Today we’ll be taking a look at an impressively cheap budget deck I like to call Five Die Free-For-All. I love the deck, and not only does it have zero Legendaries, it’s also good enough to go 7-2 at Worlds, and I honestly believe its at the top of tier 1. This article will not focus on the Worlds portion of the story, and attempt to simply focus on the deck and how it functions.
So why did I choose these characters? For starters, I’ve pretty much only used Talzin the entirety of this set, whether it be Thrawn Talzin or Army of Ones, so for me there was no other option, I had to play a Talzin deck. While Thrawn is a great partner, having written several articles on the deck I wasn’t sure it was good enough without the surprise factor. That leaves either the straightforward 2 character lists of Kylo and Kallus or 3 wide decks. For me the 2 wide versions didn’t have enough damage and health to consistently beat vehicles and/or 3 wide mill. Which leaves the 3 wide Talzin decks. Of these I discovered that Bala Trooper was simply the best version, because adding Bala Tik to our list gives such a massive percentage boost against 3 wide decks. Free win match-ups are important, so making every 3 wide deck a free win gave Bala the edge, and Trooper rounds out the list (over Greedo) as he gives access to red.
Before we can talk about card choices, or even the battlefield choice, we need to examine the goal of the deck. Essentially, we are going to go all in on early game, specifically round 2 kills. We will do everything we can to keep Bala alive through round two, such that when we do get that kill, the Bala ready can give us an even larger advantage. Since we’re so focused on early game, one cost cards are what we want. Not only does running a 26 odd cost deck help with Talzin’s ability and the consistency of early game damage, but one cost cards simply do more than their 0 cost counterparts. This means that every card we play will have high impact, which is important as we’d rather simply reroll our dice for max damage than use 2 low impact cards like Doubt and Hidden Motive. The end game of our deck will also prove more potent, as when we draw hands with 2-3 one-cost control options, the one remaining character of our opponent will struggle to deal any damage, and the 3 v 1 scenario will prove unwinnable. I should also point out that since a resource on a die is almost always translated into a 3 damage swing through our events, the consistency on all of our dice sky rockets, as we’re not only okay with the damage sides, but also with the resource sides.
So why are we using Fort Anaxes? Well, as stated in our game-plan we are entirely focused on a round 2 kill with Bala Tik alive. Fort Anaxes allows for us to do this even when we don’t get starting shields, as we can guardian round 1 damage onto Talzin and Trooper. Additionally, Fort Anaxes is actually quite hard for most 2 character lists to use against us, as they usually try to get their dice into the pool quickly, and if they wait to activate their second character, it’s likely to our advantage. Thus the battlefield very rarely hurts us. In testing I even found that taking Anaxes was the correct choice (not shields) against Boba Seventh, as it prevented them from utilizing CQA round one, and usually prevented effective use of Ancient +3s, as we either guardianed their base sides away, or could guardian the 3 before a Boba special could be resolved as 3.
It’s time to star looking at our list. The first item that comes to most peoples attention is the fact that the list only runs 8 upgrades, and it has been criticized for this. However, I’ve found that the deck really doesn’t need upgrades to thrive, if anything we simply want at least 1 on Bala when he readies. This lack of reliance on upgrades allows the list to run ridiculously high counts of other cards, (11 offensive, 11 defensive), meaning we almost always have a multitude of options in our hand. This gives us a leg up, as we have the offensive and defensive tools we need in any given round.
The first set of cards we’ll look at are the 8 upgrades we’re going to run. For starters, we have DH-17, which is a no-brainer. At 1 cost, its damage is equivalent to most 2 cost upgrades, at half the cost. On The Hunt is absolutely insane. At 1 cost, in the current shield heavy meta, it has two 3 damage sides for free which is better than most three cost upgrades. On top of that, it can offer a 1 cost removal that doesn’t require a card. I can’t tell you how often this will save us when our hand lacks removal options. With Talzin’s focus, all we need to do is activate her and flip to a special, and we’re ready to remove a die. Even against non-shield decks, the removal can still be clutch, and the 1 discard is also incredibly useful in a meta full of high impact cards, such as Easy Pickings, Hyperspace Jump, Never Tell Me The Odds, and more.
Now we move on to the most… unique upgrade in the suite: Bartering. This card is absolutely insane. With 50% resource sides, if we assume a couple rerolls a round, it is essentially an It Binds All Things. However, it has so many advantages over the specialized card of It Binds. For starters, it can be used to discard a card from an opponents hand; imagine being able to exhaust that It Binds to discard a random card before rolling out your Rey on a crucial round, seems good right? Well trust me, using that discard before rolling out Talzin can be huge. Also, it can be used as a focus, taking one of our dice that miss and flipping it to a 2. On rounds where we’re really pushing for damage, we can activate Talzin, and if more than 1 of our damage dice aren’t on damage, we flip the Bartering to focus. We then reroll the damage dice, and whatever still misses, that’s the die we focus, it essentially allows us to save that Talzin focus until we know what our dice have rolled after 2-3 rerolls. Additionally, we can at any time decide our “It Binds” is no longer needed and overwrite it with a Force Illusion, or we can use it with Free For All to deal a damage. Keep in mind that the resources our Bartering generates can be used on any type of card, not just blue upgrades, and a majority of our cards translate that resource into 3 damage (Frighten, Backup Muscle, Witch Magick, Force Illusion, etc.). Oh, and don’t forget that the special can allow us to draw a card, which is huge if our opponent CQA’s, and we can also know exactly what we’re drawing because of Talzin’s effect. All these factors are cool and such, but the real kicker is that a Bartering on Bala Tik is an It Binds All Things that will ready along with Bala Tik’s effect. I can’t tell you how good it feels to kill that Seventh Sister, ready Bala, roll him out and resolve 2 resources. We can then immediately play Witch Magick and Backup Muscle, translating Bala Tik’s ready into 6 damage. So yes, while readying Bala with two 2-cost redeploys might deal 4-6 damage, readying him with 2 Barterings will actually translate into a higher HP swing (and do so more consistently), as resources are simply that good.
But wait, we still have one upgrade left, and we’ve saved the best for last: Dark Counsel. There is simply no other card that better helps maximize damage at 1 cost. We can toss it down on Bala, and when we activate Talzin, we flip it to the special. Why the special? Well, turns out getting an extra reroll for all of our 5 character dice is a huge upside, additionally it 50% of the time rolls back into either a focus (which will be 2 damage on one of our dice) or another special, which means another reroll for all our dice, and even more damage. This can save us on rounds where we get CQA’d or even rounds with bad draws. I’ve been able to use that special to draw into control (i.e. The Best Defense) when I had no removal, and ultimately save the game. Additionally, even if we don’t need the rerolls, there are plenty of from hand damage cards that can be drawn and used to great effect such as Frighten or Backup Muscle. The upside of this 1 cost die is simply insane, and during Bala ready rounds, where we need those extra rerolls, it is out-of-this-world good. Simply put, a Bala with a DH-17 and a Dark Counsel will more consistently deal 4+ damage off of an untap than a Bala with two 2 cost weapons, which can struggle to roll base sides or to have resources for the pay sides, at HALF the cost. Keep in mind those 2 resources we saved will be translated into 6 damage from our events.
Now let’s start on our offensive cards by examining our only 4 evens in the whole deck: Probe and Friends in Low Places. We can’t deny that we’re reliant on our character dice to deal damage, and on the early rounds going well. This means that protecting our dice with event removal is incredibly important, which is why FILP and Probe make the cut despite their even costs. FILP is straightforward, but Probe is actually quite effective because it takes time before our deck rolls in threatening dice. Typically we win the roll off and take shields, so we go second. Our first action is an upgrade on Bala, our second is to roll him out, and our third is often to play a control card or an upgrade on Talzin. This means our opponent has taken 4 actions before we’ve rolled out our most threatening dice (Talzin). So as our 4th action we can often probe a hand of either 2 or 3 cards, giving us a great chance at hitting our opponents best removal option for the round. On top of this, Probe is simply the best card (in villain) for removing a Hyperspace Jump from an opponents hand on a key Jump round. Ultimately, drawing these cards on round 1 or 2 often leads to 8+ damage rounds, and it’s this huge damage payoff that makes them worth running.
Moving along we have some straightforward options. Frighten is incredibly good in our current meta, and its the shield sustain of some of the top meta decks that most threatens 5 dies falling damage curve, so it’s definitely a great tech card. Backup Muscle is great for closing out kills, especially with the large number of Force Illusions running around, we can make some neat plays to prevent our opponent from getting any value from the Illusion. Tactical Mastery is nuts with Talzin guaranteeing at least one side of our choice, but I found that once we play a single Best Defense, the Trooper will often get targeted, so we can’t afford to run more than 1.
Last but not least, we have Free-For-All. At one point I messaged Joe from The Hyperloops and said something like “you need to play 5 die” and he’s like “I can’t do that to myself in a 2-wide meta”. Free-For-All is the card that makes fighting 2 wides as easy as 3 wides. Typically we can round 2 kill the supporting character, and the Bala ready puts 3-6 damage onto the main character. From there, most decks simply can’t handle Free-For-All dealing 7 “indirect” to their last remaining character. In fact, on a Bala ready it can feel quite nice knowing it doesn’t matter what we roll, as we can just Free-For-All his dice to hit the last character for 4-5. There’s essentially no way for an opponent to play around this card, other than with something like Mind Trick, or simply killing a character before Free-For-All is played. In combination with a card like Frighten, Free-For-All can leave our opponents shocked. Round three they roll out, we roll in Bala, they reroll, we play mitigation, they reroll, we roll in Talzin, they mitigate a die and then we Frighten + FFA to kill a 6 HP remaining 3 shield Rey. The card compliments our early and efficient one cost upgrades, and allows us to close out games much faster than without it.
Now lets talk mitigation. There really isn’t too much to be said. Just know this, our one cost removal options are going to do way more work than their 0 cost counterparts. We can afford them because the upgrades we’re dropping only cost one, and between 5 character dice and a Bartering, we’re definitely resolving at least 1-2 resources each round, more if Bala readies. Our options are The Best Defense, Force Illusion, Witch Magick, Flank, Feel Your Anger, and a single Overconfidence (since Talzin is sometimes targeted first). My only regret is that Easy Pickings can’t be played by villain.
It’s worth giving the disclaimer that this deck is not easy to pilot. It can be extremely fragile, and if we lose a character unexpectedly it can prove disastrous. However, as I’ve played the deck, I’ve found it simply has way more favorable match-ups than any other deck. Its favored into Rey Aayla, Boba Seventh, Hero mill of all flavors, Kylo decks, Boba Phasma, etc. and it crushes any 3 wides: hero vehicles, 3 wide hero melee, etc. The Yoda Hondo match-up is roughly even, although towards the end of testing I was feeling much better about the match-up. Obi-Maz gave the deck the most issues, but after I made the call to add in 2 Frightens, it made finishing off Obi a much easier task. I’ll admit I hadn’t tested much into Sabine-X but I beat the two I played. Essentially if they don’t one shot a character round one, you’re going to put 6-8 onto Sabine, and even if they get a kill round two you can finish her off (Force Illusion and Witch Magick are key in the match-up). So why did I lose two games if the deck is as good as I seem to think? Well, I lost to Steve Binkley ( a Patron) playing Rey Aayla, and it was an absolute slaughter. He drew the nuts round 2, dropping 2 Force Speeds on Aayla, rolling out into triple specials, then using Force Speeds to take 4 actions, roll in Rey, play Concentrate, and kill Bala. So shoutout to him for beating the devil out of me…
My second loss came to a Kylo Greedo of all things, that dealt 11 damage to my Bala round one, and let my tell you, Greedo shot first (I killed Greedo round one only to have him roll out the 1 direct damage to kill bala, keep in mind I’d Witch Magicked that turn and hit one of 3 evens remaining in my deck). I believe I misplayed a few actions, and no other match do I regret more in all of the tournament. In any case, I went 7-2 (5-1 then 2-1) and lost the bubble battle at 17th… I needed to win 8 games and I didn’t. Hopefully they’ll have enough rounds next year to not have 19 people on the bubble at 7-2.
Hopefully you all enjoy the deck, and you should all be able too, as I’ll remind you, there’s not a single legendary in the list. Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think!