Welcome to this week’s blog!
It’s almost Christmas!!!
As I normally like to do, while I’m off work and what with shopping, family time and doing generally fun and sociable things, I won’t be blogging for the next two weeks. Well, definitely not next week. We’ll see about the week after.
Don’t be too sad though (what do you mean you weren’t sad!?!), 2023 is coming and there are LOTS of exciting things happening – Worlds, AMG releases, XTC, local tournaments, super shiny Patreon gifts! So much!!
While we don’t have any tournaments coming up for a little while in Newport (don’t worry, they’ll be back soon!) we do have a semi-related tournament coming up!
The ever wonderful Mr Steve Boulton (see Steve, I’m nice to you!) has become part of our Exile family over the last few months but has recently also started an X-Wing group at Atlas Tabletop Gaming in Gloucester and next month he is hosting their very first tournament!
There will be some great participation prizes as well as a trophy for the winner so if you’re free on Sunday the 29th of January you should definitely look into getting there for a great day of gaming! You can find more info or ask any questions on the Facebook event page.
I also want to just put a reminder out about the expression of interest for XTC next year. If you want a bit more in depth info the check out last week’s blog but in short, if you’re interested in being part of the XTC and if you think you qualify to represent Wales then I would LOVE to hear from you! Click the link below, fill in the form and I’ll be in touch!
I think that’s all my housekeeping for now. I’ll be honest, this post has been a VERY LONG time in the making so with no further ado, let’s take a deep dive shall we?
The main bit… Part 1 – The Pre-amble
Alright, let’s get down to business here.
You may or may not know that earlier this year I took part in the XTC – X-Wing Team Championship.
It was amazing to be involved, get to know new people, play against people from all over the world (well, the other guys did more than me but still….), it was great.
There was quite a bit of work that went in to preparing for the tournament including player meetings, list submissions and so on but overall my main jobs as captain were to:
- Build a team
- Compile & submit information
- Facilitate communication between teams
- Draw parings
Each one obviously has it’s own set of required skills which I….uhh… muddled my way through to varying degrees of success.
What I want to focus on as a subject for this week though is that last one. Drawing the pairings.
You see, with the XTC the captains take part in what is effectively a ‘mini game’ each round in order to determine which list/player plays which. This can be crucial in deciding which team actually wins the round as ending up with too many bad pairings can make life much harder than it needs to be.
There’s a video made by Mr Captain England himself Oli Pocknell on how the parings work and when it came to it he was kind enough to actually go through the process with me as a dummy run before my first real matchup so I could get a feel for it.
It seems complicated but it’s actually not that bad once you’ve done it a few times.
That said, all of the process is based on one crucial thing in order to get the best possible pairings (and give my team the best chance at winning):
Do I actually know what a good matchup is?
The main bit… Part 2 – The varying variables
The way I see it, X-Wing is a game which is filled with variance of varying degrees.
First, and most obvious, the dice. Those small plastic octahedrons have the power to bring us glorious victory or crushing defeat with the flick of a wrist. Sometimes it feels like they’re against us, showing blank after blank and yet when they deign to bless us with paint we laud our own skill. How fickle both we and they can be.
Secondly, also the dice. Kind of. With the dawn of 2.5 came the new way to decide player order – the ROAD roll. Have I been screwed by leaning a little too far into the gamble of 1st/2nd player? Yes. Yes I have. Are there games that I lost which I could easily have won had I just rolled one more/less crit in that roll? Sadly, also yes. Yet I have to accept that the randomness is there and embrace it.
Thirdly, getting to the tournament specific factors, is the player. Sure there’s a pattern to how software like TTT (may it rest in peace) actually made the pairings (for example in Swiss drawn rounds the winners play winners, etc) but once you get over a certain size of event (let’s say 50-60+?) then it’s equally possible that you could get drawn against the newbie at their first tournament who’s fluked a first round win as it is to get the world champion (and let’s not get into the number of times that I’ve been paired up to an opponent doing better than me though, ok? It’s a sore subject!).
Fourthly, and also new with 2.5, is the scenario. I listened to an interesting podcast by Fly Better where they discussed the results of a poll that indicated that a lot of people don’t like to play Salvage Mission. Once of the things mentioned here is that the scenario itself simply suits some lists better than others. I’m sure we’ve all got our favourite one and reasons why but the fact is, at a tournament you will play each scenario at least once and any game after the first four could spell glory or doom depending on which one gets selected and how well (or not) it suits both your list and your strategy.
Lastly (and it’s only last because it’s the one I’m focusing on!), is the list you’re facing. Similar to the player, it’s almost impossible to predict what list you will be drawn against in a tournament (with the exception of a Regional in 2018 in Cardiff where almost everyone took Nym and Miranda. Dark times, apparently).
So, since understanding matchups looks to be a pretty important skill, how do I actually learn it?
The main bit… Part 3 – The actual question
So I feel it’s important to mention here that this is an area in which I personally struggle. There have been times (many of them) where I’ve turned up at a table in a tournament, glanced at my opponent’s ships (not the full list including cards) and thought ‘huh, I’ve no idea what this is doing’. Some I won, some I lost. Mostly the latter.
The way I see it, the knowledge that underpins understanding matchups is actually just knowing stuff.
And that, is not easy.
Knowing what ships have which pilots, what abilities those pilots might have, understanding how those abilities interact with certain upgrades or other pilots, how any or all of those interact or have an impact on your ships. The list isn’t quite endless but it’s pretty long.
Knowing (or perhaps more importantly, retaining the knowledge of) these things comes with experience and, dare I say it, work. Yes, work. This hobby does require some work. We don’t need to assemble or paint our minis like some other games but taking some time to work at learning the things I mentioned above or strategies or tactics can have a significant effect when trying to improve your game.
I know that sort of thing isn’t important to everybody. There are plenty of people who are more than happy playing totally casual, pushing ships and rolling dice. Let me be clear, that’s 100% totally cool.
Some people though want to improve themselves and putting in the effort to listen to podcasts, watch streams and really analyse what the meta is doing are some way of doing that. And by doing all of that stuff, you’re going to start picking up some knowledge.
Getting back to the question, how can I understand which matchups are good or bad? Well, that sort of leads me on to my next point.
There are two different, diametrically opposed ways of looking at things here. Firstly there’s the objective view. Proven, verified undisputable facts.
For example you could look at how well certain pilots or ships or list archetypes have performed over an extended period of time by using something list List Fortress. It’s a pretty widely known (and accepted) fact that the Firespray chassis is just really, really good. It’s got a great dial, a good amount of health, two agility, can natively boost, usually has enough points/slots for passive mods and is happy shooting with 3 dice out of the front and/or back arcs. And that’s after several nerfs and points hikes.
The other Is, of course, subjective. Your opinion that you have formed based on your real life experience and personal biases.
For example, I don’t like Soontir Fell. Controversial, I know. Let me get specific though. My experiences over the years have shown me two things. Firstly, that when people play Soontir against me, he’s great and mercilessly slaughters my ships with ease. Conversely, when I play using Soontir, he fails to land bullseye and blanks out on defence and dies easily.
Therefore, my personal bias is that Soontir is bad. I don’t want to fly him but also don’t want to fly against him.
Of course, the logical action to take here is to actually watch some streams of top level players using Soontir, look at tactics and strategies, learn when to dive in and when to bug out and then actually put him on the table and fly him over and over and over and over, all the while sucking at flying him, until I get my head around how he works and use him properly.
Like I said earlier, it takes work. The question then becomes – is it work that I’m willing to put in?
Something else that’s subjective is in game decisions. I do find it really interesting to watch streams with commentary when people are suggesting what they might do with certain ships in certain situations. Sometimes they’re right as there are ‘objectively correct’, optimal decisions to be made and yet, despite the commentators usually being top level players themselves, sometimes they don’t call what happens and the player pulls out a move that nobody predicted and it works out well for them.
It’s part of the beauty of this game.
The main bit… Part 4 – The practical example
To fully highlight how this mix of facts and opinions can affect our judgements, I called on some outside views to contrast and compare some opinions.
To prepare for matchup draws in the XTC I created a spreadsheet. I provided the players with a document which had all our opponents lists fully laid out and I asked each player to look at their list and try and judge how they think it would fare against each of the opponents ones. I know that other teams do this too and that not everyone’s categories are the same so before getting started I want to set out some benchmarks.
We went with a 5 level rating of 1 through to 5 as follows:
Before each pairing we would have a quick meeting on Discord to discuss our thoughts and talk about why each matchup had been rated as it had and then, armed with this information, I would try and get the best matchups I could.
Now, here’s where it gets interesting.
I have record of, obviously, our own matchups, decided by my players. But, thanks to a few very kind and helpful people, I also have some other opinions on those same matchups.
Since one of the opinions that I have is from the Czech Republic team captain ‘Lone Starr’ I decided to drill down with a look at our week in the XTC group stage.
Now, doing this sort of thing actually generates a HUGE amount of data and while I do have all this data, displaying, analysing and commenting on it will keep me here for many more hours than I have available so while I’m going to show you the tables, I’ll only be picking out a couple of examples.
First of all, the raw source information. This Google Doc contains links to all of the lists from both Wales and the Czech Republic. There are YASB links at the top but please remember there have been points changes since the summer so further down you’ll find the full printout of each list as it was pointed at the time.
Incidentally, Lone Starr provided his data as-is (i.e. from the Czech team point of view) so I translated it to our formatting and reversed it so as to give the matchup from the Welsh point of view.
Got it? Alright, let’s go.
Getting back to the variables thing, we knew in advance that the scenario we would be playing was going to be Scramble The Transmission. It’s important to know that because it does have bearing on some lists.
First up, it’s our (team Wales’) ratings:
Each of our lists was looked at by the player playing it so our Rebel player (Adam Shipley) scored the ratings for our Rebel list and so on.
As you can see, there’s a fair amount of green, a reasonable amount of yellow but probably more orange and red than I’d like to see.
The question is, how does that compare to what the Czech players thought?
Immediately you can see some differences but also some strong similarities.
Let’s start with the Welsh Rebel list. Adam had WAL Reb vs CZE Reb as a good matchup for Wales whereas the Czechs thought it a good matchup for them. Very interesting!
Similarly, we had WAL Res vs CZE Reb as a strong matchup for us (4 out of 5) whereas the Czechs had it as a 2. WAL FO vs Cze Reb was exactly the same.
Conversely, both we and the Czech team had WAL Scum vs CZE Scum as strong for us and WAL Reb vs Cze CIS as strong for the Czechs.
It’s time to add in a third opinion, this one looked over by none other than England XTC captain Mr Oliver Pocknell:
Now things are really getting interesting!
The first thing I notice is that Oli’s rankings are, broadly, more similar to ours than to Lone Starr’s. Remember, Oli has no bias here (England were not in our group, we didn’t play them) and also no knowledge of which specific players are playing the lists. He’s looking purely at list vs list.
There are a couple of stark differences too. Oli has WAL FO vs CZE Scum as a 4 for us while Cze had it as 2 and we had it as 1!
He’s also marked WAL Emp vs CZE Reb as 5 whereas both Czech and ourselves had it as a 3.
He also had WAL Scum vs CZE CIS as a 4 for us whereas we had it as 2 and Lone Starr had it as a 3-4.
I guess this shows that actually, matchups can be very much viewed both objectively AND subjectively. Oli and the Czech players all used their own knowledge and experiences in the game to come to these conclusions and you can see that there are clearly some common thoughts between us all.
Out of the TWENTY FIVE matchups that are rated in total, only TWO of them have the same score in all three tables – WAL Emp vs CZE Emp and WAL FO vs CZE FO. Not only that but both are marked a 3 out of 5 which, let’s face it, probably means they don’t have any feeling one way or another or more bluntly put, just don’t know!
In my opinion this shows that judging matchups is rather closer to subjective than objective if you were to look at the two as opposing ends on a sliding scale.
But wait, we’ve got more data to crunch!
Since this data is generated from the actual group stage, we have not only the pairings that were drawn but the results of the games too!
A small* sidebar first – what I took to doing (and the reason that I used a numbered system rather than just great/good/bad/etc) was adding up the matchup ratings when the pairings had been done, giving me a scale on which to judge my part in the pairings.
*going back over this before posting, this wasn’t small. Sorry!
I realise that may not make too much sense, let me break it down. There are 5 matchups per game week and since each matchup has a numbered rating from 1 to 5 I can work out whether the overall pairings were favourable or unfavourable based on the total score.
For example, if I totally ballsed it up and got 5 pairings of matches with a rating of 1 then my score would be 5 out of 25 and I’d likely be sacked as captain.
On the flip side, if we came out of the pairings with a maximum 25 then we’d easily register a 5 games to 0 win and I’d have a statue made by my adoring fans. Or something.
Since a score of 3 is the middle ground average, anything over and above a score of 15 means I did something right and our pairings are favourable. In theory.
Alright, so here’s what matchups we actually got:
From our point of view we came out on top (go me!) with a total 3 above the median but from the Czech point of view it was pretty even, as was Oli’s with both being just +1.
Clearly the biggest opinion swing was the Rebel vs Rebel match with us rating it as good (for us) and the Czechs rating it as bad.
Looking at it from a captain’s perspective it certainly seems like I did a good job here with the Resistance vs CIS game being the only poor matchup. Then again, from their point of view, the Czechs getting Rebel vs Rebel looked positive for them.
So what actually happened? Let me add in the results:
There’s a few interesting things to pick out here. Let’s start at the top and work down.
First of all, the Rebel vs Rebel match which we rated as good for us and the Czech team rated as good for them was a win for us. A good one.
Empire vs FO we rated as good for us and while we did get the win in was much closer.
Scum vs Scum was rated by both teams as favourable for Wales but turned out as a draw.
Resistance vs CIS was, as kind of expected, a loss for us. I’ll come back to this in a minute.
The FO vs Empire loss for us was probably the biggest surprise result from our point of view. We had it as a favourable matchup but lost it by more than 20 points.
So what’s the reason for the ‘upset’? Well, on top of the factors I already outlined earlier you could be looking at a million different things like how well the player slept, what time of day the game was played, whether they had a bad day at work, the kids needed attention, the internet connection was poor. I could go on but you get the idea.
Outside factors can affect the outcome of a game with very few variables. The effects of those factors can increase exponentially with a game with as many variables as X-Wing.
There’s also one more thing I want to touch on, going back to the Resistance vs CIS game.
One of the more interesting things to come out of the XTC was the response of the players off the back of a result. Of course, everyone wants to win and there’s an element of maybe feeling like you’ve let everyone else down when a result doesn’t go your way. That’s pretty unavoidable for most people as at some point across a tournament with multiple rounds and 5 games happening per round you’re going to get at least one loss.
One of the phrases that I’d heard bandied about from previous blogs or podcasts about the XTC pairings process was ‘throwing someone under the bus’. I know it’s a fairly well used phrase universally but specifically relating to XTC this is the process of taking one known bad matchup if it means you can get good matchups elsewhere.
Of course, in an ideal situation you try not to get ANY bad matchups but of course both captains have agency and the likelihood of that is pretty small.
In the specific example of Wales vs the Czech Republic, we came away with one ‘known’ bad matchup of WAL Resistance vs CZE CIS.
As you can see the result was indeed a loss for us by a margin of 8 points. Not a huge surprise given that we had adjudged it to be a poor matchup for us.
But….. was it?
Again, our decisions are based on a mix of factual knowledge and personal experience and so it’s pretty hard to tell whether it’s conclusively a tough or easy matchup.
Interestingly both Lone Starr and Oli had it down as a 3/5 matchup, could go wither way and so this poses the question – did our negative view on the match affect the outcome?
Did the presumption of the challenge have a adverse psychological impact on the final result?
Paul Westwood was our Resistance player and he’s both experienced and a good player and so of course there’s no doubt he tried his best in the game despite (justifiably) thinking he’d be fighting an uphill battle to some extent. You also have to consider the outside factors that I’ve already mentioned above and, being totally honest, playing in the XTC does add an extra layer of pressure as there is a whole team full of people who are watching for and perhaps relying on your result. It’s intense!
I does make me wonder though,if we pre-judge the difficulty of a game based purely on what we expect when looking at list Vs list, how much of the outcome is a self fulfilling prophecy?
So, after all that talking, do I have an answer?
Like I said further back, there are so many variables in this game it’s actually pretty hard to pin down one single factor and fully identify it as THE indicator of probable loss or win before the game has started.
Now you could assume perfectly average dice in a game between players of exactly comparable skill level in any one given game to give an answer to whether one list is better than the other but really how likely or practical is that in real life?
That said, understanding what makes a good or bad matchup (along with a general strategy on how to approach each scenario) can definitely have an impact on how a player can approach a game or, in the context of team tournaments, whether or not to pair one list into another.
On deeper analysis there are even more other factors come into effect too. You might have a good matchup into a list but if it’s flown by an elite level player (and you are more like an Average Joe!) then it’s likely they’ll know how to mitigate it’s weaknesses (and exploit yours). You might have a bad matchup into a list flown by a new player and use your own experience to get the win. Maybe the dice will bail you out of a tough match. Maybe they’ll let you down in an easier one.
I guess what I’m getting at is that while understanding matchups is definitely a skill worth developing, on it’s own it isn’t guaranteed to get you any improved results. It can also mess with your head, depending on your overall attitude when playing.
It’s possible that you could see a particular list across the table from you and think ‘well, I can’t beat that! It’s a hard counter for my list’ and be mentally defeated before you even set a dial.
It’s also possible to get paired into something that your list was designed to combat, get overconfident and take the result for granted.
Personally, I have done both.
If anything, I think that the conclusion that I’m coming to here is that a combination of knowledge, understanding and experience is key to successful outcomes.
If you’ve got an aces list going into a swarm list, you might well know from experience that you don’t joust it (unless you’re Dale Cromwell, of course!). Similarly, if you’ve taken a low initiative swarm, faced off with a alpha strike list and accepted the joust, chances are you learned pretty quickly that you shouldn’t do that again either.
Of course these ‘universally known truths’ aren’t as straightforward or set in stone since the introduction of scenarios and there are always exceptions but as a general rule they’re not bad guidelines to follow.
This has been one of those blogs where I feel like I’ve poured (or maybe spewed) my thoughts out onto my keyboard as I try and fully process how to think about or approach this. I’m not claiming to have all the answers here and I’m certainly not some matchup genius who can look at some lists and just go ‘sure you just put this into that and this into this and you should win, mmkay’.
As ever, I’m just being very public with how I’m trying to think about the game and try to get better.
IF there’s anything you’ve read and you disagree, I’d love to know how your thoughts differ so that I can maybe view things from another angle. Please comment and let me know!
Right, that’s it from me for this week and, I guess, for 2022!
I hope you have a great Christmas and fantastic New Year and I’ll see you again in a few weeks time!
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