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X Wing: Marginal Gains for Victory

7 Minute Read
Mar 8 2016
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Many small improvements can lead to big leaps in performance. Here’s how to fine tune your game in X-Wing.


From my time in the sales environment ‘Marginal Gains,’ was a big buzz word in recent years and the theory can apply to most things in life including X wing or other table top games.



From the outset this is mainly going to be aimed at playing in tournaments so I do apologize to the tournament hating crowd for this but feel free to have a read anyway. The basic idea is that small incremental improvements can lead to marginal gains in performance, which can potentially lead to a big leap in performance. This was the case for the Team GB Cycling team, below in a nutshell or two. The full article on this can be found here: 

british Cycling

“It is perhaps most easy to understand Marginal Gains by considering the approach of Sir Dave Brailsford. When he became performance director of British Cycling, he set about breaking down the objective of winning races into its component parts.

Brailsford believed that if it was possible to make a 1% improvement in a whole host of areas, the cumulative gains would end up being hugely significant.

He was on the look-out for all the weaknesses in the team’s assumptions, all the latent problems, so he could improve on each of them..


Each weakness was not a threat, but an opportunity to make adaptations, and create marginal gains. Rapidly, they began to accumulate.

He went further. The team started to use antibacterial hand gel to cut down on infections. When he became general manager of Team Sky, he redesigned the team bus to improve comfort and recuperation. They started to probe deeper into untested assumptions, such as the dynamic relationship between the intensity of the warm-down and speed of recovery. As they learned more, they created further marginal gains.

Team GB used to be also-rans in world cycling. Indeed, one pundit described the operation as “a laughing stock”. But in the last two Olympics, Team GB has captured 16 gold medals and British riders have won the Tour De France three times in the last four years. This is the power of a questioning mindset and a commitment to continuous improvement.”


How Does this Apply to X Wing?

The biggest and most obvious application is when building a list. It’s about identifying small changes that can be made or added to improve the performance. There is always that moment in a game when there is a telling blow is landed and you ask yourself what if  I had done this or had equipped that could it have panned out differently? When playing in a tournament you will play five or six games of the unknown in terms of what you will be facing. This can mean that the performance tweaks that you have added will not always trigger all the time against every opponent but may well get you out of jail against two or three of them.

For Example:

Auto thrusters


auto thrusters

Auto thrusters is a good example clocking in at 2 points and is some people’s auto include on anything with boost built in like interceptors or T-70 X wings. Now Auto thrusters only triggers when at range three or outside of the attacking ship’s primary arc. If you face off against a list which has no turrets you may well feel that it has been a waste of points, especially if you end up only being at range three a couple of times. The likelihood is that at some point over a number of games you will face a turret and it will make a difference even against range three shots from non-turreted opponents.

On the flip side you have to ask yourself that with the ships you are using and the style of play you are using are they in fact the auto include the internet and podcasts say they are? Could those points saved from not using them go elsewhere and increase the performance of the list?

Agent Kallus


I’ve been using him a lot recently and it varies from game to game on how effective he works out. I have him on Whisper and if playing against a higher PS opponent I place it on that ship like PS10 Poe and in general then take an evade action. Even against a list of generics I get a buff both offensively and defensively and try to kill that ship last. In a tournament it is not a massive advantage over the course of the matches but the damage offset and landed due to kallus adds up, incrementally.

One Point Elite Pilot Talents

We have had a slew of them recently and whilst all good value I’ve been trying to find one for Zeta Leader that I am overly happy with. The problem is that in one or two games they are outstanding, in the rest they make little to no difference. With regards to marginal gains that is not a problem as long as the times they do nothing are counter balanced on how effective they were when they did work and it was not taking away from something that could make an overall improvement.

So far I have tried Wired, Veteran Instincts and Juke in tournaments whilst playing around with Crack Shot and a Predator and Weapons Guidance combination. Nothing has overly floated my boat nor been an overall stand out but I’m edging back to Wired for the next one.


In the event that I used Veteran Instincts I found that it had some slight synergistical advantage with the list I was using as it also had Whisper with veteran instincts. It gave me the choice about who to move and shoot first or second as well as being above any potential Dash, Miranda or Brobot builds with VI. This benefit was not earth shattering but made a small difference here and there, a marginal gain.

Marginal Gains Outside of List Building


When we turn up to an event its always preferable to turn up in good mental and physical status. I have two young children so a good nights sleep is not normally on the cards which combined with a longish car on the morning can leave me operating sub par in the first game and maybe towards the end of the day. Keeping hydrated, consuming sensible foods and liquids throughout the day as well as resting when you can, can keep your mental facilities operating better. I always take a flask of homemade cold brew coffee with me, which if you are a fan of coffee is worth googling about. Strong and healthy and easy to make, just don’t drink too much as you will be climbing the ceilings.

Keep your play area tidy, especially your movement templates, I noticed a lot of top players are really methodical about this, tidy desk, tidy mind. If you can try not to spend mental facilities looking for where you have placed you two bank template or de-cloak token from the previous turn it helps, a little, which all adds up.

template holder

This was a heroic failure. Within a few turns my templates were now scattered both over the table or in random orifices in the box

Bringing spare stuff is always useful. At the first Winter Event I went to with my newly painted up Tie/Fo I dropped it in round three and broke it off at the peg. Thankfully I had brought a couple more Tie/Fos with me which I could swap over and carry out the repair at home later. It saved the stress of trying to do a running repair. Not only that, I noticed that the Tie/Fo dial I was using was really loose during the first round and I swapped it out for another, tighter one.

Minor Tweaks

I try to avoid wholesale changes and my current list is built around Whisper and Zeta leader with the third ship having alternated between Darth Vader, Carnor Jax and Soontir Fel. I’ve found a style and plan on how to fly it yet I’m still trying to find an optimised ship and build for the ‘lead’ ace. I’m looking forward to the Inquisitor coming out to give that a run to see if it can fore fill the needs I require of it.

marginal cost

Fly What You Know

That old one, but it is a marginal gain on your performance if you are flying something that you are familiar with as opposed to something relatively new. Even when faced with an unknown you at least know how to operate your list. Flying what you know and are comfortable with is a bit less taxing on the grey cells and as the day wears on it leaves you less vulnerable to mistakes or bad choices. Of course the best place to learn a new list is in a tournament. After playing a number of back to back games with it you should be able to work out a few new strategies and minor adjustments to improve it.


An incremental change for a marginal gain.

Are there any other incremental changes that you can think of that can help your performance?

I did consider divorce and giving the wife full custody of the children to get round the sleep issue but it seems a bit extreme.

Checkout this article and others including tournament reports at

BBq with Stannis

bbqwithstannis – out!

Author: bbqwithstannis
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