This is the second of my three planned articles. It's the only one that will appear wholly on the forums; the others will be linked from other places. You can find the first, where I talk about the meta generally, here.
So, due to the business of both my friends and myself, I ended up doing a lot of testing against the only person I knew who would be available at all the same times as I would: Me.
That's right. Just me.
I tested out various lists for different factions, including Han's New Wookiee (which I read about on the forums here), Rebel Heroes (featuring Han, Luke, Ahsoka), New Scum Hunters (basically IG + Elite Changeling), and Beast Wombo Combo (Bantha and Rancor + lots of command card draw. Basically, you're just trying to go for dream combos, like Single Purpose + Wild Fury with the Rancor). However, with how underrated the Empire has been, and with the introduction of many interesting new Imperial units, I was keen to bring them to the table.
Originally, my list was as follows. Bolded units/command cards have explanations below.
Deployment/Upgrade Cards: Darth Vader + Driven by Hatred (13)
2 x Elite Jet Troopers + Targeting Computer (16) Regular Riot Troopers (5)
2 x Regular Imperial Officer (4)
Rule By Fear (1)
Zillo Technique (1)
0: Planning, Urgency, Take Initiative, Looking for a Fight, Element of Surprise
1: Tough Luck, Negation, Concentrated Fire, Fuel Upgrade, Shared Experience
2: Overrun, Call the Vanguard, Parting Blow, Force Illusion, Prepared for Battle
A bit of reasoning behind some choices:
Darth Vader + Driven By Hatred: Many people have claimed that melee units have no place in the current meta, especially due to their substantial difficulty on Nal Hutta Swamp. In testing, this concern proved to be mostly baseless, as I had relatively small issues with Darth Vader, even when I had the opposing player play more defensively. On top of that, his damage potential is absurdly high, and he'll pretty commonly just wipe out a midweight unit in a single strike. Finally, his survivability proved to be pretty amazing. Darth Vader seemed like he was there to stay.
Regular Riot Troopers: For 5 points, I was really just paying for two guys to get in the way of one, maybe two attacks. RB can be a surprisingly hard hitting attack as well, meaning these guys are a pretty solid investment at 5. Another reason I went for these guys instead of the Elites was to be able to up my activation count to 6, as I wanted a 50/50 chance of getting the last activation on turn 1 (I was expecting most lists to be 6 activations).
Looking for a Fight + Parting Blow: A nice combo that serves to give Vader an extra smack if you draw it. Being able to drop IG-88 or other mains before they activated was really attractive, even if it meant Vader getting stunned afterwards. Both cards were also still fine on their own, meaning I wasn't relying on the combo entirely. Force Illusion: My biggest fear was having Vader cop a huge amount of attacks from IG-88 before getting the chance to activate. Force Illusion gave me a way to effectively cancel an entire RRG attack, provided IG was at Range 3 and didn't roll 3 accuracy on the Green die. It would then also serve to mitigate damage from any following attacks, or force IG to come closer.
Eventually, I decided that the regular Riot Troopers just weren't doing enough, and I upgraded them to the far superior Elites at the cost of an Imperial Officer. This also led to me dropping Prepared for Battle in favour of Reinforcements, as it could potentially be quite powerful with the Elite Riots.
Out: Regular Riot Troopers, Regular Imperial Officer, Prepared for Battle
In: Elite Riot Troopers, Reinforcements
Testing showed very positive results against Ranger lists and against all variety of Hunter lists, but something still felt a little off. The traits didn't mesh together all that well, especially if the Riot Troopers were picked off early (which they often were). Five activations meant I was never able to go last in R1, and in the games were IG DID have Blaze T1, Vader got destroyed pretty badly. I had virtually no long range fire support, meaning I had to get up and in my opponent's face quickly. Drokkatta was proving to be a menace, and I was concerned about the relative inflexibility of my team. As cool as it was that I was going to play Darth Vader, he just isn't the type of figure I normally go for.
Then, I decided to toy around with the Emperor and some Sentry Droids, in what ended up being my final list:
Deployment/Upgrade Cards: Emperor Palpatine (8)
2 x Elite Jet Troopers + Targeting Computer (16) Elite Sentry Droids (10)
2 x Regular Imperial Officer (4)
Rule By Fear (1)
Zillo Technique (1)
0: Planning, Urgency, Take Initiative, Disorient, Element of Surprise
1: Tough Luck, Negation, Concentrated Fire, Fuel Upgrade, Shared Experience, Change of Plans
2: Overrun, Call the Vanguard, Inspiring Speech 3: New Orders
Some more reasoning: Emperor Palpatine: This may be obvious to many, but I'm going to say it again anyway: Emperor Palpatine has absolutely ABSURD damage output. You're generally handing out at least 4 unpreventable damage, as well as a bonus 3 die attack from one of the troopers in the list. On top of that, you can split this damage up amongst enemies as you see fit. Your opponent has to position there units carefully on T1, lest you get a free attack with one of your pushed out Sentry Droids or Jet Troopers from Palps (note you don't get to use Charged Shot with the Sentries, meaning that long range shots can be challenging). There's so much to like about him. Elite Sentry Droids: I believe I was the only player using these guys at the tournament, and opinions online have been mixed on them. I'm going to reiterate what I've said many times now: Elite Sentry Droids are incredible. Their damage output is very consistent, with solid accuracy against single targets. They're also able to demolish Alliance Rangers and Weequay Pirates with Multi-Fire. In testing, I found that the pair of Sentries were consistently killing one unit and moderately damaging another in one activation, OR sniping down a single unit from quite a distance away. They're tough enough to potentially survive two medium-sized attacks as well (with some help from Zillo, of course). On top of that, they share command card synergy with the Jet Troopers (Shared Experience + Call the Vanguard), which the Elite Riot Troopers didn't. I expect I'm going to be using these guys in my Imperial lists for a while to come.
Disorient: There's really convoluted reasoning behind my inclusion of this. It was primarily for Luke's Finest / IG Hunter lists, so that I could potentially get some information about their hand while also removing focus from a Ranger or Eequay. It was extremely narrow, but I was pretty afraid of getting blown out by Son or Blaze T1. Additionally, knowing my opponent's Negation / Tough Luck / Assassinate are gone was a nice bonus. I actually never resolved it throughout the weekend.
Shared Experience: If 3P0 and Gideon have taught us anything, it's that recurring focus is pretty insane. Top that off with the fact that this is free Zillo food, and this is an all-star, especially if you draw it in your opening 5, as it makes an easy pitch to Rule by Fear. Six units in the list can cause it to come back, and being able to constantly threaten four dice attacks is pretty awesome. I loved this card when it was spoiled, and being able to use it effectively in a list made me pretty happy.
Inspiring Speech: Remember how I said focus and four dice attacks were insanely good? Leading off with this onto a pair of Jets or a pair of Sentries on round one is incredibly intimidating, and whenever I led off with a great speech from an Officer, I went on to have an absurd turn two. New Orders: After I got obliterated by this when @DTDanix was running Luke's Finest in a Vassal tournament, I started paying a lot more attention to it. With a good spread of leaders in the list, and the highly mobile Jet Troopers, there were bound to be lots of opportunities to make good use of this. In two of my matches, it was game defining. It ensures you get the last activation in R1, which is arguably the most crucial activation in the game (with activation one in R2 being the other all-important activation).
Throughout the tournament, I played against:
Luke's Regulars on "Shielded" (Luke, Ahsoka, Regular Alliance Rangers, C-3P0, Gideon, Hera, Rebel High Command) Win 40 - 13
Rebels But Not Rebels on "Spoils of Crime" (BT-1, Leia, Luke, R2-D2, Elite Jawa Scavenger, C-3P0, Regular Clawdite, Temporary Alliance, Devious Scheme?) Win 40 - 8
Evan's Rebels on "Line of Fire" [Overall Winner] (Ahsoka, Ko-Tun, Jarrod, Elite Alliance Rangers, Gideon Argus, C-3P0, C1-10P) Win 40 - 13
Classic Hunters "Gaining Favour" (2 x Eequays, Vinto, Onar, Hera, C-3P0, Jabba, Temporary Alliance, Black Market, Devious Scheme) Win 40 - 29
Bantha Hunters on "New Ownership" (Bantha, 2 x Eequays, Vinto, Gideon, C-3P0, Hired Guns, Devious Scheme, Temporary Alliance, Beast Tamer) Loss 17-40
Just a very quick overview of each of my games for context:
R1: I wiped out all of his units, with the exception of Luke and Ahsoka, by the end of R2. I'd lost 2 Jets in the process, and scored 5 objectives total. I think he made a critical error by running both Luke and Ahsoka ahead to smash one of my Jets, leaving his troopers undefended behind.
R2: I took out BT-1 during the first round, denying a second attack from Leia. Luke destroyed Palpatine next round, but with only Leia and Luke left as real attackers, he just couldn't put out anywhere near enough damage.
R3: Evan sent Jarrod to take the top terminal (he started at the top, as I won initiative). I don't actually remember too much else from this matchup, except that I played New Orders at the end of R2 to basically seal the deal.
R4: Focused Vinto failed to take out my Elite Sentry Droid, even with Draw (though I did have to use Zillo twice). Vinto then dodged my next three attacks at him, and continued to be a menace throughout the game. R2 was an absolutely slaughter fest, with my units JUST coming out on top, especially after the Emperor took out three units in a single activation. Had it not been for the early three dodges, I think this game would have been much more one-sided.
T8: I made two huge errors in this game due to my fear of the Bantha. The first was that I moved a Jet to a position where focused Vinto could shoot him. The second was that I completely forgot that my opponent could open the door (I tunnel visioned and kept counting as though the Bantha would be going the long way). I also got Crushed AND Jundland Terror'd T1, which was pretty rough. I don't know if I would have won even had I remember that he could open the door, but it certainly would have made a huge difference.
What Would I Change?
I'd cut Tough Luck completely. I don't think it's anywhere near as relevant in Zillo lists, with the exception of Ranger matchups due to Accuracy. I was frequently unimpressed when I drew it.
I'd also cut Disorient, because I think I was being too cute with my intentions for it. It's way too narrow, even though I can still always dump it to Zillo.
That's pretty much it. Overall, I thought the list performed extremely well, and even if Nationals were next weekend and I knew all of the lists being played, I'd still probably turn up with this one.