Thursday, 28 April 2016

"I'm not such a bad pilot myself!" - Pilot Skill and the Wave 8 metagame

The Regionals season is underway with the last few weekends bringing us results and winning squads from several big events across the USA.  What makes this particularly interesting is that Regionals is the first big test of the new Wave 8 ships and metagame, so I had a sharp eye out for what was changing as players got their hands on the shiny new toys of Wave 8.

The answer to "what has changed?" seems to be "a hell of a lot".  I've pulled together all the top lists that I'm aware of from Regionals, and then gone back to Store Championships season in February and pulled what is hopefully a representative sample of squads from the wide variety of lists played in the smaller Store Championships.  I'm comparing approximately 180 ships in Regionals with approximately 150 ships from my sample of Store Championships to see what has changed. 

The most immediate thing that I noticed was that Pilot Skill seemed to be much lower in Regionals than it was in the Store Championships just a couple of months ago, at least at the top end.  Down at the lower reaches there was a peak at Pilot Skill 2 in Store Championships that has now been replaced by two big stacks of ships at PS3 and PS4.

Pilot Skill 2 to 4

Digging under the numbers what appears to have happened is almost a total collapse in the number of Y-Wings bringing Twin Laser Turrets (both Rebel and Scum variants), and in supporting Bandit Squadron Pilots in their Z-95 Headhunters.  In the Wave 8 metagame almost all the ships left at PS2 are Lambda Shuttles with Omicron Group Pilot.

The surge of PS3 is entirely down to the popularity of the generic pilots in the Wave 8 big ships, with the Jumpmaster 5000's Contracted Scout accounting for approximately 1 in 6 of all ships fielded!  Joining the Contracted Scout is Lothal Rebel, the cheapest way to field the mammoth VCX-100 "Ghost".

What's happened at PS4 is very interesting, though, and I think needs to be seen in the context of the threat from Contracted Scout that has arrived at PS3.  What are known as 'Crack Swarms' were already a successful option before Wave 8 arrived but the huge front-loaded damage output of the Crack Swarm makes it one of the strongest options for destroying a Contracted Scout before it can fire.  Joining the classic TIE Fighter 'Crack Swarms' is something new and exciting, though - a Rebel 'Crack Swarm'!  Nicknamed "Chihuahua's" we are seeing flights of five Green Squadron A-Wings all kitted out with Test Pilots to run both Adaptability (to raise to PS4) and Crack Shot.  Joining both variants on the the Crack Swarm to ensure that PS4 is very crowded is the sucker punch-flinging TIE pilot "Wampa".

Pilot Skill 8 to 11

What is happening at the top end of Pilot Skill isn't directly affected by the changes at lower Pilot Skills, but is possibly even more telling.  First of all, fewer ships are in these top brackets at all: in my sample of Store Championship lists 47% of all ships were Pilot Skill 8 or more and 29% were true 'aces' and fighting at Pilot Skill 9 or more, frequently using Veteran Instincts to jostle for a higher position in what became known as "The Pilot Skill War".

Well, early results from Regionals suggest that the Pilot Skill War has ended, or at least that an uneasy truce has broken out.  From 47% of ships at PS8+ in Store Champs it's down to 36%, and more tellingly only 14% of pilots are PS9 or above in Regionals, less than half the 29% that was the case just a couple of month ago!

I can back that up with another incredible statistic.  Outside of TIE Phantoms, who need Veteran Instincts to get best use from their Advanced Cloaking Devices, in Store Championships a stunning 16% OF ALL SHIPS were running Veteran Instincts as their Elite Pilot Talent.  In Regionals it's only 4%.

Instead of ace pilots scrambling over each other with Veteran Instincts to try and climb as high as possible up the Pilot Skill tower Regionals has seen a slide back down to PS8, and also a change in what is happening at PS8.  

During Store Championships all the true aces were scrapping it out at Pilot Skill 9 to 11, and in fact the most common PS8 pilot in my sample was Miranda Doni in her regenerating K-Wing.  In Regionals, though, the Twin Laser-Turreted Miranda has suffered same fate as the cheaper PS2 Y-Wings and we've seen the bracket taken over by nimble fighters.  The Inquisitor is another Wave 8 ship that has come in and become a firm favourite with Imperial players and Omega Leader was already popular but has cemented his place by often being the saving over a more expensive ace that allows you to also field "Wampa".  In addition to this Carnor Jax is no longer the poor cousin to Soontir Fel's Interceptor as his ability causes the Jumpmasters some serious problems, while Howlrunner also picks up some more play as the TIE 'Crack Swarms' become more popular.

All in all PS8 is where a lot of action is right now, with the slightly cheaper aces available allowing players to squeeze just that little bit more power into their squads at the expense of some positioning against other aces.  With aces overall dropping as a % of pilots it's perhaps sensible that they'd refocus away from hunting each other to ensuring that they can handle larger squadrons of cheap pilots instead.

Ship Changes

Slicing the data by ship types rather than pilot skill really only reinforces the changes that I talked about above.

For the Rebels the humble A-Wing has been the big beneficiary of the new meta, becoming the go-to ship for low PS rebels.  What's dropped out is virtually all of the Twin Laser Turrets: 16% of all ships in my Store Champs sample were K-Wings or Y-Wings with Twin Laser Turret, but that's now only 4%.  There's also been a big drop in the dogfighting T-70s and those swarms of Z-95 Bandits.

There hasn't been such a seismic change in the Imperial ships being used, with the possible exception of Darth Vader falling out of favour to be replaced by cheaper aces and make way for the TIE Advanced Prototype coming in.  There's also been a drop in the number of Decimators, which is balanced off a little by slightly more Lambda Shuttles to ferry the Emperor around instead.

For the Scum, overall the times are good and more players are using Scum than ever before due to the allure of the powerful Jumpmaster 5000.  These tables are by ship and so some Scum pilots are 'lost' in the rebel numbers of HWKs and Y-Wings, but even allowing for that there are approximately double the number of Scum ships getting onto top tables in Regionals than was the case before Wave 8 arrived.  With 14.4% of all ships played the Jumpmaster 5000 is the second most heavily played ship in Regionals!  Not bad for a debutant, and with the low cost of a TIE Fighter if you were to rank the ships by the weighting of how many points were spent then the Jumpmaster 5000 would be the top dog by a distance!

Rounding Up

All of this data comes from just the first few Regionals, and we've a long season ahead of us for all of this to change.  But even at this early stage I'm finding the changes really interesting and surprising.  Some of this was easy to predict - that the Jumpmaster would make a big splash seemed almost certain once the 'Triple Jumps' squad concept broke out.  Some of the changes I'd been able to foresee as a result of the Jumpmasters coming in (Twin Laser Turrets taking a big hit, Regen Rebels suffering) but some have been really pleasant surprises (the rise of the A-Wing and the demise of Veteran Instincts).

Overall I'm really enjoying watching the X-Wing metagame reform and coalesce around PS4 and 8, instead of 2 and 9, and I'm looking forward to seeing how this story continues to develop as the metagame wheel turns.

There's just one last thing I want to end on.  In all of these results from the Regional Championships that I've shared, I have to own up and admit that I've ignored one of the tournaments.  The Regional in Marietta, Georgia didn't fit the pattern of changes as neatly as the others, with the metagame there really a halfway hybrid between Store Champs and Regionals.  We saw the low-end shift towards Pilot Skill 3 and 4, but the top end of the tournament still saw extensive use of Veteran Instincts and aces trying to out-ace each other.  This is an important thing to note for players trying to plan their own strategies off the back of what I've shared: experiences may vary, so know your own local metagame!  

Until next time: may the Force be with you.  


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  3. I have one complaint about this blog - not enough articles! Great job!

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