Provocative enough of a title for you? I'm sure I'm going to catch a lot of flak for this one. It goes heavily against the accepted orthodoxy, especially in the good ol' US of A. Regardless, it's a trend I'm seeing in my games. Time will tell if I'm just crazy (which is the norm) or if I'm actually onto something.
If you've played against Sloane Aces using a squadron heavy build, you may have noticed something: she tends to dominate the squadron phase. Sure, there are a couple ways to be competitive in the squadron game if you want to go that route. Gallant Haven builds can turtle up enough to make life difficult for Sloane. Ten Numb and Mauler (for you non-Sloane Imperials) are good ways to get past all those scatters. At the end of the day, though, I think a well flown Sloane list has the advantage even in those match-ups. Bringing lots of generics wasn't the answer I expected it to be. It's hard to argue that Sloane is anything but the ultimate power in the squadron game.
So what the hell does this have to do with ship builds? Well, despite Sloane's ability to make those Imp Aces better at attacking ships, they still kinda suck at it. Sure, it's respectable, but it's not even close to what a dedicated bomber wing can do. In addition, take a look at the most successful Sloane lists so far. I'm generally seeing either ISD (usually Avenger) plus lots of Gozantis or Demolisher, a Quasar, and (again) lots of Gozantis. There might be a Raider thrown in there. That's not a lot of ship to ship firepower.
That brings me back to the title of the article: Sloane's emerging dominance of the squadron game has the potential to once again create an opening for ship-heavy builds. The logic is as follows: Sloane will force players to go lighter on bombers and heavier on anti-squadron fighters if they want to even attempt to win the squadron war. This trend, combined with Sloane herself, will cause squadron-centric builds to be a bit less lethal against ships. This in turn, would allow a player to go heavier on ships in an attempt to table the squadron player's ships. It's old school wave one and two tactics.
"Impossible!" I hear you scream. "Squadrons are still too lethal! You can't possibly pull this off!" Here's the thing: I kinda already am. I've played Sloane three times now with my Madine special. The worst result was a 6-5 win so far. The fun part is this discovery has been nothing more than a happy accident. I've been flying that Madine list because I enjoy it, not because I thought it was a Sloane counter. Hell, I was just hoping I could survive against her. In my games so far, though, I think I've found a few critical elements that are allowing me go hard core in the opposite direction of the meta.
First, hull is king. Ships that depend heavily on redirecting damage tend to hurt against multiple single-die attacks from squadrons, especially withh Sloane occasionally exhausting those defense tokens. Ships with redundant redirects have it a little better, but are still fairly vulnerable. The MC30, usually a very tough nut to crack with the Admonition title, melts faster than usual against Sloane. I find the CR90, especially with RBDs, does pretty well. It has limited enough shields for a cheap enough cost that Sloane has to work a little harder to make a significant impact on your fleet. As much as it pains me to admit, though, the Hammerhead is kind of the perfect ship for fighting Sloane on the Rebel side. They don't care much about redirecting with their limited shields, and with Task Force Antilles, they're able to spread damage without spending defense tokens. Imps already have a leg up in this regard, with their ships relying more on hull than shields. Motti is the obvious antithesis to Sloane. The Arq is solid, again especially with RBDs. The Raider, while unable to redirect, is no more vulnerable to Sloane than other squadrons. What you really want it for, though, is that flechette capability. Nothing slows down the Sloane death by a thousand paper cuts than a solid flechette shot.
Second, you need to be able to reliably hunt flotillas. While some would argue it's not worth investing in hunting an 23 point tarpit, I've found otherwise. While most dominant Sloane builds have a big carrier that you absolutely need to kill, don't underestimate how much they rely on those flotillas. Sloane builds typically have at least eight squadrons. The ISD and the Quasar are going to be averaging 4-5 (possibly 6 with a token). The Quasar is easy pickings if you can catch it, but the ISD is not going to fold quickly. By taking out the flotillas quickly, you cut into the number of squadrons the Sloane player can activate very early on. The MC30 with H9s, while vulnerable to Sloane's death by a thousand paper cuts, is still a good choice because it is so good at hunting flotillas. Other choices include Home One on the Rebel side and Jonus on the Imperial side. Crafty use of Suppressor alongside Avenger can also work in a pinch.
Third, I think you still need a squadron presence. The trick is spending as little as possible. You have to realize that these are completely dead points. Don't expect to make them up in the squadron fight. These points go down a black hole. What they give you is time. Against Sloane, it forces your opponent to spend squadron commands to move Intel into engagement, forces them to attack ships that are not covered by your squadron screen at the fringes of the engagement (and thus putting them out of position later in the game), or forces them to spend squadron commands clearing out your squadrons. Against non-Sloane lists, it also allows you to gum up FCTs, which are pretty critical to the other predominant squadron build out there: Rebel Yavaris. All you're looking for is to soak up four to six squadrons worth of commands. Tycho and Shara are my preferred minimal squadron pair for Rebels. There is no more frustrating a pair of squadrons in the game. 4 TIE Fighters compete with Cienna and Valen as my preferred Imperial ball. Cienna and Valen will last a little longer, but 4 TIEs can cover more ground for a similar cost.
If I'm right, this could open up some interesting build opportunities. A Cymoon and a bunch of Arqs could pack enough hull to tank through the worst of squadrons. I'm curious to see what a Task Force Antilles swarm could do with a Shields to Maximum Pelta backing them up. What other ships builds do you think have the potential to survive this squadron dominant meta and come out the other side thriving?