Ions once ruled the X-Wing meta and one day may rise again. Here’s how.
Ion effects have been around in X-Wing since the very beginning. They were the original turret choice, and effectively (given the almost frightening uselessness of the Blaster Turret) the only one until Wave 6. Similarly, the ion cannon is as old as the cannon slot. Ion options for the missile, torpedo, and bomb slots followed in waves 4, 5, and 7, respectively. Despite these many options, ion effects are out of favor at present. Panic Attack (based on ion turret Y-Wings and Tactician B-Wings)
faded from the scene long ago, and control elements since have largely been based on stress alone. If you look at the current meta, you’ll see ion effects are rarely chosen and even more rarely successful.
If we look more closely at what ion does well or poorly, perhaps we can discern why ion has faded from prominence-and what circumstances might bring a revival.
Ion is a strong counter to the following types of targets:
Low Agility Jousters: low agility ships are especially prone to getting hit with ion effects. If you have a turret, it’s not so bad. If you care about your arc, it’s a much bigger deal. If you can’t get turned around and can only shoot in front of you, you can very easily get walked off the board without firing a shot.
Movement Dial-dependent Upgrades: lots of cards, including many popular ones, are tied to the maneuver dial mechanic. Advanced Sensors and many bombs (Bomblet Generator!) can’t be used if no dial is set or revealed. Other cards and combos fall apart if specific maneuvers can’t be performed, such as BB-8, TIE X/7 or K-4 Security Droid. Ion thwarts them, as well.
Formation Lists: threaten a formation such that it feels compelled to turn, then add an ion effect. Now your foe is in a pickle: if he holds formation with the ioned target, he surrenders position. If he breaks formation to respond to your threat, that formation is never getting reformed. Either way, advantage you. You’ve disrupted your enemy’s plans and robbed him of the points he invested in formation-specific pilots and upgrades.
Stressed Targets: because the ion maneuver is white, you can’t clear stress (without Kanan Jarrus), which extends the impact of the stress. Ion has always been deadly to Push the Limit aces and other ships who self-stress, but it’s also potent in combination with other stress effects. Unfortunately, that leads into ion’s biggest weakness.
Ion’s Weakness – Low Damage
Most ion effects cap out at one damage; others do none. You have to have other sources of damage to capitalize on your ion effects, but taking ion (and its platforms) is expensive and leaves you with fewer points to spend. If you invest in stress effects to further the impact of your ion you amplify the problem, since those effects also cost points without increasing your damage output.
This is a classic problem all “control” archetypes face across all kinds of strategy games: the more resources you spend establishing and maintaining control, the fewer are available to actually win. If you took four Ion Cannon Turret Y-Wings, you would have high confidence that you could disrupt your enemy’s plans. You would also max out at four damage a turn. Many of the ships in use today can beat that by themselves.
That problem has always been inherent with ion weapons; it’s been magnified as ships and lists get tougher and tougher. Damage output and ship durability have largely kept pace with each other, but ion is still stuck at one damage a turn, so it has become relatively weaker over time.
Jumpmasters in particular laugh at ion attacks. Their combination of two agility and nine HP allow them to resist ion attacks; their large base means they take two ion tokens before they suffer ill effects; and, though they do most of their damage jousting, they have turrets for backup, allowing them to win damage races with most ion ships even while controlled. All for that ridiculously low cost.
Dial- and stress-independent action economy also hurts ion’s ability to control the enemy. Fenn Rau can eat an ion token and still get two actions, including a repositioning action to break the enemy’s control. Yay for Attani Mindlink!
Patching Ion Up
So, it’s all doom and gloom for ion, is it? Well, not exactly. Some of the most common ships in the meta today are Miranda Doni and Nym, both of whom seem like natural prey for ion attacks. The more the meta depends upon bombs, the more it suggests that ion effects that deny those bombs are a strong counter. And more and more lists are giving Miranda ordnance to joust with, relying on the turret only for backup while driving up her cost. Meanwhile, Fair Ship Rebel is doubly harmed by ion: Captain Rex can’t do 1-aheads, while the Auzituck can’t turn around. Limiting that list’s maneuver/action options even more will shake it apart in no time.
Let’s not forget that if the mythical FAQ ever arrives, both Jumpmasters and Mindlink are likely in line for adjustments. A nerf to those cards and their lists would suppress their presence in the meta and give control lists a larger number of favorable matchups.
But the damage problem remains. Most ion applications are a considerable investment, and when you need every point to break down an enemy’s defenses, you can end up penalizing yourself more than your foe. It’s hard to “splash” some ion into a list given that most ion options require a dedicated caddy.
Go for Control Absolute:
- IG-88B with Ion Cannon, Ion Bombs, Rigged Cargo Chute, Autothrusters, Advanced Sensors, Push the Limit
- IG-88C, ditto
This list started making the rounds this store championship season. By combining multiple reliable sources of ion, stress, and the powerful frame of the Aggressor, Control Absolute seeks to nibble the opponent to death without ever giving him the chance to breathe. It is a difficult, unforgiving list to fly. If it were more popular, there would surely be rage against it given just how oppressive it is (and has to be). Clearly this list isn’t for everyone.
What if there were a way to slide ion into a list without sacrificing much in the way of firepower? Well, we’d need a card that allows us to fire more than one gun in a turn…
This meets our need for our ship to be able to bring more than just the ion effect; it adds control without compromising our firepower. TIE/D demands recurring firepower boosts-like Predator, Expertise, or Being Colonel Vessery-but these are well understood (and Vessery’s the most popular Defender pilot anyway). You still have to build the rest of your list to scramble your enemy’s target priority, or otherwise find a way to keep your Devessery from getting focused early. Still, in an age where many aces have been scared off the table by bombs, ion effects offer a way to protect those aces from the ravages of bombs. TIE/D lets you do that while maintaining your firepower.
It’s worth a shot.
~What do you think could bring Ion back to the meta?