The Layered Effect
The Benefits of Stacking Things Up
In the Star Wars Trading Card Game, the Character arena is easily the most exciting. While it is fun to beat people down with Republic Walkers and Destroyer Droid Squads in the Ground arena, or the sleek X-Wings and Droid Starfighters in space, the real action happens with the heavy hitting celebrities of the Star Wars universe. Who wouldn't want to be Mace Windu taking down Jango Fett, or be Anakin stomping the Sith with the help of his trusty lightsaber (and girlfriend/wife)? You can even have battles that never happened in the movies, such as facing the evil Darth Maul against lowly farm boy Luke Skywalker.
The main characters in the arena are able to be stacked. To quote Michael Mikaelian from an earlier article: "Stacking allows you to combine different versions of the same unit together to make it faster, stronger, and more durable. You can stack up to four different versions of the same unit. You can do so by choosing one version to be the top of the stack and putting each other version underneath it. Use all of the top unit's card features and ignore the one's stacked underneath it. For each card stacked underneath it, the top one gets a +10 speed, +1 power, and +1 health."
Now you all knew all of this already but what I am here to present you with is why you should stack certain characters, what that will cost you, and what you get out of it.
The first thing we need to look at is "should we even stack in the first place?" Well this is an interesting dilemma. The arguments for stacking are easy. It is a cheap way to make an (hopefully) efficient unit more so. The best thing about stacking is the cost. Setup is the best time to stack because it only costs you one build point (or the difference plus 1 if you are putting the newly drawn version on top). This means you are essentially cycling one card through your deck for only one build point in addition to improving your in-play unit. The other issue with stacking is that it makes your characters obviously more resistant to death and able to shell out more damage, quicker.
The only real negative to stacking is the "card advantage/build point advantage" issue. If a stacked character dies you are not simply losing the card itself, but you are also now sacrificing the additional stacked cards and the build points you spent to put them out. For example, if your triple-stacked Anakin Skywalker (A) dies (costing a total of 10 build points) it is the equivalent of one Mace Windu (A) going to the dead pile. Now the card advantage issue is not one if you were able to stack during the setup phase, since you replaced that card anyway. If it is done on subsequent build phases, then you are truly losing the card.
Now the point of this article is to talk about the character stacks you are most likely to see in play, and the ones you should consider playing yourself. Most of these characters have multiple versions listed that are playable, so the issue of having an unplayable one stuck in your hand. You will notice that not every character you can stack is listed, for good reasons. I mean if you want to stack Nute Gunray, Zam Wessell, or Darth Sidious, be my guest, but all you are really doing is increasing their stats and not really making them into "super attackers" or defenders.
Another character that at times I have seen stacked is Padme. My main question is: Why would you stack Padme? Each version of her is distinct in its abilities. I mean I suppose if you want to keep her alive or make her into a better attacker, you can stack her, but in many of the following characters you will notice that having any of them out will not put you at a disadvantage. If you are playing a Jedi deck and you draw your Padme Amidala (C) or Padme Amidala (D) will this help your board position? I did not think so either.
I will also not discuss stacking Luke or Leia, since I do not think that either of these characters, as stacks, have really come into their own yet.
What follows is an overview of the current characters in the game that I would suggest you build your decks around in some way. Many players will simply say "oh I will play a few of him and a few of him, oh and some of him for good measure." That can be ineffective and expensive. These eight overviews, four for each side will show you why you should and should not play these characters and how they can help your overall strategy. I hope you gleam some new knowledge from this.
The specific character overview section is organized this way:
Name (versions I would use, with the one that I would stack on top listed first), Stats
Darth Tyranus (A, E, B, D)
"This battle will not be decided by our knowledge of the Force, but by our skill with a Lightsaber..." Darth Tyranus (Count Dooku), Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Build: 12, Speed: 80, Power: 10, Health: 8
Pay 1 Force: Power +2, Evade 3 for 3, Deflect 1 for 2
Advantages: Tyranus is the beatdown machine of the Dark Side. He can easily get up to 12 power, which is an average of 6 damage. For 12 build, that is the average you are looking for. His ability to withstand damage with a large evade and a minor deflect are impressive as well. The other great part is that you have four playable versions of Tyranus, so really any one of them in play will help your cause. If you are stuck with not enough build points rolled any one turn, you can simply stack the "inferior" versions below the others and you will still have a decent character. It is easy to simply "splash" Tyranus in a deck as a character or tailor your deck to suit him. I would generally look at him as the prior use. Tyranus is a great character when you simply need to add four cards to your character arena that have the ability to win it for you.
Disadvantages: The major disadvantage that Tyranus has is that while he is a Jack-of-all-Trades, he is a master of none. Now that we are three sets into SW: TCG Tyranus is not the necessary powerhouse of the character arena he once was. He also costs a significant amount of build points. You will see many decks simply not running Tyranus simply because he does not really do anything that any other character can do, but he still remains a solid secondary threat.
Darth Maul(C, A, B, D)
"Fear is my ally.." Darth Maul, Duel of the Fates Music Video
Build: 11, Speed: 90, Power: 10, Health: 8
Pay 3 Force: Characters with Evade cannot use it for this attack, Evade 1 for 3
Advantages: Darth Maul is arguably the coolest looking character in the Star Wars universe. In the movie Maul was an offensive powerhouse, taking on multiple Jedi at once, and in the card game it is no different. He is fast, hits hard, and keeps the damage around. Maul has entire decks built around him due to his interaction with Maul's Strategy. Each version of Maul is powerful, speed being his best asset.
The order of stacking Maul will probably be a hot debate. I looked at the math and looked at it this way: If you have Maul A on top with overload, and assuming in each example you have the three Force to use, you will wind up with a 14 power unit going at 100 speed. Using the three Force to evade the incoming damage, you should deal an average of seven points to the defending unit. If your target is a powerful Jedi (Mace, Anakin A, Yoda, etc.) two or three of this damage should be evaded, leaving you with dealing four to five points. Now in the example with Maul C stacked on top you will have a 10 power character going at 90 speed. I think the speed difference will be irrelevant since not much will go before a 90 speed Dark Side unit. This time you should deal five damage on average, but with the inability to evade any damage. Therefore all of your damage will stick. This is very important when facing down those pesky Jedi with their efficient evades. When you think about not hitting on average, the situation becomes clearer. If you hit for more damage, either way it will not matter. If you hit for less, Maul C is definitely the better choice. From a "staying power" standpoint, Maul A is slightly better with a better evade, but come on lets be realistic; you are not using Maul as a control character. He is there for one reason only, to enact "revenge on the Jedi."
Disadvantages: Darth Maul is expensive, and lacking in the health department. He is also tough to keep around on his own with his natural evades being none too impressive. When building a deck with Maul you just have to keep that in mind, he cannot hold down the fort alone, you will need the aid of battle cards or other threats to make him stay around. His ability to attack so fast and efficiently will help as well. He will most likely attack twice to every one time of his adversaries. Just be aware that if you are making the investment in building Maul, you need a way to protect him.
Overall I would say that Maul is a great Dark Side character. You can build decks around him, he is an offensive powerhouse, and he is just plain cool.
Jango Fett(A, B, E, C)
"I'm just a simple man trying to make my way in the universe." Jango Fett, Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Build: 11, Speed: 90, Power: 10, Health: 9
Critical Hit 2 vs. Jedi Characters
Advantages: That quote is perfect, Jango is a simple man; he is simple to play and simple to help kill Jedi. Jango Fett forms the second part of the two-man Dark Side Hit Squad. He hits for A LOT of damage vs. Jedi Characters (an average of 7), which even after evading can be quite a lot to absorb. He is also fast, going before any Light Side character can muster without the aid of a Battle Card. The other advantage that Jango has is that three of his four playable incarnations are able to stand on their own (A, B, E), so if you are in a pinch for build points later in the game, you can stack with the others on top and have an efficient unit. This is also great because you can throw a minor Jango stack in a deck (say one copy of A, B, and E) and hope to have a Jedi-kiling machine out for a relatively inexpensive use of build and deck resources. Many Light Side decks are based on Jedi dominating the character arena. This is what makes Jango so powerful. Until the metagame shifts away from this, I would look to include him in most of my Dark Side builds.
Disadvantages: Besides the fact that Jango has a big target painted on his forehead, he has some problems withstanding damage. As the only non-Jedi character on this list, he lacks the evade ability, which I typically want my characters to have. Nothing is worse than spending 11 build points on something only to have it die in a turn, and possibly not even take anything down with it. There are ways around it, ways using other characters, battle cards, mission cards, etc., but in general it takes work to make Jango stay alive. Does this mean you should not play him? I think he still belongs in decks, but you have to realize going into it that you will have to dedicate card slots to making sure he survives.
Darth Vader(A, C, B)
"When I left you I was but the learner, now I am the master!" Darth Vader, Episode IV: A New Hope
Build: 10, Speed: 70, Power: 8, Health: 8
Evade 2 for 2, Intercept 1, Pay Force Equal to Build to Retreat Non-Jedi
Advantages: Wow. At first when Vader came out everyone said "blah he is not that good." On paper, yes he is not that good; statistics wise, he is awful. You are paying 10 build for an 8/8 character. That is not a good ratio. Then you factor in the Intercept ability. Wow. Intercept is a powerful ability. I am not going to get into it too much since it has been discussed on this site before, but I just want to say that having a fully stacked Vader is like having an extra Tyrannus' Gift in hand each turn. For three Force you are essentially taking away an attack and then evading two damage (the equivalent of four dice rolls, two being hits). Vader is a great "guardian" for your other characters. These two abilities combined with 8 health should keep him around (and annoying) for a long time. If you team him up with Maul or Jango, you are getting a great defender to those other two. If you team him up with Tyrannus, you are able to use more Force to pump his attack power.
There is also the "Anakin Factor." This comes into play when Vader and Anakin are in the Arena at the same time. A bidding war takes place between Force and build (full rules can be found HERE) to see whose character stays. Getting rid of Anakin is a great use of Vader, but again, you must realize that the Light Side can do the same thing to you. This is a double-edged sword, and must be treated as such.
Basically, Vader is not a great character on his own, and cannot be evaluated based on this, but as a backup/control character he is great. So when using him you have to keep that in mind, is it worth all that build to simply get a backup character? I say YES!
Disadvantages: Unfortunately, this is a long list. First are his aforementioned statistics. 10 Build for a character with eight power and eight health is not great at all. If he is your heavy hitter in the character arena, chances are you are going to lose. There is also the factor of his secondary "retreat ability." Has anyone ever used this? I know I have not. Even you are facing non-Jedi characters (which is rare enough to begin with) do you really want to be spending upwards of three to six Force to get rid of them? Then there is the "Anakin Factor," as described above. When Vader was first released everyone said "oh I will just put one in my deck and contest Anakin, since Vader costs more I will win." That turned out not to be the case. Even if you have a fully stacked Vader vs. a fully stacked Anakin, you will be even on build points (10). Yes the Dark Side wins ties, so on the surface it appears that this is a good thing for the Dark Side. You have to remember that what the Light Side does best is gain extra Force through its cards. This can come back to haunt you.
This is what happened to me at the New York City regional: I have fully stacked Vader and a Jango Fett A in play. My opponent has out some random Jedi. He has 13 Force, I have about seven. He plays Anakin C. I do the math, and there is no way I can keep my Vader on the table this turn, so he becomes retreated. Now if my opponent had rolled better that turn (he had won space, I won ground), the game would have been over, but luckily I was able to weather the storm and Vader came back next turn. All in all, my Vader became "opponent loses 13 Force" for 10 build. When I got home and looked at it I realized how powerful that was, and how close I was to losing that arena on one turn.
This will be discussed more under "Anakin" but it is a major disadvantage currently to using Vader.
Those are the four Dark Side heavy hitters. If you are looking at winning the character arena, your focus should be on one or more of these characters.
Yoda(A, B, C)
"Do or do not, there is no try.." Yoda, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
Build: 11, Speed: 60, Power: 8, Health: 8
Evade 3 for 2, Deflect 3 for 10, gain an extra Force each turn
Advantages: With a wealth of Force behind him, Yoda is a great character to hold the arena for the Light Side. Many players like his "C" version best and there are situations where I would play that version first (your opponent has no Jedi Masters out or you are not fully stacked) but if you are fully stacked, you are going to average four damage anyway, so why spend the Force to deal that damage? He has a very efficient evade for his cost, and if you have the huge amount of Force to use his deflect ability, it is the best in the game.
Disadvantages: I do not stack Yoda. His three incarnations are a little out of place. As a character to "hold down the fort" you should be playing the "B" version, since he has an insane evade and can gain you a Force each turn. If you are looking to go on the offensive, are Mace and Anakin (and even Obi Wan) simply more efficient? Yoda, stacked, is an expensive character. Do not assume that I am saying that Yoda is not a good character. I am simply saying that there is no true advantage to actually stacking him other than making him from a below average attacker to a mediocre, costly attacker. He will also still be slower than a stack of those heavier hitters. If you have a lot of Force to spare, you can bring out the "A" version. If you are looking for a control character, you can bring out Yoda B. If you are looking to destroy swarm decks one at a time, bring in Yoda C.
Obi-Wan Kenobi (F, D, B, G)
Build: 9, Speed: 70, Power: 8, Health: 8 Evade 2 for 2, Intercept for 1, gain 4 Force when discarded
Advantages: This will be another controversial call. I do not see Obi-Wan stacked in many decks, and I can understand why. Is he a power hitter? No. Is he a cost efficient character? It is close. Why would you stack him then? One word: Intercept. As I said when discussing Darth Vader, intercept is a great ability. I do not think that you should you use every unit with intercept, but when you are able to use one as cost efficient and resistant as Obi-Wan, I would try and put him in a deck. I am a control player when it comes to card games, and a stacked Obi-Wan goes a long way to the ultimate control strategies. With enough Force, you can change the entire landscape of the character arena by compelling your opponent to attacking Obi-Wan and then absorbing all of the damage with evade and/or battle cards. I do not think that you can base and entire deck around the Obi-Wan stack, but he is a great backup character if you deck is control oriented.
An important fact about Obi-Wan is his versatility. I listed two versions of Obi-Wan with the intercept ability in order to exploit it. The other versions are great in their own right. Building a deck based around Anakin and simply want some more evasion for him (in addition to adding critical hit 2 to your arsenal)? Play with Obi-Wan Kenobi B stacked on top. Looking for a fast hitter with stun 3? Play with Obi-Wan Kenobi D stacked on top. I think this flexibility is what makes Obi-Wan Kenobi one of the best Light Side characters out there.
Disadvantages: The major problem with Obi-Wan is that he is truly a "jack of all trades, master of none." Many decks I have seen do not utilize him to his full potential because it is a tough decision on which one to use. I think that the intercept one is the most versatile in the current metagame, but the problem will still be that there will most likely be better options for many of the other versions. The other problem is that Obi-Wan falls into the overpaying category. Nine build for an 8/8 70 speed is not all that great, especially for an investment of four cards. I think the simple fact about Obi-Wan is that his only real negatives are that he is not a great primary character, but he is a great secondary one.
Anakin Skywalker (E, A, B, C)
Build: 9, Speed: 80, Power: 9, Health: 7 Overload (take 2 damage for +5 power), Evade 2 for 3
"I will be the most powerful Jedi ever.." Anakin Skywalker, Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Advantages: Rightly so Anakin Skywalker is the chosen one. Anakin is the Light Side's powerhouse on offense. Ok let us look at this for a minute: assuming you have either three Force or the ability to evade the two damage some other way, you are looking at 14 power character that attacks before any of the non-stacked Dark Side characters each turn. That is a massive attacker! Unlike Maul or Jango, however, you still have a relatively efficient evade handy also. If Padme A is in place, you are looking at an increase in Speed to 90, which is only slower than a fully stacked Jango or Maul, and power 16. At 14 power we are looking at averaging seven damage per attack and at 16 we are looking at eight. That is a massive amount of damage to have to deal with each turn. Anakin should form the core of any aggressive deck.
The secondary issues surrounding the advantages of Anakin come into play with the whole Vader contention. If Darth Vader becomes a more played character in your metagame, the issue of contention between these two will come into play. If this is the case you should probably stack Anakin Skywalker A on top (Build 10, Speed 90, Power 9, Health 8, evade 3 for 3, fully stacked), or be ready to have a way of gaining more Force to win the "duel of the fates."
A final good point of the incarnations of Anakin is Anakin Skywalker B. If you have clearly won the Character Arena and need some extra power in the Ground Arena, it is hard to argue with a "free" Windu's Solution each turn.
Disadvantages: To state the obvious, the problem with Anakin Skywalker is the "Darth Vader issue." Since the Dark Side wins any ties in the bidding you are starting at a disadvantage versus a fully stacked Vader. Now as the Light Side player you should have more Force than the Dark Side, from all of your battle and mission cards geared towards Force gaining. Remember, however, that as good as you are at gaining Force, the Dark Side is as good at taking it from you. The other possible break you may catch is that many Dark Side players are using a "I'll play any Vader to make my opponent use Force to keep Anakin around" strategy. If that is the case, then there may not be this issue.
Other than the "Vader Factor," the only problem with Anakin may be his inefficient evade. The two main incarnations of Anakin have expensive evades (2 for 3, or 3 for 3) so keeping him around may be a costly proposition.
Mace Windu (A, B, C)
Build: 12, Speed: 80, Power: 10, Health: 9 Evade 3 for 2, Deflect 2 for 5, Gain an extra Force at the end of each turn
"And you will know my name is the Lord, when I lay my vengeance upon thee.." Jules Winfield, Pulp Fiction
Advantages: I obviously have a personal bias for Mace Windu, he is the baddest man in the Galaxy. Is there another character on this list that can dominate the Arena by himself? I do not think so. Is he the best character in the game? I am certainly going to make the case for it. Mace Windu A is probably the best use of 10 build that the Light Side has. I have won games by simply playing him out during setup, and piloting him to the win. Fully stacked, Mace is a powerhouse. First there is his offensive potential, going before many Dark Side characters and having enough power to take out many of them. Then there are his defensive abilities. Evading three damage for two Force is the second best ratio in the game (outside of 2 for 1). With the ability to gain an extra Force each turn, and playing the Light Side with its Force adding missions, you may even have enough to Deflect once a turn or every other turn. That can simply destroy a Dark Side player short on Force or against characters with no evade (read: JANGO). Finally, Mace has his own card tailored to him: Moment of Truth. With him in play and staying there, you basically have a cheap pilots dodge for any arena. The card is great on its own, cheap damage prevention that can be used anywhere, but if you have Mace in play, the card is simply not fair. Mace goes a long way in helping the Light Side maintain its character dominance.
Disadvantages: Mace is expensive..i guess...I refuse to comment that Mace Windu has any shortcomings. Seriously though, a stacked Windu costs you 12 build. That is a lot of stock in one character, that can be susceptible to Knockdown type effects, but other than that I cannot think of a single true negative about him. I mean COME ON, it is Samuel El!
Well there you have it. Those are the eight characters you are now most likely to see at a tournament near you. A final note that I want you to notice are two important cards, one for each side; Splinter the Republic for the Dark Side, and Jedi Council Summons for the Light. These cards are efficient, cheap, ways to stack your characters that you do not want to load up in your deck. These cards are also versatile and can help you win other arenas.
Stacking is an efficient method of winning the character arena. You have to be aware of the card advantage you may be giving up, but in general it is a great way to get a better use out of your cards.
Scott Landis is a five-time MtG Pro Tour player and founding member of the SW Team 'The Alliance'. He can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Try not, do or do not, there is no try.