Well, that was a hell of a weekend, wasn't it? As everyone digests just what the hell happened at the World Championships of X-Wing 2017 I wanted to chip in my two cents, with something good, something bad, and something ugly...
Tel Trevura, Autoblaster Turret on Miranda, Braylen Stramm, a HWK-290... there's a lot to like in the squads that made it to the Top 4 of Worlds this past weekend (even if that HWK was equipped with Attani Mindlink and Twin Laser Turret). Huge props to all four of those guys for making it to the sharp end of the World Championships with squads that weren't established tournament staples, in particular Nand Torf's bonkers Autoblaster Turret version of Miranda Doni when everybody KNOWS you have to put Twin Laser Turret on Miranda.
In particular, though, I want to talk about the winning list in a bit more detail.
Justin Phua (Singapore)
- Dengar (Jumpmaster 5000) - Expertise, Punishing One, K4 Security Droid, Unhinged Astromech, Plasma Torpedoes, Extra Munitions, Guidance Chips (58)
- Tel Trevura (Jumpmaster 5000) - Veteran Instincts, K4 Security Droid, Unhinged Astromech, Plasma Torpedoes, Extra Munitions, Guidance Chips (40)
Congratulations to Justin Phua on his win, and on playing a pretty much flawless Final match against Nand Torf's apparently immortal Biggs and Jess! There's a few things I want to say about this list, and the way Justin played it, so let's get started.
Dengar Wins Worlds Again??? I'm fine with that.
Jumpmasters are too good for their cost. You'll find almost nobody arguing against that statement these days. This list definitely works because of that fundamental cost-efficiency on the chassis, and I know that a lot of people in the community are extremely frustrated to see double Jumpmasters sitting on top of the pile for a second Worlds in a row (after Dengar/Manaroo won Worlds at the end of last year).
But if I can take a pause for thought for a second, I have to say that I don't actually mind this winning list at all, and it's certainly no Dengaroo. The actual plastic ships on the table may look the same but last year Nand Torfs won Worlds 2016 with a Dengar that was abusing two broken mechanics (that FFG fixed with the recent FAQ) as it had both Zuckuss and Manaroo's focus-passing as fundamental mechanics driving the list. Pairing Dengar and Manaroo may have been flavourful if you know the background of the two characters, but on the table Dengaroo was abusive and unpleasant.
Justin Phua's winning list has no such abusive mechanics, it just features Dengar getting right up in your face and giving you a mauling with pure offense, which to my mind is exactly what Dengar should be doing.
Is it probably better than it should be due to the fact they're Jumpmasters? Yes, probably, but without Deadeye, Zuckuss or Mindlink this is probably the closest we've had to a level playing field against Jumpmasters up to now.
Tel Trevura = Better Bossk
So I enjoyed a funny coincidence on Sunday. I had spent the day playing in my first proper tournament of the year, in which I lost the Final of our GNK tournament to local squadbuilding master Dan Sellen. Dan was flying Dengar/Bossk and the Dengar build he had was precisely the same as the one that Justin Phua used in Worlds (and tbh it wrecked me about as hard as it wrecked Nand Torfs, so I feel a bit better about losing to it).
When I got home from that tournament to watch the last games of Worlds and to see that same Dengar in action alongside Trevura I realised that although a lot of other internet commentators were dumbfounded by Tel Trevura's appearance I was perfectly placed to analyse why he was there.
Basically, Tel Trevura is simply Bossk 2.0, especially when that greedy Dengar build is sucking in 58pts of your list. A direct comparison between the Bossk build that Dan Sellen played against me and the Tel Trevura that Justin Phua had is really revealing.
- Bossk (YV-666)- Adaptability, K4 Security Droid, Concussion Missiles*, Guidance Chips (42)
- Tel Trevura (Jumpmaster 5000) - Veteran Instincts, K4 Security Droid, Unhinged Astromech, Plasma Torpedoes, Extra Munitions, Guidance Chips (40)
*Dan used Cluster Missiles, but for a cleaner comparison to Justin's Tel Trevura I've switched them for Concussion Missiles at the same cost.
It's certainly possible to build a version of Bossk that has a better comparison to Tel Trevura if you've got the points to really utilise those three crew slots, but that Bossk doesn't fit in alongside that superb Dengar build. If you've got close to 50pts to spend then Bossk is a decent call, but in the low 40s range Tel Trevura comfortably outperforms him for the simple reason that Tel Trevura is on a Jumpmaster and Bossk isn't.
The least popular Jumpmaster pilot is better than the best YV-666 pilot, point for point.
TBH what's most unusual is that nobody had this Tel Trevura build until now, because 40pts for a PS9 Jumpmaster with two torpedo shots seems crazy good value! I think you can expect to see this Tel Trevura build exported into other lists.
The Art of the Bump
When I watched the Final the first time I was caught up in trying to work out who was going to win and who had the advantage, as it seemed to swing back and forth over the first couple of turns of firing. Watching it back a second time I was struck by just how powerful K4 Security Droid was, and how well Justin Phua used it by strategically bumping Dengar whenever possible.
We've recently had a nerf on an upgrade that worked whether you were stressed or bumped (the /x7 title for TIE Defenders) and I think the way Justin played his list illustrates once again just how powerful it is to be able to guarantee getting action economy regardless of where you put your ship. With K4 Security Droid and Expertise on board Dengar doesn't need any actions at all because his damage output is fully modified anyway so long as he made a green maneuver (and like 70% of his dial is green). Yes, Dengar loses his focus token on defense but by bumping he actually ensured that one of Nand's ships couldn't shoot at all, which is much better defense than a focus token!
I think I'm right in saying Jess Pava only fired twice all game, and so for large chunks of the Final Justin was effectively only playing against 70pts of ships!
That huge strategic edge from good play allowed him to succeed even though the dice were favouring his opponent. When I rewatched the Final it was because of a discussion I'd had about whether Nand's dice had been particularly hot or not, so I was watching it to compare how he performed against the expected result for each roll he got to make.
It turns out that the perception was correct and that by the second round of firing Nand was approximately 6 damage points ahead of where he should be given the dice that were exchanged. Primarily that had come from Tel Trevura taking a beating in the initial round of shooting, while his ships continually performed just ahead of average in damage taken. Nand's offense dice cooled a little in later turns but you can see just how much Biggs defied the green dice odds to hang on to be the last Rebel alive!
That Justin won the Final so comfortably despite the dice being weighted against him is primarily due to his good flying.
- Bumping Jess with Dengar removed Jess as a factor in 50% of combat turns, which gave Justin the time to wear down Nand's better green dice.
- Protecting Tel Trevura ensured that the additional damage Nand got from his red dice did not get converted into an advantage on the table.
That's how you win Worlds, and isn't it nice to have a winner where we can so clearly point to how player skill overcame bad variance?
I've spent a long time talking about what was Good from Worlds and I'm going to try and stay positive by saying relatively little about what was Bad.
The Top 4 lists were fantastic. The rest of the Top-16 cut looked very unhealthy, though, with virtually wall-to-wall Attani Mindlink scum - Jumpmasters, Shadow Casters and Protectorate Fighters in various combinations, all Mindlinked.
Jumpmasters are too good, but Mindlink is too good as well. When the FAQ nerfed Zuckuss, Palpatine, TIE/x7 and Manaroo my immediate response 'that's good, but it's not enough' and after Worlds I still hold that opinion.
- Attani Mindlink needs something to pin it back, though it's not clear what that should be.
- Twin Laser Turret needs a nerf that means it can't be the sole source of damage in your squad. Right now TLT is being held down by Attani Mindlinked Jumpmasters, but if that ever changed TLT would become a problem very rapidly. I'm concerned about the TIE Aggressor being an even more potent way of playing TLT.
- Ordnance is very suppressive of smaller ships who can't withstand either a torpedo shot or set of Cluster Mines. It might just be Sabine Wren who needs a change. An argument I've read was that the agile arc-dodgers who should be able to beat super-jousters like Dengar aren't being played because they get murdered by bombs, and I think there's something to that theory.
The old way of thinking was that X-Wing had jousters, arc-dodgers and turrets, and that those three styles of play held each other in balance. But when you can't really play arc-dodgers and the best jousters also have turrets then it's hard to argue there's a great deal of diversity in the game experience.
Game balance is a difficult thing. The recent FAQ made things a lot better, but there's still work to do.
It's a good job I sped through 'The Bad' because this is going to take some time. 'Dialgate' in bullet points...
- In round 3 of Day 1B of Worlds a player (Player A) was playing a game on stream when he was seen to be changing his dial (which is cheating) to avoid bumping into his own ships. As he was playing an Attani Mindlink list and needed to focus for his team this one incidence of cheating had major repercussions through the whole game, which Player A won.
- The internet had already swung into action and word had reached the TOs at Worlds, who looked at the evidence and gave Player A a warning.
- The internet went nuts that cheating in a manner that gave you such a big advantage would only be punished with a warning. It was pointed out that other players had been banned from the game for precisely this cheat.
- The TOs released a statement that the ruling was based on the fact that Player A had not been 'maliciously' changing his dial.
- The internet exploded that changing your dial to focus your team to get target locks to win the game was not 'malicious'.
- After the game had ended and Player A had won the game, FFG reviewed their ruling and decided to punish him with a Game Loss which would be applied in the next round. The game loss that Player B had suffered when Player A had cheated would stand, while Player C would win the MOV lottery and get a 100-0 win in the next round.
- The internet went thermo-nuclear. In amongst the majority of players expressing their unhappiness with this situation a minority decided to say some embarassingly stupid and offensive things with regards to Player A that are best left unrepeated. The situation reached boiling point when it became clear that Player A had made the cut into Day Two, and that Player B had not made the cut and was very unhappy with what had happened. This casserole of unpleasantness was left to simmer on the hob overnight.
- The next morning FFG released a statement that they were talking to Player B to ensure that they could compensate him for how their handling of the original incident had affected his experience of Worlds.
- Neither Player A nor Player C won Worlds, Player B is presumably happy with his weekend, and we had a great Top 16 and a fantastic final to crown Justin Phua the winner of Worlds 2017.
A lot of things went wrong in this chain of events, so what should have happened?
- Player A shouldn't have cheated. The whole thing stops dead right at the moment where he realises he's screwed up and accepts his mistake. Winners don't use drugs.
- The TO making the original ruling probably bungled the decision to hand out a warning. I wasn't there, I'm not that TO, I don't know for sure what information he had available. But what I struggle to see is a scenario where he was presented with enough evidence to be sure that Player A had changed his dial (so the TO had to intervene and give a ruling) that wasn't also enough evidence to convince him that this wasn't an accidental change of the dial and was 'malicious'.
- There should have been no confusion about either what the penalty that Player A received was (a warning upgraded an hour later to a game loss), or what the penalty that he should receive was. If FFG's policy is that the 'standard' punishment for cheating in this way is a Game Loss then that should have been communicated, along with the ethos of why. The internet's reaction was due to a shock disconnect between what they expected to have happen and what did happen, which could have been avoided by adequate pre-communication.
- Although the review to upgrade the warning to a Game Loss occurred too late to affect the pairings for the next round there needed to be way to ensure that Player B was given his win and a fair chance of making the cut. I don't know the ins and outs of how their tournament software works, but even if it just comes down to making a paper correction at the end of the day and manually adjusting his wins/MOV would have been better - far from perfect, but better.
- The internet turned into a rabid hate mob of idiots egging each other on to worse and worse excesses. It got extremely ugly, and was probably by far the worst element of any of this. Shameful.
What went right? Well, actually quite a few things.
- FFG reviewed their original warning. Whether this was their intention all along, or came under pressure from internet outrage I don't know, but they were prepared to review it. There's a reason we have video reviews in football, and it's because instant rulings aren't always right.
- Player B was compensated for being the unwitting victim of both Player A's cheat and the inadequacies of FFG's tournament software. Hopefully Player B goes home feeling that his Worlds trip was worthwhile, even if it was tarnished somewhat by events.
- Player A made the cut to Day Two. If the ruling against Player A was a Game Loss then he is still in the tournament, and if he can take that 0-100 MOV loss and still make the cut then he deserves to make the cut. We have no evidence that he cheated to win any of his other games before or after the incident seen in stream, and I'm not prepared to make the leap to assume that he can't win a game of X-Wing fairly. If you're still in the tournament you're still in the tournament, and that includes being able to progress to Day Two.
"SO WAIT, YOU THINK A GAME LOSS WAS RIGHT?"
I think that in the absence of penalty guidelines that tell us the correct level of punishment is disqualification then we are duty bound to respect the response of the TOs. They are the ones who best understand the mission statement of FFG Organised Play and how to implement it. Personally I am leaning 70/30 in favour of a Game Loss being a sufficient punishment, and I certainly don't feel that it's an unconscionably terrible decision.
- FFG talked to us. Community relations are not a strong point for FFG but at least they recognised the PR disaster that was unfolding on the internet and tried to address it. They communicated the original ruling, and they communicated at the start of Day Two that they were dealing with the customer service issue around Player B's tournament experience.
So what should happen next?
- Player A's cheating should be reviewed to see if it is worth of a ban for a period of time. You don't ban people on the spur of the moment, that always comes after a period of reflection and review. I don't know if he will be banned or not, but it should at least be reviewed.
- All the players who indulged in the worst excesses of the internet's hate mob antics should be given a one month ban. Changing a dial to cheat at Worlds is bad but what was threatened was far worse and paints the X-Wing community in a far worse light. It's in FFG's interests to ensure that's dealt with firmly.
- FFG gets clear guidelines in place for what the penalties for various infractions are. There's no published guidelines for what penalties should be for various offences, which affects both the confidence of TOs that they're applying the correct ruling and the understanding of players as to what they can expect from their TOs. Should it be a game loss, should it be a DQ? Without published guidelines it's left at the discretion of TOs which not only makes rulings inconsistent from one event to another but it makes the TO's job that much harder by introducing their personal discretion. Tackling cheaters is tough and it takes a certain mindset and confidence for a TO to willingly create a potentially confrontational scenario by ruling against them rather than just handing out a meaningless warning then walking away. I don't know if that's what originally happened in this case, but I'm sure that exactly that scenario has played out in local tournaments many times, and if TOs aren't able to point to the procedures that they're following then you make it that much harder for them to do their jobs effectively.
- FFG TO procedures are streamlined to ensure that rulings are given in an appropriate way with the appropriate review to minimise disruption to players and the tournament. TOs need to have the confidence to give a ruling and understand the systems that are in place to minimise their exposure should they make on the spot decisions that are not perfect. I can only really speak from my experience of Magic The Gathering, where the judge making the initial ruling would probably have been dealt with it by pausing the game for an immediate review so that they could take the time to confer with other judges and come to the right decision. FFG made two rulings at different points, one too late to be properly applied as the next round was underway, while Magic would take longer over the initial ruling to be confident it was correct then stand by it.
- Player A hopefully finds a way of owning up to his actions and plays clean X-Wing in future.
- Everyone forgets about it and remembers Justin Phua's tactical excellence in the Final instead.