Since Day 1, Sith Control has been a strong deck for the Dark Side. When played well, it is very tough to beat. For players still learning the game, it has a more forgiving learning curve than most other decks and often leads to declarations that it cannot be beaten. I know when I first started putting decks together my Sith deck won it's first 20 games or so before I finally beat it. Nevertheless, it can be beaten. How does it work? Why do people play it? What are its strengths and weaknesses?
This is a very tactical game full of an enormous number of decision points, any of which can swing the outcome of the game. Because of that, I can't present a color-by-number version of how to beat Sith Control. Each game will play out differently and will require different decisions in order to win. What I can do is look at the different strengths and weaknesses of Sith Control decks to develop an overall strategy for beating them.
The Power of the Dark Side
Sith Control is a very good deck type. No strategy or deck is going to beat Sith Control 100% of the time, especially when piloted by a skilled player. More than any other build, Sith Control can have an answer for anything.
When the card images were first spoiled, one of the first things I did was theory-craft a Sith deck (which I later highlighted in my Deckbuilding 101 article). That deck has remained largely unchanged and remains successful. Why do I keep playing the same deck? Because when I'm playing with it, there's nothing the Light Side can do that scares me. There's always an answer in my deck, and plenty of ways to dig through my deck for the answer.
Let's look at a typical Sith Control deck. Almost every list will run:
That core gives the Dark Side player a strong set of cards that are useful in a wide variety of situations.
The Emperor's Web gives you Emperor Palpatine with all of his tactics. He can defend and lock down 3 attackers all on his own! The Royal Guard is perhaps the best 2-cost unit in the game with the ability to defend and significantly damage any LS unit (and outright destroy most of them) along with 3 damage capacity and Protect to keep the Emperor or Vader around longer. You also get non-engagement damage from Force Choke and the versatile removal of Force Lightning. Top it off with some resources from the Sith Library and effective resources via cost reduction from the objective itself and you have a strong set of cards.
Fall of the Jedi clearly is there for Darth Vader. In addition to just being a plain old strong unit, his Reaction keys off of all of the good Sith Event cards to add to your non-engagement damage options. Importantly, his reaction is not limited to characters and creatures like Force Choke is. Speaking of which, you get more copies of Force Choke here. Heat of Battle is a great fate card for whittling away the opponent's board. Vader's Lightsaber will get tossed in edge battles a lot of the time, but when it does land on Vader it makes him a removal machine as he can attack and do 3 unit damage to any enemy unit. The Dark Side Apprentice is really just a filler card, but plays an important roll which we'll see later. Oh, and the objective itself lets you dig through your deck faster to find the cards you need.
Counsel of the Sith is perhaps the least obvious of the core sets to be included in the deck. It doesn't have any power units or such that would draw your attention. What it does have is Twist of Fate. If you're going to be playing a defensive deck you better make sure you can win the edge battles that count, and Twist of Fate is one of the best ways to do that. The objective itself is another great way to make sure you win edge battles when your opponent attacks: by drawing an extra card you'll often have a nearly full hand while your opponent had to play out some units to mount their offensive. Pretty much every game there will be a turn where my opponent asks how many cards are in my hand, and my answer is 6 (or sometimes 7). While you're winning edge battles, don't discount the tactics from the Advisor. Also, Dark Precognition pulls double duty as a free trigger for Vader and a way to search deeper in your deck.
The Rest of the Deck
After those 6 sets, the deck lists diverge. Commonly used objective sets for those last 4 spots include:
Death and Despayre - For the third big unit in Devastator, the ability to put a little more pressure on the Light Side by attacking, and more resources.
Imperial Command - Motti gives you some protection from LS Tactics, the stormtroopers make excellent defenders, and lots of resources for the previously mentioned big units.
Heart of the Empire - Resources for the big units, an excellent defender in the defense fleet, and Force Stasis
Killing Cold - The Icetrompers primarily, though Fear and Desolation of Hoth are also useful. Oh yeah, and more Twist of Fates.
That's obviously not an exhaustive list of other sets people use, nor an in-depth analysis of them. It doesn't even cover the version that I use. But from the deck lists I've seen posted, they are the most common.
Areas of Strength
1. The force struggle. Sith control will often forgo attacking entirely until late in the game. This makes it easy for them to sit back and hold the force balance. This is very important for their game plan as they often don't have the blast damage to destroy objectives quickly and controlling the force is their best way to accelerate their win.
2. Board control. They have plenty of removal between Force Choke, Force Lightning, and Vader. They also have plenty of other tricks with the Icetrompers and Force Stasis. When that fails, they have the Tactics from the Emperor and Interrogation Droids. In combat, they can find plenty of unit damage.
3. Edge Battles. Between Counsel of the Sith and plenty of high force icon cards, Sith can be hard to beat in edge battles. They also have easy access to 4 copies of Twist of Fate without having to go outside of the affiliation. The love of big units, which often means only playing 1-2 cards on their turn, leaves them in good shape to defend. Especially when they don't have to attack and waste cards in edge battles on offense, they're hard to beat on defense.
4. Big units. All of the big units they play have staying power. Unlike Han or Yoda, nobody dies easily. They're also some of the scariest units for the LS to face and can quickly swing the game when they hit the table if they're not answered quickly.
5. Weenies. Sith decks can pump out a surprising number of small units. The 2-cost spot is particularly important as that's the spot where you can play 2 of them in a turn without needing extra resources. At that spot, you'll have Kuati Security Team, Dark Side Apprentice, Advisor to the Emperor, and the Royal Guard. The Security Team and Apprentice aren't scary, but are effective when you need a body. The Advisor gives you some tactics and some resources as well as two force icons in a pinch. The Royal Guard is an amazing unit on defense and for protecting your other units from Rebel Assault and the like.
1. Expensive units. Sith decks hope to play Vader, the Emperor, and often Devastator - 3 of the most expensive units in the game. That limits how much else they can do on those turns and often leaves them having to decide between playing a big unit or using an expensive Event card like Force Lightning.
2. Lack of shields. Those big units will tend to be completely at the mercy of the combat icons the Light Side does manage to resolve. The ISB Interrogators can get them a shield, as can the Defense Fleet, but that's about it.
3. Inability to close games. This is the main reason that many players are splashing the decidedly not control-style Devastator. The Sith can completely dominate the board, but still be left sitting and waiting for the dial to slowly tick up. Sure, it will go 2 clicks/turn, but that can still be agonizingly slow.
4. Vehicles. Most of the tricks that the Sith have only target characters and/or creatures. I'm On the Leader hits fighters, but you'll usually see it in Navy decks and not Sith decks. Force Choke looks a lot less useful in your hand when your opponent has only vehicles sitting around.
5. Lack of combat tricks. Outside of a surprise Force Choke and Fate cards, the Sith don't have many effects that alter engagements mid-engagement. The closest thing is the Icetromper, but even that has to be on table, so it is not much of a surprise.
How to Beat Sith
Finally, time to take what we know about the Sith and devise our approach to beating them. There are two basic ways we could approach that:
1. Exploit their weaknesses to maximum effect
2. Take away one or more of their strengths
These approaches are not mutually exclusive. The best approach will usually be to take advantage of any weaknesses your opponent leaves you as well as attacking one of their strong points. What you want to avoid is trying to attack all of their strong points at once. You just are not going dominate the force struggle and edge battles reliably against a deck that's good at both, but you might be able to do one of those things and use that to mitigate the other.
Let's go back to those weaknesses and look at how to exploit them:
1. Expensive units. There are some natural disadvantages to playing a single big unit over several small units. Big units can only attack one objective, can only defend one objective, and is stopped with a single focus token. They also give better targets for removal effects (it's always much nicer to use Rebel Assault to take out Palpatine than an Espo Trooper). Jedi can exploit this with Jedi Mind Trick (makes a great play when the Sith player drops Vader on their first turn and the force balance is still with you). Yoda, Obi-Wan, and Twi'Lek Loyalists also bring tactics to stop big units in their tracks. Rebel Alliance has some tactics of their own but also has one of the better direct damage cards in Rebel Assault. Smugglers and Spies have Han's targeted damage as well as tactics from Han, the Twi'Lek Smuggler, and Renegade Squadron. To top that off, they have the always impressive Echo Caverns to take one of those precious combat icons from one of those big units. The neutral sets give us Tribal Support to lock out a defender with the Ewoks and Prep for Battle for the tactics of the AAC-1 Speeder Tanks.
2. Lack of Shields. Shields are an excellent tool to survive combat and avoid tactics. Without them around, you can count on your tactics icons sticking, and there's a huge difference between needing 1 tactics icon to stop a unit and needing 2. You can also expect your unit damage to stick and be meaningful. Look for all of the non-edge-enabled unit damage you can so that even when you lose the edge battle you'll be able to stick some damage somewhere.
3. Inability to close games. You don't have to do anything special to take advantage of this weakness. There will be times when the Sith weather your initial onslaught and appear to have control of the game. However, they won't be able to take out enough objectives to end the game on the spot and will have to sit back and play defense, leaving you an opportunity to make them pay. Red 5 or Rogue 3/Wedge or Home One and a won edge battle or two can quickly add up to a problem for the Sith. Even a lost edge with Red 5 could destroy a previously damaged objective.
4. Vehicles. This one's self explanatory. You don't have to play vehicles to beat Sith, but they will have a much harder time handling a mainly vehicle deck than they will a mainly character deck. Between the Rebels and the Smugglers, there are plenty of good vehicles out there to run.
5. Lack of Combat Tricks. You can definitely use this to your advantage. You'll see on table what you'll be facing and be able to use that to make the best decisions. You'll have to be prepared for Force Choke and Heat of Battle (and Vader's reaction if it hasn't already been used this turn), but those combine to be relatively minor as far as combat tricks go. You can counter with your own variety of tricks via Echo Caverns if you'd really like.
Take Away Their Strengths
You'll likely never be able to do all of these, but each of the Sith's strengths can be attacked if you focus on it.
1. The Force Struggle. When the Sith play defense, it is very difficult to steal the force struggle from them. Your biggest ally there will be tactics. Remember, no matter how good at holding the force struggle those units are, Sith can still only have 3 units committed. While you may not be able to tempt them into combat without a good incentive for them (which usually means bad for you), you can still hit them with your own tactics (or tactics stolen from them with Echo Caverns). Jedi Mind Trick is also a nice play, even better during that first DS turn while the balance is still on your side. Basically, you can't expect to just play units and out force-icon them, you have to be deliberate in setting up your balance wins. If you do take this from them, you'll greatly extend the game. Since the Sith are often short on ways to close out games, that gives you the chance to wear through their control tricks and slowly sneak in the damage that you need.
2. Board Control. The Sith have lots of removal and the units you play are going to die a lot. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to negate that control. The important thing to remember is: always get your protection out before your big units. As much fun as playing Han first turn is, when Vader is across the board it's probably a bad idea. You're better off playing a Guardian of the Peace and another weenie or two. If one of those weenies happens to have tactics (Twi'Leks of various forms tend to be good at that), you can even manage to steal the force balance away from Vader. You don't need to hold it until your turn, you just want to slow their clock. Other counters to their board control include the Speeder Tank, Prep for Battle (it's hard for them to kill invincible units), and the traditional counters in C-3PO and Counter-stroke.
3. Edge battles. This strength is a hard one to take away in that you're probably not going to build a deck that can go toe-to-toe with them in big edge battles and consistently win. Instead, you should try to avoid going into an engagement absolutely needing to win the edge battle unless you have some sort of trick or reason to be so confident. As Jedi, you'll be able to pull off some wins if you're willing to toss your big units from time to time. The Rebel Alliance, on the other hand, is going to have trouble. The trick there is to split attacks and wear down the Sith's hand size to the point that you can push through. Hoth Operations can be huge for this as it forces the Dark Side to play at least 1 card in an edge battle (whereas before it would be you forced to play 1). Remember, when committing your units to engagements you have to both consider the outcome if you win the edge and if you lose the edge. If the outcome would be disaster with a loss, you should take a close look at whether or not you need to send any units at all.
4. Big units. Big units are big and put pressure on you to deal with them right away. The balance to that is the inherent weakness of there being fewer of them. It only takes a single focus token to stop the Emperor or Vader, and in combat Vader is only going to kill 1 unit at most. When that focus token is followed by a unit with Targeted Strike, their sizable damage capacity can be whittled down quickly. Use Lightsaber Deflection and Rebel Assault to surprise them with some extra damage. Make sure you keep pumping out the damage when the Royal Guard hits the table. While you won't kill Vader, you can kill the guard and that's still something that you'll need to do. I've several times had someone decide not to even try damaging Vader just because the damage would redirect and they wouldn't kill him. Their concern about not being able to kill my big unit didn't change that Vader survived, but did leave me with another of my best defenders along side. In summary: big units don't like tactics, targeted strike, and swarms of smaller units (they can only neutralize so many units on their own).
5. Weenies. This is the main reason that you can't just play a Rebel swarm and beat Sith control. While not being near a swarm deck, most Sith decks can put out a pretty good number of units. For example, my main Sith deck has 23 units, or almost half of the deck. The strategy for dealing with a wall of weenies is largely the same as the strategy for dealing with big units: you can lock some of them down with tactics and need unit damage to permanently clear them from the board. In general though, unit damage is a better long term solution for weenies than tactics... tactics just slows them down a little. Han is one of the best units for this as he can often kill 2 units and lock down another until the next turn. Luke also works pretty well thanks to his Targeted Strike. With either card, you should be looking out for Trust Your Feelings to make them a unit-killing machine. At the same time, don't underestimate the importance of your small units for helping to pump out some unit damage. Most 2-cost units have a non-edge-dependent unit damage icon, which does eventually add up. Even the lowly Rookie Pilot can contribute (and tends to get through since he's a low priority target for your opponent).
The bottom line is: there isn't a magic bullet deck that will always beat Sith control. It's a good deck, and when played by a good player it will be tough to beat. But that should be a true statement about any good deck. It's not a perfect deck though and can be beaten if you make the most of your opportunities. The good news is that you don't have to play a certain affiliation or deck type to beat Sith. There are a few different ways to attack it and different affiliations can approach the game differently. Jedi can most easily compete for the force balance and counter the powerful Sith events. Rebels can pump out lots of blast damage quickly to attempt to overwhelm while being immune to Force Choke and Force Stasis. Smugglers and Spies have numerous little combat tricks to gain some advantage in engagements. Most of the time, you'll want to play some combination of the affiliations to take advantage of the different strengths they provide.