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X-Wing: A Close Look at Pilot Skill

10 Minute Read
Nov 24 2014

Pilot Skill is an important part of the X-Wing and how you put your squad together, But just how important is it to be Top Gun?

Hello all,
I wanted to spend a bit of time looking at something different for this article, rather than delving into one specific ship or build its time to get a little more generic and talk about the Bid for Pilot Skill.

What is Pilot Skill?
Pilot Skill in X-Wing varies from Pilot Skill 1 up to Pilot Skill 9 (without any external factors) and is used to determine two things, who moves first (Lowest) and who shoots first (Highest) seems simple and in honesty it is.

End of article, and thanks for reading…

OK… so there is a little more to it than that.

Whilst the advantage of shooting first is obvious there are also advantages to moving first and this is why it is important to think about not just what Ships you are trying to fit into your squad but also at what pilot skills they are going to sit at, and why.

Why would I want Low PS?
The most obvious advantage of a lower PS is cost, as the Pilot Skill gets higher so too does the points cost.

Here are two TIE Interceptor based lists;


So here we have a PS 6 Royal Guard list, it did the rounds after the release of Imperial Aces and is really good fun to fly.  Unfortunately with the PS 6 and Push the Limits each ships clocks in at 25 points so you are flying a 12 Hit Point list.

This second list keeps the core of 4 Interceptors but with the drop from PS6 down to PS1 saving 16 points and not spending 12 points on Push the Limits you can fit in 28 points worth of goodness.
In this case I went for an Omicron Group Pilot with Vader and a Shield Upgrade.


The Points you save by not even taking part in the Bid for Pilot Skill lets you add in some guaranteed damage with Vader and you never have to worry about someone beating you to the punch as you are expecting it.

So we move from a 12 hit point list to a 23 hit point list with a couple of tricks.
The Head to Head match up on this is quite interesting as as I honestly think it could go either way. The Royal Guards should be pulling a Focus and Evade as good as every turn and should be able to kill one Interceptor and damage a second.  It then comes down to if the 3 remaining Interceptors can kill one whilst the Omicron kills a second, that first exchange will decide the game.

The strength of the second list only really comes to the fore when you take it out of the head to head and start to look at it against some other lists.  As soon as you run into anyone at PS 7 and above a main strength of paying extra for Pilot Skill is wasted.

As soon as you are facing off against a Han or a Dash having Vader in the Omicron is looking a lot more profitable than spending 16 extra points on Pilot Skill.

That is only looking at the Combat Phase side of Pilot Skill though, it is important to cover the double edged sword that is Activation Phase.

Getting to activate and therefor move first can be a big plus.

Going back to the head to head with the above lists the Alpha player will get to move all of their ships before any of the Royal Guard get to move.  This means that the Alpha’s can move to occupy the space you are expecting the Guard to finish in, the hope being to cause a bump.  The Alpha’s will still get their action and force a double hit on to the Guard denying them their action and the opportunity to use Push the Limits as well.
Whilst this is obviously skill based it can not be ignored that Blocking is a thing and has been since wave 1.


The fact that Enhanced Scopes for example even exists add credence to the point, FFG think it is worth 1 point to be able to move before your opponent whilst still being able to take part in the bid to shoot first.

So why would I ever Spend Points on a bid for PS?

This is easy, You get to Shoot First!

Ask Greedo if it matters…

The simple fact is that if you remove a ship from play before it fires it have zero chance of doing damage to you.

The counter point to this is that if you are not removing the ship from play with your shot then it becomes irelevent if you shot first or not, as the effectiveness of a ship is not affected by loss of Shields/Hull and whilst this is true to a point Crits matter and Focus tokens that you can force to be used in Defense are a huge boon.

It is easy to get pulled in to the Low is best for Moving and High is Best for Shooting debate but getting to move second can be worth its weight in gold.  The Key is not your ships dial but its action bar.

This is because of the game mechanic of “locking in” your dial in the planning phase.


Getting to watch your opponent move and then performing your move with the confidence that you can Boost or Barrel Roll in to a favorable position is extremely powerful.

Its one of the reasons that I like Imperial Boba Fett, reactionary movement is powerful.  Engine Upgrade costs 4 Points and is the (jointly) the most expensive modification available for just this reason.  Being able to change your facing and position after you have seen where your opponent’s ships are is in my opinion one of the most powerful abilities in the game
If my opinion is not good enough for you, World Champion Paul Heaver when given the opportunity to introduce an Elite Pilot Talent in to the game, here is what he came up with.

If you want to read Paul’s thought on Stay on Target (and I suggest you do) follow the link to his article on the FFG Website

The problem with using moving last as an advantage is that it takes more finesse to get the most out of it.

OK, I get what you are saying so how do I build a squad with that in mind?
As long as you have a plan when building your squad and know why you have gone in at the Pilot Skill you have than it should all work out (Dice Dependant :p)
The Impact of upgrades like Predator and Flight Instructor whilst not being game breaking should be considered when putting your squad together but don’t let it dominate your thoughts too much.

I will try to give a couple of examples of what I mean;

So this list bids as low as possible to save points and allow access to more ships/better upgrades.


This is a typical Rebel List at the moment, it sacrifices any opportunity to bid for Pilot Skill instead going for a solid base of Hit Points and Fire Power.

The B-Wings provide a solid fire base that most lists that bid high for PS should struggle to take out in a single turn.

The inclusion of the two Bandits give you flexibility for Blockers and options for firing order due to the entire list sitting at the same PS.  This is something I covered at length in my Swarm Theory articles but the ability to choose firing order for your ships and the activation order adds a layer of flexibility that mixed PS lists miss out on and is often overlooked.  For example a Whisper with Rebel Captive can be shot by one of the Bandits first to reduce the impact of the stress on your key ships.

This is an example of a list that whilst makes a small bid at Pilot Skill but has its focus on other interactions.

So for this list the Pilot Skill is reasonable and whilst all the pilots maintain a consistent level of 6 to add versatility the actual PS is not what the list is relying on to function.

This list is relying on Maneuverability and raw damage output to keep it in the game.

The hope is that Echo can provide the Target Locks for Vessery to provide value whilst Backstabber is overlooked as a filler.  The list actually outputs quite a bit of damage easily being able to throw out 11 dice per turn.

It relies on positioning to survive against Higher Pilot Skill lists but can still hold its own.

This last list is all about Pilot Skill

This list is all about Han Shooting first.
Han fires and then the return shots have to go on to Biggs until he is dead all the while Han is shooting before your opponent.  Biggs allows Han to take offensive actions in the early game and Luke backs him up well for any Token Tanking.  Having Han alive and relativly unscaved in the end game and still firing at PS 11 is extremely nasty.

What does all this mean?
The short answer would be to Go Big or Go Home, but that would be dismissive of quite a few options and list builds.

I honestly think that X-Wing is in a healthy place right now and that whilst the top tables may be dominated by styles of lists there are very few occurrences of the EXACT same lists facing off against each other on top tables.

The “Fat Han” is a style of list rather than a build as is the Swarm, people are still putting there take on the archetypes and finding ways to use them.

Whilst Pilot Skill has a big impact on the game, it does not out weigh actually flying your squad well.
There is no right or wrong answer to what Pilot Skill is the best as the synergy within your squad is going to be more important.

How much thought do you give to what Pilot Skill you are sitting at, do you even care what PS your B-Wing is and have you been put off flying Phantoms and Defenders because of the loew than average PS?  Lets keep the discussions going and get deep in to this topic!

Thanks again for taking the time to read my rambling, I have been writing on BoLS for over 6 months now and have been amazed by the reception you guys have given me.
I wanted to let you know that I honestly do appreciate all of the comments and interaction, especially form those of you who have taken the time to head over to my Blog.  My personal life has been all over the place in the last few months and I know that the amount of stuff I have been putting out has not been where I want it to be but I am striving to keep putting out interesting things for you all to read! – Kris

Author: Kris Sherriff
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