Flight Academy: Gaming the Metagame
Guest Writer Chris Brown Helps You Prepare for the X-Wing™ System Open
At ease, cadets!
At this point, you've learned the basics of X-Wing™. You've learned how to maneuver your ships, line up your shots, and blast your opponents to bits. The truth is that you've come a long way since you first sat in the cockpit. It's only normal to feel that you're ready for action. Time to move away from the simulators and fly into battle for real. Time to taste the fear, adrenaline, and the rush of excitement that come with combat. Time to make a difference.
Well, there's good news for you. The 2018 X-Wing™ System Open Series is now in full swing. We saw the first shots fired at PAX Unplugged in November 2017, where Andrew Bunn took the title with his Scum list of Asajj Ventress , Fenn Rau , and a Contracted Scout . We saw Joel Killingsworh claim victory at PAX South with his Imperials. And there's plenty more action to come. We're already hearing reports of the squadrons preparing for Glendale and Copenhagen.
Still, we don't want to send you to battle with untempered expectations. The squadrons you'll face at the System Open are likely to be flown by highly skilled pilots. They'll bring all their own tricks and tactics, and we want you to be ready. That's why we're sending you through this "Flight Academy" crash course. Each Flight Academy article for X-Wing explores an element of the game's Organized Play, and in today's article, guest writer Chris Brown invites you to think more carefully about the X-Wing metagame.
Chris Brown on the X-Wing Metagame
At the 2016 Ohio Regionals, when Contracted Scouts could still use torpedoes and Deadeye , I flew triple JumpMasters. In the weeks before the event, I switched one of the three from its identity as a pure torpedo boat to a “BumpMaster” with Intelligence Agent and Feedback Array . Emperor Palpatine was still a huge part of the game, and I expected to run into a fair number of high-pilot skill Imperial aces through the event. I figured changing my list in this way would give me a greater advantage when I faced those lists.
This kind of thinking is well worth considering as you prepare for your own X-Wing System Open, because these are the sorts of choices we face before every event. There’s more to being competitive at X-Wing than simply flying better than your opponent. Often, we may feel the game is won or lost the very moment we sit down at the table and realize whether we have a good or bad matchup. As a result, we try to predict the lists we’ll encounter, and this guessing game is what we call the metagame.
More commonly referred to as the “meta,” the metagame is all the information we consider outside the limits of the game itself. And this information has a significant impact on the lists that people choose to play. Notably, the metagame is all about the perception of what lists are good or common and what styles of lists people will expect to find. Even the level of competition becomes a factor. And it all comes together to create a single meta for a single event.
Every Group Has Its Own Meta
Your meta is defined by the group you plan on playing against. At a local event, the meta has a much more personal touch. It may be defined by the limitations on the ships or the factions that players own. A player’s personal playstyle can also become significant metagame information at the local level, as a player who is better with turrets is not likely to show up to an event with Imperial arc dodgers. When you know the other players at an event, you can guess the different game mechanics they might include in their lists, the number of ships they might bring, or the factions they will play.
At any given local event for myself, I know two players will fly Scum, one who will fly Imperials, and a couple who will pull something interesting or buzzworthy from the national meta. The rest tend to fly squads designed to fit their particular styles. For a long time, I also knew there would be a pretty good chance that I would face a list with Attanni Mindlink and at least one JumpMaster. Accordingly, any list I picked had to have a chance against that squad.
My local meta likely differs from yours. It's important to take the time to observe how other players in your area gravitate toward certain lists. Last year, we had a special event that played very well toward lists with Advanced Cloaking Device . Knowing my local meta, I was able to create a list that included Rebel Captive to counter and shut down the cloaking actions granted by Advanced Cloaking Device. I ended up facing three lists in a row with Advanced Cloaking Device and won the event.
As events get larger and pull from different locations, however, the meta changes. It’s much more difficult to discover the tendencies of players from larger or less familiar regions. Data from past events is frequently reported online in forums or data collection sites. Such data can help us discover which lists are common or performing well in a given city, state, country, or even continent. At this level, though, you can’t just bring a list that counters a specific card or list. Your list must be well rounded to handle anything you might encounter. The higher the level of the event, the more the meta is likely to be defined by what players perceive as the best list in the game at the time. When you go to a Regional or National Championship, this type of information is likely going to be the most telling of what meta you’ll find.
The Evolution of the X-Wing Meta
Worldwide, the X-Wing meta has shifted many times over the years.
The biggest changes occur when new products are released. New ships, new pilots, and new upgrades find their places in powerful lists, and new lists displace older ones. TIE swarms had a long reign until TIE phantoms and durable Millennium Falcon builds became popular. Then dual IG-88, Crack Shot swarms, Twin Laser Turrets , Imperial aces, and JumpMasters each took turns at the head of the pack. When new content comes out, the meta shifts relatively slowly, and you can predict it by following the community’s conversations. A good indicator of likely changes is to take lists and pilots that are already strong and see what new releases have positive effects on them. It used to be that when anything came out for the Rebels, I asked myself, “Will this make Biggs better?”
Less often, the meta changes with rules changes or tournament format changes. Changes to pairings, the introduction of margin of victory, and the decision to award half points for half-dead large ships have all had a significant impact on how people played the metagame. Card errata and rule changes can have a much quicker impact on the meta. Certain cards or even whole lists may topple suddenly from the top tiers of competitive play. When Manaroo and Zuckuss were changed, the Dengar and Manaroo build that won Worlds 2016 was shattered. The best way to determine what lists might emerge in their place is to go back in time and see what lists were being pushed out of the meta by the cards that were changed.
No matter why the meta changes, the players who can adapt the fastest will have huge advantages going into their events. When a stable meta is turned upside down, players really have a chance to show their creativity.
Putting Your Meta Knowledge to Good Use
Once you learn how to look at your meta, you have to make a decision on how you use the information you gain. Will you fly the top meta list? It may be the best list available and flying it—or something similar to it—could be beneficial, but you could be putting yourself at risk of encountering other players who planned to face and counter it.
You could decide to be one of those players trying to counter the meta. If you find a list that matches well against everything you expect to face, you could enter the tournament with a great advantage. The risk with countering the meta is that you may not encounter those meta lists at all, and if your list is not balanced to handle a variety of opponents, you may end up with some bad matchups. At that Ohio Regionals I mentioned, I didn’t face a single high pilot skill Imperial ace the whole day. Switching my JumpMaster from torpedoes to blocker made my day difficult, and I would have been better off sticking to the torpedoes.
Some players choose to ignore the meta and fly whatever they feel like flying. Choose a list that fits your playstyle more than what the meta decides is a good list. A good list that is outside of your comfort zone is often more difficult to win with than a lesser list that you know and plays to your strengths. What's more, these “wild card” lists can often catch your opponents by surprise.
The answer to being successful in X-Wing often entails more than simply flying better. You need to define what you think the meta will be and choose what squad will give you the best chance to get good results. With practice, you can use this information to gain a leg up on the competition.
Chris Brown is an experienced X-Wing judge and event organizer who has spent a great deal of time helping newer players find their way into the community. He is also the creator of Cryodex and a frequent speaker on X-Wing podcasts.