Conceptual List Building

“How do I build a list?” “Is this list good?”

There are a great number of discussions on list building in X-Wing dedicated to answering these questions. They range from multi-page forum exchanges to small nuggets of wisdom hiding within other articles. For some people, building a good list requires “Math-wing” which can be deemed impenetrable to some, while others consider building a good list to be more a matter of luck and throwing random combinations of ships and upgrades together.

Let’s look at some underlying concepts that can help you answer those questions for yourself. The ideas presented below apply to both casual and competitive lists. However, those that play competitively might find them more useful.


The Archetypes


There are a variety of strong list archetypes, often classified by the names of the ships in them, Tie Swarm (6-8 ties, usually with howl runner), Han Shoots First (Han with 2 small ships) are well known examples. Now that rebels have the Z-95 and the Imperials the Decimator, both factions have access to the same list types, though in different ways.

There are many variations of each archetype, but the underlying cores remain relatively the same. We can learn a lot about list building by looking how each archetype below balances the following concepts.  Note: the list types below have several variations, and do not cover everything.

  • The Swarms (6-8 ships, using numbers to overwhelm or block)
  • The Mini-swarm (1 anchor, with a group of 3-5 smaller fighters)
  • The Elites (3 elite ships, heavily upgraded)
  • The Team (3-4 ships, highly synergistic)
  • The Tanks (2 strong ships with high attack, HP & strong defense)
  • The Squadron (4 ships, usually with 2 anchors and 2 generics)

*an anchor is an elite or heavily upgraded ship that represents a strong threat to the opponent.

The Concepts

Attack and Agility

Creative Commons Search.
Agility is best countered by an equal or greater number of Attack dice.

Attack dice are superior to defense dice, there are more hits than evades. The best way to take out a stealth interceptor or cloaked phantom is with a 4+ die attack. Agility dice are like locks – they tend to make it very difficult for lower values of attack to deal damage.

Two attack dice are surprisingly weak, and a force built of 2 attack die ships benefits greatly from offensive buffs, and relies upon greater numbers. The attack value our ships should have can be informed somewhat by the meta, 2 attack dice are much safer when our opponents are running Agility 1 or 0 ships, they become questionable against 2 agility, and near worthless vs. 4-5 agility.

This is why Howlrunner is so important to the swarm; her offensive buff greatly helps to overcome the defense of the opponent. We often see higher attack power ships coupled with lower attack values – which helps give us the advantages of numbers while keeping the advantages of attack power – as found in the number of mini-swarm builds.

Likewise, greater hit points tend to appear on lower agility ships. Greater hit points give us a more reliable defense, while greater agility gives us a more varied defense. 3 agility dice can be nigh invulnerable only to fail us at a critical time, while no agility and high hit points will withstand several attacks, but definitely melt away over time.


Tie Fighter Swarm
Balancing a better control of damage spread with keeping each ships arc relevant

There are several important numbers in X-Wing, agility, attack, hull, shields, pilot skill – but perhaps none are as important as the number of ships you bring to the field. Understanding the advantage of bringing multiple ships to battle is key to understanding the strength of the TIE Swarm as well as understanding how to destroy it.

There is great strength in numbers in X-wing. Each extra ship is an extra attack, which takes up space on the board and can potentially block enemy movement. Imagine you have 3 x 4 die attacks (3 X-Wings at range one) of 2 x 3 hit point targets (TIE fighters). 3×4 = 12 attack dice, and without focus, we can expect 50% hits, dealing 6 damage. Let’s pretend that our tie fighters both roll all blanks. We have enough damage to destroy both targets. Unfortunately, we won’t destroy them both! As our first shot deals 2 damage – our first target is not dead. When the second X-wing fires, and deals 2 more damage, 1 damage is wasted as our first tie fighter explodes. Our third X-Wing is unable to destroy the remaining tie fighter.

If you split the 12 attack dice into six 2 die shots (say from z-95s at range 2), we’re now likely to destroy both of those targets, dealing 3 damage to each TIE. More numerous, smaller guns mean fewer wasted hits than fewer larger guns, as extra hits against a dead target don’t count for anything. This is one reason why it’s not a great idea to simply compare the overall number of attack dice in a list. Our three X-wings at range 1 and six z-95s at range 2 have the same number of attack dice.

More ships on the board also means you lose a smaller percentage of your attack as the battle goes on; I have to lose 2 tie fighters to lose 4 attack dice, where I might lose that much firepower from a single phantom. My opponent will also have to spread their fire over my larger number of ships, which means getting firing arcs and, a greater number of attacks will melt through ships with low agility very quickly.

However, there are drawbacks to flying more ships – primarily, more time in moving the force, and trying to coordinate them all in formation or pointing at an enemy target; all while dealing with asteroids and the position of each ship. Having 8 ships also generally means giving up ships with higher attack values.

Superior numbers can usually be defeated by hyper-mobility and quality attacks, while focusing fire and not accepting a bad joust. This may involve trying to disorient the ships so that they crash into each other or do not effectively keep their arcs on your ships.


The best defense is not getting shot

X-Wing’s core mechanic, moving ships at the same time, means that the game is really a game about positioning. X-Wing is like chess at its core. It contains pieces that have set ways of moving, and threaten different areas. Just look at where each ship can perform an attack, and imagine where that firing area can move to in future rounds. Just as bishops on a white square cannot attack a piece on a black square, X-Wings cannot attack a piece out of their firing arcs.

This means we can threaten areas on future turns, and those areas are based on the movement dial. The likelihood of that threat depends on the color of the maneuver – as stressful maneuvers are generally performed less often than others, and green maneuvers are often performed when someone has stress (flying purposefully against this can be useful).

Moving earlier lets us block and later lets us react – Pilot skill has a strong impact on this – so the more maneuverable a ship, and the more it can reposition (Decloak, Boost, Barrel Roll, Daredevil and other tricks like Stay on Target, Navigator, Boba Fett) the more useful higher pilot skill is for reacting to the position of other ships. If you wish to block, lower pilot skill is more useful.

Repositioning is very strong, and the core strength of A-Wings, Phantoms and Push The Limit TIE Interceptors. It is countered by the large fire area of turret ships and to a lesser extent, Firesprays with their rear arc. In situations where you expect to face turrets, it becomes important to remove the turret to allow your mobility to win out. A list predicated on mobility will do very well if there are no turrets in the way. It also lets you fight other mobility lists, so lacking mobility you’ll want something very strong, superior numbers (so that you can have multiple ships with arcs everywhere…) or turrets.

Synergy, Antergy and Redundancy

Hobbie + Dutch

Synergy is working together. There are a number of abilities in X-Wing that can be put together which cause the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts. Rebels are known for their Synergy. Dutch, Lando and Garven are good examples that can lend the entire list dual actions without the penalty of stress. Action and token passing, protection of other craft, support abilities (Howlruner, Etahn Abaht) are all synergistic abilities. Since the abilities can have more value when working together, you have to be careful about which ships are lost, as losing a key ship can be more devastating in a synergistic list. However, the overall list synergy can bring a power that is greater than otherwise possible.

Antergy is the opposite, they are abilities that work singularly. The Imperials have many Antergistic abilities – helping the one be stronger than the many. Soontir Fel’s free focus, Backstabber’s extra attack die are examples of this. Antergistic lists don’t need to worry about losing a synergistic support ship, as its loss won’t really affect the rest of the list. Antergistic ships will continue to be effective until destroyed.

Both Synergistic and Antergistic lists can benefit from redundancy. Redundancy is having multiple ships that can perform the same task. Some very simple redundant lists include 4 rookie X-Wings with engine upgrades, or 8 Academy TIE Fighters. It doesn’t matter which ship you destroy as there is another duplicate to take the place of the lost ship.

It’s important to note that redundant list elements can have ships which perform the same role in a list but don’t necessarily have to be duplicates of each other. For example, both Garven and Kyle can pass  focus tokens – albeit in different ways. If you need to pass focus tokens to another ship and fly both Garven and Kyle but lose one, you’ll still have the ability to pass focus with the remaining ship. Similarly, if you run an antergistic list, you’ll want to have a second threat – so that if you lose one, you’ll still have the other.

Every list will have some balance between these three ideas. Some fully synergistic lists with no redundancy, can be crippled with the loss of a ship, while a fully redundant list offers no tricks and can stand to loose a ship. While a fully antergistic lists will never amount to more than the sum of their parts.


Threat Assessment


When you build your list, put yourself in your opponents’ shoes and ask, which ship is the most threatening, which ship do I need to destroy first? Which ship will cause the strategy to break apart? Which ship do you not want to have to fight in the endgame? Then check with yourself, are they the same, or not?

By looking at those answers you can add or remove upgrades to increase or decrease the threat level of a ship. If you need Wedge to survive until endgame, you can add Biggs, or you can take Keyan and Corran horn, and upgrade those two ships to be a greater threat. Strong threats can have a Biggs like effect and draw fire. If you can predict your opponents threat assessment, you’ll be able to know their target priority.

Having multiple groups of threats in different places can also help force your opponent into making a decision and affect their game plan. This will let you position your ships to destroy his better. While a single TIE is often little threat on its own, it becomes a greater threat in numbers.

You can use upgrades to balance a ships offense and defense (Shield upgrade on Wedge) – or you can tilt them entirely in one direction (Predator on Wedge). Generally, the more offensive the ship, the more likely it is the opponent will want to attack it, while the more defensive a ship (generic tie advanced + shield upgrade), the more likely it is the opponent won’t want to attack it – especially if it’s not an offensive threat. The more synergy a ship adds to a list, the more the opponent will want to attack it. Higher point count can also draw attention from the opponent in tournament play.



Rebels at Yavin

  • Suddenly those archetypes above start to make more and more sense – every one of them has 2 or more threats, with the exception of the swarm .(although that can be split into two mini swarms, each a threat… it’s kind of a special case.)
  • Those archetypes above also tend to be further specialized in one of the concepts above, Synergy, Redundancy, Antergy and depend on mobility, agility/HP or numbers.
  • The ideas in Numbers and Attack value suggest it can be good to have a larger number of ships, with the capability of attacking at different attack values.
  • Many of the lists have extra or filler ships, that can be used for blocking, or to make sure that you still have some power when you lose one of the bigger threats.

Checking for waste


It’s important to check your upgrades and pilot abilities and make sure that you don’t have abilities that are at odds with each other (Unless you have a specific plan for that to be the case.) For example, imagine the following combinations…

Lt. Blount + Munitions Fail-safe
Enhanced Scopes + Squad leader
Expose + R2f2

All of them work against each other and are wasting points. Lt Blount cannot miss, so fail-safe will never trigger. Enhanced scopes gives you a pilot skill too low to ever use squad leader. R2F2 increases your agility, only to have Expose reduce it again, and in this case they both take an action, so you will have trouble using them both at the same time.

Another place for waste is right there in the actions – taking multiple upgrade cards with actions limits which can be used. Some people will say that it’s not worth taking an upgrade card that you’ll very rarely use during a match; other people will say it’s not worth taking an upgrade card unless you use it every turn. You’ll generally want to make sure that you’re using the upgrades that you take. It can be very helpful to keep a small notebook, and keep a trigger count of how often you use an upgrade.

Avoid upgrades that work against each other, work against pilot abilities, or make a ship you don’t want targeted so important that it will be destroyed very soon.



It’s important to consider your list in the light of initiative, do you want it or not? Bidding points for initiative can be wasteful, but if your list needs initiative it can be worth it. When do you want initiative?

You want initiative when… You wish to have blockers or need your ships to fire first for a pilot ability. Also, when you need your ability to trigger before an opponent’s ability

You don’t want initiative when… you wish to impact obstacle formation the most. You want to react positionally to other ships placement or movement – especially if you and your opponent have the same pilot skill.

Imperial Considerations

Until fairly recently, Imperial lists tended to rely upon redundancy and mobility. They still do, but have the option to be a little more flexible than they had been before. Imperial ships are often fragile, with the notable exceptions of the large ships, TIE Defender and the TIE Advanced. The TIE Advanced is a nice platform, but is currently a bit too expensive to give you the numbers required for redundancy, while the dial and actions are just a bit too poor for mobility. Imperial lists tend to be antergistic and the loss of a single ship doesn’t often affect the entire list. This is beginning to change as the faction gains more access to synergistic abilities. As of now, Imperials have more bombs, generally cheaper ships and cloaking.

Rebel Sensibilities

Rebels have often relied on strong synergy and the loss of an individual ship can have a profound impact on the group. They also tend to spend more points on ships and thus have fewer. The Z-95 has reduced this somewhat, but the general rebel lists still tend to have fewer ships, which mean they usually need to destroy a ship or two before they lose their first ship. The rebels have more turrets, more durable ships and Astromechs.

A good list has an answer to most or all of the following questions below, while being aware of the concepts above. Pull up your list, and try to answer these questions.

  1. How will I deal with control elements
    (Stress, bumping, ionization, Asteroid placement)
  2. How will I deal with hyper-mobility and flanking elements?
  3. How will I deal with turrets?
  4. What can my list safely joust?
  5. How do I fight against greater numbers?
  6. What ship(s) do I want alive in the endgame?
  7. Does my list have a lynchpin?
    (something that if destroyed will shatter the list)
  8. What is the biggest threat in my list?
    Should that ship be the biggest threat?
  9. Can I split my forces?
  10. Does my list need initiative?

Final Consideration: Deployment


Asteroid Placement

The last things to consider for your list, are what kind of asteroid field setup it wants. (although this will also often depend based on what you are flying against.) Does your list want wide open spaces (Swarms/Jousting) or does it need tight and narrow passages (Elite re-positional ships). Something to think about, and easily a topic for another article.

Attack Strategies

You’ll also want to think about where to deploy your list, is your list best deployed in a single grouping, or split into multiple groups. Which is the flanking group? Which ships benefit from using the board edge to prevent a flank. Is your list able to respond to the opponents deployment, or is it more dependent upon asteroid positioning?

Now – You’re ready for combat!



A final note: The next time you build a list – try to answer the above questions, and think about the archetypes, and hopefully you’ll feel more confident in trying new things. I hope the thoughts above have been helpful! Happy flying, and may the force be with you.


3 thoughts on “Conceptual List Building”

  1. Knowing archetypes is definitely key to list building. Nice article. I love that for “Waste” you used R5-K6 as a graphical representation. That poor little guy is the most maligned droid in the galaxy!

  2. I have two thoughts to add that may be helpful.

    First, swarms are a collection of all bad targets. No matter what you kill, you aren’t removing much enemy offense. And when you fail to make the kill, that TIE Fighter moves off to the back orto the flank. A fresh one takes its place at closest range. It’s very similar to a tank list, or a defensive balanced list of 4-5 ships. Most swarms fight a little differently (blocking), so they get their own category. But something like a x6 PS 6 swarm fights very much like a tank list, and is not really a swarm even though it looks like one.

    Whenever you have a main group and a flank group, you are no the player who gets to decide which is which. Your opponent will decide that. You must always be prepared for them to attack either group, and punish them immediately with the group that becomes your flank. For example a swarm with Backstabber off to the side can see the opponent go after Backstabber. The whole swarm becomes a flanking group there, fighting from the advantageous position. But you have to get your guys to the fight on time. Don’t hit with one group before the other, or you could lose your flank ship and gain nothing.

  3. Great write up and ideas on list building. I find when I’m building a list It needs to fulfill a theme or combo that people don’t think of. With so many great ships and upgrades coming out I can’t wait to see what crazy lists I can come up with.

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