Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Dr Sloanelove: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Qualified for Worlds

What.  A.  Weekend.

This past weekend saw the first major official tournaments held since the recent points and format changes - the Milton Keynes System Open here in the UK.  Even with unusually short notice before the event was held over 450 players turned up to test out the brand new Hyperspace Format in the system open, with Extended format worlds qualifiers as the main side event on the Sunday.

And I was ready.  I had a Hyerspace squad that I really enjoyed and had been waiting to unleash on an unsuspecting world.  Word of my squad had quietly spread around people around me, and the people who knew those people, so I think there was upwards of a dozen copies of this squad in the room.  I present to you...

The Sick Scyks Six

  • Zealous Recruit (Fang Fighter)
  • Zealous Recruit (Fang Fighter)
  • Cartel Spacer (M3A Scyk) - Ion Cannon
  • Cartel Spacer (M3A Scyk) - Ion Cannon
  • Cartel Spacer (M3A Scyk) - Tractor Beam
  • Cartel Spacer (M3A Scyk) - Tractor Beam
    (200pts)


18 red dice, 18 green dice.  Off the back of my Generic Efficiency article we'd had discussions before Christmas about quite why the TIE/fo was looking so good but the Scyk had been ignored.  I said at the time that if they dropped the price of a Scyk to let you play Ion Cannons at 31pts they would become really interesting... and then it happened!

I hadn't predicted they would also drop the price of the Fang Fighter to 41pts at the same, though.  I had this list within an hour of the points PDFs being published and it's not changed one iota since and in all the games I've played with it I've only lost one game.  Before that game I'd lost less than 1 ship per game on average.

I was ready for the System Open.  Ready to take it by the horns, rip its lungs out and dance on its corpse.  Ready to stand on top of the world surrounded by my admiring followers and accept the supplications of my vanquished foes.


Yeah.

This wasn't going to go the way I thought.


SATURDAY - MILTON KEYNES SYSTEM OPEN 2020
Hyperspace Format

I'm not going to tell you how my System Open experience went.  This isn't because of any fault of any of my opponents, who were all super, or because I'm embarassed of how I played or the mistakes I made because I think I flew very well.  It's not even because my list turned out to be rubbish, because it didn't and it did everything I asked of it and I felt like I had a fantastic squad in my hands.

But if I tell the story it's going to be a dice story and nobody wants to hear a dice story because they've heard it all before.  And they're always the same story too:
"Did you win?" 
"No, my dice were bad." 
"Yeah well, that's a dice game for you.  You're going to win some and lose some." 
"Yeah I know, but this time my dice were properly really bad.  I only needed to [insert first half of anecdote here] and all I got was [insert second half of anecdoate here]." 
"That's rough, I lost earlier today to [insert anecdote here] too". 
"No, you don't get it.  My dice were really REALLY bad!" 
Repeat to fade.

I went 2-2 and dropped out.  Then to avoid repeating the above conversation to everyone I met for next three hours I went to the cinema next door and watched Bad Boys For Life, which was actually pretty good!

I needed that opportunity to decompress and stop thinking about dice.  I was ready to go again.


My dice really were really, really REALLY bad, though.  Honest.



SUNDAY - WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS QUALIFIER 2020
Extended Format

I've always been a big fan of Hyperspace Format.  Going back 25 years I was a big fan of any 'block constructed' formats in Magic: The Gathering and as far as I'm concerned the great game itself has never been better than it was in the summer of 1998 for Rath Block Constructed.  Limitations breed creativity, and so whenever I've had the choice to think about or play Hyperspace instead of Extended I've taken it.

In my last blog I recounted how I did quite well at the Sith Taker Open with my Sloane Swarm squad.  At the top of that battle report I said that I was flip-flopping between playing my Hyperspace squad or an Extended squad right up until the last minute, ultimately deciding to play the Extended Sloane Swarm as a wild punt into the unknown.

Last week's wild punt was about to pay off big time because after ignominiously crashing out of the System Open I at least had an Extended squad that I knew and liked to fall back on: the YOLO Sloane Swarm.

Despite having paid almost zero attention to Extended I'd managed to stumble onto a squad (and opening strategy) that seemed to really work...

YOLO Sloane Swarm
  • Scarif Base Pilot (TIE Reaper) - Admiral Sloane
  • Alpha Squadron Pilot (TIE Interceptor)
  • Alpha Squadron Pilot (TIE Interceptor)
  • Academy Pilot (TIE Fighter)
  • Academy Pilot (TIE Fighter)
  • Academy Pilot (TIE Fighter)
  • Academy Pilot (TIE Fighter)
    (198pts)

I'd gone 4-2 at the Sith Taker Open, but I understood why both those losses had happened and they were both on me.  The squad was good, and possibly even very good.  More importantly I had seriously enjoyed playing the squad and especially finally getting some generic TIE Interceptors onto the table!

I remember playing the old West End Games version of a Star Wars space dogfighting game 20 years ago and even then the TIE Interceptor was my favourite ship.  It's the ship I most wanted to fly when I first got into X-Wing at the end of 2015, and was ultimately very disappointed to find that; 1) it was pretty much only good with Soontir Fel, and 2) I was rubbish at flying aces.  I flew Soontir/Vader/Omega Leader in my second ever tournament back in early 2016 and got so badly beaten that it was about three years before I ever dared field a proper ace again.  My TIE Interceptor dreams withered and died.

But now the spikiest and deadliest of TIEs is back on the menu and I couldn't be happier!   

The Worlds Qualifier was going to be a straight shootout - five rounds of Swiss and at the end of the final round the ~400 starting players will have been whittled down to about a dozen undefeated players who got Worlds Tickets.

As Storm Ciara swirled ever closer my TIE Interceptors being heroes was the only thing standing between me and beating a hasty early retreat to the train station. 


ROUND ONE - Stuart Blucke
Rey, Zizi, Cova Nell

Well this was gonna be the shortest offensive of all time.

Stuart's an excellent player from a store near me so there was no easy first round.  This was actually the fourth time Stuart and I had faced each other in big games over the last six months or so.  Although I was up 2-1 in the head-to-head scores Stuart had won the one that mattered most when he dominated our Hyperspace Trial Final meeting back in October and flew rings round me.  I'd revenged myself since then in a little local store tournament but that just meant it was Stuart's turn to bag the spoils.  Stuart was also back to flying his favoured Rey in the Millenium Falcon, which I know he had tons of experience with.

I raced my TIEs out into the table as Stuart took the time to slowly unravel his opening fortress position in the opposite corner.  Zizi Tlo sprinted off to my left hand flank while Cova and Rey prepared to take me on in a joust.  For my part I split my forces, at least initially - I needed to dissuade Zizi from flanking in too easily, and I was never going to take the Falcon off in one round of firing anyway.


We opened up and Stuart's red dice were immediately spitting pure fire!  My brave TIE Interceptor managed to stay on the table but the poor pilot was wounded not just once, but twice.  But the Alpha Squadron Pilots are made of sterner stuff and even with two Wounded Pilot crits my boy's dedication to bringing peace and order to the galaxy was undimmed and he managed to squeeze the trigger with his teeth to return fire.  However hot Stuarts red dice has been his green dice stubbornly refused to roll evades and the Falcon started to melt rapidly.  

That scared Rey off and Stuart ducked her out towards the flank Zizi was already hugging.  As she turned away Rey finally put my Wounded Pilot out of his misery.  Sloane ensured that Rey picked up the double stress tokens that she would carry until the end of the game but with a Force token, Rose Tico crew and the Falcon title that stress would barely slow Stuart down.  But driving Rey away from my oncoming ships had left the way open for both wings of my attack to pounce on the now-isolated Cova Nell, taking her out. 

This was suddenly going very well for me: Stuart was down a ship, Rey was heading away from the fight and while I was busy shooting at other ships Zizi's extraordinary defensive abilities were redundant and he was no better than a generic A-Wing against my TIE's 3 agility.  The one worry I had was that Sloane had been left behind a little and she had to quickly scoot up the table to the TIE escorts, throwing Evade tokens out behind her to stay on the table.


With Sloane safe once again I went back to hitting Rey as the Falcon re-emerged from its long arc around the middle of the table.  Stuarts green dice remained as cold as ice and the Falcon disintegrated under the onslaught, with Zizi following rapidly.

WIN
1-0
That felt like a proper 'bullet dodged' moment and I'd hurdled a player who definitely had what it took to beat me.  Talking after the game I think Stuart had never fancied the matchup against Sloane much and he probably really needed his green dice to keep all his ships on the table long enough to whittle a few TIEs out of the attack... he'd got the opposite.


ROUND TWO - Pete Mason
6x TIE/sf generics

This was the only game of the day that was pretty straightforward, in the sense that neither of really did anything special we just hurled our TIE Fighters at each other and rolled a ton of dice until one of us was dead!

It was a trade that I was quietly confident I would win.  My I1 pilots would move first and would be able to pick exactly where to go and how to bump Pete's TIEs, and with 3 Agility it should be pretty hard going for Pete's red dice to punch through my greens - especially if I could keep his ships bumped and out of Focus tokens.  And really, that's pretty much what happened.  The first round of firing was pretty desultory - I took no damage while I stripped shields from one of Pete's TIE/sfs - then I managed to start laying bumps in and doing some real damage.

Pete definitely got unlucky when he decided to switch target priorities to the TIE Reaper only for me to roll 3 evade results out of hand, but I think he would always have struggled to reliably punch through my ships even if that hadn't happened and he was left up against my TIE Fighters.  As soon as he last a couple of ships he was always going to struggle mass enough firepower on one of my ships to really burn past the green dice and tokens to the hull underneath.

My team k-turned in behind and came back for a second pass, then it was down to just picking off the stragglers.

WIN
2-0


ROUND THREE - Will Whatley
2x Zealous Recruit, 2x Ion Scyk, 2x Tractor Scyk

After facing Stuart in the first round I now had another meeting with a frequent opponent of mine, Will Whatley.  Will and his dad are a regular fixture at most of the X-Wing tournaments up in my neck of the woods and we'd crossed swords a few times recently.  In fact I think he must come as a pair with Stuart Blucke as I think the last three tournaments I'd played against one of them I also got the other in another round!  Although he's only young the rate that Will is getting better at the game is really impressive and he's noticably a tougher opponent every time we meet.

Will was one of the players in Milton Keynes running my Sick Scyks Hyperspace squad.  I've played with this squad many times in preparing for the System Open but I've only played against it once - I had a mirror match with Ben Hibbert last weekend - and OH MY GOD it's a scary list to run into.  18 red dice with a bunch of control effects and tractoring tricks going on is enough to make any squad terrified of sitting in front of it.

I think the critical moment in these games is deciding who is first player and I pretty much always prefer to go second.  In doing so you hand the opponent one big advantage - he can land his ships and try to bump you and deny actions to your ships - but if you can avoid losing the game to that one turn when it's pretty much unavoidable that you get bumped then going second gives you a host of other advantages:

  1. They deploy first which can allow me to exploit any mistakes in positioning  
  2. My Interceptors could reposition to hunt his ships instead of having to worry about his Fangs boosting into R1 of me after I moved
  3. The turn after 'The Big Bump' Will would struggle to find space for his ships to move into while mine were still in the way
  4. The fact he moved his ships first would create space for mine to k-turn into space behind him
  5. Firing second meant I knew where to spend mods on defense, and where to focus fire on attack against ships that had spent their focus to fire

Will deployed his ships in a single jousting block in his corner, which isn't how I play the squad but certainly didn't hand me any weaknesses to exploit in his deployment.  The other four factors would all have a part to play in giving me the game, though.

I tried to push the Interceptors wide up the table to create a flank and get Will to split his forces but he stubbornly kept his jousting block together, spending the first couple of turns giving his ships all the same maneuvers dials, flipping them as one with a "they're all going to do a 5 straight and focus" or a "they're all going to do a 2 turn and focus".  As we went into the first engagement turn I was still facing a solid mass of red and green dice and I focused ensuring my ships were in places where I couldn't get tractored onto an asteroid and lose my shot.  We opened fire on each other, trading 31pts of TIE Interceptor for 28pts of Tractor Beam Scyk and half points on Will's lead Fang Fighter.


So far so good, but the next turn was likely to be decisive as we were heading for 'The Big Bump' and Will's big opportunity to break the back of my squad.

Setting dials for this turn took a while as I was trying to weigh up just what Will would do.  I expected the Scyks at the back of the formation to slow roll a 1 bank while the leading Fangs would push for blocks - that's what I would do.  It was going to be really difficult to navigate that much depth of table coverage and I'd almost resigned myself to virtually everything getting bumped and compensated by hurling the Reaper into an aggressive position so I could at least throw lots of red dice even if I wouldn't have dice mods on them.

Then Will made a tiny but critical mistake.  As he put his dials down he said "these dials are for those four, that dial is for him".

Until now Will had been placing and revealing all his dials for the squad at once.

I think I just got told that four of his ships were doing the same maneuver.

If they were doing the same maneuver it had to be a 2 bank not a 1 bank as the Fangs didn't have a 1 bank.  If the back ships were doing a 2 bank I definitely had room to K-Turn a TIE in behind, and my remaining Interceptor could throw an S-Loop (which people always forget Interceptors have on their dial in Second Edition) for a great position behind Will too.

I changed two of my dials and pulled the trigger.


The wounded Fang threw a 3-turn into blocking three of my TIEs which was a great move from Will, then the rest of his ships did the same 2 bank and focus that he'd signalled he was going to do.  My TIE and Interceptor dropped in right behind Will's ships and the Reaper lunged into range 1 as well.  The Big Bump was only half a bump - all my ships were stressed or bumped and I had no mods at all for the turn, but I had a lot of red dice to throw and a great position behind Will for following turns.
Will unloaded on my ships, killing one TIE and wounding another.  In return I picked on the healthy Fang at range 2 and took it off (I knew better than to hurl unmodded range 1 dice into Concordia Dawn Protector to try and kill the wounded Fang), then also took out Will's second Tractor Scyk with fire from the TIE that had dropped in behind it.

The game was all but over.  After surviving The Big Bump I had 5 ships up against 3 and now Will had to k-turn and stress his ships while mine could roll in behind him with focus.  It became 5 ships vs 2, then 5 ships vs 1.

WIN
3-0


ROUND FOUR - Sean McCherry
Obi/Mace/Ani/Broadside

I've not played against Sean before but judging by his 3-0 record and 186th Squadron t-shirt I expected that he knows which way to point his starfighters and would be a skilled opponent.  I won my one game against a very similar Jedi squad at the Sith Taker Open but in doing so I did find the Jedi's ability to both whizz about without gaining stress and focus their defense dice even if I bump them to be a bit of a challenge for Sloane.

Sean deployed most of his forces in the diagonally opposite corner to me, with Broadside hugging his baseline directly in front of me and ready to run away towards his friends.  I sniffed an opportunity to steal the advantage - the first game that I ever played with this squad was against a Skull Squadron Fang that did something similar and underestimated just how quick my TIE Interceptors were at... uh... intercepting fleeing ships.  They had hunted down and destroyed the Fang as it tried to run across the back line and I did the same to Broadside here.  A pair of 5-straights and boosts put my Interceptors right on the Y-Wings doorstep on the second turn.

You can tell it all started to get a bit more serious around here because this is the last photo I remembered to take in either of the last two rounds.  I'll get out my MS Paint drawing kit and try to show you how it played out, though...

I once again split my squad for that initial engage.  Unlike Howlrunner swarms I don't have the reliable dice mods to deal huge alpha striking damage up front so I can be more fluid in targetting.  The two Interceptors screamed in on Broadside, joined by a TIE and the Reaper for the killshot on the third turn.  The other three TIEs presented a threat on my flank to push the Jedi away, forcing Mace Windu to run wide and actually pushing some damage into Obi-Wan!


Broadside went first then both wings of my attack converged on little Anakin in his N1 Starfighter.  Unfortunately despite throwing the kitchen sink at Anakin I couldn't quite get the kill and the N1 slipped away, albeit badly damaged.  Sean had been busy too, though, and both Jedi had folded in behind my TIEs and started shipping damage into my TIE Reaper, which again had to run fast back towards me and sprinkle Evade tokens behind it to stay on the table.



My entire swarm hounded Anakin back into my deployment zone for the kill, then as Mace finally killed the first TIE Fighter of the game and gained double stress everybody k-turned to revenge themselves on Mace with the help of Sloane rerolls.  With points and time against him Sean had little choice but to fly both Mace and Obi-Wan into the teeth of the TIE swarm and hope to fight his way out.


Unfortunately for Sean there was just too much left to do and they were both destroyed.

WIN
4-0

I think this game is the perfect time to talk about the TIE Reaper's place in this squad because its speed and maneuvering were really showcased (well, relative to a Lambda Shuttle's maneuvering).  Despite starting the game with a bump on my baseline by turn 3 the TIE Reaper then screamed up the table with a couple of Aileron & 3-bank turns to get into position to kill Broadside deep inside Sean's side of the table.  In the midgame, when Sean's Jedi got around to targeting the Reaper and dealing out damage cards it was able to accelerate back towards my baseline with vital Evade tokens keeping it alive.  Finally, for the endgame, a banked aileron and 2-turn meant the Reaper turned more tightly than a Lambda Shuttle could and put the Reaper back onto the offensive. 

Throughout the game Sloane's R0-3 bubble had always been able to cover virtually every ship in the swarm as they zigzagged up and down the table to hunt Broadside and Anakin.  Sloane was right there alongside her swarm every step of the way, contributing red dice as well as her ability, and only the TIE Reaper would have been able to make that possible.

ROUND FIVE - Chris Cowley
Vader/Soontir/Fifth Brother

There were two people I really didn't want to get paired against for this final round.  The first was Tim King ('producer Tim' of the Sith Takers Snap Shot podcast and co-host of last week's Sith Taker Open).  Tim was also 4-0 and a friendly fire incident at the final hurdle would have been a sickener for both of us.  The second person I didn't want to meet was the Vennie list that had been on the table next to me but (thank christ!) he ultimately lost his round and Vennie couldn't wreck my TIE Swarm chances with Trajectory Simulator for the second week running.

Instead my opponent was Chris and his potent triple Imperial Aces: Vader, Super-Soontir with Stealth Device and Shield Upgrade, and the brand new Fifth Brother pilot in his TIE Advanced v1.  As we set up for the game Chris sung the praises of Fifth Brother a bit but I wasn't too impressed.  I rapidly discovered that I was wrong once the lasers started to fly - Fifth Brother's ability to add crits was terrifying to my flimsy little TIE Fighters and I'm sure the little pocket ace had delivered great value over the day for his measly 42pts.

There's a wonderful expression which is 'to catch a Tiger by the tail'.  It means, basically: "Well done, you caught a Tiger, but the other end of that Tiger has teeth and claws and you could get mauled to death at any second".  That was what this game felt like.  Even though I always felt like I was the protagonist in the game it seemed incredibly close right up to the moment where I suddenly and decisively won.  Chris' aces threatened to get away and turn the tables on me in every single turn.


Just as I did vs Sean in round four I split my forces, with a posse of TIE Fighters keeping Soontir and Darth Vader honest as the Interceptors screamed out to harass Fifth Brother.  Just as did vs Stuart in round one I then suddenly switched targets to commit the whole team into a killbox, and frankly I got so many guns pointing at a bumped Darth Vader that I was disappointed to see him scurry away with 2 hull remaining.

Chasing aces with TIE Fighters is futile so as Vader boosted away to safety I turned my attention to Soontir, though this time I missed my bump by about 2mm and Soontir slipped out of my killbox and also escaped into the distance.

Now I began to pay the price for ignoring Fifth Brother and he closed in behind Sloane's Reaper to start filling her with Crits.  I started to feel like that Tiger was about to round on me at any moment: I'd nailed a killbox on Vader and not got my reward and I'd narrowly missed landing one on Soontir.  You don't usually get many more chances against these guys and if the Reaper went he could start picking my TIEs off with impunity.


I needed to make the next killbox count and thankfully I did.  Darth Vader swept in behind the Fifth Brother to hunt my TIE Reaper but my swarm had seen it coming and I managed to bump both aces thanks to a boosting TIE Interceptor.  The Force was with me once again as, trapped at close range of my TIEs, both the aces exploded!

Chris looked about to offer his hand in congratulations but I think the prospect of a ticket to Worlds persuaded him to at least try and fight on.  However slim the odds of Soontir solo-ing his way through my swarm were... they were still his best odds of getting to Worlds!

After killing Fifth Brother and Vader I had one shot left to resolve in the turn - a range 2 unmodded shot from a stressed TIE Fighter into Chris' Soontir Fel and his Stealth Device.  Somehow my TIE chipped a damage in through Chris' green dice and turned off the Stealth Device.  Chris finally conceded defeat.

WIN 
5-0

So... what's good in Minnesota?


Well, I did not expect that this morning.  Especially after I had such a frustrating Saturday!  It just goes to show that you can't get too attached to individual results in a game like X-Wing.  I felt like I played really well with two good squads across the two days, and while the dice variance had gone against me on one day the Force had definitely been with me in a few important moments on the Sunday and it had all evened out over the two days.

In fact, not only did I go unbeaten to qualify for the World Championships but I even wound up topping the MOV leaderboard too!

And, happily, the Sith Taker's Tim King also qualified for Worlds with his TIE Advanced squad, coming in just a handful of MOV points behind me.




REFLECTIONS

Firstly I want to say thanks to all my opponents over both days of the System Open weekend - I didn't have a single bad experience, really.  Even as we approached the sharp end of the World Championships qualifier on Sunday afternoon we still managed to play with a chat and a smile.  Event organisation seemed to go off without a detectable hitch as well, aside from the obvious five minutes of 'who turned out the lights?' as Storm Ciara seemed to knock the event centre's power out for a little while.


Secondly, I'm so happy with this squad and how it flies.  It's really not like a Howlrunner-based TIE Swarm at all and I think it's all the better for that.  The promise of those rerolls and red dice that Howlrunner gives you is a siren call that's very hard to resist but it comes at the price of utter tactical inflexibility - you fly as a block, you hit as hard as you can while Howlrunner is still on the table and you hope it's going to get you far enough ahead to win the game.  Those who've slogged through my reports both from the Sith Taker Open and above from Milton Keynes will know just how often I split formation, spread myself wide, seek different angles and blocking positions.  You so rarely win with a decisive early blow but with positioning and blocking and those goddamn beautiful TIE Interceptors and their linked reposition actions.


And that Reaper.  What I thought was a bargain basement Sloane platform, a weakness that was a necessity to fit the Alpha Interceptors in, has proven to be a strength.  Unlike a Lambda the TIE Reaper has the speed to get into and out fights, can keep up with your roving TIE Interceptors in this dynamic squad, and the Evade action can be vital in keeping it on the table when a Reinforce could easily prove to be worse.  I loved the 'super' Reaper at the end of First Edition and it's so good to get this ship back onto the table!

And now if you'll excuse me, with a Worlds ticket secured so early in the season I need to go and brew up some jank to play for a change of pace!

3 comments:

  1. Sloane is always a good choice in extended, especially playing a swarmy kind of list. However, if they get sloane early, it hurts you massively. Careful play will keep her out of harms way, but not all the time. Congrats on earning the invite!

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  2. Really good writing 😀 We have some upcoming extendex events here in Sweden, I think I will try this list!
    Keep up the blogging, you are one of my favorite bloggers 😀 / Erik

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