I decided to play TNG since I thought they were the strongest, decklist here. The three other players played Romulan, Klingon, and Androids. So I felt like I got to see most of the themes in this format.
The game is not without its issues, however. I’ve had some players texting me, asking me what I thought about playing Excelsior, so here is my Day 0 report: pros, cons, and other observations.
Pro #1: New dilemmas.
The first thing I did when deciding what to play was look through the dilemmas and “circle” the dilemmas that I thought would be strong in this format. There are some overpowered dilemmas in this format (see Con #1), but a lot of mediocre dilemmas in standard that shine in this format. Nose to Nose and Chula: The Precipice were great for me. I did not play it, but got hit by Dragon’s Teeth twice. Skill tracking was valuable here with Cornered being a strong card since players tend to go planet first. In the three games, I probably played and faced more unique dilemmas than the past 3 years combined.
Pro #2: Discovering personnel-missions combinations.
As many of the overly powerful missions have been eliminated from this format, deckbuilding to find the right combination of missions and personnel was a blast. My deckbuilding strategy was to find the non-unique personnel, match them to missions, and assess the overlap. There are probably much better combinations than the ones I came up with (and I only really considered Feds), so I am really looking forward to refining this process.
Pro #3: Playing the meta.
In standard, there is usually such a wide range of affiliations and decktypes so much that playing the meta – that is, selecting certain cards in deckbuilding for the decks you might face – is generally not advisable competitively or needs to be overly generic (e.g., Grav-Plating Trap). Early in deckbuilding, I learned that In Development was going to be a very strong dilemma and players may play multiple copies, making Robin Lefler a strong meta counter. I also played many more planet dilemmas than I usually do since I expected most players would go P-P-S in this format. It’ll be fun to see how the meta adapts over time.
Pro #4: No Fed Disadvantage.
In standard, Federation has felt like being at a disadvantage because Moral Choice is a common dilemma. For this reason, I rarely choose to play them in standard. Since this, Discommendation, and Weight of Command are all in this format, and for now equally likely to be played, there is a fair playing field.
Pro #5: Short tournament.
We started the tournament shortly after 1 pm, and a few minutes after the event I checked the time and realized we had finished the 3 round tournament before 4:25. That’s pretty good.
Con #1: Overpowered dilemmas.
In Development is an incredibly strong dilemma in this format since it is nearly impossible to construct a deck that does not include a large number of low cost personnel. This acts as both a wall and a filter for a number of the multiple kill dilemmas in the format. Because this dilemma functions as three auto-stops, the default play I arrived at is to simply swarm missions with multiple attempts. Shocking Betryal is also very strong, particularly with TNG who has access to both Stefan DeSeve and K’Ehleyr. Finally the Moral/Discom/Weight combination, while fair, makes less interesting dilemma plays. I’d be in favor of removing each of these since they are simply too good and don’t require much thought to play.
Con #2: Shorter games? Uncertain.
I went to the 50-minute time in 2 of my 3 games. This is related to Con #1 since I think games extended largely because dilemmas were pretty strong relative to the personnel. Also, in each of the three games, I never paid the 3 discards to download a ship, even though in 2 of them I had no ships in my opening hand. This is in spite of only have 2 ships (+ Picard) in the deck. So while the tournament was short, it’s hard to say if Excelsior games are any shorter.
Observation #1: Removal of At What Cost?
After the event, we had a lengthy discussion on balancing the format and making it more fun. I was, and am, convinced that the dilemmas I mentioned above are the root cause. Others thought AWC was a problem since it disproportionately hurt Klingons who did not have access to 5 points early, and it was quickly removed from the format. I think this will be a severe blow to the power of Romulans and have minimal effect on TNG. The 5 counters spent to play and draw Guinan+AWC and the price of dead draw makes it pretty marginal, while Romulans are generally designed to play with a bunch of events. Being unable to convert those events into speed will kill them. I think my v0.99 thoughts were TNG > Klingon > Romulan, so now I’d say TNG > Klingon >> Romulan.
Observation #2: Kills everywhere.
Many dilemmas in this format kill multiple personnel. With few command stars to staff ships, Escape is incredibly strong to save your butt. It’ll be interesting to see if Amanda Rogers becomes a meta card to counter the saves.