By Derek Thompson aka Aldaryn
While paper Star Realms players are excited about High Alert finally arriving for Kickstarter backers, digital players have another huge reason for hype: Command Decks are upon us! Players can choose between seven different commanders (even the Kickstarter-exclusive High Admiral Jochum), and face off against other players using a commander of their own choice. My favorite commander from the beginning has been Fleet Director Nandi, and I think I am currently the person in the world with the most games of Star Realms played with this commander (maybe five hundred games or more), and that number is only going to go up. So, here are my best tips for piloting Nandi to victory.
I do not think Nandi is the best commander overall – Jochum is. After all, she only gets five cards a turn while everyone else gets six or even seven. She’s also often at the mercy of the trade row, and in that sense a bit fragile. She’s also very hard to use well; you will definitely make mistakes.
However, I do think she is competitive, and she is by far the most fun to play, in my opinion. If you enjoy “combo decks” in other games like Magic: the Gathering, or you like setting up fancy plays and complicated turns in Star Realms using cards like Coalition Messenger, CEO Shaner, or Central Office, then you’re in the right place.
Nandi’s deck has very little damage – out of 12 starters, you could do at most 6 damage if you drew all of them. Instead, she has more trade than other commanders, and two cards that can cycle. Her strategy centers around her ongoing gambit, providing extra trade or topdecking cards and getting them next turn or even right away.
At first, I would have told you this makes Nandi a control deck, but forcing the same role every time is bad Star Realms play, just like with every other set. I’ll say instead that Nandi is all about tempo. Her ability to get new cards immediately means that you overcome your deficits (no damage, fewer cards) by getting to your big plays early and often, and executing the late game while your opponent is still playing the early-to-mid game.
A key part of the tempo is to make sure not to waste time doing what you’re already doing. I vividly remember losing a game because I sacrificed my one-use gambit, Nandi’s Onslaught, to guarantee myself Factory World, instead of denying my opponent an Obliterator. Nandi doesn’t need Factory World. She already gets cards to the top and often to the hand in the same turn! This deck isn’t really about setting up impenetrable defenses; the other commanders either do that better (Walsh, Jochum) or don’t give you enough time to do it (McCready, Newburg). Instead, it’s about lasting long enough to end the game on some mega-turns with the bombs you’ve accumulated with your trade and tempo advantage.
Going first or second: If you can ever choose (paper play), I think you often want to go second. You’ll likely be able to afford any opening bomb and they won’t be able to; they also lose more cards than you would – any other commander will lose 3 cards on their opening hand; you lose 2.
Scrap: Three other commanders begin with scrap, but you don’t. Meanwhile, despite the 5 card hand, you have 12 starters (insert whining here). The other commanders that don’t start with scrap, like McCready and Newburg, already have their damage engine going from the start. Meanwhile, Nandi can be very competitive, but only if she draws the bombs you’re buying every turn. A scrapper to the top on the first turn can be a crucial play that jets you to victory. The old adage still applies: scrap is king.
Discard: Nandi is highly vulnerable to discard while the other commanders are not. You should hate-draft it often, particularly the kind that easily scraps out of your deck (Gunship, Imperial Frigate) or provides draw (Light Cruiser, Midgate Station). Cards like Imperial Fighter might be necessary to take, but they’re also kind of dead weight in the “buy, draw, play big bombs” strategy that Nandi typically takes. Don’t be afraid to buy a weak discarder and then scrap it away.
Alliance Procurement. This is what makes Nandi work. It is a far cry more powerful than any other commander’s ongoing gambit, either acting like the best extra card you could have in the early game (an Explorer) or giving you a huge tempo advantage by putting a key purchase straight to the top of the deck. The hardest part of this gambit is deciding when to use which mode.
In general, I use this for 2 trade early and to put cards on top late. The exception is getting a high-trade card or a scrapper early, setting up for a big following turn. If you can’t get an 8-cost card this turn but they can’t either, putting a Supply Bot to the top will pretty much guarantee it the following turn while also scrapping a card. Your number one focus early should be just grabbing any and all 6-8 cost bombs before they do, or key scrappers like Mining Mech, Supply Bot, or Chancellor Hartmann / Confessor Morris.
Nandi’s Onslaught. Quite often, the goal of this card is to gun for the 8 trade you need for that early bomb, and it doesn’t hurt that the opponent has to discard. Occasionally, I’ve used it when I know I won’t hit the trade but I have Stellar Falcon in hand to make my opponent discard two and make sure they don’t get the bomb in question either. On a rare occasion, I’ve saved it for a later turn where it can set up a discard 3-4 (especially in the Nandi mirror, where discard hurts more). However, my Gambit strategy has always been to use them early and often; your mileage may vary.
4 Scouts, 1 Viper. Look familiar? The important thing to notice is that you have 12 starters, and this is the junk. I always try to scrap the lone Viper first, but just keep in mind you have very lean damage and commanders like Jochum and Walsh can get a fat base into play pretty much immediately, so he has his uses.
Cargo Boat. Don’t think of this as an even weaker Fed Shuttle. This is one of your only two opening cards that provide 2 trade, making him one of the most important cards in your deck. This is one of the keys to grabbing those early cards, so don’t scrap him early if you can avoid it (although I wouldn’t just skip a scrap). The healing is nice too, but it’s more about the trade, and the ally it provides.
Federation Scout. I mention the ally on Cargo Boat because you’ll need either it, Diplomatic Shuttle, or Nandi’s Onslaught to make the most out of Federation Scout early. It is an unaligned ship itself; it doesn’t trigger Trade Federation ally abilities on other cards, but it needs a Trade Federation ally trigger present to get its discount. If you have this and the Cargo Boat in hand, though, you can treat it as 4 trade if you’re hunting for more blue cards. It’s marginally better than a scout, but it’s not as important as your other cards that provide one trade (Ranger, Diplomatic Shuttle).
Diplomatic Shuttle. This card is your secret weapon against aggressive decks like McCready and Newburg. If you need the trade, use it, but quite often I do whatever I can to use this card to heal five Authority every time against those decks. It might seem meaningless in the moment, but if you win the game at 10 life and you healed with this card three or four times… do you see where I’m going?
Tribute Transport. Quite possibly the most important card in the deck. It is one of your two precious cards that give 2 trade, but late in the game, it can cycle for you. This is especially nice if you get a big card on top and want to draw it right away. However, Nandi’s limited hand size makes cycling not as strong than it could be, so once you’re in serious scrap mode, it’s as expendable as the rest of your starters – but it’s usually one of the last to go.
Imperial Viper. Like the Federation Scout, the Imperial Viper needs a Star Empire ally trigger to get its ally ability online, but doesn’t return the favor. It provides a single damage, which seems irrelevant but can be important in the right moments, and it also provides another cycle for your deck. I find myself often stuck with this card on key turns when I’d rather have a trade or have no other card to cycle, but maybe I’m not using it well enough. Something to keep in mind with both those and Tribute Transport – if you know the rest of your deck is starters and it won’t mess up the rest of your turn (i.e. risk losing a trade), cycling just for the sake of cycling is often worth it. You want to be getting those shiny new expensive cards you bought back into your hand as quickly as possible.
Stellar Falcon. One of your few sources of damage, and also a way to make your opponent discard. Alone it might not seem like much, but a discard two at the right time with Nandi’s Onslaught (or more with other cards) can swing a key turn. Discard is also very problematic for you, so you’ll “hate draft” it quite often, making Stellar Falcon a nice card to pair with the rest. If I’ve taken more discarders, I don’t scrap this to the very end, but if I’m devoid of other Star Empire cards then I’m willing to give this one the axe in favor of keeping up my trade advantage.
Ranger. A seemingly unimportant card, but it provides ⅓ of the damage in the whole deck, and its versatility is super important. If you are playing with United Heroes or Crisis Events, you might want to use him for trade early in a turn in case a Confessor Morris or a Comet shows up and you’d rather scrap the Scouts. Otherwise, try and use him last so you can sneak some damage in if you decide no more trade is needed. (The same rule goes for Diplomatic Shuttle.)
Super Freighter. It’s not part of your opening deck, but by choosing Nandi this card enters the trade deck. (In a Nandi mirror match, there are two of them!) This is an absolutely amazing card for Nandi to grab if she can. It provides three draws, which compensates for Nandi’s smaller hand size. Additionally, the 4 trade helps you dominate the trade row, easily purchasing large cards and putting them on top with Alliance Procurement. Ideally you can steal their 8-cost ship as well (especially the three that scrap), but if I see this card early, I absolutely gun for it whenever possible. It’s better than a Command Ship in this deck.
Let’s just end this section with some bullet point reminders:
- Use Ranger and Diplomatic Shuttle last on a turn, so you know which mode to choose.
- Your two cyclers are very important to use in combination with Alliance Procurement, or just to keep the deck flowing.
- You have “2.5” cards that provide 2 trade (Cargo Boat, Tribute Transport, Federation Scout) – keep an eye on where they are in your deck and whether or not you will hit 8 trade if you scrap Nandi’s Onslaught or a hero.
- Utilize your healing as much as you can against the aggressive decks.
- You don’t have a lot of damage, so grab some early (and maybe even put on top) if your opponent is getting big bases.
- Stellar Falcon can set up some key discard turns, and even a discard two (Stellar Falcon + Nandi’s Onslaught) can set up a key discard 2 to keep them off of 8 for a turn while you ready yourself with a better hand.
Notes: These matchups are listed in order of difficulty (for me, anyway), and for now, we’re assuming “fair fights” (lots of ship/base expansions, minimal Events/Heroes, no other Gambits or Missions).
High Director Valken. The problem for Valken in this match-up is that her entire strategy is around healing and surviving, and Nandi isn’t trying to attack anyway. You have a serious trade advantage, and can get to the bombs first. However, this matchup is very dependent on two things: first, you have to make sure you get some scrappers; she already starts with one in her deck. Second, you have to be wary of her base-walling. You have so little damage in your deck that you either need to take the bases before she does, or get the damage rolling so that you can knock the bases out. Ideally if your early bombs are damage-based (e.g. Leviathan, Imperial Flagship, Command Ship), then this matchup should go your way.
Hive Admiral McCready. McCready is no slouch and can easily do 10+ damage a turn with his just starting deck. However, his main difficulty with you is that he has little trade, and zero cards that scrap from the trade row, thus the trade row is yours for the taking. However, you do need to live long enough to turn the tables, so make sure you use the healing on Cargo Boat and Diplomatic Shuttle as much as possible. But beware that just healing won’t save you, because he hits too hard and too fast. I think going after “base wall” type bombs often won’t work here, since you know they won’t stick. Instead, you ideally want to fight him for the green and yellows, especially the ones he can afford. Midrange cards like Parasite, Heavy Cruiser or Aging Battleship are nuts in his deck, and denying him those is more important than getting something like a Loyal Colony or a Transit Nexus that won’t bother him a bit. Ultimately, though, you are the one in the driver’s seat while McCready essentially runs on autopilot, so you should be able to develop in a way that gives you the edge. You don’t want to completely control the game state; you just want to stave him off long enough to kill him (after all, he has the lowest health of any commander, and no defense). Lastly, let me add that this is fairly format dependent – Frontiers definitely favors McCready, for example.
Overlord Newburg. Newburg is very similar to McCready, an aggressive deck, but there are some key differences. He has some healing, which you can handle fine since your deck generally explodes instead of needing every bit of damage. The bigger problem is that he starts with two cards that scrap from the trade row, meaning that he can take away those bombs you’ll need. It’s probably even more important to keep an eye on his deck and check whether he can scrap from the row on the subsequent turn, or whether you can set up to get a bomb on the next turn. Otherwise, this plays out quite a bit like McCready.
Fleet Director Nandi. Well, presumably the mirror is 50/50. What this really comes down to is angling to make sure that you are the one buying the 6-8 cost cards, as well as the discarders, and not them. The most important thing is to make sure that you do not buy junk cards just because you have a bunch of trade on a given turn. That’s a great way to reveal big cards for your opponent, right after you can no longer afford them. Being able to set up a discard 2-3 for many turns is also huge, so value cards like Lancer, Cunning Captain, and Imperial Frigate highly.
Hive Priest Walsh. The thing that makes Walsh difficult is that he is great at both offense and defense. An early base straight to play can be hugely problematic for you and your complete lack of damage, possibly requiring you to waste an entire turn finding a mediocre damage card, put it on top, and draw it, instead of going for something better. On the other hand, he makes your own bases weaker and has a lot of aggressive green cards, and can scrap from the trade row. On top of all that, his health is even higher than yours, making an aggressive plan difficult. What he doesn’t have a ton of after his initial gambit is trade, so if you can force him into unfavorable situations, you can get there. Ways to do that would be to get a row scrapper yourself early, save Nandi’s Onslaught for bases you can’t possibly let him have (e.g. Brain World), and apply some discard pressure to keep him off of big buys.
Divine Admiral Le. I’m not sure Le is that great of a commander in a vacuum, but he was built to prey on Nandi. He begins with a scrapper as well as two cyclers and a way to get those cards back. His one-time gambit also scraps and draws, and his ongoing gambit lets him continually cycle through his deck. If you let him have yellow discards, he will lock you down in no time flat. I’ve seen players get him down to 8 card decks while I’m still setting up, and then I’m discarding 2-3 cards every single turn and it’s over. More than any other match, you’ve got to make sure you’re taking the yellow discarders, and you also want to prioritize cards that draw as much as possible. If a card scraps from play as well, and is decent for you (e.g. Ram), you might want to take it and quickly dispose of it, so that he is not benefitting from those cards. A lot of the best discard effects (Imperial Frigate, Gunship, Falcon, Survey Ship) also scrap from play, so those could spell your doom if left on the row. However, he has little to no defense, so I’ve found this is a match where you want to lean into green if you can, and just beat him down before the discard lock is set up. Buying cards that heal is a complete waste of time – he’s trying to lock you, not damage you.
High Admiral Jochum. Oof. Jochum’s 7-card hand size already looks crazy in a vacuum, but it’s especially intimidating when you’re the only commander with a 5-card grip. Additionally, he starts with the ability to scrap and cycle, more health than anyone else, and an amazing one-shot gambit. His big penalty is 14 starters, but that’s not much more than your 12. Furthermore, he can get to 8 trade just about as easily as you can. Another problem is that the yellow cheap discard punishes you immensely, but is hardly effective against him. I think letting these games go long will almost always go to Jochum. In whatever way you can, whether it’s hoarding green, getting a key 8 cost card before him that accelerates the game (Brain World, Leviathan), you have to be on the offensive and hurry these along to stand a chance. Even then, chances are pretty slim in a fair fight.
I have thought a lot about “forcing” a format for Nandi – picking a combination of expansions that makes her the optimal choice. After a lot of experimentation, I’ve settled on something ridiculous: “HUN-E buns”, which is Colony Wars, both Heroes sets (Crisis & United), and both Events sets (Crisis & Frontiers). If you look at Nandi’s worst two matchups above, I said you didn’t want the game to go long; their endgame setup is better than yours. Likewise, McCready, Valken, and Newburg’s ongoing gambits provide more and more value as the game goes on. However, Nandi’s +2 trade goes down in value as the game goes on, and while putting cards on top is always useful, it’s most useful when you get a big card early. I find that these games are going 11-12 turns (between both players) consistently, and Nandi has a distinct advantage. Of course, these games are also about the most complicated Star Realms can possibly be, and it’s quite easy to mess up. But I’m having a lot of fun, and getting good results. For all you out there that hate the Events sets, well, I don’t have a good answer for you. Sorry!
- Nandi is more like a combo deck than a control deck.
- Against her bad matchups, you want to play the aggressor and hurry the game along.
- Beware your weaknesses: you have little damage to start, and you need scrappers and bombs quickly. Discard is very good against you.
- One last tip: play slowly. This is a very difficult deck to use. Take your time!
Despite the obvious disadvantages, Nandi brings a unique play style that is every combo-lover’s dream. If you decide to join her fleet, hopefully this guide will help you bring victory to the Alliance!