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Feature Article
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Joey Leake

If you can't be the best combat deck, you might want to try a gambit.

A common strategic theme in many games is the notion of sacrificing a resource in the early game in exchange for setting up superior position for the late game. In chess this manifests itself in the gambit. In a chess gambit, you sacrifice material for a board position, which you hope to later exploit, usually in order to get back the material you lost (and hopefully a little more). In Magic: The Gathering you have decks that will allow their life-totals drop precariously low in the early game only to establish control over the board in the mid game and dominate the late game. This is a concept that is also applicable in the Star Wars Trading Card Game.

In the Star Wars Trading Card Game, the early game gambit closely mirrors that of the chess gambit. The similarity comes from the fact that the resource you are neglecting early on is the very resource that ultimately wins you the game: units. You are trading in unit superiority in order to generate some other resource (build, force, cards) or deny the opponent some resource. The hope here is that you can turn around and use that resource generation or denial to generate unit superiority in some way.

I can already hear some of you out there asking why any of this is even important. That's a very valid question. The reason why understanding the ins and outs of SWTCG gambits is so important is that it dictates how you build decks within a metagame. Basically, if you're not running a deck that has some dependence on gambits, your deck should be composed of the best and most efficient combat units available to you, backed up by the best combat-affecting battle and mission cards available. If you recognize that the deck you're attempting to build is just an inferior deck, combat-wise, to another combat deck in the environment, you have three options: You can play the other deck, you can attempt a gambit in your deck, or you can hope that the dice go your way. Options #1 and #2 are probably the better calls.

What gambits are available to you in the SWTCG? Probably more than you realize. Basically, if you are expending build points in the early game to do something that doesn't directly affect your chances of winning an arena, you're taking a gambit. One of the decks I frequently see that depends on such a gambit is the Dark Side discard deck. In theory, the way this gambit should work is to invest build points to deplete your opponent's hand sufficiently to gain positional advantage when they no longer have the units to reinforce the significant arenas. One of the cards I don't particularly like in the deck, though, is Destruction of Hope. The only time it would be extraordinarily good is if your opponent was down to two or three cards in his hand, and you forced him to make a difficult decision. The problem is that you want to cripple their resources in the early game, and it is highly unlikely that you'll be able to force them to make that difficult decision in the first few turns. More probably, they'll just be forced to pitch two units from an arena they didn't plan on fighting in. Destroy Alderaan is probably the biggest gambit you can run within the discard thread. Its impact is undeniable, your opponent is instantly unable to reinforce ANY arena, and unless they have a partially-built card, all their build points are wasted. The problem there is that, with the huge investment of ten build, your board position over the first couple of turns is likely going to be awful. If you build your deck to hang on through those rough few turns, you can really reap the benefits of the disadvantage you've put your opponent at.

Another gambit available to you is one of long-term build superiority. Cards like Colonel Wullf Yularen (A), Corellian Corvette, Grand Moff Tarkin (A), Nute Gunray (B), Princess Leia (D), R2-Q5 (A)… etc. can all provide you build advantage, but the problem is that they're not so amazing in combat. So, if they can stick around over the course of several turns, they can allow you to deploy more units than your opponent, thus giving you combat superiority. If they're forced to stand on their own combat merit, however, you're probably in for a swift defeat.

The common theme between these, and almost every incarnation of the gambit concept is that in order for your plans to ultimately be effective, you have to survive until the late game. This is why you have to build your deck around the gambit itself. Failure to plan on surviving the initial onslaught to reap the benefits of your investment in the late game is what will likely explain most of the failures of these types of decks. How do you design a deck to go to the late game despite an inferior early board position? There are several ways that come to mind immediately. First off is to make full use of a set of under-costed and somewhat under-appreciated cards. The cards I'm referring to are Lost in the Asteroids, Peace on Naboo, and Lull in the Fighting. These cards, commonly referred to as the "fogs" (a reference to a Magic card with a similar effect), allow you to completely skip the fighting in a certain arena until you have had sufficient time to press your advantage and gain a superior position in that arena. The decks from the recent qualifier season that relied on Tyranus's Geonosian Speeder (A), and bombard units are a great example of how the fogs can get you to a superior late game position.

Other ways to get to the late game include (but are certainly not limited to): units with efficient evade, units with high health (Jawa Sandcrawler), intercepting units, heavy damage prevention, missions like A Moment's Rest, and intelligent use of retreating. I think retreating properly is truly one of the biggest skill tests in the game. If you're shooting to dominate the late game, and you don't have to fight in one arena, there's usually no reason to leave your units out to get picked on.

A final topic I'd like to touch on is when to abandon your gambit. This is a concept closely tied to a classic article from Magic: The Gathering strategy, written by Mike Flores. The article, "Who's The Beatdown?" basically asserts that in every game there is a beatdown player, and a control player. It further states that if you fail to recognize which player you are, and play accordingly, you will most likely lose. This is very important to understand in the SWTCG. If you and your opponent are both playing aggressive combat decks, you must know who is going to be more aggressive. If it's you, go for the jugular. If it's your opponent, try and outlast him, improve your board position, and dominate the mid-late game. An example of this would be an aggressive Jedi deck facing an aggressive droid deck. The droid deck is obviously going to be the more aggressive of the two decks in the early game. With proper force management, intelligent retreating, and proper use of evade, it's possible for the Jedi deck to force the droid deck to the late game, where it can establish unit superiority. If the Jedi deck attempts to be the beatdown, it will likely fall early on to the droid's superior damage output. Conversely, if the Jedi deck were to be paired up with a discard-based deck, it must try to dominate the early game and score the win before the discard deck is allowed to exploit its late game strategy. What if you have two gambit-based decks facing off? One will invariably be more aggressive than the other. As unnatural as it may feel, the player of that more aggressive deck must know his role, and play it. If he attempts to go to the late game against a slightly more controlling deck, he will be at a severe disadvantage. An example of this would be a Light Side build-advantage based deck facing off with a Dark Side Death Star (C) deck. Yes, the Light Side deck will get to reinforce in greater numbers in the late game, but who cares when the Death Star goes online and cleans out the ground arena turn after turn? The Light Side deck must recognize that if the game drags on, the Dark Side gains the advantage of the inevitable win. Thus, the Light Side player would be well advised to attempt to play as aggressively as possible in the early game and attempt to steal critical arenas before the Dark Side player can take advantage of his long-term plans.

To recap: If you can't be the best combat deck, you might want to try a gambit. The gambit sacrifices early game position in an attempt to get late game superiority. You should build your deck around the gambit. You should build your deck to go to the late game. You must know if you're the beatdown. If you are, forget the gambit. If you're not, go for it.

As always, thanks for reading. May the Force be with you.