As most of y'all will recall, we spoke about the TIE Defender a bit already when FFG initially revealed the Wave 4 stuff back in February, but we got some new info that warrants some major discussion.
First, I think it's pretty obvious that FFG is tired of the TIE Swarm. I think they were kinda tired of it when they made Wave 3, I think Imperial Aces was supposed to rekindle people's initial love affair with the Interceptor in an effort to lure them away from the Swarm, I think to a certain extent even the Tantive IV campaign is a nod to beating up on the TIE Swarm, and I definitely think that Wave 4 was designed to, at least in part, to try and shift the meta away from the Swarm both by giving the Rebels some new tricks to combat the Swarm and the Imperials some interesting new options to drop on the table.
There have been several low ship count Imperial lists that have made the rounds in the past, but they've not enjoyed the longevity of the Swarm because low ship count lists are more unforgiving in every way but maneuvering and the rise of turreted Rebel ships made flying only a few Imperial ships versus just going with the flow and flying a Swarm fairly unappealing, regardless of tricky card text on named pilots or high amounts of available green dice.
Well, it would appear the Defender was designed specifically to combat that idea.
We knew this ship wasn't cheap when we first squinted at the Wave 4 cards and now that a couple of the named pilots have been revealed, it's really been confirmed. Dig this-
Rexler Brath is the high PS named pilot for the Defender and at 37 points, he's gotta be the most expensive small ship pilot revealed to date (though that may very well change we we find out more about the E-Wing pilots).
Still though, he's PS 8, flies a ship with 3 for every stat category, possesses arguably the three most awesome and versatile Actions available, and can upgrade with Elite Pilot Skills, Missiles, or Cannons. Sure, 37 points is a ton, but good Christ look at what you're getting! Sheesh.
Oh, and there's the card text too- don't forget about that. Perform your attack (note that it can be any attack- primary weapon or secondary missile or cannon) and so long as you stick at least one Damage card on the defender, you can spend a Focus to flip that card which effectively makes it Critical Damage. Note that FFG took the time to stick the "s" on the end of the word "card" there at the end just to make sure we all get it- any and all hits that result in you dealing your opponent some damage cards from Braths' attack get flipped face up. Not just one. Cards. Well, I mean if you only inflict one card, then yeah, it's just one, but if you get two or three, they all get flipped so long as they came from Brath's attack.
So first thing that jumps out is until you've gotten through your target's shields, (hiiiiiiii, my name is) Brath's card text isn't much use, but after that? Hoo boy.
How will Brath be received? In a weird way, he's sorta like the pilot version of Missiles or Torpedoes- he's really going to make his money against big ships as they have a lot of hull and his ability to turn those cards over even on the mighty Chewbacca will be invaluable to folks who face a lot of big ship meta. Against Y-Wings or B-Wings too maybe, but mainly he's Falcon kryptonite.
I usually try to wait until I've actually had a chance to play with a ship a couple of times before I start talking about upgrade combinations and whatnot, but anything that helps Brath hit more that doesn't involve burning a Focus is going to be great for him.
For example, the new Elite Pilot Skill called Outmaneuver-
This card sorta gives anybody with an Elite Pilot Skill upgrade slot Backstabber functionality. While this card gets a bit neutered by a ship that can sport Crew Member C-3PO, it's still pretty awesome especially when you consider this is not an Action- it just automatically happens once you buy the upgrade.
Of course, if you're looking for Focus-ish functionality in general, how about the other new card they revealed called Predator?
So that's pretty cool, huh? Another non-Action Elite Pilot Skill designed to tear up the prevalent high ship count, low PS meta. Also note that it's just "when attacking", so yeah, it works on Primaries or Secondaries so long as it's an Attack.
The other Defender pilot that was revealed is a cat by the name of Colonel Vessery.
Vessery is two points less than Brath, but a still pretty expensive 35 points. That said, he and Rexler are quite a lot alike with only their Pilot Skill value and card text separating them, which long story short means that the new EPS cards work basically as well if not maybe even a little better with Vessery as his card text is sort of a free Target Lock. And it really is free- we're not talking about a Dutch Vander type ability, more like a sort of Fire Control System type of thing here.
The wording on this card I think is a little bit trickier than it might appear at first glance. First couple of times I read the text, I thought, "Oh, ok. So it's more or less Fire Control System as long as somebody has already TLed him. Got it." On about the fourth read through though, the wording finally clicked and made sense.
Think back to how the Combat Phase actually progresses for a moment...
Yeah. Cue up the Jackie Martling, "Oh, oh!" soundbite, am I right?
Immediately after you roll the Attack dice, as in before you get to Step 3- Modify Attack Dice, you get a Target Lock on your target, which means, yes Virgina not only is there a Santa Claus, you get to actually spend that Target Lock to modify your Attack roll (assuming of course he's already wearing somebody else's Target Lock).
Did I mention I thought that FFG was tired of TIE Swarms?
Ok, so all that's well and good, but it's all a lot less sexy if the Defender's dial is a disappointment, right?
Yup, white K-Turn. The rest of it is pretty solid too, it doesn't turn so well, which I guess represents the flat out speed of the Defender, but this thing is made for jousting, and that's just what it'll do- one of these days a Defender is gonna joust all over you, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo, doo.
Do I think that Imperial players are going to morph into a 2014 version of Groucho Marx doing a "Take my TIEs please!" routine? Nah. The Swarm is the Swarm is the Swarm. The things that make it viable don't get rendered obsolete or anything because of the Defender and her bag of tricks, but I do think it does present some potentially awesome builds that could end up being just as strong once folks get to really sit down and look at all of these cards that are going to be released with all of the stuff we've got coming at us.
That said, recall that Black Squadron Pilots provide TIE Swarm players Elite Pilot Skill functionality for only 15 measly points- literally half the cost of the vanilla Defender. As Sean observed in his texts to me today, stick Predator on each of them and you've now got a 5 TIE swarm with the same functionality of a Swarm with Howlrunner but doesn't have to stay in such tight formation to get the reroll. That's pretty awesome. And of course with that many ships flying around, one could just as easily give some or all of them that new Predator skill instead and now you've got a bunch of pseudo-Backstabbers flying around. Sure, you might be good enough at maneuvering your Rebels to deny a ship or two that extra die, but one of these veteran Swarm jockeys isn't going to let you get away from all of them and a TIE with a third (or fourth if they get close enough too) Attack die is some scary stuff, man.
So whether you plan on buying Defenders with the thought of actually playing them or you buy some Defenders just to get some of these interesting cards to re-imagine your current Swarm, I think this is going to be one popular ship once Wave 4 drops. Good thing Miniature Market is already taking pre-orders, huh? :)