This unit guide will cover Darth Vader the Emperor’s Apprentice. The huge buffs in the 2021 points update have turned Operative Vader (Op Vader) into one of the most powerful units in the game. He is points efficient and deadly; he will obliterate virtually any unit that stands in his way.
- Health: 21 effective wounds
- Damage: 5 Red Dice, Pierce 3, Impact 3
- 6 Command Cards
- Courage 3
- Cost only 175 points (20 points cheaper than Operative Luke and Count Dooku)
- 4 Command Cards that only issue Vader an order
- Only 2 Force Upgrade slots
175 points may initially seem expensive, however, when you compare Operative Vader to other similar units it becomes clear that he is extremely cheap. For example, Op Vader is 20 points less than both Operative Luke and Count Dooku. Ignoring Op Vader, Maul is considered by many to be the best force user. For only 15 points more than Maul, you gain effectively 2 health, Master of the Force, a ranged attack (with scatter), and 3 command cards. This means Op Vader is extremely competitively priced and is an auto-include in most competitive Empire armies.
Operative Vader has 5 red dice with Impact 3 and Pierce 3 on his melee attack. This can be further augmented with Tenacity and Vader’s 3 pip Darkness Descends giving Reliable 2, which is essentially surge to hit or defend. Without Tenacity, Op Vader averages 4.37 hits, and averages 5.25 hits with tenacity. This means that Op Vader can consistently one-shot most corps units and deal 3+ wounds to armor in a single attack. In addition to Vader’s melee attack he has Force Throw which is range 1-2 with 2 black dice, Blast, and Scatter. While this attack only averages 1.25 hits and may seem underwhelming, Scatter is an extremely useful keyword.
Operative Vader has 7 health with Immune Pierce and red saves. Again his 3 pip Darkness Descends effectively gives Vader surge to block on defense. 7 health with surging red saves is 21 effective wounds which is higher than any other force user beside Commander Vader. This combined with 3 of Vader’s command cards which give him dodges, makes Op Vader very difficult to kill.
Operative Vader brings amazing utility to objectives and is great at supporting aggressive melee units like Dewbacks or Imperial Royal Guards. For objective play Op Vader is excellent at controlling enemy units with Force Push and his 1 pip Vader’s Might. Both these effects allow you to move an opposing unit and are good on objectives like Hostage Exchange and Key Positions. Vader’s 2 pip New Ways to Motivate Them (NWTMT) is great for closing the gap with units like Dewbacks. NWTMT makes Dewbacks’ threat range nearly range 4, resulting in a devastating alpha strike.
Op Vader is speed 2 with Relentless. While speed 2 is quite average, Vader has some other tricks up his sleeve that extend his threat range. First, Relentless makes Vader’s threat range with Saber Throw or Force Throw roughly range 4. Second, combining Scatter from Force Throw, Force Choke, and Force Push can extend your melee engagement range to range 3. (I will go into more details on how to do this later). You can also combine Burst of Speed with Vader’s 1 pip Implacable to move roughly range 4 in a single turn. All this together makes Op Vader surprisingly mobile despite only being speed 2.
As a rule of thumb, you always want to equip two force upgrades on Operative Vader. This upgrade slot is extremely competitive since Vader has master of the Force 1 and only two upgrade slots. Some of you may be wondering why I did not include Burst of Speed or Force Reflexes so I will briefly cover why I prefer these 3 options. I think Burst of Speed is unnecessary since Op Vader has a longer than normal engagement range with abilities from his command cards such as Implacable, Vader’s Might, and Darkness Descends, as well as Scatter. Similarly, I think Force Reflexes is not necessary since three of Vader’s command cards give him dodges outright and Darkness Descends can give you surges from Reliable 2.
Force Choke is best against gunline armies. The ability deals a wound to any mini in range meaning you can kill the heavy model in a core unit. This can cripple the ranged firepower of gunline armies. Currently gunlines are struggling against aggressive armies such as Vader Dews and Wookiees, so Force Choke has slightly less value than normal. Force Choke also extends the range that Vader can engage into melee, explained below. 1: Start at slightly less than Range 3 of a trooper unit. 2: Move. 3: Move. 4: Force Throw and Scatter the unit forward. 5: Force Choke the unit leader forcing them to now make one of the scattered models the unit leader. 6: Force push the unit into base contact.
Force Push is an auto include on every force user (except Palpatine) and Op Vader is no different. This card allows Vader to escape Melee when engaged by a non-ideal target, such as a naked B1 unit. It also is amazing at controlling objectives and pushing opposing units out of scoring zones. No matter the matchup Force Push is always a valuable tool.
While Op Vader already has a ranged attack, Saber Throw is a solid upgrade as a hedge against armor. Since Vader’s lightsaber has Impact 3 and Pierce 3, Saber Throw often results in an automatic 3 damage to armored units. Currently, the two most popular archetypes are Armor Skew and Melee Spam. Since Force Choke is not effective against armor or white save units like Wookiees, Saber Throw is an attractive option. It can be used against units that are Immune: Melee Pierce. For example, you can hit a Magna Guard at Range 2 and deal 3 wounds which is roughly the same amount of wounds you would do against them in melee. Also, since Vader has Relentless, you can move out to Saber Throw a unit then duck back behind cover.
Like the Force Upgrade slots the two Training Upgrade slots should almost always be filled. These training upgrades add amazing value to Op Vader. With the change to make Vader speed 2 permanently, you no longer need to take Endurance (to mitigate Spur), so Op Vader effectively gained two training slots.
Into the Fray
Op Vader is a melee unit that does not surge on defense or offense so Into the Fray adds excellent value to Vader. Into the Fray makes it less punishing if you choose to divulge Vader’s 3 pip Darkness Descends. With aggressive units being popular in the current meta, there will be no shortage of enemy Dewbacks, Magna Guards, and Wookiees to trigger Into the Fray.
Seize the Initiative
Seize the Initiative gives an extra order to Op Vader for a single turn. Since you can gain Reliable 2 from Darkness Descends, some players may not feel Into the Fray is necessary. Especially in an army with Dews, using New Ways to Motivate Them to attack with Dewbacks, Seize the Initiative can be used to keep an order on Vader during that turn. Order control is very important for a focus piece like Op Vader, and Seize the Initiative gives you an extra turn of control.
Tenacity is an auto-include in my opinion. It adds another red dice to your melee pool and is easy to activate with Vader’s 1 pip Implacable. Tenacity essentially gives Operative Vader the same dice pool as the more expensive Commander Vader.
How to Play
Operative Vader is typically the focus piece in an army and, like all force users, requires order control to be fully effective. Vader is excellent at both objective play and destroying your opponent’s army. When playing Vader, you will want to keep him behind line of sight (LOS) blocking terrain until he is within range to engage the enemy army. While he has a large health pool, the best defense is not getting shot in the first place. Vader has a longer engagement range than most speed 2 melee units. There are three ways he can engage at range 3: first, on the turn you play Implacable Vader can move 3 times. Second, on the turn you play Vader’s Might, he can move twice and then you can proceed to use the command card ability to move an opposing unit into melee. Lastly, you can combine Scatter, Force Choke, and Force Push as mentioned before. Because of the stats on his Lightsaber, Vader can attack virtually any target and be effective. That being said, he is especially effective against red save units that are not Immune Pierce. Overall, Vader is great at playing objectives and when all else fails he can just start killing everything in range.
1 Pip: Implacable
Implacable makes it so Vader can activate twice in a single turn. As a bonus, Vader also gains a free dodge token each time he activates. This effect is excellent for a multitude of reasons. It extends Vader’s engagement range by allowing him to triple move in one turn and increases his damage output by allowing him to attack twice. He can also use force abilities like Force Choke and Force Push twice in one turn which increases his damage and objective play. When used properly, Implacable can turn a game fully in your favor.
1 Pip: Vader’s Might
Vader’s Might is an excellent card that gives you the powerful effect of moving an enemy unit. This card is amazing for objective play. You can move an enemy unit out of a scoring zone, you can move one of your own units into a scoring zone, you can move an enemy unit into the open where it can be shot by your entire army, and you can put a creature trooper (or R2!) on a building where it can’t climb down, the list goes on and on. A bonus effect is each mini moved by this effect has a 1/3 chance of taking a wound. This card in many cases can just outright win games.
2 Pip: New Ways to Motivate Them
New Ways to Motivate Them (NWTMT) is an excellent command card that makes Vader synergize with aggressive melee units. This card allows Dewbacks to triple move and activates Tenacity. It also gives Dewbacks a threat range of nearly range 4, and IRG a threat range of nearly range 3. Being able to engage at these ranges makes it almost impossible to avoid the alpha strike of these units. NWTMT can give you an early lead on attrition and tie up enemy units as Vader advances. Because of this synergy I typically pair Vader with at least two Dewbacks in my armies.
2 Pip: Fear and Dead Men
Fear and Dead Men is best used when Vader is deep in enemy lines. While the upgrade to Deflect is nice the best part about this card is the fact you gain a dodge for each enemy unit that activates. This can easily add up to 4-8 dodges during the turn it is played making Vader extremely tanky. The one drawback to this card is it only issues one order despite being a two pip.
3 Pip: Master of Evil
Master of Evil can be devastating when Vader is embedded in an enemy army. 3 suppression tokens suppress nearly every unit in the game, causing them to lose important actions. While this ability is powerful and flashy, it is also fully ok to use this card just for the free dodge token and 2 orders. Overall, Master of Evil is an excellent card and has an extremely high celling when used in the right situation.
3 Pip: Darkness Descends
Darkness Descends has two powerful modes. The first mode gives you Reliable 2, which is amazing because Vader does not surge on defense or offense. It increases Vader’s effective wounds from 14 to 21, which is massive. The second mode is equally as good. If the card is divulged, Vader gains Infiltrate and Scout 1. I typically do not Divulge the card unless we are playing a specific objective that warrants it, such as recover the supplies. Because Op Vader is speed 2 and can engage from range 3, I often find I do not need the extra Scout and Infiltrate.
Darth Vader at his current cost is an excellent choice in almost any army. Here, I am primarily going to focus on what lists I believe are the most competitive in the current meta. While Operative Darth Vader is arguably one of the best units in the game, there are still some units he struggles against. Primarily, Vader struggles against Immune Pierce Melee units, Wookiees, and B1 hordes. All lightsaber users have a tough time against these units and Vader is no different. Because of this weakness, I like to pair Vader with other melee units with large dice pools such as Dewbacks. Vader’s 2 pip is excellent with units like Dewbacks. Since Dewbacks synergize with Vader and are strong against units Vader struggles against, I start all my lists with Op Vader and 2 Dewbacks.
Vader Melee Skew
One way to play Vader is to fully lean into the melee skew and bring 3 Dewback Riders and an Imperial Royal Guard. This list essentially just tries to kill everything on the table while the 3 naked Stormtroopers score objectives. Naked Scout Troopers are a solid inclusion. Since your opponent will be so distracted by the 5 melee threats, you can advance the Scout Troopers into range 2. Overall, this army is brutal to play against. Not many factions can make an 11-activation list with 5 powerful melee threats.
If you want to run some upgraded core units and have a better matchup against armor this is an excellent option. It can be difficult to pair aggressive melee units with a gunline, but New Ways to Motivate Them makes this much more viable. Dewbacks can shoot at range 3 with the gunline and then, in one turn, they can triple move and charge the opposing army.
Overall, Operative Darth Vader is an amazing unit. He is hard to kill, deals tons of damage, has amazing objective play, and only costs 175 for the entire package. While the 2021 points changes and errata’s are still fresh, one thing is clear Vader is back!