Every few months, I see a post requesting advice on building a Command deck. I generally look over the answers, but refrain from providing any advice because I don’t feel very confident regarding my personal knowledge on the topic. Command cards, for a new player, are relatively overwhelming. In Imperial Assault, there’s a multitude of rules, units, and strategy to learn, so it’s not surprising that there’s a lot of ambiguity around the process of building a Command deck. So, I decided that a good topic would be Command deck building. However, I immediately found a number of issues surrounding this plan. For one, I had to familiarize myself with the Command cards available. Like many players, I am familiar with the staple cards – the cards that players will always recommend to you: Take Initiative, Negation, Element of Surprise, and so on. However, I was beginning to wonder if these really were necessities, as most posts that recommend them are done in the abstract, not in comparison with their contemporaries. Thus, even if these were the best Command cards to run, I wouldn't have a good justification outside of they're good because they're good.
I began considering ways to justify the cards that are generally agreed to be the best, only to come across a problem – our understanding of Command cards lacks structure. By that, I mean that there isn't a good way to frame a discussion regarding the Command cards that are available. We haven’t developed archetypes and therefore it’s difficult to communicate about Command cards beyond one-off references. To move forward, this lack of framing must be addressed because, like all miniatures games, Command deck building is about trade offs. If we don’t know the types of cards available to us an their utility, we’re not making well-informed decisions.
So where do we start when trying to create a taxonomy of Command cards? Point value is an obvious starting point, as most deck-building games feature point-cost as a consideration. However, I found this to be a bad organizational scheme for Command cards primarily because the range of cost is too narrow. The variety of cards within the 0 and 1-point range is so wide that there is very little information to be gleaned from looking at cost alone, so I don't believe it can be used as an organizational pillar. We could also look at type – as Command cards feature restrictions on play: Trooper, Spy, Hunter, Boba Fett. This is better than using points, but still is not very helpful as an organizational structure due to the variety of cards within these restrictions. For example, if I’m building a Trooper list, Covering Fire is a card I may consider including in my Command deck. Provoke is also in the pool of cards available to Troopers. Despite the fact that both of these are Trooper specific, I certainly wouldn’t recommend equating them in any way. They probably couldn’t be more different from each other when it comes to what they offer and how they should be played. So, even though both of these cards have the Trooper restriction, this shared characteristic isn’t particularly helpful when advising someone how to build a Command deck.
Unfortunately, points and type are the two metrics FFG has surfaced to us and they’re not good enough. Therefore, I’ve decided to create my own taxonomy of Command cards based on in-game use. After all, nearly every other game characterizes it’s cards in this fashion. Think of Magic the Gathering, an immensely popular collectible card game. Magic has an entire vernacular around card function; e.g., removal, counter, creature, enchantment, bounce, etc. If we want to wrap our heads around the world of Command deck building, I need to understand the uses those Command cards provide - and that's what I've attempted to do in the rest of this post. Take my characterizations with a grain of salt, as I make no claim to have a monopoly on Command card organization. Feel free to agree, disagree, or suggest changes. I’m open to thoughts and opinions.
Twin Trooper’s Command Card Taxonomy TM
These categories will hopefully provide a bucket for every card. However, I want to make clear that I fully expect some cards to fall into multiple spots. After all, a number of cards provide more than one benefit. Therefore, I've decided to characterize cards by what I feel their primary value is. This is inherently subjective, so you'll have to live with my choices on that front.
The basic structure I’m going to follow is this: I’m going to name a category and define what cards in this category tend to do. Then, I will name what I believe are the best cards in the category, the cheapest in the category, and some commentary on when I believe they are useful.
Modify Attack Results: This class of cards is pretty self-explanatory: they add damage or surge results to your attack roll. Given that removing your opponent’s figures by dealing damage is the primary way to win a game, any card that grants bonus damage likely is a good choice for a command deck and any decision to omit one of these should be considered carefully. Moreover, in a game featuring dice, certainty regarding damage and surges is very powerful. The best of these cards is likely Assassinate, but Maximum Firepower is also excellent for 3 points. On the low end, you can’t go wrong with Positioning Advantage and Blitz.
Modify Defense Results: Similar to modify attack cards, these cards add results to your defense roll. I would note that there are far fewer cards in this category than in the Modify Attack Results category and I generally don’t see them played. That said, they range from incredibly mediocre to kind of abusive. For instance, Parry doesn’t offer any huge bump in defense, as to get any significant value it needs to allow a figure survive with 1 health (although this is a huge benefit if achieved). In contrast, cards like Fuel Upgrade and Survival Instincts that last for an entire round can make some units practically untouchable.
Modify Opponent’s Dice: I haven’t seen many of these cards run in the games I’ve played, and that’s probably because most of them are a bit too conditional. For instance, Deadly Precision and Lock On can both remove the dodge result, but these cards are without value if you’re facing an army with primarily black-dice figures. There are a few cards that modify an attacker’s die as well, such as Deflection, but the value is again too speculative to seriously consider running.
Remove Opponent’s Dice: In the grand scheme of Imperial Assault Command cards, there are very few that remove an opponent’s die. I have no doubt that this is because it is an extremely powerful ability (this is further borne out of the fact that they gave this ability to Diala, but never brought it back for another unit). Thus, if you can fit one of these cards in your deck, there is almost no reason not to run it. Similar to cards that modify your attack results, removing dice often results in a direct increase in damage. Furthermore, these cards can be used as insurance against the dreaded dodge result on the white die. For 0 points, Element of Surprise is a steal and should likely be included in every Command deck. However, even at 2 points, Heightened Reflexes is also outstanding.
Reroll Attack/Defense Dice: Upon first glance, I would have expected this class of card to be very popular as entire games are built around maximizing opportunities to reroll dice. However, I think this class of cards is hamstrung by their one-time use nature. Given that you only get 15 Command cards in your deck, cards like Mitigate and Hard to Hit, while having a cost of 0 points, simply can’t compete with other 0-cost cards. And, if the 0-cost cards can’t compete, more expensive ones like Guardian Stance are certainly difficult to justify.
New Actions/Surges: This is probably the least defined group of cards given the specific functions range from drawing Command cards (Planning) to performing an attack with an enemy figure (Lure of the Dark Side). However, the overarching value is the same: these cards give you some action or surge ability that your character wouldn’t have had otherwise. In my experience, some of the most powerful cards in this category are Force Lightning, Crush, Grenadier, Overrun, and Pummel.
Extra Attacks: I find these Command cards to be the most powerful in the entire game, as they fundamentally interfere with an opponent’s expectations regarding damage and the figures that will remain on the board. Cards like Set a Trap and Overcharged Weapons come in at 0 points, but with some punishing conditions. That said, for just a few more points, Ferocity and Call of the Vanguard are excellent cards and should be included if you have the right units in your list.
Reactivation/ Changing Activation Order: Similar to cards the provide extra attacks, these cards also disrupt the board state in a significant way by allowing a unit to either activate twice or activate at a time when it wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. The gold standard of these types of cards is Son of Skywalker and should be run anytime you have Luke Skywalker, and probably anytime you are running Rebels (just use Luke). However, there are a number of other cards in this category as well, although not as lucrative. Cards like Squad Swarm and Strength in Numbers can severely hinder your opponent’s offense by removing a figure before it activates. Provoke provides a similar benefit assuming you’re able to capitalize on a forced activation of a non-threatening unit. And, New Orders may allow you to activate a powerful group at the expense of a weak unit such as an Officer. Finally, don’t forget about Take Initiative, which is a steal at 0 points and has caused my downfall in many games.
Apply Conditions: This is another category of Command cards that I find is a bit neglected in my own play group. I find this a bit surprising, given that deployment cards like Gideon, C-3P0, and Jabba are nearly ubiquitously ran within their respective factions. That said, I imagine the opportunity cost again punishes these cards, especially when it comes to negative conditions that often are easily removed by an opponent. I can certainly see an argument for Against the Odds, as it could dramatically increase your offense for a turn when behind. Focus, while acceptable for 1 point, is pretty hard to justify for the added cost of an action in addition to the Command card slot. Inspiring Speech is likely the real standout here as you can use the action of a less important figure like an Officer to focus two of your combat-oriented figures.
Movement: Considering how important objectives can be in Imperial Assault, movement-focused Command cards should be incredibly powerful. That said, they are quite undervalued in the current meta as they compete with damage and defense-oriented cards. Cards like Force Rush and Fleet Footed come in on the low end and don’t even cost you an action, which is where I prefer cards in this category to be priced. However, if increasingly powerful melee units such as Jedi Luke Skywalker and the Rancor continue to be present in the meta, cards like Slippery Target and On the Lam will provide good value as avoiding an entire attack can change the course of a game. And of course, if you need to get around quick, Urgency can make all the difference.
Area Control: I don’t see cards from this category very often, and I think on the whole these cards are underpowered and overcosted (including opportunity cost). Cards in this category include Self Defense, Grisly Contest, and Set a Trap. I don’t think these cards are valueless, but unfortunately most of them only net you 1 or 2 damage, which can’t really compete with cards that, for instance, give you an additional attack. One other issue with these types of cards is that the power balance in this game is such that it is not safe for many units to position themselves adjacent to enemy units, even if that's how they're designed. As the average figure's damage potential increases, these cards lose more of their value.
Victory Point Modifiers: There’s a couple ways to look Command cards that modify your victory points. In on aspect, I see them as a license to be slightly less efficient over the course of the game – for instance, if I trade an Elite Jet Trooper (4-point figure) for Greedo (4-point figure) and play Celebration, an equal trade has now left me in the lead. In conjunction with Price on Their Heads, you may be able to win a game by removing some choice enemy units without engaging their entire army – a rarely tried style of play in my experience. The other way I see these cards being useful is if you want to go all-in on what I would call a “victory-point race.” Combined with Black Market and First Strike, you could run Pickpocket, Black Market Prices, and Dangerous Bargains in the hopes that you can radically outpace your opponent to 40 victory points. I don’t think this would be very competitive, but the cards are there if someone wants to give it a shot.
Command Card Interference: This class of Command cards largely deals with the ability to view and/or counter an opponent’s Command cards. A card that should likely be run in every Command deck is Negation, which on its face trading a 1-point card for a 0-point card doesn’t appear to be very valuable, except that there are a lot of incredibly powerful 0-point cards. Outside of that, there aren’t really many feasible generic ways for players to interact with an opponent’s Command cards outside of a Spy-focused list. However, if your list is Spy focused, you should run Comm Disruption as it lets you counter ANY Command card your opponent may play – which easily is worth its cost when cancelling cards like Son of Skywalker and Assassinate. And, if you’re already running Spies, you can bring Intelligence Leak and Data Theft, but I think they are far from mandatory.
Character-Specific Cards: Despite my statement that card restrictions don’t provide much guidance on Command deck building, I’ll make an exception for the character-specific cards. I feel the need to break these cards out because when building a Command deck, I think you should always start with these cards. You may not take them over other cards, but you should at least examine them. Generally, these cards synergize with the character’s existing abilities in some way and/or add a bit of color to the game. For instance, Greedo’s Stroke of Brilliance is meant to compensate for Slow on the Draw, providing a useful benefit based around flavor - and in my opinion is a great Command card for 0 points. In contrast, Diala’s Sarlacc Sweep is fine as it provides the ability to attack twice in a turn, but probably isn’t good enough to warrant its 2-point cost. I would also include a few type-specific cards in this category as well, such as Reinforcements, which is so narrowly tailored and unique that it feels similar to the character-specific cards. The function of these cards are all over the map, but I find their strengths and weaknesses generally track with the comments I've already made. For instance, Vinto's Draw! is outstanding - like the other Command cards I've mentioned, providing an extra attack is always strong regardless of the figure performing it. Analyze the character-specific cards against the other categories and their strengths and weaknesses will be apparent.
You may disagree with a lot of these characterizations - and that's perfectly fine. My goal here was to, at least within my own mind, attempt to create some kind of structure to work with when it comes to building a Command deck. I feel like I have the basics of that process complete. Not only has this process given me an understanding of the Command cards available at the time of writing this, but it has also given me the ability to compare new cards with cards of the same type. Let me know what you think. Do you agree or disagree with these characterizations? Did I miss a card that you don't think fits well into any of these categories? I'm open to discuss it.