“It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life”. -Jean-Luc Picard
When it comes to almost any game, cards games in general, and specifically Destiny the difference between winning and losing is often said to come down to who made the fewest mistakes. There is of course some element of random chance involved, everyone’s been blown out by Sabine at this point right? But even if one out of every five games we lose was completely unavoidable, the rest are still governed by the rate of human error. The only way to compensate for that error is by increasing the amount of game knowledge we have.
Increase game knowledge. Three very simple words, and they even form a grammatically correct (if somewhat unusual) sentence. But it’s not quite so easy to put into practice because of how broad the terms are. Everyone has different holes in their knowledge, and it can be difficult to pin down where you are lacking. The only thing worse than knowing the exact mistake you made that caused a loss is not having a clue how things went downhill. This article will help you narrow down where those holes are in your own knowledge and give you a jumping off point to fill them.
The number of solid players I see with no inkling on how likely or unlikely a die roll or card draw will pay off for or against them is frankly absurd. How many times have you heard or said the following?
“I had two +2s showing and I rerolled my Shoto Lightsaber three times and missed!” Well… You only had ~40% chance overall. If you had rolled the other Shoto as well, the odds of getting at least three damage resolved would have shot up to ~65%.
“He got so lucky on his first turn!” Well… 5-Die villain with a DH-17 will roll six or more damage on its first turn ~80% of the time with just two rerolls. Add in Bait and Switch, Bala’s Focus, or Nightsister rerolls and… Yeah. Not too much luck there in my opinion.
You don’t need to be a math teacher to get a leg up on your decision making, though it can certainly help (Hi Jim!). But here’s some quick facts.
Chance of starting game with one particular card in hand if you mull for it: ~44%
Chance of starting game with a combo of two specific cards if you mull for them: ~28%
Need a result on either one of two dice with the same sides? ~29% per roll.
Need that same thing, but both of your dice have two of what you’re looking for? ~56%
While you can’t use them in a tournament game tools like Anydice and Deck-u-lator are incredibly useful in practice matches to get a feel for different situations and the best decision making. Your mental math doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be in the ball-park.
Ok enough with the math. You have to know your deck inside and out. The absolute lowest bar to meet is knowing your decklist card for card. This is largely a problem for people like me who are serial netdeckers and impulsive enough to make changes right before a tournament. As I quickly learned, If you don’t know what tools you have available to you in a match then the chances of making a mistake skyrocket.
But more than just knowing the stuff in the deck, you have to know its speed, how much damage you can really push out of it in any given situation and most importantly in my opinion, your decks “Critical Point”
The Critical Point is the point your deck reaches where your chances of winning skyrocket no matter what else has happened in the game. Playing Palpatine, and end your turn with 3 resources, 7 damage, Rise Again in hand and an upgrade in the discard? Critical. Playing QGJ/Kanan and you get to start your turn with mild damage on QGJ but with a shield and two Shoto Lightsabers? That’s it. Sabine/Ezra this time but flush with cash, pretty likely to draw NTMTO, and a weapon in discard? Bingo.
Some decks Critical Mass are easier to identify than others, and short of doing something ridiculous (like rerolling 3 Sabine damage to get a resource for next turn) you should always be moving in the direction of your Critical Point. Other decks like R2P2 can even have multiple critical points and winning board positions which lend them strength far beyond their appearance.
The other side of the coin is knowing how you can (or can’t) mess with your opponents Critical Point. QGJ/Kanan has no statistically relevant way to stop Palpatine from Rising Again for instance, which is the primary reason that matchup is so terrible for our Heroes in blue. Conversely a Phasma(AWK) deck can potentially disrupt resources, the hand, upgrades in play, run shield hate, or even damage race efficiently depending on what is required which is why that deck has very few truly awful matchups (but also very few amazing ones either). Sitting down with a clear idea of what you DON’T want to see on the other side of the table on turn three or four will open up lines of play that may look odd at the moment but delay your opponents Critical Point long enough for you to get to yours.
Methods of Play
So you’re playing Sabine/Ezra. You made a great deck. Perfect upgrade and event suite, and you sit down across from someone playing eJango/ePhasma. This is going to be a slaughter. You pull up your opening hand, and mull it away because it didn’t have any upgrades. You draw your second grip of five and it looks like this.
Well… Shit. So what do you do? Reroll a ton to try and get max damage? Go for maximum control and turtle up? Bank money for an explosive second turn?
Of course every situation is different and a lot depends on your opponent, but at PAX I saw more than one person run into the situation where the stars aligned and they just couldn’t get what they needed in the first turn and they clearly had no time invested in navigating that position. The above hand is my best recollection of what an opponent of mine had on Day 2 against my R2P2 deck.
That hand isn’t ideal against anyone, but there were some serious options there (especially against R2P2) to effectively make my first turn just as “bad” if not worse than his and I saw them get thrown away one by one in pursuit of damage which was ultimately futile.
Play from an uncomfortable position in practice. Play your deck “wrong” to see which weird ways it can be stretched. And do it before RNG catches up to you at a tournament and gives you a terrible hand you have to figure out on the fly.
The Card Pool
In the highest levels of play, you have to know every card in the card pool off the top of your head. If it’s legal, you should know it’s cost, text, art, who designed it, if it has a spot requirement, how much it weighs, if it contains the word “then” and what that means, and what it smells like fresh out of an opened pack.
But uhh… Lets be realistic. There’s over 500 cards right now and we’re about to get somewhere in the vicinity of 200 more added. So you can cut that down a bit to knowing decks and the cards most commonly played in those decks. With exactly two exceptions.
1.) Board-Wipes. Feel Your Anger, Force Misdirection, Hyperspace Jump, It Will All Be Mine, Dodge, Block, Decisive Blow… If you fail to play around them no matter how uncommon they may be, you can get wrecked in a heartbeat. Sometimes it means spending an extra action, but to this day I see people get taken by surprise by a perfectly avoidable board-wipe.
2.) Damage from hand. People forgetting about No Mercy was a primary factor in my PAX win, and that very same day I saw a Sabine die to a Guerrilla Warfare with a playable Second Chance in hand because they wanted to wait resolve the DL-44 die first. You have to know what “extra” damage can come at you and act accordingly.
The top players are all going to be doing the same thing though. Try and take a road less traveled when possible to challenge the limits of your opponents game knowledge. Back in the SoR meta EmoKids and Palpatine players wised up to the possibility of my Poe/Maz deck running Cunning pretty quickly, and at the upper tables were very wary of it even coming out of hand off of a Poe special. What they didn’t expect was Sensor Placement which helped earn a Plaque in two different rounds on the same day. Something outside the box can turn an impossible matchup right on its head if your opponent wasn’t prepared.
The Meta Environment
The quickest way to not make the cut at a major event is to take the winning list from last week and bring it card-for-card. For your local meta, no-one knows it better than you do and you have to temper everything you read and hear online through your own observational lens. In a hypothetical world where Sabine/Ezra is hands down the best deck overall in all respects, taking that into a local store championship where 50% of the players run mill decks week in and week out is probably not the best idea. Or at the very least, the card choices you make will be very different from what you see across the country.
For huge events drawing from a wide player-base or Artificerys own world-spanning online tournaments, you have to infer a lot and find the appropriate “level” to be on.
Level 1: Deck “A” is best in format, I’ll take it.
Level 2: Deck “B” has an amazing matchup against deck “A” and tons of people will run that, I’ll take it.
Level 3: Deck “C” is going to beat up on all those crafty deck “B” players for sure, I’ll take it.
And so on and so forth. When it comes to navigating this choice though, at the end of the day it really comes down to you. It is much easier to outsmart yourself and fall into a trap where you fall into unfavorable matchups because of a misestimation than it is to pick the perfect deck for a tournament. My very general advice is to default to your most practiced deck that fits your style of play which doesn’t have a very poor chance to win against more than one widely played T1 deck. It is better to let your experience level and comfort bring you close to that hypothetical 5% edge over the field that the perfect deck could get you.
In a future article we will delve deep into the Artificery team approach to testing in a wide-open meta environment which works exceptionally well for us, but if you’re already dedicated enough to the game to read articles online you are probably two or three steps ahead on meta knowledge than the average player.
Learn From Everything
Are the Hero Vehicle decks jank? Yup. But why are they jank? Why is any particular deck jank? The best way to find out is to go out and lose a bunch of games with it. It’s not the most fun way to learn and it can eat some of your pride while simultaneously making you feel like you’re wasting time, but if you do it with enough decks you can start short-cutting the process in the future.
When Legacies and Rivals become legal it is going to be during the heart of Regional season. If you know what exactly a vehicle deck (for example) is missing to be effective because you lost a bunch of games from not having it, then you will be able to immediately recognize the secret sauce if it comes into existence. Multiply this by any number of decks and continue to add to your repertoire, and your knowledge will pay off.
Sometimes the best way to figure out how to dodge a punch is to get jabbed in the nose. Hate playing against mill decks? Time to queue up a ten game session with your local asshole… I mean control player (love you Smerle). I’m convinced that a large percentage of mill victories are on the back of people hating to test against it and just being willing to take the loss when it comes up. Same with Poe/Maz during SoR, and same with Sabine/Ezra now.
Aside from just playing the game, there are tons of other resources at your disposal. Articles, podcasts, meetups, Discord, and even design documents can all have great information just waiting to be put to work. Linked below are a few of my suggestions for further reading, and are considered to be seminal items in their respective genre as they relate to gaming in general. The majority of this is specific to Magic the Gathering but let’s be honest there’s very little ground the players and writers and producers in that realm of gaming HAVEN’T specifically covered already. As a fledgling content creator, I would be remiss if I didn’t refer you to the people whos coat-tails I am clinging to.