Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Imperial squadron review: TIE Interceptor

Last but not least of the wave one Imperial squadrons, we have the extremely zippy TIE Interceptor!

It's like a regular TIE Fighter, only with more triangles.
The TIE Interceptor is a TIE Fighter on steroids. You take the regular benefits and focus of a TIE Fighter (anti-squadron) and you make them more extreme, but none of the weaknesses of the TIE Fighter are meaningfully addressed. That's Imperial squadron design philosophy for you, basically. So let's take a look at what you get for +3 points (a 37.5% increase) over a regular TIE Fighter:
  • +1 speed
  • +1 blue dice against squadrons
  • Counter 2
To get to the downsides rather quickly, it's notable that the Interceptor is still just as fragile as the cheaper TIE Fighter. It's also just as bad against ships. Given the increase in cost, this makes it points-wise even worse against ships and at taking damage than regular TIE Fighters. It bears repeating that the Interceptor is very fragile for its cost: the basic TIE Fighter is a bit fragile, but at least it is cheap. The Interceptor can't make the "for its cost" excuse - there are Rebel fighters in a similar points bracket that are more durable, such as A-Wings. I strongly recommend reviewing the TIE Commandments section of my TIE Fighter article for basic usage recommendations on trying to make use of these guys for as long as possible as their basic weaknesses remain nearly identical.

On the upsides, the Interceptor is packing more anti-squadron might than the generic TIE Fighter and at the highest possible speed. Interceptors can regularly get the jump on nearly anything (with the exception of other speed 5 squadrons or speed 4 squadrons with Snipe), which is helpful against squadrons that can trouble regular TIE Fighters, such as YT-2400s. Be careful, though, as it can make jumping into enemy squadrons near enemy flak seem even more appealing and you will wind up just as dead as regular TIE Fighters attempting the same.

With 4 blue anti-squadron dice and Swarm, TIE Interceptors do an average of 2.47 damage on the attack (2 without Swarm) and on a Counter 2 attack with Swarm, they do an average of 1.38 (1 without Swarm). This is a considerable amount of damage considering that TIE Fighters do about 1.94 average damage with Swarm - an Interceptor that makes one regular and one Counter attack with Swarm applied to both will do just slightly under twice the damage done by a regular TIE Fighter.

The big problem that one must surmount when using Interceptors is that for the +3 points over a regular TIE Fighter they aren't worth it for only +1 blue dice against squadrons and +1 speed. The real benefit comes from adding Counter (preferably buffed by Swarm) into the mix. The issue with that is your Interceptors only get to Counter attack when they're getting attacked by enemy squadrons; at 3 hull points each, your Interceptors don't like being attacked by enemies who are good at their job. So what's to do? There's basically three ways to handle this conundrum and they directly relate to the circumstances under which I'd recommend considering Interceptors in your fleet:
  1. Pile buffs on them like crazy: if you use Interceptors with Dengar (who gives them +1 Counter) and Howlrunner (who adds +1 blue dice to all of their attacks, including Counter attacks) your Interceptors will attack for 5 blue dice (6 if you activate them with Flight Controllers because you're committed to buffing them as much as possible) and Counter for 4, all with Swarm rerolls. These super-buffed Interceptors will do on average 3.49 damage on the attack (with 6 blue dice and Swarm) and 2.47 damage while Countering (with 4 blue dice and Swarm), which is the kind of damage output even ace squadrons dream of. This solution intends to use the Interceptors as more potent mainline fighters (replacing TIE Fighters or the like) and relies on them just hitting so hard that they do a good amount of damage before their short lives are over. The main downside to this approach is expense: Howlrunner+Dengar alone is 36 points and then it's 11 points for each Interceptor past that - with 4 Interceptors you're at 80 points invested in fighters that are absolutely miserable at doing anything but punching other squadrons.
  2. Include a small contingent to trouble bombers: you know what type of squadrons aren't much good at fighting back? Dedicated bomber squadrons. With speed 5, your Interceptors do a great job of getting to the unprotected sides of a bomber cloud to attack vulnerable squadrons. Engaged bomber squadrons that can't sneak away are in big trouble: Interceptors will pick them apart and attempts by the bomber squadron to help remedy this fact by attacking the Interceptors are punished by Counter. For example, Y-Wings attacking Interceptors receive a Counter attack just as potent as their regular anti-squadron attack "for free" and that Counter attack may even be superior to the Y-Wing's regular attack when the Swarm reroll is available.  It's not uncommon for enemy bombers to simply activate and not attack when stuck engaged by Interceptors because of their legitimate concern about triggering Counter. When used in this fashion, even just 2 generic Interceptors as part of a regular fighter component can be quite useful and they present a specialized threat that regular TIE Fighters don't. 
  3. Reserve Hangar Decks: with some RHDs in your fleet, respawning Interceptors removes a lot of the trouble. Oh, so they died? Cool, here's a new one at 2 hull remaining. Deal with it again and eat a Counter attack again. This works just fine if you want to use them in either of the above two ways, but also opens up options for running Interceptor-only fighter groups where you can recycle a few of them to keep going. Plus RHDs are more cost-effectively used to bring back a speedier, punchier 11 point squadron than an 8 point one.

Hey, let's name ourselves after a sword that hasn't had a practical use in our universe for millennia!

Saber Squadron
for +1 point over a generic TIE Interceptor loses Counter 2 and gains Snipe 4. A few things to note about Snipe and Saber Squadron in particular:
  • Saber Squadron is the only Imperial squadron with Snipe.
  • Snipe benefits from the Swarm reroll - your target needs only to be engaged with another squadron, even though it obviously is not engaged with you.
  • Snipe benefits from Howlrunner. Saber Squadron itself has Swarm and so long as it is within distance 1 of Howlrunner when attacking a squadron (with Snipe!), it adds the additional blue die on its attack as it meets all the qualifiers.
  • Snipe benefits from Flight Controllers (as Snipe uses a new anti-squadron armament, but it is still an anti-squadron armament).
  • A speed 5 move plus a distance 2 attack is the longest natural threat range on any squadron in the game. The only way to get further than that is through additional-movement abilities like Fighter Coordination Teams or Cloak.
Because it has buffable Snipe 4 plus Swarm, Saber Squadron is the most offensively potent Snipe squadron in the game, despite being the only Snipe squadron available to Imperials. With the reroll factored in, you're doing the same 2.47 average damage on the attack as a regular Interceptor but from a safer distance. Snipe is often touted as a means to get at the juicy squadrons hiding behind Escort shields, but keep in mind that if you're engaging an Escort you must attack an Escort squadron if you're attacking squadrons, Snipe or no. So you can't lob Snipe attacks directly over Escort squadrons (as you'll be engaging them usually in that circumstance, ruining your plans), but with Speed 5 and Snipe you can usually get around them to attack with Snipe from the side while being out of Escort engagement. Replacing Counter with Snipe also removes the conundrum the regular Interceptors face of "they get their points' worth from trying to leverage Counter, but their 3 hull points hate getting attacked." Saber Squadron knows what it wants to do: it wants to pour attacks into priority squadron targets and it wants to do so while kiting around and avoiding attacks back.

Saber Squadron can be used as part of an "assassination group," attacking around Escort squadrons to pick out annoying aces like Jan Ors or Ten Numb. It's insufficient to this task on its own but with a little help from automatic damage sources like Mauler Mithel or Ruthless Strategists and other "don't care, punching whoever I like" aces like IG-88, it can be decisive. Even without the assassination group apparatus, being able to pour that much aggro into a wide range of targets with a considerable threat range makes it appealing in lists with Howlrunner and/or Flight Controllers to buff its attack.

Is this what Imperial shampoo advertisements look like?

Ciena Ree is the first Interceptor ace I'll be discussing. For +6 points, she gains the "TIE Fighter ace" defense token suite of scatter+brace, and her special ability which causes he to be treated as obstructed against all attacks. As usual, I like to note some things about special abilities:
  • The attack is treated as obstructed, but the attacker is not. This means you still subtract the 1 dice from all attacks but it does not stop enemy squadrons from engaging you like usual.
  • This applies to all attacks. That means flak is at -1 die as well as fighter attacks. Against flak, this can be a very strong benefit.
  • To further stress an earlier point, Counter is an attack so she also is obstructed against Counter attacks. This makes her quite good at going after Counter squadrons.
  • Obstruction does not stack. If you're behind a ship and in a debris field and in a Jamming Field and you are Ciena Ree, you're obstructed just once. It's binary: you're either obstructed or you aren't.
Ciena Ree's defense tokens and special ability have strong synergy. The less dice being thrown at you the better, but in particular it helps you a lot with enemy squadron attacks being less likely to generate accuracy results to lock down your scatter and/or diminishes overall damage so you can hopefully keep pre-brace damage at 2 or less so your brace can reduce it to 1, which is manageable, rather than bracing to 2, which is extremely dangerous.

You can use her in one of two roles - either as a "dodge tank" thrown as a chump blocker into a group of squadrons to tie them up for longer than you'd expect or as an excellent periphery harasser. In this latter assignment I'd recommend using her very much like a generic Interceptor trying to pick off vulnerable squadrons at the edge of a group but perhaps a bit more aggressively as the "Counter math" turns in her favor even more strongly; she will quite frequently be dealing out a much harsher attack to bombers than they can mount against her (and don't forget she also has those defense tokens!), and so the bombers often choose to not even risk it.

He's the Red Baron of Star Wars, but not the pizza kind.

For +7 points over a regular TIE Interceptor, Soontir Fel gains the TIE Fighter ace defense token suite as well as his own special ability. As usual, let's go over some of the finer points of how that ability works:
  • Fel needs to be engaged with the enemy squadron, not merely at distance 1. It won't work on obstructed squadrons as you're not engaged by them.
  • The enemy squadron needs to make a non-Counter attack that does not target Fel. It should be noted that if an enemy squadron he is engaging attacks a ship by using a special rule (like Anakin or Tycho), Fel still deals that squadron 1 damage. 
    • Similarly, if an enemy squadron is engaged with Fel and is forced to attack an Escort squadron, Fel will still deal that squadron 1 damage.
  • The damage dealt by Fel's ability is not an attack, so scatter tokens and other abilities that trigger on attacks can't prevent it.
 Fel is primarily valued for his special ability and there are two basic ways to make use of it which inform your decision as to whether or not he'd be a worthwhile addition to your squadrons:
  1. As a way to punish squadrons who cannot or will not attack him: Soontir Fel enjoys being paired with an Escort or two and then engaging as many squadrons as possible. If those squadrons attack the Escorts (which they have to if they choose to attack squadrons), he deals them a damage. It works even better alongside other means of mass-damage such as flak or Mauler Mithel - anything that does a little damage over a wide area can further twist the knife.
  2. As a source of "soft Escort." In some particular cases, Escort squadrons don't really jive with a particular squadron group but you'd still like a bit of protection if possible. The example that readily comes to mind is Howlrunner - she has a tendency to get ganged up on, but a TIE Advanced is a weird fit for her because she does nothing to help it (given it lacks Swarm). With Soontir Fel riding shotgun, Howlrunner can still be attacked but Soontir provides a soft disincentive by damaging the attackers; Howlrunner in turn provides additional buffs to Soontir because he has Swarm. Foes attacking the combined group will need to decide if it's wiser to focus on Howlrunner and take damage from Fel in the process or to attack Fel, suffer his buffed Counter attacks, and let Howlrunner live a bit longer - not a great situation either way, really. Used in this way, Fel is worth adding to a more conventional Swarm fighter group that often includes Howlrunner.

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