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!


  1. Ian Franklin, not Ainsworth. Otherwise a pretty good account of our match. Very interesting to hear how your other games went.

    1. Gah, sorry Ian - that's what I get for trying to bash a blog out at 1am! I'll fix it :-)

  2. David, what was the Poe/Rey list you briefly alluded to in the beginning of the post?

    1. Hi The Rey/Poe list I was running & may well run again at some point is

      Rey - Wired,Smuggling Compartment, Finn, Recon Specialist, Segnors Loop, Advanced SLAM, Burnout SLAM

      Poe - PTL, BB8, Integrated Astromech, Black One, Primed Thrusters.My bother has had more luck with it however I am limited with upgrade cards at present & his build is slightly different.

      Hope that helps

  3. Great article as usual Dave. Thinking now I maybe should have stuck with Rey/Poe after reading about my quick demise :-) Onwards & upwards

    Simon W

  4. How about taking tie mk2 off vessery, and primed thrusters off back draft to give back draft outmaneuver?

  5. Have you thought about Lightning Reflexes on Backdraft? Get in a good position with him and just 180 him, range 1 butt shot? Could also help if you get a butt shot and want him back in the fight ASAP, you can 1 straight and reflex instead of slooping. With primed thrusters you even get a barrel roll.

  6. I love these three guys together, too. In fact, I've painted them (and still need to post a picture of that somewhere). Though I have Crack Shot on all three, and no MkII Engines or Primed Thrusters. You're making a good argument for A Score To Settle though; I've flown with that and barely ever got it to trigger, but that might've been the matchups...

  7. I went with almost this exact list, but put VI instead of Crack Shot on Backdraft, and really liked how it worked out. Found that having both SFs at the top of the initiative lineup was powerful. Vessery was the LVP of the group but drew a lot of shots in the first rounds both games I played tonight.

    1. Considering swapping out A Score to Settle for Trick Shot next time.

    2. I'm hitting my first store champ with it tomorrow and I'm going to be taking VI. I'm still glued to ASTS and Vessery though - Vessery's just too helpful as a bullet sponge for the others, let alone a consistent damage output.

      I find with Vessery the key is that since /x7 got nerfed your 2 straight and 1 bank get used a LOT more. If your 3 straight/4k are going to get blocked you may as well give up on the evade and go slow to at least get a Focus token.

    3. He died too early both times for me to mix his movements up! But he did succeed in looking like an attractive target; both times he was the only ship to go down. My alternate for him, I think, is two Imperial Trainee Strikers with Ailerons.

    4. Good write up.

      What was the Bossk setup?

  8. I like to run Quickdraw with Predator, Sensor jammner, Lightweight Frame, and Spec. Ops training. It's kinda pricey, but it has been quite deadly so far. Predator let's you modify your attack dice, while Sensor jammner can be surprisingly effective on defense. A Score to Settle looks fun though, I will probably try it at some point.

  9. I won a store Champ in Atlanta this weekend with a list based on this, keep up the good work!

    1. Awesome!

      I'm still enjoying it, and still mostly winning. It's very switched BD over to VI but need to test a 33pt Juke Darth Vader in his spot.

      What did you change, how did it go, what worked what didn't?

    2. So I also put VI on backdraft, I ran Adapt on QD for ps10, and then juke vessery. The high ps helped me out a lot against dengars and other big scum ships, so much so that I've been defeating the Phua list pretty easily on several occasions. Vessy shotting last with juke can really push the damage through too. I'd be kinda worried if I had to go against a swarm, but those are pretty rare where I'm at. Anyways, thanks for the inspiration, I'm at 14-2 so far with it in tournaments.

    3. Good stuff! I've had good results against Dengar and the other Jumpmasters too (I'm 17-2, though not all in tournament play).

      My latest change was to test Vader in BDs slot and early results were good! I'm running a pocket Vader in at 33pts (Juke, ATC, Twin Ion MkII). Just having that evade action makes him tankier than BD, who I felt I had to work quite hard to protect in a bunch of games.