The first step to improving at X-Wing is admitting you have a problem. And your Win-Loss record will typically make that easy enough to do.
The second, and much harder step, is figuring out just what that problem is. What makes this so difficult is that there are many different kinds of problems. Some issues are very obvious (forgot I moved first, and now my K-turn is blocked…), but many are very subtle. Hopefully this will help you to figure out where your problems are coming from.
1. Piloting Error
This is the most basic type of problem. That 3 bank went a lot further than you thought and landed you on a rock. Piloting error is when your ships land somewhere other than where you thought they would.
While this is usually very obvious (because you see your ships bumping and hitting obstacles), sometimes it can be a hidden problem. If you routinely have to use barrel rolls to get around obstacles, you may be suffering from piloting error. Sometimes the roll was exactly what you planned — and that’s okay — but if you’re using it to correct because you didn’t plan right, don’t trick yourself into thinking you’re actually a good at flying. The poor piloting is now costing you Focus and Target Lock actions, and probably costing you games as well.
2. Tactical Error
These are the small, turn-by-turn decisions. Taking a Target Lock when you needed a Focus. Spending a Focus on offense when you should have kept it for defense.
This type of error can be hard to spot because it doesn’t always come back to bite you the way landing on a rock does. If you boost your T-70 into Range 1 (4 dice, expect 2.0 damage) instead of taking a Focus (3 dice + Focus, expect 2.25 damage), you might end up rolling hit-hit-blank-blank and feel lucky you didn’t need that Focus after all. It doesn’t feel like an error. But, over a series of games, those sub-optimal decisions stack up. You can make tactical errors and win, but you won’t win consistently. Best way to fix this is to sit down with the back of an envelop and do a little bit of math. (1 natural red die = 0.5 hits. With Focus or TL = 0.75 hits. With Focus and TL = 0.94 hits.)
Making poor maneuver decisions is also a kind of tactical error. You don’t know where the enemy might go and are trying to plan for multiple possibilities. Most common error I see is over-committing to a guess. It’s typically harder to recover from overshooting. Better to go slow and try to trap the opponent over multiple rounds. There are some situations where you have to get ambitious, but most of the time it’s better to miss a shot because you moved too slow than too fast.
3. Strategic Error
These are the big, game-plan decisions. How do you set up your squad? Which ships do you focus on first?
Like tactical errors, strategic errors can be tough to recognize. The results of the bad decision are often far removed from the decision itself.
The best way to get around a strategic error is to create a path to victory. Think about what you want the mid-game and end-game to look like. What’s the most favorable match up once you’ve both lost half your points? What’s the worst match up? This tells you who to hunt on the other side, and who to protect on your own side. Focus on forcing a trade that favors you. In other words: Kill Omega Leader first.
Pay attention to pilot skill, damage output, and damage mitigation to figure out what your squad’s path to victory is. When facing ships with consumables (munitions, bombs, crackshot, glitterstim, etc), ask yourself how big a threat that ship is after it’s used up its tricks, and if you should focus on someone else first. Pay special attention to ships that require focusing fire to kill. Soontir Fel, Red Ace, and Omega Leader are almost impossible to kill in a 1-on-1 matchup, so they have to be dropped early.
4. Squad Building Errors
Sometimes there’s just boneheaded mistakes, like putting Gunner on the Outrider. But, assuming you have at least a few competitive games under your belt, you’re not likely to mess up that badly.
Instead, squad building problems come down to leaving yourself vulnerable to too many opponents. I like to think of my squads as a toolbox. I need to have the right set of tools to defeat a range of different squads.
To identify problems with your squad, look at the most common list archetypes in your meta, and see if your squad can create a path to victory for each one. At the moment, here’s the squads I’d think about:
Palpatine Shuttle, Omega Leader, Ace to be named at a later time
3 U-Boats — Plasma torps, proton torps, Boba Fett crew, 4-LOM crew
Triple Imperial Aces — Assume Soontir, Carnor Jax, and Omega Leader all present
Poe, Red Ace, Stresshog. This is becoming pretty rare, but still something worth theorizing against.
Dash and Miranda. Both can be tough to face in the end game.
TIE Salad — Ben’s Roanoke championship list. Palp shuttle, Alpha w/Thrusters, Wampa, Scourge w/Crackshot, Howlrunner w/Crackshot
4 TLTs. Also becoming somewhat rare these days, but someone still brings it once in a while.
4-5 Rebels: Either 4 B-Wings; BBBBZ; or 2 T-70s, 2 Z-95s, and Roark w/TLT (in any case, lots of hit points, lots of fire power)
Rear Admiral w/Vader and Gunner, plus Whisper
To be clear, you probably won’t find a squad that thinks of each of these as a favorable match-up. But, if you can only figure out how to beat 3-4 of them with your squad, it’s time to go back to the drawing board. A few of these should be great matches for you, and most of the rest should be no worse than 50/50 odds.
You’ll probably have 1-2 “hard counters” out there, which are almost impossible for you to beat, and this becomes more likely with every new wave. Best case scenario is that your hard counter is something that loses to other popular squads.
5. Moral Failure
People who play against me regularly have probably heard me refer to winning through good morals and losing because of moral failure. It sounds like a joke, yet there is something specific I mean when I say it.
Moral failure is blaming anything but yourself for your loss.
If you got bad match ups, you should have built a squad that gets better match ups. If you get outmaneuvered, you shouldn’t have let that happen. If you get bumped and landed on rocks, you should have flown better.
But the big part here is dice. Your dice went cold? Tough. You should have planned on that happening. When you’re formulating a plan, you should be thinking about how it will go if your opponent rolls well and you roll poorly. Do you have re-roll mechanisms in place? Evade tokens? Can you arc dodge instead of risking the shot?
When there are 20-30 attack rolls in a game (and just as many defense rolls), and you’re playing in a tournament with 4-6 rounds of Swiss and another few rounds of single elimination, you will get on cold streaks and your opponent will get on hot streaks.
Moral failure is blaming luck for losing. Good morals is figuring out how to optimize the things that are under your control to avoid leaving things up to luck.
[And yes, I understand that’s not what “moral” means. I just like saying Moral Failure.]