Today pilots we look at the Empire’s silent killer and slegdgehammer, the TIE Phantom & Decimator.
X-Wing Ship Parade is an ongoing review of the ships in our hobby, showing them off at their best and most iconic. As always, all cards referenced can be found at Yet Another X-Wing Squad Builder.
Role: stealth fighter
At its introduction, the Phantom’s cloaking ability was so disruptive that FFG was forced to errata the rules to bring it back in line. The nerf, and the backlash against the ship, crushed its use for a time, and it remains very vulnerable to stress effects. That said, it has a lot to offer for a player willing to spend a lot of points on a 4-health ship. A four-dice primary and unequaled repositioning is a pretty good starting point…
Role: Big bully
And its name is points sink: witness its high base cost and endless upgrade bar, and despair! And yet it can seem completely reasonable, too, especially given its punchy turret and unprecedented 16 hit points. The Empire’s first and, until the TIE Aggressor, only turret ship is half of the two-ships builds that were all the rage for a time and remain relevant today. As with the Falcon, Gunner is a near-mandatory crew choice to make those attacks stick- and if Vader (crew) is going to chew up whatever ship he’s on, why not have him chew up one of the toughest ships in the game? Determination is a surprisingly useful EPT for Decimators: if you’re going to have a chain of crits hanging off you before you go down, being able to discard some of them outright is a very effective defense.
Representative List: DeciPhantom
Phantom: Whisper, Fire Control System, Veteran Instincts, Advanced Cloaking
Device, Rebel Captive
Decimator: Rear Admiral Chiraneau, Gunner, Vader, Engine Upgrade
As with Fat Han, there are some subtle variations here, but the general form remains the same: you have a high PS turret ship that is a pseudo-arc-dodger thanks to Engine Upgrade, and you have a true arc-dodger in Whisper who hits like a truck. And it flies superficially like Fat Han, too, with Chiraneau starting in and then kiting, Whisper blowing away anyone who gets close and taking up an untouchable position behind. However, a Decimator is not a YT-1300, and a Phantom is not an A-Wing.
Chiraneau (a.k.a. Chirpy) will not be outlasting people the same way Han can. He is a more offensive beast, forcing through damage with his pilot ability and Gunner and then putting a cherry on top with Vader. Vader’s downside of damaging yourself just isn’t as crippling on a 16-HP ship. Against certain foes, like Soontir Fel, you can even use Gunner to Vader twice; that’s an enormously favorable trade for a Decimator. Because the Decimator has weak shielding (for its size) and zero agility, it takes a lot of crits, making Determination a sneaky-good defensive upgrade for it for a single point.
Whisper, like Chirpy, relies heavily on killing stuff to survive. This is because of her reliance on Advanced Cloaking Device and her pilot ability to withstand enemy shots: shoot first, land a hit, then get back under cloak with a focus token. (Hence why Veteran Instincts are stapled to her pilot card; that and ACD are non-negotiable.) Ideally, with her repositioning abilities you don’t get shot, but you will get outflown at times and turrets are always a menace. Fire Control System becomes key here, allowing you to keep dice mods active while reserving your action for a barrel roll or even an evade token; Gunner is an expensive but rewarding choice for the same reason. In fact, Gunner and Fire Control System combine deliciously, a build known as the “Buzzsaw”.
So why Rebel Captive in this example? If your opponent is one of the rare ships that can keep up with Whisper, odds are they won’t be able to do so when stressed. Survive the initial contact, then gain position; your opponent likely can’t live through those four-red primaries for long. Tactician has seen plenty of use for similar reasons.
Game design note: What’s especially interesting about the Decimator is that, because a good deal of its strength lies in its upgrade bar (and turrets never go out of style), it gets buffed whenever new crew cards come out. When Palpatine hit the scene, some people stuck him on a Decimator. Hotshot Copilot + Gunner was a popular build for a time, especially with a Juking TIE Defender alongside. Now, Kylo Ren has been making the rounds on Decimators, especially Chirpy– being able to turn an eyeball to a crit on demand is swell for a guy who thrives on those crit icons.
What’s especially amusing about this list is that, on the one hand, Chirpy is relatively easy to fly. There’s no red on the dial, you don’t have to worry about arcs, and all his gimmicks are concentrated in the shooting phase. On the other hand, Whisper has perhaps the steepest learning curve in the game! All the usual elements of timing get disrupted with a cloaking ship on the table, and de-cloaking is not one of those “oh, oops” things you can do later with the grace of your opponent. You have to think multiple moves in advance, not as a higher-level skill, but simply to function; and forgetting any of Whisper’s tricks is highly deleterious. That makes DeciPhantom a strange combination of welcoming and forbidding for the new player.
Next time: We’ll backtrack a little to show off two ships we skipped: the TIE Defender and the Z-95 Headhunter, ships representing opposite ends of the quality spectrum.