In 2022 Atomic Mass Games introduced battle forces to the game as a way to thematically build armies with restricted units for benefits in the form of new command cards or different force org structures. One battleforce was released for each faction and the already downtrodden GAR got possibly the worst battleforce of the bunch. Between the challenging command card effects, crowded 2 pip slot, and awkward force org structure it was clear why the 501st battle force quickly became the 50worst meme. But what happens when the fundamental rules of the game change and shake things up?
In early 2023 we got the long awaited Core Rulebook release and it made some waves. For more details on changes you can check out the run down by Debaticus. Perhaps the biggest of these changes was how we check cover and long story short we ended up with heavy cover on almost every shot. These rules dropped just 10 days before the 2023 Las Vegas Open and not everyone was sure what to make of them. But there was one list that caught the eyes of many players, Dave Grant’s 6 act Vader Palp list! Wait, no, as much as I loved that list I actually wanted to do a run down of Michael Barry’s (Dashz) 501st list that took the 501st from 0 to hero as it made it to the final table on day 3.
- Sharpshooter and Pierce in the form of lethal – What happens to the meta when you basically have to assume everything will have heavy cover and that you have to shave 2 hits off the top of all your attack pools? This list tries to circumvent that by having access to 4 units with Sharpshooter 1. On top of that these units have lethal to make those shots, that will likely be getting past cover, count.
- Very Tanky – The best defense dice are the ones you don’t have to roll. Like I said, heavy cover is everywhere and will help to keep your units safe too. But what happens when those shots make it past the cover? We turn to our Jedi Savior Anakin, between Force Barrier, Defend 1, and Exemplar Anakin is putting in a lot of work to ensure our units don’t have to roll those defense dice. Eventually that defensive tech runs out though and we finally have to roll those dice. Lets not forget about our surge tokens from a total of reliable 5, this is effectively giving the army red surge defense. And last but not least when those red defense dice finally fail you, we have two medics to bring back those Arc troopers and put them right back on the front lines.
- Effective at all ranges – There are lots of lists that like to plink the enemy down at range 4 and many lists that like to rush to your opponents face but this list can perform at almost every range band. With 4 arc trooper units you are looking at 4 range 5 snipers. Once you get to range 4 we add the mortar into the mix, Range 3 we add a Z6 and those arcs really start to pack a punch. Range 2 the arcs nearly double how many dice they are rolling. Beyond that we have one of the best dueling force users in the game with Anakin and his Djem So mastery. This list just has something to do at every range and every point in the game.
- Very Expensive – There’s a reason this list wants to avoid rolling defense dice as much as possible. When Arc Troopers start to die you are losing 18 points per model and those sniper heavies aren’t cheap either. This list can put out damage but when it starts to lose pieces to attrition it is losing a lot.
- Command Hand and Flaw card – With the nature of Anakin’s command cards it is often very easy to read which command card is coming next making you a bit predictable and in combination with the 501st command cards your order control leaves something to be desired. On top of all of this there is no room points wise to take endurance on Anakin and as the 501st you cannot take a pyke capo and ploy, this leaves Anakin incredibly vulnerable to being flawed.
- 8 activations – The new pass mechanic did a lot to make 8 activation lists less problematic but you are still more than likely going to have 1-2 activations less then your opponent, sometimes even more.
Unit Break Down
Looking over this list there were a few things I immediately noticed.
First our commander, Clone Captain Rex has been feeling down in the dumps as of late and Anakin has really proven to be the hero of the clone wars these last several months but this was far from a typical Anakin loadout. Anakin has the tempted keyword which allows him to use dark side force upgrades. This means players often look to take push and choke. His command cards also give him relentless and surge to crit in a army with lots of fire support so saber throw is another solid option but with heavy cover everywhere 3 dice just isn’t going to cut it. But Dashz opted for Barrier. Barrier proved to be so valuable for keeping his Arcs alive that he would often wait to activate Anakin on turn 1 until he could recover force barrier and gladly spend the action to recover until he got Master of the Force from his command card. This is pure support Anakin and honestly does Obi-wan’s job far better. One more note on Anakin, since the list is so tight on points it’s hard to find 5 more but if we did, defensive stance would make him shine even more, the potential to give your army 3 dodges or a dodge and 2 aims every turn is incredible.
Second our Corp meets the minimum 2 corp requirement that the 501st battle force allows but with the recent points drop to medics we are now seeing them be included more. With the changes to cumbersome allowing units to fire and move the Phase 2 mortar is now a solid option. Its cheap, range 4, has critical 1, and suppressive, it can put in some work and is only 2 points more than a DC-15 Phase 1 unit. 501st only allows phase 2 units but having the reliable surges and courage 2 is a big deal here so you don’t lose tempo.
Then with the allowance of 4 special forces we see that Dashz is going all in on ARC troopers for his list. Dashz takes only one strike team but with echo. I hear a lot of people call for taking echo in the full arc team instead, but I think that’s a trap. Echo has 2 health and we want to make the full arc team tankier right? We do but Echo isn’t going to do that, that extra health only matters when it gets down to just Echo in the squad and at that point you have lost the 4 other arc troopers that were contributing to the dice pool. The extra health is better served on a strike team which generally are easier to pick off after the CRB changes. Echo isn’t looking to get into the mix, he is looking to pick off reliable damage at a safe range 5 with his better sniper. The list also takes 3 full Arc teams with the generic DC-15x snipers. Between tactical 1, sharpshooter 1, and lethal 1 these arc troopers are out for blood. These are the true “corp” of this army and makes the army feel like it is firing on all cylinders at every range band. Looking at the rest of the list its clear the goal is to keep the Arc Troopers alive as long as possible between 5 surge tokens every turn, Anakin’s dodge token, barrier, and the medics there are plenty of ways to do just that.
Finally we have our lone support as a naked Barc as required by the force org but over the course of the weekend we learned this was far more than a mere pass activation. Most games the Barc deployed back as far as possible, this is not a unit you want to get shot. It’s hard to maintain order control in this list but when you do draw that Support token try to keep the Barc out of range and alive but close enough to threaten. What does this mean? The perfect example was in Dashz final 4 game against another Republic list. Dashz kept the Barc alive and out of range for the majority of the game but got it in the perfect position to threaten the center and far terrain pieces with 3 speed 3 moves on Key Positions. On turn 6 he used the Barc to push the center KP saving the compulsory move for last to displace a unit touching the KP and pushing it off. Not bad for a 55 point activation.
There are two reasons I really wanted to cover this list. The first is because it felt like a masterclass in analyzing the new landscape of the CRB and coming prepared. Did Dashz mean to put together a hyper meta list? Well no, he basically admitted as much on the Friday Night Fights Podcast. Even if it wasn’t his intention I think it opened a lot of players’ eyes to what keywords and features are good in this new landscape and GAR chat has been a buzz about full Arcs again.
The Second reason I wanted to cover this list was because it reminded me of a play style familiar to those of you who play Magic the Gathering and that is Tempo. People often use the concept of “who is the beat down” from Magic to analyze which player needs to take action to change the board state and which player needs to maintain the status quo. The way I would define tempo is efficiently using your resources to maximize a favorable board state. In the case of Star Wars Legion our resources are our activations instead of Mana and how we can get the most out of our actions while maximizing a favorable position on the board. I think there are a few ways this list does that.
The first and most obvious is that this entire army is courage 2 and if needed can give the whole army indomitable. These just just don’t get suppressed that often so you are rarely dropping actions. Throw a suppressive weapon and a range advantage in there there is a good chance your opponents will be dropping a few actions preventing them from being able to get optimal shots off.
With the amount of snipers in this list too it means you are likely going to either plink down or remove full activations before the opponent can truly engage your army. These sniper kills add up and start to create an uneven footing between you and your opponent. On top of all that you have so much defensive tech that any retaliation they are able to send your way is highly mitigated. This just keeps tilting the odds in your favor.
Even Anakin gets so much mileage in this list. Let’s think about most force users. They maybe have a command card or two to support some units and then spend half their actions moving to get close, and then dive the enemy lines. They are contributing very little until they actually get in. This isn’t the case with Anakin. First he is one of the cheapest force users out there so he doesn’t need to make up for his points as much as some of the other force users. Second right off the bat by playing Anakin’s 3 pip you are giving your army access to 2 surge tokens every turn and force barrier to keep them alive. If Anakin has saved 9 Arcs over the course of the game (which between barrier and a dodge he kinda does in 3 turns) he has already made up for his points. With that being the case you are completely content if Anakin never makes it in or only ever makes it in on Turn 6. All this is to say Anakin is efficient in this list, right out of the gates every single one of his actions help to gain you a more favorable board state.
Do I think 501st is the new meta and that Arcs are going to be an oppressive unstoppable force? No, far from it. Do I think this was a well thought out, thoroughly practiced list piloted by an exceptional player? Absolutely. The GAR chat was buzzing with an optimism I hadn’t seen in a long time after seeing Dashz go the distance with his 501st list. I really wanted to dissect what made this list tick and how we can take those lessons to our own list building. Legion is a very tactical and objective focused game. People don’t just slam their armies into one another it is nuanced and all about those incremental wins that give you the edge. Watching this list perform I felt like that is exactly what it did, It was able to consistently tip the game in its favor from the very start all the way through the end through incredibly efficient actions and small incremental wins.