Author - People’s Champion
The number of decent, available, damage dealing ability upgrades in standard are rather low. Because of that I had put Palpatine to the side waiting to see what Covert Missions might bring to spice up his decks. So you can imagine my surprise when I saw that not one, but two different Palpatine decks made it to the top cut at NOVA, one of them making it all the way to the semifinals. And just to add intrigue, they weren't the same deck, but rather there was a Palpatine/Watto deck and a Palpatine/Motti variant. I was baffled and intrigued as to how those decks made work what I had written off. To be fair, I am still baffled as to how the Palpatine/Motti deck made it as far as it did, since it didn't even run either Force Storm or Force Wave. Apparently Palpatine's Lightsaber and Sith Teachings can really do work when you are resolving them multiple times in a round using Admiral. But the Palpatine/Watto deck was one that really intrigued me, especially after reading Moophisto's write up on Entourage Gaming.
So I decided to try and build my own deck and see what sort of spiciness I could add to it. This is by no means a streamlined deck, but much more of a fun early variant that may eventually be something I take to my local Prime Championship. Anyway, let's get into the list!
Palpatine-The design space that I underestimated when looking at Palpatine is how truly tanky he can become by the end of round two. Playing three defensive upgrades on him means he is now a thirteen health character who can slow your opponent's game plan to a crawl, and by the end of round three you can have ramped to the point that they can hardly do anything to either damage or slow you. Once you start creating the space for yourself to take your time, your limited offensive capabilities are not such a big hindrance to your game plan.
Watto-Watto is here for three reasons: 1) To give you access to yellow, including cards like Desperate Measures, 2) To absorb damage, mostly indirect damage, giving Palpatine time to ramp up, 3) To make you money so that you can ramp up in the early game before he dies from all the damage you pour into him. There is also the opportunity for you to use his power action for three reasons, either to try and make an extra resource, to play defensively and reroll an opponent's important dice, or to play aggressively and reroll one of your dice when your cards in hand are more valuable than your resources. But the power action is really a secondary benefit of running Watto, not an important reason to do so.
Force Storm-This is the Palpatine card, with the potential to ramp into big damage on its special after a few rounds, while having big damage sides to begin with. Obviously it suffers post nerf, but that only diminished its power, it didn't remove it. And with Palpatine being able to put it back into the pool with his power action, it can really lay down a lot of damage.
Force Wave-These days it's rare to run into a team that doesn't have three characters. Between Droids, Jabba 3W, Ewoks, or the odd Aphra, three plus wide teams are all the rage. Which means you can get six damage out of the special on this dice. Two resolutions and you can eliminate three Ewoks. Reylo and the odd Vader deck that show up are your only real places that you face two wide teams, and even then, putting one damage onto Watto or taking a shield off of Palpatine is a small price to pay when you get to deal five damage to your opponent.
Formidable-This card has not really had a home since it was released. But it surprisingly fits exactly what you want to do with this deck. It has a 2 melee side for your aggression, two shield sides--a 1 and a 2--that can really help Palpatine tank up, and two specials that deal one damage and can move an upgrade, which acts as both pseudo removal, and if you play it right, can allow you to remove an upgrade from the game by moving it to a character then defeating that character, getting rid of that pesky Chewbacca's Blaster or Pulse Cannon.
Palpatine's Lightsaber-The dice sides on this are pretty standard for a two-cost unique lightsaber. In fact, the dice sides on this are the formula for two cost unique lightsabers, then each saber gets its own flair. The reason these are so incredible on Palpatine is that you can play them for zero net cost, meaning that these can be essentially free, which is amazing value for them.
Force Focus-Force Focus is far inferior to Niman Mastery in every situation except one: playing it on a character that has another mastery card on it. Given that our goal with this deck is to play very defensively, Soresu Mastery is our form of choice, meaning that Niman Mastery really falls off. Enter Force Focus. It gives you the same special chaining ability, and it can allow you to turn an opponent's dice to any side as well, making it defensive. And the two resource sides on the dice are rather nice too.
Fatal Blow-Turning a two damage side on Palpatine into a six can easily allow you to spike a droid. Or it can chunk a bigger character quite a bit. And six isn't even the cap, it's just a reasonable expectation for round two. Late game this can easily swing you into a powerful lead, or even end the game well before your opponent expects it.
Force Rend-This is a rarely played card, and probably for good reason. The modified two range side is insulting, and poor in this deck with so few base range sides to work with. But given that your goal is to accumulate a lot of money, rending an opponent's Fickle Mercenaries for one (rather than buying it for two) or stopping that Ezra's Lightsaber from redeploying can be great effects for you. Depending on how this plays and how much you are actually able to stop your opponent's ramp, this might be one of the first cards to go. But it's definitely worth a look.
Desperate Measures-Watto is here almost exclusively for this card. He allows you to play it, and he absorbs all of the damage from it. Playing Desperate Measures on almost any support gives you a huge advantage, whether stopping wars over Fickle Mercenaries, or even keeping Vader's Fist off the table, playing this will give you a huge advantage.
Forbidden Lore-This is niche resource generation, but if you meet the play conditions it can be one of the best in the game. In this deck it gives you a resource and allows you to draw a card. The effect is comparable to Respite, except you don't have to exhaust a character, which puts it ahead of the curve when compared to all other standard resource generation cards when you meet its play conditions.
Mysteries of the Force-This is the second card that might be on the chopping block early. It is way too swingy to be effective. That being said, if you can pull it off you could play two Force Storms and a Force Wave for free and get three extra health in the process. And it fits perfectly with Palpatine, and this deck in particular, for several different reasons. First of all, of the five required dice sides, the only one this deck does not start with is the special, and almost every single upgrade has one or two of those on it. Second, if you do the math, you almost always have to have an upgrade in play to remove five dice, which means you're going to be capping one character on upgrades by playing this. Not so on Palpatine, who will simply add them to his collection of abilities. And finally, the advantage this deck has in playing Mysteries of the Force is that it can afford to sacrifice five dice to pull it off, because if you're slowing your opponent enough and ramping enough, losing a round of dice to gain two rounds of ramp will not be fatal to you.
Force Jump-This card is excellent in Palpatine decks because he can get so much value out of it where other decks cannot. It is low cost, making it very easy to play on him. It gives him an extra health. It doesn't take a valuable upgrade slot. And it is very good defensively, allowing you do blank damage and get it back into your pool to repeat the effect on another action. Or you can resolve it for shields adding to your health pool. As an additional benefit, any of Force Jump's sides can be used with Mysteries of the Force, which can help give you that early lead.
Soresu Mastery-There are currently two deck types that can effectively use Soresu Mastery: Palpatine and Mill. Otherwise spending that many resources and taking an upgrade slot for a defensive upgrade is painful and usually not worth it. But with Palpatine you are wanting to load him up with big defensive upgrades, and Soresu Mastery is the biggest and baddest of those upgrades. One note, usually running two copies of a card you can play only one copy of, like Vader's Fist or Dagger of Mortis, is only done so that you can ensure an earlier draw. That is also true for Soresu Mastery. The difference is that the second copy is not useless but you can overwrite the first copy for the on-play effect of removing a dice. And removing a dice for zero cost and one card is well above curve for removal.
Soresu Training-Again, another defensive card. While you can use the special to play Soresu Mastery, I would only do that if both copies are in your discard pile. Otherwise you want to keep Soresu Training on Palpatine because it boosts his health, and the special for two shields can go a very long way in protecting him from lethal damage.
Bacta Therapy-By round two you should be able to heal for three damage minimum, making this on curve damage reduction, by round three you should be able to get maximum healing from Bacta, taking huge amounts of damage off of Palpatine. In the decks where Bacta works, it really works.
Dangerous Maneuver-This is where Watto comes into play again. If your opponent is dealing direct damage to Palpatine in order to burst him down before he can get his defenses up, then you can move some of that damage to Watto, protecting Palpatine for much longer. Another option is if you are worried you opponent will be dealing unblockable damage past your shields you can use this to heal damage and put it on Palpatine’s shields to increase his health.
Hidden Motive-This is the only dice removal event in the deck, and it's not even always that. For being free it is rather strong, but it comes with the risk of allowing your opponent to still resolve the dice. But sometimes it is important to just remove an opponent's dice as a threat, which this does very well for free, leaving your resources for more upgrades on Palpatine.
Theed Royal Palace-There are several options here. Salt Flats is useful because it can provide you with both offense and defense options, blanking an opponent's dice or turning one of Palpatine's to the side you need. But Theed is strong because it can allow you to turn any one of your dice into a resource, letting you ramp and get more damage or defense on the table. And let's be fair, you should have plenty of dice that you can sacrifice one for that resource you need.
One important thing to note about this deck is the way that it plays defensively. There is only one traditional removal card in the deck, and there is only one card that when played will guarantee removal of a dice. This deck plays defense by making Palpatine have the highest health in the game by playing all of your upgrades on him and makes him hard to kill by shielding up consistently over the game. Never be afraid to take shields. As the game has shifted to incremental damage, where a lot of damage is done in short bursts over the round, all of the shields this deck plays will really mitigate the incoming damage. This is very common against decks like Aphra, Ewoks, and Droids, where either the damage doesn’t come from dice or comes from dice you can’t interact with. Blocking and healing the damage is really the way to go. Some damage will get through, but your goal is to reduce the amount of damage as you increase Palpatine's health until he is eliminating characters with all of the damage dice he can field. In one sense the defense in this deck looks like that in a mill deck, where the goal is to stall your opponent's damage until you can outrace them to get to your win condition before they get to theirs.
Another thing I want to add is some of the cards I was thinking of including in this deck and might rotate in as I try things out:
Bartering-A one cost ability, which is always a consideration when playing Palpatine because it is cheap health. This has three sides that can give you a resource (the modifier is meh, but not too awful, especially since Watto has a couple base sides you can pair with it), and a side with a focus, which is a huge boon since there are so many dice with sides that you much prefer to others.
Pulse Cannon-This is the second non-ability upgrade I have considered for this deck. The reason I would include it is in case Watto needs a closer. There are very few cards Watto can use, and if you lose Palpatine early you're in deep trouble. Well with Watto equipped with a Pulse Cannon or two he should be able to close out a game if he is left alive.
Shatter Point-Given the number of abilities you will be stacking on Palpatine, this could easily discard any number of your opponent's cards. The problem is that it is very limited, only being able to deal with weapons or equipment. It would be great to get rid of some of the upgrades that droids play like the Dagger of Mortis, but Force Rend, while it costs more, can get rid of any upgrade or any support, so it is generally better. If the meta becomes more weapons and equipment heavy, however, Shatter Point will become viable in this deck.
Underhanded Tactics-This is another one cost ability for Palpatine. But it is also great for focus chaining, since you can use this special to resolve a Palpatine two focus to get specials on big cards like Force Wave or Force Storm, then resolve those without having them removed.
It Binds All Things-Given that the majority of this deck is blue upgrades, this can give you value over the game. But with support hate being where it is, and the amount of time it takes to get value out of this it can be risky. On the flip side, given that this deck's strategy is to drag out the game you should be able to get multiple rounds of use out of it, so it’s worth consideration.
Breaking Bonds-Downgrades have been hit or miss, but sometimes it is rather important to be able to remove one like a Target Acquired or Possessed. Breaking Bonds is great for that, and it can allow you to blank a dice. The danger is if you find Palpatine threatened defeat by a Mind Extraction. Protective Suit would be a preemptive play to keep that from happening. But if you don't get your Protective Suit early enough, then it becomes worthless.
Electromagnetic Pulse-This is really a meta call. But given that the game is 50% droids, and the other 50% usually have some sort of vehicle, this is really a value play.
This deck has a lot of room for growth, and probably needs more sensible options and less fun ones. But I always love starting with all of my fun ideas and as I test and play I weed out all of my bad ideas or the good ideas that just don't work and replacing them with more sensible or meta calls as the tournament day draws closer. In the meantime, remember, it's a game, so if you're not having fun, you're probably doing it wrong!
Thanks for reading!
Author - People’s Champion