Wednesday, November 30, 2011

List Building 102: Expectations

Building a list for Warmachine/Hordes is not as easy as just copying whatever you've seen on the internet.  I have found that many people have attempted this, thinking that they'll do fine, and then struggle for unknown reasons.  While something can be said for playing many different warcasters/warlocks/factions in the game, ultimately success depends on choosing a list that fits your playstyle, like I discussed in List Building 101.  Now that you understand how important it is to find a playstyle that matches your own, let's look at the next natural step and think about what you can expect to see across the table.
Just like any other miniatures game, Warmachine/Hordes has its fair share of really bad match-ups.  You might be playing Rasheth against an all-construct pBaldur army, for example, and have almost no hope, with your feat and half of your spell list being completely useless.  While there's always a chance for victory (the strength of the caster-kill mechanic), it will be an uphill battle for you.  When designing your list, it's important to consider all of the possibilities that you might face across the table - even doubly-so in a tournament.

If you're playing in a local tournament, you need to consider your "meta" or basically the demographics of your local gaming environment.  While some tournaments might draw from a collection of players you might not regularly see, at least 50% of the armies you see will be familiar to you (or at least should be).  There is some flexibility in these, naturally, as players will change preferences for casters and factions, but you should always be aware of what people are fielding, and make your list decisions accordingly.  So what should you look for in your particular meta?

Would you characterize your opponent as playing with the following:

Ranged superiority?

If an opponent has a list with a heavily-ranged component, you need to make sure your list has what it needs to deal with it, be it with models with stealth, being able to generate concealment or cover, or some other anti-shooting magic or abilities.  Hyper Aggressive is an effect that can be really useful, as it doesn't expire, and the model can keep moving forwards if it keeps getting shot at.  Terrain or cloud placement is great if you have it, but even if you just have normal models, you can always try running your models to engage and prevent them from shooting.  If you don't have spells to protect you, then you can at least consider other creative methods to deal with ranged armies.
Melee superiority?

How do you deal with an opponent who just rocks-your-socks-off in melee?  Skorne and Cryx are two factions which do very well in melee, so you have to ask yourself how your list can edge them out.  Can you generate rough terrain?  Can you shoot them with guns or magic before they get there?  Can you make enough tough rolls?  You can rely on high defensive stats to help you out here, but there are lots of creative ways of dealing with a superior melee force if you have some denial capabilities here.  You can also just try to ignore them and go straight for the assassination.

Lots of infantry?
This is more commonly seen in Warmachine than Hordes, but how can you deal with 30+ bodies on the table?  Sometimes they can even have high DEF thanks to spell effects.  Even if not, most are at least DEF 13, which can be a lot to handle when you're running lots of heavies.  If you want to run with lots of warjacks or warbeasts, you need to be able to thin out the hordes.  AOEs can help with this along with the occasional spray.  Heavy warjacks and warbeasts can use tramples to clear out lots of infantry in a pinch, too.  This is why you should consider the occasional light warjack/warbeast, as they can take the punch from infantry and help clear them out without too much investment.  Of particular note here are lightning-based attacks, as they often jump to additional models and only need to hit their primary target.

Lots of heavy beasts/warjacks?
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, how would your list deal with 5/6 heavy warjacks/warbeasts?  Have you played against a Mortenebra helljack army?  These models are typically characterized by higher armor values and will have a good amount of damage boxes.  How will you take care of them?  Can you deal with them one at a time with spells that have a push/pull effect?  Can you buff your heavies to levels where they can wreck a heavy or two?  Can you hit-and-run?

High DEF models?
Can you deal with a lot of DEF 15+ models?  This is often seen with Legion, Retribution, and Circle, where you will have to invest greater effort to hit these models.  Typically these models will also have low ARM values, so you can again rely upon AOEs and other effects that you might use to deal with infantry en-masse, but high DEF can be trickier to hit with ranged or magic attacks without boosting.  Special mention goes out for knock down or stationary effects, as they made scary DEF values irrelevant!

High ARM models?
Have you ever played against a Karchev brick?  How can you deal with lots of ARM 20+?  What about a Cygnar Centurion with Arcane Shield at ARM 24?  eBaldur is the new kid on the block to bring this kind of force to bear, and you need to be prepared to deal with these kinds of armies.  While this is similar to a 'jack/beast heavy list, the difference is that you will likely see fewer models that can survive the typical charges you throw at them.  You can also see high ARM lists with infantry that have Shield Wall or other high-ARM heavy infantry.  Fortunately, they typically have lower DEF values, so you can hope to rely on buffs like Forced Evolution, Primal, or Rage to bump up your STR value against these targets.

Lots of Magic?
This is more common among Circle, Legion, some Retribution and Cryx.  Can you deal with vast amounts of spell-slinging, especially offensive spells?  What about the infamous Cryx debuffs?  Do you have abilities to give you concealment or cover?  Can you rely on high ARM values, since spells are typically low-ish POW?  Do you have anti-placements/push effects to keep you in place?  Shield Guard also works on spells, remember.  As a Barnabus player, you also need to remember that your swamp templates don't protect your models from magic.

Chick with a gun!
So those are the basic characterizations of the list you might face off against, but there are also lots of special rules that can make your job similarly frustrating.  While these are more difficult to prepare for en-masse, you should be aware of them both offensively and defensively, as they can really ruin your day depending on your list.  You should also know the fine differences between each of the terms on these lists.  For example, you should know that pBaldur's feat does not slow models with Flight.  It's key to make sure that you have answers for as many of the following as possible, so that way you don't find yourself making a list that is too one-dimensional.  For example, you might make a Kara Sloan shooting list, but if you don't include some ways for dealing with an entirely stealth army, you might run into problems.  She can deal with some stealth solos, but a whole stealthed army will be trickier!

Think of these more like a checklist, and the more of these that you have answers for, the stronger your list will be: 
Stealth/Concealment/Cover vs. Eyeless Sight/Hunter (note: ES does not ignore cover!)
Incorporeal vs. Magic/Magic Weapons
Rough terrain vs. Pathfinder/Flight
Undead/Constructs vs. Soul/Corpse collecting
Purification vs. Upkeep Spells
Continuous Damage (Fire, Corrosion) vs. Immunities/Purification
Lightning/Immunity to Lightning vs. Cygnar/Krueger
Disruption vs. Warjacks
Tough vs. RFP (remove from play) effects
Healing/Transfers vs. Greivous Wounds
Terror/Abomination vs. Fearless 
Knock down/Stationary vs. Steady/Immunity to cold (or shaking effects)

Other things that you should have answers for:  
Repair and support models (mechanics, choir, paingivers, etc.) 
Reach infantry
Shield Walled infantry
Ranged/Magic AOEs
Placement/Push effects via Force Bolt/Telekinesis/Feat
Out-of-activation movement via Enliven/Admonition/Refuge
Stealth Solos (different because they have multiple damage boxes) 
High SPD flankers (Cavalry)

I know that list looks scary, but these are the things that you should have an answer for in any good list, and you can knock several items off of the list with one thing.  Let me justify my use of Trollkin Runeshapers according to what I said above:

Bring it!
They are tough models who can't be knocked down, they have a POW 14, Magical 3" AOE, that can crit-knockdown, as well as having Tremor to knock down models en masse.  They can deal with incorporeal models due to their magical weapons, can deal with clumped infantry with their AOEs, can usually kill shield-wall infantry because it's POW 14 (and magic ability [7]).  Their multiple damage boxes make them resistant to fire and corrosion effects.  If they're in Janissa's command range, they can prevent models from moving outside of their melee range using force lock - neutering models with flight, parry, acrobatics, and prevents effects like enliven, admonition, or refuge. Oh and they have pathfinder.  Suddenly an oft-ignored 4 point unit is looking really solid (pun intended)!  I do understand that Janissa is 3 points, but she is certainly key to making sure that these guys can shut down some annoying enemy models.

I hope this will help you in the future to create some really effective lists.  Remember that in most tournaments you will be allowed to bring at least two lists, so try to make sure that each list complements each other for their weaknesses.  I tend to bring one anti-heavy list and one anti-infantry list, for starters, and make sure that the choices I make in each list gives me answers to the above problems I mentioned.  Good luck, and happy list-building!

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