Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Auxiliary ARCs - The Rebellion's Most Versatile Ship

The recent FAQ changes have already sent huge ripples through the competitive metagame, and brought a host of Rebel ships back to the forefront.  No longer running in terror from a plague of TIE Defenders or unpalatable Dengaroos, the plucky Rebel pilots have emerged from their hiding places and begun to take back lost ground.

As I join that resurgence in Rebel fleets I'm finding myself really enjoying the ARC-170.  It's a ship I've already used a few times in the past, such as in my entertaining Ghost/Biggs/Thane squad or alongside Rey in her YT-1300.  With the T-65 and T-70 X-Wings both proving a little too flimsy for battle at present the tougher ARC is proving it's worth as a real warhorse, but more and more I'm being struck by just how versatile and flexible the ARC platform can be.  The ARC-170 is the only ship in the game to combine both Crew and Astromech upgrade slots and resourceful players are finding more and more ways to make that count with tricky or powerful combinations.

In this blog I want to look at how the four ARC pilots are finding a home in the new era of Rebel squads, and how players are maximising those unique upgrade possibilities.

Braylen Stramm

Braylen Stramm has two things going for him - he's cheap and sometimes he clears stress without needing to do a green maneuver (although as it's only sometimes it's difficult to plan for or build that into your strategy too much).  Those two factors have combined to mean that, of all the four ARC-170 pilots, Braylenn is the one who has the most prescriptive uses...
  • Braylen Stramm - Alliance Overhaul, R3-A2, Gunner (32pts)

About 80% of all Braylen lists in Listjuggler used this loadout, which I'm going to dub 'Stresscow' because it's a bit bigger than a classic 'stresshog' Gold Squadron Y-Wing.  The objective of the two ships is very similar as both bring R3-A2 as their astromech and both are capable of firing twice in a turn (with Gunner or the BTL/A4 title) to double up on the stress.  The Gunner means that 'stresscow' costs 6pts more than the Y-Wing 'stresshog' but with those points you're buying an extra point of hull, and most importantly a rear arc to throw stress out of as well as the front.

The reason you see this loadout on Braylen in particular is because it plays to his two strengths.  Firstly if he's picking up two stress per turn then the fact that he's got a chance of shedding stress may matter, but most importantly the addition of R2-A2 probably makes Braylen the first target your opponent will pick on and so you just want the cheapest body available so you're not throwing away more points than you need to when he inevitable dies.

Personally I'm not a big fan of the 'stresscow' precisely because R3-A2 makes whatever he's on such a target that they tend not to last very long, so I'd usually prefer to bring the classic Y-Wing and spend 6pts somewhere else in the squad.  What is interesting about this, though, is that the recent Stele Open winner brought us the debut of 'Stressy Jessy' (Jess Pava with R3-A2, Primed Thrusters, Integrated Astromech) and so it seems like there's maybe a sliding scale of how much you can spend on bringing R3-A2 to the table.  At 32pts Braylen with Gunner is up at the top end of that, but as Jess Pava gave up on the double stress perhaps Braylen can lose the Gunner to save points and fill that crew slot with something else?

Hold that thought...

Thane Kyrell

Of all the ARC pilots I have a real soft spot for Thane Kyrell because I just love his pilot ability!  Taking two actions in a turn is the sort of thing people pay a lot of points for with Push The Limit, and there's also some great interactions around the timing of taking one of those actions in the middle of the combat phase.  It's something that I've already exploited to use Jyn Erso to feed Focus to Biggs when I know there will be enemies in my arc, and there are some great other uses as well.

The obvious synergy with Jyn Erso (Thane's ability triggers when something is in your arc, Jyn needs people to be in your arc) means that she's probably the single most common upgrade on Thane Kyrell builds, including this one which did very well at the recent Tatooine Open as part of a four ship Rebel squad under the command of Daniel Alzueta Curto.
  • Thane Kyrell - Alliance Overhaul, R3-A2, Jyn Erso (30pts)

So when we discussed Braylen Stramm's 'stresscow' I left you holding a thought about maybe not needing the Gunner and you could use something else instead?  Well that's exactly what this is doing with the ARC-170 coming in cheaper than the 'stresscow' despite using Thane as a pilot over the cheaper Braylen.  Daniel's list also featured Biggs Darklighter to act as a shield for Thane, and in return Thane fed focus to help keep Biggs alive with Jyn Erso... it's a beautiful friendship!

The versatility of the ARC-170 really gets highlighted in this next version of Thane Kyrell, which uses R2-D6 in the Astromech slot to add an EPT to the ship and really cash in on that free action with Expose!
  • Thane Kyrell - Alliance Overhaul, Expose, R2-D6, Rey (33pts)

So with this loadout you can easily launch fully modified 4 dice attacks.  Simple stack a couple of focus tokens on Rey in the early turns then move in to attack and activate Expose.  When your opponent attacks a nearby ship you're free to take a Target Lock and unload with the whole lot.  Pair this with Biggs Darklighter to ensure your opponent has to attack something else and you're laughing!

Thane's mid-combat action has other uses too - it's great for setting up a target lock for a Torpedo strike, for instance, and in this version that I've been using I take full advantage of that by equipping the crew/astromech combination of Weapons Engineer and M9-G8.
  • Thane - Alliance Overhaul, Weapons Engineer, M9-G8, Plasma Torpedo, Guidance Chips (35pts)

Weapons Engineer and M9-G8 is a great combination that only ARC pilots can use as they're the onle ones with both slots available.  You can either place your target locks on friendly ships to help improve your damage output, or on enemy ships to try and reroll their hits into blanks.  I added the Plasma Torpedo in this example to give Thane some real bite in the first round of firing so he's not just a support ship but also bring some fight of his own.

I'm sure these lists above only scratch the surface of what Thane can get up to and almost any upgrade with an Action: tag is worth at least thinking about for whether Thane can take advantage or not.  The biggest trick is ensuring that he's riding alongside something else (Biggs, Stresshog etc) that's drawing all the attention in the early game so you got those free actions!

Norra Wexley

Wait a minute, did I forget about Shara Bey?  No, but I'm leaving her to last because I want to talk about Norra Wexley first.  Get over it.

Norra Wexley (mother of 'Snap' Wexley from The Force Awakens) is a straight up brawler.  Big Momma Wexley has a fantastic pilot ability that allows her to punch well above her weight, and also allows her to stick around on the table a bit longer than usual.  Unfortunately to use Norra's ability properly you'll need two actions in a turn - one to throw down the Target Lock and a second to give you the Focus token you'll need. 

That requirements means that the vast majority of Norra Wexley lists are wedded to Push The Limit as her Elite Pilot Talent, and then work out from there.

There's really two 'families' of Norra Wexley players and it's the Astromech slot that divides them.  Because Push The Limit is going to leave Norra stressed every turn she's going to spend a lot of time doing green maneuvers, and that opens the door to two iconic astromechs...

That's right, ladies and gentlemen, it's R2-D2 vs BB-8!

"Iiiiiiiiiin the BLUE corner, weighing in at 32 kilograms and standing 3 feet 7 inches tall.  It's the Artoo from Naboo, the 'mech you can't wreck... Artoooooo Deeeeeeeeeeetoooooooooo!
And the challenger, fighting out of the ORANGE corner.  Weighing 18 kilograms and rolling in at 2 feet 2 inches.  He's backu from Jakku and here to prove that size matters not, so give a big thumbs up for... Beebeeeee Eeeiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiighttt!"

R2-D2 gives you 'regen Norra' while BB-8 creates what has been dubbed 'agility Norra' and it's worth paying a little bit more attention to because of just how BB-8 interacts with Push The Limit.  Agility Norra can reveal a green maneuver then use BB-8 to perform a barrel roll and THEN use Push The Limit to perform an action (Focus/TL) and generate stress.  This all happened before you actually performed the green maneuver, though, so now you move and clear the stress and get to take yet another action.  While R2-D2 Norra uses Push The Limit to TL/Focus and end the turn stressed, BB-8 Norra can TL/Focus/Barrel Roll and end the turn unstressed so that her options are wide open on the next turn.

BTW: the potential of BB-8 and Push The Limit was something I touched on in this very early blog about Poe!

The downside to Agility Norra over Regen Norra, of course, is that the added maneuvering of BB-8 is essential to avoid her taking too much damage because without R2-D2 she's no way of regenerating any lost shields.  

The BB-8 Norra has plenty of tricks but it's the sheer reliability of trusty old R2-D2 that keeps players coming back to him time and time again.

With powerful synergies already being locked up in the Elite Pilot Talent and Astromech slots players often have a pretty free hand in what to use in Norra's Crew slot.  C-3PO is frequently reunited with his counterpart R2-D2 to make Norra even tougher to bring down than she already is, while other choices might maximise the danger of her rear arc with Tail Gunner, or look for even more Focus tokens with Rey or Kyle Katarn.  The final piece of the puzzle is often the addition of Vectored Thrusters.  The ARC's achilles heel is a weak dial with poor options for turning around, especially when Push The Limit leaves you stressed and unable to K-turn - even more so if you're wedded to green moves - and Vectored Thrusters gives you essential options for how to handle those turns or for keeping opponents in your rear arc as you grind around the board.
  • Norra Wexley - Alliance Overhaul, Push The Limit, Kyle Katarn, R2-D2, Vectored Thrusters (41pts)

Above is a pretty straight forward Regen Norra build as an example, with Kyle Katarn ensuring that Norra gets a Focus token even if she uses one of her Push The Limit actions to barrel roll and reposition her arcs.  This type of Norra Wexley build is pretty self-sustaining so you see it plugged into a bunch of different lists - I've seen it supporting Rey, for instance, and I've seen it running alongside three Snap/Crack A-Wings (with Rey crew subbed in for Kyle Katarn to save a point).  It's not an immediately obvious comparison to make but I think that 'Regen Norra' is to the Rebels what Whisper's TIE Phantom is to the Imperials - a ~40pts standalone ship that can be relied upon to deal a fair chunk of damage whilst also defending itself (with regen or cloaking).  Not obvious to put those two pilots in the same pigeon box but, yeah, I think they've got a lot more in common than you'd immediately expect.

Although the battle of the astromechs has been overwhelmingly won by R2-D2 in terms of the number of players using him, it was an Agility Norra with BB-8 that recently surprised many players when John Procter won the Stele Open...

  • Norra Wexley - Alliance Overhaul, Push The Limit, Kyle Katarn, BB-8 (37pts)

The killer trick in John's list wasn't just his Norra loadout, though.  What was really clever was how it worked in synergy with the rest of his squad and, in particular, with Shara Bey in a second ARC-170...

Shara Bey

According to meta-wing.com Shara Bey is the least popular of the four ARC-170 pilots, played only roughly half as often as either Thane Kyrell or Braylenn Stramm, and fully 80% less than the main gun Norra Wexley.  I think the main reason for this is that Shara Bey is almost never the first ARC you put into a list and instead she usually supports another ARC.  You can put Braylen in as a standalone Stresscow, you can add Thane to support Biggs, Norra is rough and tumble and can go with anything but Shara... Shara is the shy quiet one that likes to sit in the shadow of her more gregarious friends.

Shara probably competes most closely with Thane Kyrell for the role of 'support ARC' and what she's mostly got going for her over Thane is that native EPT slot.  Yes there are Thane builds that use an EPT with R2-D6 but if you want to pack a decent Astromech as well then Shara is your girl.  That's what veteran UK player Rasta Maice used to his advantage last year when he took Norra/Shara/Biggs to victory in a large community tournament last year...
  • Shara Bey - Alliance Overhaul, Draw Their Fire, Weapons Engineer, R2-D2 (36pts)

Alongside Shara Bey's EPT slot the other main reason for bringing the Bey is her ability to contribute target locks for the rest of her team.  That's what makes Weapons Engineer one of the most common upgrades on Shara builds, and it's also what makes her such a good partner for Norra Wexley as it more easily allows Norra to use her Target Lock/Focus combination on defense as well as attack.

That partnership with Norra Wexley was taken one step further by John Procter's Stele Open winning list, with Shara almost acting as big sister to Norra...
  • Shara Bey - Alliance Overhaul, Adaptability, Jan Ors, R2-D2 (34pts)

If you remember the 'Agility Norra' that John used was lacking regenerating shields as he packed BB-8 not R2-D2, well that was all fine because Shara Bey had Norra's back and gave a sort of regeneration by proxy by Jan Ors feeding an Evade token into Norra for her second Focus token that she got from Kyle Katarn.  It made target priority trickier - did you try and shoot the slippery agility Norra Wexley despite her Evade token, or did you accept having to chew through Shara Bey and her regenerating shields before you could start on Norra?

As I said at the top there's a reason why Shara Bey is the least loved ARC pilot, but there's also no doubt that she can make an excellent wingman (Wingmaam?) for her buddies!

So there you have it - ARCs may not be sexy but they sure are proving useful and earning their corn among the very best ships the Rebels have available.  They can be powerful warhorses, stress-dealing frustrations or tactical support ships, they can operate independently or in tandem with other ARCs.  With their unique upgrade slots they can do just about anything, in fact!

I'm already a big fan of the ARC-170 platform, are you?


Rasta Maice - Nerf Herder Open 2016 (UK) - WINNER
  • Norra Wexley - Push The Limit, Kyle Katarn, R5-P9, Alliance Overhaul (38pts)
  • Shara Bey - Draw Their Fire, Weapons Engineer, R2-D2. Alliance Overhaul (36pts)
  • Biggs Darklighter - R4-D6, Integrated Astromech (26pts)

Daniel Alzueta Curto - Tatooine Open 2017 (Spain) - TOP 8
  • Captain Rex
  • Roark Garnet - Twin Laser Turret, Jan Ors
  • Biggs Darklighter - R2-D2, Integrated Astromech
  • Thane Kyrell - Jyn Erso, R3-A2, Alliance Overhaul

John Procter - Stele Open 2017 (USA) - WINNER
  • Norra Wexley - Push The Limit, Kyle Katarn, BB-8, Alliance Overhaul (37pts)
  • Shara Bey - Adaptability, Jan Ors, R2-D2. Alliance Overhaul (34pts)
  • Jess Pava - R3-A2, Primed Thrusters, Integrated Astromech (28pts)

"Duck Duck Goose" - Various Tournaments
  • Braylen Stramm - R3-A2, Gunner, Alliance Overhaul (32pts)
  • Norra Wexley - Push The Limit, C-3PO, R2-D2, Vectored Thrusters, Alliance Overhaul (41pts)
  • Biggs Darklighter - R4-D6, Integrated Astromech (26pts)

Friday, 14 April 2017

Rookie Mistakes - Chasing Critical Hits

Rookie Mistakes is a series of occasional blogs looking at common mistakes players make, either when they're just starting out or trying to step up their play from the kitchen table to the tournament hall.

Chasing Critical Hits

One of the themes I see reappear more often than any other in 'casual' lists is how much people are prepared to contort their squads and flying style just to try and turn a 'hit' into a 'crit'.

This is almost always a trap.

Don't get me wrong, crits are great - landing a killer critical hit on your opponent can sometimes be enough to win you a game, no doubt. But crits aren't so much better than normal hits to make it worth spending half a dozen points of your list trying to force them to happen.

People do it though. A lot.

Ten Nunb, Etahn A'baht, Rexler Brath, Mercenary Copilot, Omega Ace, Marksmanship, Kath Scarlett, Saboteur, Lt Colzet... it's not an exhaustive list but these are the sorts of pilots and upgrades that seem to regularly sucker new players in and which experienced pilots largely know to avoid. The problem is twofold - firstly that it's surprisingly easy to overestimate the importance of a 'crit' result on your dice, and secondly that the effort required to force a critical hit result makes you overall a lot less effective because you're paying a premium price for that one component.

Let's look at that first one in more detail... just how important is a critical hit anyway?
  • Any time you get a critical hit and they dodge your attack, the effort & points spent on getting that crit was lost.
  • Any time you successful critical hit past their green dice but it just removes a shield, the effort & points spent on getting that crit was lost.
  • Any time you actually assign a face-up damage card with a critical hit but it isn't one that really has an impact, the effort & points spent on getting that crit was lost. This includes a Critical Hit that is part of dealing lethal damage as the ship was dead anyway!

This last one is quite subjective but I must have lost count of the number of times I've handed out critical hits that didn't change anything. It could be the classic Major Hull Breach that means all future damage cards will be face up but they've only got one hull left so will die to any damage anyway.  It could be a Shaken Pilot when they weren't planning on doing a straight maneuver next turn anyway.  It could be a Damaged Cockpit reducing a ship to Pilot Skill 0 that was already moving first (or, worse yet, actually gets BETTER when it moves first - I've won games due to receiving this crit). 

Some critical hits are awesome!  Others can be more easily ignored...

When you hand out a Critical Hit you're thinking of the dream of Blinded Pilot or Direct Hit, or Damaged Sensor Array but there are plenty of crits in there that will have minimal impact of the game.  Even a Direct Hit could be meaningless. If a Direct Hit leaves the opponent with 1 hull left and your next attack deals 2 damage then the Direct Hit has just been overkill as you were going to destroy them anyway had it not been there.
Case Study - Just the other day I handed Countess Ryad two critical hits that had almost no impact at all - a Loose Stabiliser that turned the white moves on her dial to red, and a Damaged Engine that turned her hard turns to red.  This all sounded fantastic and that I'd really limited the moves that she could do without being stressed, but in fact all that had happened was that her 3 turn was now red. She still had green K-turns and she still had green banks thanks to her Twin Ion Engine MkII modification.  Two critical hits had only changed two moves on her dial!
Once you understand that Critical Hits are only good IF they don't get dodged and IF they didn't have shields and IF you get a critical hit that really matters... they start to lose at least some of their shine. Critical Hits can be gamechanging and they can be awesome, but they're rarely worth playing a card or upgrade specifically to make them happen.

That's where the second issue comes into play - how much are you really paying to make that critical hit happen?

Look at Ten Numb as an example - usually the cost of playing Ten Numb (already 9pts more than a basic B-Wing) is that you're equipping him with a Mangler Cannon (another 4pts) to ensure he's dealing crits.  But Ten Numb has already got 3 red dice so the cannon isn't naturally improving his offense - 13pts have been sunk into that B-Wing and the payoff is really only worthwhile against ships with plenty of green dice and tokens (who were likely to dodge your crit) and few shields (so they actually take a face up damage card).  

You could have fielded a basic B-Wing and a whole extra ship for those 13 points!

The cost isn't always in points either, and one of the most common crit traps that players fall into is the EPT Marksmanship.  Now Marksmanship doesn't just give you a crit like Calculation does, it flips ALL your focus results into hits with a crit as a cherry on top.  That sounds like an amazing effect for 3pts of EPT and in terms of raw damage output you'd be right... if you didn't get 90% of that effect for 0pts by just taking a Focus action!  

Because Marksmanship is costing you an action it's replacing something else that was almost as much good (and in fact potentially better, as you can Focus on defense but Marksmanship won't help at all).   Like a convincing telesales rep if you get sucked in by all the things that Marksmanship says it will do for you then you'll forget you could already do most of it for free!

Really, if you think of some of the most commonly played competitive pilots & upgrades that deal out Critical Hits, like Rear Admiral Chiraneau, Emperor Palpatine, Advanced Targeting Computer or Proton Torpedoes, then in most cases they would still be getting played if all they did was create a normal hit instead of a critical hit. In all these cases much of the value is in that they turn a dice into a damage that would otherwise miss, or in straight up adding an extra dice!  

What matters most is that they're generating an extra damage and a lot of the time that's what the points are being spent on. Any bonus they get from it being a critical hit, should it get through shields... most of the time it's just gravy.

Which really brings us back full circle to where we came in, namely that critical hits are great when they happen, but that they're not worth working hard to make them happen.  When trying to land a face-up damage card becomes an obsession it's almost always at the detriment of the overall strength of your squad, and it's that fact which makes this... a Rookie Mistake.

ADDENDUM - "So what about Kylo Ren?"

Something that a few people have said after this blog was first posted was about Kylo Ren, who is obviously doing the rounds at the moment after first appearing in the Upsilon Shuttle.  Is he an exception to the rule of not chasing crits?

Well... sort of.

If you think about what Kylo Ren and similar effects, like Boba Fett crew, or Bossk pilot, are doing in terms of those three steps of why crits aren't so great (1. they get dodged, 2. they just remove shields, 3. the crits might be rubbish) then you can understand his impact a bit more easily.  Kylo Ren effectively ignores step 2 and step 3 as his effect punches through shields, and you can make sure you pick arguably the best critical hit in the deck, Blinded Pilot.  Effects like Kylo, therefore, go some way towards making it worthwhile building a squad that can create critical hits by removing some of the obstacles of that crit result making a difference.

Bossk does something similar - as long as his crit isn't dodged then he's better at step 2 and 3 by at least removing 2 shields at a time with his crit, and although Boba Fett still needs to punch through shields to have a say there can be a big payoff should he get there.


EVEN SO, the most common ways you will see people trying to trigger crits is with the 'good' crit cards that are generating a crit from a missed dice, like Rear Admiral Chiraneau, Guidance Chips or Proton Torpedoes.  What this should really indicate is that even when you up the stakes and really reward yourself for generating critical hits... Mercenary Copilot is still a bit shit.

If you've got any other great ideas of examples of things you think are Rookie Mistakes that a lot players make then let me know in the comments below and I might steal your suggestion for a future blog!