The phantom pain
The Phantoms offer in many ways an extreme experience compared to most of the other small ships in the current fleets. It fields the most potent primary armament, the unique cloaking ability, the mobility of decloaking, some interesting upgrade options and the possibility to roll bucket loads of red and green dices. Bringing these to the table is to gatecrash a party where you are deliberately not invited.
But it all comes with a cost. It is the most expensive ship in the game per hull/shield point, no ability to shoot while cloaked, it display a quite average move dial, no really high skilled pilots and is quite fragile if caught off guard.
Besides all these shortcomings and maybe even because of them, flying the Phantom is always exciting and intense — except for when it is not and just plain frustrating. You are either kicked out of the party or you will spike the punchbowl and rule the dance floor.
The first many chapters in the huge tome that is the phantom pilots flight manual, is about being one with the cloaking ability.
The Phantom is one of the few ships, who has a consistently meaningful choice of action for the first round of an engagement, namely cloaking, because it is not canceled at the end of the round and as described later is necessary for decloaking.
Strategically speaking cloaking has three main uses.
If you want to move to a favourable position, which could expose you to heavy enemy fire, it will often be wiser to forfeit your change to fire, for the extra agility you gain by being cloaked. You are relatively sure to survive unscratched or with only minor damage against low firepower swarms and even a couple of shots from top ace pilots, especially if you can keep them from range 1 or use asteroids as cover as described later, and perhaps choose the evade action. It will often discourage enemy ships from targeting the Phantom altogether and instead go for secondary targets instead. At the end of the combat phase, where other ships could have been destroyed or severely damaged, the Phantom will have a good chance to still be in one piece and then be able to outmanoeuvre the attackers for a possible devastating counterattack in the following rounds.
A variant puts the Phantom in a outflank manoeuvre, where it tries to keep its distance, teasing the enemy ships to break formation, accepting being under long range fire, for the benefit of watching the enemy getting into disarray, making them ripe for a well timed counterstrike.
The next main cloaking doctrine concerns the situations where the Phantom is caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, staring down the wrong end of the powered up blasters of a fully prepared enemy squadron. In these cases the cloaking will not be used as much to give you a future positional advantage, but as a panic button. It will often be tempting to accept getting your phantom damaged, so you can bear down your lethal firepower on the opponents. It will take a lot of experience, plus some trial an error to know when to choose to return fire and when to slink into the shadows. If you are facing a single ship, more often than not your probably more powerful lasers will come out on top, but as mentioned earlier, the Phantom is a very expensive and fragile ship, and one you not should treat carelessly.
The third doctrine and arguably the most powerful advantage of cloaking, is the ability to stop being cloaked.
If you start your round cloaked, you can decloak, giving you a opportunity to alter you position before revealing your manoeuvre dial. Being able to barrel roll or boost using the straight 2 template when you decloak, turning even the most innocent looking bank into an array of powerful offensive, evasive or repositional manoeuvres.
Few other ships offer this control over the movement after the mind game of the dial decision in the planning phase, and is the main reason the Phantom excels in the role as a deep striker, that can penetrate the enemies lines and hit their most vital targets with its powerful blasters, before fading back into the shadows.
The decloaking is of course somehow countered if the confronted ships have higher pilot skills than the Phantoms and therefor moves after you have decloaked. But they will still need to make some tough choices in guessing where you will end up, because the of the many possibilities you posses. If you for example are flying head to head with the enemy, you might make a 7 range koiogran turn – decloak two straight ahead plus you ship base and then the 4 koiogran – or you might outflank them, with a boost to the side followed by a sharp 1 turn in the opposite direction.
When flying the Phantom, you should also reevaluate your relation to the obstacles on the field. Asteroids are your friends, and while being cloaked you should strive to keep these between you and the enemies who can target you, giving you five or maybe even six defence dices due to range between the enemy star fighters and your precious hull. You should not be worried about flying straight towards an asteroid, something highly discouraged for almost all other pilots, because a decloak a barrel roll to either sides should steer you clear of the rock. Again in this case, the opponent needs to make a difficult choice, because she will most likely need to take the same asteroid into consideration, when she plans her next moves, which will open her up, for a possible devastating shot in the back, if she makes the wrong turn.
When you cloak or move around cloaked, always try to keep as many decloak options open as possible. If the decloak barrel roll or boost is obstructed by ships or obstacles, you will severely hamper your options and become at lot more predictable. As long as an asteroid doesn’t serve any defensive role for your Phantom, try to avoid having it blocking a decloak exit point.
Also try to avoid being swarmed – which can pose a lot more difficult, due to the fact that an enemy swarm has a tendency to move towards you, a behaviour rarely seen in asteroids. The crafty swarm, who probably has a lower PS than you, might be able to deny you the ability to decloak altogether, by closing down the remaining decloak positions and therefore both controlling your movement and deny you the ability to attack.
Remember you are not forced to decloak, and it might sometimes be a better option to stay in the shadows, and only move whatever your dial reveal. This will more often than not, bring you to a position the opponent did not at all anticipate.
When manoeuvring before getting into firing range, get used to move in a blink fashion. Decloak, move, cloak. You will be able to either keep your distance, by moving slower, with the use of a barrel roll that puts you half a base behind your current position, or speeding ahead with the boost decloaking, which bring you the equivalent of the straight 3 ahead of your initial placement.
Flying the Phantom+
Utilising the full potential of this beautiful craft, requires a lot of patience. Their strategically use closely resembles submarines. They stalk their targets to deliver a devastating punch at the most opportune moment before again vanishing into the darkness. The Phantoms functions admirably as lone wolves, operating independently from the rest of the fleet and often deep into enemy territory. Full Phantom fleets will benefit from the same strategy being far from each other, waiting for the enemy to engage one, giving the others a change to strike the flank. Due to this spread out formation it is often not possible for the Phantoms to destroy a target in a single salvo. Often it will only be one Phantom who opens fire, while the rest are lurking. Even though it is common sense to finish the job, and continuing firing at a crippled enemy ship – after all a ship with one hull left, is often as good as a brand new one – you often have to make the tough decision not to stay on target but disengage, if it will otherwise bring you into the fire arches of said ships wingmen.
Often you will experience the frustration of chipping away the shields and hulls on a lot of different ships, without any confirmed kills, because of your constantly repositioning and dodging. When you feel confident that the enemies is worn down, ready for the final blow, you can decloak your entire squadron and deliver the coup de grâce face to face.
The more suicidal Phantoms, can choose to fly directly against the enemy while cloaked accepting some hits, to bring their formations in disarray before their wingmen moves in to punish any stragglers, that broke formation.
Always try to place your Phantoms, so no not-turreted ship can target all of them at the same time.
A stressed Phantom is in grave danger. You can still decloak while stressed, but not cloak. Luckily the skilful Phantom pilot will rarely need to perform a Koiogran turn. You should avoid being in a close quarter situation where it is needed to make a Koiogran and even then, it will often be more beneficial to just make a wide turn and cloak. It will often bring you in a situation, where your next decloak move, could bring you to a position the enemy won’t be able to get into her fire arch, if she chooses a green manoeuvre, to get rid of the possible stress just received from its own K-turn. It is not unheard of, that if the enemy gets stress while facing Phantoms, they could keep it for a while, being forced to choose white manoeuvres in an attempt to catch the Phantoms.
Considering your freedom of movement, you should be able to avoid overlapping any ships. Again as with stress, you are in a very tight spot if that happens and you for example ends up kissing the spearhead of a tight formation. A non cloaked Phantom at range 1, will need a lot of luck, to stay on the table. So again, be sure to have as many exit points for your decloaking as possible, and if it doesn’t look like you can decloak without overlapping, swallow your pride and stay cloaked.
The most lethal strategies against TIE Phantoms are pilots or strategies that can counter theirs mobility.
Large turret mounted ships, namely the YT-1300 and soon the Decimator and Outrider, don’t have any blind spots from where the Phantoms can strike. A fully decked Falcon, with gunner or Luke manning the cannons, will again and again prove lethal for the Phantoms, and requires a completely different philosophy. You will have to make some difficult sacrifices against these very popular ships. If a Falcon can single out a Phantom, it is as good as dead, and will at least not be able to match the punishment it will receive. A large ship is often accompanied by several cheap wingmen, and you could try to separate these from the main threat, which will often prove very difficult. But in a tournament situation, where you are on a timer, the possibility of playing very defensively, by downing a couple of wingmen and trying to avoid the turret-mounted behemoth, could be a vial but often futile strategy. A more accepted approach, would be to try to focus fire the main enemy. In that case you wan’t to keep your ships together, so they can bear their full firepower down on the large ship simultaneously. You will be hit, so here evade tokens, will help you a lot. When you are hit, before Han, Luke or a Gunner kicks in, you should accept a single hit, even if you could negate it with an evade token. The loss of a shield, might be naught compared to the four attack dies from each Phantom targeting the large ship.
High skilled pilots, who moves after the Phantom are also very troublesome, because you won’t know where they will end, when you decide to decloak. Here you will need a lot of patience, trying to outmanoeuvre . Exchanging shots with a single X-wing at Range 3, might not be such a bad decision, but if it is closer or there are more than one, you will probably receive more than you deliver. If the elite pilots are accompanied with low level squad mates, that moves before your Phantoms, it is important to know, how the opponent normally plays. Will he keep his formation tight, and therefore letting the cheap wingmen telegraph where his elite ships will move to, or are these ships used as bait for the impatient Phantom, blowing their cover while moving into a devious trap. In these cases a single Intelligence Agent will be to a lot of help. The knowledge of one ships movement, will often reveal the full image of the enemy’s plans.
Arch dodging ships, with high manoeuvrability, boost or barrel roll actions, works a bit like the Phantom, and in these cases, the outcome will boil down to the skill of the player and who has the highest PS. Arch dodgers are often as fragile as your Phantoms, so it might not be necessary to play as defensively as against more sturdy ships. You might though want to keep some distance and not end up in close quarter dogfight. Firing against a TIE Interceptor at range 3 is four dices versus four and it will not be unlikely that you can sneak a critical hit through their defences.
An ionised Phantom is even worse up, than if it is being stressed. Phantoms are juicy targets for these weapons, because if you are hit while cloaked, you can’t even decloak next turn, and will drift helplessly through the void, without any options to fire. Luckily it is relatively easy to counter the current ion arsenal. They are either front mounted or in the case of the Ion Cannon Turret limited to range 1-2. Even if you are targeted while cloaked, you will have a decent change to avoid being hit, because of its firepower of 3. But if you are facing Ion weapons, make sure that your relationship with asteroids is a lot less unorthodox than you would normally apply with the Phantom. Being ionised and forced to drift on top of an asteroid is even more humiliating than it is threatening your chances for success.
Against a tight swarm formation sporting a wide fire arch from a lot of smaller vessels, you should try to outflank them and pick them of one by one. Facing the firepower of a couple TIE-fighters is not that daunting, and you should be willing to loose some shields to bring them down. A soon as the panic spreads through the swarm, the predatory nature of the Phantom will come to its prober use.
As mentioned earlier, due to the fact that the Phantom being a highly advanced craft compared to the rest of the Empires fleet, it doesn’t boast any top ace pilots. But the ruthless “Whisper” and the enigmatic “Echo” is still able to strike fear in even the most stern hearted pilot, when they blast around the enemy flickering in and out of existence.
“Whisper” is the highest ranking Phantom pilot in the current fleet, and is because of that, the safest although most expensive pick between the four options. Boasting a pilot skill of 7 she is able to raise that to 9 with Veteran Instincts, putting her on par with the most elite of rebel pilots. She possesses a rather weak pilot ability, which can give her a focus token, after she makes an attack. The ability is relatively conditional. You have to attack, and even deliver at least one damage for the ability to work. The focus token can then only be used defensively against attacks following “Whisper”. Because of the hit condition of the ability you can’t even hoard tokens with the help of a Gunner. You might also end up with a redundant token, if you as your normal action selected a focus token which was unused during the attack. But on the other hand, it is a completely free token, and the combination of a focus and an evade token on a possible cloaked ship, is a really difficult target for the enemy to shoot down. Even though she only have an above average Pilot Skill, and a limited pilot ability, she is still so dangerous that a lot of rebel pilots shout foul. She hits hard and is gone before the enemy register that they are already dead.
If it is possible to use the term traditional about any Phantom pilot, then “Echo” is farthest away from that nomination. He flies like a feverish butterfly escaped from a mental asylum and stings like a bee. He is all about his unorthodox manoeuvering, which is covered in more depth here. “Echo”’s Pilot Skill at 6 puts him in some kind of no man lands, and it will rarely make much sense to increase it with Veteran Instinct, so he should expect to face opponents that moves after him, but shoots before. You have to gamble with “Echo” and take some chances, trying to call the plotted manoeuvres of the enemy. He will turn the game even more into a mind game, where double phycology gives way to double double psychology. “Echo” works well as a single Phantom in a build that features other Empire star-fighters, where “Whisper” excels as the squad leader in an all-Phantom Builds.
The only real thing a Shadow Squadron Pilot has going for him, is the name. The PS of 5 compared to the PS 3 of the Sigma Pilots does not justify the price gap between them. In the current meta, there is rarely any great advantages of flying a PS 5 ship compared to a PS 3. The cheaper Sigma can afford a Stygium Particle Accelerator, Tactician or Fire-Control System for the price difference, which will often prove more beneficial.
The Phantom can be equipped with, system upgrades, crew members, modifications and in the case of the named pilots, elite talents.
When it comes to Modifications it seems like a no brainer to make it a choice, between the two modifications that are practically exclusive for the Phantoms, the Advanced Cloaking Device and the Stygium Particle Accelerator. When it comes to Shadows and Sigmas, it is most sensible to choose the Stygium Particle Accelerator, and the potential of an almost sure free evade action. Besides the fact, that the Sygium Particle Accelerator is less expensive, the full potential of the Advanced Cloaking Device, requires that you shoot first for it to really shine – even though that no one can deny that getting an option for a free cloak is without doubt very useful, even though you might not benefit from it during attacks because of the power of the decloak. A few other modifications could open up for some interesting builds. The Engine Upgrade could be used by “Echo” to make him even more jittery, especially combined with Advanced Sensors. The Stealth Device would give the Phantom a base agility of 5, making it very difficult to ever hit, if you would wish to make some kind of a support vessel, which would rarely open fire, by for example placing a Saboteur in the co-pilot seat. But at the end of the day, the Stygium or the Cloaking Device will probably be the best all round modifications, and few Phantom should ever be seen without the one or the other.
It is also possible for the Phantom pilots to apply System Upgrades, which is normally one of the strongest and most versatile upgrade types, even though the choices are limited. But for the Phantom they are actually not as useful as they are for other ships. The Fire-Control System is very good on paper, and it can’t be denied, that it is a welcoming way for the Phantom to gain access to target-locks even without even spending their precious action. Only problem is that due to their erratic movement and often cautious nature, more often than not you won’t be able to target the same ship in two consecutive rounds. No Phantom wants never to be stressed, so Advanced Sensors need a slightly different approach compared to other ships, that normally uses it to gain their action before a red manoeuvre. The Advanced sensor usefulness for the Phantom is when used in correlation with the decloak, widening its positioning options even more, through pre move barrel rolls or even boost actions. This works best with the Advanced Cloaking Device, so you still can cloak later in the same turn, you used the Advanced Sensors.
Being a two seater, the Phantom pilot can get a crew member with you for the ride. The Intelligence Agent is a cheap and fairly decent way to support the strategies of the Phantom, by predicting the movement of the opposition. The Tactician is another very powerful addition, because of the control the Phantom has over where it will end up after movement, making it more likely to end up at range 2, and as mentioned earlier, it is even more difficult for a stressed ship to ever catch a Phantom. The Gunner is also a very tempting co-pilot, considering the Phantoms powerful primary attack, especially if it already has the Fire-Control System equipped.
When it comes to Elite Talents, the top ace Phantom Pilots, especially “Whisper”, will often look towards Veteran Instinct, to be able to be on par with the best pilots the rebels can field. But if the pilots feel secure with their base PS, they could look towards some Elite Talents that enhances the offensive capabilities of the ship. Those that springs in mind is Predator or Outmaneuver, where Predator is good in almost every situation, Outmaneuver on the other hand enforces the deep striking capabilities of a shady Phantom pilot.
This concludes the hopefully throughout and inspiring evaluation of the Phantoms. So good luck fielding these deamons, and fear not if the don’t succeed at first. The Phantoms require a lot of experience and pilots that dares to go, where no one would ever expect.