Hey, everyone. I want to start by thanking Claus Staal for inviting me to share an article with the YOUR Destiny community. Claus and I met at Worlds 2018, where his Rey/Aayla deck had the misfortune of being the first victim of my Sabine/Ezra deck on its 5-1 Day 1 run and an eventual Top8 finish.
It was a fun match and he was a great opponent. Throughout the day we both kept checking up on each other and it has been great to follow the growth of the YOUR Destiny podcast and Website following Worlds. Claus is a resilient guy and obviously has overcome the trauma of what Sabine Wren inflicted upon his deck to ask me to share my thoughts on Sabine in light of the release of a new set of cards and the recent Balance of the Force which bumped her cost from 15/20 to 16/21.
2. A BRIEF HISTORY OF VIOLENCE:
Since her announcement as part of the Empire at War expansion Sabine captured the attention of many in the Destiny community. Sabine has strong dice and an ability allowing her to play an upgrade from the discard pile before activation. High point cost characters are expected to come with strong character dice and good abilities, and while most often have a hard time breaking into the competitive meta, Sabine Wren was wrecking it. A lot of the 20+ point characters look strong when evaluated independently, but tend to fall apart because of lack of a good support character to pair them with or a lack of upgrades, supports and events to capitalize on their strengths and to keep them alive long enough to have a significant impact on the game.
The story of Sabine isn’t just a story of how good her dice and ability are (and they are great) it's about how she found great support characters in Ezra Bridger1 and later Yoda. It’s about the fact her ability synergized with ranged ambush weapons and there were three available for her to use at launch (Holdout Blaster, X-8 Nightsniper and DL-44 Heavy Blaster Pistol) with the Hidden Blaster added in Legacies. It’s the fact that at some point someone thought printing Second Chance was a good idea and there also happen to be a suite of other events that help assist Sabine in reaching her goal.
The rise of Sabine as a force in the Empire at War and Legacies competitive metas were dependent on far more than just her dice and ability, without all the other pieces of the puzzle Sabine would have been another cool idea decorating binders everywhere.
If you want more perspective on Sabine and what she has done in the past and why the deck has been so strong I would recommend checking out this article by Mike Gemme aka BobbySapphire of TheHyperloops. Mike took Sabine/Ezra to the Top4 at worlds and has been a huge factor in popularizing the deck and pushing the limits of what it could achieve.
3. WHY ARE WE STILL TALKING ABOUT SABINE?
Getting added to the list of characters in The Balance of the Force has been the death knell for most of the characters it has hit so far. The best comparison for the nerf that Sabine just took is the story of Poe Dameron – Ace Pilot. A year ago, Poe/Maz was a staple of the Spirit of Rebellion meta tearing up Store Championships and making a strong showing at GenCon’s North American Championship and also the European Championship, the capstone events of the SoR meta. In the first Standard Holocron (the errata and rules' documents of Destiny) Poe got hit by a Balance of the Force, increasing his cost by two and stripping his access to his support character of choice, Maz Kanata. Poe has not made an appearance back in the competitive scene since.
At first glance the basic formula of Poe/Maz and Sabine/Ezra appear similar, do a crap ton of damage with minimal dice interaction allowed by your opponent. Now they both achieved this in different ways and the decks themselves are widely different, but the basic framework is there.
What getting hit by a Balance of the Force does is change the characters that the Balanced character has access to pairing with. The Balance to Poe took away his access to Maz and the action cheating she brought to the table just as the current Balance to Sabine is removing the access to Ezra and Yoda, currently her best partners. The difference between Sabine and Poe is what character has the abusable mechanic that made the deck tick. In the case of Poe/Maz it was Maz’s ability to activate and immediately resolve 2 dice that allowed Poe’s devastating Special to be (ab)used with maximum effect. With that "action cheat" (and consistency) eliminated Poe just becomes much less of a threat. He only had one Special side so trying to build a deck around abusing that die side becomes much less reliable. Without a way to throw them in your enemies face the high cost upgrades and supports clog up a hand and bring little value to the deck.
Poe was what made the deck scary but Maz is what made the deck run. I think this is best illustrated by the Obi/Maz decks that arose during the Legacies meta. The first iterations of the deck played very similar to Poe/Maz though the deck evolved to be its own kind of monster as the meta moved on.
So, what is it about Sabine that makes her still worth discussing even after taking the same sort of nerf that sidelined Poe? In my opinion it is twofold.
1). Sabine is her own engine.
If a deck is going to make a splash in competitive Destiny it must do something special. There is usually a mechanic that the deck abuses or some synergy between the characters that set it above other options. What is it about Sabine decks that made them special and how was this effected by the Balance to her cost? We have seen Sabine be successful with multiple support partners now, so unlike poor old Poe it wasn’t just her partner that drove the deck. Sabines abusable mechanic is built into her and combos with ambush upgrades and multiple dice fixing cards that exist in the game. This combination has proven strong and theoretically could still be pulled off with new partners. As long as the pieces exist to build a deck around Sabines unique and powerful ability it will remain worth exploring whether there is a place in the competitive meta for Sabine.
2). Sabine completely and utterly dominates against mill decks.
In a healthy CCG meta there will always exist an aspect of rock-paper-scissors when it comes to choosing and building decks. Each deck has its strengths and weaknesses and a deck that dominates the field one week may not fare as well the next. Usually when evaluating the decks the way I have seen people discuss it is what are the decks odds of winning if two equally skilled opponents play each other (50/50, 60/40, 70/30 etc). Now there are no hard numbers for most of this and its usually a "feel you get playing the deck" against skilled opponents and by understanding the strengths and weaknesses of a deck. That said, most top tier decks when evaluated sit in the 65 to 35 range when compared to other top decks. Mill vs Sabine is another story. In my opinion the match felt like a 90/10 in favor of Sabine and was probably the most lopsided match up between competitive decks that has existed in the game.
With the release of Way of the Force the mill archetype decks received a huge boost in the form of Leia Organa – Heart of the Resistance and Cassian Andor – Rebellion Operative. Right now mill appears to be a very strong and competitive option in the meta. If we see mill rise to prominence and there are a lack of viable decks to counter it looking to Sabine as a possible check could be a real possibility.
4. WHAT NOW SABINE WREN?
While I think Sabine is a character worth still considering, the task of finding a new partner to fill the shoes of Ezra or Yoda is monumental. I personally have not spent much time trying to make Sabine work post nerf so everything here is theoretical or based upon other people lists. I’m going to break down potential partner options color by color and mention new cards that may be worth considering in a Sabine deck.
5. BLUE CHARACTERS w/SABINE:
There are three new blue cards from Way of the Force that I think could make their way into a Sabine/x deck:
This card is super versatile and one of the best cards from the set. Nothing special about it w/Sabine in particular but a staple of any Blue Hero deck moving forward
This card has blowout potential though at a high price. Could combo well with Running Interference or Force Speed to do maximum damage as well as turning all enemy dice to blank.
WAY OF THE FORCE
For 3 resources you can get a second Sabine die or second die for your partner. Not sure that it is worth it since it lacks the ambush synergy you get with other Sabine upgrades and I’m not convinced a second Sabine die is much better than a DL-44 or the flexibility of the 2 cost guns.
POSSIBLE SABINE/BLUE TEAMS
Elite Sabine & 1 die characters
Jedi Instructor or Jedi Temple Guard:
Jedi Instructor has a die that could kinda be ok with Sabine and 9 health for a big impersonate play. Guard brings guardian and shields to the table which could help keep Sabine alive but doesn’t seem great outside of that.
Rey – Force Prodigy:
I played against someone using this pairing at worlds and the match felt closer than I had anticipated. Rey adds additional action cheating options though her character die leaves much to be desired. Could be an interesting pairing.
1 die Sabine and Elite Partner
There are 3 character that I think could be interesting in this spot. Yoda, Luke Skywalker – Unlikely Hero, and Kanan Jarrus.
Yoda’s Special side brings the resource generation needed get extra upgrades out on Sabine to make up for her one-character die and still have the money for a big combo play to get an early kill. The lack of damage on his dice makes it hard for him to close games though and the deck may just not have enough damage.
His 2 base range sides work well with all the ranged upgrades. His Power Action could make use of extra resources generated by Maz' Vault or Truce to finish an opponent’s character.
Kanan at least still has the one base ranged side to work with the ranged upgrades. His ability has a lot of combo potential with the extra actions that Sabine generates.
6. RED CHARACTERS w/SABINE:
There are four new red cards from Way of the Force that I think could make their way into a Sabine deck:
BLAZE OF GLORYIt could be a powerful defensive card. The goal here is to overkill and get a ton of value just to keep Sabine alive. Whether used to kill off a support character to keep Sabine alive or combed with Second Chance to remove a bunch of damage and pop the Second Chance there are some fun plays this card can enable later in the game.
It's just a very good removal option. Staple in any Red Hero deck moving forward (also need to look out for this card when playing Sabine)
this card could be what brings Red to the front of the pack as far as color pairings go. At 1 cost you can activate Sabine, use her before action with an ambush weapon then proceed to reroll 2 times and resolve. It’s not the guaranteed damage that dice flipping, or focus brings to the table but at only 1 cost it has huge upside potential and could be a blowout card.
REX'S BLASTER PISTOL
I think there are already enough good weapon options w/ Sabine that this may not make the cut but once equipped it could allow you to get all your dice out on the board fast while still triggering Sabine’s ability with an ambush weapon.
POSSIBLE SABINE/RED TEAMS
Elite Sabine / 1 die partner
Rebel Trooper or Clone Trooper
Both have decently aggressive dice to compliment Sabine’s offensive capabilities. Rebel Trooper has guardian and any damage not touching Sabine is always a good thing. Clone Trooper allows for die rerolling and can help with damage. You should usually have the battlefield to take advantage of his ability but its only addition target will be your sole Sabine die so the value may not be there.
Hera, Snap, Rose, Boss Nass
any of these unique characters can enable Leadership plays which is always scary proposition vs Sabine. None of their single character dice really stand out as great. I think I would lean toward Rose for the 2 indirect and resource generation from her special sides. Nothing here really feels that great to me though.
1 die Sabine and elite Partner
REX - CLONE CAPTAIN
Rex is the only Red character I would consider in this role. His ability is pretty much useless in this pairing but with a solid die he could help provide a decent offensive threat to compliment Sabine. Both characters should have the potential to close out a game if the team can get enough done before one of them goes down.
7. YELLOW CHARACTERS w/SABINE:
There are four new yellow cards from Way of the Force that I think could make their way into a Sabine deck:
SHOOTOUTA new potential Sabine combo card. This is riskier than Never Tell Me the Odds and takes a little more setup. You opponent has to have dice in the pool and they have to have damage sides. If you can’t kill the characters who’s dice you just turned to damage you could be sealing your own doom. It could work as light mitigation in the case of your opponent god rolling you can turn their 2s and 3s to lower damage sides, or turn to modified sides with no base side available.
IN THE CROSSHAIRS
Really good but really expensive removal option. Can blow out an opponent but you have to be able to afford it.
CALLING IN FAVORS
I will dive more into this plot with potential builds but it allows for 3 cost events to be played for one less resource or two less if you have only a single character. I’ve already mentioned two new powerful three cost events introduced in Way of the Force and there are plenty of others out there that could be used in combination with this plot.
Playing events cheaper is always an intriguing option. The viability of this card will depend on how many 1 or more cost events played in the deck. Not having an available event for a turn really hurts the value that it brings to the deck. Like similar cards (It Binds All Things, Tech Team, Scrap Heap) the card is strongest if played round one and decreases in desirability each round after that.
POSSIBLE SABINE/YELLOW TEAMS
4 DICE START - LIVE THE DREAM!
There is only one character out there that can provide Sabine with a 4 dice start and its Jar Jar Binks. His dice are pretty terrible, and his ability can be a huge liability at times. While the ability can provide a re-roll of Sabine’s dice without pitching a card you also have to make sure he has been activated before trying dice fixing combo or your opponent can activate him for you and wipe away all that beautiful damage.
Elite Sabine and 1 die partner
While there are a couple of non-unique options that can fit here I think Trusted Informant fills the spot the best. Being able to peek your opponents hand is crazy powerful and can allow you to use a combo card without Running Interference if you know they don’t have mitigation. The Informant’s die is also not bad though I really wish that second resource side wasn’t a modified side.
Maz’s ability always makes her a threat when paired with a powerful big character. With a one die start though the consistency of her cheating drops significantly, and she becomes much less useful.
EZRA BRIDGER or ANAKIN
The one die start with Ezra and Anakin just feels so bad. Playing either of them elite offered great consistency and complimented Sabine well but with 1 die and only 7 health I just don’t think either will have what it takes.
1 die Sabine and Elite Partner
Cassian’s die and ability are crazy good. He could bring enough to the table for a 1 die Sabine to be viable, but like the other character pairings of this nature it's going to be an uphill battle against the many strong decks out there with four dice starts.
8. SOLO SABINE
This is the deck I think looks the most fun to play and provides some very interesting options. The basic premise of this deck is to play Sabine by herself with the new Calling in Favors plot. This plot will allow 3 cost events to be played for a single resource. There are a ton of strong yellow 3 cost events which provide some very fun and very interesting option.
There are a few examples of this build floating around on swdestinydb including this one:
This deck has a super high ceiling and can do some fun and crazy things but at the end of the day you are starting the game with just 11 health. If you can’t get a kill round 1 or at the very beginning of round 2 and miss on finding Second Chance or a blowout mitigation card, i.e. In The Crosshairs or Hyperspace Jump, Sabine is going to have a rough go of it.
I don’t think this is a GenCon worthy deck, but could be a fun option for a local night or Store Championship as a way to terrorize everyone who thought Sabine was gone for good.
Mike Rudin aka RebelSpy recently released this video of a TTS game where he was playing Solo Sabine to devastating effect.
9. GREY CHARACTERS w/SABINE:
Sabine took a huge and potentially fatal blow with the recent Balance of the Force. She is still a super strong character who does things no other character in the game can. There are still partner options out there for Sabine that could produce tier 2 or maybe even tier 1.5 decks. Whether any of those decks have the chops to make a serious impact in the Way of the Force meta has yet to be proven. That said don’t be surprised if you sit across from a Sabine deck at a Store Championship or local game night and she takes you to task. The explosive potential is still very much there but these decks may lack the consistency needed to be a viable big tournament deck.