BOOM! I begin the paragraph with all-caps bold text. It must be important. There are many other sentences in this paragraph, and those other sentences are made up of words, and each of those words are important. But you are going to remember that bold, underlined, all-caps word at the beginning, right? BOOM! How can you not? But, when you get right down to it, it mattered a lot at the beginning, and once in the middle, but not at the end. The most important part happens at the end, in this paragraph and in this week’s Arena: Right here, when I tell you that this week’s scenario rule matters but it isn’t the most important thing to win the majority of your games.

Welcome to the Arena for week eleven: Entrenched Loyalties.

Format Rules and Technical Data

The scenario rule for Entrenched Loyalties gives you the ability to have a dramatic start.

At the start of the game, each player is assigned a faction at random. Cards of that faction cost that player 1 trade less to acquire. The same faction may be assigned to both players.

This week, we’ve got the “bottom row” of sets to play with: Colony Wars, Promo Pack 2, and United Command. Because of the larger effects on cards in these sets, games will tend to be slightly faster on average than games that use the “top row” sets. I played a deliberately-slower style this week so my average game took 21 turns. If I had played a more-flexible style the average would have likely been in the 17-18 turn range.

There is an important detail to know about the cost-reduction the scenario provides: it does not make “acquire for free” cards any better. In the app, Parasite, Moonwurm, and Leviathan care about the printed cost of the card. You can’t acquire a seven-cost card in your chosen with Parasite, for instance.

Blob gains strength this week.

Because this week’s rule cares about buying cards from the trade row, the Blobs trade-row scrappers become more important than otherwise. None of the other factions gain or lose too much this week, I feel. I used Swarmer, Ravager, and Unity Fighter in almost every game, regardless of the deck I was building. I feel this was a key part to my success, as this allowed me to dictate the economic battlefield in the midgame.

United Command cards should be purchased almost every time.

Buy basically every dual-faction card you can. They are all great. If you aren’t getting them cheap due to the scenario rule, your opponent will instead on their next turn, so there is ANOTHER reason to buy them.

As a side note, the presence of United Command makes Mercenary Garrison worth buying. When you are getting one or two abilities, Mercenary Garrison is pretty good but nothing amazing. With the dual-faction cards, getting three or even four abilities is very doable!

Sometimes, luck happens.

This week’s scenario rule speaks only to the cost of acquiring cards from the trade row. As acquiring cards becomes less important as the game goes on, the value of this scenario also decreases over time. On the first two turns, the value is at its highest. This means that you may be able to get to the midgame faster than you normally would, but it also might mean that luck can play a bigger role than normal.

25% of the time, both players will get the same faction given to them by the scenario. In roughly half of those games, the first player will be able to buy all of the cards of that faction from the trade row. (Because only one shows up, or because they are all cheap, etc.) This player will have a huge advantage going into deck two. The game isn’t “over,” but it can be a bit tough to take.

Roughly one in eight games will begin like this. Since each player has an equal chance of going first, roughly one in sixteen games you will have a big advantage, and roughly one in sixteen games your opponent will have a big advantage. This is less swingyness than in games using the first Gambit set, but it is more swingyness than the normal Star Realms experience.

Sometimes, luck happens. In the game log at the end of this article, I point out how the luck swung my way into victory a couple of times… and it swung against me too. Handling the downturn and bouncing back — especially taking a break after a bad beat — is an important skill you may need this week.

Conclusion and Game Log

This week’s Arena is straight-forward. Play what makes you happy, keeping in mind that Blob is slightly elevated versus the other factions this week. Pay attention to the faction bonus the scenario gives to you, but don’t force it. But above all else: go with the flow. This week is more swingy than most — something you’ll see in the stream of my first arena run. I overcame this difficulty and picked up a foil Mech World for my efforts this week.

I stream most of my Arena games on Monday of each week on my Twitch channel. I hope to see you there next week. And, in the meantime, good luck in the Arena!

FIRST RUN (small notes – you can see most of the games in the link above)
Turn 22 win with 14 authority remaining. The game began with many cards on the trade row in my faction (Trade Federation this time), but shifting to Blob when my opponent purchased several bases was key.

Turn 25 win with 1 authority remaining. The curse is real! I think I’ve lost every game I’ve ever played where I left my opponent at 1, and won every time I have been left at 1.

Turn 19 win with 20 authority remaining. Machine Cult Gets There!

Turn 25 win with 23 authority remaining. Messy game.

Turn 24 win with 15 authority remaining. Full scrap gave me just enough to overcome my opponent’s powerful deck. They had no scrapping at all.

Turn 17 loss with 8 authority remaining for my opponent, Marte816. He outraced me by a turn.

Turn 18 loss with 12 authority remaining for my opponent, Gnomercy. Coalition Freighter is amazing.

Turn 25 win with 32 authority remaining. A nearly full scrap coupled with a four-discard turn sealed the win. My “loyalties” were not with Star Empire, but when I had the chance to go for the full discard, I had to try. It paid off.

Turn 22 win with 2 authority remaining. I nearly reached the full scrap using Machine Cult cards, even though I was given Trade Federation as my faction for the game. I’m learning that while the faction bonus matters, having a sound general strategy is more important.

Turn 18 win with 29 authority remaining. Loyal Colony stayed in play for three turns in a row. I was a bit lucky to have that happen, but you aren’t going to lose too many games when that does happen. Drafting Blob cards (cheaper due to the scenario rule) let me control the trade row to keep this game short and to the point.

Turn 15 win with 32 authority remaining. Luck will play a factor in some of these games. My opponent had the same faction as I did for this game, Blob, and I went first. I purchased the only two Blob cards in the trade row, Cargo Pod (which let me buy expensive cards throughout the game) and Predator (which prevented my opponent from purchasing great cards from the trade row).

Turn 23 loss with 2 authority remaining for my opponent Ulisses. Right down to the wire. We both had Trade Federation and neither of us saw many of those cards throughout the game. Tough loss to take.

Turn 19 win with 12 authority remaining. Factory World has the added ability to make your ally triggers more likely to work, and it was that, plus the extra 6 defense, that gave me one extra turn. And during that final turn, my opponent purchased right before their shuffle and a Warning Beacon was left in the trade row for me to purchase. The two damage from Warning Beacon was the difference in the game. Again, luck is a thing in this format a bit more than in other ones.

Turn 23 win with 27 authority remaining. Was given the Machine Cult faction versus Trade Empire, which made this game a race of the full scrap versus the unstoppable card drawing damage dealing Team Blue. I got there first. A key tactic is that I was “hate drafting” slightly more than my opponent, buying a Federation Shipyard just to deny it to my opponent. The 6 defense was nice to have, of course, but it was key that I kept my opponent from comboing off with such a powerful card.

Andrea Davis is an award-winning designer and producer. They have designed Star Realms promos, Hero Realms Boss Decks, and cards for Epic Card Game. Andrea is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Game Design and Development at the University of Limerick in Ireland.