Thursday, 1 September 2016

"Laser-Dodging Gangster" - Soontir Fel and You

Soontir Fel.  Few pilots in the whole of the X-Wing Miniatures Game trigger the sort of emotional response that you get when you start talking about the elite Imperial Ace who has crushed so many dreams.  When I was starting to think about this blog I posted a question on the UK X-Wing Facebook page asking people to describe Soontir Fel in three words.  I expected to get a dozen replies, maybe 20 max.

I got over 140, and I've turned some of those responses into word clouds that show precisely what players think of Soontir.

EVERYONE, it seems, has an opinion on Soontir Fel and whether that opinion is good or bad seems to depend largely on whether you're on on his team or up against him!

Love him or hate him, and plenty of players do both, I'm going to look at what the pieces are that make Soontir Fel's TIE Interceptor such a formidable opponent and then at what you can do to try and knock the cocky Imperial baron off his perch should you find yourself across the table from him.

F@#$ing Soontir Slippery Fel

The secret to Soontir's notoriety is encapsulated by that one word: Slippery.  I also liked some of the other descriptions I got in my three word replies, such as "Like Nailing Fog" or the plea for him to "Bloody hold still!".   What Soontir does best is avoid taking damage, with the powerful EPT Push The Limit sitting at the base of two potent defensive strategies - Arc-Dodging and Turtling.  

Arc-dodging means precisely what it says - with the combination of a Boost and/or Barrel Roll coming in at PS9 the nimble TIE Interceptor can frequently avoid all incoming fire entirely by simply seeing where the opponent's firing arcs are and then maneuvering out of them.  Usually Soontir Fel equips Autothrusters that mean you can't engage him effectively at long range, but the closer you get to a TIE Interceptor the more narrow your cone of fire becomes and the easier it is for Soontir to duck sideways to somewhere you can't shoot at him.  This might mean Soontir misses his own shot but the Imperial Aces player frequently plays a slow waiting game, usually happy to give up a shot of his own to avoid incoming fire on his fragile TIE.  He'll back his own maneuverability to create another shooting chance at some point in future turns so long as he lives past this one.

'Turtling' is usually the TIE Interceptor's Plan B, coming into force when Soontir finds himself unable to dance away from opposing firing arcs - say you've laid down arcs from several ships and he can't avoid all of them, or your ships have a higher Pilot Skill so he doesn't know exactly where your arc is going to fall.  The classic 'turtle' move is for Soontir to take a Focus action and an Evade action, gaining a second Focus token from his pilot ability, and then daring you to try your hardest against his fantastic dice modification.

This table clearly shows just how effectively Soontir's defensive upgrades combine to shield the TIE Interceptor from incoming fire.  A typical 3 dice attack against a naked TIE Interceptor would deal 0.6 damage on average, and 1.2 damage if you could manage to sneak into range 1 for an extra dice.  The extra green dice from Stealth Device and the Evade token that Push The Limit enables you to stack alongside Focus rapidly shunt those chances of hitting down to a 93% chance of missing entirely at range 2 - just 0.1 damage on average, and only 0.3 damage at range 1!

As if that wasn't bad enough it gets even worse if Soontir Fel is flying escort for the Emperor on his Lambda shuttle.  The combination of the Emperor and an Evade token almost entirely shuts down your chances of doing any damage with 3 red dice, and cuts even a range 1 attack down to only a 6% chance of doing any damage at all!

This, in a nutshell, is what vexes opponent's of Soontir Fel most badly.  One of the descriptions I got was "No point shooting" and what this table shows is that unless you're at Range 1 then lot of the time that's basically true, especially when the Emperor is on hand to help iron out the last few odd chances that something may go wrong.   The whole build of Soontir's TIE Interceptor is an overlapping web of complementary defensive upgrades that box any resistance into near-futility.  

Soontir Fel can just be a black hole for your red dice, gobbling up any hits that you try to throw his way. 

This is what happened to Jeff Berling in the final of the North American Championships last month when even the dreaded Dengaroo found itself hurling all its red dice into the abyss of Soontir Fel's slipperiness for zero reward, ultimately costing him the game.

 Almost whatever your plan is, Soontir has the appropriate response to hand..
  • Try to stay at long range to keep him in arc?  He's got Autothrusters.
  • Try to get close for an extra dice?  He's going to barrel roll out of your arc.
  • Try to pin him in multiple arcs to wear down his one-shot Evades and Palpatine uses?  He can probably dodge clear of some of your shots and still have a Focus and Evade.
  • Use a turret so he can't arc dodge?  Autothrusters again.
  • Bring a high PS pilot to stop him dodging arcs?  Well you can't afford many of them, then, and he'll defend with Evade and Palpatine.

So... what the hell ARE you supposed to do!?!?

Going Monster Hunting

If you allow Soontir Fel to run wild and free he's probably going to win, especially if you try and fight fair.  It doesn't really matter how many generic X-Wings or TIE Fighters you bring to the party, he's probably going to see them all off by a combination or dodging and turtling.  I've heard legend of players who took 35 points of Soontir Fel to tournaments and managed to win games against opponents running 100pts of ships, and I believe them!  

No, to beat this laser-dodging gangster you need to come properly equipped for the hunt if you want to stand a chance.  Failing that you need be prepared to fight smart or better yet... fight dirty!

"What do you kids need all this stuff for?"
"Monster Hunting"
"Oh.  Okay"
If we take the start point of assuming that we're going to be trying to kill Soontir when he has all his actions available and the Emperor watching over his dice then the odds of us dealing any damage at all are very slim indeed, even if we manage to catch him at range 1.  

So what upgrades can we use to try and shift those odds in our favour a bit?

Push The Limit
In this example I'm assuming we use Push The Limit (or similar action economy) to fire at Soontir Fel with both a Focus and a Target Lock to modify our dice so that we get more hits and put more pressure on his green dice.  Unfortunately, as the table shows, Soontir is so good at producing evades with his dice that simply making your dice better doesn't really improve your chances.  The biggest impact from making your dice better isn't that you push much more damage through, it just makes it much more likely that you force Soontir to start burning his Evades/Focuses/Palpatines to prevent the damage, so perhaps if you can follow up with a second attack you might reap rewards from adding Push The Limit.

Push The Limit is standing in for most of the positive dice modification you can add to your attack, so it can also represent the top end of what you might get from Predator/Dengar allowing you to reroll some blanks.  PTL is giving you a full target lock of rerolls which is better than either of those options, so you can safely assume that Predator/Dengar are not the key to beating Soontir as they're both worse than a target lock.

Wedge / Tractor Beam
Both these effects remove an Agility from the target, so if modifying your own red dice with a Target Lock doesn't do very much then do you get better results from taking away one of Soontir's green dice?

Well... no.  Not really.  

The results are almost identical to Push The Limit improving your dice because while ignoring the extra dice that the TIE Interceptor gets from the Stealth Device does help it doesn't deal with the fact that in an Evade Token and Palpatine they effectively start out with 2 evade results before they even have to roll their green dice.

Zuckuss & 4-LOM
These tricky bounty hunter crew cards have been nipping around the edges of tournaments ever since they arrived in Wave 8 because although they can be painful to use they bring some effective interfering with your opponent's defences for a super-low cost of just 1pt.  So how do they do in your test?

Well compared to taking away an Agility they're actually pretty good, and when the opponent has four green dice they're pretty similar because forcing your opponent to reroll any of his non-blank dice with Zuckuss pretty much adds up to the 1 evade result you can certainly deny your opponent by using 4-LOM to block their use of the Evade Token in your attack.  Where the two bounty hunters differ is that if you're going to be attacking with several ships then 4-LOM is only supressing the Evade Token for his attack, while the benefit of the extra pressure from Zuckuss carries over into future attack if you were able to force Soontir to spend his Evade Token to avoid damage.

Even so, although bringing either of these boys to the fight is about twice as effective as something like Push The Limit or Wedge it's still only a small chance of dealing damage, especially if you can't catch Soontir in arc at range 1!

Much more expensive than either of the bounty hunter options but available to every faction is the Gunner, who gives you a second shot at downing your target if the first one misses.  The strength of this upgrade against Soontir Fel is that if you're able to force him into burning his one-shot Evade/Emperor uses on the first shot you've got a much better chance of pushing damage through with your second shot.  In fact the one thing really standing in the way of Gunner being an excellent option against Soontir Fel in particular is that Soontir gets a second Focus Token when he 'turtles', meaning hes'  still got good defences for the second attack.

That second Focus has a big impact on how good Gunner is, meaning that for an extra four points you don't really swing your odds of hitting Soontir all that much.  A second reason for why you don't get all that extra point investment back in damage dealt is that you might not have enough dice modification to make your second attack as dangerous as it could be.  The shots where you roll three natural hits with your first attack and then Focus three hits up in your second attack are going to put a lot of pressure onto Soontir's tokens, but too often you're going to come out of rolling those 6 dice with only 4 or 5 hits and Soontir can flex his defences to match them.

This is why upgrading to the super-gunner of Luke Skywalker makes such a difference to your damage output because he means your second shot can put more pressure on Soontir's dice once his tokens have been spent on your first.  It's also similar to the sort of result other 'double tap' effects like Corran Horn or Dengar might have when they've got more dice modification to back up the second shot, such as with Fire Control System or Lone Wolf.

The new boogeyman of X-Wing is Dengar, specifically the version that sees him paired up with Manaroo and carrying Zuckuss as his crew, so he can push all your green dice down with rerolls and not worry about the stress.  This is the build that debuted at North American Championships and came close to winning the whole event only losing in the final due to... err... Soontir Fel.

In truth Jeff Berling, who piloted Dengaroo in the final, was a bit unlucky to get nothing from his efforts to chase Soontir down.  He managed to set up not just one range 1 shot against Soontir but FOUR shots, only to finish empty handed as Soontir scooted away unharmed to fight another day.  With Lone Wolf and Focus to fix his own red dice and Zuckuss to push down any non-blank rolls from Soontir the Dengaroo player buys approximately a 1 in 3 chance of dealing damage at range 1, the flipside of which being that even with all this the supposed 'anti-aces' build of Dengaroo still manages to miss entirely 66% of the time at range 1!  

I wasn't in the final of the NA Championships.  I hadn't played and beaten the great players and strong lists that Jeff had played and beaten to get there, so any criticism of strategy has to be seen through that lens - he was there for a reason, and I wasn't there.  But, that said, chasing Soontir Fel with Dengar is a high variance game, even at Range 1.  Four range 1 shots means you SHOULD get a damage through leaves open a pretty sizeable probability that you won't, while the alternate strategy of using Dengar to remove the Lambda Shuttle first would certainly reap a reward.  That said, I'm sure Jeff knew the odds when he made those choices and took those shots... he just wound up on the losing side of variance.

Wes Janson & Wedge Antilles
Creeping back into popularity is the 'trench run' list of T-65 X-Wings utilising three great pilot abilities - Wes, Wedge and Biggs.  With the potential for playing both Wedge and Wes at a higher pilot skill than Soontir Fel you might be able to avoid his arc-dodging ways by moving after him, and if you can get Soontir into arc of both your aces they might combine to do some real damage.

Wes Janson shoots first and removes the Evade token in much the same way 4-LOM does, then Wedge can shoot and reduce Soontir's agility.  The double-nerf of Soontir's defences can start to open the door on damage, especially at range one when both your ships roll four dice.  The hardest part here is that you need the notoriously slippery Soontir to oblige and sit in arc of BOTH your ships... no easy ask!

Omega Leader
The popular TIE ace Omega Leader (or 'Lockdown' to his friends) really puts serious hurt onto Soontir Fel by preventing him from using either his Focus or his Evade tokens to fix his dice, and even using Juke to push down the first evade that Soontir rolls! 

Unfortunately the one loophole in Omega Leader's plan is that he can't prevent Emperor Palpatine from saving Soontir because he's aboard a different ship to the one Omega has target locked.  Even with having to contend with the Emperor, though, Omega Leader has a very good chance of pushing damage though.  Four green dice without Focus are only going to average just over 1 evade result, and with Juke you can push the first one back down to a focus result and ignore it.  That puts Omega Leader's red dice output pretty much only up against the Emperor's evade, meaning that even with throwing 1 less dice than our other options Omega Leader comes out and pretty much the best option for fighting the crazy defensive skills of Soontir Fel.  

Omega Leader is also one of the few ships effective out at range 3 because he can ignore Autothrusters and the extra green dice Soontir gets at that range is worth very little when he can't focus.

Double Stress
Soontir Fel lives on his actions - that's where he gets the Focus to convert a couple of dice into evades and the Evade token to go on top.  Without actions Soontir is in real trouble, and if you can find a way to give him a second stress (after Push The Limit gave him the first) then you can ensure he's going action-free on the next turn.

There are a few options for where that second stress comes from, such as Tactician or the 'stressbot' R3-A2 attaching stress to your attacks, or making one of your ships an unpaletable target with Rebel Captive.  However you get the stress onto Soontir it marks a fantastic opportunity to capitalise, pretty much equivalent to the impact that Omega Leader has on Soontir's defenses - you've got one more red dice but not Juke to push his dice down so it comes out very similar.

The 'Party Bus'
A recent development at top level X-Wing tournaments is the so-called 'Party Bus' which sees a YV-666 loaded up with more scum & villainy than the Mos Eisley Cantina on a busy Friday night!  What the Party Bus does is effectively throw together three of the options we've already discussed - the rerolls of Dengar to make your own red dice stronger, then the double-whammy of BOTH Zuckuss and 4-LOM.  It means the YV-666 eats a ton of stress tokens and even Ions itself, but hot-diggity-dog is it good at smashing through green dice.

I was stunned to see how effective the Party Bus is against Soontir Fel when I ran the maths, so much so that I reran them a couple of times just to check, but it's right.  Using 4-LOM to prevent the Evade Token, Zuckuss to reroll any non-blank dice and Dengar to force maximum hits you batter Soontir's defences.  In fact it's such a powerful combination that you push Soontir's odds right back to square one and he's barely any better than a naked TIE Interceptor without any of the trimmings!

Add to that the fact that the YV-666 has a 180 degree arc that's tough to dodge and you start to see quite why the Party Bus is finding a place in player's lists - it's almost the ultimate in bug-splatting goodness when it comes to nailing 'F@#$ing Soontir Slippery Fel' to the wall.

What's striking, though, is that it takes the combined might of all the upgrades on the Party Bus to finally bring your odds against Soontir to the point where they're better than, well... simply flying better and landing a bump, as we're about to see!

Bump Block Feedback

Bump Soontir.  Done.  Finished.  Thus endeth the lesson.  You can go.

If you can successfully predict where Soontir Fel is going to be after he's completed his maneuver then you buy an excellent chance of injuring or at least wounding him, not just because you will deny him the actions he needs to stack up those vital Focus/Evade tokens but because you'll also know where he is on the table and can move other ships into great firing positions.  

A lot of the time a bumped Soontir is a dead Soontir, assuming you've got other ships around to take advantage of his misfortune.

The hard part, of course, is actually getting that bump to land.  Most of the time Soontir Fel is going to start a turn stressed after using Push The Limit and that means you know he's going to shoot for a green move, which cuts his options down a lot - often to either a hard 2 turn in either direction or a 4 straight forwards to try and get out of trouble.  It's possible to get a ship into position so that their base blocks both a turn or bank in one direction, and all it takes is an unfortunate asteroid placement to block one of Soontir's other options and you can start to really cut his options.

When your opponent knows you're looking for a bump it can become a real game of cat and mouse, with the Soontir player trying to guess your moves and plan ahead to avoid asteroids becoming a problem, while you're trying to second guess their move if they assume you're going to block the obvious one, then they try to second-guess your second-guess... ad infinitum.

Some ships are better at blocking than others - a Barrel Roll action allows a degree of fine-tuning over precisely where your base sits that can make a crucial difference particularly on large base ships like the Jumpmaster 5000 or YT-2400.  As players adapted to the Wave 8 meta one of the developments was a ship designed specifically for bumping; the 'Bumpmaster' which was was a Jumpmaster equipped with Intimidation, Anti-Pursuit Lasers and Intelligence Agent.

The reward for blocking Soontir, though, is so good that for many players it's going to be their only go-to option in trying to beat the odds and bag themselves a coveted scalp.

Fight Dirty

When all else fails.  When the bumps don't land and you just don't want to spend all day futilely throwing red dice into a black hole of Soontir's evasiveness, there's one last trick for the players who really, REALLY, want to hurt Soontir: just ignore his green dice entirely!

Feedback Array, Wampa, Darth Vader crew, Autoblaster Turret, Black Market Slicer Tools... Soontir Fel hates to play against these cards because they simply negate so much of his defenses and push through guaranteed damage regardless of his Evade tokens or Palpatine protection.

Perhaps the ultimate threat to Soontir is Darth Vader riding on a Decimator with a Gunner.  That combination delivers the potential that he's going to suck up two Critical Hits guaranteed and could potentially explode right there from a Direct Hit... and that it's a threat that is just as effective at range 3 as range 1 and in any direction?  Brutal.  You pay a high price for pouring that much damage onto your Decimator, though, and against almost any other target it's often not worth the points investment, but against the shieldless TIE Interceptors in particular Darth Vader is maybe the tool you need to swing the matchup.

Feedback Array and Autoblaster Turret are very similar in that they share the same weakness - they're a lot better at simply making Soontir stay out of range 1 than they are at actually dealing damage.  With Boost and Barrel Roll options available it's usually pretty easy for Soontir to dance out of range and alone these upgrades do little actually land damage, they're more like large obstacles on the board that limit where Soontir can comfortably sit.

Coming soon in Wave 9 (now just a couple of weeks away, allegedly) is something new and more potent than either Feedback Array or Autoblaster Turret - Black Market Slicer Tools (BMST, to it's friends).  BMST is a new Illicit upgrade available to scum ships that really hurts the lists that rely on Push The Limit by punishing the fact they are reliably handing themselves stress.  Alhough there's only 50% chance of dealing damage the strength of BMST is that it has a much larger range and also that it's an action, so you can fly into range to use it and not have to wait until Soontir has moved and had the chance to dodge away again, the way he could with Feedback Array.  For just 1pt BMST is a very attractive tool to complement a lot of Scum builds and I think it's going to be rapidly adopted in competitive lists.  

I don't see BMST ringing the death knell for Soontir Fel completely, but so long as it shaves just a little bit off his competitive edge and untouchable reputation it may do the job it needs to.


What comes out of all this, unfortunately is that the Rebels are desperately short of answers for Soontir Fel.  If you're playing Imperials you can call on Darth Vader, Omega Leader or Wampa to help you ignore all of Soontir's dice modification, while if you're playing Scum & Villainy you've got the combined might of Zuckuss, 4-LOM and Illicits like Feedback Array and Black Market Slicer Tools, and ships like the YV-666 and Jumpmaster 5000 that are well-equipped to threaten Soontir with either a wide firing arc or flexible barrel roll.  But if you're trying to fight the good fight for the Rebellion you've got... uh... fly better and try to bump him?

These are dark times for the Rebellion.  The Imperial Raider and Imperial Veterans expansions mean the Empire have stolen a march on the Rebel,s with upgrades to several ships that were previously underpowered (TIE Advanced, TIE Defender, TIE Bomber) going unanswered from a Rebel fleet now looking sorely lacking.  The addition of the Emperor Palpatine as a massive game-changing option has also swung things towards the Dark Side of the Force.  That the Rebels are currently poorly-positioned against the resurgent firepower of Scum lists and also struggle to deal with the likes of Soontir Fel has been all but the final nail in the coffin.

This will change.  Wave 9 is followed rapidly by Heroes of the Resistance which will bring an improved Poe Dameron and improved Millenium Falcon, along with the ability to equip some of those key Illicit upgrades onto Rebel ships.  Much of the great frustration about Soontir and Palpatine comes, I think, from Rebel players who have seen their chances of dealing with Fel take a nosedive from 'slim' to 'none'.  Hopefully I've at least been able to demonstrate why that is, and maybe sparked some new thoughts for how you're going to tackle the dread Soontir next time you see him.

Because, mark my words, Soontir is going nowhere.  He's going to remain as slippery as ever, and if you want to progress to the top end of tournaments you're going to need a plan for dealing with him - hoping he gets unlucky, as we've seen, simply won't cut it.  You need to work hard for your chances and make sure you take them, or those angled wings and quad lasers are going to be the last thing you see.


  1. Just a slight correction: Berling competed at US Nationals at Origins, not the North American champs at Gen Con. Dengaroo was also around before then. Berling and Rook Squad took the list to the Springfield, OH regionals, which Berlin ended up winning. That is where I believe the list was debuted.

    1. You are correct!

      An easy fix though - Dengaroo was US Nats, Party Bus was NA Nats

  2. I feel like Nera with munitions fail safe and flechette partnered up with a good Dash and a cheap third blocking ship (15 pt A wing) should be a good start for the rebels... what do you think?

    1. The Nera Flechette is a really interesting trick that can punish Soontir a lot, but it winds up quite a lot of points thrown onto a B-Wing to get it and if Soontir can boost/barrel into range 1 you can't Torpedo him and he'll just hug that donut until Soontir is dead.

      I think it's a lot worse on the table than it sounds on paper.

  3. certainly I have only flown it a few times, and it ends as you suggested. but rebels must have something.