J: How long have you been playing X-wing, and what drew you to the game?
B: I started playing a couple of months before Wave 4 dropped, so coming up on two and a half years now. A friend had picked up the old Core Set and a couple of expansions, amongst them an A-wing and TIE Advanced. Two of the pilots from those packs are Tycho Celchu and Maarek Stele.
Now, I spent a very, very large chunk of my childhood reading the Rogue Squadron books (where Tycho is a major character) and playing TIE Fighter (where you play as Maarek). Then I started looking into other expansions and saw more and more of my old favourites represented. It was more than enough to draw me in.
J: Tell me about the first time you played X-Wing: how'd you do, and what about it made you want to play more?
B: I can barely remember them at all, to be honest. I do remember losing a lot, but the guess and counter-guess nature of the manoeuvre dials made them all much more interesting even while I was getting smashed.
I don’t think I was really hooked until I first met up with some other players at the friendly local game shop and began getting into the competitive scene. I quickly realised that the core mechanics were far deeper than they first appeared once you started really learning them.
J: At what point did you realise that you were really pretty good at X-Wing? At what point did you realise you might be the best in the country?
B: The first time I started to think I was getting pretty good was an online Vassal game against our 2014 National champion Morgan Reid, my first legitimate win against him. The only other win before that had been at a Store Championship where he was mucking around with an unusual squad, but this one was his PalpAces against my BroBots in a Regional practice game. Neither of us were pulling any punches, and after an intense slugging match, I managed to pull out a solid win. It’s still one of my most memorable games.
As for being the best in the country… I still don’t think I am, to be honest. Nationals was actually my first “major” tournament win, and there is no shortage of players I’d still rate equal or better than myself.
J: Do you have a favourite faction? If so, what about it keeps you flying it?
B: Not really. I kind of just go wherever new releases and changes in the meta pull me. I played a lot of Rebels back in the day, switched to BroBots when they landed, and then changed to the Palpatine Defenders to combat Dengaroo.
J: How about a favourite ship/pilot? Any situations where using that ship/pilot's ability meant a huge difference in a game?
B: The IG-88's would still be my favourite ship. They’re difficult to learn but hugely rewarding once you do. It’s a bit of a mean “gotcha” moment, but I still love surprising people who aren’t used to them with just how fast they can be, racing out of deployment and putting Heavy Laser Cannon fire into the opponent’s ships in the first round.
B: The “Commonwealth Defenders” squad:
Colonel Vessery + Juke + TIE/x7
Countess Ryad + Push the Limit + Twin Ion Engines MkII + TIE/x7
Omicron Group Pilot + Emperor Palpatine
I picked it up after hearing MajorJuggler on the FFG Forum talk about how strong it was against Dengaroo. I tried it out for myself and realised it wasn’t just strong against Dengaroo; it’s almost invincible, and at the same time has enough all-round strengths to stand a fighting chance against the rest of the field.
J: Tell me about that game: was it super stressful? What do you remember most about it? Was there a different game leading up to it that you enjoyed more?
B: I wouldn’t call it stressful. It was a high-pressure game, but that’s not really the same thing. Jaren is a very calm and professional guy to play against, which also helps a lot.
J: Does the Australian meta match with the US/Worlds do you feel?
B: Historically, not really. I remember back in Wave 4 when the Phantom was running amok in the US, it didn’t get anywhere near that level of representation down here. Wave 8 was the first time I’ve seen our meta really follow the overall world one with massive amounts of Jumpmaster wolfpacks & Dengaroo.
J: Have you decided on a squad as yet for the Worlds? If so any details without giving anything up to your opponents?
B: I have, but I’d rather not broadcast that on an open channel.
J: What do you think are the 3 most powerful squads currently?
B: Difficult to say, given FFG decided to blow the meta sky high a couple of weeks ago. Palpatine Aces/Defenders and Dengaroo are both still really strong, and I’ve been very impressed with Shadow Caster lists. But the death of the JumpMaster U-boat has opened the meta up a lot, particularly for the Rebels, so it’s impossible to know for sure right now.
J: Most underrated ship in X-wing today?
B: I’m going to go a bit left-field and pick the little Attack Shuttle. It’s easily the ship I’ve seen the least of since it launched, despite being pretty decent. I think a lot of people get scared off by the low stat-line and how expensive it can get, but Ezra and Sabine, in particular, can be utter terrors if built and used correctly.
J: What do you think people should learn from your playstyle? What do you think you have to improve on yourself?
B: You don’t always need to be pushing for damage. It took me a long time to learn it myself, but breaking away and taking a round or two to “reset” is a lot better than staying in a bad position and trying for maximum damage.
As for me, I’m still a very bad formation flyer, having never really flown a TIE Swarm or the like for more than a couple of games at a time. I can manage the initial approach, but once the furball starts everything falls apart awfully quickly.
There you have it, a glimpse inside the mind of an X-Wing champion. Ben has also kindly agreed to do a post-game interview after his Worlds experience, so I'll try and get that onto a podcast.
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