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Feature Article
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Michael Mikaelian, Managing Editor, Star Wars Insider Magazine

This is a Setup!

Putting All the Pieces Into Place

Decisions you make during the Setup phase of the Star Wars Trading Card Game will affect the entire game. While you're trying to play your units as effectively as possible, you're also trying to trick your opponent into wasting his or her starting build points. Whereas the game itself is a mixture of subtle maneuvering and brute force, the Setup phase alternates between clever cat-and-mouse tactics and chest-pounding displays of raw power. What units you choose, what order you play them in, and how you react to your opponent's choices during Setup could determine who wins or loses the game. There are several elements of setting up you have to consider:

  • You put your deck together. It's only capable of what you have allowed it to do.
  • You're limited by the cards you draw. If and how you choose to Mulligan any cards is
  • crucial to getting the most out of the Setup phase. Still, a bad draw is a bad draw; If you have mostly Ground units and only one or two weak Space or Character units, you'll probably lose. Most of the time, your starting hand will provide you with all the choices you need; If not, you should consider a new deck, or at least why you always seem to get hosed during Setup.
  • Your hand evolves with each card you play. Every time you play a card during Setup, draw a card. Right away. Don't play three cards then draw three cards; you're only hurting yourself that way.
  • Going good against the living? There's someone sitting across the table from you who will cause you no end of trouble. If that makes you nervous, just remember that he or she is in the same escape pod, so to speak.
  • Plain Old Bad Draw
    Getting a bad draw should be the exception, not the rule. If you constantly find yourself blaming lost games on getting a poor starting hand—especially if you often still feel that way after you Mulligan—maybe you should reconsider your deck. Perhaps the strategy you're trying to use just doesn't work. Although getting a bad draw should rarely be an issue, this unpleasant occurance happens more often than anyone likes. When it does, take it in stride.

    If it seems just impossible to win a game with your starting hand after you Mulligan, go through with the Setup phase anyway. You might be pleasantly surprised with the cards you draw as you play your units. If by the end of the Setup phase you still feel like you have no chance, play out the first turn and then concede. The best reason to this is to preserve the secrecy of your deck's construction. Why reveal your strategy if you're just going to lose anyway? In a tournament, cutting a losing game short could give you the crucial time you need to finish your match with a 2–1 victory instead of an 0–2 loss or a 1–1 tie.

    If you think you have any chance whatsoever of pulling victory from the jaws of defeat, play the game through anyway. Your opponent could easily underestimate your deck's true strength and be lulled into a false sense of security. If your opponent believes that he beat you easily because he played better or has a better deck, game 2 of a tournament match is your opportunity to prove him wrong. Who wouldn't jump at a chance to replay a deck pairing they just won?

    First Plays
    The Setup phase gives the Star Wars TCG a real traditional card game feel. You bid, much like a poker player raises a bet, and carefully choose the best way to combine your existing cards with the cards you hope to draw later in the game. During Setup, one of the most effective strategies you can employ is to play your cheapest units first. Otherwise, you risk "tipping your hand" by playing larger units right away.

    If you can manage to, start out by seeding two or three arenas each with a cheap unit. This usually requires you to spend 4 to 9 build points, but they are nearly always well spent. You'll have a toe-hold in each arena without having spent much of your starting build points. If your opponent never deploys anything to one of the arenas you're controlling with a 2- or 3-cost unit, you've won half the game for practically nothing.

    Getting low-cost units out of your hand early allows you to draw more cards, giving you more choices when it comes to spending the rest of your starting build points. When your opponent is presented with one cheap unit in each of the three arenas, he or she must choose to match at least two of them each with an equally cheap unit or to one-up you by playing a bigger unit. That's when the fun part starts.

    What do you do when you look across the table and see one of these?

    This is Tense!
    The first thing you should do depends on whether you're the Light side player or the Dark side player. Naturally, if you're the Dark side player, you play your cheapest unit first, challenging your opponent to ignore it, match it, or outmatch it. No matter what the Light side player does, you're not in any real danger:

  • Ignores it. Great! Your weany unit holds the arena unchallenged, for now at least.
  • Matches it. Technically, the Light side player can't match it exactly; he or she needs to spend one more build point total than you have during Setup. The Light side must either play a more expensive unit, or play two units. No trouble really. If he or she goes toe-to-toe in your chosen arena then starts another arena, the tables have been turned on you. If he or she doubles up on your unit, read on.
  • Outmatches it. This is what you're hoping your opponent will do. Now you must choose—Is this arena worth defending now that your opponent has thrown considerable weight into it? Or, can you cut your losses and let your opponent have the arena? The answer depends on so many variables, the only general advice of any use is this: The more build points your opponent spends in the arena, the more likely he or she is going to control it; The fewer build points you spend on the arena, the more you'll have to spend elsewhere; The wider the gap, the better your chances of winning if you ignore this arena for the rest of the game.
  • If you're feeling particularly evil, play a second cheap unit to the arena; your opponent will be encouraged to keep adding units to insure his or her control of it.

    Just as playing a cheap unit is a good first play for the Dark side, the Light side's first play can be just as masterful. Idealy, you should play a unit that costs one more (or a pair that total a cost of only one more) build point, and follow the guidelines above.

    Throwing Down
    At some point, you're going to have to put some serious beef on the table. Once the battle lines have been drawn—you've decided which arenas you're going to fight in and whether your going to ignore an arena or not—it's time to roll out the big guns. If you have the ability to pick which arena you put your starting build points into in force, that's great. Often, the cards you draw will dictate which arenas are most defensible, leaving you fewer choices than you'd like.

    This is the point where your deck's strategy takes over. If you've built a Mace Windu-centered deck, you have to decide which Mace Windu to play. If your opponent has abandoned the Character arena, it might be wise to start with the cheapest Mace. You can stack the more expensive one underneath, or save him to for later.

    And in the End...
    As the Setup phase draws to an end, the final decisions you make will be some of the toughest. Try to keep track of how many build points you and your opponent have remaining. If you know, for instance, your opponent doesn't have enough build points to put a Trade Federation Control Core into the Ground arena, you might feel more comfortable shoring up that arena. If he or she is only a few points shy, you might reconsider.

    Ultimately, you want to have fewer "wasted" starting build points than your opponent. Any build points you spent on units that stay in your build zone for the entire game, as well as any you spent in an arena you had no need to reinforce further, can be considered wasted. Of course, the game changes every time you or your opponent draw a card or roll the dice. Until the game is over, you can only assume that a play was good or bad.