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Tuesday 20 June 2017

How to Tweak a List

There are numerous blog posts on list-building as a subject in general, even on the FFG main page ( Assemble your Squad), but I'd like to take a moment to discuss list tweaking/adjusting.

The process of tweaking comes after play-testing. The fact is you're never going to nail the fine details of a list from the get-go. You put it on the table and see how it fares. At the end of each game, you should be able to see which upgrades performed well, which were unnecessary and see what could be better. This requires good critical ability, you have to be able to differentiate from losses due to mistakes, the list underperforming or just dice outliers (notice I don't say bad dice).

I like to start with a single list and start categorizing the cards in the list. In general, I like to place pilots and upgrades in a list in four different categories, according to their role in the list:
  • Must-haves (red): These are cards I have designed the list around or just things I want to fly. These should remain in the list no matter what. (e.g. Soontir with Push the Limit)
  • Need-to-haves (orange): Cards that are not mandatory, but I would only give up on them if I really need the points for something else. These are usually utility cards that go well on ships but are not "glued" to them (e.g. Stealth Device on Soontir).
  • Toolbox cards (yellow): Cards that provide utility in my list but are not a mandatory or obvious pick (e.g. a Proton Rocket on the Inquisitor)
  • Filler cards (green): Cards that provide minor utility and are easily interchanged between versions of the build (e.g. 0pt EPTs).
This is not an indication of actual upgrade strength, but of the importance in the list and the rigidness of allocation of points (i.e. if I'm short on points I would never take out Palpatine in this list, but I would take out Fire-Control Systems if need be).

I'm going to break down my Euros list (write up and short explanation of the list here) to demonstrate the technique of adjusting and show how I've reached this final version. Let's first take a look at the final list and its cards:
  • Must-haves are an Upsilon shuttle with Palpatine (pulpsilon?), Sabacc with Title/Lightweight Frame, Backdraft with Title/Lightweight Frame. The pilots themselves are what I wanted to fly, that's why they are fixed. I could have included an upgrade to the Duchess, but the truth is I like Sabacc a lot, so it's a must-have
  • Need-to-haves are Fire-Control Systems. FCS is good on a TIE/sf because you can expect your previous target to be in one of the two arcs. It happens often that you are shooting at the same target and it helps a lot with offense. On the Upsilon it's equally important because there's 4 dice involved. If you use the FCS Target Lock once or twice per game I think it's enough. There are plenty of moments where the upsilon has no actions (stop, hard 1 turn, coordinate), so action economy on a 42-pts ship is pretty important.
  • Toolbox cards are Kylo Shuttle title and Snap Shot. Snap Shot is a very strong card, but it was not vital on the first list-building attempt. The shuttle title brings down Attanni lists, so it's a utility card that's tailored to the current meta.
  • Adaptability and Primed Thrusters are nice cards, but not at all important for this build. I could have easily replaced them with other  upgrades. I also marked the Starkiller Base Pilot as green because I would have upgraded him in a heartbeat if I could spare the points.

Now let's go through the process of tweaking the list. If we start with all the red cards, we have about 9pts to spare, 5pts without the orange cards. Here's a pool of cards that I have considered for this list with their importance.

For the Upsilon:
  • a 2pt ugrade to Major Stridan purely for PS, PS4 being above the Contracted Scouts. Also works pretty well for coordinate. In play-testing I have found that the shuttle doesn't go down as easily, and definitely not in the first round against Scouts, so it doesn't matter as much as I thought.
  • Electronic Baffle instead of FCS: good only if I really need the points, baffle allows multiple stops and is really good for maneuverability
  • Hyperwave Comm Scanner allows me to place the shuttle at PS12, my first deploy being Sabacc at PS6
  • Pattern Analyzer is similar in effect to baffle, I can stop and take an action, but I can't do it the following round as well.
  • Kylo Ren's shuttle takes down Attanni lists and jousters with bad greens (Defenders that are not Ryad)
  • Ion Projector locks down certain ships into an eternal bump with the shuttle
I started with Ion Projector, FCS and title on the shuttle, but dropped the Ion Projector because it was difficult to trigger, I wanted the shuttle to shoot most of the time rather than block as I would do with a lambda.

For Sabacc:
  • Snapshot increases the offense of Sabacc from potentially 5 dice to 8 (5+3). I found in play-testing that I could consistently get at least two triggers per game. A good snapshot at the right time can mean game over for the opponent.
  • Trick Shot increases offense to 6 dice max. In practice this is more difficult to trigger, especially the 6 dice range 1 shot.

For Backdraft:
  • 0-1pt EPTs, because I knew I wouldn't have the points for something more expensive. I took adaptability to take him over Dash and on par with Miranda.
  • FCS, no contender
  • A tech upgrade: Targeting Synchronizer allows Sabacc to fire a TL+focus shot, potentially keeping that TL for the shuttle as well. Pattern Analyzer allows a lot of shenanigans like 3-sloop focus so I can aim the rear arc at incoming ships.
In the end I went with Adaptability and Primed thrusters, but now I would choose Veteran Instincts. Primed Thrusters was useful in 2 games out of 9, and it wasn't game changing. Having PS9 would have helped a lot more.

So, in summary, these are the steps I would take from a pre-existing list to tweak it:
  1. Take the core of the list, mark it as red
  2. Generate a pool of interesting cards for the rest of the unoccupied slots (you can start with those from the first list), mark them as orange if they're needed a lot, yellow if they're useful and green if they're just around to fill up points.
  3. Play-test a few combinations and choose based on what works and what doesn't
So, is this the end? You could end up with a "final" list that you won't modify for months to come, but you're also likely to come up against a shifting meta. In that case, see if there are any toolbox cards that you can quickly swap out to account for that! 

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