Wanted to post a "nerfing" variant for the LS Challenge Deck (The Search for Skywalker) that we tried out last night that seems to work for our playgroup.
Since we don't have 2 core sets or 2 Edge of Darkness, we tend to have less consistent decks, at least for some of the major Sith control builds and Jedi decks. We have found that in a standard 2 vs 1 against the LS Challenge deck, it's just too hard to compete against it and pretty much no one really has any fun. So we got to talking about a couple of ideas that could nerf some of the challenge out of the deck, and bring it closer to an enjoyable experience for both sides.
What we did was this:
1. We made Luke vulnerable to any dark side card effects. This makes him susceptible to some pretty nasty game-winning cards, but that is what the 1-cost Run Luke, Run Event card is for. Don't want him captured? Run Luke. Don't want him board wiped? Run Luke. It works. And we thought that it made him less of a god, and more accurately emulated his being in hiding with limited, or at least dwindling, resources. This change also makes it possible to hit him with Heat of Battles.
2. We found that there is pretty much one way to set up your LS objective pyramid. There is a certain layout that is just THE way to go and can result in some very nasty early game combos that trigger when the DS makes ANY attempt to attack the pyramid's first two objectives. So we decided that, more for the sake of variety than anything else, that we secretly place Return to Tatooine in the spot that we want, and then RANDOMLY arrange the rest of the LS objectives. This ensures that the LS will have to adapt to circumstances that are not exactly what he may want. It feels more challenging for the LS, and it will ensure that no two games will have the exact same layout. It also DOES have the potential to make things easier for the DS, which is what we were aiming for.
3. This is the big one. Don't hate. We eliminated the deck discarding mechanic. Yeah. Let me explain.
The way the deck plays now is that the LS wins if both DS players run out of cards in their draw deck. At first I thought this would be a cool way to emulate the DS running out of resources and leads in its efforts to find Luke. After having played several games, I now feel that it creates a game that climaxes at about the halfway point, and then drastically goes downhill for the DS player in an exponential manner.
Consider what I mean. When you build a typical 50-card deck, do you usually put in that deck an objective set that you don't want or need? No. Every single one of those cards are important for the overall strategy of the deck. You try to maximize redundancy of course, but you would probably be hard pressed to remove an objective set just to make things harder for yourself. However, that is exactly what the LS challenge deck does. On any given turn, it is entirely possible for both DS players to lose 5 cards or more. That's an entire objective set's worth of cards. And among those cards are specific cards that you might call "key" components of your strategy. Gone. Down the drain. So, not only did you just lose some battle, possibly wasting edge cards and losing units in battle, but the LS just chucked 5 more of your cards from your command deck.
It's only a matter of time, and not much time, before the DS decks have been reduced to a shell of uselessness. Thus the reason I stated that the climax happens about mid-game, and once you hit that point of no return, the DS is just playing out the rest of the game because there are simply no more cards that are reliable enough to use to make a comeback. Discarding multiple cards every turn results in exponential reduction of options and inevitable loss for the DS. And worse, it results in a boring game.
So, we chucked the discard mechanic. What did we replace it with? How does the LS win? We just gave each DS player hitpoints - ala MtG style. It's a simple way to keep track of the LS players progress and it's a scalable difficulty slider. For our first game, we decided that since each DS player started with 6 cards in hand and 44 in the command deck, that 44 would be the starting HP. Each turn, in order to account for DS card usage and drawing phases, we mandated that each DS player, during his balance phase, would lose 2 HP. This number is adjustable, but 2 seemed to work well. We also obviously changed each card that is meant to discard cards off of the DS players' decks to simply remove HP. So instead of discarding 4 cards from an opponents deck, Red Five would deal 4 hitpoint damage. Finally, when an opponent reaches 0 HP, they are no longer able to draw any cards from there command deck, and any cards that reference drawing cards pretty much become useless (like Dark Precognition) as they would in the normal rules. They can still play with what they got on the board at that point, but cannot draw any cards.
What does this do? I called this the big one for a reason. What it does is it allows the LS to chug along, encouraging offense play, mixed with defensive units, like normal. You still want to use to "milling" cards to deal hitpoint damage to win the game. If you simply play only defensively, eventually that 2 HP damage per turn will catch up with the DS. Most importantly, it allows the DS players to actually use their decks against this deck. Had a bad run or two as the DS? No biggie. You lost some edge cards and maybe some units, but you still have that Executor coming up and not getting discarded. You can still make a comeback. The climax of the game will NOT be when the DS decks get down to about 20 cards. Instead, you play hard and strong up until your HP hits 0. You still need to defend as the DS and you still need to do something about good ole Red Five, you can just be sure that you actually have cards to do it with.
The game we played like this ended with Luke sustaining 9 damage out of 20 and 3 LS objectives were destroyed. It made it tough for the LS player to play cards due to the dwindling resources. The LS still won, but the DS players felt like they really had a chance, and they did. And most importantly, everyone had fun.
Just a variant suggestion that I thought some might like to play around with.