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X-Wing Deep Dive: How Good is Swarm Leader?

8 Minute Read
Mar 6 2017
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There’s no fun in answering easy questions, so ChahDresh opts to tackle a harder one.

Let’s get right to it: How good is Swarm Leader?

The enigma of the day.

This is one of the more complicated questions we’ve sought to answer thus far. To evaluate Predator, for contrast, you just have to do a little bit of straightforward math (short version: it’s good). Swarm Leader is a complex topic because a lot has to go into the answer: not only the mathematical and non-mathematical subjects we’ve talked about before, but also matters of squad construction. If you’re running Swarm Leader, you are building around it, which forces us to look at squad-level ideas to evaluate an upgrade card. Ouch.

At least it’s worth it, right? Swarm Leader certainly has potential to be good (two extra attack dice!)… but is it really?

Another way to ask this question might be: how grossly do we have to distort the list to make Swarm Leader work?

The Basics

Let’s start simply. The question was raised by someone who was running 2 interceptors, 2 strikers, and an ace with Swarm Leader. What he wanted to know was, “Am I better off taking evades to power Swarm Leader, or taking focus tokens on my swarm ships to boost their attacks?” This is the classical economics idea of opportunity cost: if I do option ‘a’, it means I can’t do option ‘b’, and not doing option ‘b’ imposes a cost on me. In our case: if my swarm ships take evade tokens, they’re not taking focus tokens.

Let’s math this out. We’ll compare our control option (three focused 3-dice attacks) against our Swarm Leader option (two unfocused 3-dice attacks and one focused 5-dice attack). We’ll do this twice: once against a “whale”, a one-defense, unfocused ship- say, a K-Wing, YV-666, or Imperial shuttle- and once against a “shark”, or a focused, evade-toting 3-dice ship (the Inquisitor, Ryad, etc.).

  • Whale:
    • control = 15/8 * 3 = 45/8
    • Swarm Leader = 9/8 * 2 + 27/8 = 45/8
  • Shark:
    • control = 9/8 * 2 + 3/8 -1 = 13/8
    • Swarm Leader = 15/8 + 3/8 * 2 -1 = 13/8

Isn’t that interesting! The average damage output isn’t much different between our options. Our overall firepower with Swarm Leader is the same as our total output without it. Given that we paid three points for Swarm Leader and it delivers no improved performance, we’re doubtless feeling a little silly right now.

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Warning: this paragraph is a bit more mathy… feel free to skip.

There’s some nuance to this judgement. Although the average output for the two squads are the same, they don’t get to that average in the same way. Your variance is much higher with the Squad Leader option. To put another way: our three ships above, not counting wacky crits, can’t do more than nine damage without taking Swarm Leader. You just can’t roll eleven hits on nine dice. The Swarm Leader option opens up that possibility– you’ve raised your damage ceiling. However, you do that by exposing yourself to the whims of the dice. After all, it takes awfully good luck to roll eleven natural hits on eleven dice, and you have no protection against bad dice. The average of that good and that bad, even with the extra dice, matches your average with just taking focus tokens. So, on the face of it, Swarm Leader is a firepower sidegrade for three points.

We also have to consider two other things with Swarm Leader. First, it strips the defenses of the swarm ships… maybe not a big deal, but worth considering. Second, it simplifies your opponent’s target priority. In classic TIE Swarms, priority one was always Howlrunner, because she was disproportionately valuable. Your Swarm Leader is also going to be disproportionately valuable, and thus a target. And he’s not taking evades, since he wants to boost his offense to make Swarm Leader a good attack. And if he dies, you lose not only the ship but also a turn’s worth of evade actions by his wingmen… depending upon the situation, harmless or crushing.

How To: Swarm

All of which is not to say that Swarm Leader is useless. There are two ways to squeeze more value out of this card: first, by how we fly, and second, by list-building gymnastics.

Flying first. As we’ve discussed before, landing bumps is where a swarm gets a lot of its value. The downside of bumping is that one of your swarm ships doesn’t get to shoot. You sacrifice some of your numbers advantage to get an action advantage. Swarm Leader tilts the situation further in our favor: now we can use the bumper’s action to boost our Leader even in a bump scenario. That swings the math in a hurry. Of course, bumping is hardly guaranteed, and going for bumps can distort our formation. Worse, actually landing bumps often takes a boost or barrel roll action to accomplish- in which case you don’t have the evade token to burn on Swarm Leader.

The other way to make Leader work for us is by list-building. We want to make it so we get more firepower than we lose from losing actions. For example, we could take TIE /FOs with Comms Relay. That lets us bank the evade tokens so they’re not competing with the Focus action when we go for the kill.

Is this the key to making Swarm Leader work?

That begs the question, though, of whether or not those ships are useful in themselves. Would you really run those TIE /FOs on their own, if you weren’t just trying to power Swarm Leader? /FO swarms didn’t catch on because the extra points reduced the number of ships- the Swarm was more resilient individually, but the lower ship count made the whole swarm somewhat less resilient and much less punchy. An Epsilon Squadron Pilot with Comms Relay is 18 points and not very threatening on its own. I’m not sure Swarm Leader makes up the difference.

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Still, this points us to a principle: if we can get our evade tokens without actions, we dodge the opportunity cost of Swarm Leader. Hold that thought.

I told you to hold that thought!

Another option would be to use a ship that has a naturally-enhanced attack, so that the dice we add from Swarm Leader are worth more to us than the action economy we lose on our wingmen. Some people have flown Rear Admiral Chiraneau with Swarm Leader alongside some TIEs, and this works somewhat. RAC has a soft focus ability at range 1-2, which he can combine with a target lock action. This gets you ahead, but not a ton.

You know who else has great action economy on the attack? Colonel Vessery, assuming we have other ships in the list that can get him target locks. And the X7 title presents a way to get evade tokens without actions. Uh oh, I think we might be on to something…

Obligatory List Section

  • Colonel Vessery: TIE Defender, TIE /X7, Swarm Leader… 36
  • Countess Ryad: TIE Defender, Push the Limit, TIE /X7, Push the Limit, TIE Mk II Engines… 36
  • Delta Squadron Pilot: TIE Defender, TIE /X7… 28

As if there weren’t enough uses for this thing.

I mean, I don’t think Swarm Leader was meant to be a boost to Triple Defender lists, since those are doing quite well enough on their own thank you, but this list sure looks pretty. Vessery is a tough nut to crack on his own, especially since he can use his X7 evade token and his focus token on defense and still have a swell attack afterwards, so he’s a worthy Swarm Leader. Ryad and the Delta can both provide target locks to power Vessery. We have two action-independent sources of evade tokens to power Swarm Leader. And, although Vessery is our Swarm Leader, Ryad is the win condition- her one-on-one dueling is beyond reproach. This provides a split in the enemy’s target priority: Vessery is a huge threat right now, but our opponent can’t beat Ryad later, so what does he do? (Hopefully, lose.) We can even block with the PS1 Delta and still extract lots of value from him.

And let’s not forget: if you get to burn Vessery’s focus token on offense, it’s a five-dice double-modified attack, or even a six-dice double modified… and we know how strong those are.

Options, Options…

Want an alternative that’s a little less, well, meta? Let’s try this:

  • Green Squadron Pilot: A-Wing Test Pilot, Snap Shot, Juke, Autothrusters, Chardaan Refit… 23
  • Green Squadron Pilot: A-Wing Test Pilot, Snap Shot, Juke, Autothrusters, Chardaan Refit… 23
  • Green Squadron Pilot: A-Wing Test Pilot, Snap Shot, Juke, Autothrusters, Chardaan Refit… 23
  • Jess Pava: R2-D6, Swarm Leader, Integrated Astromech, Hyperwave Comm Scanner… 30

You don’t have to have the highest Pilot Skill to be the leader.

The Greenies are adapted from recent lists that have tried to revive A-Wing swarms, but for this purpose we’re bringing in Jess as a Swarm Leader to deliver the knockout blow. Juke lets us get offense out of the evade tokens the Greenies are taking, and Snap Shot lets us double-dip on Juke– especially since Snap Shot occurs before the enemy has focus tokens to protect himself with. The Greenies aren’t hugely durable, so if you wanted to swap in Push the Limit (for focus tokens) and Wingman (to open the dial back up) there’s a fine argument to be made there.

As for Jess, she’s a Swarm Leader who fits our budget, and as long as she stays with the Greenies she’ll be able to use her pilot ability for action-independent offense and defense. She’ll be taking focus tokens all the time, protecting herself decently with them and her rerolls, then stripping her buddies’ evades for a heavy attack– crucially, after they’ve made their Juke attacks. Her PS3 is the same as theirs, meaning you can opt to have her shoot after the Greenies have gotten their Juking licks in. That way, the Greenies weaken your target, then Jess blows it away. The Hyperwave Comm Scanner is just a throw-in to eat the last few points, but if you get super-eager and your opponent cooperates you can go for range three Juking shots on turn one. (Or you could just take Sensor Cluster for Jess. That works too.)

Would this list work well? I don’t know! It needs some testing, but it could be fun. And, really, that’s the sort of thing that will really tell us how good Swarm Leader is. To return to the question we led with: since Swarm Leader obliges you to build around it, the card is only as good as the squad it’s in.

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~ChahDresh is an amateur writer and an even more amateurish X-Wing player. Tell him how he totally copped out on answering the question in the comments below.

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