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Balance, Nerfs, and the Treadmill

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I’ll be taking the time today to wax poetic about a bunch of problem cards and interactions, then follow up with what I would suggest as fixes. Then I’ll try and see the future about how that would affect our current meta.

Right out on front street.

I am Not a Game Designer.

So if I make a particular point in the course of this article you disagree with, chances are if the real truth isn’t in the middle it could very easily be you that is more correct than me. That being said…

I am an Above-Average Destiny Player.

How far above average is open to debate, and varies based on who you ask. I’d peg myself somewhere around the same skill level as Tacster and Elrathion (while being much better looking) and have put my foot in my mouth often enough to not make comparisons outside the Crew so draw your own conclusions there.

I say that not just as a form of oratory self-fellatio (which does feel nice) but to lend weight to the overall point of this article. When I talk about certain cards and interactions I am not looking at them from a kitchen table perspective. I’m not interested in any form of argument that something takes a ton of practice, the cards are hard to get, or yet another rehash of the age-old netdecking debate. Fun is fun, do what you like.

I’m looking at them from the perspective of what a skilled player can do. Someone who can balance probabilistic decisions, cold-read a meta, intuit cards in opponents hands, eke every bit of value from each card in their deck and how they interact with every other card in the format, and for whom sufficient practice with a deck is a given. These players will turn a 10% balance issue on the kitchen table into an 80% World Championship take-home. Winning is fun.

What is Unbalanced or Broken?

Well to quote Justice Potter Stewert “I know it when I see it”. His 1964 court opinion was on a slightly different subject, but I feel like the same concept applies here. After attempting and failing to put out a good definition here, I just erased everything and wrote the preceding sentences. In another parallel to the quote, everything is contextual. Broken today is blase tomorrow, just as the mundane today was obscene in 1964.

Breaking the rules is pretty much the entire point of CCG/TCG/LCG games. Don’t want to break any rules? Go play poker. The issue rears its head when the rules get broken too much. How much is too much depends on who’s being asked, but as a baseline my tolerance is pretty high.

I think in general though, the trends I’m seeing in card and decks take away from the core concept of interactivity. More and more, its becoming two players sitting down to see who can win their game of solitaire first. Maybe one player is playing solitaire by throwing Maul’s Saber out there a few times, maybe the other player is playing a “How long until I draw RI and NTMTO” game. The table next to them there’s a guy saying “Resolve Aayla 2 as focus with 3PO, deal 14 indirect” to an Obi player who can’t seem to draw his Concentrates. Everyone gets what they want, be it cards, dice, money, or results and the window for meaningful decision making is shrinking more and more.

I’m not saying the sky is falling, and Destiny is still amazingly fun. Trilogy format especially is a blast, and once sets start rotating out of Standard everyone will get to flex some creative muscles. Until then, I think some things need to change though.

The treadmill comes into play when you take steps towards fixing what is broken. There will always, always be an unfair card. If you ban a hypothetical card that says “Pay one: Make your opponent hate life” then the card that says “Pay two: Make your opponent hate life” takes its spot. Funnily enough we have that currently pegged as being worth three resources.

So how do lessen the impact of the treadmill with balancing? Well one approach is to make even more broken things, which sounds fun at least initially. A couple of problems though. Firstly is that it really limits design space. There’s no room for a card that does one damage for free if you print one that does three for free. Second is that it’s extremely slow to take effect. Destiny set development for takes at least 3 months based on FFGs release schedule and presumably operates at least one set in advance of the “next set” to account for the logistical realities of physical goods. This means that even if they started working on a power-boosting fix today it wouldn’t be in our hands until September. Good luck with that.

The more common (and in my view correct) approach is to dial things back, but it isn’t without issues either. Dice are pretty much untouchable unless FFG made some sort of crazy mail-in exchange program, and even changing the text on cards is problematic. The longer an errata list gets the harder it is to keep everything straight, and on-going template issues aside, at a certain point the cards become just abstract ideas that represent a rules document. As the card pool gets larger and larger, and certain game effects have duplicate methodology it is probably better to move towards a straight-up ban list for the cards that are out of scope.

Now on to the cards and concepts which may be issues.

Resource Reliability


Is it Broken?: I don’t think so, it was inevitable in one way or another. As Destiny progressed we were either going to see resource reliability shoot up, or the value for your money shoot up. I like this approach better because it forces players to take trade-offs in their  deck building, and in most cases give your opponent some sort of benefit along the way.

How to Fix?: I don’t think it should be, but if you forced me to I’d probably do it in the slow way by adjusting future card costs upwards rather than touch anything current. An extreme way to tackle this if it gets way too out of hand could be to alter the core rules and start players with one resource. But we are so far away from that, it sounds absurd.

Treadmill Effect if Nerfed?: Decks that can die-spam for effect move up a bit, and combo enablers take a dive since the money would need to go directly towards a guaranteed effect.

Lack of Opponent Interaction


Is it Broken?: Yeah, in varying degrees. I’ve ordered the cards in least-to-most problematic from my point of view. Yeah, I actually think Force Speed is worse than Sabine I’m a freak of nature. H&R is pretty much the baseline effect here, and Sabine’s point cost and frequent die failure rate keep her in check in the absence of other things. Hyperspace Jump is sitting right on the line for me at the moment. I just got done saying resource reliability is in a fine state, but Jump is a holdover from AWK where it’s cost was prohibitive and it isn’t until recently that the differential in deck speeds made it ubiquitous.

Which brings me to Force Speed. I’ll go into guaranteed dice next but just know that Speed is a key component there as well. Even in it’s intended purpose which is a H&R effect, or a protected reroll, the quality of dice has shot through the roof since SoR came out. Gone are the days where you sweat a paid two-damage side.

But the real killer is Running Interference. We see this in two major decks, where it’s used to smash anywhere from six to twelve damage through, with only JarJar, Aayla, and Suppression Field having a prayer of withstanding the damage. And the characters are easily played around from the perspective of the RI player. Until character health increases to the point where six damage is merely a chunk of HP rather than the kill-shot it currently is, RI is pretty egregious. The common refrain is just to run Vandalize or Rend, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to run both, FILP protects RI from them, and even if you do run both the Sabine and Obi decks would compensate by taking Scavenge forcing Sabotage into decks and now were talking about six cards in a 30 card deck dedicated to play around one card. WTF?

How to Fix?: Just ban RI. It already forced a core rule change last set (which I still like), and it just enables too much at this point even at it’s most fair use case, which is playing an ambush card then rolling Obi out with his dice protected. Force Speed isn’t 100% reliable, it usually allows for preemptive mitigation, and I don’t think there would be a deck-tech arms race to try and keep Speed off the table.

Treadmill Effect if Nerfed?: Well lets be honest, this is a targeted hit to Sabine and Obi. I would think they compensate by taking Infamous/Swiftness in RI’s place which balances out their resource reliability. I don’t think it would straight-up kill either deck, just ratchet them back down a bit and extend their game length by a turn or so.

Guaranteed Dice


Is it Broken?: Yes, but not on their own. Mother Talzin, and by association every other effect that only alters one die is perfectly fair. Even on the back of a force speed, I think the maximum effect you can get out of one die in any meta deck right now is an additional four damage.

Once you start touching additional dice, things get hairy. Resource Reliability, No Opponent Interaction, or Multi-Dice Alteration. Pick two. We’re all familiar enough with NTMTO and Concentrate, but even in it’s current nerfed state, Heat Of Battle is a problem waiting for the right Character to come along, mark my words.

How to Fix?: I think NTMTO and Concentrate in their current use cases get a lot less scary if RI gets banned. Moving forward, I hope FFG is very wary about the interactions between cards like these and combo-enabling action cheats and make future multi-dice alterations very risky or cost prohibitive in some way. 3 Resources (or two if anyone out there is still trying to make Jyn work lol) doesn’t cut it any more when you’re talking about 3-5 dice. I think two-for-two is a good sweet spot assuming the opponent has had some way to interact either before or after the card is played.

Treadmill Effect if Nerfed?: Lest anyone forget, K2SO, old Obi, Saw, and Han still exist and the resource reliability we have now would make them viable with these cards even if Sabine and Sexy-Obi were banned. Strong dice in and of themselves aren’t a problem here but not caring what they roll certainly can be. If in some unlikely extreme scenario where all multi-die changing cards were banned but die protection wasn’t, I think the decks with blue would still be playable, but rely on a reroll or two to setup the big damage. Sabine… Probably wouldn’t be competitive unless paired with Yoda or Poe2. In either case, the blame would just get shifted down to Impulsive and we haven’t actually accomplished anything.

“Free” Dice


Is it Broken?: Absolutely. Free dice drove a core rules change, and a balance of the force on FN. I don’t mean things like Chance Cube, and I don’t necessarily mean free. Every single one of these cards is an issue.

As much as I love vehicles, I think Rally Aid is an issue. Being able to get a guaranteed result out of it, then not have the downside of no rerolls because R2D2, C3PO, and Airspeeder are there to back you up is too strong right now, and I think it is going to limit Hero/Neutral vehicle design space moving forward in the same way It’s A Trap continues to ruin Hero Red characters. It isn’t egregious just yet, but saying “just run Vandalize” isn’t an answer when 3PO, Tech Team, and Rally Aid are all prime targets. Removing the worst offender from the target list brings vehicles down to a reasonable level.

Leadership realistically reads: Exhaust Ciena to resolve three+ other, better dice a second time this turn. And it’s only a matter of time before Hero gets a unique Red char at 7 cost, or a char just a tiny bit better than Mace at the same cost to pair with Rose. For reference, Master of the Council costs two for it’s effect with a 4-cost investment and requires a specific roll to get there, and Ashoka is just unplayable at the moment.

Runaway Boombas is my current baseline for acceptable extra dice. Costs one per die. Would probably be fine even with two less blanks. 7th Sister (and to a much lesser extent Krennic) pushes that a little bit by getting a poor die for free, and an upgraded die for one if comboed with Feint. But when you get to get that die upgraded, added to, and more character dice to boot? Problem city just on it’s own. Now duplicate the effect with Price of Failure? Yikes. Then add…

Also known as the root of all evil. Maul’s Lightsaber is supposed to require a bit of help to get damage out of once, and difficult to resolve twice for effect. Three resolutions in a turn is supposed to be absurd. But here we are. Ciena/Nightsister/7th is the best deck in the format by far in my opinion, and it’s only truly bad match-up is Boba/7th which abuses half of what makes OTK the best deck.

If you think I’m being hyperbolic, then try to get better than a 50% win-rate against a very skilled Maul’s Saber player with any other deck. If your response is Hyperspace Jump, then I’m assuming your opponent isn’t skilled enough to resolve disrupt/discard sides. When you do manage to get there, try it out against almost any other reasonable deck and see how far you get.

The amount of hoops you have to jump through to get a favored matchup against Maul’s Saber is insane, and even a specifically crafted mill deck (which we’ve found is the best option), relies on Vandalize/Nerf Herder at the right time… For the first copy.

How to Fix?: Ban Rally Aid. Vehicles is a good archetype for the game, and as other archetypes get bumped with future sets Rally Aid is either going to stagnate new vehicles, or make them oppressive. There’s really no in-between point for it so long as you can draw cards from dice.

Ban Price of Failure. Leadership can be attacked either by killing the low-cost Red character, disrupting resources, or hitting the hand. Price of Failure can only realistically be hit in the hand since attacking a small char instead of the main character without hand knowledge is just making a bad situation worse. FILP is a generic solution to a lot of problems, but if you have two FILPs while a deck has four reset cards the math only works out one way.

As for Maul’s Saber? I don’t think it’s directly fixable unless its banned, which is super unfortunate because it’s not only a die but a legendary one. I said earlier I didn’t want to consider certain arguments, but that doesn’t mean I’m totally unsympathetic to them. Some people, quite a few people, specifically acquired these cards at a cost. Making them worthless overnight should be the last resort.

Instead, I think point bumping 7th Sister by one is the way to go, forcing the Maul’s Saber decks to have a four die start instead of their current 5-die starts then keeping a close eye on future Villain Blue Melee Characters.

And above all else, make it super difficult to get extra die resolutions for free in the future. If Maul’s Saber is indicative of things to come, then we’re in for a world of hurt.

Treadmill Effect if Nerfed?: For all of the above? Hard to say for this one. I think Boba/Sister would still be perfectly playable, but Boba becomes the primary target 100% of the time, which I think would lead to Rise Again as an inclusion to plan on a 7th Sister Late-game scenario instead of the current Vibro-Cutlass/Heirloom redeploy plan. OTK has it’s combo potential reduced to a reasonable level, but I think it would still be pretty good in the right hands. Reducing base melee sides in those decks by two impacts Maul’s reliability enough to keep it strong without being oppressive.

A lack of Rally Aid doesn’t kill Vehicles, but it does make resource management and removal decision-making more relevant. Probably extends the game length by one turn, and forces two C3POs into the deck and FILP as well to fight against Vandalize. Good matchups are still good, bad matchups are still bad, but everything is more interactive across the board.

I’m Not Done Yet!

As what usually happens, I vastly underestimated the scope of what I have to say. I’ve still got three more topics to cover but I’m pushing upwards of 2700 words already so it’s probably best to just make this a two-parter. I’ll do my best to get it done before SXSW, until then keep rollin them dice!

-Agent Of Zion