30 March 2018 | X-Wing

Dark Days for the Galaxy

The First Order Conquers All at the Birmingham X-Wing™ System Open

"All remaining systems will bow to the First Order!"
     –General Hux, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The weekend of March 23rd to March 25th was a big one for the X-Wing  System Open Series!

In Schaumburg, Illinois, AdeptiCon 2018 played host to a sold-out crowd of 294 aspiring squadron leaders. The space battles were fast and furious, and after countless engagements, the field narrowed down to a Top 8 dominated by the Rebel Alliance, who were represented by no fewer than six of the eight final squadrons. Ace pilot Miranda Doni proved particularly impactful as she led her squadrons to two of the Top 4 positions, and both those squadrons qualified for the championship—a mirror match won by William Haigwood.

And while US players everywhere were talking about the Rebellion's dominance at this event and other recent events, the First Order was hard at work in the UK. Almost as if they were actively working to disprove the conclusions the US players were making about the state of the metagame, the record 500 participants in the UK System Open in Birmingham—the single largest X-Wing tournament to-date—were battling toward a Top 8 that included no fewer than four Imperial lists. Even more surprising, only three of the Top 8 squadrons featured turrets of any sort.

The Birmingham Metagame

Spend enough time playing X-Wing, and you'll inevitably recognize the existence of certain differences between the US and European metagames. It's easier to recognize that the metagame changes than it is to explain why it changes, but the difference, itself, is important.

This difference is important important because it seems to say something about the top players on either side of the Atlantic. After all, we see the same lists in the biggest events in the US and Europe, but we see them fare differently, largely because of the players who choose to fly them. And the difference is important because it sets up a clash of not only squadrons—but competing playstyles—as we approach the space battles of the 2018 May World Championships.

With a record 500 players, the Birmingham System Open was arguably the best example of the larger European meta, and it provides an interesting counterpoint to the squadrons we saw in Schaumburg, Illinois. In Birmingham, there were no shortage of squadrons that featured Miranda Doni, Auzituck gunships, Sheathipede-class shuttles, or the Ghost. In fact, these ships were heavily represented in even the Top 16, but they ended up mostly near the bottom of the Top 16. The exception was the Auzituck pilot Lowhhrick , whom Thomas Forstner flew all the way to the final match, pairing the Wookiee alongside Rey .

The squadron that Thomas flew was identical to that flown by Gordon Pinkerton at the recent System Open in Portland, Oregon, but this time Rey and Lowhhrick finished just short—shot down by the dark side user Kylo Ren and his ace wingmate, "Quickdraw."

In fact, at the tournament's end, it was this First Order ace, "Quickdraw," who looked like the pilot to beat at the 2018 May World Championships. "Quickdraw" factored into all four of the Imperial squadrons that made Top 8, even while her wingmates changed from squad to squad.

Just in the Top 8, we found "Quickdraw" paired up with Darth Vader , The Inquisitor , Rear Admiral Chiraneau , and Captain Yorr in various squadrons. Plus, we saw Martyn Chivers fly "Quickdraw" all the way to the championship, accompanied by Kylo Ren and the TIE/fo pilot "Epsilon Ace."

Arguably the most surprising pilot to feature anywhere in the Top 16, "Epsilon Ace" proved a brilliant inclusion in Martyn's list. So long as the ace doesn't have any damage cards, he is treated as having a pilot skill value of "12." This means that if Martyn's opponents didn't go after "Epsilon Ace," Martyn gained an incredibly cheap, 12-pilot-skill ace—to maneuver into close quarters and shoot first at Range 1. And if Martyn's opponents did go after "Epsilon Ace," that meant they squandered at least one attack they could have tried to focus against Kylo Ren or "Quickdraw."

Does this mean that we'll see "Epsilon Ace" start to show up in other top-level events? Will we see the fighter pilot making appearances on both sides of the Atlantic? Will we see "Epsilon Ace" at the upcoming May World Championships? It's hard to say, especially as one event does not make a trend.

However, it is clear that the results from this weekend should weigh heavily on the minds of squadron leaders in both the US and Europe. After all, not only did we see "Epsilon Ace" in a winning squadron at the world's largest X-Wing tournament to-date, but we saw Twiggy Tom Williams go undefeated through the Swiss rounds with Asajj Ventress , Ketsu Onyo , and an impressive 1122 margin of victory. We saw Jesper Hills fly into the Top 4 with IG-88B and IG-88C , forsaking Heavy Laser Cannons and "Mangler" Cannons in favor of Ion Cannons and Tractor Beams . And we saw the Birmingham meta shift noticeably away from the AdeptiCon meta of bombs and turrets—in favor of missiles and the Special Forces TIE.

Event organizer Alex Watkins (left) with 2018 Birmingham System Open Champion Martyn Chivers (right).

Which Squadrons Will Prove the Stronger?

We have two more X-Wing System Open tournaments before the X-Wing World Championships in May. This next event is in Hannover, Germany. Following that will be the System Open in Bologna, Italy, and we'll be watching both with interest.

Will we see the player base steer toward the squadrons that excelled in Birmingham, or will they look more like the lists we saw in Schaumburg? Or will we see something entirely different rise to the fore? The community has not—to this point—spent much time considering Rey's place in the current metagame, but we have now seen Rey fly to the finals of two recent System Open tournaments, the second of which just happened to be the largest X-Wing event in history. Certainly, we'll see more players going back to Rey for second glances, and we might see some other lists designed to play against the prevailing wisdom.

Round 1 of the Birmingham System Open

Then, in May, we'll get to see how all of this comes together at the 2018 May World Championships. We'll see the top of the US meta thrust into battle against the top of the European meta—and we'll see reigning World Champion Justin Phua fly to battle, representing the larger Singapore player community and meta.

We can't say which squadrons will prove strongest at the May World Championships. Nor can we predict whether the eventual World Champion will hail from Asia, Europe, North America, or elsewhere. However, given what we've seen of these recent events, we can expect a lot of Rebels, a lot of Imperials, and a weekend of great battles that reinforce the importance of player skill.

Fly to Battle

The X-Wing System Open Series is still ongoing, and you can check our System Open website for more information about upcoming events. In the meantime, if you're not headed to the 2018 May World Championships, be sure to follow all the X-Wing World Championship action on our livestream—Twitch.TV/FFGLive!

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