The X-Wing World Championships are just around the corner and you can almost taste the excitement buzzing through the community. Those who aren’t attending want to tune in to see what happens, which ships do well, and to support their friends lucky enough to be competing. Those who are attending will be resolutely practicing their lists and studiously assessing their competition, eager for every advantage that will help them place higher, make cuts, and emerge victorious.
It is in this context I humbly offer some tips for those who are going, to help them in their preparations. Here you go, 4 Easy Steps to win the X-Wing World Championships.
1. Pick your list and practice with it.
Find a list that’s strong, but also suits your style. You’ve got to be comfortable with how it works and to do that you’ve got to put the reps in. Practice until you’re bored of it and practice with as many different people as you can.
2. Study the meta.
Know thy enemy. Recognise what’s likely to come up, and know how to counter it. Try playing the meta lists yourself so you know how they fly and how you can beat them. This is especially true if a radical new mechanic and ship/pilot happens to come out very shortly before Worlds.
3. Fall down the rabbit hole.
And not just fall, but tumble uncontrollably headlong farther than you thought that rabbit hole could possibly go.
Start by flying casually, with a few second hand ships you picked up online. Play with a friend without knowing any of the rules. Trawl eBay for an A-Wing because you haven’t got one. Instead of one A-Wing, buy a job lot of over 100 ships because the ‘per ship value’ was too good to pass up. Spend the summer setting up and playing 30-ship-per-player games out in the sunny garden, delighted that it takes the entire day.
Build some lists. Cautiously turn up to a store club night. Be pleasantly surprised how welcoming and friendly the total strangers are, inviting you to a game. Start reading blogs. Join a Facebook group. Sign up to a store tournament. Bookmark /r/XWingTMG. Join more Facebook groups. Listen to X-Wing podcasts. Watch stream videos. Build more lists.
Sign up for UK Nationals, and attend the biggest gathering of nerds since you went to Comic Con all those years ago. Love every moment. Meet squadrons from across the country who take no time at all to make you one of their own. Meet the guy whose blogs you’ve been reading. Set more dials and roll more dice than you thought was possible in a day. Go home exhausted and read about yourself in the blogger’s post-event report.
Download a list-builder app and start building proper lists. Build lists on the commute to work. Build lists late at night. Build lists sitting on the toilet. Build lists in the shower because you realise you suddenly know by heart the slots of every ship and the points of every upgrade. Build lists until the app slows down because you’ve saved too many lists. Dream of lists and wacky combinations.
Join a winter league. Win some games and think you’re becoming a hotshot. Lose some games and realise you’re still a rookie. Marvel at the friendliness of all the people you’re meeting. Build more lists and read more blogs.
One day catch yourself studying an X-Wing tournament calendar and cross-referencing it with your own, looking to save dates months in advance. Make trips out to towns you’ve never visited before just to take part in a small casual tournament. See the same faces there and start to converse more, joking, laughing, bonding. Find yourself neglecting video games and other hobbies because you want to set dials and roll dice. Build new lists because points changes wrecked your last masterpiece.
Sign up to the largest X-Wing tournament in history. Decide you want to be one of “those guys” who give out trinkets before each game. Turn your jolt of inspiration into late-night Photoshop sessions that result in an alt-art card that’s uniquely yours.
Practice to do well at the tournament. Learn VASSAL so you can play from home at anti-social hours. Download Fly Casual so you can repeatedly practice your list. Work out openings and counter-openings so you have a plan for any situation. Get your alt-art card printed, with more copies than you know what to do with.
Turn up at UK System Open. Drag along your mate because you pestered hard and he couldn’t say no. Revel in the atmosphere and smile as you meet and fist-bump people you know. Pause as it dawns on you that you have become one of “those guys”, hugging people you met at the last tournament and giving away your swag like a real veteran. Start playing some games and see your devoted practice reward you with well-earned victories. Stand on the cusp of making the cut, then win your final match to finish in the upper echelons of a field of 580. Ask friends whether they have spare accommodation because you didn’t bother to book any, having fully expected to go home on the Saturday night. Call your wife to check it’s ok to abscond the night and write off Sunday. Bore her into agreeing anything to be rid of you by recounting the stories of your exploits that day. End up halving a bed with a person you met once before because you played each other in that league. Neither of you care, because every X-Wing player is a brother to the next. Fail to get any quality sleep because you’re still buzzing from the day and overwhelmed with excitement for the morning.
Wake up at dawn and guzzle coffee to spin your brain up. Groan that you’ve drawn a friend in the cut, but commit yourself to being ruthless and giving no quarter. Remind yourself of the practice you’ve had, the talent you channel, and the power of your list. Look with pride at your name written on a card, and allow yourself to think of the sexy templates you’ll win once you get past these next couple of games. Get comprehensively outflown and dumpstered out of the tournament within 35 minutes.
Wander around shell-shocked and morose, but feel comforted by the commiserations of your friends, reminding you how well you’ve done to get this far. Go home contemplative and simmering in the bittersweet emotions of a fantastic rollercoaster weekend, a mix of joy, pride, disappointment, camaraderie.
Build new lists, read more blogs, listen to more podcasts, watch more streams, practice more games. Turn your alt-art cards from paper to metal and sell them. Sell them out so quickly you can’t help but want to do more. Send them to charity events as prizes. Swap them for other alt arts with complete strangers in faraway countries.
Get excited about a new ship from a new wave and start practicing a new list. Build, read, listen, watch, fly. Start to see subtle improvements in your game. Improvements you’d never have noticed before, but can see as clear as day now. Watch as your ships skim asteroids where previously you’d have landed on them. Suddenly you’re performing blocks, dodging arcs, and building kill boxes much more often than before. Find yourself winning more games, and placing at local tournaments.
You’re now a familiar name among certain sub-communities. Enough to get invited to fill a space at Team Championships. Feel the full community spirit as you are now part of the tribe — accepted into a broad circle of like-minded hobbyists who see you as one of their own.
Start painting your ships. Begin by deciding you don’t like all your ships looking the same, and dabbling a bit of sharpie pen on one. Like the result enough that you find that lost stash of sharpies and dabble some more. Discover yourself applying ink at a near-microscopic level because you want it to be just right. Screw it up and sigh in exasperation as you have to start again.
Meanwhile you’re developing friendships and relationships you didn’t seek and never expected. Club night is now as much a social call as it is a gaming one. Talk to them about things that aren’t X-Wing. See them outside of game night. Learn their kids’ names and what they do when they’re not in a Star Wars t-shirt.
One day you sign up for an out-of-town event because your friends are supporting the store and the squadron mate whose local it is. Wake up at 5.45am to drive 2 hours just to play plastic spaceships. Meet new people, meet old friends. Play until it’s 9pm, you’ve made the cut, won your knockout, and you’re the only person in the top 4 without a Worlds invite, thus earning it by default. Share pizza with genuinely great people you are privileged to know, wondering whether you can really orchestrate a transatlantic trip to Minnesota in just three weeks’ time. Get convinced by those around you that it will be an unforgettable experience, and resolve to see if it’s viable.
Skip forward a week and you’ve booked flights, reshuffled commitments, and arranged to share accommodation again (but with your own bed this time). Reflect on what the last 15 months has been for you and the journey you set yourself on when you looked online for that A-Wing. Tell your buddies you’re signed up and watch them welcome you into the next circle of comradeship.
Realise you’ve already won Worlds just by going there, because the community really is what makes this game great. That by strengthening old friendships and forging new ones, among the keenest and most devoted of X-Wing players, you will already have partaken in the best this game has to offer. Because after all, make or miss cut, it is just a game. And a tabletop game is truly won when all players at the table have had a good time.
And I’ve had a great time.
4. Mod your dice.
Unmodded dice will always betray you!!
The author would like to credit @AaronBleyaert, whose amazing piece How to Lose Weight in 4 Easy Steps was the inspiration for this article. He (the author, not Aaron) will be attending the 2019 X-Wing World Championships (Day 1B), and if you mention this article to him, he’ll give you a copy of his unique late-night-Photoshopped Plo Koon metal alt art card.