Big caveat first. I’m not saying any of these upgrades are bad. Only that there are in fact viable alternatives, no matter how “necessary” someone tells you they are.
Now, with that disclaimer out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the most common must-have upgrades, and some alternatives to the conventional wisdom.
1. Millennium Falcon with the Millenium Falcon Title
Yeup, let’s get the hate mail in right at the start. These two cards seem to be perfect for each other. I mean, I didn’t even bother calling the ship a YT-1300. It’s The Falcon. And with the title costing only 1 point, why would you ever leave home without it? Because you only get one action, that’s why. If you’re also running Engine Upgrade, you’ve now got 2 upgrades that cost 5 points and you can only use one of them in any given turn. It’s great to have options, but remember that you’re paying for those options. I’ve had plenty of games flying Fat Han where my most common action was Focus (necessary for shooting down high agility ships).
Alternative: 1 point.
There’s no other title possible, so the real option is just having another point to spend, either for a better upgrade (perhaps Luke over Gunner if you’ve got a second point to spare) or for an initiative bid to give you a leg up over Soontir, Whisper, and VI Jake. (On that note, VI Jake is now very popular in the Nova meta, and forcing him to move first really shuts him down.)
2. Corran Horn with R2-D2
When I first started playing X-Wing, I immediately put R2 on Luke, as I imagine many players do. And I learned what a lot of people have learned, that the X-Wing has some not-so-great green maneuvers. The 1-straight is handy, but being limited to greens makes you very predictable.
The E-Wing on the other hand has some more options, especially if you throw on Engine Upgrade and give Corran Fire Control System for offensive action economy. R2-D2 is much better on Corran, but he still restricts your movements and is pretty expensive.
With Corran’s low hit points, of course you want a regeneration droid. People call him “Fake R2,” but really he’s just a very different upgrade. He lets you regen shields no matter what maneuver you take (except K-turns, but R2 doesn’t work there either). This lets Corran pull turns instead of running away and can make him a lot less predictable.
There’s a few downsides, of course. You regen at the end of the turn instead of the start. You can’t use your Focus for offense, and you don’t regen if you used it on defense. And, if you get bumped you’re not regenerating, while R2 is guaranteed.
On the other hand, Corran can have 2 hits come at him, roll 1 evade and two blanks, and then turn the unspent Focus right back into a shield and be at full health before the next turn starts.
And let’s not forget the lesson about the Falcon. If you’re constantly taking a Focus action, you’re not going to be boosting, so an Engine Upgrade with R5-P9 may be a waste of points. You can either spend those points elsewhere, or give him a Stealth Device instead.
3. Proton Rockets + Veteran Instincts on Jake
With Jake’s amazing action economy, he’s a perfect platform for Proton Rockets. Focus to Boost into range, then Push the Limit for a Target Lock and watch your enemies vaporize. He takes Veteran Instincts to be PS9 and is cheap enough for a strong initiative bid. The common Fat Han + Jake list comes it at just 97 points.
Alternative: Refit + Outmaneuver
Crazy talk! I know. But this Jake is 3 points cheaper, making him viable in a lot more squads. If you’re running triple aces, having one this cheap is necessary.
You’re giving up that big alpha strike, but increasing Jake’s offensive power on regular turns. Nerfing your opponent’s defense is a great way to make those 2 red dice effective. Outmaneuver spells death for Fat Han and Kenkirk+Emperor. It’ll help you burn down Miranda (especially with C3PO) before she can regen shields. And in general, the skill makes your opponent a lot more worried about where he points his ships.
4. Moldy Crow + Recon Specialist on a HWK-290
This combo is common enough that there are now custom Moldy Crow holders for the d20 you’re using to keep track of all the Focus you’ve banked.
And you know what? If you’re using a d20 to keep track of your Focus tokens, you’ve overspent on your HWK.
Alternative: Jan Ors
She won’t help you build up a bank of Focus tokens, but unless you’re using a Blaster Turret, you don’t really need them. All it takes is a bit of smart positioning and early turn management to get enough tokens on the HWK.
What Jan does is let you make your HWK into a serious tank. 2 green dice + multiple Focus + Evade will eat a lot of red dice before going down. Oh, it’ll still go down, but it will now take a lot more time and dedication from your opponent. Plus, she’s a point cheaper than Rec Spec, and can be used to buff other ships that don’t have a native Evade. Or, for a lot of fun, she can let a ship that’s using Push the Limit to Focus+Evade take 2 Evade tokens instead.
Second Alternative: Lando
Personally, I’d never consider this in a serious tournament. He’s too unreliable to lead you to a win streak. But for a casual game, why not? (Because 2 green dice produce on average 1/2 of a Focus, that’s why not. But again, this is more of a for-fun alternative.)
Third Alternative: 3 points.
Just ditch the Rec Spec or the Title (I’d prefer keeping the Title, but Rec Spec is probably better for longer games). You don’t need infinite Focus, and there’s probably someone on your squad who can put those 3 points to better use, or it can let you give your HWK pilot Predator, which is great for nailing those Ion Cannon shots.
5. Stealth Device on Soontir Fel
We’ve all seen Super Soontir, Royal Guard Title, Push the Limit, Autothrusters and Stealth Device. Amazingly hard to kill. In my last tournament I blocked him with a Test Pilot, and let Jake 1-shot him with Proton Rockets. But, you know, normally amazingly hard to kill.
The alternative: Shield Upgrade
One of the biggest weaknesses for Soontir is Darth Vader. Put him on a Decimator with Gunner, and it’s lights out for Soontir, often killing him in a single round of shooting. Shield Upgrade protects against that, often discouraging the use of Vader at all. The shield is also more useful against auto-hit effects like Autoblaster and Ten Numb. And, with the Emperor and the Advanced Targeting Computer out there, protecting Soontir from crits is going to be even more important.