Monday, 15 May 2017

"Show Me Again... The Power Of The Darkness" - Flying the Special Forces TIE Fighter

After I wrote that roundup on the ARC-170 pilots a few weeks back a couple of players asked me to repeat the exercise for the Special Forces TIE Fighter.  That fell right into line with the fact that I was already looking at the TIE/sf with new eyes as it appears to have become one of the strongest options for Imperial pilots since the recent nerfs to Emperor Palpatine and the TIE Defender.

This isn't that sort of roundup, unfortunately, but what happened was that while I was doing a bit of background digging on how players have been using the TIE/sf I hit upon a nice little squad that I liked the look of.  It looked good, it played well, I enjoyed it, and so I took it to a local tournament (the one I talked about last time, where I lost the final).  So let me introduce my new shiniest toys...


Nettling Imps (100pts)
  • Quickdraw - A Score To Settle, Fire Control System, Lightweight Frame, Special Ops Training (33)
  • Backdraft - Crack Shot, Primed Thrusters,  Fire Control System, Lightweight Frame, Special Ops Training (33)
  • Colonel Vessery - Adaptability, Twin Ion Engine MkII, TIE/x7 (34)
The list is named after an old (old!) Magic The Gathering card, which was the first to feature a 'taunt' ability that forced the opponent to attack in a way that suited you, not them... which is how this list works.  With three tough ships you can tag your point man in and out, and in both Colonel Vessery and Quickdraw you've got two guys who you don't really mind the opponent shooting at - Vessery because of his TIE/x7 Evade tokens, and Quickdraw threatening the revenge attack.  You use those two as cover for Backdraft, who often needs to be protected a little bit to try and get him into the endgame where his crits can really add up and win you games.

So there's three cards that really make this squad tick.  The first two are pretty obvious and that's Fire Control System and Lightweight Frame on the two TIE/sf, though it's worth explaining how they both support the list and make a key contribution.  Basically it's HUGELY important to keep three focused green dice for your defence, because without that these TIE/sf just melt too quickly.  The Fire Control System helps you to keep the red dice flowing and delivering hits while you keep Focus back for defense whenever you can.  One of the key learning points in the list is quite when that Focus token is free to spend on offense, and when in doubt you should hang onto it.


This emphasis on survival flows not just from the dice but also into how I'm flying them - preferring to drag opponents into rocks rather than up-front jousting.  You don't want to leave any of your ships in sight of all your opponent's red dice - they can probably handle one attack very comfortably, maybe shed a shield or two to the second, but a third or fourth on top is going to really hurt.  One of the key parts of getting your handle on how this list plays is judging that balance of offense and defense - what's too rich for your guys to deal with, and when can you set aside the focus and turn those eyeballs face-up for a big hit?

The third card that really makes this list work is less obvious, and that's A Score To Settle.  Many TIE/sf players have fallen on the idea of supporting their Fire Control System with Expertise, which serves a very similar purpose of allowing you to turn focus results into hits alongside rerolling the blanks with Fire Control System and saving Focus tokens for defense.  I prefer A Score To Settle in this role and I see a few key advantages:

  • Cost.  4pts is a lot to save, and this has multiple connotations.  Firstly that I'm able to run three tough ships where many bring in Omega Leader to finish the squad, and secondly that by the time you've added Expertise to Backdraft he's up to a hefty 37pts and looking like a ripe target.
  • Stress.  A Score To Settle doesn't care about stress, and this is both good against Asajj but also, crucially, means it's not turned off when you S-Loop to turn around.
  • Target Priority.  The double-edged nature of A Score To Settle is baiting your opponents to attack Quickdraw to benefit from that free critical hit.  That draws attention away from Backdraft and encourages them to invite in the double-tap attacks from Quickdraw instead.
  • Crits.  Crits are better than hits, and between Backdraft and A Score To Settle you will be dishing out plenty of them!
I've been playing this list for a few weeks and it's rapidly transitioned from just being a fun Imperial list I wanted to mess about with to one that I love flying and really believe in.  I have a solid double-regen ARC list that I like (Norra/Thane/Stresshog) but the dancing TIE/sf are so much more dynamic and interesting than the ARCs.  And anyway, I'm an Imperial player at heart.

The TIEs have got me enjoying X-Wing again at the sharp end of trying to win, maybe for the first time since I was playing Slaughterhouse last year, so I packed my bags and headed over to nearby Element Games for their Game Night Kit tournament last weekend...


Round One: Simon Waterworth (BB8 Poe, R2 Norra, Rookie Pilot)

Simon is a relatively new player from my FLGS and we had spent Friday evening bouncing our lists against each other in preparation.  Ultimately those games convinced me that my Imperial list was good enough to run, while Simon finally gave up on a few weeks of trying to make Rey/Poe work and so at the last minute we switched him to Norra/Poe with enough points spare for a free Rookie X-Wing sidekick.

I set up my usual dense obstacle field and baited Simon that I was going to engage down the right flank before I flew into the rocks.  Simon took the bait and approached down the side of the table before cutting in to engage around the midpoint of the length of the table.  Unfortunately for Simon he tried to fit all three of his ships through a gap in the asteroid field that really only had space for two, and they got in each other's way with Poe bumping into the back of Norra. Without his focus token Poe was pretty vulnerable and I took full advantage, with my ships combining fire to remove him ASAP.
Poe didn't last long after he bumped up behind Norra!
My extra ship advantage was short-lived as a bad set of green dice accounted for Vessery but my TIE/sfs continued to pour on the fire and Simon's remaining ships rapidly melted.

WIN 100-34


Round Two:  Josh Wood (PTL/HLC Brobots)

I've not faced Brobots in a while and certainly not with this new list.  I set up with my typical cluster of rocks and the intention of baiting Josh into jousting with his IGs then fading away and dragging him through the rocks, but Josh had other ideas and turned away from the flank to run across his backline.

I pressed as quickly as I could with Vessery, both to try and ensure he wasn't stranded at long range against the HLCs and to try and force Josh to engage before he could get his ships lined back up.  My TIE/sfs tried to switch up and join the fight but would be a turn behind.  The first round of firing went pretty well for Josh as his Brobots sat at range 3 with Autothrusters while my shields bled away, but once that was over and I got behind his ships it was a different game.

The trouble for Josh was that he was relying on the actions from Push The Limit to modify his dice defensively, but that stress locked him away from his K-Turns and S-Loops so once my TIEs had got into his blind spot they found it relatively easy to stay there.  This was compounded by the fact that one of his IGs had been unable to avoid running through a debris field and collecting more stress, so his forces became split.  IG-88B went down first, claiming Backdraft before he went, then my other two TIE Fighters hunted down the remaining Brobot as it struggled to bring it's gun to bear on the faster TIEs.

WIN 100-33


Round Three: Lewis Witham (Triple Jumpmasters)

Lewis is a wily opponent and his triple torpedo boats were a real threat against my list - I knew that if I get a ship caught in multiple torpedo arcs then it was probably toast.  Once again I used the rocks to my advantage, and after fortressing in his corner for a turn Lewis swung his boats across his backline before cutting inside towards the centre of the table, heading right towards the obstacle cloud with one of his ships flung forwards as an obstacle while the others hung back.

My TIEs charged in and Lewis decided to take his shot at stripping all of Quickdraw's shields in one turn.  Unfortunately for him that didn't work and he just wound up throwing his red dice into a hole trying to remove the last shield from Quickdraw, while the Jumpmaster that had leaped forward took withering fire, escaping with a couple of crits that hugely hurt his Mindlink plans by turning all turns and white moves into stress-generators!  Some canny TIE/sf maneuvering saw me switch targets on the next turn - switching Backdraft to rear arc - and a second Jumpmaster bled out it's shields and starting picking up damage cards.

I was definitely having the better of the game so far but the next turn sealed Lewis's fate as he tried to sloop two of his jumpmasters to get his torpedoes off, only to accidentally dial just a 2 bank into one of them!  The ship that had managed a sloop and was facing the right way died before it could get it's torpedo shot off, and from there the game was all but done.  Lewis managed to claw some MOV from me by removing Quickdraw then offered his hand with just one Jumpmaster left on the table, as he knew he wouldn't get a second of my ships.

WIN 100-33


Round Four: Ian Ainsworth (R2 Norra, Stress Braylen, Biggs)

Duelling it out with me in the last round of the swiss, Ian was thrilled to be on 3-0 with his twin ARC-170s, which had powered him to one of his best tournament performances.  On paper this was a pretty even matchup, I felt - we each had the firepower to really hurt the other and getting the initial engagement right would be hugely important.

Ian's Rebel scum fall into my trap.  Biggs died and Norra barely escaped to next turn!
Once I again I set up a tight asteroid field and headed towards it, and just as in the first round Ian ran down one flank before cutting inside... and just as in the first round he misjudged his turn and bumped his last ship!  My TIEs had misjudged very little and laid into Biggs, who only narrowly escaped on his last hull point.  The next turn was decisive, with Biggs being blown away in Quickdraw's rear arc and Norra eating a ton of red dice and being left with only one hull of her own!

Ian's ARCs tried to run but my TIEs turned swiftly and were on them, Norra fought to regenerate a shield or two but her demise was inevitable and Braylen joined her in the very next shot.

Vessery bags Braylen to end it.
That first engagement had decided to the game, as Norra being bumped restricted her offense and made it very one-sided.  My TIEs are too merciless to allow an opponent a second chance.

WIN 100-0



Semi-Final: Marcus Zielinski (Rauboats - Fenn Rau and two Jumpmasters)

A player from my FLGS, Marcus has been settling into his Rauboats list ever since he picked it up a couple of weeks ago but I knew he was still working out the kinks and I would probably get an opening.  After dismantling Lewis' triple jumpmasters earlier I was pretty confident, but Fenn Rau was another problem altogether and I was pretty worried about him.  Marcus won the dice roll for initiative then decided that he wanted his Fenn Rau to move first before my Quickdraw which turned out to be critical... but not for the reason you might expect.

It wasn't the activation step that did for Fenn Rau but that he fired first in the combat step.  Marcus got a little too excited about boosting to range 1 of Backdraft and spent Fenn's focus on the attack.  That little bit of recklessness cost him dear and Quickdraw made him pay a high price, with a timely Direct Hit settling his score in one round of shooting!

That pretty much ended the one thing that Marcus had going for him over the triple Jumpmasters I'd beaten earlier, and Marcus was deflated.  He'd fallen for a similar trap as my other opponents in pressing down the flank and cutting in with his Jumpmasters and they never recovered from being caught out of position.  Backdraft went down but the game was mine.

WIN 100-33




Final: Dan Sellen (Dengar Bossk)

From the start of the day there was really one man and squad I was most worried by, so I was disappointed (though not surprised) to see Dan waiting for me in the final after he had swept Ian Ainsworth aside in the other semi-final.


Dan was playing the same Dengar that Justin Phua would win Worlds with just six hours later, only paired with Bossk not Tel Trevura.  I knew that the firepower on display could seriously smash my TIEs up and that my best plan was to, once again, make great use of the rocks - I needed them as cover against his torpedoes and also to try and break up his two big ships.

Hanging back to bait Dan into entering the rocks seemed to work and Bossk got caught in a nasty spot, though a couple of good green dice from the YV-666 meant it survived a turn longer than I'd really have liked.  By the time Bossk was history I'd lost Quickdraw and my other two TIEs were looking a bit beaten up.  Dengar retired from the asteroid field, forcing my TIEs to chase him, and I knew that my opportunity had probably gone as Dengar would fire before either of my boys and likely destroy them.


There was just too much work left to do and as Vessery went down I conceded the match.  Definitely a tough matchup - two tough high PS jousters were able to do to me what I'd wanted to do to them!

LOSS 42-100

Defeat in the final, and to something that I think will take some work to turn into a winnable matchup.  The Imperial fleet is famously in a bad place after the demise of the Emperor but even if this squad isn't top of the world (5-1 at a game night kit tournament is definitely not the same as winning Worlds!) then I've certainly seen enough from it to know that it's a strong option.  More importantly, I'm really enjoying playing it and it feels great to be back behind the controls of a TIE Fighter (even a fat slow TIE Fighter).

I'm going to continue running this for a while I think, and even though it's a tight build with very few spare points I will be tinkering a bit, I think mainly with the last couple of points for Backdraft.  Crack Shot is a great EPT but if I'm honest I actually forgot about it in pretty much every game because I'd previously been running Wired, and not using Crack Shot never seemed to stop me winning so it doesn't seem important.  I've a few options to explore there, including Adrenaline Rush, Pattern Analyser to replace Primed Thrusters, or good old reliable Veteran Instincts.  I suspect I'll stick with Crack Shot, but it's worth testing options.

The galaxy may have temporarily fallen into chaos, but the First Order will rise again!

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

WORLDS 2017 - The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Well, that was a hell of a weekend, wasn't it?  As everyone digests just what the hell happened at the World Championships of X-Wing 2017 I wanted to chip in my two cents, with something good, something bad, and something ugly...


THE GOOD

Tel Trevura, Autoblaster Turret on Miranda, Braylen Stramm, a HWK-290... there's a lot to like in the squads that made it to the Top 4 of Worlds this past weekend (even if that HWK was equipped with Attani Mindlink and Twin Laser Turret).  Huge props to all four of those guys for making it to the sharp end of the World Championships with squads that weren't established tournament staples, in particular Nand Torf's bonkers Autoblaster Turret version of Miranda Doni when everybody KNOWS you have to put Twin Laser Turret on Miranda.

In particular, though, I want to talk about the winning list in a bit more detail.

Justin Phua (Singapore)
  • Dengar (Jumpmaster 5000) - Expertise, Punishing One, K4 Security Droid, Unhinged Astromech, Plasma Torpedoes, Extra Munitions, Guidance Chips (58)
  • Tel Trevura (Jumpmaster 5000) - Veteran Instincts, K4 Security Droid, Unhinged Astromech, Plasma Torpedoes, Extra Munitions, Guidance Chips (40)

Congratulations to Justin Phua on his win, and on playing a pretty much flawless Final match against Nand Torf's apparently immortal Biggs and Jess!  There's a few things I want to say about this list, and the way Justin played it, so let's get started.


Dengar Wins Worlds Again???  I'm fine with that.

Jumpmasters are too good for their cost.  You'll find almost nobody arguing against that statement these days.  This list definitely works because of that fundamental cost-efficiency on the chassis, and I know that a lot of people in the community are extremely frustrated to see double Jumpmasters sitting on top of the pile for a second Worlds in a row (after Dengar/Manaroo won Worlds at the end of last year).

But if I can take a pause for thought for a second, I have to say that I don't actually mind this winning list at all, and it's certainly no Dengaroo.  The actual plastic ships on the table may look the same but last year Nand Torfs won Worlds 2016 with a Dengar that was abusing two broken mechanics (that FFG fixed with the recent FAQ) as it had both Zuckuss and Manaroo's focus-passing as fundamental mechanics driving the list.  Pairing Dengar and Manaroo may have been flavourful if you know the background of the two characters, but on the table Dengaroo was abusive and unpleasant.

Justin Phua's winning list has no such abusive mechanics, it just features Dengar getting right up in your face and giving you a mauling with pure offense, which to my mind is exactly what Dengar should be doing.

Is it probably better than it should be due to the fact they're Jumpmasters?  Yes, probably, but without Deadeye, Zuckuss or Mindlink this is probably the closest we've had to a level playing field against Jumpmasters up to now.


Tel Trevura = Better Bossk

So I enjoyed a funny coincidence on Sunday.  I had spent the day playing in my first proper tournament of the year, in which I lost the Final of our GNK tournament to local squadbuilding master Dan Sellen.  Dan was flying Dengar/Bossk and the Dengar build he had was precisely the same as the one that Justin Phua used in Worlds (and tbh it wrecked me about as hard as it wrecked Nand Torfs, so I feel a bit better about losing to it).

When I got home from that tournament to watch the last games of Worlds and to see that same Dengar in action alongside Trevura I realised that although a lot of other internet commentators were dumbfounded by Tel Trevura's appearance I was perfectly placed to analyse why he was there.

Basically, Tel Trevura is simply Bossk 2.0, especially when that greedy Dengar build is sucking in 58pts of your list.  A direct comparison between the Bossk build that Dan Sellen played against me and the Tel Trevura that Justin Phua had is really revealing.

  • Bossk (YV-666)- Adaptability, K4 Security Droid, Concussion Missiles*, Guidance Chips (42)
  • Tel Trevura (Jumpmaster 5000) - Veteran Instincts, K4 Security Droid, Unhinged Astromech, Plasma Torpedoes, Extra Munitions, Guidance Chips (40)

*Dan used Cluster Missiles, but for a cleaner comparison to Justin's Tel Trevura I've switched them for Concussion Missiles at the same cost.


It's certainly possible to build a version of Bossk that has a better comparison to Tel Trevura if you've got the points to really utilise those three crew slots, but that Bossk doesn't fit in alongside that superb Dengar build.  If you've got close to 50pts to spend then Bossk is a decent call, but in the low 40s range Tel Trevura comfortably outperforms him for the simple reason that Tel Trevura is on a Jumpmaster and Bossk isn't.

The least popular Jumpmaster pilot is better than the best YV-666 pilot, point for point.

TBH what's most unusual is that nobody had this Tel Trevura build until now, because 40pts for a PS9 Jumpmaster with two torpedo shots seems crazy good value!  I think you can expect to see this Tel Trevura build exported into other lists.


The Art of the Bump

When I watched the Final the first time I was caught up in trying to work out who was going to win and who had the advantage, as it seemed to swing back and forth over the first couple of turns of firing.  Watching it back a second time I was struck by just how powerful K4 Security Droid was, and how well Justin Phua used it by strategically bumping Dengar whenever possible.


We've recently had a nerf on an upgrade that worked whether you were stressed or bumped (the /x7 title for TIE Defenders) and I think the way Justin played his list illustrates once again just how powerful it is to be able to guarantee getting action economy regardless of where you put your ship.  With K4 Security Droid and Expertise on board Dengar doesn't need any actions at all because his damage output is fully modified anyway so long as he made a green maneuver (and like 70% of his dial is green).  Yes, Dengar loses his focus token on defense but by bumping he actually ensured that one of Nand's ships couldn't shoot at all, which is much better defense than a focus token!

I think I'm right in saying Jess Pava only fired twice all game, and so for large chunks of the Final Justin was effectively only playing against 70pts of ships!  

That huge strategic edge from good play allowed him to succeed even though the dice were favouring his opponent.  When I rewatched the Final it was because of a discussion I'd had about whether Nand's dice had been particularly hot or not, so I was watching it to compare how he performed against the expected result for each roll he got to make.  

It turns out that the perception was correct and that by the second round of firing Nand was approximately 6 damage points ahead of where he should be given the dice that were exchanged.  Primarily that had come from Tel Trevura taking a beating in the initial round of shooting, while his ships continually performed just ahead of average in damage taken.  Nand's offense dice cooled a little in later turns but you can see just how much Biggs defied the green dice odds to hang on to be the last Rebel alive!

That Justin won the Final so comfortably despite the dice being weighted against him is primarily due to his good flying.
  • Bumping Jess with Dengar removed Jess as a factor in 50% of combat turns, which gave Justin the time to wear down Nand's better green dice.
  • Protecting Tel Trevura ensured that the additional damage Nand got from his red dice did not get converted into an advantage on the table.

That's how you win Worlds, and isn't it nice to have a winner where we can so clearly point to how player skill overcame bad variance?


THE BAD

I've spent a long time talking about what was Good from Worlds and I'm going to try and stay positive by saying relatively little about what was Bad.

The Top 4 lists were fantastic.  The rest of the Top-16 cut looked very unhealthy, though, with virtually wall-to-wall Attani Mindlink scum - Jumpmasters, Shadow Casters and Protectorate Fighters in various combinations, all Mindlinked.


Jumpmasters are too good, but Mindlink is too good as well.  When the FAQ nerfed Zuckuss, Palpatine, TIE/x7 and Manaroo my immediate response 'that's good, but it's not enough' and after Worlds I still hold that opinion.
  • Attani Mindlink needs something to pin it back, though it's not clear what that should be.
  • Twin Laser Turret needs a nerf that means it can't be the sole source of damage in your squad. Right now TLT is being held down by Attani Mindlinked Jumpmasters, but if that ever changed TLT would become a problem very rapidly.  I'm concerned about the TIE Aggressor being an even more potent way of playing TLT.
  • Ordnance is very suppressive of smaller ships who can't withstand either a torpedo shot or set of Cluster Mines.  It might just be Sabine Wren who needs a change.  An argument I've read was that the agile arc-dodgers who should be able to beat super-jousters like Dengar aren't being played because they get murdered by bombs, and I think there's something to that theory.

The old way of thinking was that X-Wing had jousters, arc-dodgers and turrets, and that those three styles of play held each other in balance.  But when you can't really play arc-dodgers and the best jousters also have turrets then it's hard to argue there's a great deal of diversity in the game experience.  

Game balance is a difficult thing.  The recent FAQ made things a lot better, but there's still work to do.


THE UGLY


It's a good job I sped through 'The Bad' because this is going to take some time.  'Dialgate' in bullet points...
  • In round 3 of Day 1B of Worlds a player (Player A) was playing a game on stream when he was seen to be changing his dial (which is cheating) to avoid bumping into his own ships.  As he was playing an Attani Mindlink list and needed to focus for his team this one incidence of cheating had major repercussions through the whole game, which Player A won.
  • The internet had already swung into action and word had reached the TOs at Worlds, who looked at the evidence and gave Player A a warning.
  • The internet went nuts that cheating in a manner that gave you such a big advantage would only be punished with a warning.  It was pointed out that other players had been banned from the game for precisely this cheat.
  • The TOs released a statement that the ruling was based on the fact that Player A had not been 'maliciously' changing his dial.
  • The internet exploded that changing your dial to focus your team to get target locks to win the game was not 'malicious'.

  • After the game had ended and Player A had won the game, FFG reviewed their ruling and decided to punish him with a Game Loss which would be applied in the next round.  The game loss that Player B had suffered when Player A had cheated would stand, while Player C would win the MOV lottery and get a 100-0 win in the next round.
  • The internet went thermo-nuclear.  In amongst the majority of players expressing their unhappiness with this situation a minority decided to say some embarassingly stupid and offensive things with regards to Player A that are best left unrepeated.  The situation reached boiling point when it became clear that Player A had made the cut into Day Two, and that Player B had not made the cut and was very unhappy with what had happened.  This casserole of unpleasantness was left to simmer on the hob overnight.
  • The next morning FFG released a statement that they were talking to Player B to ensure that they could compensate him for how their handling of the original incident had affected his experience of Worlds.
  • Neither Player A nor Player C won Worlds, Player B is presumably happy with his weekend, and we had a great Top 16 and a fantastic final to crown Justin Phua the winner of Worlds 2017.

A lot of things went wrong in this chain of events, so what should have happened?
  • Player A shouldn't have cheated.  The whole thing stops dead right at the moment where he realises he's screwed up and accepts his mistake.  Winners don't use drugs.
  • The TO making the original ruling probably bungled the decision to hand out a warning.  I wasn't there, I'm not that TO, I don't know for sure what information he had available. But what I struggle to see is a scenario where he was presented with enough evidence to be sure that Player A had changed his dial (so the TO had to intervene and give a ruling) that wasn't also enough evidence to convince him that this wasn't an accidental change of the dial and was 'malicious'.
  • There should have been no confusion about either what the penalty that Player A received was (a warning upgraded an hour later to a game loss), or what the penalty that he should receive was.  If FFG's policy is that the 'standard' punishment for cheating in this way is a Game Loss then that should have been communicated, along with the ethos of why.  The internet's reaction was due to a shock disconnect between what they expected to have happen and what did happen, which could have been avoided by adequate pre-communication.
  • Although the review to upgrade the warning to a Game Loss occurred too late to affect the pairings for the next round there needed to be way to ensure that Player B was given his win and a fair chance of making the cut.  I don't know the ins and outs of how their tournament software works, but even if it just comes down to making a paper correction at the end of the day and manually adjusting his wins/MOV would have been better - far from perfect, but better.
  • The internet turned into a rabid hate mob of idiots egging each other on to worse and worse excesses.  It got extremely ugly, and was probably by far the worst element of any of this.  Shameful.



What went right?  Well, actually quite a few things.
  • FFG reviewed their original warning.  Whether this was their intention all along, or came under pressure from internet outrage I don't know, but they were prepared to review it.  There's a reason we have video reviews in football, and it's because instant  rulings aren't always right.
  • Player B was compensated for being the unwitting victim of both Player A's cheat and the inadequacies of FFG's tournament software.  Hopefully Player B goes home feeling that his Worlds trip was worthwhile, even if it was tarnished somewhat by events.
  • Player A made the cut to Day Two.  If the ruling against Player A was a Game Loss then he is still in the tournament, and if he can take that 0-100 MOV loss and still make the cut then he deserves to make the cut.  We have no evidence that he cheated to win any of his other games before or after the incident seen in stream, and I'm not prepared to make the leap to assume that he can't win a game of X-Wing fairly.  If you're still in the tournament you're still in the tournament, and that includes being able to progress to Day Two.
"SO WAIT, YOU THINK A GAME LOSS WAS RIGHT?"
I think that in the absence of penalty guidelines that tell us the correct level of punishment is disqualification then we are duty bound to respect the response of the TOs.  They are the ones who best understand the mission statement of FFG Organised Play and how to implement it.  Personally I am leaning 70/30 in favour of a Game Loss being a sufficient punishment, and I certainly don't feel that it's an unconscionably terrible decision. 
  • FFG talked to us.  Community relations are not a strong point for FFG but at least they recognised the PR disaster that was unfolding on the internet and tried to address it.  They communicated the original ruling, and they communicated at the start of Day Two that they were dealing with the customer service issue around Player B's tournament experience.


So what should happen next?
  • Player A's cheating should be reviewed to see if it is worth of a ban for a period of time.  You don't ban people on the spur of the moment, that always comes after a period of reflection and review.  I don't know if he will be banned or not, but it should at least be reviewed.
  • All the players who indulged in the worst excesses of the internet's hate mob antics should be given a one month ban.  Changing a dial to cheat at Worlds is bad but what was threatened was far worse and paints the X-Wing community in a far worse light.  It's in FFG's interests to ensure that's dealt with firmly.
  • FFG gets clear guidelines in place for what the penalties for various infractions are.  There's no published guidelines for what penalties should be for various offences, which affects both the confidence of TOs that they're applying the correct ruling and the understanding of players as to what they can expect from their TOs.  Should it be a game loss, should it be a DQ?  Without published guidelines it's left at the discretion of TOs which not only makes rulings inconsistent from one event to another but it makes the TO's job that much harder by introducing their personal discretion.  Tackling cheaters is tough and it takes a certain mindset and confidence for a TO to willingly create a potentially confrontational scenario by ruling against them rather than just handing out a meaningless warning then walking away.  I don't know if that's what originally happened in this case, but I'm sure that exactly that scenario has played out in local tournaments many times, and if TOs aren't able to point to the procedures that they're following then you make it that much harder for them to do their jobs effectively.
  • FFG TO procedures are streamlined to ensure that rulings are given in an appropriate way with the appropriate review to minimise disruption to players and the tournament.  TOs need to have the confidence to give a ruling and understand the systems that are in place to minimise their exposure should they make on the spot decisions that are not perfect.  I can only really speak from my experience of Magic The Gathering, where the judge making the initial ruling would probably have been dealt with it by pausing the game for an immediate review so that they could take the time to confer with other judges and come to the right decision.  FFG made two rulings at different points, one too late to be properly applied as the next round was underway, while Magic would take longer over the initial ruling to be confident it was correct then stand by it.
  • Player A hopefully finds a way of owning up to his actions and plays clean X-Wing in future.  
  • Everyone forgets about it and remembers Justin Phua's tactical excellence in the Final instead.  
Which is what I'm going to do now, as I bring this blog to a close...


CONGRATULATIONS JUSTIN!!!

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Auxiliary ARCs - The Rebellion's Most Versatile Ship

The recent FAQ changes have already sent huge ripples through the competitive metagame, and brought a host of Rebel ships back to the forefront.  No longer running in terror from a plague of TIE Defenders or unpalatable Dengaroos, the plucky Rebel pilots have emerged from their hiding places and begun to take back lost ground.


As I join that resurgence in Rebel fleets I'm finding myself really enjoying the ARC-170.  It's a ship I've already used a few times in the past, such as in my entertaining Ghost/Biggs/Thane squad or alongside Rey in her YT-1300.  With the T-65 and T-70 X-Wings both proving a little too flimsy for battle at present the tougher ARC is proving it's worth as a real warhorse, but more and more I'm being struck by just how versatile and flexible the ARC platform can be.  The ARC-170 is the only ship in the game to combine both Crew and Astromech upgrade slots and resourceful players are finding more and more ways to make that count with tricky or powerful combinations.

In this blog I want to look at how the four ARC pilots are finding a home in the new era of Rebel squads, and how players are maximising those unique upgrade possibilities.

Braylen Stramm

Braylen Stramm has two things going for him - he's cheap and sometimes he clears stress without needing to do a green maneuver (although as it's only sometimes it's difficult to plan for or build that into your strategy too much).  Those two factors have combined to mean that, of all the four ARC-170 pilots, Braylenn is the one who has the most prescriptive uses...
  • Braylen Stramm - Alliance Overhaul, R3-A2, Gunner (32pts)

About 80% of all Braylen lists in Listjuggler used this loadout, which I'm going to dub 'Stresscow' because it's a bit bigger than a classic 'stresshog' Gold Squadron Y-Wing.  The objective of the two ships is very similar as both bring R3-A2 as their astromech and both are capable of firing twice in a turn (with Gunner or the BTL/A4 title) to double up on the stress.  The Gunner means that 'stresscow' costs 6pts more than the Y-Wing 'stresshog' but with those points you're buying an extra point of hull, and most importantly a rear arc to throw stress out of as well as the front.

The reason you see this loadout on Braylen in particular is because it plays to his two strengths.  Firstly if he's picking up two stress per turn then the fact that he's got a chance of shedding stress may matter, but most importantly the addition of R2-A2 probably makes Braylen the first target your opponent will pick on and so you just want the cheapest body available so you're not throwing away more points than you need to when he inevitable dies.

Personally I'm not a big fan of the 'stresscow' precisely because R3-A2 makes whatever he's on such a target that they tend not to last very long, so I'd usually prefer to bring the classic Y-Wing and spend 6pts somewhere else in the squad.  What is interesting about this, though, is that the recent Stele Open winner brought us the debut of 'Stressy Jessy' (Jess Pava with R3-A2, Primed Thrusters, Integrated Astromech) and so it seems like there's maybe a sliding scale of how much you can spend on bringing R3-A2 to the table.  At 32pts Braylen with Gunner is up at the top end of that, but as Jess Pava gave up on the double stress perhaps Braylen can lose the Gunner to save points and fill that crew slot with something else?

Hold that thought...


Thane Kyrell

Of all the ARC pilots I have a real soft spot for Thane Kyrell because I just love his pilot ability!  Taking two actions in a turn is the sort of thing people pay a lot of points for with Push The Limit, and there's also some great interactions around the timing of taking one of those actions in the middle of the combat phase.  It's something that I've already exploited to use Jyn Erso to feed Focus to Biggs when I know there will be enemies in my arc, and there are some great other uses as well.

The obvious synergy with Jyn Erso (Thane's ability triggers when something is in your arc, Jyn needs people to be in your arc) means that she's probably the single most common upgrade on Thane Kyrell builds, including this one which did very well at the recent Tatooine Open as part of a four ship Rebel squad under the command of Daniel Alzueta Curto.
  • Thane Kyrell - Alliance Overhaul, R3-A2, Jyn Erso (30pts)

So when we discussed Braylen Stramm's 'stresscow' I left you holding a thought about maybe not needing the Gunner and you could use something else instead?  Well that's exactly what this is doing with the ARC-170 coming in cheaper than the 'stresscow' despite using Thane as a pilot over the cheaper Braylen.  Daniel's list also featured Biggs Darklighter to act as a shield for Thane, and in return Thane fed focus to help keep Biggs alive with Jyn Erso... it's a beautiful friendship!

The versatility of the ARC-170 really gets highlighted in this next version of Thane Kyrell, which uses R2-D6 in the Astromech slot to add an EPT to the ship and really cash in on that free action with Expose!
  • Thane Kyrell - Alliance Overhaul, Expose, R2-D6, Rey (33pts)

So with this loadout you can easily launch fully modified 4 dice attacks.  Simple stack a couple of focus tokens on Rey in the early turns then move in to attack and activate Expose.  When your opponent attacks a nearby ship you're free to take a Target Lock and unload with the whole lot.  Pair this with Biggs Darklighter to ensure your opponent has to attack something else and you're laughing!

Thane's mid-combat action has other uses too - it's great for setting up a target lock for a Torpedo strike, for instance, and in this version that I've been using I take full advantage of that by equipping the crew/astromech combination of Weapons Engineer and M9-G8.
  • Thane - Alliance Overhaul, Weapons Engineer, M9-G8, Plasma Torpedo, Guidance Chips (35pts)

Weapons Engineer and M9-G8 is a great combination that only ARC pilots can use as they're the onle ones with both slots available.  You can either place your target locks on friendly ships to help improve your damage output, or on enemy ships to try and reroll their hits into blanks.  I added the Plasma Torpedo in this example to give Thane some real bite in the first round of firing so he's not just a support ship but also bring some fight of his own.

I'm sure these lists above only scratch the surface of what Thane can get up to and almost any upgrade with an Action: tag is worth at least thinking about for whether Thane can take advantage or not.  The biggest trick is ensuring that he's riding alongside something else (Biggs, Stresshog etc) that's drawing all the attention in the early game so you got those free actions!


Norra Wexley

Wait a minute, did I forget about Shara Bey?  No, but I'm leaving her to last because I want to talk about Norra Wexley first.  Get over it.

Norra Wexley (mother of 'Snap' Wexley from The Force Awakens) is a straight up brawler.  Big Momma Wexley has a fantastic pilot ability that allows her to punch well above her weight, and also allows her to stick around on the table a bit longer than usual.  Unfortunately to use Norra's ability properly you'll need two actions in a turn - one to throw down the Target Lock and a second to give you the Focus token you'll need. 

That requirements means that the vast majority of Norra Wexley lists are wedded to Push The Limit as her Elite Pilot Talent, and then work out from there.

There's really two 'families' of Norra Wexley players and it's the Astromech slot that divides them.  Because Push The Limit is going to leave Norra stressed every turn she's going to spend a lot of time doing green maneuvers, and that opens the door to two iconic astromechs...

That's right, ladies and gentlemen, it's R2-D2 vs BB-8!

"Iiiiiiiiiin the BLUE corner, weighing in at 32 kilograms and standing 3 feet 7 inches tall.  It's the Artoo from Naboo, the 'mech you can't wreck... Artoooooo Deeeeeeeeeeetoooooooooo!
And the challenger, fighting out of the ORANGE corner.  Weighing 18 kilograms and rolling in at 2 feet 2 inches.  He's backu from Jakku and here to prove that size matters not, so give a big thumbs up for... Beebeeeee Eeeiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiighttt!"

R2-D2 gives you 'regen Norra' while BB-8 creates what has been dubbed 'agility Norra' and it's worth paying a little bit more attention to because of just how BB-8 interacts with Push The Limit.  Agility Norra can reveal a green maneuver then use BB-8 to perform a barrel roll and THEN use Push The Limit to perform an action (Focus/TL) and generate stress.  This all happened before you actually performed the green maneuver, though, so now you move and clear the stress and get to take yet another action.  While R2-D2 Norra uses Push The Limit to TL/Focus and end the turn stressed, BB-8 Norra can TL/Focus/Barrel Roll and end the turn unstressed so that her options are wide open on the next turn.

BTW: the potential of BB-8 and Push The Limit was something I touched on in this very early blog about Poe!

The downside to Agility Norra over Regen Norra, of course, is that the added maneuvering of BB-8 is essential to avoid her taking too much damage because without R2-D2 she's no way of regenerating any lost shields.  

The BB-8 Norra has plenty of tricks but it's the sheer reliability of trusty old R2-D2 that keeps players coming back to him time and time again.

With powerful synergies already being locked up in the Elite Pilot Talent and Astromech slots players often have a pretty free hand in what to use in Norra's Crew slot.  C-3PO is frequently reunited with his counterpart R2-D2 to make Norra even tougher to bring down than she already is, while other choices might maximise the danger of her rear arc with Tail Gunner, or look for even more Focus tokens with Rey or Kyle Katarn.  The final piece of the puzzle is often the addition of Vectored Thrusters.  The ARC's achilles heel is a weak dial with poor options for turning around, especially when Push The Limit leaves you stressed and unable to K-turn - even more so if you're wedded to green moves - and Vectored Thrusters gives you essential options for how to handle those turns or for keeping opponents in your rear arc as you grind around the board.
  • Norra Wexley - Alliance Overhaul, Push The Limit, Kyle Katarn, R2-D2, Vectored Thrusters (41pts)

Above is a pretty straight forward Regen Norra build as an example, with Kyle Katarn ensuring that Norra gets a Focus token even if she uses one of her Push The Limit actions to barrel roll and reposition her arcs.  This type of Norra Wexley build is pretty self-sustaining so you see it plugged into a bunch of different lists - I've seen it supporting Rey, for instance, and I've seen it running alongside three Snap/Crack A-Wings (with Rey crew subbed in for Kyle Katarn to save a point).  It's not an immediately obvious comparison to make but I think that 'Regen Norra' is to the Rebels what Whisper's TIE Phantom is to the Imperials - a ~40pts standalone ship that can be relied upon to deal a fair chunk of damage whilst also defending itself (with regen or cloaking).  Not obvious to put those two pilots in the same pigeon box but, yeah, I think they've got a lot more in common than you'd immediately expect.

Although the battle of the astromechs has been overwhelmingly won by R2-D2 in terms of the number of players using him, it was an Agility Norra with BB-8 that recently surprised many players when John Procter won the Stele Open...

  • Norra Wexley - Alliance Overhaul, Push The Limit, Kyle Katarn, BB-8 (37pts)

The killer trick in John's list wasn't just his Norra loadout, though.  What was really clever was how it worked in synergy with the rest of his squad and, in particular, with Shara Bey in a second ARC-170...


Shara Bey

According to meta-wing.com Shara Bey is the least popular of the four ARC-170 pilots, played only roughly half as often as either Thane Kyrell or Braylenn Stramm, and fully 80% less than the main gun Norra Wexley.  I think the main reason for this is that Shara Bey is almost never the first ARC you put into a list and instead she usually supports another ARC.  You can put Braylen in as a standalone Stresscow, you can add Thane to support Biggs, Norra is rough and tumble and can go with anything but Shara... Shara is the shy quiet one that likes to sit in the shadow of her more gregarious friends.

Shara probably competes most closely with Thane Kyrell for the role of 'support ARC' and what she's mostly got going for her over Thane is that native EPT slot.  Yes there are Thane builds that use an EPT with R2-D6 but if you want to pack a decent Astromech as well then Shara is your girl.  That's what veteran UK player Rasta Maice used to his advantage last year when he took Norra/Shara/Biggs to victory in a large community tournament last year...
  • Shara Bey - Alliance Overhaul, Draw Their Fire, Weapons Engineer, R2-D2 (36pts)

Alongside Shara Bey's EPT slot the other main reason for bringing the Bey is her ability to contribute target locks for the rest of her team.  That's what makes Weapons Engineer one of the most common upgrades on Shara builds, and it's also what makes her such a good partner for Norra Wexley as it more easily allows Norra to use her Target Lock/Focus combination on defense as well as attack.

That partnership with Norra Wexley was taken one step further by John Procter's Stele Open winning list, with Shara almost acting as big sister to Norra...
  • Shara Bey - Alliance Overhaul, Adaptability, Jan Ors, R2-D2 (34pts)

If you remember the 'Agility Norra' that John used was lacking regenerating shields as he packed BB-8 not R2-D2, well that was all fine because Shara Bey had Norra's back and gave a sort of regeneration by proxy by Jan Ors feeding an Evade token into Norra for her second Focus token that she got from Kyle Katarn.  It made target priority trickier - did you try and shoot the slippery agility Norra Wexley despite her Evade token, or did you accept having to chew through Shara Bey and her regenerating shields before you could start on Norra?

As I said at the top there's a reason why Shara Bey is the least loved ARC pilot, but there's also no doubt that she can make an excellent wingman (Wingmaam?) for her buddies!


So there you have it - ARCs may not be sexy but they sure are proving useful and earning their corn among the very best ships the Rebels have available.  They can be powerful warhorses, stress-dealing frustrations or tactical support ships, they can operate independently or in tandem with other ARCs.  With their unique upgrade slots they can do just about anything, in fact!

I'm already a big fan of the ARC-170 platform, are you?


EXAMPLE ARC-170 SQUADS

Rasta Maice - Nerf Herder Open 2016 (UK) - WINNER
  • Norra Wexley - Push The Limit, Kyle Katarn, R5-P9, Alliance Overhaul (38pts)
  • Shara Bey - Draw Their Fire, Weapons Engineer, R2-D2. Alliance Overhaul (36pts)
  • Biggs Darklighter - R4-D6, Integrated Astromech (26pts)

Daniel Alzueta Curto - Tatooine Open 2017 (Spain) - TOP 8
  • Captain Rex
  • Roark Garnet - Twin Laser Turret, Jan Ors
  • Biggs Darklighter - R2-D2, Integrated Astromech
  • Thane Kyrell - Jyn Erso, R3-A2, Alliance Overhaul

John Procter - Stele Open 2017 (USA) - WINNER
  • Norra Wexley - Push The Limit, Kyle Katarn, BB-8, Alliance Overhaul (37pts)
  • Shara Bey - Adaptability, Jan Ors, R2-D2. Alliance Overhaul (34pts)
  • Jess Pava - R3-A2, Primed Thrusters, Integrated Astromech (28pts)

"Duck Duck Goose" - Various Tournaments
  • Braylen Stramm - R3-A2, Gunner, Alliance Overhaul (32pts)
  • Norra Wexley - Push The Limit, C-3PO, R2-D2, Vectored Thrusters, Alliance Overhaul (41pts)
  • Biggs Darklighter - R4-D6, Integrated Astromech (26pts)