Are you meta?

So last week’s blog (plus a Facebook interaction with the marvellous Mr Ian Franklin) has got me thinking. What is happening with the meta?

Or rather, what is FFG’s goal in terms of it?

Before I begin I will reiterate that I am not an expert. I do very little competitive X-Wing compared to many other people and so I guess, from a certain point of view, I’m pretty under qualified to write about this. However, it’s been on my mind and I’m perfectly entitled to an opinion and to open a discussion in order to gain perspective from other people. It’s how we grow, right?

Also, please don’t expect an in depth analysis of ship or faction trends over the last few months. There are people who do that (I saw this one here recently) and do it well. Consider this more of a brain vomit onto my keyboard.

Ok, disclaimer out of the way. Let’s go!

What is ‘meta’?

Let’s start from the very beginning. What is ‘meta’?

There’s a short explanation of it in the jargon buster page but at it’s core it is a term used to describe what is popular/good. Whether that’s your local store, your country or worldwide there is a general pattern to what ships or list archetypes are being used most commonly.

When I first heard the term I googled it and (amongst lots of results relating to internet terminology) I found that in terms of gaming the phase ‘meta’ being described as ‘the game within the game’. That figuring out what is good (or bad) is like a sub-game of the game. That finding a combination of ships/pilots/upgrades is as much the game as getting the ships onto the table and moving them around for 75 minutes. Of course this applies to many games. My youngest son plays Pokemon and the make up of popular/powerful decks changes regularly. As something rises, something else appears as a direct counter to it, new sets are released with new cards and new abilities and so on.

So whether you’re looking at the top international competitions or at the group of mates you play against at your local store there will be a pattern to what lists are played which generally stems from what pilots/upgrades are the best value.

‘What’ is meta?

Ok, same question, different emphasis.

What is meta? What is strong right now? Well, that’s an interesting question.

I’m going to prefix this answer with the date – 10th of September 2019. In around 4/5 months the answer will likely be very different. Or maybe not? Who knows really!

The question is interesting because it depends on where you are or what your point of reference is.

Globally the Galactic Republic is strong. Jedi are proving to be good value and therefore doing well in tournaments. The Empire has been consistently good throughout 2.0 I would guess possibly due to the strength of swarms but has also had other strong lists come and go through the points changes. Rebels were popular while Rebel Beef was a viable list but following the July points change it seems to have dropped off a cliff.

But for me, here’s the more valid question – what’s MY meta? What are people around me playing? I play at Firestorm Games in Newport (South Wales). There are around 15ish regular players and a couple of others who sometimes visit from Cardiff. I can tell you that generally, most of these people have a faction they like and they stick to it (clearly the financial investment into buying a new faction is a factor here too. It certainly is for me). So what is my meta? What am I expecting to face week to week? What lists are the best local players using? I feel like I could give a general answer for most of our players and having that knowledge might directly influence what lists I fly. Equally, it may not.

Am I meta?

Last week’s blog about Dash Rendar in the YT-2400 (and getting him back on the table generally a few months back) was triggered by finding him at just about the bottom of the pilot list on Metawing.

My beloved YT-2400. Bottom of the popularity table circa September 2019

If you’re not aware, Metawing is a website linked to List Fortress which tracks tournament results with user submitted data. It’s a comprehensive a list or guide as to what is popular and doing well.
I was surprised (and a bit upset!) that one of my favourite pilots who had been so strong in 1.0 was languishing towards the bottom of such a table. Since I first checked he has actually moved up but only to around 244ish (out of currently 302).

So why is this? Clearly this list is only as comprehensive as the data that goes into it and on the whole, only lists that make the top cut are added so while it isn’t ALL of the data, it’s enough to start drawing conclusions.

At first look it seems that ships that were strong in the late 1.0 meta got hit very hard with the nerf (JARGON ALERT!) bat in the transition to version 2. Miranda Doni (in a K-Wing), all Ghost pilots, Fenn Rau in the Sheathipede is currently bottom of that pilot list (I know they’re all Rebel, I have a favoured faction so my knowledge is limited ?).

So we are now 2 points updates in and still no move on points for Dash. So what does that mean? It’s a forgotten ship? Nobody at FFG cares? More people need to start shouting about how overpriced he is until he gets a points drop? Or maybe, just maybe…. he’s pointed correctly?!

Ok. I’m willing to consider that for a moment. I mean, it’s a beast of a ship. A large base ship with 4 dice in attack (more than the Millennium Falcon), 2 dice in defence (more than all but 2 other large base ships), a reasonable amount of health (though only 2 more than a y-wing or B-Wing), a pretty good dial with just 1 red manoeuvre (the 4k) and a repositioning action (albeit a red one).

I think maybe part of the reason he’s not more popular is that he was relatively under-costed in 1st edition and by comparison now he’s been priced out of play. There quite simply are other ships that are more efficient for the points you pay.

This is not an isolated case. But will it ever change?

Why is meta?

So here’s the next question. What is FFG trying to do with the meta? What’s the goal?

One thing that really bugged me about 1.0 is that certain ships/pilots were just automatically bad. Whether it was bad dial, too many points or power creep until an FAQ blasted something strong out of existence (Biggs Darklighter is a good example). This was compounded by the fact that pilots and upgrades had fixed points values in 1.0. They were printed on the cards.

As a result some ships became less popular (including the ships after which the game is named) and then FFG had to find creative solutions to try and fix this (like creating an upgrade for negative points!).

It’s probably accurate but is it ok?

It particularly annoyed me when a ship universally accepted as bad was the only way to get an upgrade card universally accepted as must have. In version 1.0 as a rebel player (and my son imperial) I very nearly bought the Scum Most Wanted pack just for harpoon missiles.

With the announcement of 2.0 FFG claimed that wouldn’t be the case any more (yay!) and they would be releasing card packs so you didn’t have to spend out cash hand over fist to get what you needed. It’s taken a year since release but those packs have been announced (though it’s still going to be a little while before they’re out) and it’s a step in the right direction. I’m going to talk a bit more about 2.0 next week (well, that’s the plan anyway!)

Personally, I believe that every ship should be viable to fly. Otherwise what’s the point? Why release it? As much as FFG are in this for the money (as any business is right to be), they also know that making the customers spend out money on things they generally won’t use (and only need for 1 single part) is not a good business plan and so we have to believe that they are trying hard to make the game as good as and as balanced as it can be. That at some point in time ANY ship could be in a list (and I don’t mean just anything thrown together at random, I mean a well constructed list) and it would be possible to do well with it.

Imagine a point in time where we’ve had 10 points updates and a steady stream of new waves of ship releases and re-releases. What would you expect to see? Is there a particular faction/ship/pilot that is stomping over everything else in the competitive tournament scene? A list that virtually gives an auto-win just by showing up which then makes up a large percentage of lists at the next major event?
Nobody wants this surely? We came close between January and July 2019 with the Quad Phantoms and Rebel Beef lists and the general feeling (that I got from podcasts and Facebook groups anyway) was that it was a bit boring and predictable in the end.

It’s the competitive nature of people (and we play a competitive game so no reason not to be!) to try and find the very best things there is and use it to give themselves the best chance of doing well. Towards the end of July this year it’s widely accepted that if you wanted to do well in a tournament you should bring 4 TIE Phantoms or Rebel Beef (JARGON ALERT!). I heard a phrase used on the Fly Better podcast (though I’m sure others use it too!) that we were in a solved meta. That the best combination of stuff had been found. So it’s great that periodically FFG can increase the points of what is too strong, decrease the points of what isn’t getting used and then let the community figure out the new puzzle. Like tipping out a tub of Lego and seeing what amazing things people build.

Yep, the Lego picture came out again

We are all meta

Our own meta is essentially only made up of games that we actually play. We can theorise and investigate and plan all we want but in the end, you play who you play. Before the system open there had been lots of talk about the Quad Phantoms and Rebel Beef lists. I didn’t face either in the 11 games I played over the weekend.

I guess I’ll just finish by mentioning a conversation I had with ‘Dan Eggs’ earlier today when I mentioned I was writing this blog. The fact that points can be adjusted in 2.0 mean that, theoretically at least, any ship can be good. It just has to be cheap enough. Maybe at some point in time every ship will have been viable to fly.

Another factor is skill/experience with a certain list. Dan has flown against Jack Mooney (UK System Open winner 2019) and the Han/Jake (or Handbrake Han) list which became popular after his win. The thing is, he’s been flying that list since well before 2.0 came out. He knows it’s strengths and weaknesses, it’s good and bad match-ups, what it can and can’t do. Whether it’s considered strong in the current meta or not, a list flown by a great player who knows it that well has a chance against anything. He won, people picked up the list and had mixed success.

With new ships being released and points for existing ships being dropped or increased along the way perhaps it’s a puzzle too hard for me to finish. But someone will.