Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Interview with 2017 World Champion Norm Weir

Congratulations again on winning the 2017 World Championship for Armada, and thank you for taking the time out for this interview.

Thank you! You are welcome and it is a pleasure, and thank you, Biggs, for all the work you put into Steel Squadron, Armada, and the FFG community.

Norm's well painted Gallant Haven was painted by his girlfriend, Rosa.

First off, tell us a bit about yourself.  What are you doing when you’re not pushing plastic spaceships around a table?

I am a biomedical engineer by training, although working as an electrical engineer pays the bills. In the past, I spent several years in hospital research, investigating combined MRI and ultrasound technology. My latest gig was as a visions system specialist, building indoor golf and sports simulators. Presently I am getting ready to start my new position in the heavy steel industry, the field I started with as an intern. When I stepped through the factory door and felt the heat blasting my face and my nose filled with the smell of machine grease, I knew I was home.

Fun fact: Canadian engineers can be identified by an Iron Ring they wear on the little finger of their working hand. I wear mine on the left.

I am enamored with FFG games in general, and have at one point or another played competitive Netrunner LCG, Conquest LCG, SW:X-Wing, Game of Thrones LCG, and SW:Destiny. It is the pairing of visual aesthetics with generally decent mechanics that keeps me coming back for more.

Your name isn’t unfamilar to players who have been keeping their eyes on top finishers in the past.  You’ve also won the 2016 North American Championship, but did not place as high at Worlds in 2016.  How did you change your approach to come back and win the whole thing?

Worlds 2017 for us was a story of redemption. Worlds 2016 was a disaster for the Canadians and Team Toronto. We were quite vocal about the “Canadian Conspiracy” when in Round 4, all 4 team members from Toronto were at Tables 3 & 4. We traveled all the way to Minnesota only to play each other during swiss and the event culminated in half of us knocking out a teammate in the final round. Two members of the team, Kristjan and Victor, finished 3rd and 4th, respectively.

Victor crushed me in the final round. Going to Worlds, we agreed as a team to bid no more than 19 points for initiative. Before this agreement, we kept increasing our bids during practice to insane amounts, greatest being 26. With Victor and I both at 19 points, he won the initiative roll and secured first player. I was flying a modified version of my two-ship Imperial squadrons list, which falls apart both as second player and with activation disadvantage.

Kristjan went undefeated that day and was a single point short of the Top 2 cut. He would have made it to the Top 4 if JJ and Justin did not tie their game at Table 1. The rest is history, with JJ claiming the title with his Y-ball of Doom. The Regional Byes we took to the tournament turned out to be poisoned gifts, hurting our MoVs. The journey to Worlds 2017 started that day for the whole Toronto Armada community.

One of the major changes in approach was to scrap individual list development and focus on a single list that we would take. The community post-Worlds 2017 was shocked to learn that the Toronto team all fielded the same list. This was in stark contrast to Worlds 2016 where we had fiercely individualistic lists: Kristjan’s Motti double VSD, Carlo’s all-ship Liberty/Admonition beatdown, Victor’s Dodonna Yavaris, and my GenCon two-ship aces.

We opted to all learn the same list. This allowed us to analyze our individual play styles and learn from each other. During testing, we discovered that we each had our own unique way of flying the same list; we made different decisions to similar circumstances. For instance, I tend to make high-risk, high-reward plays, as was seen in the finals when my Yavaris gunned up to speed 3 and ran over a debris field, narrowly missing the Gallant Haven. By watching my teammates, I learned when it was the correct situation to be hyper-aggressive, taking a sledgehammer to my opponent and winning through mathematical attrition. Other times, I learned to exercise caution, discipline, and formation flying to react to my opponent’s choices. So to answer succinctly, my approach was to practice play styles different from my natural modes. I adapted my playstyle to meld caution and aggression.

Within the Armada community, we’ve all heard of “the guys from Toronto” showing up and collectively doing well.  How much would you say you have been helped by having that community around you?

All this would not have been possible without the community and team. We rallied as a community and became determined to bring the title home to Toronto. Special credit to Yik for crushing the local tournament scene with the list and to Kyle for being the test subject for it.

The Toronto Crew had their Assault Frigates painted by their significant others.
(Or in Carlo's case, his kids.)

Let’s get to your list - quite a bit different from your 2016 North American Championship list of Ozzel / ISD / Demolisher / Aces.  Can you tell us how your list evolved into its current form?

The community sees the output of GenCon 2016 and Worlds 2017, but not the journey that happened between. The preparation for GenCon was unique in that I flew almost the same list for about a year. I personally love loaded, named ships and the squadron game. It was the right list at the right time.
Post-GenCon the meta changed with the arrival of flotillas. Initiative bids and activation counts climbed and traditional Demolishers were pushed out because of the impenetrable nature of flotillas. I was still able to claim victory with my GenCon list, but my victory margins kept shrinking and the matches became tougher.

The Toronto metagame went insane with initiative bids, climbing to 25 or more points. To keep up, I kept scraping upgrades just to keep the two-ship list. Eventually there was no slack in the two-ship build outside of the core upgrades. I abandoned the two-ship list and went through a few months of experimentation. There were several embarrassing months trying to get 2 VSD + Interdictor working. I experimented with second-player Imperial lists, unsuccessfully trying to mimic Kristjan’s success with them.

With Wave 5 and CC out, I built lists around Centicore and Warlord. Once again, the lists performed moderately but not well enough to trust their performance on the world stage. With each product release, I felt my squadrons’ performance worsening. Two months before Worlds, I was still struggling to make the Imperial squadrons work. I was so uncertain about being able to making a strong Imperial list, I was hemming and hawing about even going to Worlds.

Another Toronto player, Victor, demonstrated to me a Dodonna first player list, based around Yavaris and a killer H9 Admonition. The design was incredibly clever and it had a large squadron count to boot. I went out and purchased my very first Rebel ships later that day for testing. I even had to trade for core X-Wings and Neb-B’s. In the finals, you may have seen me with Luke and Reeikan Alt-Art cards. That was not an aesthetic choice. I simply do not own either a core set of Luke card or MC30. Those Rebel scum.

The Dodonna list was promising, however, it struggled against anti-squadron Reeikan aces lists. With Yik perfecting his Reeikan build, the choice was made to duplicate the list.

Tell us a bit about your preparation.  What lists did you prepare against?

We spent a significant amount of time studying the dominant modes of the online community. We spent time on the forums and reading through the Vassal Cup to understand what people were using. We tested against a wide range of archetypes since Corellian Conflict’s release, and several lists which we thought had advantages versus Reeikan Aces. One of the most terrifying and successful lists was a Vader double ISD with a Jamming Field Gozanti and a handful of basic TIE Fighters to bog down the squadron game. However, we concluded that the mindset to fly it correctly was uncommon enough that we would not see it during Worlds.

Describe what you were expecting to see at Worlds - did it meet your expectation, or did you have to change your strategy on the fly?  Were there any difficult matchups, or lists you were glad not to run into?

At large, Worlds met our expectations with the Imperial lists we saw. We were not expecting so many Reeikan lists. The mirror match is mental agony for both players.

Nathan’s list was unexpected: Reeikan Yavaris with Admonition. I was certainly caught off guard the first time I faced him, losing the match in swiss. The first time I faced Nathan, I chose Fighter Ambush and foolishly flew into the obstacle cluster where his fighters were waiting. The second time I faced Nathan, I instantaneously chose Superior Positions. After he deployed his fleet, I saw based on board position that he would look to employ the same strategy as he used in our first game: to break the Yavaris on my flank. I had to adapt with the speed 3 escape to the opposite side over a debris field to protect Yavaris. I also had to sacrifice my Bomber Command Center GR-75 to pull Admonition and a squadron or two away from his main force.

Another extremely difficult and unexpected matchup was with Jeff Berling’s Akbar MC80-of-Death. Spectators thought the objective was Most Wanted, with my Bomber Command Center and his MC80 as objective ships. Nay, it was Advanced Gunnery with my Bomber Command Center and his MC80 as objective ships. I kept sacrificing ships to the monster MC80 while I cleaned up his squadrons and prayed for a transport kill. At the end of Round 5, I managed to bring down the Bright Hope on the last attack of the turn. It was very, very stressful.

You were able to easily make the cut with your Swiss round score.  How many points did you expect to need to make the top 4 cut?  Was it a surprise to see the spread of players just missing out of the cut?

Based on our experience at Worlds 2016, we anticipated 8 points per round to be the cutoff for Top 4. We were initially surprised by the low spread of scores but it made sense after realizing the scoring quagmire that Reeikan creates. Justin Curtis, my round 5 opponent, was quite worried he wouldn’t make the cut after our 6-5 result. He was sitting at 37 points. I told him, “Look to the left and look to the right. It’s all Reeikan games and nothing is dead. Scores will be low. You’re in the Top 4.” And so he was.

What has you the most excited for Wave 6?  How does Wave 6 effect your list going forward?

I am excited for Admiral Sloane. Those iconic, endless waves of TIE Fighters pouring from an Imperial Star Destroyer are the reasons I play Armada. Armada is not just a game about capital ships; it is about fleets, massive ships with swarms of small fighters protecting them. Admiral Sloane adds teeth to all those cheap, disposable Academy Pilots.

I am also very excited for running lists with a VSD-II Dominator with D-Caps.

More importantly, what would you bring to a Corellian Conflict?

Imperials, obviously. Fleet would be built around the Warlord and Centicore. Admiral Sloane at the helm and Captain Jonus helping me make something out of nothing. Throw in Vector because it’s an amazing title.

Thanks for taking the time to respond to this interview.  I'll see you around.

Thanks again for interviewing me!


  1. Congrats Norm, a great result - well played sir.

    I am also experimenting with the light side for my next big tournament at Euros! Feels strange not to be taking triangles...

  2. Wow this article is PURE GOLD! Anyone even semi interested in competitive play should be reading this multiple times!! Thanks a ton Biggs, and thanks to Norm and the Canadian crew as well!!! Cheers!