Saturday, February 6, 2016

Strategy Discussion: (Mailbag) When to Choose Second Player

Iskander4000 recently posed a question to me in the comments:

"Could you write an article on situations when you have initiative and it would be better to go second instead of first? I have a 5 ship list with objectives that are aweosme for it and I'm having trouble deciding if it's worth risking it to pick second player."

Good question, Iskander.  At what point do we want to give up First Player and the first activation advantage that it gives to take Second Player and our choice of objectives?

Choosing First or Second During the Game:

There are two distinct parts to this question, and I'm going to go after the simpler one of the two first.  At what point during a matchup do you want to sacrifice First Player's Advantage for Second Player's Advantage?  There's no small amount of calculation here.  But before we talk about the decision itself, let's look at the native advantages of going first and going second.

First Player's big advantage really is a big one.  You get to activate the first ship, which in turn gives you the opportunity to remove enemy ships and squadrons off the board with your attacks, before they have a chance to respond.  If you have activation advantage over your opponent (by having at least one more ship than they have), you have the chance to move a ship into an otherwise untenable firing position with your last activation, and then take the first activation moving it to safety.  Not only is it an offensive advantage in that you will be the first damage dished out each turn, but it is a defensive advantage (done properly) because you can use that first activation to dodge attacks.

Second Player is an advantage as well, though it is not as easily apparent.  Because your opponent must activate a ship first, with good positioning you can force his ships to activate first without being able to damage your own, and move into your own ship's firing range.  This benefits more ships of long range, and disadvantages ships of shorter range.  Second Player also has the advantage inherent in the objectives he has chosen, though what those advantages will be are chosen by the first player.  

So at what point do you intentionally choose Second Player?  Well, that comes down to reading your opponents list.  First look at his list and your objectives - do any of them help him, or are a net wash?  Then ask yourself:  "If I was running this list, what would my objectives be?"  Not what he would be taking if he wanted to beat you specifically, but what he would be taking for his list to beat anyone.  Do any of those objectives give you the advantage, or - coupled with First Player - give you more of an advantage than your worst objective?

Only if your worst objective is a better option for you than first player and his "worst" likely objective should you be picking second player.

Choosing Second Player in List Building:

The other side of the coin here is creating a list that relies on being Second Player and gaining the advantages that go along with the objectives.  This is more in depth than just "having the option" of choosing initiative, this is specifically designing your list to counter the current Meta, and get the most advantage out of your list.

So which objectives are the ones that give Second Player the biggest advantage?  This is going to be very dependent on your matchup and local meta.  For a good example, let's take a look at the World Cup statistics through Thursday:

Player 1 WinsTotal MOVPlayer 2 WinsTotal MOV
Advanced Gunnery
Most Wanted1261
Precision Strike928043836
Opening Salvo2408
Contested Outpost19951177
Firing Lanes1228
Fleet Ambush720561145
Hyperspace Assault4941
Dangerous Territory13571192
Intel Sweep
Superior Positions11103687
What we can see is a stark advantage toward First Player in a few objectives (Precision Strike / Fleet Ambush / Hyperspace Assault) and a strong advantage toward Second Player in two (Contested Outpost / Superior Positions).  There are several objectives without a large number of plays (Advanced Gunnery, Most Wanted, Opening Salvo, Firing Lanes, Dangerous Territory, Minefields, and Intel Sweep) - these may be so weak (or not-list appropriate) that no Second Player bothers to include them in their list, or so strong that no First Player even considers them a viable choice.

What we can take away from this is that as a Second Player build, there are a lot of folks that want to take Fleet Ambush and Hyperspace Assault, so we can discount those and not build to that.  Contested Outpost (and possibly Fire Lanes) seems like a good build as an alternative.  Precision Strike is another one that isn't particularly good, as most lists will be built to play it, so Advanced Gunnery, Opening Salvo, or Most Wanted are viable alternatives.  For Navigation, Superior Positions seems to be the big winner of the group.  So, what could we bring that would give us the best advantage as a Second Player?

Let's go with Most Wanted, Contested Outpost, and Intel Sweep.  Now we will need to build our list specifically to use those objectives.  Most Wanted wants us to have a cheap, fast ship that can run from the fight, while giving us an advantage for hunting a big enemy ship, so a Corvette of some sort will need to go into the mix.  Contested Outpost favors Imperials, so we'll be bringing some relatively inexpensive Command 3 ships to camp on the objective - say a VSD with Tractor Beams to fool with enemies speed / tokens as they approach.  Intel Sweep needs a fast, short turning ship that can collect the objective tokens, but one that can also eat some damage if the enemy converges on them - let's call that a GSD.  So our baseline list will be a Raider, a VSD, and a GSD.  Now we can season to taste with other upgrades and squadrons that will help us with these objectives.

Here's one possible example that I came up with (season to taste):

Gladiator I-Class Star Destroyer (Objective Ship for Intel Sweep / Outpost Support)
 - Grand Moff Tarkin
 - Ordinance Experts
Victory II-Class Star Destroyer (Camper of Outposts / Denier of Third Objective Token)
 - Tractor Beams
Gladiator I-Class Star Destroyer (Hard Hitter / Flanker)
 - Demolisher
 - Ordinance Experts
Raider I-Class Corvette (Objective Ship for Most Wanted / Alternative for Intel Sweep)
 - Ordinance Experts
 - Howlrunner
 - Soontir Fel
 - TIE Fighter x 4
 - TIE Interceptor x 2
Total Points:  395

With a 5 point bid you should be able to grab Initiative (and Second Player) against most opponents that aren't doing a crazy bid to get First Player anyway, and you have a build that plays to those strengths.  You have 8 deployments to get either your Demolisher to the flank on Contested Outpost or Most Wanted, or your Victory II into the best possible location to screen the third token on Intel Sweep.  Four Activation give you final activation against everyone but the craziest swarm players (and is something you should hopefully remedy by blowing up his cheap ships).  And more importantly, you have 3 objectives that either other players aren't playing, expecting, or particularly wanting to fly against.

So pay attention to your local Meta and find out what you should be running... at least until everyone is running your list.  Don't forget, each time you win the initiative, and you have to choose first or second player, you should still be doing the "which advantages will be better for me?" analytic in your head.


  1. Thank you, this definitely helps! After putting a lot of thought into it, I also think that your own playstyle can be a big factor. Personally I've won far more games as second player than as first by taking advantage of having the opponent place their ship first and maneuvering my ships to where I expect the enemy to be. This past week my opponent outbid me (he had like 385 points) and went first, choosing Dangerous Territory. I lost a corvette that would have probably survived had I been first player, but I took most of the tokens and also took advantage of the special obstacle rule, plus on the last turn I put my ships in such a position that there was a "kill zone" and his Vic had no choice but to walk into it and was destroyed in one turn. I will definitely keep your advice in mind at the start of games, since a lot of this will depend on which list I'm facing. Thanks again!

    1. I know in my local meta, I get a lot more advantage out of late deployments and dictating where and when engagements take place than I do playing first and getting the first activation.

      Admittedly, because I usually bring a 400 point bid, or close to it, it has lead to my common opponents selecting 2nd place just to deny it to me. Probably not a common problem.