Monday, 16 October 2017

"Are we blind? Deploy the garrison!" - Escalating Murder H's

“…Sienar System's basic TIE fighter—a commodity which, after hydrogen and stupidity, was the most plentiful in the galaxy…” 
Corran Horn
I've been playing X-Wing for close on two years now (my first games came in the Christmas-New Years break in 2015) and yet for all that time it turns out that this past weekend was the first time that I've ever played anything other than the standard "100/6" (100pts, 6 asteroids) Deathmatch format.

I found out at quite short notice that my local store was having an Escalation tournament, and managed to quickly rank up enough Good Husband Points to be able to attend.  That gave me about 48 hours to work out an Escalation list!

For those unfamiliar, the rules of an Escalation Tournament are as follows:

  • You begin with a 60pt squad.  
  • After each round you add an additional 30pts to your squad.  We were playing 60-90-120-150 over four rounds of Swiss.
  • You cannot remove or move any pilots or upgrades between rounds, you can only add new pilots & upgrades.
  • You must field at least 2 ships (so entering round 1 with a 60pt Millenium Falcon is out)
  • Maximum 8 of a small ship, 4 of a large ship (so no, you can't play 11 Academy Pilots and Howlrunner!)

Having never even paid attention to an Escalation event before I was going to have to get up to speed pretty quickly.
  • Scum - the obvious reason to take Scum to Escalation would be Attani Mindlink and just let those free Focus tokens stack up over 150pts of ships.  Tentatively I worked out that I could open with Fenn Rau and Manaroo (32 + 28pts with Mindlinks), then step up to 90pts by adding N'Dru Suhlak and some toys for Manaroo, then maybe finish up the last two rounds with a Contracted Scout and Old Teroch.

The trouble with the Scum route was that I thought a load of people would be taking it, and anyway I didn't want to fly those guys.  On to the next faction...
  • Imperials - I quickly hit on a 60pt list that I really liked in Imperial.  I knew that Omega Leader would be fantastic in a game with fewer ships as his target lock covers a bigger % of their list, and either Quickdraw or Colonel Vessery would make a solid partner.  The trouble I quickly ran into was where to go with my squad from there. Escalation steps up in 30pt chunks but the strong Imperial aces are all 31-39pts (from Inquisitor up to Whisper) so it just seems like a poor fit for how Imperial squads would want to do it.  I could sidestep that by running a cheap round and adding the likes of Deathfire or Pure Sabacc to save points for a proper ace in the next round.  Alternatively I could bring proper aces in but compromise on their loadout somehow.

Whichever route I chose it felt like the Escalation format was forcing me to take some suboptimal Imperial choices just to match the 30pt steps, so I moved on to Rebels...
  • Rebels - the same logic that told me Omega Leader was great in a low points game worked to tell me that Captain Rex was good in a low points game as well - there's fewer enemy ships you've not stuck Suppressive Fire on, so you've nerfed a bigger % of their squad.  Captain Rex was cheap and that let me load up a pretty good Miranda Doni for the 60pt squad so it was looking good.  Then I realised that the 30pts limit that had crippled the Imperials was actually perfect for the Rebels.  I could add Lowhhrick in the second round, then Biggs, then finish the squad off with Jess and wind up playing Fair Ship Rebels with Miranda!

That was... that was just evil.  If I took that to a presumably pretty casual Escalation event I'd probably win it, but I wouldn't be having much fun doing so and I sure wouldn't be making many friends.

I couldn't bring myself to do it.

With time running out I want back to the drawing board... what did I want to fly?  I wanted to fly TIE Fighters.  Ok then, let's fly some TIE Fighters...

"Murder H's"

I really liked my opening round at 60pts, that was very strong with Omega Leader and a very dangerous Quickdraw.  I expected a lot of players to have some weak first rounds by bringing in some near-naked ships they wanted to upgrade with the second set of points in the second round, and I planned on taking advantage of that with a strong first squad.  The second round was probably my weakest, though, as I brought in Howlrunner and an Academy Pilot but didn't really have the numbers to take full advantage of her rerolls.  

The third and fourth rounds just ramped up my jousting firepower and Howlrunner value, and the objective would be to try and brawl my way through and deliver Omega Leader into the endgame.  If I could get lucky in my second round I felt like I could have a chance.

Time to put that theory to the test.

ROUND ONE vs Rob (Mindlinked Asajj & Inaldra)

This had worked out quite well for me.  Rob was probably my toughest opponent in the room so meeting him in my strong first round, when his Mindlink squad was just getting going, was perfect timing.  

But no, wait!  For reasons known only to himself the store owner had been sitting and chatting with two more X-Wing players instead of sending them over to the tournament, so seconds after revealing our first dials it was announced that the tournament was going to restart with the extra players in.  Curses, my favourable matchup against Rob disappeared up in smoke...

ROUND ONE vs Marcus (Ryad & Omega Leader)

It turned out that my initial suspicion that a lot of people would take Scum in Escalation was well-founded, and in fact Marcus and myself were the only players who WEREN'T running Scum & Villainy squads.  

I deployed Omega Leader up in an apparent joust with both Marcus' pilots then flanked with Quickdraw.  My plan of a 3 bank into the table then a 4-forwards Cruise Missile shot worked perfectly and Marcus' Omega Leader walked straight into it - target locking my own Omega then eating a Cruise Missile coming in from his side.  His TIE/fo limped away from that strike and died the next turn, leaving me two-on-one against Ryad's tanky /x7 TIE Defender.

A couple of good calls from Marcus saw Ryad keep pressure on my Omega Leader as I tried to disengage to restack his Evade and Target Locks, and I was lucky to finally escape around an asteroid.  Once I had escaped though, Omega Leader and Quickdraw soon swung back around with Ryad's predictable moves in their sights, and I finally took the win.

WIN: 60-0

ROUND TWO vs Rob (Mindlinked Inaldra, Fenn & Asajj)

The perfect timing of facing Rob when my squad was strongest had been flipped on its head and now I was facing him in my weakest round, when he had enjoyed a massive power boost by adding Fenn Rau!  This was perhaps Rob's strongest round because he wasn't far off the power level of a full Paratanni squad, just with Inaldra instead of Manaroo playing the role of the cowardly focus-stacker who sits at the back.

We deployed in opposite corners and I threatened to hare across the diagonal lane to hunt Inaldra.  This is where I think Rob made his big mistake and pushed Asajj too far forwards down the flank.  We've all been put into a tough spot by Asajj as she circles around the outside of the fight, but where Rob had taken her meant he had a tough choice to make - either continue to head round the flank but have to fly around the outside of the asteroid field and not contribute to the fight, or cut inside but be going head-on into the fight.

Asajj (ship removed) pays for getting caught up in the muddle
Rob cut inside and I made Asajj pay for that decision.  The first round of firing Omega Leader chipped away at Fenn, then on the second turn I bumped Asajj and laid into her with everything I had.  Some rotten green dice on Rob's part mean Asajj took a real beating and ran away with just 1 hull remaining, her arc facing the wrong direction and unable to move it due to both a Weapons Failure and a Damaged Sensor Array.

I spent a couple of turns failing to trap Fenn Rau before killing Asajj when she finally looped back around into the fight to finally take control of the game.

Uh-oh, I spoke too soon.  Over two turns I lost three of my ships as killing Asajj had let Fenn and Inaldra slip in behind me.  Now it was Quickdraw alone against Inaldra and the wounded Fenn Rau.  I slooped away from Fenn and fed him my Cruise Missile shot... that finished the Mandalorian off but Fenn stripped away Quickdraw's shields in return, then Inaldra chipped in another point of damage!

This was touch and go.  Two hull left on Quickdraw against an undamaged Inaldra.  One mistake and I could be wiped away.  It was going to be a knife-edge finish.

But I didn't make a mistake, and switching between rear arc and front guns made my flying unpredictable enough that I was able to shake Inaldra off my tail then spin round and deliver the final kill shot of a game that had swung back and forth throughout!

WIN: 90-56

That was two rounds played, and they'd both been some of my most enjoyable X-Wing I'd ever played!  
The 60pts round is a lot like cutting straight to endgame, with predicting your opponent's moves while being unpredictable in your own moves being hugely important.  The duel against Rob had been one of the most back-and-forth games I've ever had, from assuming I was going to lose to getting great dice and forcing Asajj out of the game, to suddenly being left with Quickdraw as my only ship and then duelling it out against Inaldra.  It was a game I'd won with a big sigh of relief!

ROUND THREE vs David (2x Trandoshan Slaver, Cartel Maruader, Jakku Gunrunner)

After sweating bullets to win my second round match this one turned out to be a pretty routine win.  Adding my first two Black Squadron Pilots gave me the firepower to dominate a heads-up joust against David's Scum squad, removing one of his Slavers before it could fire then ripping into the second one after I k-turned behind him.

If you ever play against a TIE Swarm... try to avoid doing this.
David threw me a curveball when his Spacetug Tractor Array meant Omega Leader flew onto a rock and the Cartel Marauder tried to pounce, but the rest of my TIEs rode to Omega's rescue and destroyed the Kihraxz.  The Quadjumper went on the next turn and the final Slaver was left with the full might of the Imperial fleet sitting in his rear-view mirror.

WIN: 120-12


ROUND FOUR: Marcus (Ryad, Omega Leader, Inquisitor, Carnor, Tomax)

I have to trust the TO's tale that Cryodex threw up a bit of a fit and gave Marcus and myself duplicate pairings for the final round.  It could be because Escalation rules meant we were playing an additional round of Swiss over what was required for the number of players, but whatever the reason I would be spending my final round up against the complete aces loadout of my first opponent.

Marcus' list really illustrated why I'd avoided the aces, because in packing in five big names to his list he'd had to make some big compromises in loadout.  Omega Leader was standard, Ryad now had Push The Limit, and Carnor Jax was pretty typical with PTL and Autothrusters but the others two were a bit more unusual.  Marcus was running Tomax Bren as a support ship with Fleet Officer and Cool Hand (so he handed out Focus tokens with Fleet Officer then gained an Evade thanks to the stress) and Inquisitor was loaded as a piledriver with Swarm Leader.

Misjudging the turn, Marcus has already removed my rash Academy Pilot
Marcus' squad may have been unconventional but I was nervous of jousting against so much firepower at a higher PS, and when we deployed in opposite corners and began an approach across the centre of the table my plan was to hang back just out of range then try and dash forwards to create blocks and disrupt all Marcus' action economy.  He was flying Ryad as his leading edge but then brought Inquisitor and Omega Leader up alongside... I'd misjudged my distance with the poor Academy Pilot and he got annihilated by The Inquisitor's 5-dice Swarm Leader attack, then I put the hammer down and we closed for the joust proper.  

This reminded me of that big mad dogfight in Return of the Jedi, with ships hurtling towards each other!
All I needed from this turn was to have most of my ships on the table when it came to my turn to fire, and with a little bit of fortune Marcus' dice turned cold at the right time and all but one my ships escaped unscathed, while we took out the big threat of The Inquisitor's Swarm Leader!

I had the boss position now...
That was the bit of luck I needed, and now I was able to k-turn half my forces behind Marcus' aces while blocking them up as they tried to maneuver away from my swarm.  Two turns later and somehow I had all my ships positioned behind all his ships, guns blazing as the aces frantically tried to evade the swarm of TIE Fighters.  

The one downside was that I'd managed to put damage on pretty much all of Marcus' ships but only the Inquisitor had actually died, then just as it looked like a window was opening up for Marcus to steal back onto the offensive it was over, with Carnor Jax, Tomax Bren and Countess Ryad all landing right in my gun sights and dying on the same turn.

It was all over.

WIN: 100-27

Four rounds, four wins, and it felt awesome to get the classic TIE Fighters onto the table - I'd genuinely forgotten how much I enjoyed their flimsy charms!  Real men don't need to bring more than 3 Hull and a change of underwear to a battle...

And it was some fitting prize support too, with my Crack Shot TIEs and Omega Leader winning me... some alt-art Crack Shots and Omega Leader!

Thanks to everyone who took part, it was a really enjoyable day and maybe I should be playing some more X-Wing that's not so slavish to the 100/6 in future?

Monday, 9 October 2017

"Ready, are you. What know you ready" - Adventures with Turrets & Bombs at Nationals

A couple of blogs ago I left a thread dangling when I committed to flying a bombing Ghost/Nym combination at UK Nationals, and I've never formally recounted what happened.  Let me tie that loose end up especially as it now leads on to where I may be playing next!

So, this is the blog I wrote, and here is the squad as it was when I set out on that journey.

Practice Makes Perfect

I knew that time commitments meant I would have very few chances to play the squad before UK Nationals so I would steal any half chance I could get to put the ships onto the table.  My first playtest session was fairly casual among a group of guys who were also prepping for Nationals but didn't expect to do too well.

I went 6-1 with the list on the day and the defeat was my first game of the day when I only lost to a poorly-timed Blinded Pilot crit seconds before I would have killed Dengar and won the game.  At the end of my blog I'd said that barring catastrophe this was my list, and this first playtest session at least told me that it wasn't a catastrophe!

I made one key change to the squad during the day: it took about one and a half turns of my first game for me to rip the Synced Turret off the Ghost and replace it with Dorsal Turret.  My god, Synced Turret is awful, especially in this list!

  • Turn One: roll forwards and prepare to joust Dengar
  • Turn Two: SURPRISE!  5 k-turn in front of Dengar and drop some Cluster Mines on him.  Don't have an action for a target lock.  Can't fire my turret.  Can't get a target lock with Fire Control System to give me a target lock for next turn.
  • Turn Three: 1-forwards and drop more Cluster Mines.  Still don't have a target lock.  Still can't fire my turret.  Still can't get a target lock for next turn.  Tear Synced Turret upgrade card into pieces.

So anyway, Dorsal Turret came in for my second game and stayed there for the rest of the day, with the extra point being used to upgrade the Ghost's Plasma Torpedo to a Proton Torpedo (for a free focus mod if I've used my action to drop bombs).  Dorsal Turret has a really bad reputation which I don't think it deserved, it's certainly unspectacular but it's reliable and in a meta with relatively little Agility around it contributes decent damage.

For the rest of the day my Dorsal-powered squad did me proud, even if I was definitely flying it pretty badly at times.  My best move was jamming the Ghost up into Rey's face for a joust, then next turn using a 2-turn to drop Cluster Mines right across her sloop path then pooped a Proton Torpedo out at her for good measure.  Cue fireworks and a toasty Falcon!

Rey eats Honey Nut Proton Clusters for breakfast!
My second playtest session was a few more games against casual opponents but it all helped me to get used to the movements of this big ship.  I won all these games again and was really enjoying flying the squad.

After this second session I made some significant changes.  So far having Hera Syndulla as my Ghost pilot had achieved precisely nothing - all of my opponents had been a higher PS bar one, and I'd crushed that opponent so decisively that Hera had never needed to change her dials.  There were points to be saved here and I used the saving from downgrading Hera to the basic Lothal Rebel to upgrade my offensive output by fitting a Twin Laser Turret to the Ghost, and loading Nym up differently with a Cruise Missile and an Ion Turret, taking away his Engine Upgrade.

Although by this point I was 9-1 with the list I was very aware that I hadn't been seeking out Nationals-level opposition.  With the Dorsal Turret and Autoblaster Turret equipped alongside my bombs I felt that my squad was very one-dimensional - I had to get close to die trying.  I didn't want to have to go into a game against a strong opponent with only one game plan because they'd identify that and just fly rings round me.

Switching to Twin Laser Turret and Ion Turret expanded the range of fire of both my ships, while adding the Cruise Missile to Captain Nym gave my opponent another big threat they had to worry about, and Ion is potentially a killer threat against the Mirandas and Nyms of this world.  It all meant that I was asking a few more questions of my opponent, giving them more of the table they couldn't safely sit in.

One last little playtest session with these changes equipped made me happy, and I rolled into Nationals with an 12-1 record behind me against casual opponents.  I knew full well that my squad wasn't about to repeat that sort of performance at Nationals, but with a following wind I thought I'd be able to achieve my goal of at least going 50-50 with it.

UK Nationals Recap

My Nationals box of hope & dreams
And the short version is that I did go 50-50... although that's because I dropped out after four rounds with a 2-2 record.  My fourth round game had ended really quickly and I didn't want to hang around for another 4 or 5 hours just to play two more meaningless games of X-Wing.  Especially when I was playing like a total spanner.

Four rounds played.  Four Captain Nyms practically handed to my opponent as a 45pt head start because I was playing like I was asleep.  I was getting really frustrated with myself and decided to knock it on the head early and go home.

The longer version:

Round One - Kester Smith (Kenkirk/Vader)

I lost this one but made a couple of half-asleep plays that make me think I should really have won it.  

On the initial engage I bust a gut to repeat that 5k maneuver I'd used on Dengar and scatter Cluster Mines in front of Kenkirk.  It worked, but that only gave Kester an extra agility and his Evade from Ysanne Isard so there was some false economy at work as he just made half of that damage back by repelling my Cruise Missile.  Kester's Vader swept around the flank and closed in behind Nym to punishing effect and I made my second mistake by not dropping a bomb behind Nym because it would have destroyed him, when it was clear that Nym was about to die anyway.  The bomb would have had a good chance of destroying Vader as well as Nym, leaving the Ghost 1-on-1 with a wounded Kenkirk but as it was Vader escaped and the Ghost went down against two opponents.

LOSS: 0-1

Round Two - Jesper Hills (Ion Brobots)

After losing my first round I expected an easier time than having to play former UK Champ Jesper Hills!  Unfortunately we only worked out after the match that the TOs had incorrectly entered my first round result as me winning, so I was in the winner's bracket while Kester had been sent down to the naughty step in my place.  

I underestimated how fast Jesper's Aggressors were going to close in and by trying to play it cute with Nym and hug just outside range 3 he just wound up being Ioned into the ground and dying for almost no effect - another 45pts given away.

Unfortunately for Jesper this woke me up for maybe the one time in the whole day when I actually started to play properly, and from that disastrous opening my Ghost actually managed to rapidly solo both his IG-88s!  There were two key moments in making this happen, the first was that I think Jesper didn't quite understand how good Chopper was so he decided to hit me with a Rigged Cargo Chute rather than an Ion Bomb.  I was terrified of his Ion threat but could cope with the stress and I simply barrelled through the Cargo Chute as though it wasn't there.  

The second key moment was that as I chased down his lead IG I correctly called where his second one was going to sweep in behind me - he hit all three Cluster Mines I dropped on his route and some unfortunate red dice meant he suffered 6 damage and exploded.

WIN: 1-1

Round Three - I forgot his name even though it was a really distinctive Scandinavian-sounded one, sorry!  (Nym/Asajj)

He was bringing a really unconventional Scum Nym with Minefield Mapper and Cluster Mines, hoping to build a fortress of bomb tokens then hide behind them and TLT me to death.  I once again executed my traditional sacrifice of Nym to terrible play, leaving the Ghost to finish up the job against both opponents.

Asajj went down quickly but his Nym was proving a tricky opponent to pin down, nevertheless I thought I would have the upper hand in a TLT-vs-TLT duel as I had much more hull to burn.  That changed when he finally completed his fortress with a last set of Cluster Mines - if he was going to keep adding Evades every time I shot at him I would lose that race after all!  I had no choice but to delibately smash my way over an asteroid onto three Cluster Mines just to break inside his fortress and get a kill shot.

7 red dice.  No damage.

That shouldn't have happened, and to be honest I didn't really need it to go quite that freakishly well, but it's a good story to tell your grand children.  That made it two games that the Lothal Rebel had bailed me out!

WIN: 2-1

Round Four - A Swiss Guy I also forgot the name of (Dash/Miranda)

When I'd been worrying about my Dorsal/Autoblaster turrets the list I'd had in mind as my bogey was this one, and even with TLT/Ion turrets I knew this was going to be a really really tough matchup as they would probably just circle away at range 3 and my bombs & ion cannon would never get to be useful.

So did I knuckle down in the face of adversity and play well, or did I throw my Nym away for a fourth time?  

If you answered "you threw Nym away for a fourth time" then you win a prize!

It's turn two and after moving I think Nym is just out of range of my opponent's Miranda, which I target locked with Long Range Scanner last turn.  I could barrel roll into range though and take a shot.  Cue one of those discussions like in old cartoons when the angel and devil appear on the hero's shoulder...

Devil: do a barrel roll!

Angel: but if you get into range you won't be focused because action was to barrel roll

Devil: do a barrel roll!

Angel: and you didn't go full speed so it's only a four dice attack anyway, with no focus.  That's rubbish.

Devil: do a barrel roll!

Angel: and it's against Miranda, so she'll dodge half the damage then regen the rest, and she'll TLT you back and you'll just lose two shields for nothing

Devil: do a barrel roll!

Angel: you should just switch your target lock to Dash.  He has to turn away next turn and a 4 forward from here will mean you get to hammer him with the Ghost and the Cruise Missile from Nym next turn

Devil: do a barrel roll!

Angel: so for all those reasons you definitely shouldn't do a barrel roll.  Just switch target lock.

I did a barrel roll.  My cruise missile shot got 2 hits, Miranda took 1 damage, regenerated it and dealt me 2 damage back.  I would have been in perfect place to batter Dash the next turn, instead Miranda and Dash smashed Nym up.  Everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and if I'd not done the barrel roll it would have been a different game.  I think I conceded in frustration on turn 4 when Nym died and my Lothal Rebel got a Blinded Pilot as he was about to unload his torpedo on Dash.

LOSS: 2-2

Time to go home.

Back To The Future

I like the list a lot still.  I played like a donkey at Nationals and managed to go 50-50, and on another day I think I could easily have been on 3-1 after those four rounds.  Moreover it was the Ghost part that was experimental but it was the Ghost that ultimately delivered the goods so that's another tick against it being a pretty good squad!  I'd happily play it again, though maybe I'd tinker back with the Nym loadout and the Cruise Missile I added never really did enough... a second TLT would be amazing on Nym if I could find a way to get that on alongside Engine Upgrade.

What's also on my plate, though, is that I enjoyed the Ghost so much that I wouldn't mind double-Ghosting it a bit, so I went out and picked up a second VCX-100.  I'm busily painting it up in Sabine's colours (as above, not finished yet) so I've not had chance to put it onto the table yet, but I've got two different squad ideas to give a try...

Kanan & Sabine (Bombs ahoy!)

Kanan & Finn (6 dice primary PEW PEW PEW!)

These both bring me something interesting alongside the solid Kanan Jarrus model, and I look forward to trying them both out!

EXTRA CREDIT: Turrets & Bombs Are Fun To Play.  In A Bad Way.

So I decided to play the Ghost and Nym because I wanted to really see how the other half lived having spent so much time playing jousters.  What I can report back is that playing with these powerful turrets and bombs is a completely different experience, emotionally.  Even though I was inexperienced with turrets & bombs and playing the ships badly I was enjoying it because the nature of these ships is that they make you feel powerful, they make you feel clever and like you're outflying your opponent.
Playing my Imperial Aces was a nervous experience, every dial set & revealed made me nervous that I'd be left unable to fire, or unable to take the action that I need to survive.  I won far more games than I lost, but even winnning comfortably could leave me a nervous wreck at times. 
When I switched to turrets and bombs that emotional journey flipped entirely and I was relishing setting dials for what I was going to do to my opponent, I was watching their moves then barrel-rolling to be out of arc and get my turret shot, I was dropping Cluster Mines right in front of them and relishing rolling those red dice and add Sabine damage to it.  I felt like I was running rings round my opponents. 
The truth is that I was playing my turrets and bombs quite badly because I'm new to that style of play, but it felt like I was being the greatest tactical genius and winning because of my own brilliance.  
When I ran into the better players at Nationals my mistakes and inexperience with the playstyle were exposed, but in all my other matches against more average quality opponents I think that I was benefiting from some big advantages in the capabilities of my ships which covered over the majority of my play mistakes.
I understand a bit more now why people like playing fat barrel-rolling turrets, and it's because it's so easy to get hooked on something that both makes life easier and makes you feel good about yourself into the bargain.  If that option is there for you then... why not take it?

Friday, 6 October 2017

Metawing Metagame Update - September 2017

These are the Meta-Wing ranking tables for the calendar month of September 2017, which has included the results of several major National Championships.

If you don't know what Meta-Wing is then please read my blog introducing it here.

It's worth repeating some of the provisos about Meta-Wing, just to head off some of the people who get cranky about this sort of thing.
  • Not every tournament is entered in Listjuggler.  You're not seeing a complete picture from every X-Wing tournament being played, and indeed it might be weighted towards certain regions, stores or TOs that run tournaments more frequently, or are more rigorous in entering their results on Listjuggler.
  • When a tournament is entered in Listjuggler it's rare for every squad to be entered.  Most commonly you'll get TOs entering only the Top 4 or Top 8 squads and this means you're not seeing every squad or ship that's being played, even from the tournaments that are entered.  Even at the World Championships, for instance, only the Day Two lists were entered and even then it wasn't quite all of them.
  • Meta-wing doesn't add or amend the Listjuggler data at all.  If it's entered wrong in Listjuggler then it's wrong in Meta-wing. Errors are rare but they do happen, and when you start aggregating data up those errors become difficult to spot (thought fortunately they also become a small part of a larger sample size).


The Concord Dawn/Attani Mindlink connection is finally done.  Fenn/Teroch/Inaldra all take big drops in the pilots chart, while Paratanni & Sick Fang Man drop out of the top squads.  The Protectorate Starfighter has been a solid fixture at the top of the ship rankings as the only 'ace' really able to hold its own in the bombs meta, but this month it plummets from being #1 ship in August to the #12 spot!

The meta drifts slightly more towards Rebel dominance.  Rebel Nym is now ranked ahead of Scum Nym, and the big growth in squads is coming in Miranda/Dash/Nym combinations, while Poe's brief moment in the sun appears to be over.


  • One of the big stories of the month is the rise in four different Rebel squads using variations of Miranda, Nym and Dash.  Almost 1 in 10 of all players on Listjuggler switched their squads to either Nymranda, Mirandash, Nymble Dash and 'OP Cubed' last month.

  • The other big story is the sudden resurgence of Triple Jumps, which won the UK National Championships under the steady piloting of Faan Langelaan.  This has caught a lot of people by surprise but perhaps it shouldn't have done, as Faan had already placed a marker down when he used them to take down his Store Championship in July.   The Contracted Scout is looking just as dangerous as ever, but the question really is: where did it go?

TRIPLE JUMPS - SEPT 2017 (Winner UK National Championships)

  • I think the answer is that Wave 9 just gave players better options for Mindlink so you saw the Contracted Scouts being replaced by either one or two Protectorate Starfighters (in Rauboats and Old Man Fenn, respectively), and of course there was the distraction of Paratanni.  Captain Nym has reversed all that though and brought the Contracted Scout racing back to the top of the charts.  On one hand the bombs have scared away the Protectorate Starfighters which had replaced the Scouts, and on the other hand the large hull of the Contracted Scout is good against bombs and it's small turret likes that there's not a lot of Agility around at present.  Getting access to Rigged Cargo Chute to mess with Miranda and Nym is just gravy.

"OP CUBED" (Runner-Up UK National Championships)

OP Cubed is an important squad to discuss in more depth as it's an interesting hybrid of Fair Ship Rebels and Nymranda, replacing Jess Pava and Captain Rex with the durable Miranda threat.  

Given the rise of arc-dodging turrets this seems a pretty strong move as the damage output from Jess and Rex is a lot less reliable that you can keep them on-arc of their target.  Another thing that occurs to me about OP Cubed is how much it reminds me of Paul Heaver's list that he used to win the Naboo Open earlier this year, which was Miranda/Biggs/Stressbot.  The structure then was that you had to deal with the Stressbot and Biggs then had Miranda waiting for you in the endgame, and OP Cubed is very similar except that it's Biggs & Lowhhrick you need to deal with before you get to your boss battle against the K-Wing.


The comparison of specific matchups is a lot sketchier because that information isn't always stored in Listjuggler, so from 100+ examples of players using Denym you only get a handful of specific 'Denym vs Mirandash' results, for instance.  So keep a punch of salt on hand for some of this.
  • Contracted Scouts beat the two-ship lists, but struggle against the Biggs/Lowhhrick lists.  This makes good sense as Fair Ship Rebels first proved itself by being able to soak Dengar's alpha strikes.

  • Fair Ship Rebels really doesn't like the bombs, with a rotten record against anything with Nym in.


  • It's a second consecutive month without an Imperial pilot cracking the Top10, although Quickdraw holds his position in the 11th spot, so the top Imperial Aces pilots are very close.  

  • It's a very good month if you're a Rebel pilot with access to a turret.  Miranda, Nym, Dash, Gold Squadron Pilot, Kanan and Zeb are all climbing places this month and overall the Rebels have now locked up 12 of the Top-20 pilot spots.  It's a level of faction dominance only occasionally seen since Wave 6 added the Scum & Villainy faction to the game. 
  • It's a very bad month if you're an agile starfighter trying to use your primary firing arc, and even Fenn Rau finally takes a dive due to the ever-increasing level of bombs.  Fenn drops from 2nd to 12th, while Omega Leader, Inaldra and Old Teroch drop out of the Top-20 entirely.
  • Rebel Nym has now climbed ahead of Scum Nym.  Partly he's just got better wingmen in the Rebel faction (Miranda & Dash, and Sabine Wren crew) but more and more players are finding that the Rebel Nym's pilot ability is just as strong as the Scum version, and arguably better once you get used to how to use it.


Half of the top 20 upgrades are dedicated to secondary weapons, either the weapons themselves (Bomblet Generator, Twin Laser Turret, Plasma Torpedoes) or to making them work (Sabine Wren, Guidance Chips, Advanced SLAM).

There's two things here that I want to give a particular call out to:
  • Burnout SLAM.  Sitting in at the #13th best Upgrade in the game, this is the one card that has given me the most 'WTF' in the upgrades table so I did a bit of digging into the squads it's appearing in. 

    There's two broad camps: YT-1300/YT-2400s who are just including the Burnout SLAM as a 'Get Out Of Jail' card with a spare point, and Jumpmaster 5000's who are pairing it with Cikatro Vizago and using it to switch in Rigged Cargo Chutes or Black Market Slicer Tools against unsuspecting opponents. 

  • Autothrusters.  Dropping back from 16th spot in August to 38th in Septembr, with the weakest percentile performance of any of those cards in the table above, Autothrusters aren't doing very well.  This is well worth pointing out because the main trend we saw in the Squads and Pilots is that turreted ships are on the rise, so you'd expect Autothrusters to be turning up to counter them.  It appears the opposite it true though, which could well be that the nimble ships who would use Autothrusters (like Fenn Rau, or The Inquisitor) are struggling too much against the Bombs.


Finally, the full ships power level breakdown suggests that Guns For Hire can't bring buffs fast enough for the KIhraxz or Starviper!  Languishing down at the bottom of the tables Scum ace pilots have to hope that there's some serious power boosts in Guns For Hire, or all they'll succeed in doing is being pushed up into the mid-table.  That's what happened to the TIE Bomber when Imperial Veterans landed, and it remains to be seen if the likes of Thweek are more like Countess Ryad or Deathfire in power level.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Squadbuilding Trial And Error with Stridaneau

To be honest this blog has been 90% complete and sitting in my drafts for ages and the arrival of Captain Nym has changed the metagame a lot since this was first written.  
To set the scene: back then I was tilting off my Nettling Imp squads just hitting a brick wall against Dengar/Tel and Dengar/Fenn, and I was looking for something that would kill Dengar.  You're about to read me discard Decimator/Vader as a squad, when in the current metagame I probably wouldn't hesitate to make a PS11 Darth Vader my wingman because of his decent game against Captain Nym.  Take this blog for what it is - a slice of how I'd gone about tinkering with a squad to solve a problem - and if you're a fan of the Upsilon Shuttle then there might be something good in here for you.

That's enough preamble so let's hop in the time machine and travel back a month or two, to a strange and unfamiliar world...

The Dengar Killer - Rear Admiral Chiraneau

Results from World and Euros suggested that the Kylo Ren Decimator had come of age, and as I love Kylo Ren as a character it was something I wanted to give a try.  In theory this seemed like it would be a good answer to Dengar, as moving/shooting at PS10 would allow me to dodge his arc for the revenge shot a lot of the time, scoot into Range 1 away from any torpedoes, and I could use Kylo Ren tactically to support a wingman while I got the job done.  The squads that had done well at Worlds and Euros had Emperor Palpatine on board but in my push to nail Dengar to the wall I wanted to change that up and bring Rebel Captive to mess with his Expertise, with Gunner for helping to push damage onto the likes of Fenn Rau.
  • Rear Admiral Chiraneau - Veteran Instincts, Kylo Ren, Rebel Captive, Gunner, Engine Upgrade (62)

My Decimator loadout was pretty firmly set I just needed a wingman and I tried a couple of options out.  A friend of mine, whose opinion I trusted, had given Whisper a run but felt it failed the Dengar test unless you could bid at least 3 points (with Dengar/Tel at 98pts) so I looked elsewhere.
  • Rexler Brath - Veteran Instincts, TIE/x7, Twin Ion Engine MkII (37)
  • Darth Vader - Lone Wolf, TIE/x1, Advanced Targeting Computer, Engine Upgrade (36)

What these two options shared was that they both came in at high enough PS to worry Dengar (Brax at PS10, Vader at PS9 but matching the Dengar/Tel bid and beating the other Dengar bids), they could both token up to defend themselves, and they could both push crits to help trigger I'll Show You The Dark Side.  

I managed to get a few games in with both options against Dengar and ultimately found them both wanting.  Vader proved to be the stronger of the two ships thanks to Lone Wolf rerolling his dice, but ultimately I felt like they both seemed to be weak spots in the list rather than strengths.  Instead of my fighters bringing more offense to the list I was spending most of my time working to keep them alive!  To be honest I probably would have persevered with Vader and just tried to make it work better, but I was hitting another problem at the same time...

My Dengar killer wasn't killing Dengar.

It didn't seem to matter than RAC was moving after Dengar.  It didn't seem to matter that I could blind him.  It didn't seem to matter than I had Rebel Captive to shut down Expertise.  The simple fact was that, 1-on-1, Dengar was still able to out-trade the Decimator in a fight.  Yes Expertise was out of the equation but the Jumpmaster still got target locks from K4 Security Droid and a Focus token from his action.  Yes I could blind Dengar and dodge his arcs, but because I couldn't do both at the same time he would still be shooting at me once per turn, and he'd still be winning the damage race.

I needed to be able to boost out of Dengar's arc AND blind him at the same time.  But I couldn't equip Push The Limit or Experimental Interface to get an extra action without losing an essential upgrade and either dropping to a lower PS or losing my boost.  Where could that extra action come from?

  • Rear Admiral Chiraneau - Veteran Instincts, Kylo Ren, Rebel Captive, Gunner, Engine Upgrade (62)
  • Major Stridan - Fire Control System, Agent Kallus, Pattern Analyser (38)

The Upsilon Shuttle hasn't really found a definite place in the competitive metagame yet (although it did win a couple of Store Championships recently), but all the feedback I'd received was that the Coordinate action was a lot better than anybody expected.  Could that be the source of the extra action I needed for RAC?

Plus... it's the Upsilon Shuttle.  Kylo Ren's ride.  And it looks amazing. 

I loaded the shuttle up entirely with the Coordinate action in mind - Major Stridan to extend the range to R1-3, Pattern Analyser to use Coordinate when stressed, Fire Control System and Agent Kallus to modify my shuttle's dice 'hands free' on the assumption that my action would be dedicated to the Decimator a lot of the time.

And it works.  It's actually pretty good.  Coordinate is excellent for the list - it's not just the benefit of a second action on the Decimator, but also a second action that can't be bumped, and a Boost action before you reveal your dial that makes your Decimator's moves much harder to predict.  The shuttle also provides a decent pivot point for the Decimator to rotate around, holding a point on the table with its big gun while the Decimator sweeps around behind the enemy.  

I immediately felt like the shuttle was better than any of my fighter options and although I was pretty unfamiliar with running a pair of big ships I stuck with it for maybe a dozen games, probably winning more than I lost along the way despite facing some tough opposition. 

Unfortunately I must report that I ultimately dropped the list from my rotation.  Fun as it was the shuttle became a liability in too many games, especially on occasions where a bad turn for the Decimator would see it soak up too much damage and be the first ship out of the game.  I never EVER won a game where the shuttle was left to mop up the enemy after the Rear Admiral had gone.  It was just too easy for the opponent to move into the shuttle's huge blind spot and stay there.

Upsilon Shuttle Learnings

Trial & error doesn't always lead to success.  Sometimes it just leads to you boxing off a dead end and moving on to something new, and that's what I'm going to do from here (true - I was about to go and play the Ghost instead) but even when trial & error doesn't provide a pot of gold it can provide new wisdom, and I feel like I learnt a whole lot about how the Upsilon Shuttle works...

1. Fire Control System is rotten.  When you first build an Upsilon Shuttle probably the first upgrade you glue onto the ship is Fire Control System, a super-solid bit of action economy to make those 4 red dice really hurt your opponent.  The trouble is... it's garbage on the Upsilon because the ship's big base and sluggish dial makes it pretty rare that you're going to fire on the same thing twice.  In maybe a dozen games with the Upsilon I got to use the Fire Control System's target lock maybe just two or three times.

This isn't just my finding, though.  Meta-Wing tells me that it's been repeated wherever people are using Upsilon Shuttles.  In fact, not only is Fire Control System not the best System upgrade for the shuttle, it turns out to be the worst!
Metawing Results - System Slot Upgrades on Upsilon since Wave 10
  • Collision Detector - 76 squads, 34.1% percentile performance
  • Electronic Baffle - 22 squads, 29.0% percentile performance
  • Advanced Sensors - 27 squads, 28.6% percentile performance
  • Fire Control System - 147 squads, 26.1% percentile performance

So what do you do instead?  Well I already had Agent Kallus on board, and I like that option.  A local players suggested another option I hadn't considered, though, and which has won me over a bit.

Weapons Guidance gives you a new way to deal with those pesky blank red dice when you attack, and unlike Fire Control System it works every time you fire at something.  To really shine you need to pair Weapons Guidance with something else to mod your focus results, such as Recon Specialist, Agent Kallus, or A Score To Settle/Expertise if you've got Kylo Ren's EPT slot to play with.  The combination of Weapons Guidance and Recon Specialist, for instance, delivers 4 hits 73% of the time.

The main downside of the Weapons Guidance plan is that stacking the focus tokens competes for your actions with Coordinate.  But that's ok because...

2. Coordinate is great, but it's easy to overuse it.  It's so tempting to stand there with your dials at the start of a turn and get really drawn into all the fantastic options that Coordinate is giving you for your other ships to Boost/Barrel Roll before they reveal their dial.  Sometimes those options are far too good to ignore, but a lot of time I think it's a trap to be avoided.  You've spent 35-40 points on your Upsilon Shuttle, at least, and that sort of investment really demands that you get something from it.  If all you're really using it for is an extra action for another ship you're potentially selling short 40% of your squad.

Think of it this way: most of the time you'll be playing the Upsilon along other ships that had always been perfectly competent without the option to Coordinate an action to them.  Let them look after themselves as much as possible and save Coordinate for when it really matters... the less you use Coordinate the more likely you are to surprise your opponent when you finally make it count!

3.  The Upsilon Must Die.  The Upsilon Shuttle is not your engame piece.  You can stick Engine Upgrade on and really kit it out if you like, but it still won't be your endgame piece because 1-on-1 it will lose to almost anything thanks to the crappy dial & defences.  Making the Upsilon effective is, in my view, a delicate dance of ensuring you make it annoying enough that the enemy has to deal with it first, but not overloading it to make that happen or allowing it to die too quickly.
The Upsilon is going to work best when you can make your opponent shoot at it for a few turns, and then capitalise on the Upsilon's ability to distract the enemy by taking that time to remove a ship or two, or by sneaking a big threat into endgame like a TIE Phantom or Omega Leader.  It's a lot like how last year's Dash/Lothal lists just used the VCX-100 as a big distraction to ensure Dash could mop things up in the endgame.

4. Kylo Ren is the best Upsilon pilot.  In my Decimator list I turned to Major Stridan for the specific reason of wanting to Coordinate as much as possible.  Although the Range 3 Coordinate is a nice thing to have, the Elite Pilot Talent and I'll Show You The Dark Side of Kylo Ren are definitely a lot nicer, especially when you come to the conclusion that The Upsilon Must Die.  As you know I'm a fan of using Metawing to support my squadbuilding and I don't think it's any coincidence that Kylo Ren is the only Upsilon pilot to really make any waves or win any tournaments.

My trial and error with Rear Admiral Chiraneau wound up forking my squad development.  My interest in flying turrets switched from the Decimator to the Ghost and ultimately became the Ghost/Nym list that I wrote about last time.  The other branch span off into a jousting squad to keep plugging away with the Upsilon Shuttle, like a hybrid with my old Nettling Imps and that looks like this...


  • Kylo Ren & A Score To Settle is a really nice combination that synergises both ways - A Score To Settle will draw fire and attention onto the shuttle to trigger Kylo Ren's ability, then it helps to push out crits for I'll Show You Dark Side.  
  • Last pieces are to play with the target priority the opponent has for the shuttle.  I have never won a game where the shuttle is the last thing on the table as it's just too easy to get into the blind spot and stay there.  Electronic Baffle allows me to play the shuttle aggressively and keep Focusing for damage output - if the opponent follows the self-damage to kill the shuttle then he's doing what I want, and if he doesn't then I benefit from fixing all the red on the shuttle's dial with the Baffle.  The Kylo Ren's Shuttle also reaches out and disrupts the opponents ships, forcing them to pick on the shuttle.  Remember... The Upsilon Must Die.
  • Playing with I'll Show You The Dark Side encourages you to play solid sources of critical hits, so Darth Vader comes in as the ace to partner the shuttle.  Nothing special or glamorous here, just the stock 35pts Engine Vader, bringing his Advanced Targeting Computer for the steady supply of crits.
  • That leaves 26 points, which is almost always best-served as Omega Leader in an Imperial squad. Handily Omega Leader fits here quite nicely as a great endgame ship once the opponent has been distracted by the shuttle.