Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The World is Officially Ending: Sato is Legit

If you haven't been keeping up with Shmitty and I's lately Armada escapades, we both got the bug to take Sato off the trash heap and give him the old college try for Store Championship season. I think we both expected to have a good laugh, get a bunch of fun games in, and then turn back to more serious fleets as we prepped for big tournaments (GENCON for Shmitty, NOVA for myself). We bounced ideas off each other, refined our own takes, and then got him on the table at about the same time. First it seemed like a fluke. Then it the reality began to settle in. Ready for a sweeping declaration? Sato is legitimately viable in this meta.

That's right, the Armada commander Steel Command rated as a "C" a little over a month ago, it turns out, is better than that. And this is coming from the guy that rated him the lowest. I gave him a "D" for crying out loud. At least Shmitty believed in Sato enough to give him a "B." So what exactly does Sato do well? His strength is in long range firepower. The best way to build for Sato has always been to maximize long range black critical effects. Most of us that have given Sato a solid shake prefer ACMs because of how quickly the damage can pile up and how they minimize both brace and redirect defenses. Take a Hammerhead concentrating fire from medium range. Sato can make that three black dice. If you roll even one hit/crit and don't roll any blanks, that's six damage that can only be braced down to four. That's an immense amount of pain from a very cheap package that doesn't even need to get to close range.

There a couple of recent developments that have contributed to this stealth rise in viability. First and foremost is the flotilla nerf. It turns out, when you build for long range black critical effects, you really really suck at killing flotillas. Prior to the nerfening of flotillas, Sato struggled to get a tabling because he couldn't touch flotillas. Now, you can ignore flotillas and go for the major combat ships and get a tabling. That's much needed relief for Sato. The second factor is the overall trend in the meta toward large ships. While flotilla heavy fleets were miserable for Sato, evade-heavy fleets are a close second. Again, it comes down to those long range crit effects not sticking. Evades neutralize most if not all of the black hit/crits for which Sato tries to fish. Unlike the flotilla situation, this is still a possibility and I'll touch on that later. However, waves six and seven pushed the MSU evade-heavy fleets more and more out of the meta. Large ships are currently king, which is good news for Sato.

50 points of pure pain
Those meta elements aren't the only factors that have helped Sato while we weren't looking. It turns out, waves six and seven gave us the ships that he needed all along. While Shmitty and I have taken different routes with our Sato builds, the Hammerhead is the common thread. It seems to be accidentally built perfectly for Sato: it has access to ordnance, a weapons team, and the ability to reach out at long range. As mentioned above, Hammerhead Torpedo Frigates armed with Ordnance Experts and Assault Concussion Missiles are nasty little buckets of pain in the hands of Sato. I have come to prefer Disposable Capacitors because it allows you to concentrate fire for three black dice at long range. Some might hesitate at putting that many points into the Hammerhead's fragile frame, but it's still only 50 points with DCaps. In the hands of Sato, that Hammerhead easily matches a 51 point TRC90 in terms of raw damage output, and in many cases can exceed it. If you feel the need to give Sato a serious try, Hammerheads are a must.

My personal Sato flagship
The MC75 Ordnance Cruiser is likewise built well for Sato. Up until wave seven, Sato didn't really have a big ship he could use well. Neither MC80 variant (Liberty or Home One) had much to offer other than being big.You couldn't do anything particularly special with Sato's dice adjustment ability. The MC75 changed that. Like the Hammerhead, it has all the elements Sato needs to be successful: long range, ordnance, and weapons team. While my use of the MC75 is where Shmitty and I diverge most distinctly in our approaches, it's not because either of us think one approach is better than the other. It's all about taste, and I liked having the hulking MC75 to anchor the Sato battle line.

The squadron requirements are a little odd for Sato as well. First of all, if you're building the typical 134 points of Rebel squads plus Yavaris, you're winning more in spite of Sato than because of him. Sato squads don't really care about winning the fight. They just want to drag it out and stay mobile. There are two squadrons at the top of the list. The first is obvious: Tycho and his ability to just wave good-bye is a must. He's your early game spotter than just can't be tied down. Despite the scatter, though, he doesn't last as long as you might expect. He's the most obvious target for your opponent, you need some muscle to back up Tycho's speed and mobility. That's where number two on the list comes in: Han Solo. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, believe it or not, the pilot of the Millenium Falcon absolutely shines in a Sato list. His unique ability combined with Grit actually does a lot to keep Han from getting pinned down.

From there, it becomes a matter of preference. Shmitty has preferred to use Shara and Hera to create a completely independent squadron ball. I went with 2x VCXs for the extra hull and to threaten opponents with nasty strategic objectives. As I said in an earlier article, I've seen 2x HWKs and 2x VCXs used very well to stay mobile. The key is durability and mobility. However, Sato squadrons go beyond simply which ones you pick. It's also about tactics. You're not looking to get stuck in with other squadrons, nor do you really even care about shooting other squadrons. Sure, it helps to kill the other squadrons if it helps you get where you need to go, but that's all. All you need to be concerned with is staying mobile, staying alive, and staying near enemy ships. Obstacles are your friend since obstruction means less dice coming your way and no way of tying you down. You'll also notice a distinct difference in how your opponent treats your squadrons. Take my VCXs for example. Say you give me first player and we're not playing a Strategic-friendly objective. Normally you wouldn't really care about that stupid fat pinata. It's heavy, so it's not pinning anything down. It's measly single blue die only has a 50% chance of doing any damage to a ship. Add Sato to the mix, though, and it's a God damn cancer that need to be eradicated on sight.

You know you love him
In summary, Sato is an entirely different way to play the game. He involves a bit more thought and involves re-learning the game a bit to get right. He also has his hard counters. Broba gave me fits with Brunson on a Quasar and Duck Bird made me hurt when I went up against her Vader Cymoon, double Arquitens build. A traditional Crackenator would be absolutely horrible as well. If you can tolerate that though, he's an awful lot of fun. The look of utter shock when you've taken an ISD down to almost no health with just three long ranged shots is worth it every time.

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