Written By CLAUS STAAL
Darth Vader truly terrorised the galaxy for a few months taking down an incredible amount of Regionals during the Across the Galaxy meta. Heading his army of the 501st Squadron, aka Vader's Fist, and his bounty hunter friend Greedo and Friends In High Places, they were seemingly unstoppable. And then it all ended. Since then Vader has only sporadically been seen at top tables, although Vader aficionados has tried their best to stage a magnificent comeback for the dark Sith Lord.
I've been a Vader Fan Boy ever since I saw him the first time in the early 80's in the televised version of Star Wars: A New Hope. While my friends were rooting for Han Solo & Co. to take down the Death Star, I was secretly hoping for Darth Vader to crush the whole goddamn rebellion. That's why it was a joy to finally see Darth Vader do well again, after months of absence, at the UK Grand Championship 2019. Iain Gardiner managed to take third seed after the swiss rounds, going 7-1, with his eVader/BD/Retribution deck before finally bowing out at the hands of an eLeia/eLorSanTekka mill deck in the top16.
It's that character pairing and much of the deck list itself that forms the basis of this deck analysis, and while there are still some good arguments for going without a plot to get a First Order Stormtrooper, I'm still leaning towards the Battle Droid. Mind you though that this deck is still very much a work in progress and several cards have been in and out of the deck as I've been testing it.
We did a character analysis of Darth Vader - Terror To Behold when he was originally released in Across the Galaxy, and while it's somewhat of a historical document by now, it's still going to be worth a read!
There is still no aggro character as truly powerful as DARTH VADER - TERROR TO BEHOLD! Maul, we laugh at you! Bah! Vader's insane dice combined with his awesome Power Action makes him the ultimate killing machine and as the Spark of Hope meta is starting to come together he certainly does look like he has all the right tools to combat both 2wide and 3wide decks and has the health to survive even the most severe beating. He might be one of the few characters that can stand up to the fast paced, but relatively low health, aggro decks that are starting to emerge, i.e. eHan/R2-D2/C-3P0, while also strong enough to take on decks that are in it for the long haul, grinding relentlessly at you such as Aphra Droids.
Vader is of course not as strong as at the height of his powers, but it does feel like he's going to be a gatekeeper for the current meta. If you can't go toe-to-toe with Vader, you'll definitely need to reconsider your deck and its claim for a spot in a competitive field. He might not rule the galaxy supremely anymore, but he'll still give most decks a run for its money.
There are very few decks that can just roll out a character and all but end the game right there. Vader can. It's infuriating when you are on the receiving end of a Vader direct hit, but it feels damn good when you are rooting for the dark side!The BATTLE DROID is not exactly the sexiest character in any part of the galaxy, but he does have a few things going for him/her/it, apart from giving you access to Red cards, as does the First Order Storm Trooper, which is necessary if you decide to run with Admiral/You Are In Command Now.
- The Battle Droid allows you to bring in Retribution which can serve as a very strong incentive to NOT remove Vader's dice lest you want to take damage. Multiple attempts at removing Vader's dice can fast become a very messy business for your opponent.
- He also comes with 4 damage sides and although 3 of those are Indirect, it's still damage, which is always good in an aggro deck.
- His +2 Indirect damage side does go along well with the 3 Indirect damage side on Admiral and although these situations are pretty niche, it's nonetheless good to keep in mind and can once in a while win a game, and makes an otherwise useless side
3. ADMIRAL VADER:
One of the biggest questions with Vader/RedX is whether to go with the combo YOUR ARE IN COMMAND NOW and ADMIRAL.
On one hand, Admiral, probably one of the most exciting cards in Spark of Hope, is a relatively big investment and will have to form part of your game plan. Do you dare to forego that early damage and take resources instead to build your boardstate hoping to draw the combo in the next round? It can also be shut down by Separatist Embargo, basically making 4 cards in your deck dead, and only works when you draw the You Are In Command Now because Vader is not a Subtype - Leader himself.
On the other hand, Admiral Vader is a backbreaking character that can take down a character team in a single swift round by his own lonesome self if given the slightest opening. And you can keep it in your opening hand regardless of drawing You Are In Command Now, discard it with Vader's Power Action or dicarding it to reroll just to pick it up later from the discard pile with You Are In Command Now later on.
If you decide to go all in on the Admiral/You Are In Command Now Plan, you might also want to consider adding more cards that generate resources, i.e. Fresh Supplies or Logistics, although the latter is weak because it requires you to spot a red character. I have generally found that RESPITE puts in plenty of work and the added effect of drawing a card is outstanding in any Vader deck.
Remember that you can overwrite an attached upgrade with Admiral as to make use of the "after you play this upgrade" effect immediately to ready Vader and get his dice into the pool again, possibly readying him a second time if you hit the Admiral Special. Getting to use Darth Vader's dice three times is pretty outrageous.
I've tested versions with more added upgrades, including Maul's Lightsaber, but the thing is that DARTH VADER'S LIGHTSABER is just infinitely more powerful and the ability to roll a Vader die back into the pool after you resolve the saber die AND deal 1 damage just represents incredible value for a 3cost upgrade. I might even be inclined to forego a round 1 Fear and Dead Men if I have a Vader's Lightsaber in hand and the means to play it, i.e. a Respite sitting next to it.
COUNT DOOKU'S LIGHTSABER is pretty good in this deck as well as any other Sith deck as it immediately deals 1 damage to a character without Shields, which halves the downside of you most likely winning the Battlefield roll-off, and the dice sides are pretty decent for a 2cost upgrade.
I've also considered both Palpatine's Lightsaber, which is great if you have a Niman Mastery in play already, and has marginally better die sides than Dooku's Lightsaber, while the Recovered Sith Lightsaber has an inferior die, but an "after ability" that can be superior to Dooku's Lightsaber. If you decide to increase the number of upgrades in the deck, any of those sabers could be including, maybe going 1:1 split with Dooku's Lightsaber.
I've also considered Resilient, going more for a Old Palpatine style deck, relying solely on Vader's dice to carry the day. Between Resilient and Vader's Power Action it would be nigh impossible to keep Vader's dice out of the pool.
NIMAN MASTERY is probably the best blue upgrade we received in Spark of Hope. It just keeps surprising me how powerful it is. NO BLANKS baby ... a sweet 2 Melee damage side and a Special which really is spectacular with Vader. Ah, and no need to mention that's pretty good with an Admiral on the side!
There are some pretty savvy plays available round 1 with an upgrade, a Niman Mastery and a Fear And Dead Men, including:
- Play upgrade (i.e. Count Dooku's Lightsaber) on Vader, and activate
- Resolve upgrade die,
- Play Niman Mastery to turn character die to a 2 Resource (or a Melee side if you already have a 2 Resource side showing),
- Slap your opponent with a Fear And Dead Men.
It's a bit of a mystery for me where to go with supports. There are currently quite a few that makes sense in a Vader/RedX deck and I might be spreading myself a bit thin with the current iteration of the deck, but as I already stated, this is clearly a work-in-progress.
I still love Vader's Fist despite all the support hate around. And it still, in my book, ranks as the best support in the game. It has incredible value for money - even if it gets blown up (at least if you get to maximise resolves in one round before it gets blown up).
In this deck you obviously get the advantage of spotting Vader, which means that when you use the Power Action, you get to turn the die to any side making it much more consistent and possibly pay back the investment already on the round it's played.
It might be difficult though to find the 5 Resources necessary unless you just hit Vader's two 2 Resource sides on activation, in which case you should really just go to town. It just doesn't feel right to not include it, but I'm probably letting my emotions get the better of me here.
In some ways, a Vader deck might actually just be where it fits the best ... Man ... I'M SO CONFLICTED!
One of the many ways the game has changed is the prevalence of Focus sides on characters. Everyone and their mom has at least one Focus sides, many two, and quite a few also a 2 Focus side. That has really changed the game and is dangerous for a relative low health character team like Vader/Battle Droid. Taking a BIG HIT round 1 on Vader can spell trouble.
VIGILANCE solves this problem by giving you a round with no dice being turned, which means all Focus sides will be unusable, R2-D2's after ability and Han Solo's Power Action are both useless and Battlefields like Salt Flats has no effect, and it can give you a round where your opponent has to WORK MUCH HARDER to get the results he needs. This could easily be a two-off if the meta keeps developing in the way that's already in the books.
I also included a SEPARATIST EMBARGO. It feels pretty strong in this deck, but requires a vast knowledge of decks as well as skill at identifying what can be the most dangerous cards from your opponent, short term and long term. Do make sure to come up with a plan before a game on what card to name if the Separatist Embargo shows up, but preventing your opponent from playing key cards will always be strong.
7. REMOVAL CARDS:
You run a huge event suite (21 cards), and less than half of this is removal (9 cards), but it's dirt cheap and playable most of time. Most of your other cards will take a heavy toll on your resources so it's important that your mitigation is 0 or 1cost. I've been tempted at including a Beguile, but I'll urge you to resist the temptation and stick with the good old philosophy of killing characters being the best possible mitigation.
DOUBT, FORSAKEN and HIDDEN MOTIVE are all pretty standard villain blue removal, with Forsaken probably the best blue mitigation card in the game. It can either be set by getting the Battle Droid die in the pool or most of the time your opponent will set it up himself by getting a lone character die or support die into the pool. Doubt is regaining some of its lost popularity it seems and it's pretty amazing against Focus heavy die sides if its the only die in the pool or you have a Vigilance in play which makes all the Focus sides Blanks.
ELECTROMAGNETIC PULSE is definitely a meta call and while vehicles are not due to appear heavily in the Spark of Hope meta, droids are and you get to remove any droid die for free! I'm quite certain that it will become a go to card for many players!
THE BEST DEFENSE... remains one of the absolute best removal cards for Red villains, especially if you have an expendable character like the Battle Droid. It might even be worth giving him a Shield or two IF your opponent use Indirect damage to ensure that he can survive two The Best Defense... If it's primarily Ranged or Melee damage you better protect Vader, but once in a while it can be worth it to keep the Battle Droid around.
8. TECH CARDS:
DRAW CLOSER is built to go with Niman Mastery and although it has a lower damage cap than other Event - Moves, i.e. Fatal Blow, it's much stronger on Vader. And once you have a Niman Mastery on Vader it's nuts. A 4 Melee damage side can end up dealing 10 damage!
SEIZE THE DAY at times can feel a bit hit-and-miss like, and it is, but then again the odds are actually not bad for hitting something (numbers are with just Vader's dice available):
- You have 41% chance of hitting 4+ Melee damage.
- You have 22% chance of hitting 5+ Melee damage.
- You have 55% chance of hitting either a 3 Melee side OR a 4 Melee side straight, which is important if you have Fear And Dead Men in hand, while
- You have 30% chance of hitting a 4 Melee damage straight off the bat.
I normally rate PROBE as one of the best Red villain cards available, and old habits die hard, but in an eVader/Retribution deck it sort of feels less relevant. I still included two for my early testing, but might be tempted to reduce that to a single copy because:
- You are not really worried about mitigation and in some instances even encourage it to be used, and there are not too many cards out there that are dangerous to you.
- You only run 1 notable support, Vader's Fist, so Desperate Measures is less relevant to remove and
- Your upgrade package is relatively small so Vandalize also doesn't seem to be too much of a problem.
FEAR AND DEAD MEN remains one of the strongest cards in the arsenal of Darth Vader, and while it's obviously the most powerful on his 4 Melee damage side because you get to resolve the die for free, it's absolutely fine on a 3 Melee side as well. It might be a bit more questionable on a 2 Melee side unless you play against 5+wide decks, in which case I'd probably still go for it.
I absolutely love the image on the card. Defiant Vader surrounded by troopers ... MUAHAHAHA ... The stock of Fear and Dead Ewok should be rising as we are likely to see more low- to mid-health character teams and nothing is more punishing than an early slap to the face of all of them. This is probably one of the few events I'd not want to discard to reroll and it's always tough letting it go to use Vader's Power Action. That's probably testimony to how good it is.
9. MULLIGAN OPTIONS:
I think the combination of Count Dooku's Lightsaber, Niman Mastery and Fear And Dead Men makes for an explosive first round. It lets you deal loads of damage and still set yourself up for the next round. Respite is great in round 1 getting a resource out of the Battle Droid, but it could also be a Forsaken, but at least one 0cost mitigation round 1 is nice just to make sure that you don't get sacked by a god roll.
There are not a lot of characters who'd like to go toe-to-toe with Darth Vader in a damp FIGHTING PIT. It's the perfect Battlefield for the angry Sith Lord and it really makes his character dice shine - as if they actually needed that. It can even be used for mitigation on an opponent's character die if you haven't got any dice in the pool.
Theed Royal Palace is another good Battlefield, which can turn one of your useless dice into a precious resource. But let's be realistic ... you're going with Fighting Pit.
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