The X-Wing meta is more robust than it’s ever been. But even with so many viable lists running around, it’s still easy (and common) to build absolutely terrible lists.
The difference between an “efficient” list and a terrible one is massive. Although a great player can take any “solid” list to victory, you could probably make the world champion lose against an average player if you forced a truly terrible list on him.
The quickest and largest improvement you can take to become more competitive is improving your list. This guide should help you!
Is Another Ship Better Than These Upgrades?
Beginners love to load ships up with tons of upgrades. You can easily double or triple the cost of a ship with an expensive pilot and upgrades.
But a lot of the time, the points are better spent by simply getting another ship. Remember that an extra ship is effectively double damage and health. It’s also an extra body you can block your opponent’s ships with. This rule is the main reason Hull/Shield Upgrades are almost always a terrible choice.
Ask: Are these upgrades really going to do more damage than a whole extra ship? Will they let me avoid more damage than just having an extra ship would give in health? If I trim several upgrades across all my ships, could I add a whole ship and improve my list?
Mediocre Ships / Upgrades
Not all upgrade cards and ships are designed equally. At the end of the day, there are a ton of upgrade cards that are simply worse than others. Certain pilots perform much better than others as well. Just because a card does something, doesn’t mean it’s worth the points!
The quickest advice one can give is to simply stick with “Proven” ship builds when you’re starting out. By using ships/upgrades that are generally recognized as strong, it can give you a sense of what works well in X-Wing and what doesn’t.
There are a lot of things that can make or break an upgrade, so it’s hard to teach a new player how to judge for themselves. But generally look for cards that give:
- Action Economy – Actions are great. Focus & Target Lock increase the average strength of your roll by 50%+. An evade token is worth much more than an extra green die.
- Push the Limit
- Darth Vader, Soontir Fel
- Kyle Katarn, Recon Specialist
- Repeated Modifications – Helping guarantee results is great. Moreso when an efficient upgrade can do this many times for you throughout a match.
- Poe Dameron
- Gunner, C-3P0 (on 1 agility & lots of HP)
- (Lots of) Extra Hitpoints – Extra health is great, but remember that upgrades in this category must compete against the cost of a new ship (rule #1). Shield upgrade at 4 points is terrible, because you can just get a whole Z-95 for 12 points. Good cards in this category can easily give 3-5+ health over the course of a match for just a few squad points.
- Millennium Falcon title
- Repositioning – This is one of the hardest to quantify without game experience. Boosting or barrel rolling give you zero added actions/modifications/dice/health directly. However, moving out of the arc of an attack, or moving into a good shot, can give effectively an entire extra roll.
- Engine Upgrade (especially on large-base ships)
- Extra Dice – Keep in mind actions are generally better than a single extra die. Rolling more sounds nice, but a Focus action will multiply all your dice and you can choose when to use it. Focus on 3 dice is a lot more damage (on average) than 4 naked dice. But, an extra die is still better than nothing, so there are some upgrades here that are worthy:
- Stealth Device (on 3 agility with lots of token support)
- Heavy Laser Cannon (on ships that can survive to use it)
Generally, avoid cards that are more utility focused without direct benefit in actions/damage/health. Also avoid cards that are situational or have heavy drawbacks instead of providing reliable, cheap benefit throughout the match.
Ask: Does this upgrade give me extra actions,
Too Many Eggs in One Basket
Another thing about Upgrade cards is the vast majority of them are offensively-based. It’s very common to see beginner ships loaded to the gills with offense, that defensively are identical to a naked ship.
The problem is your opponent can just focus your expensive guy. Having a 40-point ship that can be killed as easily as a 20-point ship is a bad way to start when you both trade damage. The best builds make sure their expensive ships have a similar level of toughness to go with their increased points cost. This is part of the reason B-Wing and Z-95 named pilots are almost never used.
Ask: Will this expensive ship I’m building be able to live up to its cost in a real match?
Despite repeated attempts to balance missiles, torpedoes, bombs, and the like, they’re still really lackluster. Just about the only solid use is Proton Rockets on Jake Farrell. There’s a lot of reasons for this, but suffice to say 3-5 points for 1-2 extra dice, once, isn’t generally worth it. There are some powerful bomb effects, but setting them up and getting them to land just right is usually just too punishing.
Worst, all ordnance falls under the, “Too Many Eggs in One Basket” category – your opponent can always just blow up loaded ordnance ships.
Ask: Am I using ordnance? Do I know what the heck I’m doing?
Efficiency vs. Gimmicks
At the end of the day, what wins matches is red dice and effective health. Ultimately, the cards that give you the most of these for the least points, are the better cards to use. This is the main reason the T-65 X-Wing sees almost no use: for just 1 point, you can have 3 extra health in the B-Wing. The extra green die and dial simply don’t compare to 3 health.
Another example: On the Lambda Shuttle you can add Jendon + ST-321 title, letting you lock onto any ship on the field and pass it to another ship. This sounds extremely versatile, but it’s not actually getting you any extra efficiency: you don’t even gain an action, you’re just moving it from one ship to another – for 8 points! Compare this to something like Push the Limit: for 3 points (on the right ship) you’re getting a whole extra action every round.
A common beginner mistake is to use an upgrade or pilot because of the theme of the effect, without questioning its relative value. They see two cards that synergize, and immediately throw them onto a ship thinking it’s a viable strategy. But most cards are stinkers. Again it’s much better to stick to Proven builds until you really know what you’re doing.
A common symptom of this is the beginner writing large blocks of text about what a list is supposed to be doing. This is a player that has latched onto an idea and is following the rabbit hole, but isn’t stepping back and looking at whether it’s good or not. (Or simply doesn’t have enough experience to see how the list would play out vs. a competitive one.) To be fair, some interactions are complicated and require explaining (like how Super Dash or Fat Han work), but even in those cases the benefit should be clear: “I am getting 3 actions every turn.” “I automatically mitigate 2 damage every turn.”
Ask: Do I have to jump through hoops just to explain what my list is doing? If I stand back and look at the end result, is there real benefit compared to the points cost?