Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Imperial commander review: Admiral Screed

It's time to review the monster that absolutely dominated the meta in wave one: Admiral Screed!

They all laughed when I said I wanted to be an admiral and also the Terminator! Well who's laughing now?
Some notes on Screed's ability:
  • A ship can only use Screed's ability once per activation. Not once per attack, as I sometimes see players believe it to be. So if you're getting more than one attack with a ship, you need to consider whether to use it on the first attack or save it for the second. If you need to keep track of whether you used it or not, I'd recommend using some kind of token or tapping and untapping Screed's card to keep it straight.
  • You need to spend a die before flipping another die to a side with the crit icon. Spent dice are removed from your pool and have no effect, so choose your sacrifice wisely.
  • You should note that black dice have additional hits on their crit sides and so are extremely good recipients of this ability.
  • You can use Screed's ability on any one attack, so it can be used against a single squadron if that's a necessity. This is often better used with 2 dice-flak that includes a black dice where the critical icon shares a face with a regular hit icon.
It's fairly obvious that Screed loves including ships in his fleet that have crit-triggered effects. For example:
You may remember this one vividly from your wave one nightmares.
Because Screed can quasi-reliably generate crit results ("quasi" because there are ways to mess with crit dice, as we'll see in the final section about handling Screed), crit upgrades become much more efficient when used on his ships. In particular, black crit dice upgrades absolutely love Screed's ability. The reason for this is fairly simple: black dice crit sides have an additional hit added on. This means that you can usually keep the total damage at the pool at least equal while using Screed's ability - 2 black dice with single hits showing get converted by Screed to a single black dice with hit+crit showing, for a total of 2 damage either way, but with the crit enabled. Given that both of the currently-available black crit ordnance upgrades (Assault Concussion Missiles and Assault Proton Torpedoes) add additional damage when you trigger their effect, even keeping damage the same but adding the crit icon can produce an additional 2 damage from Assault Concussion Missiles or 1 face-up hull damage from Assault Proton Torpedoes, which makes the crit reliability extremely appealing for achieving high amounts of burst damage with black dice. It's also quite possible when rolling dice pools featuring black and red dice to arrive at the ideal circumstance of having a blank black dice and another blank dice, which Screed can convert into a single black hit+crit, adding two damage and triggering crit upgrades!

Screed can still get some use from blue dice (like Ion Cannon Batteries) or generic crit upgrades (like XX-9 Turbolasers)  but the effectiveness is much decreased. In the case of blue crit dice upgrades, it comes down to three things:
  1. All sides on blue dice are useful when attacking ships. Unless you roll far too many accuracy results, the blue dice you flip to a crit was already contributing in some way and you had to sacrifice another dice to get there when necessary. It doesn't produce additional damage like black dice do with Screed. Ideally, you can remove a blank red dice for the effect, but the dice themselves just don't reward you like black dice do.
  2. Blue dice crit upgrades are more niche than black dice crit upgrades. Removing an extra shield or command token or triggering an Overload Pulse or some such can be helpful, no doubt, but those effects come nowhere near the raw devastation inflicted by ACMs or APTs.
  3. Ordnance upgrade ships as a means of delivering their crit-dependent upgrades are simply superior to ion cannon upgrade ships. Ordnance upgrade slot ships are the cheapest weapon-upgrade-capable ships the Empire has access to and they're often quite fast and maneuverable. The Raider-II is the only real exception (being 48 points base and having an ion cannon slot), and the Raider-I (with an ordnance slot!) is still cheaper.
Generic crit upgrades suffer from similar problems in addition to the fact that the only one that's currently available (XX-9s) is a turbolaser upgrade that your ships generally don't care about. Your smaller ships want something that can add more dice (Enhanced Armament, Spinal Turbolasers) or allow you to get rerolls/dice modification (Turbolaser Reroute Circuits, Dual Turbolaser Turrets). Your larger ships want those other upgrades or instead one of those that make diminishing their attacks with defense tokens tougher (XI7 Turbolasers, H9 Turbolasers, Heavy Turbolaser Turrets). It might be more appealing on a ship with two turbolaser slots, but at the moment only the Rebels have access to a ship with that option.

It should also be noted that Screed can also be useful without black crit upgrades - he allows you to aggressively re-roll your all of your non hit+crit black dice using Ordnance Experts  and then you can "fix" any bad runs of luck by using Screed's ability as a "get out of bad luck free" card. This can be effective with Expanded Launchers or with lightly upgraded Raiders or the like.

Small ship black dice swarm: Likely the most popular and competitive Screed fleet archetype and one that saw a lot of success in waves one and two. Basically the goal is to run numerous Gladiator(s) and/or Raider(s) ships with ordnance upgrades that trigger on black crits. Add other ships (preferably cheap ones) and fighter coverage to taste. Through having more activations than an opponent and (hopefully) going first as well, you can wait out the enemy ships so you can move your black dice ships into short range and then activate them first next turn to avoid a lot of the risk inherent with short-ranged attacks coming from fragile ships. This kind of archetype deserves its own article at some point, but it should be noted that it tends to require a very solid grasp of ship movement, maneuvering out of an opponent's best arcs, and order of activations and thus is not very newbie-friendly. Back in wave one, the variant of this was the "Gencon Special" which was just 300 points' worth of Gladiators with Assault Concussion Missiles and no squadrons just bum-rushing the other guy as fast as it could (side note: the wave one points limit was 300 points, that's important). That required a lot less skill to use well and is thankfully no longer that competitive.

VSD-Is plus other ordnance ships: Some people like to run VSD-Is with black crit upgrades for the sheer power of that front arc attack at short range, and often combine it with other elements of the black dice swarm archetype. I find this to be less competitive overall, as due to their poor maneuverability and speed, VSD-Is often have trouble getting use from their black dice more than maybe once a game and are more expensive than Raiders or Gladiators and so aren't as ideal as a black-crit-delivery mechanism. It is definitely sturdier, however, due to VSDs being more forgiving survivability-wise than Raiders or Gladiators, but it is definitely less forgiving when it comes to maneuvering/speed management. All the same, this is probably easier for new players to get the hang of.

Blue crit jank nonsense: Just to be clear, I find this archetype very lackluster, but it's the kind of thing I see players chasing after constantly and generally not having much success with. Thus it's posted as something of a warning. It won't take long before somebody wants to be the unique guy making a blue crit upgrade Screed fleet a thing and it will usually take one of two forms: an Overload Pulse+Avenger fleet or a spammed NK-7 Ion Cannon fleet. Let's quickly talk about why this is a bad idea beyond the reasons already given for why Screed is not as good with blue dice crits as he is for black dice crits.

Overload Pulse+ Avenger: In a perfect world, the ship with Overload Pulse exhausts all of a target's defense tokens and then an Avenger ISD wallops them and they can't do anything about it. Awesome! In reality, it's not an easy combination to get working consistently. In order for this combination to work, you need to achieve every single one of the following:
  • Have the Overload Pulse delivery ship in range of the target (and not dead, haha).
  • Execute an attack on the target where the blue critical remains in the pool to trigger the Overload Pulse.
  • The target must not move away from the Avenger after this activation.
  • The Avenger must now activate later than the delivery ship (if it had pressing things to do earlier and had to activate before, you're already too late).
  • The Avenger must be in range of the target, which may have had an opportunity to leave its effective range.
  • The Avenger must make an attack of sufficient strength that the inability to use defense tokens is a significant benefit or else the combo was a bunch of ponderous setup for nothing, meaning the target must often be at medium or close range and you need to not roll poorly on the attack.
That's an awful lot to go right. This combo has a very inflexible order of activation and its intention is clear from the get-go so it's easy to see coming and avoid. On the rare occasion I see this combination work against players, it's because the player using it is better than his opponent. You don't need help beating people worse than you, you need help beating people equivalent to or better than you.

The NK-7 Ion Cannon plan just relies on blowing up lots of defense tokens but the expense of spamming it on something like Raider-IIs often results in a fleet that is all setup but no knockout punch. The Raider-IIs themselves don't do much damage so even if they succeed at completely removing a ship's defense tokens, they're relying on another ship to seal the deal, which runs into similar problems as the Overload Pulse plan. You can try the same thing with VSDs or ISDs, but you get less total uses of the NK-7s and so it feels like a mediocre to poor sub-plan pasted on top an okay plan of "let's run star destroyers," but with a commander who doesn't do a lot for them.

How do I beat Screed?
Nowadays there's an increasing list of things that can give Screed trouble, and new ships (particularly flotillas) and upgrades have made him less common. If you're looking to handle Screed, here's what I'd consider:
  • Scatter tokens. Screed's favorite ships (Gladiators and Raiders) in general do not have an easy time locking down defense tokens. Normally this isn't a problem as they're dropping tons of damage into ships, but flotillas can give them a bit more to chew on than they were expecting.
  • Reroll effects. Whether it's Mon Mothma+evade tokens, Lando, or Target Scramblers, anything that can cause a black dice hit+crit result to be rerolled has a 75% chance of demoting it to a much less scary result.
  • Dice removal effects: I specifically have in mind the Rebel MC30 Admonition title, which can remove specific dice from the pool, but anything that can tell specific dice to leave can substantially reduce your damage and the odds of hitting.
  • Careful maneuvering: be aware of exactly how far close range goes (it's often longer than people assume it is) and how your opponent intends to get you into it (i.e. is he going to proactively move to get you there or is he expecting you to get into range of something like a Raider?). If you're cagey with your maneuvering, you can delay the worst of it. If you're reckless, it's very easy to have your ship fall into a trap where it get attacked by more than one black dice ship in a turn, which can quickly destroy most ships.
  • Range advantage: your fleet will often be better at range than Screed's fleet. Conversely, his fleet will often have numerous evade tokens. Do your best to accentuate your advantage and diminish his by focusing your long-ranged attacks on single ships to overheat their evade tokens.
  • Squadrons. Screed does nothing for squadrons. His preferred ships don't generally do much for them either. He often brings a light to moderate fighter screen and a heavier squadron investment can punish that setup. Just be careful about getting too close to Raiders with their strong flak and also be aware of how fast his ships can go (in the case of Gladiators/Raiders), as they may be able to handle a turn of bombing and then scoot away outside of bombing range.
  • Keep your eye on Demolisher. Gladiators are the best Imperial black dice ships and Demolisher is the best Gladiator title. Screed fleets without Demolisher are thus very rare. Demolisher will be packing some serious ordnance pain and its ability to attack after moving can catch players unawares. Keep your eye on it and keep its total threat range in mind as Screed will be relying on it getting some heavy lifting done.