|That's a lot of lists|
Last year saw a slightly higher number of Imperial players at the top than the overall population. This year, it's even more glaring. The general population still splits at 45% Rebel and 55% Imperial. That's been a near constant year to year. At the top bracket, the spread is 37% Rebel to 63% Imperial. It's not quite to the point of saying "we have a faction balance problem," but it's certainly worth keeping an eye on. If you take the time to deep dive into the individual lists, it's pretty clear that it's not the overall faction, but rather a specific style of Imperial build that's dominating.
The first element of Imperial dominance looks to be Grand Admiral Thrawn. He's the most popular Imperial admiral at 24% of all Imperial lists, but he still outperforms that inclusion. Of the Imperial lists in the top bracket, Thrawn accounts for 37% of them. To punctuate just how much this blue bad ass has taken this season by storm, there have been more winning Thrawn lists than all Rebels put together. Like I said, I don't put much stock in the winner column, but it's hard not to take note that Rebels make up only 30% of winners, while Thrawn alone accounts for 35% of all winners. Sloane and Jerjerrod similarly outperform at the top, but nothing as dramatic as Thrawn. Besides the duds of Konstantine and Tagge, most other Imperial commanders do pretty well. When looking just within the Imperial faction, the numbers make it look like many of them drop off at the top, but the drop off it much less dramatic when compared at the total population.
The second and third elements are officers upgrades: Captain Brunson and Governor Pryce. Brunson is quickly becoming about as much of a no-brainer upgrade as one exists in Armada. 40% of all Imperial lists are bringing her. Her exact placement varies. Sometimes its on an Interdictor to make that ship absurdly durable. Other times it's on Demolisher, giving the old boogeyman some extra durability. Whatever she it, Brunson clearly makes a big impact, because her inclusion rises to a ridiculous 61% in the top bracket. Governor Pryce is less popular, with only 17% of Imperials taking her. That's likely due to the fact that, unlike Brunson, Pryce can blowback on the player. However, her spike at the top is hard not to notice. She jumps all the way up to 35% of top bracket Imperial lists. Her ability to upend the activation meta is obviously quite good in the right hands.
Rebs are bit of an odd story. They took a hit in the overall meta this year, doing worse than Imperials overall. Internally, however, they appear to be doing pretty good. Unlike Imperials, no one commander stands out particularly high. Rieekan still overall places the best, but it's less pronounced than in previous years. Raddus, Dodonna, and Ackbar are all right there with him. Unfortunately, also unlike Imperials, those four commanders account for an overwhelming majority of Rebel lists. The rhyme that's going around is unfortunately true: red fish, blue fish, crit first, death wish are your most viable Rebel commanders by far. Sato had a surprisingly strong showing. The rest are just kind of there, used by die-hards that really really want that commander to work, and a few very skilled die-hards breaking into the top bracket out of sheer force of will. So in totality, Rebels appear to be more limited on viable commanders, but those four that remain are pretty evenly matched.
When you break into fleet composition, Rebels get even more scattershot. Want to fly nothing but small ship MSU? 21% of Rebel lists are still doing that, and despite popular perception, they're still able to do well with it. 25% of Rebel lists in the top bracket being composed of just small ships. Strategic Adviser? It's taken in about a quarter of Rebel lists, but it appears to give no extra advantage in getting to the top bracket. Toyrn Far? Same story. Yavaris, the dreaded MVP of multiple Worlds winners, is still around at 14% usage in Rebel fleets. Guess what? It also remains flat across all brackets. Even squadrons don't seem to matter much. Squadron heavy remains even across brackets, as does squadronless. Heck, it looks like Rebels can even bring the mythical medium squadron ball and expect to do just as well as anything else. Bail Organa appears to be the only factor that seems to boosts Rebel chances at victory in a meaningful way. He's included in only 7% of Rebel lists, but jumps to 16% in the top bracket.
So what does that all mean? I think it means Rebels are pretty well internally balanced. A lot of different play styles seem to work. Small ship MSU seems in a decent place. Squadron usage is fairly evenly balanced. The only outlier is commanders, which I think can be explained by overlapping strengths. Leia, Mothma and Cracken all want to be MSU commanders, but Rieekan does it better. Madine wants to maneuver around, especially with the Lib, but Raddus does it better. Ackbar is totally unique in enabling broadsides, so nobody really edges in on his turf. Garm is cheap, but Dodonna is cheaper and works with more types of fleets. So when it comes to types of ships and styles of fleets, Rebels seem to have a wide variety available...so long as you fly red fish, blue fish, crit fish, or death wish.
I've mentioned this a couple times now, so it's time to dive into squadron use. Squadron break out was one of the main reasons I decided to cave and break out data by faction as well as by overall. The numbers for Yavaris had significantly lowered, but as you can see, the dominance of squadron heavy builds, while diminished, was still pretty prevalent. Those two things didn't jive, so I was curious if there had been a corresponding spike in Imperial squadron use. Low and behold, that's exactly what it was.
As I said before, Rebel squadron usage is all over the board, which is exactly what we want to see in a balanced game. Much to my surprise, even a medium squadron wing appears to be competitive for Rebels. The Imperial side of the house is a much gloomier proposition. It appears to be an all or nothing proposition, with a huge emphasis on all. That seems to be given heavily by the use of Mareek, Jendon, and Morna is a squadron axis of evil. Mareek and Jendon seem to be the bare minimum of competitive Imperial squadron build. Given the top bracket has 56% inclusion rate for just Mareek and Jendon, you could argue that they're the starting point for a competitive Imperial build, period.
The Reign of Large Ships and Their Officers
The overall theme continues to be the absolute dominance of large ships. Technically they don't give you any more of a chance of winning, but when 72% of all lists are using at least one large ship, that doesn't matter all that much. Large ships own this meta. To add to this, the large ship only officers add do a significant advantage at the top brackets. Pryce and Bail both out perform their overall inclusion. Strategic Adviser for some reason doesn't seem to help Rebels (likely related to not synergizing with Raddus), but it absolutely seems to help Imperials.
Remember when I said Rebel could do pretty much anything? I forgot to include the caveat of "so long as they bring two flotillas." Yes, unfortunately Rebs still appears to be stuck with the little buggers if they want to be competitive. Otherwise Rebel ships are spread out. There were a couple surprises, such as the MC80 Command Cruiser being the least popular ship variant in the game. Otherwise, just about every ship in the Rebel line up seems to have at least one variant that is used with some consistency. The only real thing of note is the rather sharp drop off in the top bracket for Assault Frigates.
As with everything else so far, Imperials are far less diverse. Not only are Imperial Star Destroyers dominant, but the ISD-2 in particular is utterly dominant. The next closest are the Gladiator and the Quasar. An interesting development is the Interdictor is suddenly quite competitive, its rate of inclusion in top bracket lists double that of its presence in the overall population. That's likely owing to Brunson and the Interdictor title synergizing so well. The poor Arquitens and Victory continue to be left out in the cold. The Raider seems to makes a fair amount of lists, and doesn't seem to be a hindrance. The good news is Imperials are becoming less dependent on flotillas. Double flotilla lists are about half that of Rebels, and about a third of Imperial lists go without flotillas at all. This is likely the influence of Pryce reducing Imperial reliance on pure activation padding. That theory is further confirmed by activation counts. Rebels continue to shoot for 5-6 activations, accounting for the overwhelming majority of successful Rebel fleets. Imperials, on the other hand, are most successful with only two activations, but find success at pretty much any range all the way up to 6.
Put all that together and I think the data tells the story many of use were expecting: the Imperial two ship archetype seems to have taken the Regionals season by storm. There are a few variants, such as ISD-Demo, ISD-Quasar, or Interdictor-Quasar. They're anchored by Pryce, Brunson, and a squadron heavy approach which includes Maarek and Jendon at a minimum, and frequently includes Morna as well. Now whether or not this constitutes a new "overpowered" combo akin to the Rieekan Aces of old is in the eye of the beholder. Personally, I'm always loath to make some pronouncements. For now, I'm willing to chalk it up an innovated and efficient new archetype taking the rest of the meta by storm. Given time to dissect, I think the list has weaknesses that can be exploited.