG site, if you’re interested.  Personally, I was not a fan of the method when it was announced.  I love tinkering with decks (as my giant bag full of something like 40 different Magic decks would tell you), and lowering the number of decision points in deck building makes it harder to tinker.  However, after attempting to build a few decks using the spoilers posted on cardgamedb I discovered that deck building with objective sets could still be just as exciting and certainly presented some new challenges.  I want to take a look at deck building in the Star Wars LCG through the lens of more traditional deck building (since that’s probably most of our background) to see what’s different and what has stayed the same.  On the way, I’ll walk you through the design of the first deck I’ve designed.  One quick disclaimer: I haven’t played enough of the game yet (only demo games and proxied games) to claim expertise in evaluating cards and objective sets.  My deck building steps will be good (though not the only way to do it), but my deck building choices may not stand the test of time.  That’s the exciting thing about a new game.

Step 1: Deck Goal

This fundamental step in deck building is also probably the most commonly skipped.  On the surface, the deck goals seem simple.  For the Dark Side: increase the Death Star counter to 12.  For the Light Side: destroy 3 objectives.  However, a little more thought should be given to exactly how you plan to reach your goals.  For instance, a dark side player might want to build an aggressive deck that attacks the Light Side player’s objectives, requiring their opponent to keep their firepower back to defend or face a dramatically shortened game clock.  Alternatively, they could aim for a defensive deck that mostly ignores the Light Side objectives and instead spends its time taking out Light Side units and otherwise impeding their abilities to win – since the Dark Side will eventually win if the game goes long enough.  The Light Side has slightly more restricted options as they have to attack to win, but they can still aim for board control in order to push damage through or go with as much “blast damage” icons as they can squeeze in and attempt to blast over, around, and through the Dark Side defense.

For this example, I’m going to build a Dark Side deck (mostly because I like it more than my light side deck design).  The deck’s goal will be board control and defense.  Now that we’ve decided on a goal, we can move on to the next step.

Step 2: What Works With the Goal?

We’re almost ready to start looking at cards.  First though, we need to identify what kind of cards will work with our goal.  Do you want lots of units?  Lots of event cards?  Unit damage?  Blast damage?  Tactics?  Recursion?  Removal?  It will be hard to evaluate objective sets if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

Back to our dark side defensive deck.  Blast damage is not going to help us at all, so we’ll rank sets that concentrate on that lower.  Unit damage is important to keep the LS board clear so that they can’t damage your objectives.  Tactics is also excellent to lock down the LS units.  Outside of units, the best help would be removal or cards that place focus tokens.  So now that we know what we’re looking for, time to actually look at cards.

Step 3 – First Pass Through the Cards

For the first pass through the cards, you’re looking for any objective sets that support your goal by matching the needs you identified in step 2.  Notice that we haven’t decided on an affiliation or anything like that yet.  We’ll pick that later, but for now we want to keep an open mind for whatever works best with our goals.  Don’t worry about how many sets you identify, the goal of this step is to reduce the card pool from all of the cards available to the cards that you might want to use.

Here’s a quick breakdown on the DS objective sets as related to our stated goals:

Death and Despayre Defense Upgrade and Heat of Battle are nice.  Devastator is obviously excellent.  Overall though, the set leans towards aggro.  We’ll keep it for now, but it’s a long shot.

Defense Protocol – Lots of synergy with vehicles and fighters.  TIE Attack Squadron is really the only card here we might want.  The objective itself has a nice ability, but most of the time I’d rather have the card in hand.  Despite the name, this set doesn’t make the cut.

Imperial Command – I love the Heavy Stormtrooper SquadOrbital Bombardment doesn’t help this deck at all, but sure could be sweet in an aggro deck…  It survives for now

Kuat ReinforcementsBackstabber is great, but the rest of the set doesn’t help us, nor does the objective itself.  Another set tossed.

Take Them Prisoner – Capturing certainly fits with a board control type of strategy, but I’m not sold on it personally.  It’s main advantage over just killing units is keeping them from recurring, but there isn’t much recursion available in the game yet.  I’m going to cut this one, but you could certainly keep it (and end up with a much different deck).

The Endor Gambit – The start of a pretty good vehicle “tribal” deck.  The AT-STs are quite nice, I can’t wait to make a deck more focused around Imperial Navy vehicles with the Hoth cycle cards.  And for now, we’ll keep the set.

The Ultimate Power – Pretty clearly an aggro set.  Stormtrooper Elite could be nice, but the rest of the set doesn’t support our goals at all.  Maybe next time.

Black Squadron Assault – This is another kind of “build around” set.  It begs for including more Black Squadron cards and overall tends to be aggro.  As much as I love Vader’s TIE, this set doesn’t make the cut.

Counsel of the Sith – Some card drawing is always nice.  The set also gets us some resources, a bit of tactics, and the Kuati Security Team to play defense.  We’ll hold on to it for now, but it’s not great.

Cruel Interrogations – This set is pretty nice.  Lots of tactics icons to throw out, some removal (in the form of discard), and a decent defender.  The capture ability isn’t really important for us, but doesn’t really hurt.  A keeper.

Fall of the Jedi – If you read my first blog, you’ll know that I consider Darth Vader to be the best Dark Side unit.  Luckily, his ability works excellent with our goal by dishing out damage.  Force Choke can join in on the removal fun, and Vader’s saber makes him even stronger.  Definitely keeping.

Shadows of Dathomir – The Rancor can wreck havoc.  The other cards are good for winning the force battle, which is not a direct goal of the deck but has some synergy with it.  We’ll keep for now.

The Emperor’s Web – Every card in this set is exactly what we want.  Will keep.

The Heart of the Empire – The event cards work perfectly with our goal and the Coruscant Defense Fleet makes for a nice unit for us.  Most of the time, we won’t want the objective itself in play, though when it is at least we get 3 resources from it.

The Bespin Exchange – This is a place where a previous decision is going to impact the current decision.  If we had wanted to continue a capture theme this would be great.  Fett himself would work well.  However, the combination of choosing not to go with the capture sub-theme and the lack of support for the Scum affiliation so far means that we’ll drop this one… this time.

Corporate Exploitation – Good for swarming small units, which could be useful, but not quite enough support available for a true swarm deck.  We’ll save this one for a different deck.

Looking for Droids – Useful if you’re worried about resource matching.  I don’t think we’ll have a problem there though, so we can cut this one… though we could come back to it if we end up wanting to split affiliations in a strange way.

Reconnaissance Mission – An extra card every turn?  Yes, please.  The fate cards could be nice, as winning the edge battle will be important to kill troublesome attackers (like Red 5) before they can strike.  In it goes.

So there we have our first pass, we’re now down to 10 objective sets (from 18).  Not bad.  Now the tough decisions really start.

 Step 4 – Look for Synergies

What separates a deck from a pile of cards is that the deck works with itself.  Now that we’ve finished our initial screening of the objective sets, we can look through again to find synergies between the sets.  Sure, each set tends to present some internal synergies, but what will really make the deck work is the cards from different sets working together.  For instance, you might notice that you’ve picked a lot of vehicle cards and might decide to pick sets that focus on that.  Also, if you find a particularly strong synergy you should take a glance through the discarded sets to see if perhaps they fit well with that theme and might make the overall deck stronger even though they didn’t fit directly with your goal.

For this deck, what I keyed in on was Vader’s ability and the number of good Sith events.  Pretty much every Sith event card is a card we’d want to play by itself, and with Vader they become even stronger.  Let’s run with that.

Step 5 – Identify Weaknesses

This step is going to be hard until we have some more play experience.  In the meantime, we can work on identifying theoretical weaknesses.  This will mostly tie in to your deck’s goal(s) and any themes you’ve identified.  For instance, an aggro deck may have trouble against a defensive deck if its initial assault doesn’t end the game and the defensive deck can stabilize.  While you won’t want to warp your deck to counter the weakness (all decks will have some weaknesses, after all), you can use that information as something of a tie breaker in your upcoming decisions.

For our deck, it should play well against an aggro deck, having plenty of options to blunt the attack, but could struggle against a deck that also is aiming for board control, especially if all of our defenders get locked down with focus tokens.  Our best counter for that is probably direct removal (so that our locked-down defenders aren’t needed) which conveniently already fits in our deck, so we’ll keep an eye out for that while we make our final cuts.

Step 6 – Tough Decisions

It’s time to suck it up and whittle down to your 10 objectives.  There will be several factors at play during this step, but they’ll be processed parallel so I can’t really break them up into steps.  Here’s you’ll be using the synergies and weaknesses you’ve identified to prioritize the sets.  This is also where you’ll start to think about affiliation.  At this point in the game, you should probably aim for a 1-2 affiliation deck (going with all 3 is asking for trouble).  With a 2-affiliation deck, you also need to think about the balance between the two.  While you could pull off an 8-2 split, the smaller affiliation should either have primarily neutral cards or be picked as your affiliation so that you can be sure of being able to play your cards.  This is also where you’ll have to pay attention to affiliation-specific objective sets, as picking one of those locks you into that affiliation.  You also should be mindful of what Magic designer Mark Rosewater refers to as linear vs modular themes.  I’ll let you read his article if you want a full explanation, but basically some themes can be splashed while others get better with other cards that share the theme, which means they’re strongest with all (or most) of the deck dedicated to them

For our deck, we’ll work with the Sith event synergy we identified earlier.  With Vader, it becomes a case of more = better, so we’re looking to be primarily Sith.  Looking back through the Imperial Navy objectives remaining, only The Endor Gambit was really high on our “want” list to start with and even it doesn’t make the cut without a deck built around it.  3 more objective sets gone.  Of the remaining 7, we need to get down to 5 or 6, so we’re almost there.  Fall of the Jedi and The Emperor’s Web are absolute keys to the deck, so they’re both x2.  The Heart of the Empire also fits our goal too well to leave out.  There Is No Escape is the perfect back-up plan if things go bad, we’ll keep the max 2 copies of this as well.  I like Reconnaissance Mission too much to cut it, so in it goes (7/10 now, getting close).  Shadows of Dathomir brings us both the Rancor and the some help against focus tokens (as well as some help placing focus tokens, and via a Sith event at that!), so we’ll keep it x2.  That leaves us one spot for either a copy of Counsel of the Sith or Cruel Interrogations.  It’s a hard choice, but I’ll take the card drawing abilities of Counsel of the Sith to round out our deck.  One final detail, we’re obviously going to take Sith as our affiliation.

And there you have it: a Dark Side deck focused on using the Sith to control the board and combo-ing the various event cards with Darth Vader for extra effect.  Here’s our final deck list:

Afiliation: Sith

Objective Deck (10):

Counsel of the Sith x1

Fall of the Jedi x2

Shadows of Dathomir x2

The Emperor’s Web x2

The Heart of the Empire x2

Reconnaissance Mission x1


Like I said at the start, this is far from the only way to build a deck.  Even if you really like this method, you will eventually find that the steps become more like guidelines than actual rules to follow.  I hope at least some of you find this a useful guide as you learn a new style of deck construction.

One final note, let me know in the comments if you’re interested in another deck build blog (step-by-step building of a deck, without the general explanation of each step this time).  One thing I’d be interested in doing is a true cooperative build where your comments guide the selection to see what we come up with together, but that will only work with enough participation.  Let me know, and until then, may the Force be with you.