Learning Destiny is a series of tutorial videos and blogs designed to teach the Star Wars: Destiny Collectible Card and Dice Game. This guide is updated continuously to provide the most current information.
In the previous chapter, How To Build Your First Deck, you learned basic concepts to help you build your first deck for Star Wars: Destiny. Of course, we only scratched the surface of one of the most important and exciting elements of a collectible game. After diving into those early deck concepts and playing a few games, the question of “which cards should I include in my deck?” quickly becomes more difficult. With all of the cards currently available and more releasing a few times each year, a deeper approach to deck building is necessary.
In this chapter we teach the high level concepts needed to make proper deck building decisions, and how deck building and playing are a joint venture. If you aren’t ready for an exhaustive look at deck building, we recommend skipping ahead to Everything You Need To Know About Drafting.
Make sure you have plenty of time and a full cup of coffee, because this chapter will dramatically change how you understand the game of Star Wars: Destiny.
We need to define two common card game terms upfront. The first is ‘tier’. What do we mean when we say a deck is top tier?
Tiers are a system for ranking decks (or anything, really), with tier 1 being the most competitive and tier 3 (or lower) being the least competitive. Typically, building a top tier (or tier 1) deck means your deck is capable of winning a major event in the current meta. It is tweaked, optimized, lean, and all business. Or to put it another way:
If a tier 3 deck is kicking around a soccer ball in your yard, a tier 1 deck is playing in the World Cup.
Which brings us to the other common term, mentioned above: the meta. Meta is short for meta game, essentially “the game beyond the game”. For Destiny, this refers to the decks and styles of play that are popular and expected among a group of players.
A meta can be as small as you and a friend playing at your house or as big as the global community of Destiny players. If you play against the same person every week and they only play with a Darth Vader deck, the meta is 100% Darth Vader – so you better prepare for that! If you are attending a world championship, the meta will be a mixture of the most popular decks and the decks that can beat the most popular decks – so it gets much trickier. Cards that might be good in your local meta might not be so good in the global meta, and vice versa!
A good deck builder and player must consider both the fundamentals of deck construction and the meta in which the deck will be competing.
The Resource Curve
In Destiny, you get two resources per round. We can visualize this in a chart, with the number of rounds on the x-axis (horizontal) and total resources on the y-axis (vertical). The is referred to as a resource curve. To start, here is the standard resource curve in Destiny.
Now, before getting any further with the graphs, it is important to clarify that we are not attempting to create statistically accurate models. These visual examples are given to provide a conceptual understanding of the topic, and because of this there are going to be a number of basic assumptions throughout.
The first of these, as seen in the chart above, is that a game is going to last four rounds. In reality, games can last a single round or as many as six or more rounds – but four rounds is a solid baseline for analysis.
You can see that you gain a total of 8 resources over the course of a four round game. That alone can be a striking realization. Expensive cards like Rise Again, a 5-cost event, are over half of your total resources available in a single game!
Of course, there are cards and dice that allow you to gain additional resources during play. But when should you gain those resources and what are you giving up to do so?
We will use the team pictured above, Elite Captain Phasma and Elite Maul, to answer that question.
Check out the resource curve if you spend one of your character dice on the second and fourth round to gain a resource.
You can see an increase in total resources on the second and fourth round. Still, you only get 10 resources throughout this game. We are going to use this model as a baseline and answer the next question: “how do I spend them effectively?”
The Cost Curve
If you divided your deck into piles of cards based on their cost, you would literally have the cost curve of your deck sitting in front of you. You can visualize the cost curve of a deck by putting the cost of a card on the x-axis and the number of cards with that cost on the y-axis.
So how do you tell a good cost curve from a bad one? What does this curve tell you about your deck? How should you play differently based on your cost curve? There are answers to these questions.
Start by assuming your deck conforms to the above curve and that you play a 2-cost card as your first action of the game. Of the remaining cards in your deck, 24 of them are no longer playable. Given that you have 4 other cards in your hand, there are good odds that at least 3 of them can no longer be paid for – that is, they are effectively blank.
This is, of course, not ideal. A card that can do something or reroll is always better than a card that can do nothing or reroll. Let that sink in!
Diving further, we can also think of our cost curve as the average cost of a card in our deck. In the example above, the total cost of all the cards is 45. Since you have 30 cards in your deck, the average cost of each card is 45 divided by 30, or 1.5.
If you pair this concept with the resource curve from earlier, where a resource is gained on the second and fourth round, you can expect to play one card on the first round (2 resources gained, spend 1.5) and two cards on the second (3 resources gained, spend 3).
So, is it a good idea to spend all of your resources on a 2-cost card and have a hand that can no longer be played?
As you might imagine, 2-cost cards have more powerful effects than 0-cost cards, and since every card can be used for rerolls anyway, a lot of players make the case that you should put a lot of powerful cards in your deck and play one of them per round.
While it is true that rerolls mean even unplayable cards have some value, playable cards inherently have more value. Even if the effect of a 0-cost card is small, like seeing an opponent’s hand or gaining a shield, that card can also, of course, be used for a reroll. Would you rather have a card that can do something or reroll, or a card that can only reroll?
If you have a lower cost curve, you will definitely see fewer “powerful” cards, but you gain versatility in exchange. You might play four cards per round instead of one, and having those cheaper options available can be extremely significant. Remember, you draw a new hand every round for free.
With this in mind, check out another cost curve.
The cost curve of this deck is significantly lower, with an average cost per card of 1 resource. Given what you know about the resource curve, now you can expect to play at least 2 cards each round. With this deck, you will have significantly more options and will still have a couple of “powerful” cards to choose from each round.
But since you are now including less of the “powerful” cards, choosing the right ones is even more important! To do so effectively, we need to talk about damage.
The Damage Curve
The damage curve is more complicated than the resource and cost curve, because it is so much more variable. You must resolve dice, play cards, and use abilities in order to do damage, and your opponent can always put a stop to those plans. Regardless, it is certainly possible to estimate the damage that a deck will do during a game.
First, start with your character dice. Captain Phasma has a 1- and 2-damage side, as well as a special that does 2 or 3 damage. Quickly, we know that a Phasma die has a 33.3% chance of doing 2 damage (2 out of 6 sides) when it is rolled. If our goal each round is to get that die to a 2-damage side, rerolling and manipulating it as needed, Phasma safely does an average of 2 damage per die, per round. Technically, the odds are around 80% if rerolling that die 4 times (1 – (.66 • .66 • .66 • .66), which is close enough to work with – again, not perfect models.
So, time for the charts again. We have the number of round on the x-axis and we replace resources with the amount of damage on the y-axis. Below is the damage curve of Captain Phasma, assuming 4 damage.
Of course, we cannot forget Maul! He has a 2- and 3-damage side, with the latter costing a resource (disregard for now). If we apply the same formula, that 33.3% chance to hit damage yields 2.5 damage per die, per round with Maul.
By adding Phasma and Maul’s damage together, the damage curve starts to become useful.
In the resource curve further above, we gained resources on the second and fourth round by spending one character die. If we assume that the die being spent to gain a resource is a Captain Phasma die, we see how the resource and damage curves are connected. If you spend a Captain Phasma die on a resource, your damage curve is reduced. You can see the results of this in the chart below.
To go further with the damage curve, we must add an important element to the model: an opponent. For the sake of this chapter, we will bring in regular Obi-Wan and elite Rey, a common deck.
Rey has a 1- and 2-damage side, so we expect to average 1.5 damage per die. Obi-Wan has two 3-damage sides, with one of them costing a resource. Taking his average, we expect 3 damage per round with Obi-Wan. Together, they average 6 damage per round. That curve is below.
Rey and Obi-Wan make things a bit more complicated though, as Heroes usually do! Both Obi-Wan and Rey have abilities that affect the damage curve. As long as Rey has a shield when she activates, she gets to do one damage automatically. When Obi-Wan actives, he gets to place a shield on a character. In other words, this will likely mean +1 to their damage curve each round and -1 to their opponent’s (due to the shield). Look at how this affects both damage curves in the chart below.
This may seem complex, but there are really only two things happening:
- Our Maul/Phasma damage curve is reduced by 1 each round, shown in the difference between the yellow and green lines.
- Our opponent’s Rey/Obi damage curve is increased by 1 each round, shown in the difference between the blue and red lines.
But what happens to either of these curves once a character is defeated?
With the information we have, we can start making reasonable estimate as to when this might happen. If you look at the green line in the chart above, Maul/Phasma do 16 damage by the second round of the game. Knowing that Rey has 11 health and Obi-Wan has 12, one of them should be defeated during the second round. What happens to their damage curve if Rey is defeated on the second round?
If we assume she activated before being defeated, she will still get to do a free damage from her ability – but suppose that she does not get to resolve her dice. Check out the curve.
As you can see, defeating Rey has a massive impact on the Hero damage curve. Defeating a character has a more significant impact on the damage curve than any other moment in a game of Destiny. Of course, this works both ways – losing Maul or Phasma on the second round is devastating.
Similar to resources though, there is quite a bit more to damage than what appears at first glance. What happens to your damage curve if you add dice to your pool? What if you control your opponent’s dice? What if your dice are controlled?
In the same way we estimated the damage curve for characters, we do the same for any die. For example, consider Crossguard Lightsaber. Crossguard Lightsaber has a 1-damage, +2-damage, and a special that does 2 or 3 damage. This is extremely similar to a Phasma die, with the only difference being the modified 2-damage side. To account for that, we will make a more conservative assumption of 1.5 damage per round from Crossguard Lightsaber.
There is a lot to keep up with, so a quick recap before showing another chart. Your damage curve now includes:
- 2.5 damage per round, per die from Maul (2-damage side, 3-damage side)
- 2 damage per round, per die from Captain Phasma (2-damage side, 2-damage side)
- -2 damage on round 2 and 4, since we are using that Phasma die to gain a resource
- -1 damage per round because of Obi-Wan’s shield ability
Before we throw Crossguard Lightsaber in, we need to account for the reality that one of our characters is probably biting it on the second round. We know that the Rey/Obi curve equates to 14 damage by the second round, so we will defeat Phasma to keep things fair.
Now, a look at how playing Crossguard Lightsaber in the first round alters your damage curve, assuming a dead Phasma on the second round.
That is a lot of damage! Before playing Crossguard Lightsaber, it would take until round 4 to defeat both Obi-Wan and Rey (23 health). With Crossguard Lightsaber, it is possible to defeat both Rey and Obi-Wan by the third round!
If only it were this simple, right? How about all of those control cards…
Imagine this scenario: you play a Crossguard Lightsaber on Maul, activate Maul, activate Phasma, reroll twice, and finally your dice all show damage. Then, your opponent does the unthinkable… they play Sound the Alarm, making you reroll all of your dice showing damage. You roll into non-damage sides, so you reroll again, and then again. Now you are out of cards and one of your Phasma dice ends up on blank.
This kind of thing happens all of the time.
Assuming your opponent controls one of your Phasma dice on both the first and second round, and that you do not play Crossguard Lightsaber so you can afford to resolve the 3 damage side on Maul, your damage curve now looks like this.
As you can see, your damage curve is reduced by 2 in the first two rounds. The net result is a total loss of 4 damage on your curve. No big deal, right? This is actually extremely significant.
Your total damage by round two is now down from 16 to 12. At this pace, it is unlikely that you will defeat Rey before she gets to resolve her dice in the second round, so you take more damage! Ultimately, the value of those control cards must factor in the additional damage that longer-lasting characters are able to do.
Consider an even worse scenario. With the damage curve above, what happens if your opponent wins the initiative roll and decides to go second? They put two shields on Rey to start the game. Paired with Obi-Wan’s ability, your 12 damage by the end of the second round now has no chance to defeat Rey! Not only will they get to resolve their Rey dice on round two, they may also get a third round with Rey’s ability and dice.
Look at what this means for their damage curve.
It becomes clear rather quickly that control cards have a significant impact on the game.
With everything we have covered, imagine it is the first round of the game. You have five cards in your hand and two resources. Would it be better to play a Crossguard Ligthsaber or Crush the Rebellion (below)?
It may seem odd to compare an upgrade to an event, but this is a decision you have to make in every deck that you build and on every turn of the game. Both cards take a slot in your deck and require the same resources to play. With the concepts we have outlined in this chapter, you should be able to make a pretty accurate comparison!
We already calculated a damage curve with and without Crossguard Lightsaber, so the only information we need is the effect of Crush the Rebellion. Imagine that on the first round, your opponent activates Obi-Wan and rolls a 3-damage side. As your next action, you play Crush the Rebellion.
The first thing that happens is that your opponent takes 2 indirect damage. This directly increases your damage curve by two, even if your opponent gets to pick where they put the damage. If they put both damage on the same character, you can now target that character. The second thing that happens is that you reduce their damage curve by 3.
In our previous damage curve for Obi-Wan and Rey, we estimated that we could defeat Rey after she activated on the second round, but before she resolved dice. Take a look at that curve when we play Crush the Rebellion on the first round.
If you can remove one of their Obi-Wan dice with Crush the Rebellion and subsequently defeat Rey on the second round, the results are drastic. Given the damage curve above, they will not be able to defeat either of your characters until the third round, which means an extra round with Captain Phasma!
As we covered with our previous control card examples, this makes the ultimate impact of Crush the Rebellion -3 damage to our opponent’s curve, +2 damage to our curve, and then +4 damage from the extra round with Captain Phasma. So, take a look at how playing either Crossguard Lightsaber or Crush the Rebellion on the first round impacts the damage curves!
So, which card was the right one to play? The truth is, it depends.
From this chart, it seems that Crush the Rebellion is a slightly better play, but ultimately the damage curves end up in the same place. Remember that the objective of this exercise is not to create a statistically accurate model by which Deep Blue can become the ultimate Destiny player. Instead, it is all about the fundamental concepts you need to understand when making the choice between something like Crossguard Lightsaber and Crush the Rebellion. So, consider the following.
First is the consistency of upgrades and control cards. Upgrades are consistent in that you can always play them on your characters. They are inconsistent because they require you to roll dice. Meantime, control cards are inconsistent because they often require certain conditions on the board before they bring value. They are consistent, though, because they do not require you to roll dice.
Second is timing. If you think back to our earlier examples, what is the real value of a Crossguard Lightsaber if you play it on the fourth round of a game? It only adds 1.5 damage to your curve, which is insignificant. What about the second or third round? Upgrades generally become less impactful to the damage curve the later you play them. Control cards, on the other hand, maintain their relevance later in the game, and often become more relevant later in the game as they remove bigger dice. Crush the Rebellion removing a 3-damage die and dealing 2 indirect damage to your opponent’s last character has a substantial impact, no matter what round it is.
Luminous Beings Are We
Ultimately, be sure to watch the video at the top of this post and take all of this information with you as you build decks and play games! Nothing here provides a clear cut “do this, do that” model, but understanding how damage curves change throughout the game based on your decisions is important. Before you spend all four of your dice gaining resources on the first round, or play an upgrade instead of a control card in the third round, remember what you are sacrificing!
In the next chapter, Everything You Need To Know About Drafting, we cover the best way to expand your collection while learning the fundamentals of the game!
- Chapter 1
A Comprehensive Guide for New Destiny Players
- Chapter 2
How to Play Star Wars: Destiny
- Chapter 3
The Star Wars: Destiny Buyers Guide
- Chapter 4
How To Build Your First Destiny Deck
- Chapter 5
Building and Piloting Top Tier Destiny Decks
- Chapter 6
Everything You Need To Know About Drafting
- Chapter 7
Additional Resources for Destiny Players