Imperial Operatives: Operative Vader

Badass Bounty Hunters or Broken Down Burnouts, Part 2 of 3

Introduction

With our previous episode, we took a look at the Bounty Hunter - Boba Fett. We now turn our attention to Operative Darth Vader, possibly the coolest and darkest villain in movie history.

Star Wars Legion gives us the ability to field Vader on the table and who wouldn’t want to field this menacing Sith Apprentice.

I have invested a large amount of time on the table and at a competitive level running Operative Vader through his paces. This article is a result of my findings and again, as in the first episode, this is my opinion. Others may have had different experiences and come up with other tactics so take this in with a grain of salt!

Join me as we descend into darkness…

Darth Vader – The Emperor’s Apprentice

Operative Vader has never really had his day in the sun. While he has some interesting tricks and ploys that can be utilized, he feels constantly outclassed and out fought by other force users and melee units.

He was released at an initial points cost of 170pts which felt high right out of the gate and even now at his adjusted price of 155pts, it still feels too much for what he brings to the table and certainly, when compared to other force users. He has a long list of weaknesses that require bolstering not just with upgrades to himself but with extra companion units that can cover his weak defense, low hit points and inaccuracy on attack.

Operative Vader feels like an attempt to remedy the tragedy that was the Commander Vader release by addressing his speed and cost issue while bringing more command card options. For the most part it resulted in a weakened and watered down version that can’t hold his own in a melee fight for long and must skulk behind LOS blocking terrain for most of the game because he also can’t survive ranged fire for even a short period.

Even so, because the Empire faction is desperately lacking affordable Force Users and melee linebackers, and, because Darth Vader is the most iconic villain in Star Wars lore, you may still be tempted to run him in your army. If you are willing to spend the points and build around him, there are builds and lists that can get some mileage out of this Dark Apprentice.

Unit Breakdown

  • Current points cost: 155pts (down from 170pts)

  • Keywords: Deflect, Immune Pierce, Jedi Hunter, Master Of The Force 1, Relentless, Spur

  • Effective Wounds (Expected hits before defeated): 12.00 plus Immune Pierce

  • Dice

    • No Surge on Attack

    • Red No Surge on Defense

Operative Vader’s lightsaber is capable of decent damage in melee if you can get him there and especially if you can supply him an aim when he arrives. He should be able to reliably put 3-4 damage on any armor units and if you can do so with a first/last maneuver and with combined fire from other units, he can kill a single armor unit in two turns.

Against infantry and other non-pierce immune units, he is likely to manage 4-5 wounds which means he is capable of one shot killing many units except B1’s or Arcs/Mando’s etc. Tenacity is a good upgrade to raise that damage output even higher though a wounded Operative Vader (required for tenacity) is a fragile and dangerous gamble. It is recommended to avoid other force users on the table unless he has assistance in melee or the target is already severely wounded as Vader’s middling damage output against pierce immune targets and practically non-existent defense means he is unlikely to win any one-on-one duels.

Force Throw can’t be counted on for reliable damage. Combined with Vader’s Relentless, it is a great ability to pull enemy units out of heavy cover for the rest of your army to unload on or to stretch the gap combined with force push to get Vader into melee safety with an already activated unit if he finds himself short.

While Saber Throw is an option, considering that Operative Vader has Force Throw naturally, only two Force Upgrade slots and Saber Throw’s weakness against units in cover – it is probably best to leave this power at home.

Command Cards

Implacable (One Pip)

To make use of Implacable, Vader needs high hitpoints (as he takes a wound to utilize the card) and be in the middle of a couple of enemy units with which to maximize his offense. Neither of these are a good idea with Operative Vader and he will often find himself dead before he gets the second attack off unless you were able to keep him safe and still within striking distance of already activated enemy units till near the end of the turn, this is a lot harder than it sounds. Most opponents will either fall back out of range or try and thrash your Vader before his token can be pulled again.  This card is not recommended in an Operative Vader build.

Vader’s Might (One Pip)

Arguably one of Vader’s best Command Cards. This is a potential game winner and should always be in your hand. The uses are numerous from throwing opponents off objectives to placing them on terrain they can’t escape from or into the open to be blown apart by the rest of your troop’s firepower. Using this on large units can also result in a lot of wounds on a lucky roll. You can also use the card on your own units to whisk them to safety or push them further toward an objective or weak point. Experiment with the many uses of this card and don’t leave home without it.

New Ways to Motivate Them (Two Pip)

Upon initial inspection this card looks rough. Yet another of Vader’s Command Cards where you need to take wounds to perform abilities. However, with experimentation and in conjunction with Medbots, you can pull off some nice surprises for your opponent. Hitting objectives he thought were safe, getting high offense units into strong firing positions that will catch enemies in the open or powering melee units down the board and into the fray (which also activates Tenacity if you take the upgrade). At worst, this card is the equal of Push and at best it can be a game winner. You should have this card in your deck when taking Vader.

Fear and Dead Men (Two Pip)

This card may have some use on the higher hit point Commander Vader but it is not recommended on Operative Vader. Needing to be at close range and in line of sight of multiple enemy units is not something Operative Vader enjoys and it is not likely to end well. Vader still takes wounds from incoming attacks and your opponent will likely gladly sacrifice a few infantry models to destroy the Sith.

Master of Evil (Three Pip)

Even with the impact of suppression being lessened recently due to CIS generally ignoring it, GAR having largely Courage 2+ lists, and Rebels with multiple high Courage heroes and command cards that diffuse the tokens – this card still has a place. Firstly; Vader gains a rare and badly needed Dodge token. Secondly; three suppression on units that are pushing for, or trying to hold an objective on a final turn can be a game winner. This card should be in your hand unless you are combining Operative Vader with other heroes that may provide a stronger Three Pip option for your list build.

Darkness Descends (Three Pip)

On the surface, this sounds like a great card – Vader with infiltrate and scout? Yes please! In practice because you reveal it before deployment and then deploy last, it means your opponent will ensure they block out all your good insertion points with their own scout and infiltrate. They also know what your first card play is on turn one and can capitalize from this. You may still be able to squeak out some territory gain that may be worth it on the slower Commander Vader but that gain is generally not worth losing a three pip for Operative Vader even with the surges it brings. Operative Vader needs to be supported by other units that can buff or heal him so deep striking him to the other side of the board where your opponent can isolate and destroy him or simply fall back and render him ineffective is not recommended.

Strengths

  • ·Some interesting Command Cards that can create combos that can catch unwary or inexperienced opponents off-guard.

  • A powerful linebacker that can anchor your line and protect your melee vulnerable gunline if you can build around him and afford the point’s investment.

  • Empires cheapest Force User.

Weaknesses

  • Needs to be supported by Medbots and units that provide Aims, Dodges and Surges to give him survivability and effectiveness.

  • Low speed without jump means he can be out maneuvered and can find it difficult to get into the positions he needs to be in.

  • Suppression is a constant battle which must be managed or he can lose actions which is disastrous to Force Users.

  • Getting orders on Vader can be difficult if you run Command Cards from other Operatives (Boba Fett or Bossk) or Commanders that are order hungry and don’t share well (Iden Versio).

  • Operative Vader is expensive and combined with the high cost of other Imperial units, you will need to make sacrifices to reach a decent Activation count. As an Operative, you still need to run a Commander and so a multiple “Hero Hammer” list will usually only field one other named character as opposed to other factions such as Rebels.

Recommended Upgrades

Operative Vader comes with Two Force Slots and One Training Slot.

Force Slots

  • Anger: You are likely trying to prevent Operative Vader taking any wounds at all. Vader has so few wounds and such poor defense that he is unlikely to get much use from this upgrade over a six turn game. This upgrade is likely better suited to the higher hit point Commander Vader who also has an extra Force slot.

  • Battle Meditation: This upgrade may have use in some builds where you don’t mind giving his orders to other units. A truly support build Vader may use this upgrade.

  • Fear: Suppression can be largely mitigated by most factions in the current meta and so this upgrade will find limited use and would take up one of Vader’s two valuable Force Slots.

  • Force Barrier: Operative Vader is largely a support unit in many builds and Force Barrier will help him to keep his troops alive as he slogs up field towards the enemy lines. A good choice of upgrade for any player who runs his Vader surrounded by other units.

  • Force Choke: A valuable upgrade for killing off opponent’s heavy weapons and unit leaders on objectives. At a cost of 5 points, this upgrade will pay for itself multiple times in an offensive Vader build.

  • Force Guidance: For the most part Vader needs to be receiving Surge tokens and not passing them out. There may be a place for this upgrade in a support build Vader but for the most part you are probably better off with Force Barrier in that case.

  • Force Push: This card is considered mandatory on almost all Force Users. It is a game winner on objectives and will help extricate Vader from the melees he couldn’t quite finish or pull your opponents into melee with him. You should take this upgrade on Vader unless you have a very good reason not to.

  • Force Reflexes: At 5pts, you could do worse than this upgrade. As it requires you to activate Vader and tap the card it means he won’t get use out of it on those turns where you’re holding him until the end of the round. There are likely better choices but some players may find this card suits their playstyle.

  • Saber Throw: As discussed above, Operative Vader already comes with Force Throw as a ranged attack and so taking Saber Throw in one of his two valuable Force slots is probably unnecessary.

Training Slots

  • Defensive Stance: Due to Vader’s speed limitations he is usually double moving which rarely leaves much room for Dodge actions; he would be unlikely to get a lot of use from this upgrade over a game of six turns.

  • Offensive Stance: Due to Vader’s speed limitations he is usually double moving which rarely leaves much room for Aim actions; he would be unlikely to get a lot of use from this upgrade over a game of six turns.

  • Duck and Cover: Operative Vader struggles enough with suppression without voluntarily taking more tokens.

  • Endurance: Due to his constant struggle with suppression between Spur and incoming fire, Endurance is a great upgrade choice. This card mitigates one of Operative Vader’s major issues.

  • Hunter: While not an inherently bad upgrade choice, others may be better. Operative Vader doesn’t want to be in melee combat with other multi-wound Force Users and would prefer to be wading through squads of enemy troops or trashing an armor unit if possible.

  • Offensive Push: A good upgrade which makes Vader’s greatest strength (melee lightsaber attacks) even better. Operative Vader may also need to recover during a game to mitigate suppression or bring back both of his Force Powers which would also refresh Offensive Push.

  • Overwatch: Operative Vader is unlikely to take many standby actions during a game as he is either moving to the action or wading through the action. While this card may have some applications in certain list builds you are probably better to go with a different upgrade for him here.

  • Seize the Initiative: Another upgrade that addresses one of his weaknesses if your list includes other order hog units (other Operatives etc.). It also allows 1-2 combinations in conjunction with other unit’s high power Command Cards like Whipcord, Pulse Scan or Merciless Munitions. If you are taking Operative Vader with Boba Fett, Bossk or Iden Versio, you should seriously consider this upgrade.

  • Situational Awareness: If equipping a tailing unit with a Portable Scanner to supply Vader with a Dodge every turn, this upgrade could be considered. Builds that try and capitalize on the Fear and Dead Men and Master of Evil Command cards or Force Reflexes may also find this upgrade viable. If not following this path with your Vader, you are better with other upgrade options.

  • Tenacity: Improving Operative Vader’s offense even further is a strong plan but holding a wound on him could be akin to riding the lightning. He already starts with a low hit point total and you want to keep him at full health whenever possible as his weak defense means it is possible to one-shot him if caught in a compromising position. This upgrade is for those players who want to throw their Vader into the fray and don’t expect him to survive the game.

Typical builds for Operative Vader range from 174 to 180pts

A Comparative Look

Again it is difficult to compare units in Legion across factions. It is difficult to capture the strength of Command Cards, the ease with which units can pull Aim, Dodge and Surge tokens or the synergy within the faction with the specified unit. While Operative Vader rates adequately on the face of his command card, especially in offense (though movement is obviously lacking) it can be argued that he is lowest in class when comparing Command Card abilities, token generation and internal faction synergy.

Accumulated Wisdom

What are an opponent’s initial thoughts when they see Operative Vader put down on the table opposite them?

  • Orkimedes:“Need to zone the infiltrate.  Beyond that, keep him suppressed.  If he dives on your line make sure you have a response for him.  He can be kited once suppressed but if he gets into your line without having taken many wounds he can pretty much solo your army if you don't have your own force user.”

  • ODSTGeneral17:SHOOT HER”

  • ASpaceViking:Stay out of Vader’s might distance and I’m good. His saber and burst isn’t enough against b1s to matter if he hits my core. Mainly worried about him messing up my position with scatter and VM vs doing damage”

  • Endless: “try to stay beyond range 3 if possible, force throw with scatter can get you in hot water, shoot him with HV units if he has a dodge, you may out-activate them and if so, have last/first potential”

  • TwopennyQuasar :Just stay out of his push/Vader's might range and force him to come to me”

  • Thrawn:I have yet to play a game against Op Vader. I was playing 2 to almost 3 games a week at one point during this pandemic. Zero games vs Op Vader. I think that speaks volumes.”

  • KUPiranha:“Pretty sure I haven't played against or with OP Vader”

  • TalkPolite:“Tarpit, ignore, or hit with large pool before he's dodged up.”

  • GhostWalking:“Fire every gun at this man! Pierce 3 and Choke are no laughing matter, and he is deceptively quick with Spur and Scatter, so hitting him early and putting wounds on Vader whenever possible is the goal. Outside of triple dewbacks, Vader tends to still be the only main "centerpiece" and once he falls, I can quickly clean up.”

  • Jasonisconfused: “A saber-wielder whose best asset is his huge hand of command cards and affordable price. Like commander Vader, maintain distance from him to minimize his impact. If he starts to close, suppress him so he can't Spur. Expect to dedicate a full turn of shooting to killing him.”

  • Luke Cook: “Stay away from his threat range, especially be conscious of last/ first moves. He’s only got 6 health so shooting him early is a good idea. Suppression can really build up on him and cause him to lose actions.”

Your opponents are going to create space around your Operative Vader. They will then either draw him out or besiege his position and pour fire on him until he has breathed his last raspy rattle. You’ll need to find ways using the terrain and his Command Cards to break free of your containment and catch them off guard if possible.

Summary

Compared to Force Users from other factions Operative Vader has a hard time procuring a constant stream of Aims, Dodges or Surge tokens and may require a dedicated “dogs body” officer or unit that tails him and supplies those things. His low hit points on top of this means he usually needs two Medbot units in his general vicinity to ensure he doesn’t get shot off the board in a single turn. Suppression is a nightmare as he builds it simply from moving at a regular units pace and from incoming fire; you need either the Endurance upgrade, a good source of Inspire or Compel or, be prepared to waste actions recovering. When you start adding up all the opportunity costs that are required to field Operative Vader you come to realize that he is not as cheap (compared to other force users) as you would initially think, or that his unit card displays.

Operative Vader is not fast enough or tough enough to be a front line assault unit but becomes too expensive and requires too much coddling to be fielded as the linebacker role he really fits into. While you can attempt to use him as a flanking unit, if your opponent directs any meaningful resistance to block him, Vader will struggle without support. Vader can’t cover ground or jump over terrain (even with spur) to get him where you need him and so often benefits better from situations where enemy squads have to come to him.

We eventually come to the conclusion that Operative Vader is a support character who will reinforce your troops but in-turn needs support and reinforcing of his own to be able to do so. The points required to invest in him means you need very specific builds and a very specific plan or you are likely better to invest this large amount of points elsewhere. The real tragedy here is that Empire currently has no mobile fast attack force users/saber wielders while other factions have multiple. Usually the best counter to a force user is another force user but Empire has a very real gap in this area that Operative Vader should have addressed if he had been designed better.

There has been much discussion on how to improve him and this ranges from giving him keywords like Armor, Reliable, Defend and Surge to hit along with many other ideas. Neither of the Vader’s have ever felt like the terrifying juggernaut from the source material that he should be and even with points adjustments and a second release, the designers have yet to hit the right mark with him. All Empire players dream of the day that we finally get the Vader from the movies and until then we have to make use of what we have here…