X-Wing: Revenge of the Pilot Skill
High Pilot Skill is back in vogue – let’s take a look at why.
As usual, every card I reference can be found on Yet Another Squad Builder. If I lapse into jargon and use terms you don’t recognize, let me know in the comments below and I’ll fix my mistake.
Back in December, I wrote an article on how the “mushy middle” of PS—those numbers between, say, three and nine—was making a comeback. After years of being suppressed by high PS aces, mid-PS pilots were becoming more essential. The PS arms race was de-escalating.
My main argument was: pilot abilities were beginning to trump pilot skill. Pilots were coming out that could hang with the aces even at a PS deficit. This is a good thing: it encourages build diversity and increases the number of viable pilots when the rule isn’t “get to PS9 or you’re dead meat”.
Well, here we are 10 months later, and the trend lines are turning. Pilot skill is becoming more important again. Average PS is on the rise. After a near no-show at Worlds 2016, Veteran Instincts is fashionable once more.
What happened? A couple of different things have come together to make PS more valuable. Let’s take a look.
Current Strategies Reward High PS
We saw the harbinger of this at Worlds: the winning list, Telgar (Tel Travura and Dengar loaded with torpedoes), used alpha strikes at PS9 to get early advantages. The runner-up used both PS8 ordnance shots and bombs as his primary sources of damage.
That was before Wave XI. Wave XI brought upgrade cards that reward these strategies even more: Cruise Missiles and Bomblet Generator. Cruise Missiles are a potent enough attack that even ships not typically known as ordnance carriers become first-striking monsters. This re-emphasizes the original benefit of high PS, a benefit once perceived as so significant you don’t need repositioning because shooting first is reward enough: you never get shot if the other guy is dead. (And Harpoon Missiles offer a lot of similar benefits without screwing with how you fly the way Cruise Missiles do.)
Bomblet Generator, likewise, is best employed by the high-PS types, especially with Advanced Sensors in tow. Knowing where the enemy will be is a great way to maximize the power of infinite bombs. Free attritional damage, turn after turn—but it works best if you know the enemy will be there to be blown up.
These upgrade cards have enabled two of the stronger lists around these days: high PS alpha strikes, and bomb-heavy lists built around Nym and/or Miranda. Notice the PS of Nym and Miranda, and note that Nym can get Veteran Instincts…
Pilot Abilities Are Still Key — But the Highest PS Pilots have the Best Ones
This is a bit of an overstatement. Despite the fact that I did the math for everyone, Lt. Kestal is not being fielded in any capacity that would use his pilot ability. Instead we see him fielded with VI and Cruise Missiles, because he can get to PS9 and fly fast. And big ships buck this trend a bit.
Fair enough. But it’s also true that a veritable parade of ships have come along where the highest PS pilot also has the best ability: Fenn Rau, Norra Wexley, Quickdraw, and Nym, along with old favorites Dengar, Inqi, Poe, Miranda, and Omega Leader. (Rey is lower PS than NewHan, but she’s still 8, so hardly perturbs the thesis.)
In several cases, the high PS and the pilot ability work together to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Dengar and Quickdraw, for example, are frequently able to shoot first. When they do, their heavy attacks can be so damaging or scary the opponent dares not shoot back and trigger the revenge shot. This allows you to get the benefits of outflying your opponent (no return fire) even when you fly like a jouster.
Another popular meta presence is Kylo Ren as crew on Rear Admiral Chiraneau’s Decimator. This is another example of a ship where high PS and a pilot ability work together: Kylo’s ability to fish out Blinded Pilots (which RAC activates with his ability) allows him to “interrupt” the attacks of anything lower PS than him, letting him get an early lead in the damage race. This interaction means a high PS is more valuable to RAC than it is to most—which drives him to VI to put him at 10.
The Exception: Rebels
Some big ships don’t care as much about high PS. The Jumpmaster, Lancer, and Dash have so many other things going for them they don’t need to partake in the PS race. One of those things is high durability—between their defenses and sheer health, they can soak alpha strikes.
This gives a clue as to how the Rebels are able to get away with using so many mid-PS ships. Dash is evergreen, but Kanan, Captain Rex, Lowhhrick, and Jess Pava all play prominent roles in many Rebel squadrons. (The Rebels also buck the trend of “highest PS ship has the best pilot ability” for many of their ships.)
Rebel squadrons that have succeeded lately fall into one of three categories: big-ship-centric (around Dash, Rey, or Kanan), high-PS centric (around Miranda, Nym, or Poe), and formation lists with Biggs. Or some combination of the three! When we see mid-PS ships succeeding for the Rebels, it’s because the ultimate “pilot ability trumps PS” pilot is leading the charge.
Except that now he won’t be. Embrace oblivion, old friend!
How many of those mid-PS ships survive outside the Biggs ecosystem? BB-ARCgressive did just fine without ol’ Laser Magnet, but that was before alpha strikes became as nasty as they are now. I know I’ll ride with my Tarn-Nien-Norra list to test the waters (Snap Nien delights in messing with high PS aces), but who can say for the rest? Especially with Harpoon Missiles making formation flying a hazardous practice.
Does Guns for Hire Change Anything?
The Imperial Veterans expansion helped depress the PS race by offering highly capable mid-PS ships. Guns For Hire may function in the same way. The expansion has several tricks that let it avoid or even scoop the PS race. Captain Jostero can attack out-of-sequence in a way that can keep him from suffering alpha strikes without getting a lick in. And Thweek, while listed as PS4, is functionally PS-same-as-you (with a decent initiative bid). He can render the points and EPTs the enemy spends chasing PS advantage wasted… perhaps disincentivizing the chase.
Then again, Viktor Hel can get to PS9 with VI and carry Harpoon Missiles (and Chips AND Munitions Failsafe for zero effective cost). So we’ll see.
~What are seeing with High Pilot Skill in your local meta?