Moving on for now

Why’s he wearing his uniform if he’s leaving?

Welcome back to X-Ceptional Reading. I’ve started this year, and this blog, looking to play X-Force exclusively and see what I could learn and what I could achieve. While I’ve been a little short on concrete achievements so far, I feel like I’ve learned a lot. I’ve also reached, for now, the end of my patience with X-Force, and am looking around for something new, or at least a break.

All that considered, it seems a good time to reflect on how this has all gone and what I’ve learned so far.

What I’ve done and how it’s gone

Since the start of the year, I’ve played 24 competitive games on and offline with X-Force, going exactly 12-12 for a 50% win rate. I’ve managed one cheeky game with Wakanda as well, which I won thanks to some spicy dice and M’Baku treating Immortal Hulk as a bowling ball.

I’ve played in a 6 round, 54 player event, and while my results there were just as mediocre as my online results, I had a fantastic time thanks to a great TO, community and venue (Element Games in glamourous Stockport, the Cheshire Monte Carlo).

I’ve played against some excellent players and, while generally they beat me senseless, I’ve learned a lot from the games.

I also made, fleetingly, top 5 of the Longshanks X-Force rankings. You might look at my record and think that says more about Longshanks ratings than it does about my play, but either way, it happened and I’ve got the screenshot to prove it. It was a goal I set myself at the start of the year, and even if a goal turns out to be easier or less important than we thought it was, it’s still worth acknowledging (probably – it’s an imaginary number based on a bizarre formula for a game of toy soldiers, so I won’t go over board).

I 100% belong here, honestly

So that’s what I’ve done. What I think is more interesting is what I’ve learned in the process.

Attrition is skill testing and temperament testing

I’d tilt too if i’d been drawn like this

I’ll admit that part of switching to an attrition team from Steve Avengers was the lure of simple decisions – largely, you want to attack. This is completely illusory and, in fact, I think decisions in attrition teams are often more complex than scenario teams.

This is because:

  • A lot of your key decisions happen in setting up your attack, so you need to chain several correct decisions together over several turns to get the outcome you want.
  • Because you’re relying on dice to get the outcomes you want (characters who can no longer score because you killed them) you need to factor likelihood to succeed or fail into your core decision making more, and you get less immediate correct feedback. Making two builders from Baron Zemo into Ghost Spider is probably correct if she’s sat on a Secure, but if you fluff both you’re likely to feel bad and it may be difficult to separate the decision from the results.

Using Logan, the Wolverine brings these issues home. When Logan starts his turn within 3 of an opponent and outside of 3 of his mates, it’s not unusual to see him spike out, daze the first model and position himself for a sick spender into two more. But to get that sweet turn 2, your turn zero and turn one decisions have to be sound. And even if they are, it’s possible that 5 dice with pierce and 3 rerolls does zero damage leaving you without the power to spender and with your 4 threat sat in the middle of the table like a chump.

I found playing X-Force fun and rewarding, but also difficult and sometimes tilting. Which leads perfectly to another killy 4 threat I’ve been playing a lot:

Psylocke is a cruel mistress

What a meany!

Boy howdy, Betsy can jam. She routinely rolls 14 dice mystic with 4 rerolls in a turn, and starts that off with a short move most of the time.

However. That is absolutely all she does. No push, no throw, no splash damage, just an assassin who rolls a big dice pool and says “is this good enough?” I understand that on average, yes, it is good enough, but I’ve been let down by her in the final rounds of games several times and I am really looking forward to taking a four threat that has a bit more guaranteed game impact in my next roster.

That’s not really a criticism of Psylocke as a model, more an observation of the challenges of playing a model, and an Affiliation, where you’re saying “on average this is going to be great”. You’ve got to be able to handle the below average turns as well.

Win rates are deceptive,  or why you shouldn’t play Montesi

Who is this dude, and why do we care about his formula?

I really enjoy the discussion in the community on Longshanks win rates, and find the general consensus on what is and isn’t significant really interesting. It’s easy to find people who will agree that Wakanda’s win rate is too high and that the faction needs to be toned down somehow (not my opinion but a pretty prevalent one). However it’s also easy to find people dismissing win rates due to a small sample size, or a confounding factor which isn’t immediately apparently looking at the data.

I decided to play a few games with the “statistically best” crises for X-Force according to Longshanks, just to get a feel for why they might be good and what that win % means, of anything. That meant running Meteors, Intrusions and SWORD alongside Alien Ship, Senators and Montesi.

For the most part these crises are actually good for X-Force, and are among those you see recommended as a matter of course to players picking up the faction. What stood out to me me was just how bad Montessi felt every time I played it.

I almost always pick my secures with priority, so when I played Montesi it was generally without priority. This meant going 2-1 down on extracts round 1 in most games, as my opponent grabbed the middle extract safely and we otherwise played to parity. 

This is fine if the secure is low scoring and promotes interaction – like Gamma or Intrusions – but pretty awful on Infinity or Riots where my opponent can plan for a safe 4 points a turn and punish me for having to use actions moving to chase his lead.

So why pick Montesi at all? From what I’ve managed to find out, it’s the “least bad” third option for a lot of teams, and the low total score is important enough to take over, for example, Hammers. Hammers can be great in the same circumstances, providing you with extract parity and the additional attrition value of an extra dice. However it’s also abusable by Hulk, Thanos and Wakanda teams, so brings it’s own risks.

Montesi is a little easier to approach with a steal in your roster – Doctor Voodoo can double move and make an opponent drop a Book, which can be much easier to achieve than a daze if your opponent is trying to hide their extracts from you.

Montesi also has a “secret mode” where, if you like your opponent’s secures, you can pick your extracts with prio and benefit from that 2-1 disparity. I recently had this done to me by my local Black Order player and it set him up to win a pretty brutal game by 1 point over 4 rounds.

How am i meant to get these guys?

So if it’s not great for X-Force, why is the win rate good? Well, for the same reason it’s a bad pick in your roster. When an opponent brings it against you, if you win prio, choose secures and pull that extract you get to play with an extract lead on an ideal secure. That’s a punishing advantage on what’s probably an attrition mirror match.

I think there are two broader lessons on crisis selection here that have helped me. One is “plan to play your extracts without priority.” If you know you aren’t getting the middle objective on Montesi most of the time you play it, you don’t need to bring a safe grab and you need to plan to be a point down round 1.

The other is “Look for abusable crises and then acceptable ones”. Some scenarios – Hammers, Senators, Researcher – can prove quite unbalanced given the right team. Mystique Brotherhood can “safely” take two of the far Senators turn 1 and 2, Wakanda with Amazing Spiderman can take your home Hammer or Skrull from you turn 2, and Hulk or Thanos teams can dominate the Researcher. If you have one of these plays, you should take it. If you have a good reason to take Hammers, it’s probably going to be better than Montesi. However, if you *don’t* have an abusable plan, it’s best to stick to principles – attrition teams want low scoring crises on a narrow map, for example.

A lot of people aren’t ready for Cable

He keeps his rerolls in those pouches

At Spring into Marvel, I played a very fun, gracious opponent who I diced mercilessly. At the end of our game he remarked to me that he had never seen Beta Ray Bill get dazed round 1 like he had in our game. My attacks into Bill had been two shots from Cable within R3 and a size 3 throw. I’ve dazed Bill round one a few times now and the sentiment from my opponent has often been the same – “I really didn’t expect that to happen”

My view is that Cable is about as likely to toast Bill as he is to whiff and do zero damage – and no-one would be particularly surprised by that. Cable is also very likely to one shot Toad if allowed to walk, throw a size 2 then shoot him. I don’t think people are expecting that either. 

I’m not nearly numerate enough to calculate the odds of multiple opposed dice rolls plus rerolls and damage reduction – so I outsourced it to my friend, who has a Maths PhD and spends most of his days doing complex insurance calculations. He told me to learn to do it myself, but when he saw how long it was taking me he decided he’d be better off doing it for me. Without factoring in odd corner cases – such as Bill running out of power to reduce or Cable rerolling himself out of skull lock – Cable is 31% to daze Bill in that activation.

So, people don’t expect Cable to mash their tough models – but they probably should! Cable has no displacement, isn’t great at chasing and isn’t particularly durable. What he normally does is punch someone in the middle of the table really hard once a turn. Don’t leave your extract carrier next to him (unless you’re playing against me, then please do, I need the wins).

Where did I leave x-force?

Let’s check in on my current roster and how I’m feeling about them at the end of my first stint with X-Force 

  • Cable – 8/10. Rating this guy is pointless as I have to take him, but he is generally fantastic and is the lynchpin of my plan. 
  • Domino – 7/10. More like a 9/10 if your opponent can’t displace her and a 5/10 if he can, Domino makes short work of large health pools characters and is a monster with a hammer, but absolutely hates being pushed or thrown away. In the right match up she’s incredible.
  • Deadpool – 7.5/10. Just a solid all rounder who you can take in any matchup. Can be awkwardly dazed on a crucial turn but his spender and “counts as healthy” on his backside make up for it and do win games
  • X-23 – 7/10. Something of a finesse piece really, with good power management and positioning required to get the best out of her. Amazing against scenario teams on your secures but on a D can be left behind.
  • Psylocke – 7/10. The best affiliated 4 threat option and great in matches where Stealth and Martial Artist do work, but dicey and a little squishy. Dies most games. 
  • Logan, the Wolverine – 8/10 if you’re good with him but 6/10 for me. Can punish opponents but also explodes once X-Ceptional Healing is gone and requires careful use.
  • Nick Fury Jr – 9/10. Every game I play this dude he over performs. Counters Brotherhood and Wakanda extract nonsense, criminally dangerous with a hammer, spectacular on Infinity Formula and if allowed to start his turn with the grunts alive and 2 or more power a next level damage dealer. Should probably see more play. Why aren’t you playing him???
  • Baron Zemo – 10/10 perfect design I love my balaclava boy. Loves standing near Fury and his Grunts turning them into killing machines. He’s probably following me to my next affiliation.
  • Crimson Dynamo – ??? After 24 rated games of X-Force I have barely played them on a E shape, and so have never put Dynamo on the table. Could probably just be Luke Cage honestly, or a second 2 for Preserve the Dream nonsense. Invincible Iron Man for Stark Armoury or Helios is also an interesting alternative.
  • Bullseye – 9/10 He stands on a point and chips away at people. Once a game he spenders and probably dazes someone. I don’t think you can ask for more in a 2 threat.

I’ve got one more scheduled tournament with X-Force – Crisis in Caledonia, a 5 person team tournament at Common Ground Games in April. My roster is unlikely to change significantly from the above, although because we are debating who gets X-Ceptional Healing (Tactics card and Crisis are Singleton as well as Characters) Logan may come out for another utility piece – probably The Black Widow if I paint her in time. Sabertooth has been looking at me from my model box, saying “how come you don’t play me? I’m painted really well and I’ve got a Long move” but I’m not sure about playing him without X-Ceptional to guarantee an activation where he gets to use his spender.

What’s next?

So what’s coming up for me? I think I’ll make the most of having a little experience with Wakanda and a fully painted roster by getting some games in with them while they are still “busted”. I don’t know if they are too good really but they are definitely *good* and are exciting to play. I want to get to 20 games with Avengers and will probably round out my 5 affiliations played badge on Longshanks with Defenders and SHIELD, both interesting factions containing a mix of models I’ve played and models I haven’t. After that we’ll be deep into the new wave of models and I’ll be looking to try out Shang Chi in particular. I think by the time Archangel releases I’ll be ready to give X-Force another try, and as unlikely as it is I’m crossing my fingers for Maverick to be affiliated – I love black ops assassins with hidden pasts who inexplicably dress in bright yellow.

In the 90s this counted as sneaky

Thinking about Montessi and Infinity Formula has provoked an itch in my brain around scoring pace and parity on crisis combinations, so I’ll try to be back soon with some thoughts on understanding that and leveraging it for advantage. Until then, be x-cellent to each other.

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