Thursday, February 9, 2017

The State of X-Wing is pretty good, or how I learned to stop worrying and fly better

There's been a bit of doom-and-gloom on the state of X-Wing, like the one here. I appreciate the statistics, and I agree power creep has happened and Push the Limit and Attanni Mindlink are strong cards. I'm just not sure it's a bad thing.

After a brief flirtation with Dengaroo and Defenders after Worlds, the meta seems to be incredibly diverse right now. Both of these lists have seemingly fallen by the wayside in recent tournaments, and Paratanni, Dash-Miranda/Norra, Corran-Miranda, Deci-Ace, and various other lists have all won Regionals. We've even seen efficiency lists like Rebel swarms and Kaat'o + 3x G1-A Mindlink win. With the sheer diversity in the current meta, I'd suggest worrying less about bringing the best list and more bringing the list you're most comfortable flying. More on this later.

I commend the work David did in compiling the statistics on pilots by wave. I always appreciate seeing the numbers :). There are a couple things I am concerned about. First, the increase in reliable control elements (Asajj, BMST, bombs, and Quadjumpers) pushed out a lot of arc-dodging evasive ships. Unfortunately, I'm not sure what can be done here; there are simply too many of these in the game now. On the other hand, I'm sure some people won't be upset to see Soontir Fel go out of the meta. Second, I'm concerned that TIE swarms have disappeared from the meta. The main culprit seems to be the TIE Defender, and I'd like to see a small nerf to the TIE/x7 title to hopefully restore the TIE swarm as the strongest jousting list in the game.

However, these stats can be a bit misleading. For one thing, I'd like to see the appearances weighted by points. For instance, Wave 5 was the YT-2400 and the Decimator. These ships will only show up once in lists that feature them. They'll never make up a large fraction of the pilots unless something goes terribly wrong in the meta. Also, these statistics suffer from survivorship bias. We don't know what fraction of these lists did well. If one player plays Corran Miranda to a top finish while only two out of 12 TIE Defender lists made the cut, which is more successful?

Statistical issues aside, is power creep even a bad thing? Many ships in the early waves were poorly designed. It's not like the X-Wing, E-Wing, HWK-290, or StarViper dominated the meta until Wave 8 hit. When FFG fixes the TIE Defender, it got counted as a Wave 9 ship. I can see why it could be counted as Wave 9, but the TIE Defender never was viable before! If power creep means FFG releases fewer bad ships and fixes the old bad ships, I think we can all be happy for it.

In fact, let's count the Pre-Wave 7 ships that didn't have big problems:
  • TIE Fighter
  • Y-Wing
  • Millennium Falcon
  • TIE Interceptor
  • B-Wing
  • TIE Phantom
  • YT-2400
  • VT-49 Decimator
  • ?A-Wing?
  • ?TIE Advanced?
  • ?E-Wing?
Leaving the questionable ones aside, half of the strong Pre-Wave 7 pilots (B-Wing, Y-Wing, TIE Phantom, YT-2400, Decimator) have placed top 4 at a Regionals event this season. The Wave 1 Falcon and TIE Interceptor (mostly Carnor Jax) has also placed well. Out of the questionable ones, Corran has also won a Regionals. So it's really only the TIE Fighter, A-Wing, and TIE Advanced that have been "power-creeped" out. That's not ideal, but it doesn't seem so bad.

Moreover, Scum came out in Wave 6 with three of the worst ships in the game. The Hound's Tooth in Wave 7 is good, but has severe limitations. That means if Scum is to be a third of the meta, by necessity almost a third of the ships has to be after Wave 8.

The blog also suggested nerfing Push the Limit and other sources of cheap action economy. I agree these cards are very strong, but doing this would make the older ships worse off. If you look at the list of weak ships, you'll notice three common themes. First, there are the >15-point ships with 2 attack, which don't bring enough offense to justify their cost. Second, there are the ships which rely on ordnance, which has historically been weak and only recently gotten buffs to make them somewhat worthwhile. Third, there are the ships with 3+ attack and 2+ agility. The problem with having lots of attack and agility dice is you really want to modify both sets of dice. If these ships can't get action economy, they usually paid too much for their stats. Nerfing Push the Limit and other forms of action economy means you'll throw all of these ships into the dustbin. We'd never see an Interceptor again until FFG prints something to fix it in Wave 20 (at which point it'd count as a Wave 20 ship 😛).

I'll end on a positive note. At its core, X-Wing is still a game about flying your ships. I took RAC-Maarek to the Wixom Regionals in December and ended the day 4-2. This was the first time I flew a Decimator in real life (I'd flown it on VASSAL a few times). I lost to a terrible matchup in TLT Kanan Biggs in under 30 minutes, and I messed up my gameplan against Dash-Miranda. I got mostly non-turreted ships in my other matchups, and RAC arc-dodged like a champ. I concluded the list doesn't do well against turrets and walked out of the tournament satisfied with only losing to two bad matchups.

A couple days later, I learned Phil Horny won the tournament with a slightly different RAC-Ryad list. He must have been lucky to avoid those bad matchups, right? Imagine my surprise when I found out he beat the same two players I lost to in the first two rounds of the playoffs! He somehow won the awful matchup against Kanan Biggs, and the Dash-Miranda player later told me he didn't think there was anything he could have done to win! That's the difference between me, a decent player flying an unfamiliar list, and a top player who's very familiar with the ships he's flying.

Kevin Leintz, the runner-up in the 2016 World Championships, lost to a bad matchup in Dengaroo in the finals (he was running Corran Miranda). Not surprising, right? You might be surprised to learn he beat two Dengaroo lists to get there. In 6 rounds of Swiss, you can probably expect to face two tough matchups. If you can't win at least one of those, you don't deserve to make the cut. Fortunately, your opponent might not know the matchup as well as you do. If you have a better plan and execute it better, you can overcome the disadvantage and come out ahead.

The meta seems to be incredibly diverse right now, and it seems like there are many lists that can place at a Regionals when flown well. Don't stress too much about picking the perfect list that counters everything. Pick your favorite strong list, have a good plan against the popular lists, and fly better.


  1. I absolutely agree. I would also add that a lot of folks that netlist are not comfortable with what they are flying. It happens in our local tournaments all the time.

  2. Just going to point out that Tie swarm leaving had way more to do with Dengaroo being an almost auto loss without really good dice and Dash + anyone was auto loss unless the dash player played terribly. Triple defender sucked to see but a crack swarm could handle things like commonwealth aces at an trade.

  3. "Pick your favorite strong list, have a good plan against the popular lists, and fly better. "

    Quoted for truth. I need to stick that on my phone as a reminder. :) Great write up.