Building an original deck that also does well is extremely rewarding. I won’t forget the first time I loaded into TTS and saw my opponent using the Vader1/Guard deck that I built and used to win the Artificery store championship. Or after my Top 8 performance at Nationals and everyone and their mom wanted to try out Thrawn/Snoke with Grand Moff. And more recently my Yoda/Leia3 list that won Atlanta. It is very satisfying to come up with something out of left field that no one else is running and actually doing well with it. But that’s not what this article is about, it is about when you try to think a little too far out of the box, and you crash and burn.
The idea behind this deck was “Beat Vader, be decent against everything else.” First, win the battlefield (which I did in all of my matches). Then, use Theed Royal Palace’s power action to get Tobias’ Rifle out forcing your opponent to lose a resource when played on Tobias. Ideally, if you are against Vader take his die with Prized Possession crippling him and sealing your victory. The only problem was I was not matched against Vader although he was featured in a third of the decks at the tournament. I faced mill three times in a row and was 2-1, but after I was quickly destroyed by an aggro deck, I knew I had no chance left to get to the top cut. Even if you are correct in guessing the meta and you have a counter to it, what you actually will be matched with is out of your control.
A RED FLAG
To try to get some inspiration and to make sure I wasn’t missing any obvious cards, I searched swdestinydb for lists using this character combination. I think this is the first time I searched swdestinydb and found no results for a character pairing. To anyone else, this would be a red flag (and it should have been for me too), but instead, I took it as a chance to once again bring an unknown deck and achieve glory.
“BUT IT WAS GOOD ON
These were my last words before leaving the Alabama regional defeated. The deck is arguably good on paper and can do some powerful things. I started building this monstrosity around 10 pm and put the finishing touches on this deck around midnight the night before the tournament. And with a 4-hour drive ahead of me and a start time of 11 am the next day I chose sleep over play-testing because “The deck is good on paper.”
In conclusion, thinking outside of the box is essential to reshaping and beating the meta, and I do think this deck has some potential to be great. When building a deck, especially if you are trying to be competitive, make sure you play-test it (the more times, the better). The key to a strong, original deck is plenty of reps and constant optimization. Thinking outside of the box and creating an original deck can add a surprise factor giving you an advantage. However, your deck must be strong enough to hang with the tier 1 decks which is no easy feat.
I hope you enjoyed this article. We can learn from my mistake to create powerful, original decks without thinking too outside of the box. If you want a full write-up about the tournament and the deck, let me know on the Artificery discord, and I will be happy to provide.
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*Since I had already won Las Vegas and am not going to take away someone’s Worlds Seat or Nationals Bye, I conceded in the final round. Jefferson and I shook hands, then since we just so happened to be in the same place at the same time he offered to play a match on stream with me with nothing on the line but a trophy, which I went home with.
The deck selection process for this was actually pretty straightforward as compared to previous tournaments. I very specifically did not want to try and figure out what the best deck is. I didn’t have an answer to that then, I don’t have an answer to that now.
I knew I was going to use my bye because it was my home regional, so the big question is Vader. But as I’ve said before, there isn’t enough room to maneuver in any iteration of Vader that I have built or seen someone else build. The Terror To Behold is certainly effective, and he is certainly capable of winning any game if things go his way but he is very rarely doing anything unexpected.
And yet… I did briefly consider playing Vader, and even had Pearl Yeti bring me a deck all the way from Portland just in case I audibled over to him (my wonderful wife LadyVader has first last and permanent claim over any Vader related cards in our house). But I stuck to my guns and picked from a very short list of decks that met some very specific criteria I had laid out beforehand.
A.) Be able to defeat Vader convincingly, the majority of the time, on either player’s BF.
B.) Be something people aren’t very well practiced against in a general sense, or be able to change the specific contents of the deck enough to introduce surprise plays.
C.) Have a viable game plan against Firespray and Shadowcaster aside from Disable.
D.) Have no more than one auto-loss matchup against any commonly considered deck that is able to meet the condition A (Mill, any Sabine variant, or Kit Fisto)
About a week out, I had it narrowed down to three decks. Yoda/Leia Mill, Han/Qira, and Hero Vehicles. Han/Qira left consideration pretty swiftly, because I am a coward. Han/Qira has zero auto-loss matchups that I have seen in this meta, not even against Kylo. The problem I had was that it had zero auto-win matchups either. The level of play and decision making necessary to go six BO1 and three BO3 matches was beyond what I was willing to put myself through.
I’ve never really played mill at a high level so I reached out four days prior to the best mill player I know, Reflex of The Hyperloops, for some deck advice. He gave me a grip of new cards to consider, prodded my way of thinking to reach a conclusion I am sure he had figured out months ago, and patted me on the head. I sure did feel smart!
After trying things out for a couple of days, I ended up totally disregarding the majority of the advice I was given because I was not going to be able to adjust my playstyle and shore up my own weaknesses as a player enough to make it work. I kept a few suggestions though and ran with them, ending up at the final list below. I know I am being vague about the details but I was asked to keep his specific tricks under wraps until his regional.
Note: Reflex ended up running three-wide, but his version was very focused on maintaining speed and BF control, with Snuff Out and Command Center as two major inclusions.
In the back of my mind though, was Hero Vehicles in two forms, eYoda/eL3/Gungan, and Wedge/eRose/HG. Both were very comfortable to me, and definitely felt good against Vader, but the decision to go Vehicles at GenCon was still haunting me. So coming all the way up to three minutes prior to the deck registration I was torn. The final deciding factor was both Yeti and LadyVader herself telling me to shut up and play mill.
As always, human memory is imperfect and any incorrect retelling of events in the recall of these rounds were inserted by me wholesale. If I get names mixed up or a sequence of events out of order please contact me and I will correct them ASAP.
ROUND 1 vs BYE
Used the bye. Just as good this year as it was last year. Gave me time to listen to music, get some caffeine, and chat with some people I haven’t seen in a while.
Round 2 vs Randy
All of my testing had indicated to me that some very bad things would have to occur to lose to a Vader deck. Welp. Bad things happened here, and I don’t think any deck I could possibly have played would have gotten the job done. Randy pushed me to a loss so fast and so unerringly that I was thinking about taking my Artificery shirt off and trying to go unnoticed for the rest of the day.
Leia was dead by the end of Round 2 against a Round 1 Vader’s Saber gotten off the back of Theed, bolstered by a card I had not considered in the slightest. Legacies. This card is awesome for Vader, and Randy definately knew where his priorities lay. He made a beeline for Leia’s head and didn’t let off the gas until he got it. I was able to wipe his whole hand in Round 1 and 2, but it didn’t matter because I never even considered the possibility of a “stranded” saber die getting resolved.
I did take him to the very bitter end though, the last sequence of the game was Yoda sitting on 1 HP left, nothing of note rolled out across his dice or the Force Jump and Force Speed. I had plenty of mitigation in hand, and he rolled out base melee on both Vader dice, and a resource on both a Darksaber and Ancient. I knew he had B&S in hand, and Beguile can only touch three dice.
Round 3 vs Revan86
I kept my jersey on, checked the pairings, and despaired. Revan is one of our top local players, and the number of times we have had what anyone could consider to be a “good game” in a Store Championship or higher event is zero, we just alternate merciless beatdowns. We both very diligently track who won the last showdown in a “Ha Ha only serious” sort of way. I was due a win this time, and I got it.
I received a near-perfect draw with both Force Jumps, I won the BF roll (but missed one of my own triggers like a dummy), I had adequate backup mitigation, and timely Commando Raids with focus to spare at the end for Leia’s power action. My deck ran itself this round, I just happened to be in the chair.
Round 4 vs Justin eYoda/eL3/Gungan
Justin hails from the Los Angeles area, we only see each-other when making the Store Championship rounds. Being able to spend time with the players from other areas is one of the reasons Store Championship season is my favorite time of the Destiny year, and people like Justin are why.
Ritual exchanging of pleasantries occurred, and we were underway. His deck was pretty similar to one of my shortlisted candidates, in my opinion with some better and some worse card choices. I was taken by surprise when he took control of Landing Dock with his last card in hand after I claimed Round 1, then surprised again when I was reminded the hard way that the PA on that battlefield can hit any die on the field.
Since his first vehicle played was an X-Wing I immediately shifted everything I had to prioritize burning his deck rather than his hand, with the reasoning being that if he had any X-Wings at the start of a round he would play them immediately, and that the Hailfires he was sure to have brought would be less effective with less vehicles to draw into, and that I could do a hail-mary discard at his hand if necessary if I ever saw a resource stockpile.
I managed to get one other X-Wing into the discard, but more importantly took both of the Hailfires out of the deck in the process. He was able to get the last two X-Wings down and bolster them with an N-1, but with no actual direct damage dealt for the entire game I was able to finish off his last remaining cards and play a Mind Trick on all dice in the pool to keep both characters alive.
Round 5 vs Kevin from the Roll-On Podcast
Man this was tough game. Of all the Vader pairings to play mill into, Vader/Red is the hardest. Of all of those, the one that gives Vader free damage even when his char dice are removed is the worst by far (though Nute is irritating). Combine that with someone who both clearly tested against mill and put thought into the matchup from both points of view, and it took everything I had to hold on.
I can’t remember very many details from the match, except that I won the rolloff and he immediately put shields on his droid, telling me he either has two copies of The Best Defense or that he had one in his hand. I was able to get a Force Jump out early and focus on removing his Saber while just keeping the char dice unresolvable, but it was slow going through the actual cards.
The weird thing about mill is how close or far away from winning you feel at any given time. I usually ask for a deck count at the start of round 3 or 4, and no matter what I’m blown away by the number. 4? How did I get that deep? This match was at the other end of the spectrum. Seven left in deck and five in hand at the end of round 4. How can I be so far behind?
Two At-Odds, and Vader’s Meditation Chamber. That’s how. I managed to mill a copy of Vader’s Fist earlier, which he ended up putting on the bottom of the deck and he had the Saber in play, so I needed to keep my Flames in hand all the way from Round 1 and only have Pacify and Overconfidence as mitigation in hand. I rolled out Yoda to an extremely good roll except for the Force Jump but with only 4HP remaining.
He rolled out Vader to nothing of note except his own Force Speed. I can’t play Pacify because Yoda takes 1 from Retribution, then has a 33% of dying on a Force Speeded power action roll. I go in the tank a bit and come up with a high-risk high-reward play that ended up paying off. I play overconfidence on my Force Jump and his Force Speed, and came out on top. Strict rationing of my Yoda specials and use of Pacify for the rest of the round kept Yoda alive and burned both At-Odds and the Fist buried earlier in one go. This ended up letting me Commando Raid his hand the next round and have an auto-win on board the next round.
But since he had ended round 5 with more than 5 resources, that’s when I realized the mad genius of Kevin. He only put one copy of Fist in the deck, and held his second saber the whole game! It very nearly won him the match by clogging my hand up the whole game, which was far more impactful than him holding on to one card would ever be. Notably (unless my memory of the top cut is wrong), Kevin is the only person I played against who never missed an Occupied City trigger while they had control of it.
Another Vader round, this time with his Jawa friend. Jawa I don’t mind so much but the Retribution plot reared its head again.
I can remember very little from this round, my apologies to Ken. I know it didn’t go very well for him from the start since I was able to set up Commando Raid hand-wipes relatively early and stockpile a slush fund for a rainy day. The end of the game was him playing Vader’s Fist, then needing to reroll the die into my held Flames of the Past. With either one or two cards left total and both of my chars still alive I closed it out.
Round 7 vs Jerry
Oh boy. I had heard there was a Planned Explosion deck running rampant on people. Was hoping to dodge it, but it was my fate. I won this round through luck. Pure and simple.
I keep EMP grenades in my opener, windmill slam it on Yoda thinking I’m king of the world, roll Yoda out to double discard sides for the green man and a natural special on EMP Grenades.
Jerry goes to play a card, I see that its Shadowcaster. I’m singing tunes to myself in my head. Before he actually lays the card down or even moves his resources he says wait a second, I didn’t see that was showing a special. I’ll play…
I couldn’t help but just laugh. I’m thinking there is no way I am coming back from getting double-disrupted out of my one answer to the one vehicle I am all but powerless to effect otherwise. I saw the Shadowcaster, he knows I saw the Shadowcaster, I have to resolve double discard from Yoda and take my 50/50 shot at clawing back. Not only did I get the Shadowcaster, I get a Planned Explosion.
At the end of the round he had claimed early and left a couple dice hanging out which I thought was odd. With only one card left in his hand and a Leia 2-Discard side on my side of the board I went with my gut to take the card from hand rather than two off the deck and got the other Planned Explosion.
Subsequent to that, across a total of two Partnerships and one Attack Run with the Legacies Falcon chosen twice, and his other Shadowcaster chosen once, he only found four damage he could resolve ahead of my mitigation.
Like I said. Pure luck. And not to retread old ground, Jerry ended up in 9th place overall when by all rights he should most likely have been in the top 8 but for some other unpleasantness. He had nothing but the most upbeat attitude throughout the entire round and every time I saw him thereafter, so it just goes to prove once again that Destiny really does have the best community of any game right now. I wish that he had gotten able to take his shot at the trophy inside the top 8.
I actually have stream coverage of my run in all three rounds of the top cut! In the process of commentating over it I started to feel drained, almost just as drained as playing through the top cut in the first place, which really shows why mill isn’t very popular to play or play against I think. It was hard all day, against some very tough opponents, and even then I required a certain amount of luck to get through it all. I hope you enjoy the matches and find some value in the commentary, if not and you would prefer to just watch with table audio the VODs are available for the entire tournament over on Twitch.tv/Artificery for all the Table 1 matches, and all of the Table 2 matches over at Monks Gaming Battlefield.
The deck treated me very well, and I would play it again for sure. It has the capability to win against the most popular decks you are nearly guaranteed to see in every tournament. Solid all the way through.
I don’t have anything to add to the main unpleasantness that happened in San Diego, but here’s some you may not have heard of if you weren’t in attendance yourself. The store chosen to host the regional totally dropped the ball on the experience. In no particular order:
A.) Tournament was capped to 60 players to give priority to an MTG event. Store did not provide adequate notice that the tournament was capped, resulting in 20 people driving hours out of their way to be turned back.
B.) Store did not provide any employee staffing or support to organize, run, or judge the tournament. This resulted in the TO responsibilities being shouldered by one of our local mainstay and competitive players, who would have preferred to play, and did not anticipate any of the issues which arose and made the best of a bad situation.
C.) Store did not initially provide printing supplies for pairings and match slips, resulting in a 50 minute delay in tournament start time.
D.) Store did not provide adequate toilet facilities, one single-stall restroom was shared between over 100 people for a large portion of the day.
E.) Store charged $20 entry and gave zero prize support aside from the tournament kit. This is a contentious point to make. The kit costs around $200, and stores aren’t charity. I get it. I’m a capitalist. If a store doesn’t expect or can’t hold more than 32 or so people, I don’t expect much if anything at all in addition to the kit. The first ten people buy the kit, the next ten pay for store labor costs, and then the store gets to keep the lights on and make profit from the rest of the players plus snacks/drinks purchases. Perfectly fair.
What I don’t expect is absolutely nothing from a store that sells out all 60 spots at $20 a head, and provides nothing in the way of support aside from the roof over the tables. This meant that 60 people came together to rent a room for $1000. If we had just done that, we would have exclusive use of the space and wouldn’t have needed to cap attendance. Not to mention, event venues usually have adequate restroom facilities. Right off the top of my head, the store could have offered $300 in store credit to the top cut or as an attendance raffle, and thrown in a couple of boxes. The boxes cost the store about $55 each wholesale, and anyone from out of town would spend the store credit immediately, which when you include the expected (and necessary) markup a brick and mortar location has, means the store gets a fair amount back right off the rip depending on what was bought. Call the outlay $250 as a good will offering, taking some sting off of the rest of the venue issues which plagued us. By itself, this is irritating. Combined with all of the other stuff above? I’m never walking back in there, and that store was the most convenient for me to go to by a wide margin.
I feel obligated to speak on the issue both because I am fortunate enough to have a platform from which to do so, and because the event took place not just in my home region but at my home store, with a personal friend as the TO.
I don’t have any first hand information about the allegations made against Cat beyond what people have already seen clipped from the stream, and didn’t personally witness anything shady myself. That being said, the shuffles appear stacked. If you haven’t seen it, check this post. https://www.reddit.com/r/swdestiny/comments/aht2li/so_what_do_you_think_is_this_proper_shuffling/
In one match (round 3) a Truce was slipped from the bottom to the top, then a lot of shuffling happened thereafter. Prior to the Truce going to the top, cards were put one at a time from bottom to top. After Truce, cards were taken from the bottom and placed into hand then mashed into the deck after quite a few piled up. I cannot determine with absolute certainty from the video if the Truce was kept on top throughout this process but it appears so. Then a Vader’s Saber is slipped from the bottom to the top. The entire deck leaves field of view for a few seconds thereafter but every visible partial riffle leaves what is on top, on top. Cat did not cut Mike’s deck, nor did he offer to allow Mike to cut his. In the mulligan for that same match, a Friends in High Places was slipped from bottom to top and kept there after more partial riffles. Once again, he declined to cut Mike’s deck and Mike also declined to cut Cat’s. In his hand we can see the Friends In High, and he starts the round with Truce into Vader’s Saber.
In one match (round 4) a Vader’s Saber and Truce were slipped from the bottom to the top, then kept on the top after a few partial riffles. Cat did not cut Justin’s deck, nor did he offer to allow Justin to cut his. In the mulligan for that same match, a Friends in High Places was slipped from bottom to top and kept there after more partial riffles. This time Justin did cut the deck.
And that’s all I really needed to watch. If a sleuth wants to dig deeper into the archived footage, they are more than welcome to.
During the actual tournament, both myself and the TO were made aware of the issue and looked at one of the clips (I can’t remember which one, but think it was the first shuffle against Mike). When asked for my advice by the TO, I said it was his decision but that it was very clear to me that it was a stacked deck and that I would issue a disqualification, or at the bare minimum, a game loss. The TO decided to issue a warning, at which point I advised that Cat be kept at Table 1 (as the higher fidelity of the two streams running) for the remainder of the tournament.
I don’t think it should take too much convincing for anyone to reach the same conclusion I have, but because I am a numbers guy, I wanted to see just how unlikely it was that this were to occur innocently. There’s two ways to look at it.
The first way is just to see how likely it is to start with the Truce/Saber combo. Ignore everything else and just look at the end result. A very quick, and very dirty way to do it is to calculate the odds of drawing at least two copies of either of the cards off of the top 10. Heading over to https://stattrek.com/online-calculator/hypergeometric.aspx put in 30 for the pop size (deck), 4 for the number of successes (assuming 2x Truce and 2x Saber), 10 for the sample size (full mulligan), and 2 number of successes (what we want). Percentage comes out to ~40%. Cut that in half because out of all 8 success conditions we calculated for, half are duplicates of the same cards and are failures in actuality. So we’re left with ~20%, decreased by the fact that we only calculated for the top 10 of the deck and not the actual mulligan process. The odds of it occurring twice in two rounds back to back are ~4%, again decreased by the fact that we didn’t calculate true mulligan odds.
The second way to look at it is purely from the percentage that he happened to stop flipping cards from the bottom to the top at just the right moment. Doing it like this, it is ~6% each time. Even if we ignore the two Truces we see get pulled to the top because he didn’t truly stop until Vader’s Saber, the odds of getting 2x Saber, and 2x FIHP to the top of your deck like this randomly are 0.001296%.
Straight Flushes happen in real life, and looking at the numbers is really just a waste of time anyway, done purely for my curiosity. Neglecting to offer a cut is a natural mistake that is perfectly reasonable for any player to do at some point. Stopping a shuffle on a specific card can happen. Some players learn poor shuffling habits and don’t get corrected. Sometimes when you play against Vader he does end up just blowing you out with a great series of draws because that’s what Vader is supposed to do. I am more than willing to be charitable and to assume the best of people on any one of those things. Asking me believe that all of those things happened at once? You’d be stretching my charity pretty thin. Asking me to believe it twice in a row? Sorry, I just can’t. I have to call a cheat as I see it.
I don’t make accusations lightly, and I try to compartmentalize things as much as possible.
I have absolutely nothing against Cat as a person. When playing against him online, and in person, he was nothing but accommodating and kind beyond any reasonable expectation even going so far as to give me a longer break in between rounds due to a chronic hand/arm pain problem I have and offering advice to alleviate the issue. I’d absolutely drink a beer with him, and I’d absolutely play against him again.
I would absolutely shuffle his deck myself again too though.
There’s a rabbit hole we can go down here. Topics include:
FFG’s casual nature as a company bleeding into their unwillingness to take action against people caught cheating and how that influences certain peoples ethical decision making.
FFG’s lack of TO guidance for how to handle any issues that arise during a tournament.
The expectations we have in general for tournaments ran by a volunteer player (as the TO was for this regional).
What the community response needs to be when dealing with this issues.
What the corrective action should be in this specific case.
This is long enough so it’s best to leave most of those for another day, and it shouldn’t be too hard to guess my positions on any of those topics anyway.
I’ll close this out by publicly calling upon Cat to apologize, and to relinquish the entirety of his Top 4 prizing to the person who came in ninth place at the San Diego regional. I have contact information for both players, and can act as an intermediary between the two of you. I will even pay for the shipping of the prizes. It isn’t a perfect solution and it does nothing to alleviate the disservice done to any of your opponents (especially Joe, your top 8 opponent), but it is the simplest and most direct rectification I can reasonably recommend.