When an anonymous person posted a supposed leak of an upcoming FAQ in June, it garnered a lot of attention and made lots of folks antsy for the real thing. After all, it promised to rectify most of the problems identified as causing rampant power creep in the game: Jumpmasters getting a nerf, Advanced SLAM, and much more. For months, rumors circulated and the X-Wing community speculated, begged and waited for some sort of sign.
Well, now it’s here. Remember when we did our Meta Countdown? FAQ 4.4.0 hits every single one of those lists. Let’s talk about the changes! And, if you want to, you can Listen to our Emergency FAQ Episode to follow along.
Author’s note: Much of the content represented herein is the personal opinion of the author, and I invite any and all discussion down below in the comments, on any forum in which this is posted, or in the Back to Dials Facebook group!
A change to Advanced SLAM actually was confirmed in the release article for the Starwing Assault Starfighter. The new text now reads (With the change highlighted):
“After performing a SLAM action, if you did not overlap an obstacle or another ship, you may perform a free action on your action bar.“
Previously, of course, the action was not limited to one in your action bar – a ship with Advanced SLAM could perform any action granted to them on upgrade cards as well. Particularly, this was used for action-drop bombs, such as Cluster Mines and Connor Nets. Why was this a problem? Miranda Doni (or really, any K-Wing) with Advanced SLAM and a Cluster Mine could drop that bomb on any target at range 1 to about 2.5 in her arc and to her side with pinpoint precision, and deal significant damage with the added bonus of Sabine Wren. This effect was detrimental in that the K-Wing offered the threat of automatic damage in a threat area that, practically speaking, was near impossible to escape. You can see real examples of excellent high-level Miranda SLAM play in videos of just about every major tournament, but in particular the King, Paul Heaver’s road to US Nationals win in 2017 with the finals match here. With the amount of damage Cluster Mine did (averaging 3-4 with Sabine), and the range it could be dropped with impunity, fragile ships like Soontir Fel and The Inquisitor were running scared because a single hit, that was practically impossible to avoid without taking that ship out of the engagement entirely, could end their game.
A change to Advanced SLAM, therefore, means a gigantic reduction in the “Danger Zone” of ships that can drop bombs like Clusters and significantly increases the impact the dial, and slight differences in positioning, has when releasing those ordnance. Not only can an Adv. SLAM K-Wing no longer run rampant across the map, it is easier for an opponent to predict and visualize where a maneuver could take a ship that then results in a bomb drop, since they don’t have to take the huge amount of SLAM possibilities into account. Fragile ships still have to be wary of the bomb threat, but there is a much larger window for flying around that.
This is an excellent change that attacks a disproportionately high-powered aspect of the K-Wing while leaving its other roles – TLT carrier, missile dominator, etc. intact. They can still equip Experimental Interface to drop action bombs after SLAM’ing, with the added drawback of stress – and anyone knows that a stressed K-Wing is severely limited in its maneuvering options and can be easily corralled. This is how the game should be: opening the door to counterplay and control, requiring the K-Wing player to make sacrifices in order to pull off that maneuver. In the case that they don’t equip EI, they have to think and plan, and be more cunning with their bomb approaches. Unfortunately, it does directly attack much of the power of the basic Warden Squadron Pilot – it is tough now to justify the cost of one of those with bombs and not be able to SLAM-bomb them. However, it’s possible that one of them, perhaps with EI, could find its way into Rebel lists – preserving the knockout punch ability of the ship and, at the generic level, it’s possible that the stress drawback is easier to swallow than it is with Miranda.
Two Minds as One
Attani Mindlink was widely hailed as being a possible sleeper hit when it first released with the Jumpmaster 5k expansion, and finally found its heyday recently with lists like “Parattani” – Fenn, Asajj and Manaroo with Mindlink providing wild action economy and covering the gaps in each others’ defenses. It, too, was hit hard in 4.4. The errata reads:
The text on this card should be preceded by the phrase: “Limit 2 per squad.”
The ability to generate 2 actions for 3 points (in Parattani) broke the traditional curve of action economy – and its power only went up as more ships were introduced to the squad. Above that, ships with good dials could act as focus batteries to ships that were stressed, effectively negating what is supposed to be a serious disadvantage. The largest problem ended up being that if even a single ship in your squad remained stress-free, hte entire squadron reaped the benefit.
The limit to 2 per squad brings Mindlink back in line with the power curve of action economy. Gone are the days when Fenn, Asajj and Inaldra stacked Focus tokens, boosted with impunity and were able to leverage their dials and stay powerful despite whatever stress you threw at them. Stress is now a much bigger problem for Mindlink lists: your decisions are more important because there are only two possible ships to provide the Focus and both of them are stressed. Flying becomes more important and it becomes more of a tradeoff to stack your Focus tokens. Limitation to 2 per squad still makes it viable – Fenn and Asajj are still very good contenders for a Mindlink pair, as is Dengar (especially with K4 Security Droid) and Fenn or another ship.
Not so Smart Now, eh?
I had almost forgotten about this: Pre-Back to Dials, I had an Armada and X-Wing blog called Raise Deflector Shields, and I wrote an article about “Genius” right after Most Wanted dropped. Man, that was a different time! It was great fun blowing up my own ships, Dead-Man’s Switching them into smithereens and creating a wave of explosions that annihilated my opponent.
Yeah, I can still do that. But there is a change to the droid! The card text now reads:
“After you reveal and execute a maneuver, if you did not overlap a ship, you may discard 1 of your equipped [Bomb] Upgrade cards without the “Action:” header to drop the corresponding bomb token.”
Ironically, a friend and I were talking about, “what if they made this exact change?” literally the night before 4.4 dropped. The change itself is very straightforward: Much like the change to TIE/x7 on Defenders, you may no longer use “Genius” when you bump a ship. I love this! Once again, you can’t just set your dial willy-nilly and get benefits when you fly recklessly. This wasn’t a problem – until Captain Nym (mostly the Scum version) allowed you to bump a ship, drop a bomb, and catch your opponent in its explosion while ignoring your own drop. That combination truly erased almost any benefits of flying to block that ship, and in fact made it more dangerous to do so.
That’s why the “Genius” change is a good thing. Anything that benefits careful play is okay in my book. Studious readers will also note, though, that the bomb you drop must be discarded upon its use, too. Though this still allows you to spend an Extra Munitions token to prevent this loss, it really hurts “Genius”‘s interaction with Bomblet Generator, because you start to lose the infinite bombs! It makes that combination a far riskier proposition and incentivises spending the extra 2 points for Extra Munitions so you can get it off at least once. The ubiquitous “Dancing Nym” – Captain Nym with Adv. Sensors, Havok, VI, Bomblet, Engine Upgrade and “Genius” – is hurt by this change as it can no longer drop its bomblet with impunity.
Does this erase the archetype, or hurt it as much as Adv. SLAM hurts Miranda? I think not – Nym is still at PS10 with Veteran Instincts, and his threat radius before maneuver with Advanced Sensors is still ridiculously huge. But it is a step in the right direction.
Kind of a Bigg Deal
Biggs Darklighter has warped the rules of X-Wing since he was introduced in Wave 1. His ability to change the fundamental tenet of X-Wing – “Focus Fire what you want to kill” – has made him a staple of Rebel lists and an obstacle to X-Wing fixes.
No longer. He has been hit with the Unrelenting Nerfhammer. His new card text reads:
“Once per game, at the start of the Combat phase, you may choose that until the end of the round, other friendly ships at Range 1 cannot be targeted by attacks if the attacker could target you instead.”
Once per game. Once per game! I think that this might be a little harsh. My own thought was a once per round restriction, or some sort of drawback – like Biggs suffering a damage each time he took a shot intended for another friendly ship. but once per game, it is now hard for me to see the utility.
In any case, Fair Ship Rebels, OP Cubed, Kanan Biggs, the lot of them – those damage-spreading Biggs Sponge lists are dead. Perhaps more than any errata I have explored so far, this directly destroys the crux of at least two of the top-tier lists. Truly, this change is earth-shattering and will impact how just about every Rebel list is constructed. Although I am personally happy that something was done (FSR and OPQ were a pain, a pain! to play against, even if not-unbeatable), part of me is still staggered by the depth of the change.
Biggs is not useless, though – the choice to trigger his ability manually actually opens up other options. Biggs can now take the shot meant for Poe at the right time. He can play mind games with the opponent, and you can present them a juicier target, only to pop Biggs on them at the opportune moment. We have seen with upgrades like Countermeasures, Glitterstim or Burnout SLAM that even a one-time-use upgrade can have a game-changing effect. It is, however, hard to stomach the entire point of this ship tied up in a one-time-use effect, even if it is powerful.
The King is Dead
The Jumpmaster 5000 was a fundamentally flawed release, with a dial that was too strong, and an upgrade bar with plentiful options, and a point cost that was too generous. Lists involving the Jumpmaster survived and thrived with multiple indirect nerfs: Deadeye switching to small ship only did little to hinder Triple Scouts. Dengaroo was abolished with changes to Manaroo and Zuckuss and yet Dengar/Tel, two Jumpmasters, won Worlds for a second year in a row. Its ability to deliver reliable offense on a stupidly mobile base, at a joke of a cost, made it necessary to do something drastic.
And they have.
The Jumpmaster now loses both of its Torpedo slots, as well as its Salvaged Astromech slot. Triple Jumps, a list that could terrorize the entire board with efficient and powerful ordnance, can no longer carry any – effectively relegating the Contracted Scout to a “bumpmaster” role or other support/minor utility. Although the dial is still excellent (god, that dial…), its new inability to equip the Unhinged Astromech, and leverage green 3 banks with K4 Security Droid, further limits its capability.
Now, this doesn’t mean that the Jumpmaster will fade into obscurity. Dengar, especially, is still a very effective ship. The 2-white Segnor’s Loop and the rest of the dial will ensure that the ship is always able to get where it needs to go, only slightly less effectively. A smaller upgrade bar limits the potential for “Wombo Combos” and extreme offense, but that “Bumpmaster” Contracted Scout doesn’t need the Torpedoes to be effective – with Trick Shot, Intelligence Agent, Black Market Slicer Tools, Rigged Cargo, Intimidation, or any number of cheap and still-effective upgrades, its role simply changes and requires smarter positioning to take advantage of the tools it now offers.
While I think it is a step in the right direction, two things still concern me about the Jumpmaster. First, the excellent dial and the Elite upgrade slot on Contracted Scouts still provide a hell of a lot of flexibility that can’t be ignored. Even without the upgrades it lost, the dial is still too good for a ship like that and the Jumpmaster can easily control a large swath of board better than just about anything else.
Second, this change has a lot of un-thematic threads and renders many of the upgrades in the Jumpmaster expansion pack unusable with the ship they come with. In the lore, Dengar’s Punishing One was specially modified to have the Astromech and torpedo tubes, that a base-model Jumpmaster did not. I believe FFG is severely in error by not amending the Punishing One title to grant at least some of these slots. While we could easily return to Dengar Domination by putting everything lost back on the title, since FFG have proven themselves capable of making drastic changes some additional balancing factors could be added to the Title card: changing colors of maneuvers or removing other slots such as the Crew (a la the Scurrg’s Havoc title) are all options that could be leveraged to create a balanced ship. I am personally in favor of giving one Torpedo slot and the Salvaged ‘Mech, at the expense of the crew slot: you can get K4 or Unhinged, but not both!
Hard to see, the Future is
When an FAQ of this magnitude drops in our laps, it is easy to jump to conclusions: “XX IS DEAD! YY IS BACK! ZZZ IS THE NEW ABC!” It is, however, truly difficult to tell what the far-reaching effects of these changes will be. Certainly, many interactions present in top-tier lists are simply not possible anymore: Torpedo Jumpmasters, ASLAM Ks, and ridiculous damage spread with Fair Ship Rebel Biggs, to start. But are these all the changes that “needed” to happen? That is a question that people struggle to answer.
Many people think that ships like Nym, Dengar and Miranda, as well as archetypes like Fair Ship Rebels and Triple Scouts, merely possessed many pieces of the issues that are actually affecting the meta: Large ship Primary Weapon Turrets (PWT), super-effective automatic damage (Bombs), and Twin Laser Turret (TLT). I tend to agree with some of these assertions that beefy ships with turrets, or hyper effective bombs as an archetype, rather than one or two specific cards (with the exception of TLT of course) are controlling the meta far more than any individual card or pilot that got hit in this latest round of FAQs. Every list has to have an answer for turreted ships, because in planning for a tournament, it is a certainty that you will face several powerful turrets and is no longer something that you can simply have a counter-flight plan for. Often, the answer to this matchup is putting these same turrets securely in your own squadron, creating a circular meta-reinforcement.
Hopes are high that these nerfs will cause pilots like Soontir, Carnor or the humble TIE – all somewhat answers to turrets, with Autothrusters and their blocking potential – to find a renaissance in the takedown of some of their greatest enemies. I do see some encouraging signs! The change to Adv. SLAM certainly makes it more difficult to place a mine that will one-shot an Interceptor without retribution, or at least the serious downside of stress. Additionally, the “Genius” changes make blocking Nym suddenly effective again, and although Bomblets will still harm low-PS clusters of ships, renewed viability of blocking makes it easier to control the battlefield to your advantage. Jumpmasters lost their alpha strike, too, forcing Scum and Villainy to look to other options, with their own sets of disadvantages, if they want to punch that kind of spike damage through.
Biggs is an interesting one. With a little more introspection I can see that the ability to choose at will when Biggs fires off, even if it is only once per game, is a big(g) deal. Just like the other changes, Biggs becomes a more “Heads On” ability – that one round had better count, because you’re not getting a second chance. He still can’t be used to pull off Target Lock-based ordnance attacks (because you can choose a weapon that can’t target him), but he can protect a friendly ship from being killed by a primary in a clutch spot. Again, though – if you fire Biggs, and don’t have a follow-up (like if you can’t trade a ship for who he was protecting), you don’t get to try again. You also have the potential to get Biggs out of position and need Biggs when you don’t have him. Lists like Zach Matthews’ “Ego” (Biggs, Lowhhrick, Missile Miranda) get more challenging to play when you only have that one shot. It’s more cerebral, and there is room to make a bad decision. Skill – I like that!
Nym still drives pilot skill conflict with VI at PS10, and the threat radius posed by Advanced Sensors and Bomblet, even without Genius, guarantees he will keep his seat at the top. Accuracy Corrector, too, pairs with the meta-dictating TLT to drive constant damage through. Interceptors still have to fly cautiously as they are less likely to find themselves with the pilot skill advantage, and TIEs (and their other generic brethren) can still be wiped off the board by ordnance, and harmed by Harpoon Missiles in a big way – although there are ways to fly around that. While those ships have an easier time now, it’s not by any means a return to Soontir or generic dominance – the game has progressed simply too far to go back completely.
So what will we see?
Honestly, I believe that any drastic dropoff in Dengar or Nym could possibly be attributed to “Nerf Psychosis,” similar to what affected /x7 Defenders – all of these cards are still great, they just require a more “heads on” style of play. I will love to take Soontir out again, though, as I definitely believe that with some cautious flying he can dance around the turrets and give the ubiquitous Dash a real run for his money. Still has to watch out, though – but I am excited to be blocking again and flying some more tricksy aces, especially Vader with his new best friend, Harpoon Missiles. With the dropoff of Jumpmaster ordnance, Scum players might look once again to Bossk, or to new entries like the Scurrg or even perhaps brand new pilots in the Guns for Hire expansion (which I have sitting beside me, ready to pop open when I am finished as I conclude this article!). Hopefully, with some of the standout players knocked back toward parity we can at least start to experiment with things that once felt out of reach. Miranda can still do very well with ordnance, and as a TLT-Kiting platform with Bomblets all over the map!
I don’t see the FAQ erasing many of the top builds from contention entirely. If one is disproportionately affected, it would be Biggs damage sponge builds, such as Fair Ship Rebels. Although Biggs can still be useful, the mechanism that made those lists work, relying on Biggs every round, is no longer applicable. I believe that Rebel Beef builds will transition to things like Auzituck Gunship trios with Expertise, Tactician and Breach Specialist – high hull, control, and efficient offence can carry a squad like that to the fore. Although, as I mentioned above, players that use Biggs’ new control to its full potential can leverage the situationally-more-powerful ability of forcing split fire if you pick it and fly correctly.
If nothing else, this FAQ is an encouraging sign. FFG has proven themselves willing to drastically alter ships and upgrade cards with a firm hand on what the issues in the meta actually are. They haven’t hit turrets yet, but that’s a more complex and far-reaching issue than just one single card and I do agree with a modicum of caution when it comes to errata – too much too fast can also have unintended effects. I see this as a good sign that FFG is willing to do what is necessary to keep the game alive, and to keep it in a state that people enjoy playing, and with each FAQ iteration the designers can take note of things that keep changing (large upgrade bars, cards that give you too many options when bumping or stressed like Genius and /x7, etc.) and design future waves with these in mind.
Difficult to see, the future is – but I do see signs of light!
I invite discussion on this article below in the comments, on our Facebook page, and any online forum at which this article was posted! You can also contact the author directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or send the team feedback (like, “Asa needs to write better!”) at email@example.com.