Good afternoon Imperial citizen, or whatever equivalent it is in your current time zone. My name is Jamie and I’m here to convert you to the only side that matters: The Dark Side. As such, I’m going to be running through The Empire’s long list of fine military vessels and the brave souls who fly them, and see how they’ve fared between the last edition of X-Wing and 2.0, and how to get the best use out of our vast toolkit on the table.
Now, most people would start with the TIE Fighter, humble backbone of the Imperial Navy. But humility is a dirty word in my book, so let’s grab the fastest, quickest, over-costed big gun The Empire has to offer, and go for a spin in a Defender.
The TIE/D Defender comes to us from the 1994 PC game Star Wars: TIE Fighter and was reintroduced into the new canon via the Rebels television show, and in both incarnations was envisioned as a jack of all trades and master of everything. Faster than an Interceptor, better armed than an X-Wing, it was designed to dominate in all theatres of war at the cost of being ludicrously expensive to make, maintain and fly. As such, they were only ever flown by the most elite of pilots, giving The Empire a new form of strategy rather than throwing wave after wave of TIE Fighters into the rebellion.
In X-Wing, the Defender has been with us since Wave 4, alongside the TIE Phantom and some other ships for them to shoot out of the skies. But while the Phantom would go on to dominate the meta of the day to the point of requiring an errata to the core game mechanics, the Defender was not as successful at the time. At 30 points for a naked Pilot Skill 1 pilot, a basic Defender was more expensive than Darth Vader with less movement and defensive options for the demanded price, and was less desirable as a blocker than 2 and a half TIE Fighters could be. And while the elite pilots of Colonel Vessery and Rexlar Brath are both fantastic, they were rather situational at best of times and very expensive for what they offered. The Defender had the potential to out-joust every other jouster in the game, but couldn’t make good on that potential.
That is, until the Imperial Veterans boxset, which brought the Defender screaming into game shops everywhere, all thanks to this little beauty:
Imperial Veterans came with two titles, the TIE/D and the TIE/x7, but it was the x7 that kicked the Defender into life, and not just because of how abusable it was on release. By performing a 3-speed or higher move, The Defender gained an Evade Token, giving it excellent action economy and the ability to pursue your opponents to the end of the galaxy. Combined with a Focus Token, it became near impossible for a single 3-dice attack to scratch the Defender’s shields, and it would still earn an Evade Token if it were stressed or blocked, ensuring that it could perform stupid manoeuvres and come away smiling. And this is on a ship with a white 4-Speed K-Turn. And you got a price cut of 2 points to boot, allowing players to bring take three of them in a single list, each armed with Crack Shot for good measure.
Glaive Squadron Pilot (34), TIE/x7 Title (-2), Crack Shot (1)
Glaive Squadron Pilot (34), TIE/x7 Title (-2), Crack Shot (1)
Glaive Squadron Pilot (34), TIE/x7 Title (-2), Crack Shot (1)
Behold, the only list that has ever won me a tournament, against people too honourable to also bring Triple Crack Shot Defenders.
The x7 title was swiftly changed to ‘fully execute a manoeuvre’ and ‘perform an Evade Action’, solving this little problem by forcing players to actually complete their manoeuvre and not be Stressed in order to earn the token, but that has done little to slow the Defender down. Fast, strong and tough, the Defender does it all and looks fantastic doing so.
Then and Now
Stats and Dials
I’ve talked about the Defender’s stats and speed, so we should probably actually look at its cards and dial. For 1.0, the Defender looks like this:
And very little has changed going into 2.0.
If anyone ever finds a reason to use that red 2 K-Turn and win a game with it, I will personally call up the Vatican and have you short-listed as a modern-day saint.
Anyway, as we can see, the Defender sports healthy numbers in all stats, and gets healthier in 2.0, earning an extra shield to bounce puny Rebel shots off of. The TIE/x7 title is now baked into the ship, allowing the Defender to keep its fantastic action economy and stay stress-free, a rarity in 2.0. That said, with the changes to the Evade Action, the Defender can no longer endure a 4-dice attack unless the shot comes from range three or is obstructed, and even then, you’re praying for symbols on every dice. Action-wise however, things are much improved. Evade may not be as great as it used to be, but we can do it whenever we please even on slow moves, and the rather predicable dial gains new movement options thanks to the ability to Boost alongside Barrel Roll.
On that subject, the dial. As I said, Defenders are quite predictable due to wanting to move fast, get in and then flip around, jousting enemies to death. As such, you’ll be using the 3-Speed and higher moves the most, which will cover every situation other then the tightest of turns. The white 4 K-Turn is iconic at this point, and for good reason: not only does it allow you to turn on a dime and come back into the fight while other fighters earn a stress token for the privilege, it gives you a level of hit and run that, while predictable, can flip over and over and over again, keeping targets in arc and hammer them with firepower. TIE Engine Mark 2 is no more, but we keep a smidgen of it in the form of blue 1-banks, ensuring that we get to relieve stress in a form other than a straight line. This is also your best option to fake-out you’re an opponent expecting you to scream past performing another K-Turn. Dodge their arcs by going slow and take a target lock to light them up, or dance away with a Boost or Barrel Roll. You don’t need to stack tokens if they can’t see you in the first place.
I cannot stress this enough: the Sensor Upgrade slot is a god-send. Modification was nice, but we’ve got Engine Upgrade, Shield Upgrade and part of Mk 2 Engine built-in now, which is everything you would ever put on an old Defender anyway. So what does Sensor Upgrade bring, and why am I so excited? Two words: Advanced Sensors.
You know that thing I said, about wanting to move fast and gain that free Evade? About how you can K-Turn over and over until the end of time? Your opponent knows this, and the best way to stop you from using your expensive toy is to block it, robbing you of both actions and leaving you with only three defence dice and the whims of Palpatine to keep you safe. So, take the option that ensures that you will never get blocked again by anything short of a full TIE Fighter swarm. By boosting or barrel-rolling beforehand, you now have nine finishing places for your K-Turn to end out, or to alter your regular movement and really keep your opponent guessing where you’ll end up. You won’t be able to earn your free Evade as a result, but if you were going to get blocked in the first place then you weren’t earning it anyway, so there is no downside at all. It’s an extra 8 points on top of a 72 point minimum ship, but in my opinion is worth every penny to remove the Defender’s key weakness.
In other, less interesting upgrades, you can take Fire-Control System if you’re on a budget (why are you flying a Defender if you’re on a budget?) to gain a reroll if you’re focusing instead of locking onto opponents regularly, and there’s a Cannon and Missile Upgrade slot to fill.
In terms of cannons, I’d only really recommend the Heavy Laser Cannon as The Empire has better options for ships to control the battlefield. But even then, you’re adding more effort and cost for the sake of one dice, which may lead to you using your action to keep the opponent in the Bullseye Arc rather than gaining dice modifications to improve the shot you spent points on.
Missile Upgrades need to be tuned for what you think you’ll be up against. Take Cluster Missiles for Swarms, Proton Rockets for a really big kick to get a ship to half-points early or wipe one off the table. These are more expensive options than the cannons but you’ll likely use them more often. That said, I prefer the primary attack any day of the week.
While the Cannon Slot is a bit of a dud and Missiles are situational, Talent Upgrades are going to help you squeeze every point out of the Defender. I’ll go deeper into them during list building in my next article, but for now, use Juke as your baseline upgrade, as it synergises well with your natural abilities and general game plan.
Here’s the rub: Defenders are expensive now. It is perfectly possible (and fun) to build a two-ship list with them in 2.0, and a single pilot enhancing other lists is going to eat up at least a third of your points. Your basic PS1 Delta Squadron pilot comes in at 72 points, or 36% of your list, with all named pilots taking up at least a cool eighty-something. I consider Advanced Sensors to be mandatory, so now we’re looking at 80 to 96 points just to get started. For comparison, my beloved Soontir Fel comes in at 52 points, or 26% of a list, and he’s an Initiative 6 pilot. So, who are these champions of the Empire, and why are they so expensive? Let’s take a look.
Your cheapest option at 72 points and Initiative 1. A very expensive blocker with Boost and Barrel Roll, or 3-dice late engagement shot after you’ve robbed the opponent of tokens. You can take two of these and Soontir Fel in a list if you hate upgrades and want to live dangerously. Otherwise, reach into your pocket and start spending, these things cost 300,000 credits to build, get your money’s worth.
Onyx Squadron are basically the old Glaive Squadron Pilots in all but name. Jumping up to 78 points and Initiative 4, you also get a Talent Upgrade Slot. Again, I consider Juke to be your first port of call, maybe Outmaneuvre if you can trick your opponent into going after a higher-priority target while this boy hammers them from the flank or rear.
FFG heard my prayers and paid them out triple. Rexlar had very limited use in 1.0 even after the x7 title came out, his fantastic ability and Pilot Skill 8 being overlooked in favour of cheaper, less situational options. You often had to weigh up whether it was worthwhile to flip a single damage card or save your Focus for defence, and that was if you hadn’t spent the Focus on attack to begin with. Changing his ability to using the Evade Token ensures that you’ll use it more than once per game, especially if you’ve armed him with Juke. All at once, your Evade Token has three uses: you gain defence, take defence results away from the enemy, and then flip over the damage card you just dealt them after taking away their defence using his Pilot Ability. And he’s Initiative 5, so you’re going to be shooting before most targets in your sights. And he’s only 84 points compared to the other named pilots? In my opinion, a must-take if you’re looking for sheer damage and crippling your opponents.
Once the Countess of Action Economy, Ryad’s been altered a little in 2.0. Push the Limit no longer exists and Defenders have no linked actions, so no more Evade – Focus – Target Lock, take a Stress and perform a green K-Turn next turn to lose it anymore. Now her ability increases the difficulty of the straight move you’re turning into a K-Turn, but there’s also less Stress being passed around, so less reasons to use a blue K-Turn. Going from Pilot Skill 5 to Initiative 4 helps her out tremendously, allowing her to move after and attack before more targets than she could in 1.0. Now that she’s got Boost, Daredevil allows for some truly crazy movement. 5 Speed K-Turn into a 1 Speed Turn right behind the opponent, or use Advanced Sensors to perform a Red 1 Speed Turn, then lose the Stress with a Straight manoeuvre or 1 Bank afterwards. 86 points for a waltz with the lady with all the best dance moves.
You’ve probably seen this guy around a lot in the closing days of 1.0, normally hanging out with Quickdraw or Countess Ryad. And while Quickdraw isn’t rubbing shoulders with The Empire these days, Vessery is here to stay, albeit at a cost. Like with Rexlar and many others, Vessery has been priced according to his Pilot Ability, not his Initiative, coming in at 88 points naked. The reason for this is simple: Vessery hasn’t changed a great deal from 1.0, and remains one of a few pilots that can earn the triple threat of Target Lock, Focus Token and Evade Token each and every turn. If another member of your squadron has a lock on an opponent when Vessery shoots at them, he gains a lock for free, which he can use on that attack straight away, or save for later use. This give him some of the most consistent primary attacks in 2.0 as of this article, and that’s before you give him missiles to really rub it in. Initiative 4 doesn’t hurt him much either, allowing him to hang with Darth Vader and piggy-back off the benefits of the Advanced Targeting Computer, or lead a squadron of bombers and strip tokens off whichever target they’ll be shooting their munitions at afterwards. Take Juke or Crack Shot to capitalise on your consistent damage, or Proton Rockets for 5 rerolling dice backed with a Focus, enough to kill anything that moves. The most expensive, but the best all-rounder out of the named pilots.
We’ve lost Maarek in the shuffle to 2.0, which is quite sad because his ability to pick and choose your Critical result, while less game changing with the new damage deck, is still quite powerful and hilarious. I imagine that FFG didn’t want two Initiative 5 Defenders running around a board, untouchable gods delivering judgement upon all the poor souls that end up in their firing arcs. Or, more likely, wanting to keep unique pilots unique to their ships. Still, you can run him in his TIE Advanced alongside Rexlar Brath and ‘Duchess’ in her TIE Striker for a terrible trio of aces.
So, that’s the TIE Defenders all lined up and displayed for you good people, and hopefully I actually got half my information correct. But while I’ve thrown out ideas left right and centre, they need to be put into practise. Next time on The Imperial Dossier we’ll be doing some list building, and asking the question: TIE Defenders are strong, but are they two ship list strong?
Until next time, stay out of enemy arcs and remember: Alderaan Shot First