Monday, December 28, 2020

Imperial commander review: Admiral Sloane

Time to finally finish off the Imperial wave 6 articles with a review of Admiral Sloane! Once John gets his Hammerhead article up, we'll be completely done with wave 6.
Thanks for the sweet later-in-the-EU art, wookieepedia!
Cool guys girls don't look at explosions.
Rules
The rules portion for Sloane is going to be a bit longer than usual for a commander, so buckle up!
  • Obviously she only affects non-Rogue squadrons (it's pretty straightforward there), so all plans of silliness with Firesprays or Decimators is unfortunately not going to work.
    • That's true whether they're activated in the Squadron Phase using Rogue or by a squadron command, there's no way around it.
    • This applies to all of Sloane's effects (both the reroll and spending defense tokens).
  • Remember that the critical icon reroll only applies when attacking a ship (not a squadron) and you may only reroll 1 die with the critical icon showing. In short, if your TIE Phantom rolls two critical icons against a ship, only 1 of them gets a reroll.
  • The spending defense tokens portion of Sloane's ability is easily the one most likely to cause arguments, so let's break it down:
    • This ability is a "while" ability, so you can only do it once per attack during the Resolve Attack Effects step. You can't spend multiple accuracy icon dice to spend multiple defense tokens.
      • Counter attacks are attacks in every way, so you may spend enemy squadron defense tokens by spending an accuracy icon die while making a Counter attack.
    •  Spending a ready (green) defense token exhausts it (turns it red). Spending an exhausted defense token discards it.
    • This portion of Sloane's ability is not tied to an attack on a specific kind of target, so it may be used against ships or squadrons with defense tokens.
    • Because Sloane's spend is its own effect, the spent defense token does not produce any defensive bonuses as though it was spent during the Spend Defense Tokens step.
    • Because a defense token cannot be spent more than once per attack (rules reference guide, page 4), a token spent by Sloane's effect cannot be spent by the defender later on during that attack.
    • The defender, however, may spend an untargeted duplicate of that kind of defense token (if they have one) when the time comes to spend defense tokens, as the defender is the only one limited by only being able to spend one of each type of defense token during an attack (rules reference guide, page 4), so Sloane spending that type of defense token doesn't affect their opponent beyond the restriction of not being able to spend that individual defense token later during the attack.
  • Both the spending accuracy icons effect and rerolling crits effect are available in the Resolve Attack Effects step of an attack, so you can use them in whatever order you like, before or after other effects (like adding a die from Howlrunner or rerolling from Swarm or whatnot).
All right, that's a bit much to take in, particularly the spending defense tokens bit. Let's provide some examples to clear it all up. All of the examples will involve attacks against an enemy ace squadron:

1) 2 hits and 1 accuracy against a scatter+brace ace
Sloane spends the accuracy to spend the ace's scatter token. Because it has been spent this attack, the defender can't spend it again. The brace is still available and the defender spends it to reduce the damage to 1.

2) 2 hits and 1 accuracy against a double brace ace
Sloane spends the accuracy to spend one of the brace tokens. The defender can't spend that specific token as Sloane has already spent it, but can spend the remaining brace token and does so to reduce the damage to 1.

3) 2 hits and 1 accuracy against an ace with one token.
Sloane spends the one token. The defender can't spend that token again and the 2 damage goes through unopposed.

4) 2 hits and 2 accuracies against any ace with two tokens.
Sloane spends the accuracy to spend one of the defense tokens. Sloane spends the other accuracy for its normal effect to disallow the defender from spending the other defense token. The defender can't do anything (one of their tokens is locked down, the other was spent already by Sloane) and the 2 damage goes through unopposed.

5) 1 blue die against a ship.
The initial roll was a critical hit. Sloane rerolls the die. The new result is an accuracy icon. Sloane spends the accuracy to spend the defender's exhausted brace. The brace is discarded. The attack pool then has no damage in it and thus does nothing else.

Hopefully that clears it up!

Discussion
Okay, so what exactly does Sloane offer that other Imperial commanders don't? The easiest answer is she is the first Imperial commander that directly benefits squadrons. The Rebels have been able to do this with Dodonna since release and Rieekan since wave two and the Imperials finally have their own version.

The more nuanced version of that response is Sloane allows for an Imperial fleet build that invests more heavily in fighter squadrons without it being overkill. The usual problem with investing lots of points into Imperial fighter squadrons is they're generally good at only one job: blowing up enemy squadrons. Once they've won the squadron mini-game, they find that they're pretty bad at going after enemy ships and so you spent a lot of points on squadrons that aren't doing much at that point, to say nothing of the points invested into carrier ships to boss them around. Sloane turns this situation around a bit by both assisting her fighter squadrons at blowing through enemy aces (by spending their defense tokens, especially their scatter tokens) as well as improving her fighter squadrons against enemy ships.

Let's talk about exactly what Sloane provides against ships: many non-Rogue Imperial squadrons roll a single blue die against ships and except for the Defender, they're don't have the Bomber keyword. These are specifically the kind of squadrons Sloane is looking to help. Normally, they have a 50% chance of doing a point of damage and that's it. With Sloane around, assuming you always reroll a crit result, you have this:
62.5% chance of doing one damage
31.3% chance of spending a defense token
6.2% chance of doing nothing (crit rerolled into another crit)

That's an absolute improvement, no doubt about it. Here comes the but, though. Here it comes! I told you!
"Rrrraggggh!" means "not that kind of butt, and also why did you do put my face there?"
Shyriiwook is a very information-dense language.
But with all that said, your fighters still aren't doing more damage than the same points invested into bombers would. Not even close - a Sloane-aided TIE Fighter does an average of 0.625 damage and a Bomber-Command-Center-buffed TIE Bomber does an average of 1.25 damage; twice as much for 1 more point. Plus, your bombers are designed from the ground-up to handle flak better than your fighters - a 5 hull TIE Bomber doesn't mind taking the occasional hit from flak, but a 3 hull TIE Fighter gets understandably nervous once it has taken even a single point of damage. To be completely fair, though, the TIE Fighter is still quite capable as a fighter (for its cost) while the Bomber remains miserable at the job. What I'm trying to communicate with this point is Sloane adds a little bit of multi-role functionality to your fighter squadrons but they're still primarily fighters. If you're counting on them to be full-fledged fighters and a source of consistent cost-effective damage against ships, you'll be disappointed.

Sloane won't do you much good for your squadrons that roll black dice, either, particularly for squadrons that roll a black die against ships. You want to keep your black hit+crit results against ships and your black dice can't roll an accuracy result for Sloane to spend, either. It doesn't mean you should avoid squadrons that use black dice altogether, but if included they should be included sparingly.

To complicate matters some more, Sloane's ability to spend defense tokens, while useful against enemy aces when it comes to the squadron mini-game itself, doesn't do much against ships if all you're planning is pushing squadrons to do most of your damage. Squadron damage comes in tiny packets that defense tokens don't do much against in the first place. Sure, it's better to more quickly zap a brace token or redirect to get your bombing damage in faster, but it's not much better than just wearing them out naturally with higher-damage bombers. Essentially, if you plan to use Sloane's ability for all it's worth by going heavy on your fighters, you'll need some kind of combat ships to take advantage of the fact that you've been exhausting (hopefully even discarding) defense tokens from enemy ships so that they can't be used (or at least for long) against larger attacks where they make more of a difference. Attacking an enemy that can't scatter or brace effectively produces enough surplus damage that your Sloane-buffed-but-still-not-great-at-bombing fighters just made up their deficit. This is why the ISD is a fairly common feature in Sloane fleets - commanding 4+ squadrons that spend defense tokens and then blasting away with 8 dice against the target that got weakened is pretty good.

It doesn't need to be an ISD, though - any combat ship that wants to overheat enemy defense tokens rapidly appreciates the set-up, although getting your Rube Golberg machine to come together consistently can on occasion let you down when you don't have time to command squadrons first or if your squadrons can't make it to the target due to enemy fighters or if your squadron don't roll any accuracy results. On that note, getting the tempo right with Sloane can require some practice. If you're counting on spent defense tokens prior to your ships attacking you not only need to carefully plan your order of activations and queue up your squadron commands for the right rounds, you also need to have blown through the enemy fighter screen or found a way to ignore it (usually with Intel) when necessary, or else your combat ships are going to get to attacking enemy ships before your squadrons have sufficiently messed with their defense tokens.

The final problem I see players running into with Sloane and one that particularly troubles me is fleet-building. She wants a large fighter presence, she wants carriers to command those fighters, and she wants heavy-hitting combat ships to take advantage of spent defense tokens. Fitting all of that into a 400 point fleet isn't easy and often means sacrificing a portion of that triad. You can try to thread the needle by using some combat carriers for the job (like ISDs or VSDs), but timing their squadron commands and keeping them on target (as you're not issuing as many navigate commands as you would normally) can produce problems if you're not careful.

Having read all that, you may come to the conclusion that I'm pretty negative about Sloane. I'd moreso describe myself as "conflicted." Getting her to work consistently can be troublesome and you'll likely find that you're tinkering with your fleet build constantly to try to get to that "just right" mixture of squadrons, carriers, and combat ships after some element of the triad lets you down. In that regard, she's something of an improved Imperial Commander Sato in that she needs her squadrons and ships to work together for maximum benefit, but the more moving pieces you have the more likely it is your machine will break. When she does work and everything comes together, it's pretty swell, though. GiledPallaeon said it first, and I'm completely in agreement that Sloane is not great at creating openings/opportunities, but she is great at exploiting openings/opportunities that arise. If your opponent makes a mistake, you can get your "best case scenario engine" to kick into overdrive and mess with defense tokens and blow ships away with your combat ship. If your opponent doesn't, then getting all the pieces to come together can sometimes be elusive.

With that said, she also seems to be very meta-dependent - if your meta tends to have more large juicy targets and/or heavy-squadron fleets, then Sloane will be more appealing. Regarding the juicy targets, spending the defense tokens of medium and large ships is frequently more bang for your squadron buck than spending the redirect on a CR90, for example. That CR90 was going to melt against serious opposition anyways, and spending its defense tokens earlier on doesn't really hasten that significantly. Spend-discarding an HMC80's brace token, however, is a much bigger deal and can significantly reduce its longevity against other combat ships. Regarding the opposing heavy-squadron fleets, Sloane allows you to bring along a heavy fighter presence that can usually blow Rebel and mixed-arms Imperial heavy squadron forces out of the water in the early- to mid-game and then move on to harassing ships later, which is effectively your maxed-out squadron points eating the other player's maxed-out squadron points and then going on to influence the ship-on-ship game, making your squadron investment far more effective than your opponent's. In metas with less hard squadron builds and/or less large juicy targets (usually with more small ships), Sloane can struggle to really produce enough in-game benefit from her squadrons compared to a more conventional Imperial bomber fleet.

Ships
Let's start off with the obvious choices...

Quasars are the Imperial go-to for "I need big squad commands and I need them now" and they don't disappoint with Sloane. They are a very common sight in Sloane fleets for a reason.

Gozantis aren't far behind their big brothers for squadron help, and at the very least being a flexible Comms Net token supplier that can boss around squads on the right rounds makes them a tempting inclusion.

Imperial-class Star Destroyers are also common in Sloane fleets. Typically this will be an ISD-II as it's very self-sufficient with a good amount of range and access to a defensive retrofit slot. That said, I've also seen Sloane with a Kuat and even the occasional Cymoon or ISD-I. Be careful here, as the ISD is expensive enough that it typically will be the only actual combat ship in the fleet, with the rest of your points going into carriers and squadrons. This means that the area of what's under threat by the ISD is pretty obvious - if your opponent can avoid the ISD, or even worse, destroy it, your fleet's attack power drops substantially.

Arquitens, specifically Centicore, which was used well by Worlds 2019 winner Dennis/Tokra. In another matchup with a squadron-heavy fleet, you want to keep your squad groups able to gang up on enemy squadrons that venture in too far but spread out enough that it's tough to knock out more than 1 or 2 with an alpha strike. Centicore lets you spread your squadrons out and keep where your squad commands are going more flexible due to its quasi-Relay.

Arquitens themselves also tend to keep relatively safe while contributing to a fight, so if you're comfortable with a slower grind approach towards the enemy fleet, Arquitens can contribute while helping your squadrons put pressure on redirect tokens.

Gladiators named Demolisher. Not a common sight with Sloane fleets but I've faced a few. When Sloane's squadrons knock a brace off a helpless ship and then Demo comes screaming in, it's about to be a very bad day for that no-braces ship. To add insult to injury, give Demolisher an Intel Officer.

Fleet building
It's not surprising that Sloane fleets should invest, at minimum, a moderate amount of points into squadrons. Most Sloane fleets go all the up way up to a heavy investment and for good reason. I'm repeating what I wrote earlier, but Sloane fleets can struggle to get as many combat ships into their fleet as they'd like, so finding the balance between squadrons, carriers, and combat ships can take a bit of trial and error and result in hybrid builds that waffle between a heavy squadron/Big Heavy mix (usually ISD or Interdictor fleets) and heavy squadron/MSU hybrids (usually if combat ships are Arquitens, Raiders, and/or Gladiators).

For squadrons, you want to start off with what is actually going to damage ships. In almost every Sloane fleet ever, the beginning step is putting in Maarek Stele and Colonel Jendon. Maarek rolls two blue Bomber dice, is an amazing Imperial ace overall, and Jendon lets you attack again with him and brings Relay 2. After that, you need to consider how much more you want to invest into going after ships. There aren't a lot of other Sloane-friendly anti-ship squadrons, so your primary option is TIE Phantoms: two red dice against ships when combined with the Sloane crit reroll become more consistent, increasing the Phantom's average anti-ship damage from 1 to 1.22 and reduces their chance of doing nothing on their anti-ship attack from 39% to 22.6%. They don't produce at least one damage nearly as consistently, but 1.22 average damage is nearly identical to TIE Bombers' 1.25 average damage with Bomber Command Center. You can stop at Maarek and Jendon if you want, but then it's extremely important to keep Maarek safe as he's the one-man-show of your anti-ship squadron options.

Once you've decided how much you're investing into anti-ship squadrons, you have one more question you need to answer, and that is "am I bringing Intel?" If yes, get a Jumpmaster, or more likely, Dengar in there. Intel can be handy for repositioning your squadrons and going after ships but some players prefer investing the points into simply killing their problems. I can't argue with either approach, so it comes down to whether you're willing to make the points sacrifice for the versatility or if you'd prefer to funnel it into more direct aggro instead.

Speaking of direct aggro, the remainder of your available squadron points should get dumped into some combination of the following options:
  • Generic TIE Fighters and TIE Interceptors are worth considering when you need to bring your squad numbers up to what your carriers can command, and especially so if you're bringing along some Reserve Hangar Decks to recycle them.
    • Fighters have the advantage of cheapness, Interceptors have the advantage of speed 5 and Counter. Counter can be meaningful against enemy aces especially (spending accuracy icons in Counter attacks to further wear down defense tokens) but overkill against enemies without meaningful squadrons.
  • Otherwise, if you've got the room for them, TIE Fighter and Interceptor aces are recommended:
    • Howlrunner is a great option with enough other Swarm squadrons along. I'd recommend at least 3 other squadrons with Swarm, preferably more. Even better if they're Interceptors so you can boost their Counter as well.
    • Mauler Mithel is a strong contender. He's dirt cheap and his auto-damage after moving ability is extremely strong.
    • Ciena Ree is rather obnoxious to get rid of, especially with flak. She's a great upgrade on a standard Interceptor.
    • Saber Squadron is somewhere between an ace and a generic squadron but being able to go up to effectively Snipe 6 (with Howlrunner and Flight Controllers) with a Swarm reroll is great and has huge threat range.
  • Some swear by generic TIE Defenders with Sloane, and it seems like there's more merit there in Armada 1.5 with the ace restrictions. The upside is they're great all-around speed 5 beaters, they're happy no matter what they roll against ships due to Bomber, and with 6 hull they will happily eat flak for several rounds before it troubles them. The downside is they're at least as expensive as the TIE Fighter aces, their 2 black anti-squadron dice don't do much with Sloane against enemy aces, and the points you spent on Sloane's ability to reroll crits against ships is only useful if you're fishing for an accuracy (otherwise they'll leave it alone for Bomber damage). Your call here but I wouldn't dip into Defenders until I'd at minimum filled all 4 ace slots.

8 comments:

  1. The last local tournament I went to every imperial player had a nearly identical Sloane list and they all took top spots. ISD quasar raider and gozanti with tie defenders. It's a pain to play against because they just trump rebel aces which is what I play a lot of :(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In a meta rich in other squadron heavy fleets, she'll do fine, so it appears in that case she was working as intended.

      Delete
  2. "That's true whether they're activated in the Squadron Phase using Rogue or by a squadron command, there's no way around it."

    Is it the official rule that activating squadrons using the command/token gives them Rogue, or just allows them to move and fire in the same turn (which is the definition of Rogue, I know, but it's an important distinction for Sloane)?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry for any confusion - activating a squadron using a squadron command does not give them Rogue (or remove it). I just wanted to clarify that activating a Rogue squadron "normally" with a squadron command doesn't make them un-Rogue, even though Rogue is a keyword that works in the Squadron Phase.

      Delete
    2. Aha. Gotcha. That makes sense, and it's probably good to point that out in case someone tries to get around the Rogue keyword that way. Thanks for the response. Good article overall!

      Delete
  3. I think that the conclusion that Sloane is the anti-squadron/anti big ship admiral and she won't do so well against small targets is largely wrong. In fact, Sloane's most difficult matchup is probably a 6 ship boarding troopers Avenger list with a flechette raider that can use last-and-first activation to lock down her squadrons, close in and obliterate her main carrier. Her second worst is a rebel squadron fleet protected by Gallant Haven, since she's having a difficult time winning the squadron combat straight up and needs to poke at the sides of the enemy fleet to lure the squadrons away from Gallant Haven. CR90s on the other hand are not much of a problem for her since she typically has a very mobile fighter force at her command that can make a surprisingly short work of small ships, especially if they rely on evade tokens to limit the incoming damage. Just like in case of rebel squadrons, the key lies in the ability to selectively boost the firepower of the part of your squadron force that is best suited for the situation on the board. While imperials don't have anything as crazy as Yavaris and Adar Tallon, they do have Jendon and that's quite enough. Early game you use Jendon on anything that's particularly good at killing the enemy squadrons (typically an interceptor boosted by Howlrunner). Once air (space?) superiority is achieved, you use Jendon with Maarek Stele and despite only having one bomber (and no BCC!) in your fleet you still get extremely reliable 4 damage against an enemy ship, plus anything your non-bombers can do, which might even be enough to destroy a cr90 in a single activation using fighters only. In a single round it's not nearly as powerful as Yavaris-boosted b-wings might be when they're positioned correctly. Thing is, Sloane's force is much more mobile, almost impossible to escape from and typically has way more time to work on the enemy ships, so in the end of the day it can deal very comparable damage to the rebel squadron fleets. Sloane is in fact an excellent all-rounder and far from a specialized squadron-killer this article suggests. I'd take her into a small ship meta without hesitation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I disagree.

      The fact that her squadrons can destroy small ships (and I've seen them do it, mind you) doesn't mean they're efficient at killing small ships. They're far worse at it than a decent bomber wing would be because spending defense tokens on small ships is mediocre (it's better than nothing, mind you) in most cases and otherwise your non-Maarek squadrons are dealing a bit under 3/4 of a point of damage each if you just need raw damage.

      Sloane is having her moment in the sun right now because wave 7 has created a meta full of large ships. The counter-fleet to that with MSUs currently in retreat is bomber fleets. Sloane is good against both of those types of fleets so it's not surprising that's she's quite good right now. When she gets rushed by MSU, she's out-activated and her squadrons can't deal enough damage quickly enough to level the playing field as quickly as she needs in my experience. Against only one or two serious combat ships, they're more than enough when combined with Avenger or a Gladiator to get the job done, though.

      Delete
    2. I guess that's where our opinions differ then. I don't think that spending a small ship's defence token is any worse than spending a big one's. A CR90 has 3 defence tokens but only one of them can help it against squadrons (Raider's the same in that regard). Let's assume the main Sloane carrier activates 5 squadrons (pretty typical). 3 initial attacks are made by blue die non-bombers and the latter 2 activations are Maarek and Jendon. CR90 player should basically pray that the 3 initial non-bombers all roll hits (or crits re-rolled into crits, but that would require a lot of luck). If the initial attacks are all hits, the CR90 will lose 2 shields and get a damage card but then it will be able to redirect both of Stele's attacks (unless he rolls a precision each time and simply pushes a crit through but that still won't kill the CR90 unless both crits are doubles). If the 3 initial non-bomber attacks do roll precisions though, CR90 is in serious trouble. Assuming 2 precisions and a hit, the CR90 will be a shield down before Stele attacks and will then eat 4 hits, including 2 crits. If either one of the crits is double damage, it will go down immediately. That means the remaining Sloane squadrons can start working on another CR90 right away, while in the first scenario they would probably need to finish off the initial target. Either way though, Sloane's squadrons can kill a CR90 each turn and they can start doing the work from well outside the red dice range, meaning that one will probably get destroyed without getting a shot off. Granted, I've yet to see the extreme MSU, such as 8 CR90s against a Sloane fleet. I have seen semi-MSUs (3-4 CR90s plus something bigger and some fighters) though and CR90s really don't last very long.

      Delete