There have been a few MTG articles that, at the time I read them in the early 2000s, really made me sit back and reflect on how I played the game. Not like mechanics of playing magic itself, but rather the idea of making decisions within any game.
“Who’s the beatdown” is one of those, and we have addressed it loosely on the podcast before because it has become so ubiquitous in competitive gaming. I could simply link to the relevant articles (which are linked at the bottom), but I’m not sure that’s enough: first, most of these articles are heavily steeped in their own gaming vernacular, making it hard to follow in some cases if you don’t play those games; and second, as most of the articles are referencing card games, some aspects simply do not apply.
To that end, I thought it was useful to reflect on the concept for X-Wing and write out my thoughts. Really, this was for me and my team, but as usual, there’s no reason to hold onto it, so hopefully, you, reader, may find some use for this as well (even if it’s to tell me how wrong I am).
This write-up will focus on defining the win conditions of competitive X-Wing, and understanding those wind conditions from List Building, Turn 0 through to mid-game.
Wincons (really, ‘Wincon”, singular) in X-wing
So, what are the win conditions in x-wing? Most people immediately think it is “destroy my opponent’s ships before I lose all of mine.” Technically not wrong, but that is very simplistic; and really, a bit too simplistic.
The more realistic, and more importantly, the more driving win condition is to win on points. This may cause some to reflexively flinch at the prospect, but hear me out: this does not mean “score half points on a single ship and turtle”. It is a recognition that many games are actually decided before time ends because the game state is reduced to a point that neither opponent can, realistically totally annihilate the other. Further, this means in every game, there is a push-and-pull from each player trying to exert pressure towards their desired endgame.
Both players are attempting to push the game to their desired endgame, which is not inherently the same as trying to win 200-x. Some endgames devolve to a scenario where one player has functionally removed the ability of the other player to kill their remaining ship(s), and if ahead on points, the game is effectively over.
So, given this… what do? What does this mean for you, the player? This means all of your decisions, from list building, to turn zero, to mid-game decisions, should be focused on pushing this prospect, with the desired endgame in mind: that you have more points than your opponent at the end of the game.
List building (What is your endgame?)
I am not here to tell you if your squad is good or not. Honestly, I don’t care (Do what you want, man). However, I would like to stress that when you list build, you should bear in mind what you think your win conditions are. Another way to try and visualize your win condition is to ask a different question: “What does my preferred endgame look like? What does my typical endgame look like?” and most importantly “Are my typical endgames close to my desired ones? If not, why? Is my list design wrong? Are my choices mid-game not aligned with my goals?”
So, how do you do this? Think about what you’re trying to achieve with your list: Is it an alpha list, noted by either bringing multiple heavy ordinance strikes or relatively high initiative (swarm tactics counts!). Is your list a high ship count list (usually you need to trade initiative for ship count)? Is your list a heavy ace list?
Each of these choices influences how the list will play on the board, which, necessarily, is influenced by their win condition.
For example, a TIE swarm is trying to remove ships from the board, particularly creating scenarios where the swarm trades 1-2 TIEs for key assets of the opponent’s list (‘trade up’). This means as the game progresses, if they are successfully implementing their win condition, the TIE swarm should be trading it’s relatively cheap ships for an opponent’s almost-always more expensive ships. The swarm also has the ability to block an opponent’s ships, reducing their action count, where actions are usually more important for expensive ships than cheaper ones.
Contrast this to a multiple/heavy ace list (resistance makes for a good example here: envision a Poe/Lulo/Nien Nunb list): the aces are usually more expensive, which typically means you will have fewer ships. This then further pressures the player to contemplate the question “now that I have fewer ships, they need to both do more work during the game AND not die as quickly… so, how many upgrades do I bring? How big of a bid do I need to maintain?”
So, what are the win conditions? Both are clearly trying to win, and they are both more likely to win via points than total annihilation. However, both lists will inherently approach this goal very differently, with each jockeying to impose their will on their opponent.
The TIE swarm is trying to jockey for position on the board, corral the aces into a position that it can eliminate their superior maneuverability and have many arcs on a single ship, and given the cost of the resistance aces, would be willing to make trades for those pieces. The heavy ace list is very explicitly not trying to make trades, and when it does, it wants (and needs) to be a very heavy trade (because, points). So, the ace list may have to regularly avoid engagements, disengage often, and harry the opponent’s ships. This means the mid-to-end game may still have higher ship count because the ace list may only have been able to get half-points on one or a few of the opponent’s ships, rather than “seal the deal” and take a risk of losing their own expensive/precious aces.
Thus, the TIE swarm either wants to remove the scariest pieces from its opponent’s list early, as the TIE swarm gets noticeably worse as it loses its higher number of shots and synergistic pieces when its ship count goes down; or have enough bodies left at the endgame that it still out-points their scariest piece (in this example, Poe). Conversely, the resistance list’s most realistically desirable scenario is an endgame of a healthy Poe versus only a few remaining (possibly damaged) TIEs. Poe is more maneuverable, has two actions per turn (post-maneuver repositions or one or two dice modifications. Both players will be jockeying for position to push their own lists’ desired endgame.
Who’s the Beatdown? (Turn Zero)
“In every matchup, there is a beatdown player and a control player. Actions can be taken to change one’s role in a situation…
The control player should always scout so as to be sure of what the beatdown player is doing, so as to have the correct response when the beatdown player eventually moves out. Harassment is very synergistic with this role; delaying the push is always good when you have the better economy. The key word for the control player is inevitability.
The beatdown player has the burden of action… It’s fine to be the beatdown,but just remember that the longer you are the beatdown, the worse your chances become. The key word for the beatdown player is quick action.” – Who’s the Beatdown: Starcraft 2
So, this far in and we haven’t even talked about what it means to be the “beatdown” in a game. The beatdown player is the player that, unless they execute their strategy, or at least make their opponent react to their strategy, will probably lose as the game goes on.
This can be thought of in reverse as the control’s idea of “inevitability” – that as the game goes on in the same state, one player is increasingly likely to win. Think of an American football game: if the score is 21-0, the team with 21 points has inevitability on their side: the other team must change the game, or they lose.
The TIE swarm player is more limited in its maneuvers, as it gains a lot of synergy by maintaining formation (technically, at range 1 of TIE pilots that give benefits to friends). Thus, the TIE swarm uses it’s rather large ‘block’ of arcs to create a ‘no-go’ zone, where if it catches an opponent’s ship there, it will likely kill it (or at least, heavily damage it). While the TIE swarm will try to keep it’s options open, at some points, it must commit; thus, it prefers to capitalize on predictable enemy movements, or (aligning to its endgame strategy), ‘bullies’ an opponent’s movements with its massive block arc, hopefully corralling enemy ships into predictable positions.
The resistance ace list, in contrast, is generally relying on seeing the opponent commit in some fashion and avoiding the commitment while scoring points (even if simply half-points). The ace list can trade… but they have to be very good trades, which is harder to engineer on the table.
So, at the beginning of every game, you should ask yourself: who’s the beatdown on turn zero? Rephrased: What is my opponent’s desired endgame, and how do they drive to that end state, and how does that compare to my own (you should already know your own at this point). How do I disrupt their plan? How do I impose my own?
Caveat 1: Final Salvo
For the purposes of this discussion, we are limiting the concept of final salvo to its effects on turn zero/list strategy.
Take the above examples of a TIE swarm versus resistance aces. The TIE swarm starts with more red dice in its list than the aces. So, technically, if nothing happens, the TIE swarm has the inevitability on its side.
But realistically, both players came to play, and even if they didn’t, it may not be realistically feasible for the TIE Swarm to consistently not-engage the resistance aces and runs the risk that it can be outflanked/out-positioned mid-to-late game, and the aces win even if the only damage is 2 hull to a single TIE fighter. That means it’s on the TIE swarm to go out and create advantageous engagements. Thus, despite the early appearance of inevitability, the control list is still functionally the aces list (with a small burden of execution).
So, what happens? Both players should be cognizant of their win conditions, and who currently holds the inevitability of the game (turn zero: TIE Swarm). The TIE swarm player should try and use this to their advantage, knowing the aces list does need to engage, potentially earlier than it would like. The TIE swarm player can give away their inevitability by over-committing, allowing the aces player an opportunity to snag half-points (and steal the inevitability back). If this occurs, the TIE swarm player has now become the beatdown… except now, it may require a MUCH larger burden of execution for the swarm to re-exert inevitability/control.
Caveat 2: Bad Matchups
It is possible that, in some cases, one list enters as both the control AND beatdown list. Or, conversely, one list cannot be either due to some situation. In this case, we typically think of this as a “bad matchup”
This is how I would define a truly “bad” matchup. I don’t have any tips here – you’re literally relying on your opponent to misunderstand their list or make rather massive mistakes. Fortunately, with the advent of 2.0, it appears that truly bad matchups appear to occur far less frequently than in 1.0.
That said, if you find you have many “bad” matchups, this may actually be a sign that either 1) you actually built your list wrong (it doesn’t support the endgame you want, or that even it wants), or 2) you are not correctly playing to your endgame. This is a time to sit back and reflect on what it is you’re trying to do, and how are you getting there (it’s not your dice).
More on Inevitability (Mid-Game)
“Each individual decision you make during the game is, in effect, a decision you are making under a certain situation. Sometimes they are easy (it’s my first turn…), but sometimes they are more difficult… In other words, if you are never able to dictate the terms under which the game is played, you won’t win.” – Revisiting Who’s the Beatdown, by Chingsung Chang
I think we’ve all felt inevitability in a game before, probably from both sides: There are games where we know we’re just behind, but it doesn’t feel “over” yet – you need that big turn! But… your opponent knows you need that big turn. This is how inevitability “feels”.
So, what is Inevitability? Simply put, the longer the game continues as-is, the more it favors one list over the other. This could be due to one list possessing superior firepower, superior damage mitigation, and/or superior maneuverability (or any combination of the three). The ‘strength’ of that inevitability can be weak, or ‘fuzzy’ depending on the matchup or game state or could be quite strong (ex: reloading bombs means the opponent’s list can never run out, versus trying to bait out a Firespray’s 2 charges of proton bombs).
Throughout the game, inevitability may change hands many times… or none. At turn zero, one player will always possess inevitability by the structure of how in-game ties work: final salvo. However, that assumes no one ever engages, so let’s move to the next step in that valuation.
Examples of ships or upgrades that introduce/magnify inevitability:
- R2-D2 crew on Han (favoring an endgame vs low ship count)
- Countdown (pilot ability against limited shots)
- Supernatural Reflexes Kylo (against low ship count, at any time in the game)
Identifying these features will help you assess your opponent’s desired endgame, and what strategies they are looking to employ throughout the mid-game.
Roles are Fluid
“Missassignment of role = game loss. No exceptions.”– Who’s the Beatdown: Starcraft 2
It is worth noting that which list is the Beatdown and which is the control may change often throughout a match. This is a result primarily due to half-points on all ships, but also simply due to turn-by-turn changes in game state (current positions of ships, available maneuvers for those ships next turn, the positions for the turn after that, let alone the variance in attacks and possible negative effects/Crits). One key part of the mid-game is identifying who currently has inevitability, and what is needed for it to change hands.
If you currently possess inevitability, you may likely not need to take as many risks, as by definition, if the game continues in its current state, you’re likely to win. The converse is also true: if your opponent has inevitability, you may need to consider taking additional risks to seize back control, as you have become the Beatdown, whether you like it or not.
Looking back to our TIE swarm versus resistance aces example: perhaps the TIE swarm has unfortunately caught and killed Poe early. The resistance player is now down, possibly very much so (needing somewhere between 2.5-3.5 TIEs to begin winning again). The resistance list is now losing, and has become the Beatdown, and must become more aggressive to win, even if it means exchanging more shots than the resistance player otherwise would normally. The resistance player is against the clock, so maintaining a purely dodge-and-dunk strategy will probably not be successful given how far behind they are. Further, the TIE swarm player knows this – there is no need to risk breaking up the swarm, or necessarily k-turning and losing mods, as the TIE swarm player knows the resistance player must now come to them.
Execution vs. Disruption
Another interesting [read: difficult] choice during a game is the choice between furthering your own endgame or disrupting your opponent’s endgame.
Continuing the TIE swarm versus resistance aces example… Let’s say the TIE swarm gets an early engage with all range 2 shots on Lulo (good!), but also could shoot a mixture of range 2 and range 3 [some obstructed] to Poe. The TIE swarm player must now assess their win condition and presented odds of achieving it: shooting Lulo will almost assuredly kill Lulo; shooting Poe here likely won’t kill him, and it may not even get Poe to half, but suffering some damage may make the opponent play far more conservatively with Poe. Do you take the immediate kill and further the endgame, or do you bully the Poe, in hopes of making your future turns easier?
Sadly, this answer will almost come down to a mix of game-state/board position, and personal risk tolerance, but it something each player needs to reflect upon in every match.
- When building your list, try and identify the list’s desired endgame(s), and how does each piece in the list reinforce it?
- Identify at turn 0 if you are the control or the Beatdown; if you have the initial inevitability or your opponent does.
○ If your opponent does – what’s your strategy to seize it?
■ Who has the superior firepower?
■ Superior maneuverability?
■ Does anyone have damage mitigation?
■ Use any/all of these to your advantage to seize control of the game
○ Conversely, if you have it, how do you plan to maintain it?
- All the decisions you make during the game should be pushing you toward your endgame or disrupting your opponent’s endgame.
- Failure to understand what role you are at all points during the game will lead to a loss – Don’t hope for your dice to bail you out.
- If you find you are losing a lot…
○ Check to see if your list has a coherent endgame strategy and that all the pieces are assisting in that – you may be losing at the list building stage; and
○ Reflect back to see that you are making consistent decisions towards that endgame
■ Ex: tunnel-visioning a single ship, regardless of game state
■ Taking risky maneuvers that do not assist your goals, or when you were not the Beatdown
■ Not keeping track of time left/current points totals
■ Not understanding the points breakdown of your opponent’s list
Sources/Articles that influenced this write up:
- Who is the beatdown, by Mike Flores
- 2011 Update, by Mike Flores
- Revisiting Who’s the Beatdown, by Chingsung Chang
- Who’s the Beatdown: Hearthstone
- Who’s the Beatdown: Starcraft 2
- Whos the Beatdown: Multitasking by Zvi Mowshowitz