List Building for Beginners! A Strategy Series Article From Back to Dials

By Tyson Sparks

If you are like me, then you probably spend a lot of time thinking about your next great list. During work, commutes, visits to the in-laws, graduations, weddings, your fiancée’s stories… All excellent times to tune out and think about lists! For me, trying to come up with the perfect list is one of the most fun parts of X-Wing.
Not only is list-building fun, it’s key to victory! Let us consider the most famous instance of list-building victory, Paul Heaver’s 2014 world championship list.


At the time, the Fat Han list was extremely popular and Paul seemingly followed suit. However, he made one very important change; the use of R2-D2 crew. Using R2 along with C3PO and the evade action, Paul’s Han could deflect three damage per turn and in a one-on-one battle versus another Han, he couldn’t be damaged! In essence, Paul guaranteed himself a victory against the most popular list at the time, just by bringing the correct list!
Clearly, list building is a key to success in X-Wing. However, it can be extremely difficult, especially if you are new to the game! Fortunately, there are a few simple things that beginners can do to ensure that they end up with a successful list. In this article, we will talk about these steps, which include:

• Starting with strong a strong foundation
• Analyzing the meta
• Building simple synergies
• Keeping your list simple
• Having fun

Who knows, maybe the steps in this article will lead you to the next world championship list! If that’s not enough motivation to read the rest of this article, then I don’t know what is!

Taking the first steps into a larger world

At the time of this writing, there are 169 different pilots and 213 different upgrades in the X-Wing Miniatures game. That’s a lot of options! There are perhaps so many options that it can be hard to know where to start. So let me make a simple suggestion, if you are a beginner, steal a list from someone more experienced!
Now I’m not saying that you have to completely copy someone else’s list, but instead that you should take advantage of strong list archetypes. There are certain combinations of ships that good players have found complement each other well; start with one of these and make it your own. For example, right after the Imperial Raider released everyone (including myself) was running the following list:


Clearly, the Palpatine and two ace archetype has had a lot of success in the current meta, which is why I usually suggest it as a possible starting point for new players who gravitate toward Imperials. But despite the common starting point, beginners in the Colorado area have ended up with lists including Palpatine, Carnor, and Fel, Palpatine, Vader, and Juno, Palpatine, Omega Leader and Whisper… Need I go on? The point is that despite starting from a very well-known list, you can still make changes to the list in order to make it your own and it will still have a much better chance of creating a successful list. So do yourself a favor and start with a strong foundation!
How do you find out what lists the more experienced players are using and pick a list archetype? Go to List Juggler (! List Juggler is an awesome website that automatically keeps track of lists that have been ran at tournaments all over the world. It even compiles all of that data into summary charts (more on this later). So I suggest that, before you read any more of this article, head over to List Juggler, browse through some tournaments and find a list that you’d like to use as a starting point. I’ll wait… Got one? Good.
List building tip #1: start with a strong foundation.

Know thy enemy

Now that you have a list to start with, let’s talk about making smart changes to make it more competitive. The first thing that you should consider when trying to decide how to customize a list is what the meta for that tournament will look like. Imagine if you will, that you want to run a TIE swarm at your next tournament. If you know that everyone else is going to be running lists with many PS 2 ships, you might consider upgrading your TIEs to the PS 3 Obsidian Squadron Pilots so that you can shoot and kill those PS 2s before they shoot back. However, if everyone else is running PS 9+ aces then those points are better spent elsewhere. For another example, imagine taking the Darth Vader crew card to a tournament featuring all interceptors. Free wins, anyone? Keeping track of what is being ran by others is a key to deciding how to build your list.

Of particular importance when analyzing the meta is to make note of the average pilot skill and initiative bid that opposing pilots are employing. There are numerous advantages to having higher pilot skill than your opponent, including the ability to see their final position before moving and being able to shoot and kill before they can shoot back. However, you do not want to spend points to increase your pilot skill from two to four, for instance, if everyone else is running all PS 9s anyway! Conversely, if you’re counting on your ace moving last and dodging arcs, then you had better know whether or not you need an initiative bid. This is so important List Juggler dedicates a whole chart to tracking pilot skill at the global level (check it out here


If you can push any of the ships in your list above the average by upgrading to the next higher pilot, you may be able to gain an advantage. Conversely, if you’re paying for the higher PS pilots and still below the average, downgrade and spend those points on upgrades or more ships! I really can not emphasize the importance of knowing the pilot skill landscape enough before starting a build; it’s key to so many decisions! Before we move on, make sure you know where the ships in your baseline list fit in to the PS spectrum in your meta. I’m waiting on you, again…. Have you figured it out? Good. Now let’s talk about building synergies into your list.
List building tip #2: Know the meta, especially the pilot skill!

Building synergies

Many successful lists are built around beneficial interactions between multiple cards, which we call synergies. Synergies can be simple interactions between a pilot and an upgrade (such as the interaction between Tarn Mison and the R7 Astromech) or complex interactions involving the entire list (such as the interactions between a ship carrying Jan Ors and different ships with Juke and Comms Relay). Making the most of synergies can make a list very powerful, but it can also lead to overly complex plans that force some beginners to overthink. Consider, for instance, the list below.


The list above was originally created by a local beginner. The idea behind the list is that Palpatine will guarantee that Wampa gets a crit, which he will cancel to deal a facedown damage card to the defender. Meanwhile Colzet will have target locked the same target and will spend the target lock to flip the card that Wampa dealt face up. In the end, you have managed to deal a guaranteed critical to the defender, even through shields! Which is very cool, but what happens if you need to spend Palpatine on defense? Or if Colzet gets blocked and can’t action? Or once Wampa dies? If any of these things happen, the synergy doesn’t work and you are left with a slightly underpowered list. This is an example of what we call a list synergy, meaning a synergy which involves using most or all of the ships in your list to achieve the synergistic effect. While powerful, list synergies often require a great deal coordination and planning to fly and can restrict your list building options. I often tell beginners to try and stay away from list synergies so that they can focus on flying correctly.

The type of synergy that I do recommend beginners look for is a ship synergy, meaning a synergistic effect that is reliant only on one ship to accomplish. Consider this list:


This list is provided by our beginning X-Wing host, Christine Anderson! There are several great ship synergies in this list. The first is Tarn Mison with the R7 Astromech. Tarn’s pilot ability gives him a target lock on the attacker when he is targeted, which the R7 allows him to use to force the attacker to reroll. This is a great synergy, and it does not require that Tarn rely on any other ships to accomplish. As long as Tarn is alive (and hasn’t ejected the mech), the ability is working. The next ship synergy is between Jake Farrell and Proton Rockets. Proton Rockets require that the attacker both have a focus token and be at range one of the defender. Jake’s pilot ability makes this easy to accomplish by providing a free boost or barrel roll after taking a focus! Add that to Push the Limit and Jake can often focus, boost in to range one for free, and still take target lock to ensure maximum damage from the rockets. Another synergy that is powerful and doesn’t require complex interactions. Christine often tells me that these simple synergies are much easier for her to manage as a beginner and she recommends that other beginners try to stick to ship synergies when building lists.
List building tip #3: look for ship synergies, not list synergies

Keeping it simple

Now that I’ve praised Christine for her list, let’s talk about the ways in which it is NOT built to be beginner-friendly (Can’t let Christine develop too much of an ego. She’s already everyone’s favorite host…). After Christine plays a game, she and I will often talk about it and often as we talk she will remember some key effect that she had forgotten to use that might have helped her. This isn’t because Christine is particularly forgetful (try doing something stupid in her presence and see if she EVER forgets. Trust me, I know) but because she is new to the game and her list has too many points invested in upgrades. Just look at it! The ship with the fewest upgrades still has two and a pilot ability (not coincidently, this is the ship she often says that she likes the best)! That’s a lot of things to remember!

I see this problem with beginner list often; people sometimes just do not feel good about leaving upgrade slots empty. Take, for instance, this list that a new player recently brought to league night:


Putting the inherent problems with a two B-Wing list aside (I hadn’t thought a 2B list was possible until I saw it), there is just simply too many things in this list to make use of in one match, and the new player often doesn’t get to use half of these upgrades. The above list is an extreme example of what not to do in list building Remember, everything upgrade that you add to your list is one more effect to remember, and that can be difficult if you are still trying to focus on learning the mechanics of the game! This is why I often recommend that beginners limit the number of upgrades on each ship and instead use those extra points to add another cheap ship. Not only does this make it less likely that you will forget something, but it adds another ship for you to practice maneuvering with! It’s a win-win!
List building tip #4: Keep the number of upgrade cards to a minimum

Have fun

I’ll end with a story. I went to a local store championship the other day, and my first round opponent was an 8 year old kid who was new to the game. No one had told him that upgrades have a type and that only certain ships can carry certain upgrade types. This led to a list that featured Poe Dameron with a TLT, Luke Skywalker with an Intel Agent, and Miranda Doni with an ion cannon. As I sat down at the table, I thought about correcting him and trying to explain list building, but then it occurred to me, why ruin his fun? That’s the list he wants to run, who am I (or the rule makers at FFG) to tell him no? And you know what? Despite losing the game 100-0, the kid was laughing and making pew pew noises with his toy spaceships immediately afterward. WE SHOULD ALL BE LIKE HIM.
The point that I am try to make is that you shouldn’t get super worried about not being able to play list X because someone says it isn’t viable. Or because the meta is against it. Or because some dumb podcaster told you not to in his article… I’ve always felt that when I’m having fun, I tend to play better and in the end, it is your game, play it the way you want.
List building tip #5: Enjoy yourself, for god sake

The Back to Dials Podcast hopes you have enjoyed this Beginner’s Strategy Series article! For more article like this, check out our website at and be sure to subscribe to the Back to Dials Podcast! Thanks for reading!

One thought on “List Building for Beginners! A Strategy Series Article From Back to Dials

  • I love the show and would like Utah recognized as having a fan of the show. I had a question I am a real beginner have played 3 total games. The nearest place to play Xwing is over 2 hours away. One that doesn’t have a lot of money to get the latest ships. I have 1 Awing 1 hawk290 The regular Xwing from the original core set plus the xwing pack. The imperial side I have a tie advanced The original Ties from the original core set the tie fighter set and a Phantom. With this set up is their a good list to fly that will keep up and be flyable in the tournaments . Or am I doomed to just play friendly games. I would love to try the store competions and need your help. Since I have never played real players just my son and daughter . I was wondering if you could help. Help me ASA and Tyler you’re my only hope.

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