I play high risk / high reward lists often in X-Wing Miniatures, but I do so utilizing high pilot skill ships that like to dodge firing arcs, like Dash Rendar, Soontir Fel, or Whisper. Still, I sat down recently with the idea that I wanted to make use of the generic TIE Phantom pilots.
For a short moment, the high PS versions of the Phantom, Echo and Whisper, were the kings of the battlefield, especially when upgraded with Veteran Instincts. Moving late in the phase allowed players to dodge arcs fairly well, and recloak with Advanced Cloaking Devices immediately after the shot when they couldn’t escape. But the prevalence of turrets and the general meta shift to higher pilot skills made Phantoms an expensive gamble. The Phantom’s primary weakness is how squishy they can be – one bad roll of those 4+ evade dice can mean your ship is toast.
TIE Phantoms tend to be very fragile compared to the points that are invested in them, glass cannons at their finest. Being cloaked means you’re not shooting (assuming you’re not using Advanced Cloaking Devices as is usually the default on the higher PS versions), and on the turn you cloak, you’re not going to have a focus token to back those dice up with.
Still, there’s an alternative approach to flying Phantoms that I haven’t seen often – giving up on the Pilot Skill battle. The Phantoms hit hard without any need for offensive upgrades, they’re the only ship in the standard game to have a base Primary Attack Value of 4, which is enough to deal damage consistently even without lots of modifiers, and their maneuverability gives them lots of opportunities to get quality shots. Phantoms have the rare Sensor Upgrade slot that has so many nifty utility options. And they have ways to improve their action economy and maneuverability. So I set out to find a way to make low PS Phantoms more survivable, and include multiple of them in a list along with some legitimate support, and just see what the results would be.
After a few practice runs, I’m very pleased with my latest build, even though it makes me EXTREMELY nervous to commit to using it in a tournament environment. With a total of 11 hit points across 3 ships, it’s not exactly durable. But the synergy is great, all of the ships are extremely maneuverable, the list can play defensively if needed, and each one of the ships can pump out a frightening amount of damage.
Cloaks and Dagger
(Or as one opponent called it, “The Spanish Inquisition”)
Sigma Squadron Pilot – 25 (TIE Phantom)
Sensor Jammer – 4 (Lambda Shuttle)
Stygium Particle Accelerator – 2 (TIE Phantom)
Mara Jade – 3 (VT-49 Decimator)
* Targeting Computer will be replaced with Autothrusters upgrade from the Starviper once released.
Without any difference beyond Pilot Skill between the two generics, I chose Sigma Squadron (PS3) over the Shadow Squadron (PS5). I find it extremely rare to run in to opponents running ships in the 3-5 pilot skill range, generic pilots are generally a 1 or 2, and named pilots are almost always pilot skill 6 or higher. Spending the extra points on Shadow squadron just didn’t make sense, and it frees up extra points to be spent elsewhere in the list.
The PS3 for the Sigma squadron is an interesting spot: It’s high enough to be easily blocked in by fighters, but I don’t actually find myself cloaked all that often in the list, so that’s not a huge problem. But at PS3 it does maneuver after and fire before the cheapest generic variant of every other small based ship in the game, as well as finding itself just above the danger zone for Predator (TIE Defender).
For those of you reading along at home that don’t necessarily know how this list is put together, I’ll break down some of the key interactions:
Carnor Jax’s Pilot ability essentially cancels any Focus results the opponent rolls for anything so long as he’s alive and close, excluding those who take Marksmanship (X-Wing / Starter set). So his role is to get up close to the enemy, and stay there, taking shots of opportunity but mostly just staying alive. If he can avoid being shot and stay close, I have him barrel roll/boost closer. If his positioning is great already, focus & possibly target lock. If he’ll be shot at, PTL for Focus and Evade, standard Interceptor survival tactics.
The Sigma Squadron Pilots want to hang back out of range, and pounce once Carnor is engaging. They hit REALLY hard, but can’t take a lot of punishment compared to other ships.
I keep the Phantoms alive with a couple of key pieces, Stygium Particle Accelerators (free evade when cloaking or decloaking), and Sensor Jammers (remember, Carnor Jax is blocking focus actions).
Once the Phantoms are in the combat, then really fun things start happening. Even with a low pilot skill, Intelligence Agent tells me all I need to know about where the enemy will be moving, and I can adjust my plans accordingly by cloaking if I won’t have a shot, or decloaking appropriately if I’m cloaked at the time.
But Mara Jade is the real killer. The VT-49 Decimator, the Lambda Shuttle, and the Slave 1 can all make use of Mara Jade’s stress ability to shut down the enemy temporarily, but of the three, only the bounty hunter can really get behind the enemy. Phantoms, on the other hand, are really good at that. And once you’re pointed away from a Phantom and stressed too, it’s going to be nearly impossible to shake them off your six! That spells death for anything, doubly so for ships without a turret.
Speaking of turrets, more play testing will be required (I’m sure I’ll get plenty over the upcoming Store Championship season), but so far this list has already eaten one YT-2400 Outrider alive, and I like my chances to continue that streak. The big thing that worries me right now is the rather popular Decimator, which has the hull to soak the damage these ships will dish out, the speed and maneuvering options to escape kill zones, and the high quantity of firepower in a turret to be able to blast these ships down. In particular, Rear Admiral Chiraneau, quite possibly the most popular of the VT-49’s pilots, isn’t hurt nearly as badly as other ships by the Sensor Jammers (he will usually be able to convert a focus via his ability).
It’s a dangerous list to fly, especially in the face of a meta that seems primed to negate the effect of its’ maneuverability. I’ve run up against a couple of hard counters like Marksmanship, Han Solo (Crew), and Keeyan Farlander, but it’s rare to see multiple ships that can easily prey upon my list, which means proper target priority to go along with 11-14 attack dice per turn generally takes care of business, and I trust my ability to deal with the stragglers with any one of the ships in my list even when I’m taking losses early in the match. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the effectiveness of the list thus far, and since I can’t stand playing a boring list; the edge-of-your-seat flying that Cloaks and Dagger requires is just what I need right now.
In a week and a half of mostly competitive testing, this list has a record of 6-1-1* (restarted a practice match due to a vast miscalculation, had nothing to do with the list, just with how I opened). It has torn apart a defensive Leebo build, out-dueled Decimators, alpha-striked Corran Horn off the map, had Keeyan Farlander with a side of Wes Jansen for a light lunch, and run circles around a few other random pairings. Its’ one true loss involved a mis-play with Carnor Jax, causing him to get wiped off the map by an HLC shot that I didn’t think the opponent would be able to get; the Phantoms soldiered on alone and took revenge on Dash Rendar , falling two hits shy of taking Chewbacca out as well.
The real test starts in little less than 12 hours, when this build makes an appearance at the first of many X-Wing Store Championships in my area. I can’t wait to see how it goes; but with 6 to 9 rounds to play, don’t expect a battle report too terribly quick. Just saying.
– The Tabletop General