NM2016 is over, the reports are done and I have a ton of reflections. Some of them I'd like to share here. Let's start with a brief recap of the journey to the tournament, my estimations and expectations for what to face.
:: Preparations ::
Haley2 and Stryker1 were my original pair. I took them to a small tournament in December, 2d6 Internal Affairs Mk. I (see the lists here: link). The idea was that Stryker handles arm-skew and some other problematic matchups and Haley takes care of the rest. It worked well but I had trouble in certain pairings. Stryker's lack of flexibility (he's slow, has no way to deal with upkeeps, the feat is one-dimensional and there's no out of activation movement or similar shenanigans) meant that I would easily get outplayed by experienced players.
What I tried to do then was to move away from a primary list + secondary list mindset and instead look at how I could make my pairings easier and enable the lists to have more clearly defined roles and more of an equal responsibility. The natural first step was to make Haley the anti-arm variant because her skill-set and feat controls skew lists so well. The question was, what vacuum did that leave? Caine2 was the obvious answer as he does the exact opposite: Happy to kill many models per turn as long as there's no significant amount of armor stacked against him.
Based on my test games and list evolutions, I expected 4 types of lists at the Norwegian Masters: ARM-skew (examples include Fist of Halaak and Trolls of various types), Dude-spam (examples include most variants of Cryx and Retribution), over-the-top shooty lists (Legion) and shenanigans based lists (examples include Haley2 and Krueger2). Anything else is something I can handle but I felt I needed to answer these. Haley's job was to take care of ARM-skew and Legion, as well as Circle (because I find she matches up well with all casters I've faced from Circle thus far with this configuration) and most Menoth pairings. Caine would deal with dude-spam lists and Cygnar mirrors, as well as shenanigans-based lists (if any) that Haley can't keep up with.
How did this play out in practice?
:: The Games ::
The first game was against Trollbloods. Due to a lack of experience with the Trolls I came very close to losing this, and indeed I would have (most likely) if my opponent had not been so stressed by the clock. Regardless this was a pairing I was happy dropping Haley into. What would I have done with Haley2 + Stryker1? I don't know. I think they would both be hard because Grissel can block up non-shenanigan'd Stormwalls too much with her medium-based spam, to the point where Stryker will become bogged down and eventually overcome, I fear. In this game, Time Bomb was the big savior because it bought me time when I desperately needed it. Had I played Haley with a single colossal and shooting + Thorn instead I believe this matchup would've been harder.
Second game was Retribution. Issyria and Rahn, neither with specialists for ARM-skew meant that Caine came out. A fairly obvious choice and indeed he did well. The game came to a premature end when Issyria was a little too greedy and Caine simply put up 3 magic bullets and took her down. Regardless I was comfortable with the pairing and I felt I had multiple angles in the game. A big part of going for the assassination run here was actually to catch a break because the first game was exhausting and lunch was stressful. With the old pairing I would've put out Haley here I believe but either could work ok I think.
The following 2 games were both against Legion and both would've given my old pair huge problems. Stryker1 into Vayl2 is tough because he's simply too slow to bring the pressure on her beasts. They can choose when and where to strike and furthermore Purification completely negates his advantages. The times I've beaten Vayl2 with Stryker1 have boiled down to taking it slow and out-shooting the Legion beasts or pushing Vayl2 hard into assassination. Haley2 is also an uphill battle but I feel she has more game here, so definitely 2 games where I was better off with the switch.
5th game and Retribution again. Now, Caine is supposed to be able to handle both of these lists irregardless of their ADR advantage and I blame this loss solely on lack of experience. That was a risk I knew very well - Stryker1 for all his faults is a caster I know well and can get some work out of. Caine is infinitely more complex, more akin to Haley in the sense that his options are always so many that it's incredibly hard to find the optimal approach. I don't want to discredit my opponent because he played a great game and deserved the win, but this is a matchup I feel is in Caine's advantage, if ever so slightly, which means that I'm making mistakes which cost me the game.
The very last game was Menoth and with Harbinger in the pairing I'll just about never drop Caine. I am more than comfortable playing Haley into Menoth in general and the Harby + Durst pairing practically begged her to come out and play. The scenario was even Outflank, one of her strongest by far. The former pair could likely also have dealt with this but not as comfortable I believe.
Overall then I believe I made a good switch and I'm happy I took the risk of leaving Stryker1 behind. Caine2 is hard to master, just like Haley2, but incredibly rewarding and powerful once you utilize his abilities to their full potential.
:: What Happens Now? ::
It's time to explore new casters, new builds and other playstyles. It's time to expand my knowledge and understanding of the various Cygnar casters. The problem is fitting a caster into a decent pair which covers the bases I currently see in the meta as well as I managed for NM. Take Haley3 for example. I struggle to see her as a better choice than Caine2 vs dude-spam. I struggle to see her as a better choice than Haley2 vs ARM-skew and Legion. I'll have to dwell on this matter for some time and I'm not yet sure what casters I want to focus on. Stryker3, Haley3, Kraye, Sloan and Siege are all casters I want to explore further but a requisite for all of them is to take a good, hard look at what roles they can fill.
Cygnar is a powerful faction with some ridiculously strong tools. This is a luxury in the sense that we can get away with a few fairly cookie-cutter choices and basically be set against a lot of the usual suspects out there. Based on this I believe the approach we should take is to start with our hard matchups that we actually see in the current meta and work our way from there. Based on the experiences from NM the following lists are the ones that worry me the most:
- Trolls MMM
- Legion Lylyth2
Obviously Haley2 (yes, mirrors are important to consider), Butcher3 and Cryx are ever-present problems as well. Prior to NM I was a lot more worried about Retribution than I am now. Ossyan and Ravyn can be terrible to face but the thing is that Retribution did very well at NM with completely different casters. Now don't get me wrong, Issyria and Rahn (the most common pair) are no walk in the park but from a Cygnar point of view I'd take them any day over Ravyn Tier.
The problem with the Lylyth part of the above equation is that approaching her is something completely different to approaching the other 2 variants. Thus far I have been unable to find a caster that can handle either Lylyth2 and other list variants (for example dude-spam in the way Caine does currently) or the ARM-skew and other list variants. In fact I struggle to find anything that's downright good against Lylyth2 at all. She's -that- strong against Cygnar in my experience. I hear talk of Caine2 being a decent answer but I don't see it: You have to upkeep true shot if you want to do any work with him himself, in which case she can simply land Ravagore partials on you (1/3rd to hit regardless of DEF) and eat away with boosted damage and fire continuous. At the same time her specialists allow her to take enough shooting to effortlessly take down a Stormwall at will. This seriously hurts choices like Siege and Kara Sloan, which might otherwise have been good candidates. We can hope Lylyth2 will disappear (frankly I think she's a subpar choice in a Legion pairing if you want specialists because she solves too few problems that Legion actually have at the cost of making the bad matchups downright terrible. Even Retribution can tailor effectively against her now with Issyria ADR for example) or at least see a reduction in popularity but for now, that's wishful thinking. Legion players seem to love their "I shoot" feat button based on the NM participants.
So to conclude I will be looking at new casters, but first I have to figure out how they fit into the big picture. With NM, I feel I've finally gotten a grasp of the big trends in the game and how they affect each other. That allows me to approach the game in a more systematic manner, meaning I can hopefully avoid pairings that leave me helpless. What I do know is what I need to counter. I need to consider specific pairings and I am now a firm believer in a more balanced caster approach instead of having a "primary" and a "secondary" list.
In closing I am really looking forward to the Hurricane coming out as well. I believe it'll amplify my NM Haley list's potential greatly and I can't wait to start playing it. It could possibly open up for a few other interesting caster variants as well. Also, I have to practice Caine2 further ;)