It should be no secret to many who have played Star Wars LCG since its release in late 2012 that Light Side enhancements were a bit…powerful. Even in the earliest days of the game, it was impossible to ignore that the best way to manipulate the board state, and most likely earn your win, was through enhancements.
Dating back to Core, Light Side had three enhancements that seemed to dominate the competitive field: Trust Your Feelings, Astromech Droid Upgrade, and Heavy Blaster Emplacement. These three enhancements weren’t just powerful, they were key aspects of winning for the Light Side. A Trust Your Feelings on Luke or Yoda went a long way to dealing a destructive amount of damage. Astromech Droid Upgrade on Red Two (and later Rogue 3) meant turning a somewhat weak and nimble unit into a hardhitting beast. Heavy Blaster Emplacement was known to deal an insane amount of damage to a side that only had one unit with Protect, and no real ways of deflecting or mitigating the damage.
Enhancement love became even more potent during the Hoth cycle, where Light Side players found Old Ben’s Spirit completed many Super Friends lists. Regional Season 2013 was dominated by this enhancement, until the later released Echo Caverns (another enhancement) morphed the deck into a totally different kind of powerhouse. For a small stint prior to Edge of Darkness’ release, Soresu Training even ran the Jedi gauntlet of enhancement domination.
With all the abuse coming out of Light Side enhancements, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that FFG curved their usefulness down during the Edge of Darkness release, with both Han’s Blaster and Chewie’s Bowcaster seeing little use.
But with the Echoes cycle, Light Side was right back on top with incredibly useful enhancements that made winning as a Dark Side player that much more difficult. For a short time, Ataru Training was a two-of in almost every Light Side Jedi deck thanks to the abusiveness of Kyle and Heroes and Legends. Both Smuggler and Jedi received fantastic sets for their ‘Force Resource’ enhancements, which all but guaranteed they’d see play.
By the end of the Echoes cycle, we saw Native Support play a pivotal role in Team Tarkin’s Force Lock build from Gencon, as well as Asteroid Base’s dominate position within Mick Cipra’s Worlds 2014 Trench Run list. Enhancements were, without a doubt, a key element to Light Side’s win potential.
Unfortunately, Between the Shadows really solidified just how important enhancements could be for Light Side domination. Luke Skywalker’s Hero’s Trial set received rewards for playing enhancements (and during the Deploy phase!), while also netting the Light Side their most abusive lightsaber yet. Additionally, Yoda found strength within his Hut’s Force manipulation, while White Knobby Spiders were the bane of most Regional 2015 Dark Side players (though it should be noted that two highly powerful enhancements, Funeral Pyre and Dirty Secrets, failed to gain much attention even though their strengths are quite clear).
Which brings us to the Rogue Squadron cycle, a cycle filled with literally a metric ton of enhancements for the Light Side. Pilot Resources, damage redirection, cloaking within Shadows, Proton Torpedoes, and a Resupply Depot all gave the Light Side a very unnecessary boost. Shien Training and a new version of R2 somewhat sealed the deal that Light Side enhancements were now almost better than their units.
But why would any of this really matter?
That answer is easy: the Dark Side only had five answers. Tear This Ship Apart, Turbolaser Battery, Explosive Charge, Utinni, and AT-AT. Those five answers were within two, maybe three, playable sets. Not a lot of ways to deal with so much abuse coming from the other side of the table.
Enter the Imperial Entanglements version of Grand Moff Tarkin, a character desperately in need of a revision since his lowly days as a mediocre Core unit. Tarkin’s new ability, blanking cards, was a welcome addition to the lowly ways that Dark Side players could deal with troubling enhancements. His text has become a Dark Side staple in dealing with not only abusive enhancements, but bothersome objectives as well.
So why are a small group of players up in arms over the way his text interacts with enhancements?
Because of a lack of fundamental understanding of the design process.
It’s very important, from a balance perspective, that answers to many of the game’s damning problems exist within a certain threshold. Tarkin’s text is the biggest answer we’ve seen to a direct problem since the game’s launch. While there have been erratas and restrictions to limit other abuses (here’s looking at you, Boba, Freeloaders, and Yodas), this marks the first time FFG has released a direct ‘silver bullet’ to a real problem.
Tarkin’s ability to very effectively remove abusive enhancements from play is healthy to the game’s life. Many games, ranging from Decipher’s CCG to Magic: The Gathering, feature key ‘silver bullets’ meant to completely neuter a potentially abusive strategy that can be detrimental to the enjoyment of the game. The group of players frustrated that one card so easily handles their Pilot deck is not greater than the group of players desperately aware of the fact that Light Side enhancements were too strong to let go unchecked. Unfortunately, tunnel vision can affect us all.
The real issue at hand is the narrow scope players are using when evaluating Tarkin’s uses. Landing in Imperial Entanglements, a set released following a Pilot/enhancement cycle, some players find the answer a bit too forthright. No one batted an eye when AT-AT launched two years ago, effectively eating anything you put on Rogue 3. But Tarkin isn’t just an answer to Pilots, he’s an answer to the insane power level of many, many Light Side enhancements, including (but not limited to) Pilots. And that’s a good thing.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t issues with Tarkin’s phrasing and Tarkin’s uses. It’s to say that some players are being vocal about the wrong issues. The rulings behind Tarkin exist in such a way as to not break the game.
First, let’s take a look at Tarkin’s text: “Reaction: After a phase beings, spend 1 Imperial Navy resource to treat a target card’s printed text box as if it were blank (except for Traits) until the end of the phase. (Limit once per turn.)” When using this on an enhancement, this ‘blanks’ the clause in which the enhancement is allowed to exist (ie, locations say ‘enhance your play area’, weapons say ‘enhance a unit you control’), however, it has been ruled by FFG that it only pertains to cards that attach to other cards. So, blanking a location will not force that location to ‘fall off’, yet blanking a Pilot will force the Pilot to fall to your discard pile.
What needs to be stressed here is that this interaction must exist. Tarkin must be allowed to blank locations (see previous mentions of Echo Caverns, Yoda’s Hutt, etc) while not being able to eliminate your opponent’s resources (it’s how you play the game, and limiting their destruction should be a necessity). Similarly, Tarkin is meant, from a design perspective, to nuke Pilots. He must be able to nuke them, that’s his job (and sorta works thematically). He exists to curb abusive situations that have appeared (and to future proof ones that may come about). Anytime a game brings about an answer to a problem, or a ‘silver bullet’, such as Tarkin, it’s done because design is aware of the key issue they are specifically addressing.
Design can’t have Tarkin’s text read, ‘treat a target non-location card’s printed text box…’ because then it misses the key locations that are meant to be blanked. Similarly, they can’t rule that Pilots can just ‘fall into play’ after already being played as a Pilot rather than a unit. They also can’t ‘fall back to hand’, because, well, face it – that’s just wishfully wanting to not lose value against a card specifically designed to make you lose value. The ruling seems ugly, on the surface, because you have to explain to players that ‘enhance your play area’ isn’t treated the same as ‘enhance unit you control’. A less confusing solution to this issue, might be for FFG to remove the text ‘enhance your play area’ from the game and add something to the FAQ which states, ‘Enhancements are played to your Play Area unless otherwise stated where to play them’.
The simple fact is that Light Side has received a plethora of abusive and destructive enhancements over the years, Pilots included. Tarkin is a fantastic way to deal with many of these threats, and will typically (thanks, Johnny) see play in mono-Navy builds. One decktype (Pilots) is directly hindered (but not ruined) by a card meant to challenge their strengths within the meta. This is a good thing. This is healthy design, and one of the best uses of a silver bullet one could imagine.