Wednesday, 1 March 2023

WORLDS PREP IV - Sith Taker Open 2023

This past weekend was the long-awaited Sith Taker Open, a large event held by my local team (the Sith Takers) at Element Games in Stockport.  The STO had already become a fixture on the UK tournament pre-Covid, but in the absence of any major official organised play events it's now the biggest event in the UK calendar.  With 105 players it's also bigger than the recent Las Vegas Open in the US and will be, until the World Championships at Adepticon, the biggest 'X-Wing 2.5' tournament ever held.  And because it's positioned right before Worlds it's also attracted lots of big name players from across Europe looking to practice.

So, what did I take in order to beat the best players in Europe?

I took Blazer Bombs.

If you're unfamiliar with the upgrade voted both 'Worst Bomb of 2021' and 'Worst Bomb of 2022' by the readers of TIME magazine then let me remind you of what it does...

There's a lot wrong with the Blazer Bomb: you get a template like the Proximity Mine but you don't place it immediately in the System Phase so it's much harder to hit people with it.  You also get a Range 1 detonation like a Thermal Detonator but because it's only 1 red dice and doesn't do critical damage it's not actually that painful.

So it's hard to hit people with and doesn't hurt them much when you do.  So why am I using it?

The answer is Grudge.  His ability to reroll that 1 red dice from Blazer Bomb restores its potency while simultaneously protecting my own ships from the flames.  Grudge turns Blazer Bomb into a lopsided effect where the opponent takes 3x more damage it than I do.  At this point the fact that the Blazer Bomb is weak actually becomes an advantage.  It's so weak I'm usually happy to drop it all over my own team and take the small chance of eating a damage from it.

When I did that same thing with Thermal Detonators the results were much more painful for me because there's twice as many dice AND because it has the potential to Strain me as well there's more results on the dice that I don't want to see.

My experience of using Grudge with Thermal Detonators was that he had two modes - a Chaff mode where I push him forwards to launch Electro-Chaff but can't afford to use bombs on my own team, and a Thermal Detonator mode where he hangs back to blow up the space where opponents want to k-turn behind me but is then too far away to usefully use Electro-Chaff.  Blazer Bomb lets me do both.

Literally nobody could give me a good Blazer Bomb story as encouragement but my Spider-Sense kept tingling that I should use it.  To put the issue to rest I played three practice games with Blazer Bomb on Tuesday night before the Sith Taker Open and expected it to be a 'well, I tried it but yeah they're bad' and instead they were good in all three game and I was happy to give them a punt for the Sith Taker Open.

With Grudge and Blazer Bombs settled on my full list for the Sith Taker Open was this:
  • Commander Malarus – Cluster Missiles
  • Lieutenant Galek – Proud Tradition, Ion Cannon
  • Scorch – Shield Upgrade
  • DT-796 – Shield Upgrade
  • Ember – Elusive, Pattern Analyser
  • Grudge – Electro-Chaff Missile, Blazer Bomb, Fanatical

This list has torn up everything I'd put up against it in practice, but practice games are practice games and aren't always representative of how it will fare against opponents who are really trying to beat you in ways that you've not seen before.

I really like my list and enjoyed flying it, but I was ready to find out it wasn't as good as I thought it was and was braced for something like a 3-2 result that would see me fail to make cut to the second day.

ROUND ONE – Assault on the Satellite Array
Martyn Chivers – 7-ship Crack Swarm

This was a hell of a way to kick off the day: a game against the player and squad that won the last major event held in the UK.  This is very scary list for me to sit opposite because it absolutely has the firepower to hurt me and I can expect that Martyn knows exactly how to bring that firepower to bear.


It’s also a matchup where I can immediately be most pleased that I have Grudge with his Chaff cloud and Blazer Bombs.  That’s a massive toolbox to bring to this matchup must surely transform how we approach each other.

Before we get to the frenzied shooting part there’s one piece of information that will turn out to be very important.  During setting up objectives I notice Martyn being careful to measure exactly range 2 between two the Satellites near his deployment zone “aha!” I think, “he’s being really clever here because he knows that he can park one of his Academy Pilots in the spot between those two satellites and score both of them at once.  I need to watch out for that”.  Remember this for later.

We slam into each other on turn 3.  Grudge lays his chaff out and Martyn decides that he’s just going to take it on the chin and speeds through the cloud so most of his TIE Fighters arrive in the fight jammed and without focus tokens.  This is perfect for me, but I’ve made a mistake that means I can’t capitalise on it fully.  On my first turn both Malarus and Galek opened with a 5-straight but to bring Galek’s arc around into the fight I need to bank and the 5-straight has put her too close to an asteroid, so she has to turn instead.  If Galek has to do a turn then Malarus will need to do a 3-bank instead of a 2-bank.  I think there’s room for a 3-bank but actually Malarus just clips the back of Scorch’ base and she bumps.  That’s no Target Lock action and no Cluster Missiles, a critical drop in firepower for this vital turn.

Martyn’s TIE Fighters light me up – they might not have focus tokens but with bullseye Scourge Skuta and range 1 Mauler and Howlrunner and Moff Gideon he hits like a truck anyway, while I do nowhere near enough damage back after having to spend Focus just staying on the table.  Nothing dies on either side but I come off worse from the turn and with my big Chaff play spent to no effect I figure I’ve blown my chance.

From here the middle of the table turns into an almighty scrum as 12 TIE Fighters all try to hard-1 and s-loop and k-turn to get shots on each other.  The only ship not joining this melee is Grudge, who drops his Blazer Bomb into the pack and scoots away from everyone else.  The Blazer Bomb explodes to critical effect, with Grudge’s rerolls meaning that it nets 4 damage to Martyn’s TIEs and 0 damage to my own.  Those little chips of damage set up wounded TIEs that I can then finish off, meaning I can keep pace with Martyn as he starts to finish off my own wounded TIEs.  Emotionally I feel like I’ve been getting pummelled ever since I screwed up the initial engagement, but the points tally says that I’m actually one point ahead.

Super-Grudge to the rescue!

BTW: we should have removed the chaff, if you're wondering.  We must have forgotten.

On what turned out to be the final turn I was looking at how to boost-turn Grudge around and get him back into the fight when I realised that a 2-turn without boost would probably put him in exactly the spot that I was worried Martyn’s Academy Pilot would sit to score two objectives.  

It wins me the game.  

In the big melee more red dice bounce off more green dice and nothing dies, Martyn claims the centre objective because he has an extra body on the table but because Grudge is single-handedly holding two Satellites at once I match him on objectives for theturn and hold my slender 1pt lead as time is called on the round.

WIN – 13-12

Aside: I’ve had some discussion about this game online, with the gist it being that a game that ends 13-12 on turn 5 must mean that we were playing really slowly, or that we both brought bad lists that couldn’t deal damage.  I’m not sure either of that is true – there’s certainly no problem in either my or Martyn’s list dealing damage, I think we just nullified each other in a lot of ways – and although we only got through 5 turns we did manage to move 60 ships and make something like 35 attacks in that time because we had 13 ships on the table and pitched straight into a mass duel on the second turn, which is probably as many moves and attacks as two four ship lists would manage in a full 12 turns.

ROUND TWO  - Scramble the Transmission
Darth Sparkles – Morna Kee & 3 Reapers

A Decimator and three Reapers.  This is a lot of hull to work through, but I played against something a bit like this at the Wampa Warm Up and I managed to get through it in time so I’m confident I just have too much firepower for him to handle.

The key thing I feel like I need to manage is that I need to focus all my fire onto one thing and ensure I kill it, so while I deploy quite spread out in a way that encourages my opponent to do the same, I plan all along to fold in on the centre of the table and kill Morna Kee as quickly as possible.  At first this plan seems to be going flawlessly – I pull Feroph out of the fight on my right flank by switching those TIE Fighters in towards the centre, and Grudge uses his Chaff cloud to strip away Morna Kee’s banked reinforce to leave her vulnerable.  But even down to one Reinforce token the damage isn’t stacking up on Morna as quickly as I’d like and on the third turn my opponent managed to sweep Vermeil in from my left flank to join the fight.

It's always a joy to play on this mat.  Not!

I was now in real danger of being trapped between the hammer & anvil of Vermeil and Morna and most of my ships took evasive action to escape the kill box, while I left Ember to doggedly chase Morna Kee down as she tried to flee.

With that emerging killbox dodged my TIEs are safe once again and although I’d planned to bring an overwhelming weight of fire to bear it turns out to be a steady application of pressure that wins the day.  Grudge slips in behind Vizier and chips him down over three turns, while Ember chases Morna into a corner she can’t escape from to finish the game off.

That glittering cloud of space dust used to be Morna Kee

WIN – 20-9

Talking about it after the game Darth Sparkles says he was wrong to spread his forces out like he did and given how little he managed to do with Feroph on my right flank I think I agree.  Because Feroph raced forward on one flank and Vizier hung back on the other I was able to spend most of the game just fighting Morna Kee and Major Vermeil for the middle objective.  So long as I didn’t sit one of my ships where both could shoot at it I don’t think he ever got enough firing arcs pointing at the same thing to really punch through my agility and kill things.

ROUND THREE – Salvage Mission
Jannis Fritsch – YT-Poe, Zizi, Lulo, Zay Version

Salvage feels like a good mission to hit Jannis’ list in as pretty much all his ships love a Boost action and that’s ultimately how it played out.  To cut a long story short I think there was two critical decision points in this game – one mine, one Jannis’ – that handed me the win.

The first decision point was mine.  In every other matchup I would have spent turn 2 looking to engage my opponent with a fierce volley of fire and start destroying ships but in this game I made every effort to get my ships into position where I could grab four of the five crates.  That left my ships out of position for any fighting and without any dice mods for the shots Jannis took at me, but I felt it was a risk that I could afford to take to secure a big lead on the scenario objective.  Lulo managed to immediately shoot Galek’s crate off her but I held onto the other three crates for the rest of the game and I had a 12-7 lead on objective points by the end.

The second decision point was Jannis’.  He couldn’t afford to take my TIEs on in a head to head fight and had to be evasive in his piloting, especially with Poe carrying 7 victory points in his YT-1300.  After grabbing crates my TIEs started to converge on Poe and Jannis decided to 2-turn away from the centre of the table back towards his deployment zone.  The mistake I think he made was that he then followed that up with a Boost action.  The Boost action committed Poe to which corner of the table he was going to run into and I knew immediately where I needed my ships to be in two turns in order to kill Poe.  If Jannis hadn’t boosted then next turn Poe could have run in either direction and I wouldn’t have known where to go.  That 45-degree shift gave Poe an attack he wouldn’t otherwise have got to make, which is probably what Jannis was thinking about when he did it, but also signed his death warrant.

WIN – 24-10

ROUND FOUR – Chance Encounter
Kester Smith – Kylo, Wrath, Malarus, Scorch, DT

If I wasn’t so fully happy and committed to play 6 ships than Kester’s list may well be what I would be flying as I’ve frequently proclaimed my love of the TIE Whisper, and of Kylo and Wrath in particular.

This match played out the Firecast Focus stream so you can watch it if you jump to about 6 hours 5 minutes in, but unfortunately I can’t recommend it as one to watch.  The regular Firecast commentators were playing in the main event and mine and Kester’s audio doesn’t go out so it’s silent, then because I have no sense of showmanship we ended up driving a joust through the end of the table farthest from the camera so it's a hard watch too.  But if you enjoy squinting at some red pixels fighting agsainst some black and white pixels in the far distance then this may be the stream that you’ve been waiting for!

I also cheated in quite an important way.  I didn’t realise I’d cheated until I watched the stream back and caught what observers were saying into the chat.  I jousted Kester’s DT and Scorch down my left flank and hurled a chaff cloud into their face so that he came in jammed with no focus tokens and I could really do some damage.  Kester wound up sitting both of his TIEs actually on the chaff cloud instead of flying through it, and then I merrily target locked them with Ember and Malarus and went to town.  

This is cheating.

I’d read this part of the Electro-Chaff Cloud effects…

But I’d not read this part…

Usually when you don’t know what something does it hurts you as you plan for something to happen and get told it doesn’t work that way.  It’s unfortunate that this time it worked out in my favour because neither myself or Kester caught it and I merrily Cluster Missiled his ships with Malarus instead.

That said, this wasn’t the only mistake we made during the game and while it hurt Kester to eat those Cluster Missiles I think he managed to hurt himself even more when he dialled a k-turn for Kylo Ren that hit an asteroid he’d been sure wasn’t in the way.  Kylo lost two shields and my ships pounced on his sudden vulnerability to grab those victory points.  As a last act Kester managed to swing 6 hits from his Cluster Missile attacks into 6 blank green dice and kill two TIEs and make the score look pretty close.

WIN – 21-14

So much had gone wrong for Kester in this match, though.  He’d deployed quite spread out with Kylo way over on my far right side and the speed of my closing engagement seemed to catch him on the hop.  Then I cheated with Cluster Missiles.  Then he ran Kylo over a rock... End result was that for various reasons it wasn’t a clean game and I think if we met again the outcome could be very different.  I like his squad a lot and I think I was lucky to get away from it as easily as I did.

ROUND FIVE – Salvage Mission
Liam Baker – Jango, Durge, Volan Das, Phlacc-Arphocc

With both of us on 4-0 and sitting on a presumably healthy Strength of Schedule, the pressure was off for this final round of the first day as we were both guaranteed a spot in the Top-16.  Liam is a fellow Sith Taker and has been extolling the virtues of his Tri-Fighters in the team chat for a while.  I was pretty comfortable in my TIEs ability to throw lasers in their direction, but Volan Das in particular was a serious threat thanks to Outmaneuver.

This game turned out to be another where it was Grudge’s time to shine.  I deployed most of my ships on my right side and Grudge central, while Liam deployed centrally with everything apart from Volan Das, who was going to run down the opposite flank to my main force.  It was time for Grudge to switch into skirmish mode and he went out hunting for Volan Das in order to frustrate him with chaff and bombs.  Liam sensibly swung Durge and the other Tri-Fighter away from my incoming joust to chase the lone Grudge but the bomber managed to slip that net and I think Blazer Bomb disrupted the Tri-Fighters movement choices enough that they became quite predictable targets.  My TIEs fell on the Tri-Fighters and both exploded in one turn, while Jango nailed Ember in return.

Grudge evades Durge while the Tri-Fighters fly into bad spots to avoid Blazer Bomb

But that was just the shooting.  What I hadn’t identified in Turn 0 was that Liam’s was another list, just like Jannis Fritsch’ list in Round Three, that liked boosting too much to pick up crates.  Midgame I figured it out and leaned into that, so what had started with a 2-0 advantage in crate ownership became a 4-0 lead and I just protected those crates until the end of the game.  I won the objective scoring 15-0 while the actual shooting was a much closer 8-7 in my favour.

WIN 23-7

Well then!  I finished the first day as one of only two players on 5-0, alongside Dom Flannigan and his well-proven CIS squad, with a couple of undefeated Imperial lists (4 and a draw) sitting right behind us.

At this point I've already got everything I want from the Sith Taker Open.  My Worlds list is set.  Ember and Grudge have big ticks next to them, Blazer Bomb has a tick next to it.  I'm set.

I hadn't been expecting to do so well in a tough room so I gratefully accepted a friend's offer of a place to stay the night just around the corner from the tournament venue and we headed off into the night for dinner, drinks, board games and chat.  I think the staff of Mister Ali's curry house were a bit baffled by the fact an extra 30 people they hadn't been expecting all descended on them within a 20 minute window on Saturday evening.  And that they all arrived in little groups, but all seemed to know each other...

Actually, worth spending a moment on this.  I don't often extol the virtues of the X-Wing community the way so many people do and in part that's because this isn't my first time around the block: my version of that sense of community that so many have came 25 years ago in the mid/late-90s Magic; The Gathering scene, where I made a lot of lifelong friends.  So I always feel a bit removed from the X-Wing community: I'm older than most, and I'd rather sit back and let you all enjoy it than try too hard to artificially recreate something that's decades into my past.

But it was good to see everyone, good to chat to the people I got to chat to. It was good to see so many faces back and that the game is still clearly worth the candle after all the noisy naysayers have left.

There you go, that's about as soppy as I'm prepared to get in public.  Now back to your scheduled programming...

TOP-16 – Chance Encounter
Tom Reed – Boba, Rook, Kanan

My blogging journey to Worlds starting by explaining why I consider myself to be a Jack not an Ace and was quite prophetic in places….

"Even the times when I was having a good day and got within touching distance of a something important, like qualifiying for Worlds, there would always be a King or an Ace standing between me and the big prize, like a Jack Mooney, Stuart Blucke or Tom Reed.  Because they're better than me."

Hi, Tom.

Oh, is this going to be played out as a Chance Encounter, probably the single scenario I least want to face Tom’s list on?  Perfect.

  • Plan A: kill Rook if I get the chance

Tom deploys his I3s before most of my list.  I set up to joust them in the face.  Boba Fett lines up a little inside them, facing lane in the middle of the table.  Turn 1 I race forward while Tom 0-stops with Kanan and Rook, while Boba moves up the lane between two asteroids.  I guess that’s Plan A gone.

  • Plan B: kill Boba

If you’re going to try and kill something in this list you have to throw everything you can at it.  I chaff Boba’s approach and the rest of my squad swoops on to blast the Firespray out of the sky.  We do some damage but not enough.  I wanted to at least make Boba feel in danger and like he had to run away, but I’ve not succeeded in that.  Galek got pretty cooked but everything is still alive.

  • Plan A: turn and kill Rook.  But the positioning just isn’t right, I can’t get enough guns onto him and Boba is still here.
  • Plan B: hit Boba again.

We k-turn, we sloop, we hard-1, we throw everything we have at Boba again.  We get half points.  Tom got half of Galek on the second turn and he picks up half of Scorch this turn, but with half of the Firesprays points scored I’m 6-4 ahead.

  • Plan A: can we hit Rook yet?  No.
  • Plan B: can we hit Boba again?  Risky, he’s getting close to initiative-sweeping some of my TIEs off the board and I need to protect my guns.  I’ve spent too long in his range 1 bubble already.
  • Plan C: disengage, play it safe, get ready for another pass

It’s a weak turn from me and Ember gives up half points.  It’s 7-7

  • Plan A: kill Rook

FINALLY I can do what I came here to do.  With 4 hull remaining Tom cycles Boba out of the fight and suddenly Rook is caught in the killbox I’ve been patiently waiting to spring but GODDAMNIT that thing only rolls evades on its two green dice every time I shoot at it so it's not going down quickly.  And… OH FOR FUCKS SAKE writing this blog I just this second realised we never once decided who got Merciless Pursuit from The Child.  That would have been really important for DT & Scorch.  

So yeah, long story short: bad beats, blah blah, green dice blah blah, nobody cares own your target priority choices, blah blah, lost 16-17 with Rook on 2 hull blah blah Merciless Pursuit GOD FUCKING DAMNIT blah blah.

LOSS 16-17

I guess that was karma coming back round my way after I Cluster Missiled Kester’s TIEs on the first day.  My gosh, karma works fast these days.

For avoidance of doubt: I am 100% certain Tom did not deliberately ‘forget’ to give my ships Merciless Pursuit.  Tom is a good mate who doesn’t play much any more and has sold his collection so I’d loaned him his list for the weekend – ships, cards etc - and the only thing I couldn’t find for him was the Merciless Pursuit condition cards.  So if I don’t give the cards to Tom then Tom doesn’t have that reminder to hand them out!

Tom went on to beat Oliver Pocknell in the Top-8 and Liam Baker (my roung 5 opponent) in Top-4 before his run was finally ended by some newbie who I'm sure fluked their way to the win with beginners luck.

Congratulations to Faan Langelaan, who recovered from a massive first round drubbing (4-22!) to then not drop another game all weekend and claim the title!

Sith Taker Open 2023

So that's the Sith Taker Open boxed off and... it was great!

See Results from STO 2023 on Longshanks

  • The organisation was pretty much flawless.  We used Longshanks and it all seemed to work very well.  We got underway on time and although there was one redraw it got handled quickly.  Massive props to debut Tournament Organisers Richard Polley, Sean Milligan and Jonathan Hall.  Usually Tim King is the steady hand at the tiller of Sith Taker events but Tim wanted to play ahead of Worlds and the other stepped in.  I know they were really nervous about hosting such a big event but it all went great.  Big tick.
  • I played lots of games of X-Wing.  This is always a big tick.
  • I enjoyed them all, win lose or draw they were all exciting games I was fully engaged with the entire time.  Big tick.
  • I got to chat to people I don't usually get to chat to, maybe gradually rebuild some more bridges.  Big tick.
  • Nobody once griped to me about Legacy or old X-Wing or scenarios or points or anything.  It seemed like everyone was enjoying themselves playing a great game.  Big tick.
  • I'm set on my Worlds list.  Big tick.

Ticks all round!  And that's the last big gate passed on my Worlds journey - the next gate I need to hit is the Departure Gate at the airport!

In three weeks.

Jesus, Worlds is only three weeks away!!!

Tuesday, 14 February 2023

WORLDS PREP III - Unscheduled Downtime

There’s been a bit of break in my regular blog updates on Worlds Prep because, well… there’s been a bit of a break in my Worlds prep.  A couple of weekly game nights have come and gone without me getting a chance to play and so I’m actually not very much further on than I was at the end of the Wampa Warm-Up despite that fact that my second 'gate' is fast approaching in the form of the Sith Taker Open.

Just like in the Resistance cartoon: not a lot has been happening.

This is clearly bad news, but it’s not as bad as it could be for two main reasons:

  1. My post-Wampa plan was to experiment with a couple of wildcard options that I probably would have discarded anyway
  2. The results from recent tournaments like the Las Vegas Open have supported that my main plan for Worlds is probably fine and wildcard options aren't needed..

Missing out on play sessions is not good, but I’m very lucky to be in the position that I’m in – settled on a broad list that other people also are using and doing well with – as it means I can absorb that loss of playtime more easily.  I can catch up on most of the lost time by just deciding to ignore all the wacky ideas I had and focusing down on the core list that I'm pretty happy with and spend my time on fine-tuning details, and make sure all my decisions have good thought processes behind them.

The Devil’s In The Details

Here is the list that I flew to victory (through some close games!) in the Wampa Warm-Up.  In Bold are cards that I’m pretty certain are in my finished Worlds list, and in red are cards that I’m actively looking at options for.

  • Commander Malarus – Cluster Missiles
  • Lieutenant Galek – Proud Tradition, Ion Cannon
  • Scorch – Shield Upgrade
  • DT-796 – Shield Upgrade
  • Ember – Elusive, Pattern Analyser
  • Grudge – Electro-Chaff Missile, Thermal Detonators, Delayed Fuses

The central Core of the list is set – the four TIE/fo that all throw 3 red dice for just 3 squad points.  They’re super-efficient, quick, tough to kill, and can punch above their weight.  If you got four First Order players into the room and asked them to rank those four TIE/fo pilots from best to worst I think you’ll probably come out with four different lists, but thankfully we don’t have to decide which to use because they’re all great and we can just bring all of them!

I’m happy with my loadout choices on most of these ships, although there are different ways of kitting them out.  Malarus can bring Mag-Pulse or Ion Missiles instead of Clusters, and both Scorch and DT-796 can be equipped either for maximum damage output (Advanced Optics) or maximum survivability (Shield Upgrade) and while there’s arguments in favour of both I’ve never regretted having Shield Updgrade.  For me the payoff on Shield Upgrade is any time that the opponent has finally spent several turns pouring shots into Scorch and finally kill him, only to find he was only worth 3pts anyway.  

You have to put way more than 3pts worth of effort into killing either of these guys, which is basically the whole point of them and just an updated version of what we first discovered about Epsilon Squadron Cadets back in 2019.

Choosing the ships to run alongside the four TIE/fo is where the real decisions are being made and then some other decisions cascade from there.  So I think my full decision tree looks something like this:

It all hinges on whether you feel Ember brings more glass or more cannon.  I like Ember a lot and I fly her in a way that I think protects her a little bit from being picked on – she’s definitely not the tip of my spear – and so my default stance is that I’m just looking for the right 4pt ship to pair with Ember.  But there are a lot of First Order players who don’t like Ember and feel like she’s an easy target for the opponent to come after, while Recoil’s TIE Silencer may cost 5pts instead of Ember’s 4, but he’s harder to bag those points from.  That’s undeniably true – it’s 5.3 average attacks to kill a Silencer vs 3.7 to kill a TIE/ba, which even at Recoil’s higher cost pays out 0.9 pts per attack vs 1.1 pts per attack on Ember.

Those kind of raw maths are very simplistic but they’re a starting point, and on top of that Recoil can probably cut & run from a fight he’s losing more easily than Ember can.  And yet… I think Elusive closes the survivability gap significantly, and then you get into looking at the extra things you get from Ember like Pattern Analyser, target locks for rerolls at all ranges, and her ability to snipe wounded targets.  And as much as you can do the maths that Ember returns points for the opponent about 25% more quickly than Recoil does (1.1 per shot vs 0.9), he also outputs hits about 50% more quickly than Recoil does until Recoil gets into Range 1 and gets Predator online (when Ember is still 10% better).

Ember brings both glass and cannon.  I’v been happy enough with my cannon thus far.

If you go the Ember route the question becomes what 4pt ship to pair with her.  I’ve tried and discarded a TIE/sf twice now, and I’m comfortable that regardless of what anyone else is managing to get out of them they’re not for me.  In my head filling the spot next to Ember is a straight shootout between two ships that both offer a tool for matchups against incoming target locks and alpha strikes – Nightfall’s Sensor Scramblers and Jam actions vs Grudge’s Electro-Chaff Missiles.

I want to pick the TIE Whisper and yet it’s been quite awkward the last few times I’ve used it.  I really want to use Pattern Analyser on Nightfall, the Whisper has great red maneuvers and being able to chain Jam-Focus, Boost-Focus etc off of them is phenomenal and it also helps you keep the dangerous bullseye arc pointing at the enemy.  Without that I think the TIE Whisper switches to rotating its turret a lot more often and that drops your offence and moves you away from the fight instead of staying engaged.  But without Sensor Scramblers it’s much more dangerous for Nightfall to approach and Jam the alpha strike lists that I really want him to deal with.  

I find Nightfall’s loadout incredibly frustrating – if I take Sensor Scramblers I compromise unacceptably on what the Whisper does in order to get into position to do it, but if I take Pattern Analyser the Whisper may never live long enough to get where it can be dangerous.

I WANT to pick Nightfall, but while Nightfall's loadout gives me a headache Grudge has just been a solid little workhorse in every game I’ve tried him.  Unspectacular.  No 4-dice bullseye shots into jammed targets like Nightfall gets, no dramatic 5ks over the enemy to set up a killbox.  But the Electro-Chaff blunts a lot of attacks and with his boost and 3-speed turns Grudge puts in a real shift getting around the table and doing objectives for me.  If Grudge disappoints me at any point I’ll go running back to Nightfall, but for now its Grudge’s spot to lose.  

My only real decision for Grudge is that maybe, just maaaaaaaaybe, he can make use of Blazer Bombs?  Blazer Bombs are crap.  Everyone knows they are crap.  But Grudge can boost before dropping it, his ability means the 1 red dice you roll may actually hurt when it explodes, and unlike Proximity Mines they can be reloaded to cover more of the table in fiery circles.  I want Proximity Mines but I can’t afford Proximity Mines, so are positional Blazer Bombs better than hurling Thermal Detonators into space and hoping they hit something?  Almost certainly not… but maybe?  I’ll have a look.

The other side of the decision tree is where you go if you decide that Ember is more glass than she is cannon.  Here we find the successful list from the Las Vegas Open, which had Recoil and Static with Tractor Beam on Lieutenant Galek.  Because I came from the 4pt side of the faction (playing 5x 4pt ships all last year) I was slow to see the value in Recoil but I have given him a game or two and he’s better than I thought.  I’m still not sold on Recoil, though, in large part because of how much he gets locked into those 2-speed blue maneuvers once the fighting starts and that can be tough to keep turning around and finding range 1 shots on things, where my solutions like Ember or Nightfall can keep the pressure on with Pattern Analyser.

If I do go to the 5pt ship route I may actually pick another wildcard and use Wrath, even though he faces many of the problems Nightfall faces at the 4pt level.  I just really like having the higher Iniative on the Whisper for hunting out those bullseye shots, and having an Ion Cannon as well gives him strong attacks across his whole front arc.  Wrath definitely isn’t my first choice, but I might pick well him ahead of Recoil.

If Worlds was tomorrow I would be playing Ember & Grudge, and that’s likely to be what I play into my second ‘gate’ at the Sith Taker Open in two weekend’s time.  The result of that will tell me how likely I am to fall off the Ember plan entirely and move to 5-3-3-3-3-3.  But, to be honest, with a couple of days in Chicago to cram some playtesting in ahead of Worlds Day One I’m highly likely to be packing every option into my bag and deciding when I get there!  It’s not like I’m having to bring two or three completely different squads in different factions, it’s all circling the same plastic miniatures.

First Order Army List

  • 4-5 TIE/fo
  • 0-1 TIE Silencer
  • 0-1 TIE Whisper
  • 0-1 TIE/se Bomber


Thursday, 26 January 2023

WORLDS PREP II - The Wampa Warm-Up

In the last blog I shared how I’d quickly managed to cut my virtually infinite World Championships squad options down from being ‘faction-agnostic’ to being able to commit (almost) fully to First Order, as I was confident I could find something in that faction that I would like and feel comfortable with.

I want to share a bit of how that’s been going, and if you remember I shared my Worlds prep timeline with you and how there were three key gates I needed to pass through on the way, and the first of those was this past weekend: the Wampa Warm-Up at Element Games.

Before we get there, though, I had a couple of weeks of tinkering and testing to get in…

Firstest Orderest

One of the reasons I settled on First Order so quickly was that I was already pretty familiar with the faction.  I spent a lot of 2022 playing various First Order combinations, especially with the TIE Whisper and that’s probably my favourite ship in the game right now.  I love the dynamic of hunting those bullseye arcs, I love the white linked jam actions, I love the synergy with Pattern Analyser (one of my favourite upgrades) to sloop and k-turn but stay aggressive with double linked white actions, and I also love the tactical options of being able to flip to the turret and go in unexpected directions to score objectives.  

I actually enjoyed the TIE Whisper so much that I went out and found somebody who was willing to sell me theirs from the Fury of the First Order box so I own four of the spiky little death balls, which through the second half of 2022 I played in several different configurations:

You could have followed these exploits (but mostly just seen me show off things I painted) on my Instagram. But if you aren't interested in squinting in at these photos I was mostly playing:

  • 4x TIE Whisper & Grudge
  • 4x TIE Whisper & Ember
  • 3x TIE Whisper & Ember & Grudge

I was locked into the 4-4-4-4-4 formation (five ships of 4 squad points each) and really enjoying it.

The other ship I knew I liked, even though I wasn’t playing it much, was the humble TIE/fo.  I know Scorch, Malarus is obviously ever-present (even though I think Scorch is better) and even Static with an Ion Cannon was a solid pick.  And now Hotshots & Aces II has given us ‘better Scorch’ in DT-798 and ‘better Static’ in Lieutenant Galek.  There’s now five TIE/fos that can all throw 3 red dice while only costing 3 squad points.


That’s the stuff I knew pretty well and you can see a lot of it up in the top-right quadrant of my First Order pilots chart, which I shared in the last blog.  Known quantities that, by and large, I knew I liked (with a question mark on Grudge after points changes took Proxy Mines off him).

For my first bit of dedicated Worlds preparation and practice I decided I wanted to avoid as many of those known quantities as possible.  I was going to pick up stuff I wasn’t familiar with, or thought was bad, and just double-check my assumptions that I was right to be avoiding them.  With ships like Nightfall, Ember and Scorch safe in the bank I wanted to try the likes of Kylo Ren, Wrath, Captain Phasma and Recoil instead.  My natural instincts are to reach for more ships and more red dice, but are the 5pt and 6pt ships worth losing 2 TIE/fos to bring a tougher or tankier ‘ace’?


This shape of squad brings the 6pt Kylo Ren, two 4pt mid-level ships and two of the efficient 3pt TIE/fo fighters.  Kylo in his TIE Whisper was probably the single pilot I most wanted to explore quickly and fully, because I was most confident that he would make it into my squad.  He’s a TIE Whisper (great), he has higher Initiative to hunt bullseye arcs with (great), he has Force (great), and he brings Concussions Missiles to offset having a 2-dice arc outside of his bullseye (great).  For a few weeks I basically stapled Kylo, DT-798 and Scorch together as the two pieces of bread in a sandwich and then rotated various 4pt elements into the filling to see if I liked the taste.

First to go in was Captain Phasma and Backdraft.  I’d really enjoyed the TIE/sf a lot, and Phasma in particular, until the TIE Whisper came along and took my attention away.  I’d noticed the TIE/sf doing some good things at the Exegol Galaxies Championship toward the end of 2022 and was happy to give the /sf another try.  They didn’t last long: I found the /sf required a more rigid approach and formation than I’d become used to playing with the TIE Whispers.  I struggled to get Phasma to even keep arc on things and fire every turn!

This was clearly a ‘me’ thing - the TIE/sf shouldn’t be struggling to shoot at things because its not a particularly awkward ship to fly and use.  But most important to me, given the short timeframe I was working within, was that it being a ‘me’ thing was a valid reason to cut Phasma out of my thoughts.  The TIE/sf is working for people but it’s not working for the way I’m comfortable approaching scenarios, and how much I’ve been enjoying the tactical flexibility of the TIE Whisper to dynamically switch from objective to objective at short notice.  

I’m glad I tried them out to settle a doubt from the mind but I quickly stuck all the TIE/sf pilots back on the shelf – if I wanted to take a TIE/sf I would pick a TIE Whisper instead.  Which, to be honest, is exactly what I’ve been doing for the last 6 months anyway.

After moving the TIE/sf back out for ships I knew I liked: Nightfall with either Ember or Grudge alongside, I shifted my focus to what I thought about Kylo Ren’s TIE Whisper.  And I thought he was pretty good!  Having an I5 TIE Whisper was great, although I did decide early on that I wanted Instinctive Aim over Brilliant Evasion in order to fire Concussion Missiles, just because the TIE Whisper’s linked actions don’t interact with its Target Lock action, so I was never actually getting my locks out to fire the missiles.  Kylo was good, but I was also finding he was a clear target for opponents to hunt and 6pts was a lot to have to give up if I didn’t play him defensively enough.  I was really enjoying Kylo Ren, everything I thought would be great on him was, in fact, great.  

But was he worth 6 squad points?  Maaaaaybe? 


I now had enough games under my belt with Kylo then I felt like I knew his strengths & weaknesses and where he ranked on the power level table.  With my first gate looming – the Wampa Warm Up – I wanted to test out a different squad shape.  5-5-4-3-3 essentially trades Kylo Ren down for Wrath at 5 squad points, buying Recoil’s TIE Silencer in return with the pennies we’ve saved.  I’ve not really been enamoured with any of the First Order’s 5pt ships, just because there’s so many really good 4pt ships that I enjoy using, and this was a chance to see if I was missing out on anything.

And the answer was… eh, they’re pretty good?  Wrath felt pretty solid, I liked keeping Kylo Ren’s I5 TIE Whisper without paying 6 squad points for it, and I got his double tap attacks off profitably now and then.  Recoil was solid but unspectacular, which I pretty much expected.  He's another decent I4 gun but I have a reliable I4 gun in Ember that only costs 4pts.  And, really, that was the biggest problem with this shape of squad… I’m already having trouble picking which of Nightfall/Ember/Grudge I need to leave at home when I’ve got room for two 4pt ships, so a structure that only brings one of them was just causing me more of a headache!

Warming Up For Wampas

Testing time ahead of my first ‘gate’ was now up and I had to make a decision on what to play.  It was time to reflect on what I’d learned in those few weeks and that meant digging out that handy dandy chart and updating it.

I was really pleased with what this looked like.  My testing was creating a clean separation between things I did/didn’t like and meant that I could happily cross them off from my thoughts and hone my choices in even further without feeling like I needed to keep checking behind me to see if I was missing out on something.  

In that respect, at least, the testing was working.  


  • DT-798 & Scorch are exceptional value for 3pts, and I was happy I’d picked the right upgrades for them both.  Solid, rugged, quick, low maintenance, high damage output, and for all the effort it takes to kill them the opponent scores a measly 3 points.
  • Grudge is still good.  I’d been on the fence about his value without Proximity Mines in his locker, but the Electro-Chaff had still been an incredible tool for forcing opponents to engage in sub-optimal ways, and he was still fast little runabout for picking up objectives with.  The threat of him dealing damage was largely gone but he was still valuable.
  • Ember is bae.  I’ve liked Ember more than most for a long time and I think she’s probably the most underrated ship in First Order.  Because nobody else sings her praises I always feel like she’s a bit of a guilty pleasure and I’m waiting for it all to blow up in my face, but she continues to be reliable offence in a tidy little package with a great dial.  In a list of single-modded attacks she’s my trusty completer-finisher that will actually put opponents into the ground if other dice rolls happen to whiff.
  • I5 Whispers are good – I’d enjoyed both Kylo Ren and Wrath when I tried them out, that little bit of extra initiative really helped them land their bullseyes usefully and importantly they also both bring a secondary weapon to mitigate the weaker 2 red dice turret.  That’s important when you’re chasing a higher initiative ace and failing to land the bullseyes.


  • The TIE/sf was too rigid, dull, and slow for me to enjoy flying.  I’m sure it’s a solid workhorse but it wasn’t for me and my more dynamic and instinctive style of play.  Phasma, Backdraft and Quickdraw could all take off them flight suits, they would not be needed.
  • Kylo Silencer – I didn’t even play his Silencer and Kylo lost out!  I think I learned enough about competing elements like the Kylo Whisper and the points ‘Tetris’ of making a First Order squad to know that I didn’t want to invest 7 squad points into an I5 ace.  That’s not how I wanted to fly and I would have to give up too much in the rest of the list to make it happen.
  • Nightfall – wow, sad face.  I did not expect this result but somewhere along the way I think I noticed Nightfall’s limitations and flaws for the first time.  Sandwiched between how much I was enjoying Kylo & Wrath having the 3 dice front arc weapon but Nightfall didn’t have it, and how much Ember and Grudge were delivering at 4pts so I didn’t want to give up either… Nightfall was dropping from teacher’s pet to maybe actually being a problem?  Surely not.

So for the Wampa Warm-Up I was picking from just three basic squad structures:

        6-4-4-3-3 = Kylo, 2 from Grudge/Ember/Nightfall, 2 from Scorch/DT-798/Malarus

        5-4-4-4-3 = Wrath, Grudge, Ember, Nightfall, 1 from Scorch/DT-798/Malarus

        4-4-3-3-3-3 = 2 from Grudge/Ember/Nightfall, DT-798, Scorch, Malarus, Galek

I think I would have been happy to take any of these choices, but what swung it for me was deciding that as much as the Wampa Warm-Up was a ‘gate’ on my journey to Worlds it was still primarily a learning opportunity, so I decided to continue testing the things I knew least about.  The 4-4-3-3-3-3 list with all four TIE/fo pilots in had seemed so strong on paper that I’d never actually put it onto the table and I’d just taken for granted that it was good.  Maybe it was time to put that to the test?

I’d also begun to focus more and more on how suitable my squad would be at facing into multiple I5/I6 aces that I needed to take points off, which the little bit of X-Wing I’d seen was suggesting that was where the game was moving.  While my creative juices starting flowing around wildcards like Concussion Bombing my own Rush, or trying Midnight out again in order to play at I6 the more grounded and practical side of me just wanted to put more firing arcs onto the table and work the angles to pressurise those aces with blaster fire.  That was a solid argument for moving towards a 6-ship list over a 5-ship list, it was a tick in the box of something like Galek’s Ion Cannon being a decent addition to the squad, and it was also cross against bringing the bullseye arcs of the TIE Whisper.

Speaking of which… I’d not actually played a single game with First Order that didn’t include a TIE Whisper since the day that Fury of the First Order was released.  It seemed like high time to see what happened if I left my favourite ship out altogether.

(Briefly) The Wampa Warm-Up 

I won!

There was a modest 14 players, most of them quite local although several had travelled in from around the north of England, and it was a pretty decent mix of metagame lists and stuff people just liked flying.  Two of us in the event had Worlds invites and were practising hard, while a third Worlds competitor sadly had to sit out and TO the event.

I played the six-ship variant and left Nightfall at home.  Over four rounds of swiss I was the only player to go unbeaten and finish on 4-0, so in that respect it couldn’t have gone any better.  But that apparently dominant result masked that three of the four games came down to pretty much the final dice roll and I could have lost any of them.  

Here’s a quick roundup of how they went…

Round 1: Dave Lever (Han, Wedge, Fenn, Airen)

Grudge blunted his alpha strike a bit and the rest of my squad raced in and smashed Han down in two turns of firing.  Then Wedge started gobbling up my TIE Fighters and Dave started to claw his way back into it.  I think Dave would agree that he was dicing me pretty badly throughout this game and I was lucky to steal the win on the final roll of the dice: Ember hit Fenn Rau and pushed exactly lethal damage through because Fenn rolled double eyeballs and couldn’t spend Focus.  If that sounds “wow, that was lucky!” then you’re right, but then those were the first time Fenn hadn’t just rolled straight evades against every attack in like three turns.  It was that kind of game.  

WIN 19-15 (Assault)

Round 2: Marc Rider (RAC, Ubbel, Oicunn)

Wow, that’s a lot of hull!!!  I have a lot of red dice, though, and that proved decisive as I could simply burn through Marc’s ships too quickly.  Ubbel went down in one round to halve Marc’s damage output then we swarmed onto RAC to finish the game. 

WIN 21-7 (Chance Encounter)

Round 3: Ewan Farr (Whylo, Malarus, Recoil, Blackout) 

If you know Ewan you know he’s going to be playing TIE Silencers, and here we were as the two loyal First Order players (only FO in the room) fighting it out in the unbeaten bracket.  There’s a saying that “top level X-Wing looks like low level X-Wing” and if that’s true then Ewan and I were both playing 4D chess as this game was rotten from both of us – Ewan voluntarily flying into rocks, me spending whole turns planning around a T-Rolling TIE Silencer because I’d forgotten it was ionized.  I won 14-11 because Ewan made 14 mistakes and I only made 11.

WIN 14-11 (Salvage)

Round 4: Rich Polley (Ezra Gauntlet, Kulbee, Arvel, Keo, Derek Klivian)

I was relieved Rich was running Rebels instead of the ‘Republic refuses to take damage’ squad that has become popular in the team but as he was on 3-0 I clearly still had a lot to worry about in this game.  I think I got the better of the initial engagement, encouraging Rich to stay out wide with most of his ships with a feint then diving back the other direction to pick on half his list with all of mine.  That switch caught Rich out and I got ahead early, but on turn three my red dice and Keo’s green dice conspired to mean I’d effectively passed the whole turn to no effect and suddenly Rich was right back in the mix.  Ezra finally made his way off the flank and into the middle of the table where he could dominate the fight, Rich bagged a couple of objectives and a dead TIE Fighter and was well and truly back in the game.  

I think I always felt like I was ahead and likely to win as we approached the end of the 75 minutes, but it was close enough that Rich had a couple of shots on the final round that could have bagged ships and pulled him ahead.  I lost Grudge to being too brave with him but one kill wasn’t enough for Rich and I still edged it.

WIN 13-12 (Scramble)

Four good games, three of them extremely close.  So what were my takeaways?

DT and Scorch are S-tier.  Don’t leave home without them.  Malarus is good, Galek is clearly the 4th best TIE/fo but actually still fine.  Grudge was very worthwhile all day, though I need to work on how to position him on approach as I had success in both hurling him forwards for the Electro-Chaff in some games, or holding him near my rear and using bombs to cover my ship’s rear as we move beyond the initial fight… but it’s difficult to do both because that needs him to be in two places at once.  More attention needed on which mode I want to use.

I didn’t feel like I missed Nightfall at all.  That was important.  And I definitely felt like bringing all that critical mass of firepower had been decisive several times in removing ships ‘ahead of schedule’ and getting ahead in the early game.  At the same point, I needed to work on maintaining focused pressure after the initial engagement – I had a bit of tendency for it all to break up a bit and struggle to extend those early leads into safe margins of victory.  I’m a trading list and I *will* give up points over 5 or 6 turns and that midgame lull in my points scoring could be problematic.

But for a list I’ve never once played before I turned up with it… I went 4-0.  It’s got to be a big thumbs up!

Oh, and what was my prize for winning the Wampa Warm-Up?