Command Deck Building

Command card deck building is one of the more elusive aspects of Imperial Assault.  In my experience, my Command deck is often an afterthought; i.e., I build my list and then choose Command cards based on my deployment cards and faction.  Part of this approach has been based on the fact that my knowledge of the total pool of Command cards was very poor.  This is what motivated me to write this post, where I basically created a set of buckets to hold types of Command cards based on function.  However, knowledge wasn’t the only problem. 

I also had, what I believe to be a few common misconceptions about Command cards.  First, a belief that the Command deck is too volatile to be impactful.  You’re only allowed to include a single copy of a card (with a few exceptions) and unless you include some form of Command card generation like Rebel High Command, R2-D2, or Rule by Fear, you really don’t have a great way to control the Command cards in your hand.  And second, a belief that Command cards aren’t powerful enough to be impactful.  Command cards are often conditional, and even when that condition is met they are only used once.

Time and experience have debunked these misconceptions.   The truth of the matter is that while you may not see all of your Command deck, you see a lot of it.  And more importantly, on the first turn, you literally draw one-fifth of the entire deck.  If you draw two more cards at the end of round 1, you have seen one-third of your deck.  By these numbers, the odds of you drawing one or more of your most powerful Command cards is actually quite high.  Moreover, many of these cards actually do change the outcome of a game.  When you have cards that remove a defense die, add 3 damage, or grant you an additional attack, you can possibly remove an opponent’s figure before it activates.  This reduces their damage and possibly keeps one of your units on the board that would have otherwise died.  That unit then gets to attack again and so on.  You can see that a little difference from a Command card can cascade into a large power difference as the game goes on.

Which brings me to this week’s article: the basics of building a Command deck.  I’ll first layout some deck-building guidelines – many of which reflect CorSec Academy’s article regarding Command cards.  Then, I’ll cap the article off by going over how I built the Command deck I’m running in my World’s list.  Let’s begin!

Command Deck Rules

Before I discuss the main topic, it’s important to note the specific rules surrounding command cards.  Each player must have a Command deck composed of fifteen Command cards (no more and no less) with a total cost that does not exceed 15 points.  All Command cards range between 0 and 3 points, with the idea that the 3-point cards are more powerful than the 0-point cards.  In addition to the point cost, most Command cards also feature some kind of restriction on use – such as “Trooper” or “Han Solo.”  These mean that the card can only be used with that unit.

During the game, acquisition of cards occurs in a few ways.  First, each player draws three command cards at the start of the game.  Then, at the end of every round (during the Status Phase), each player draws one Command card, AND an additional Command card for every terminal he or she controls.  Note that the drawing of Command cards during the Status Phase happens before you resolve any end of round effects– therefore, any command cards drawn during the status phase that are resolved at the end of round can be played the same turn they are drawn.

Beyond that, there aren’t many other rules.   Command cards in your hand are kept secret from your opponent.  A player cannot play multiple copies of the same Command card at the same time.  If there are no Command cards left in your Command deck you cannot draw Command cards.  And, when a figure suffers strain, it suffers damage equal to the strain, BUT that player may prevent that damage “by discarding one Command card from the top of his deck” for each damage he wishes to prevent.

There is still a lot of ambiguity surrounding Command card timing (like when do I have to play a Command card that modifies an attack or defense roll?) and it’s not clear to me if your opponent gets to have full knowledge of your Command deck before a game starts – but overall the rules are pretty simple.

Command Deck Building Basics

I want to get one thing out of the way – I can’t tell you how to build a specific Command deck in this article.  Command cards are always dependent on the deployment cards you run and on your play style.  As more deployment and Command cards are released, the cards that are “indispensable” will be less obvious.  Therefore, I want to share the tools I use when building a Command deck – assuming nothing is a given.  Instead, we are going to assess and evaluate based on the conditions necessary to play a card and the value we get from that card if those conditions are satisfied.  I admit that this is a high-level approach to describing the process, but it’s meant to be.  Detailed rules and restrictions based on the current meta or even my current beliefs aren’t going to serve you if a new meta or list archetype emerges.  We need to be able to analyze the strategy of our list and build a Command deck that serves that strategy.  Anything less will be suboptimal in competitive games.

I want to start by clarifying what I’m referring to when I refer to “value.”  After all, value is going to be subjective based on a number of factors; e.g., the map, the units in your list, whether your list is objective focused, and so on.  However, that doesn’t mean we can’t identify some Command cards that are universally valuable in Imperial Assault.  For instance, I would argue that increasing your damage via Command cards like Positioning Advantage is universally valuable – meaning that regardless of the units in your list, the units in your opponent’s list, and the timing of the match, there is no moment where increasing your damage isn’t useful.  I would argue the same for cards like Price on Their Heads that increase your Victory Points.  There is no circumstance where that benefit doesn’t help you come closer to winning the game.  These are just two examples, and I’m sure there’s room to argue about what cards fit into this category, but I encourage you to consider this when examining any given Command card: is the value absolute; e.g., is this card valuable regardless of the circumstances of the game?

Which brings me to what I’d consider the other set of Command cards – cards that have value only in certain circumstances.  These are cards that, while they may always provide some benefit, that benefit does not always help you win the game.  For example, I find movement Command cards to only be circumstantially useful – a card like Fleet Footed is only useful if I actually gain something by moving one extra space.  Similarly, a card like Survival Instincts is fantastic if you can compel your opponent to target the buffed unit, but loses its strength if your opponent can merely target other units in your list.  I would also include unit type restrictions in this category of card as well.  You must play a card like Knowledge and Defense on a Force User.  If for some reason, you’ve lost all of your Force Users, this card has no value because you can’t even play it.  For these cards, value is on a sliding scale depending on the circumstances of the game.  Or, as the CorSec Academy article stated regarding these types of cards:

Situational cards are going to be useful, but only sometimes. It may require a specific trigger, or only hold value under certain circumstances. Either way, the value of the card is going to be inherently lower than a universal equivalent. Chances are, in order to see one of these cards in your deck, the magnitude is going to have to be higher than it normally would.

(Note: the context I’ve described is certainly informed by CorSec’s article, but is not meant to entirely be its equivalent.  That said, this quote really captures my feelings regarding Command cards that need to fulfill a condition to be useful.)

Essentially, if you understand this principle you are ready to build a Command deck.  What’s left is to start making decisions and comparisons.  After all, we can’t forget that we only have fifteen cards and 15 points to use, so therefore we want to make sure we are getting the maximum value out of our cards given those rules.  We should view every card in light of an opportunity cost – if you include a card, it means you must exclude a different card.

Next, I’d like to go through the process of building a Command deck for the list I plan on playing at World Championships in May – the goal being to use the framework I’ve laid out above to argue for each card.

The List and Strategy

Without going too deep into it, the point of my list is to rely on high health, survivable units with decent offense.  It’s not an objective-focused list and it doesn’t benefit from splitting units.  You basically move your units as a battering ram toward your opponent with the intent of out-valuing them when combat begins.  I've included an image of the list below.

To start, I examined cards that fit the types of units I’ve chosen: Trooper, Leader, Vehicle, Creature, Heavy Weapon.  I want to identify the most valuable cards within those restrictions, and at least make sure I’m aware they are available to me.  In particular, I’m looking for cards that will increase my offense and/or my defense – as I’ve already identified that my list wins by out-surviving my opponent.  After that, I can start examining cards that are useable by all units and looking for offensive and defensive cards within that pool.  Let’s go over the cards I’ve selected.

Grenadier - 3 Points

Overrun - 2 Points

Element of Surprise - 0 Points

Positioning Advantage - 0 Points

Generally, I see these cards as direct increases in damage with minimal restrictions on their use.  The only card I feel particularly conflicted about is Grenadier, which, despite costing 3 points, I'm including for a few reasons.  It has a lot of flexibility given that nearly every unit in my list can use it.  In addition to that, there's almost no situation where it isn't useful, as damage that ignores blocks and dodges is very powerful.  Finally, the card synergizes well with Captain Terro's and the Heavy Stormtroopers' area-of-effect abilities.

Cavalry Charge - 2 Points

Fuel Upgrade - 1 Point

Survival Instincts - 1 Point

As I stated in my opening, one of the aspects of this list that I wanted to emphasize is survivability.  However, because I was already running Zillo Technique, single-use cards weren't very appealing to me.  Thus, I sought out Command cards that would provide a defensive bonus over an entire round as opposed to a single attack.  In particular, I wanted to give this bonus to Captain Terro, as he can be used as a shield for my other units.  Note that I am very limited by restrictions when it comes to this set of cards, as they aren't as universal as Trooper cards.  However, I ultimately decided that Survival Instincts and Fuel Upgrade provide too great a value for 1 point each.

Call the Vanguard - 2 Points

Squad Swarm - 2 Points

Ferocity - 1 Point

Overcharged Weapons - 0 Points

Take Initiative - 0 Points

Another aspect I favored in building this Command deck was the ability to perform attacks and activations at unexpected times.  I find this particularly useful in this type of list, where I'm hoping to have a number of units that will outlast my opponent's initial barrage and live to fight into rounds 2 or 3, despite being attacked.  To that end, these cards serve to pull as much offensive value out of these units as possible.  I must admit that I am still on the fence regarding Squad Swarm and Overcharged Weapons, as the restrictions on their use is quite steep in my particular list.

Negation - 1 Point

Planning - 0 Points

Urgency - 0 Points

This final set of cards serve as a form of utility, that also fits within my remaining points.  Given that there are many 0-point Command cards that are powerful, I find Negation to be indispensable.  Planning works well with the Officer, as more Command cards is never a bad thing.  I'm probably the most unsure about Urgency, but mobility is extremely important on the new tournament map (Jabba's Palace), so I think including one card focusing on this provides a sufficient amount of value to justify its inclusion.

CONCLUSION

Command deck building is only going to get more difficult as more cards are released.  However, the process of building a Command deck will remain the same - balance the value a card provides against the conditions required to play it.  This will lead different players to different conclusions, and hopefully to discussion on those differences.  If nothing else, I hope these past few articles get people thinking more about their Command decks.  I know I will.

- Dietz