ChahDresh takes a deep dive into the best X-Wing lists on this– or any other– planet.
Another Worlds has come and gone. It seems like just yesterday I was writing my first column for this site, which was about—yep—last year’s Worlds. Since then, Wave 10 came out, the Great Nerf crashed over us, and the meta continued to evolve. It’s time to take a deep breath, look around, and see where we are.
We’ll do this by looking at the crème-de-la-crème of our hobby: those who managed to win at least six games in Worlds’ nine (!) rounds of Swiss. This encompasses 77 players; however, as not all lists have been made available, we’ll look at the 55 lists that we do have. As usual, Yet Another Squad Builder is there as a reference for any cards you don’t recognize.
Obligatory warning: watch out for elitism bias. When competitive players see a particular upgrade, ship, or list performing well, they tend to imitate it. This creates a feedback loop that makes the upgrade/ship/list seem even better. Just something to remember: don’t overreact to anything you see here.
With that out of the way: Let’s go overreact!
For the second year in a row, Scum enjoyed preeminence at Worlds, though this was not as pronounced as last year. Out of our top 55 pilots, 25 were Scum. It’s true that 13 out of the top 16 pilots were Scum, but it was precious little MoV that was the gatekeeper for a host of Rebel and Imperial pilots just outside that breakpoint.
Leading the charge were three elements that were overwhelmingly popular, and all three are present in the most common Scum archetype: Old Fenn-Aroo.
This list isn’t too much different from the “Parattani” lists that made Alderaans out of the System Open events. The crux is Attani Mindlink’s ability to give Fenn Rau superb action economy, even if he becomes stressed, coupled with Manaroo’s ability to do the same. Old Teroch provides an additional threat and emphasizes the action economy advantage by debuffing targets. Fenn hits like a truck but doubles as a PS9 arc-dodger, Manaroo is too durable and mobile for most lists to kill efficiently, and everyone has focus tokens to spare.
This is quite a turnaround. Just six months ago, Attani Mindlink was seen as a novelty. It didn’t make a dent at last year’s Worlds. Almost overnight it has become ubiquitous. Of the 25 Scum lists, 19 fielded Attani Mindlink as their exclusive EPT, meaning that there were more copies of Attani Mindlink in our sample (57) than there were players (55). Control tools, like R3-A2, have seen a return to the competitive scene as a result, but not in near enough numbers to deter or overpower the Mindlink. The fact that the Protectorate Starfighter and Jumpmaster can both easily cope with stress doesn’t help matters, either. (Unhinged Astromech sees a *lot* of play.)
The dominance of the Protectorate Starfighter and the Jumpmaster extends far beyond this archetype, though. Sixteen of the 25 Scum players fielded Fenn Rau, while 16 fielded at least one Jumpmaster—27 Jumpmasters in all (more than one per Scum player). Even more remarkable, every single pilot for the Jumpmaster was represented in our sample. Remember our discussion of one-ace wonders? The Jumpmaster is the opposite of that—a ship whose base existence is so good all of its pilots are competitive.
(This is the polite way of saying the Jumpmaster is overpowered. I’ll back up that analysis in a future article.)
These three factors—the action economy of Mindlink, the points-efficiency of the Jumpmaster, Fenn Rau’s dual-role awesomeness—define much of the Scum meta right now. It helps explain the near-vanishing of the dual-big-ship archetype that was so important to Scum last year. It also helps explain a couple of features of the other factions’ meta.
Triple K-Wing lists were less common and less successful at Worlds 2017. Miranda still made plenty of appearances—she was the faction’s most-flown pilot, with 9 of the 17 Rebel players fielding her—but her Warden Squadron buddies evaporated from the top tables. This is due to the ascendancy of Jumpmasters and the decline of Palp Aces. (Palp Aces isn’t extinct—more on that later—but uncommon enough that teching to counter it isn’t as profitable as it used to be.) Bombs just aren’t as effective against 9-HP Jumpmasters as they are against 3-HP Interceptors or forever-K-turning Defenders. Plus, many of the top players have enough experience flying against bombs that overcommitting to that gimmick is risky.
That said, bombs can still play a strong complementary role, which is exactly what Miranda was doing in most of her appearances. In contrast, the Miranda in the Worlds runner-up list ran with Plasma Torpedoes AND an Autoblaster Turret AND bombs. Rather than using a Twin Laser Turret to grind foes to dust, this Miranda seeks out killshots early and often—at range with the torpedoes, up close with the turret, in all cases using her shields aggressively to push through more damage. She gets away with it because of Biggs.
Ah, yes, Biggs. Biggs appeared in eight out of 17 Rebel lists in our sample, carrying the flag for the T-65 in the process. Biggs, as always, remains a strong choice for defending vulnerable attackers and (thanks to R4-D6) eating heavy attacks.
The Rebels also boasted far more diversity of ships and build types in their successful lists. Only three Rebel ships failed to show up in our sample. While 20 of the 25 Scum players used a three-ship build, the Rebels featured 4- and 5-ship lists along with nearly-even numbers of 2- and 3-ship lists (depending upon how you count the Ghost/Phantom pairing).
It was also the Rebels, oddly enough, that showed up with the cheapest ships at Worlds, with two Bandit Z-95s with XX-23 S-Thread Tracers in the five-ship list. (Note to FFG: That card’s name is OP, nerf plz.) Captain Rex made an appearance, also. Once you get past those and a single TIE Swarm, the next cheapest ships in our sample are 24 points. For two years running, filler ships were basically absent from the upper echelons.
Last year I tried to reason my way through this. I cited mental exhaustion as a reason for swarms’ decline, and that’s still valid. However, the intensity of firepower we see these days plays a role also. Swarms rely on numbers for their power, and on disengaging/reengaging wounded ships for their longevity. If swarm ships just get one-shot, the swarm’s effectiveness degrades quickly. Fenn Rau can easily delete a TIE Fighter a turn (and does not fear their return fire). A hyper-accurate Jumpmaster torpedo has something like a 1/8 chance of outright exploding a focused Z-95. Bossk and Rey have the dice, the mods, or both to even the odds against swarms. It’s hard for swarms to function against that.
So all the more respect to the TIE Swarm that did crack (get it?) the 6-win echelon. Speaking of which…
Only one Imperial list crashed the top 16, and there were only 13 in our sample of the top 55. For what it’s worth, there was far more diversity in those 13 builds than we saw last year. At Worlds 2016, X7 Defenders and Palp Aces essentially were the Imperial meta. Worlds 2016, of course, was before the Great Nerf.
It seems safe to say that the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the Great Nerf was somewhat overblown. Manaroo, while no longer ubiquitous, still saw plenty of play for Scum (9 out of 27 Jumpmasters). Seven Defenders appeared in our sample, with five of them using the X7 title and two using the TIE/D title, which had seen zero play before. And His Darkside-ness himself showed up to drone about destiny and make snide remarks in four out of thirteen Imperial lists.
In other words: the nerfed cards are still strong enough to compete at the highest levels, just not so game-distortingly strong that they make all other options superfluous. It would appear that FFG nailed it. (Zuckuss was nowhere to be found, but I think that says more about Scum’s crew options and Mindlink than Zuckuss himself.)
The three-ship archetype was strong for the Empire, with 10 of their 13 lists adopting it. A Crack Swarm and two classic Deci-Phantom lists filled out their numbers. Interestingly, while the Phantom builds were as-ever-they-were, the Decimators included new crew options, notably Kylo. This is worth remembering: ships with upgrade slots can be evergreen, since they’re slightly buffed whenever new upgrades come out. The more upgrade slots a ship has, and the more different upgrade slots they have, the more of these buffs they can realize.
(I’m totally not talking about the Jumpmaster again. No, really!)
(Okay, maybe a little.)
The second-most-common Imperial ship was Quickdraw, a fascinating development given his complete no-show at Worlds last year. Then again, the ARC was in a few Rebel lists at Worlds 2017 in addition to its recent triumph at the Stele Open. It seems my assessment after Worlds last year was correct: it was too soon between the wave’s release and Worlds. While the Protectorate Starfighter and Asajj-Latts are pretty plug-and-play out of the box, people needed a little time to figure out good builds for the ARC and TIE/sf. (Similar logic applies to the rather limited presence of Wave 10 ships this year.)
The Imperials, more than any other faction, went hard for Pilot Skill. They were the owners of nearly all copies of Veteran Instincts in our sample, and with a few exceptions (Vessery, essentially) they strongly preferred PS8 or higher, even with their TIE Bomber. Waitaminute, TIE… Bomber? That can’t be right. How did a TIE Bomber get to 7-2 at Worlds?!
Ahem. As I was saying, Imperials went hard after Pilot Skill in a way the other factions just didn’t. It’s understandable: so many of their ships are fragile hit-me-if-you-can types. They need high PS to dodge arcs, or at least to get shots in before they die. Imperials have long exemplified the high-low split of Pilot Skill between bargain-basement swarm ships and high-PS aces; with swarms and filler in abeyance, high-PS aces are what remain.
And Vessery. Always Vessery. But with so many of the Imperials’ high-PS ships using target locks (Quickdraw, Omega Leader, the Inquisitor) and Vessery able to get to PS8, he fits right in. As with ships with lots of upgrade slots, the more Imperial ships are around with target locks, the stronger Vessery gets.
Other thoughts on the proceedings:
The only thing we can be certain of is that things will change some more. The Scyk is getting a dramatic makeover. Imperials are getting the turret ship they’ve dreamt of. Wookie tree-ships are on their way. Only FFG knows what its threshold is for something being too strong in competition, and whether Attani Mindlink and the Jumpmaster are there.
~The times, they are a-changing. And all I know is: I can’t wait to see what comes next.
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