A New Holocron

Yesterday, ARH dropped a huge new Holocron on our heads. So it seemed only fitting to do a quick review of the changes. We’ll go through the changes, and then our thoughts on how this might shake up the meta in the run-up to The Battle of Hoth, and for this evening’s regular weekly event.

Errata

Den of Thieves now works with damage tokens instead of resource tokens. This is a very significant change as it breaks the absurd combo with Raiding Party or Think on Your Feet. It’s still however an extremely good card, and one of the few cards in the game that can effectively block unblockable damage.

Pirate Loyalist has lost his Power Action. Having stealing on tap from the get-go was always very powerful, even if it did come at a cost. We’re still looking at a 7 point character with the pirate and scoundrel subtypes, so he’s still a bargain, but feels much fairer now.

The Ultimate Heist is no longer on the errata list. This means we’re back to having to steal/disrupt 4 of the opponent’s resources to flip it.

It’s interesting to note that all of the errata are yellow, and are squarely aimed at pirate decks. Pirates do still have Plunder. However, this card is limited by not having control of the battlefield. This means that you can feel safe when the opponent controls the battlefield, or can spend your way out of stealing if you control it. There’s Salvage Run, but this one is a bit more situational.

It’s difficult to say whether these changes are going to be enough to make the pirates go away.

The Ban List

Added to the list is Kamino Cloning Facility. Presumably aimed at hitting Ackbar decks, this also hits red villain support decks which might otherwise thrive in a world with fewer pirates. This card has long been on the watchlist, and it’s probably prudent to ban it as it has always felt like pretty absurd value. Ackbar losing his faithful Naboo Palace Guard is certainly going to hurt.

Balance of the Force

This is where things get really interesting, as the new Balance of the Force is huge.

Positive Balances

Both +2/+2

Ackbar goes to 23/30, removing United from the equation. I’d heard this suggestion floating around and it’s a good change. It is however a bit of a shame that moving up his non-elite points so much removes a lot of potential partners (in standard now your options are Hoth Trooper, Vengeful Wookiee and Bothan Spy), effectively removing this as a viable option, but I see the logic.

Overall, this is a fairly minor hit, but combined with the loss of Kamino does hurt. He’s still good though; you’re just going to have to work a bit harder.

Lumpawaroo similarly goes up by +2/+2, but keeps his highly annoying text. This means that those decks that were running him elite now probably just swap to non-elite. Let’s face it, his dice aren’t great, but this is still a hit for Chewie or other wookiee decks that were playing Syndicate Electrostaff on him, and hits plays like Loth-Cat and Mouse or Hull Breach.

Let’s face it, changing his text would have been the more complicated move here. I think this change will keep him from being a significant player in the meta.

Transformations Anakin and Redemption Leia both get a +1/+1 moving them to 13/16 and completely killing that combo. This is a blow for mono-blue hero, and adds these characters to the growing list of 13/16 hero powerhouses, which includes Benthic, Jaro Tapal and, now, Covert Missions Poe Dameron (more on that later).

Leia +1/+1, Anakin 0/+1

Moving these characters to 16 elite is going to really force me to look hard at the 14 point elites in the game, such as Padme Amidala, CM Luke Skywalker, Tarfful, Jaro Tapal and maybe even Luminara.

Anakin staying at 12 points non-elite though makes him much more appealing as a non-elite character. You still get the aggressive ability, and you lose less when you flip him, as only one die gets removed (or none if you Pushing Slash into it). Perhaps with eAhsoka/Jedi Apprentice, or eYoda(SoH).

Negative Balances

This was the big shock. Overall, there were 12 negative balances in this new Holocron. Let’s start with villains, and the FFG balances:

Pyre -1/-1, Vader -2/-2

These two were very unexpected. Pyre was already strong thanks to Veers/Relentless Advance and all the associated battlefield control cards which came out in Redemption. Moving Pyre to 10/13 allows for a double elite pairing with Veers, but there’s plenty other combinations available for him.

Vader though I’m most excited about. He has always felt a bit worse than Transformations Luke, but cost 1 more point. Putting him at 1 point less than Luke makes him much more playable, and opens up a world of possibilities. You can now pair him with an elite IDT, Trandoshan Hunter, Snoke’s Guard, Savage Opress (with Rule of Two), Purge Trooper or Ziro. Or you could stick with a 9 pointer like eOzzel and put in a plot.

Next up, villain ARH cards:

All -1/-1 except Ninth Sister who is -1/-2

Dropping two of the inquisitors is a big move here, with Ninth going to 11/14 and Second going to 9/12. Tenth Brother meanwhile remains on 13/16. The numbers now don’t quite add up for the Inquisitorius plot, though pairing Tenth Brother with Ninth Sister looks like a decent combination. Overall, I think these characters are now more likely to see pairings outside other inquisitors. 9/12 for Second for instance sets up a nice pairing with elite Convergence Palpatine.

Bing at 10/12 is interesting. You really need other characters with detect to make her work, and you want her elite to take advantage of her ability, but she’s not a spy. This keeps the pairings tricky. I still think her best partner is elite Bala, but now you’re floating a point. Finally, FN drops to 9/12 which is really fun, and makes 3-wide much easier.

Next up, hero FFG:

Torra -2/-2, Poe -1/-1, SitT -1

Torra was always very overcosted at 12/15, so deserves her -2/-2 to 10/13. However, she’s going to suffer from the same problem that Sinjir does: that Han is just better value. That being said, her ability is pretty good with a powerful vehicle like Outrider, or her own ship Blue Ace which has a pretty die after the first round.

Poe drops to 13/16, which he’s deserved for a long time (though I would have pushed for 12/15).

Finally, Send in the Troopers falls to 3 points. Unfortunately, it’s still really difficult to trigger, but will certainly see more play on the kitchen table now, which is fine with me.

And finally, ARH hero:

All -1/-1

Burryaga on 10/13 feels much more fair, and I think means this character will finally see some play in wookiee decks. He can pair with Chewbacca both elite, or one non-elite for Valorous Tribe. He can also pair non-elite with elite Wullffwarro. Or an elite pairing with Tarfful might be on the cards. Lots of options.

Lumpy took a hit, but all the other wookiees didn’t. Yes, he was a big part of a lot of these decks thanks to his extremely high value, but it’ll be interesting to see if someone can make wookiees work in a world with less Ackbar and a cheaper blue wookiee.

Cal gets a drop, meaning his pairing with Jaro gets to use The Jedi Code. You can also still pair him with Anakin or Leia after their positive balances.

And finally Galen goes down to 9/11. This puts him in a strange place points-wise as a spy, but makes him a really solid support character in a non-spy deck. There’s only 3, hero, 19 point characters, and two of them are spies. The third is Qui-Gon Jinn, and Galen could see a place in a pairing there, in a similar deck to the eQui-Gon/eEcho deck which Royzston won the echobase weekly with, and which we published an article about this week. However, his ability works much better when more cards are detected, suggesting to me this change won’t make any difference, unless someone can get Galen and Bothan Spy with Obi-Wan or Jyn to work.

Overall Thoughts

With 7 weeks until ARH’s next set release High Stakes this is a really timely drop of an updated Holocron to keep this interim time exciting until the next set release. We anticipated a hit to the pirate builds given their dominance in the recent Mid-Cycle tournament, but we got a lot more than a few errata.

On the topic of pirates I do feel that they have been hit the least out of the top 3 (Ackbar/Pirates/AniLeia). Sure, the Pirate Loyalist lost his ability (though is probably still too good at 7 points) and pirates can no longer abuse Den of Thieves (with cards such as Raiding Party and Think on Your Feet). However, the fact that Ani/Leia just straight up can no longer be a starting pair (outside Allies Of Necessity) and with Ackbar losing United and Kamino, I feel that pirates got the good end of the stick with this one. Den of Thieves is a huge part of the deck’s strength, so the builds will need tweaking, but we still anticipate the pirates to be very competitive, especially now that Ultimate Heist is back to its original text.

Also, the decks which have come away relatively unscathed are Hondo Admiral decks. These were the best performing decks at the Galactic Open and the only potential hit to these decks is the Den of Thieves errata. Vika took Hondo/eKrennic took the top spot of the last event, and rockntroll took eHondo/Bail to 3rd and 2nd spots in the first and last GO’s, and as far as I know neither were even running Den of Thieves, meaning these decks have only become stronger. This is a concern.

One deck type which may come in to fill the void is support decks. Jabba/Veers and Relentless Advance decks haven’t been hit (other than the banning of Kamino for mono-red variations), so we might expect these decks to make a strong showing. However, if pirates continue to be powerful, they may continue to gatekeep this archetype. That being said, these decks do have the option to metagame against the last remaining big threat to ramp: Plunder. If you include ways of ping-ponging the battlefield, such as Perimeter Outpost, Veers, 501st or one of the many red events, you can guarantee your opponent always has control of the battlefield when you want them to. And thankfully, these strategies play into the hands of a Relentless Advance deck, so aren’t dead in other matchups.

Finally, blue decks, other than obviously those with Anakin and Leia in, are also unchanged. In fact, Cal‘s drop makes Cal/Jaro better thanks to the very underplayed Jedi Code. Might we see some big blues coming to the fore now, such as eVader(Tr)/eSavage(RM-A), Palpatine, or some variation on a Watch Your Career deck?

Criticisms

I’ve seen some criticisms leveled at ARH over these changes. On balance, I think constructive criticism is good, and I think the majority of criticism has been constructive.

I thought I’d have a look at some of these points and take the opportunity to give a response (note, I had nothing to do with set design or the Holocron; these are just personal responses). I also want to add that although I’ve paraphrased/caricatured these criticisms, I think they are all perfectly valid viewpoints:

Look at all these changes to ARH cards! Have these not been play-tested properly?
We’ve seen 3 ARH characters get a positive balance and 7 ARH characters get a negative balance. That’s 10 characters out of 55, or 18%, which I must admit, looks quite high. FFG meanwhile released 245 characters prior to Transformations and balanced 49 of them, or exactly 20%. So, it looks like, so far, ARH is balancing a similar number of characters.
Also, we’re seeing fairly regular and small updates from ARH, to keep on top of the meta (though I appreciate others may see these changes as infrequent; I’m just comparing to FFG here). This approach is keeping the game fresh, and fixes problems when they need fixing. It may make it harder to keep on top of things, but by comparison, we were stuck with broken hero droids for far too long. The willingness to admit when you’ve made a mistake and fix it, I think, is a strength. Yes, maybe they should have seen some of this coming; but saying that is much easier with the benefit of hindsight.
I’m confident that the cards which have been hit would have been complained about in playtesting. I’m also confident that many other cards were complained about which turned out to be fine. It’s far too easy to pick the signal from the noise, post hoc.

All these negative balances is a slippery slope to dangerous power creep.
This is a concern. Continually dropping characters to keep pushing the power level is a bad thing when pushed ad infinitum, and as such we should be wary. However, I do believe that these changes are cautious and I also believe that ARH are wise to this danger. I also think that ARH are quicker to admit when a character of theirs was simply over-costed.
I would also like to add one salient response to this criticism by gandork, who opined that the power level of Redemption characters shrunk the character pool for competitive Destiny. By curbing the big players, and bringing some FA characters down in points, the character pool can open up again.
This all being said, I would also add that a large negative balance of the force list is fantastic for casual play. Suddenly I have loads of deck ideas buzzing around. I don’t expect most of them to be competitive, but they’re going to be a lot of fun.
And therein lies the cognitive dissonance of the problem: I want exciting new characters to play, but I also want a well balanced game without power creep. Striking a balance is difficult, and the level of creep you’re willing to accept depends entirely on personal preference and why you like playing Destiny.

How can you negatively balance character X, when clearly character Y is worse and deserves a balance first? Conversely, how can you positively balance character A, when clearly character B (normally Transformations Han) is better value?
Ultimately, comparing characters is a difficult business. We’re not ever going to all agree on which characters need balancing first. ARH have stated they deliberately have not touched any pre-Covert Missions characters, but even so, there’s characters there I might have balanced before the likes of Pyre. However, constantly attempting to bring everything up to the same power level is a surefire way of guaranteeing rapid power creep.

And Finally

If you want to play these changes, join us this evening for our regular weekly event, and make sure you join us on 24 April for the Battle of Hoth. For all the details, click the link below.


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