Escalation started at eleven Thursday morning. It’s a variant tournament structure with an emphasis on squad building. As I said yesterday, a normal game of X-Wing uses 100 point squads. Escalation begins with a 60 point squad and then adds 30 points in the successive three rounds of play. You have to keep all the ships and upgrades from previous rounds but you can spend points to add new ships and upgrade ships you took in previous rounds.
My list was simple: it starts with two ships and adds a ship every round thereafter. I based my list around the popular 35 point Soontir Fel because he’s an alpha-level predator. To round out my first round list, I brought a classic Doom Shuttle for another 24 points and kept a point as a bid to control initiative. The initiative bid is important because I want Soontir going absolutely last for positioning. In case my opponent has a pilot skill 9 ship, I can hand initiative off so Soontir moves after the opponent. I can then reposition Soontir based on my opponent’s position on the board. Each round I added a Royal Guard TIE Interceptor with the same upgrades as Soontir: Push the Limit, Autothrusters, Royal Guard TIE title, and Stealth Device. This made four of my five ships 4 Agility, 3 Attack ships that are insanely nimble, can take focus + evade every turn, and while at range 3 or outside the attacker’s arc a blank on defense gets turned into an evade. The Royal Guards were 30 points each so I was able to keep an initiative bid every round. It proved important a few times.
Round 1 – The Hard Counter
The first round was the single most lopsided game of X-Wing I have ever played. It just so happened that my opponent was the one person to bring the one list I literally could not beat in this format. I forget what all the upgrades were but the important thing is that my opponent was running a Decimator crewed by Darth Vader and could basically win in three rounds without trying.
Darth Vader is a really interesting card. As Imperial only crew, he can only fit on the Firespray-31, the Lambda-class shuttle (like the one in my list), the TIE Phantom, and the Decimator. Vader’s ability reads, “After you perform an attack against an enemy ship, you may suffer 2 damage to cause that ship to suffer 1 critical damage.” It’s a powerful but situational ability. That’s the sweet spot for cards in X-Wing. You don’t want something that’s so good everyone takes it. No one puts Vader on the Phantom or the Firespray-31 because the Phantom is too squishy (only 2 shields and 2 hull) and the Firespray-31 is better as a tank that sticks around to hammer your opponents. That leaves the shuttle, as I did, and the Decimator. The Decimator is a good choice because it has a 360-degree turret. As long as a ship is in range, the Decimator can give it a crit with Vader. And, let me tell you, range 3 on a turret is a LOT of space on the board. Most people don’t put Vader on the Decimator in Escalation because he’s really only useful in the first or second round. Once people start getting more ships on the board there aren’t enough opportunities to use his ability. Decimators die very quickly against swarms of ships because they have zero agility dice.
What made the matchup into my own personal Kobayashi Maru is that my foe didn’t even need to hit Soontir to kill me. All my opponent needed to do was declare three attacks against Soontir. Vader doesn’t require you to hit your target. Hell, I could have hit him with a Blinded Pilot critical where the ship rolls zero dice for an attack and he’d still put a crit through with Vader. This makes Interceptors, with their lack of shields, particularly vulnerable to Vader’s crits. My only hope was to get enough damage in five shots (Soontir, Shuttle, Soontir, Shuttle, Soontir) at the Decimator that my opponent couldn’t use Vader without blowing himself up and losing the match.
Yeah, that didn’t happen. The first critical my opponent Vadered onto Soontir turned my elite pilot into a pilot skill 9 generic pilot. Two more crits collowed and Soontir was done. To my credit, he never once hit Soontir with an attack. Vader just Force-crushed the ship. Once Soontir was gone there was nothing I could do to keep the Decimator in the shuttle’s arc because the Decimator so much more maneuverable. It was all over very quick.
Lesson learned: big turret ships rule the 60 point round of Escalation.
Lost. 0 points destroyed, 60 lost.
Round 2 – A Nice Salve for My Bruised Ego
The second round went much better. My opponent was running some wacky list using B-Wings with Enhanced Scopes. The shuttle died pretty early but there was just nothing my opponent could do to keep my two Interceptors in arc.
Win. 90 points destroyed, 24 lost.
Round 3 – The Other Side of the Kobayashi Maru
Round three was a lot of fun. My opponent had a “Fat Han” Millennium Falcon (Han Solo with C-3PO, R2-D2, and Engine Upgrade with a 3 or 4 point elite pilot talent upgrade) and a base YT-2400 with the Outrider title and a “Mangler” Cannon. There was another ship in the list but I can’t remember what it was. Maybe a B-Wing?
My list was designed specifically to counter turrets with three attack dice. There wasn’t much my opponent could do to touch me. I had more dice on defense than he had on attack and I outnumbered him. Fat Han just takes a damn long time to whittle down. My opponent did manage to squeak a damage in on Soontir to turn off Stealth Device but the other two Interceptors were untouched. The shuttle died early, of course, but it did its job as a distraction and blocker.
Win. 120 points destroyed, 24 lost.
Round 4 – Submarine Maneuver Complete
The last round was against a really interesting list. It had two B-Wings and two A-Wings supporting a heavily upgraded Chewbacca in the Millennium Falcon. The A-Wings were running Assault Missiles. This was the only round other than the opening in which I lost an Interceptor. An A-Wing target locked a Royal Guard and I just barely didn’t manage to get into range 1. He attacked with Assault Missiles and got through my four defense dice. The good news is that one of his B-Wings took damage from the Assault Missile splash. A range 1 shot from a B-Wing later and I was down to three Interceptors. Surprisingly, my opponent didn’t kill the shuttle. Another full win on dice.
Win. 150 points destroyed, 30 lost.
All in all, despite my atrocious opening, I finished third in the tournament. My margin of victory (MOV) was very high because I killed my opponents’ 90, 120, and 150 point lists entirely while only giving up 24, 24, and 30 points. The guy who lost at the top table in round 4 dropped to fifth place because he lost 150 points. Ouch.
My prizes that day were an alt-art Push the Limit card and an Adepticon 2015 X-Wing Escalation acrylic range ruler. It’s now the one I keep in my X-Wing kit for play.
What I Learned
If you want to survive in Escalation and make it to the top table, you have to bring something that can take a beating. I think there are two kinds of lists that will do well in the opening round without limiting themselves too much later or leaving themselves open to Vader shenanigans early.
The first is a swarm. Either five TIES or Z-95s or 4 with an elite pilot could work. A swarm is a good base on which to start. “Howlrunner” with three Academy Pilots is a solid mini-swarm. It should be able to stand up to a Decimator just fine but it may struggle with a Fat Han.
For a Rebel swarm I like Airen Cracken backed by three Bandit Squadron Pilots. Giving Cracken Cluster Missiles allows his special ability to trigger twice in one round and leaves you with a one-point initiative bid. My problem here is what do I upgrade with? I like fast, maneuverable ships with three attack dice. (Yes, I’m in love with the TIE Interceptor and you will never convince me it’s wrong.) B-Wings are a good choice, I guess, if you upgrade them.
I personally don’t think Scum do very well as a swarm (maybe it’s because I just don’t fly swarms well) but I’d be tempted to start with Kavil running Veteran Instincts, Engine Upgrade, Unhinged Astromech, and Autoblaster Turret at 32 points. That would give you someone to hunt down Soontir Fel or Corran Horn with irresistible damage. Maybe add a 26 point Tansarii Point Veteran (“Heavy Scyk” Interceptor title, Heavy Laser Cannon) to that for the first round. Second round add another TPV but upgrade both to have Push the Limit. Third and fourth round add another 29 point TPV. That’s a lot of firepower on the board. Should be able to punch through a lot of things if they target lock and focus when they’re out of arc then turtle with focus and evade while in arc. 148 points. Seems like it might be good.
The second thing that can stand up and take a beating in the first round is a turret. Fat Han and the Decimator are the clear choices here, though a Fat Dash is certainly viable. If I were to go Imperials again, I’d do a 59 or 60 point Decimator in the first round then upgrade with 30 point Royal Guard Pilots just like I did in this tournament. I like Rear Admiral Chiraneau, who is pilot skill 8, with Expose and Experimental Interface crewed with Rebel Captive and Ysanne Isard. While Commander Kenkirk is cheaper and more durable, I like Chiraneau’s ability to be more consistent when dealing damage. In the opening rounds, target lock as an action to trigger Experimental Interface to use Expose. That gives me a 4 dice turret for effectively no cost. Once shields are stripped, target lock as an action and wait to use Expose until Ysanne Isard’s free evade action in the combat round. If I already have a target lock on my intended target, I can focus instead.
Another thing I learned is just how good an Interceptor with Push the Limit, Royal Guard TIE, Autothrusters, and Stealth Device is. Not counting the Vader shenanigans in the opening round, the nine Interceptors I flew in the tournament took a grand total of five damage. Sustained fire from high attack value ships will get through but if I have actions they’re damn near impossible to damage with three attack dice.