Where to begin? A while back I claimed that Cygnar's defining faction trait in terms of gameplay is being able to deliver the alpha strike. I believe our strongest caster is still Haley2 and I believe pretty much all of our choices are balanced around what she and similarly strong casters can accomplish. I see a lot of other factions having the numbers or the durability to just move up the field, tank the alpha and strike back hard enough. While we have gotten a unit that does this a lot better than any of our choices did in Mk. 2, that is Trenchers, the majority of our army is still fragile. When I made that claim we still didn't know what Mk. 3 would look like. Now that we do, am I still of this opinion?
Long story short: Yes I am. An apparent fact in Mk. 2 was that if I started losing models, things were going poorly. I find that same thing to hold true in Mk. 3. It's taken me a little while to find the lists that allow me to play this way as our choices are drastically changed, but I'm getting the hang of it and I've found a pair which I believe is solid for the time being.
My favourite caster is still our strongest caster I believe. Haley2 has drastically changed her playstyle since Mk. 2. The combination of power solos like Eiryss2 and Gastone coupled with Deadeye for True Sight ATGM and the Black 13th allowed her to play a shooty list which handled anything but superior shooters and the Wold War tier list perfectly. Some matchups were just unfair, I would remove 20 models per turn easily and have nothing in return for my opponent to attack, without even feating. The nerfs to Haley included taking away this flexibility, directly by removing Deadeye and indirectly by restraining both the units she enjoyed fielding and the power solos that added so much.
So with all-in shooting out of the picture, what then? I tried various hybrid lists in the beginning with e.g. a Charger on Junior and Gastone with a Buccaneer supported by Lances and of course the Thorn + Stormwall battlegroup. The problem I found was that the shooting didn't reach the critical level it needs to for a list to be able to capitalize on it as a playstyle. The Charger and Buccaneer were notably expensive purchases, combined for a total of 15 points, that often found themselves lacking good targets. I can't afford to have 15 points sit there and do too little. I dojoed around with a ton of shooty lists, even making variants with the old powerhouses like ATGM and Black 13th, but I found no versions I liked. Eventually I gave up and resigned myself to the fact that Haley2 probably cannot play all-out shooting in Mk. 3.
The flexible unit I landed on to provide Haley with a mix of anti-infantry, anti-solo and anti-arm was the Storm Lances. They provide so much utility and flexibility and they got some pretty significant buffs in Mk. 3. I believe they are now our best in-faction unit and whenever I make lists without them I stop to consider if leaving them at home is really a good idea. I believe the Thorn + Stormwall configuration is the best battlegroup for Haley2 (more on this matter later) and the lightning pod allows for a number of shenanigans in terms of dealing with infantry and solos by way of electro leaps. The fact that both their shots and melee attacks have electro leaps allows even a small unit to annihilate an infantry unit on their own. I'm still learning how to get the most out of these guys in that sense but when I get it right it's amazing how much carnage they cause.
Losing Aiyana + Holt and Eiryss2 alongside the +2" move and 1 extra focus bond meant that Haley's Stormwall can no longer dish out the insane amounts of damage we were used to in Mk. 2. To compensate for this I've experimented with an Ironclad. It also adds to my threat projections and is a very interesting investment for its 12 points. Tremor is also nice. I find that more than anything, the psychological factor of facing an Ironclad alongside the Stormwall is enough to provide me with lots of board space. Haley loves board space, it gives her the time and space to work her angles via Thorn. When push comes to shove and the Ironclad has to get some work done, I've found it capable of filling its inteded role as a beatstick. In Mk. 2 I often had to rely on the rest of the army to carry the day when the Stormwall died. I frequently traded the Stormwall to get ahead on attrition and have the rest of my list mop up the remains. The Ironclad suits this role perfectly in Mk. 3 and its cheap cost belies its potential with Haley2 supporting it. I've had it one-round Circle heavies and help the Stormwall take down ARM21 Colossals. The more I play with this little guy the more I think he's the right choice.
I've outlined the two new choices which help Haley2 play the game I like with her: Delivering the alpha. They help me buy the space and clear the space so that the really heavy hitters can do their job. It's time to look closer at my preferred battlegroup with Haley2.
Guns blazing and fists at the ready, the Stormwall as I know and love. The Haley2 Stormwall took a big nerf. There's no way around that fact. It was a necessary nerf because in Mk. 2 this thing was ridiculous. With proper support I've had it one-round enemy colossals. That shouldn't happen when it also has the insane shooting output, electro leaps, lightning pods and covering fires. It's just too much in one package. However my first reaction was that this thing is still looking pretty good. It delivers POW15 shots at a great distance, hinders infantry with covering fire, is our only source of innate PS20 in melee and has the lightning pods to throw around for whatever it is you need, be it killing a solo, disrupting a jack or contesting a scenario piece. Furthermore a lot of factions have lost their trivial removal of upkeeps and this means that our ARM22 beast is more durable than ever. On top of this a number of the extreme threat ranges are removed (e.g. revive nerf) so it's harder to get to it.
What really sets the Stormwall apart though is the rules that come with being a colossal: Crazy power attacks allow for shenanigans like no other, immunity to disruption, knockdown, slam, stationary and whatever means it's always fully operational and anchors Haley well, pathfinder means it can handle what we otherwise frequently struggle with and lastly it has so many boxes and the systems are spread that frequently it's fully operational with just a handful of boxes left.
The obvious alternative to the Stormwall is double Stormclad. They threaten longer, get their focus easier and have a greater combined damage output. I have yet to try this module out and I don't think I will anytime soon because the more matchups I play with the Stormwall the more sense it makes to me. Yesterday I played Rahn for example. It is perhaps the most ideal comparison for a Stormwall as it truly highlights not only how much more reliable the Stormwall is offensively, it also shows how it helps Haley stay alive. Perhaps this is an unfair comparison but there are many casters out there that you want to play Haley against and be sure that you can stay safe and that your main beatstick element can be delivered. Convergence is another example with drag, I recently played vs Iron Mother. Try pulling a Colossal! Butcher3 is a matchup I anticipate Haley2 playing into. His effective threat range is 5" more vs Stormclads, essentially. I also really like the shooting the Stormwall brings. Boosted POW15s hurt so, so much and the covering fires are great for keeping your fragile army safe. Lastly the pod which dishes out disruptions, solo removal and contests as you please is something I know I'd dearly miss.
I would touch on Thorn but Thorn is a no brainer, really. I'll probably write a few thoughts on him later. Suffice is to say he was a beast in Mk. 2 and he actually got buffed in Mk. 3. I am baffled as to why but as a Haley2 player I'm not exactly complaining. To finish off this long part about Haley2 I'll post the list I'm currently playing:
(Haley 2) Major Victoria Haley [+25] (Fuel Cache)Lanyssa is a solid choice for 3 points now that the army is more melee oriented. I never seriously considered her in Mk. 2 for Haley2 but now in Mk. 3 I think she's almost an auto-include. The Firefly amplifies my anti infantry capabilities and have been impressive thus far. It also allows for POW12 pod + eleap damage. The one thing I really miss here is Ragman but I just cannot find the points. Thus far the combined power of the Ironclad + Stormwall has been enough to handle ARM.
- Thorn 
- Stormwall 
- Squire 
- Ironclad 
Journeyman Warcaster 
- Firefly 
Captain Arlan Strangewayes 
Lanyssa Ryssyl, Nyss Sorceress 
Storm Lances (min) 
With Haley2 fairly set, we need a partner for her. What are her weaknesses? Some obvious candidates are the lists that vastly outshoot her, possibly dealing with the Stormwall before she can get up the field and/or get a scenario lead. Retribution and Legion variants and Cygnar mirror matches all fall into this category. Additionally there are anti-Haley-tech here and there like Rasheth. What all of these have in common is that I don't believe other Cygnar lists can steamroll them (e.g. Stryker1 or Stryker2 style), which means we have to look to our ranged game.
Who better to start out with than Kara Sloan, every Cygnar opponent's biggest whine target in Mk. 3? To be fair, I can empathize. I do not understand why Privateer Press took out Lylyth2's power only to make an exact replica of her playstyle in another faction. Regardless, Sloan is very powerful and brings so much firepower to the table that it's truly hard to fathom until you see it in action. While I did start out with Caine2 in Mk. 3 because I love how he plays, I quickly switched to Sloan. After initially trying out with more or less a pure battlegroup oriented approach with a Stormwall at the front, I found I lacked elements to truly threaten an advance (which you have to do vs a gunline) and to contest the scenario. While pew pew is fun, you have to find a balance. As with Haley2, the solution was Storm Lances. It is perhaps a counter-intuitive approach because Sloan literally does nothing for the Storm Lances explicitly. However implicitly the synergies are perfect. You can't -not- advance on her shooting unless you shoot even harder yourself (which I have yet to see anyone do in Mk. 3), which means that you will sooner or later expose yourself to the Lances. Let me assure you that those PS15 boosted damage rolls on top of her shooting hurts insanely much.
Taking out the Stormwall for Sloan was a necessary change to include the Lances, I found. In its place a couple of Defenders are now providing the POW15 shots. They are capable melee pieces as well and though I miss the PS20 hits, the MAT7 is a welcome increase relative to the Stormwall's MAT6. The list I ended up with for Sloan was thus a number of pairs: Double Defender, double Firefly, double Hunter, double Storm Lances (min). The playstyle typically resembles a double envelopment: I try to have the shooters centrally and the Lances moving in from both flanks to threaten the center. If an opponent refuses to advance down the center this inevitably means that a scenario opening is presented.
Sloan's main problems are that she doesn't have a lot of magical shooting and she doesn't have a lot of plans outside of, well, shooting things dead. With a Stormwall + Arlan the magical attacks are no longer something I miss, but I'm not sure how important it is. Will Lylyth3 be a thing for example? Can Sloan actually play against her regardless? I'm also not sure if including the Stormwall takes away too much from her list as you're forced to make some tough decisions to free the points.
As with the section on Haley2 I think it's fitting to conclude this section on Sloan with my current list for her:
Captain Kara Sloan - WJ: +28 (Fuel Cache)The last 5 points currently invested in Alten Ashley can really be a number of things, I haven't made up my mind yet as to how best to spend them. The rest of the list is really solid though and gives me a well rounded force that can handle anything from infantry to colossals fairly effectively.
- Reinholdt, Gobber Speculator - PC: 4
- Firefly - PC: 0
- Firefly - PC: 0
- Hunter - PC: 0
- Hunter - PC: 10
- Defender - PC: 16
- Defender - PC: 16
Alten Ashley - PC: 5
Storm Lances - Leader & 2 Grunts: 12
Storm Lances - Leader & 2 Grunts: 12
The very first caster I put on the table in Mk. 3 was Caine2. I was eager to see how the changes affected him. While everyone else was running batshit over his innate true sight and bullet types on every shot, I noticed Gate Crasher was reduced 3" and that he lost a shot. Combined with Kiss being too expensive to probably be worthwhile, I had a feeling his role was changed drastically. It turns out I was right. Caine is no longer lethal to heavier things, but he has gained a whole new dimension in terms of taking out lighter key pieces. Boosted POW12s still help in putting the hurt on bigger things of course but he can no longer himself dish out the amazing hurt he used to in Mk. 2. The changes to clouds and TAC (losing boxes... Just... Why?) also hurt his defensive game as I found this to be a critical unit for him. Bullet Dodger, innate true sight and the bullet types are all great though, absolutely fantastic, and Rhupert now working on solos with his DEF-bonus is amazing for Caine2. You can stand in the open on DEF21 vs ranged and magic attacks. That is quite something.
The first games were frustrating more than anything. In hindsight I demanded too much out of Caine2, comparing him to his Mk. 2 self. I think the clue for Caine2 now is to build a list that amplify his strengths and shore up his weaknesses. Perhaps not surprisingly I am looking to the Stormwall and Storm Lances yet again. I will playtest this some in the time to come to see if Caine2 can rival Sloan's power.
Why am I trying Caine2 at all when Sloan is working so well? One reason I could point to is that I prefer playing Caine2. I find him a more interesting caster to play than Sloan. However that is more of a bonus as I'll take whatever's the most competitively viable, the real reason is that I fear Sloan is too one dimensional. Caine has a lot more tricks and since I believe he wants the Stormwall, a lot more shenanigans to play around with. He's also more flexible in terms of having magical attacks available and trick shots to threaten basically everything that can't straight up ignore POW10s.
What's going on with everyone else? How does this affect Cygnar? The meta is obviously still a mess. Most players are trying out crazy things in all possibly directions and nothing is settled yet. Few have gotten to the part where they consider pairings, the various scenarios etc. That said however I believe we are starting to see certain trends. I personally believe Khador and Retribution are the top dogs now. Powercasters include Butcher3, Irusk2, Sorscha1, Issyria, Rahn and Ossyan at least. On the Hordes side of things Trollbloods and Circle are looking solid but I believe more playtesting is needed before they give up on their gimmicks and start playing solid all-comers (especially true for Circle). As for the rest I believe Cryx and Legion will find their way soon enough and the latter will likely continue to be an issue for us to deal with. Protectorate and Cygnar are both looking strong with some things removed but other things gained. The balance between these two in particular seems to have improved massively, from a very one-sided Haley2 steamrolling all of their casters to multiple matchups now being very much playable. That is something I think is very good for the game. Mercenaries are looking solid with lots of buffs both explicitly and implicitly (e.g. Aiyana and Holt in-faction). Minions I know next to nothing about so I can't speak of them. Skorne were in my opinion the worst faction in Mk. 2. They now have a couple of builds and opportunities that seem very promising. Ferox for example are an amazing cavalry unit now. Convergence is basically unchanged in playstyle but with some tweaks. I still think they look dangerous.
Overall what I feel we are seeing is more or less what I predicted: Most lists look to be a combination of jacks/beasts, units and support. With the change to battlegroup points no faction can any longer disregard this completely. On the other hand going all out leaves you too short on support and most factions have got some significant support which we really want now. Khador's Ternions and Winter Guard Rifles are looking strong, we want Storm Lances and merc solos, Circle wants Stones and Blackclads etc. The worst skews then I think will be a rare sight. Famous last words? Time will show.
We, as Cygnar, thrive in this meta I believe because we are well suited to deal with well-rounded lists. Skews can be a pain for us if it's the right kind. As of now what makes most sense to me at least is to look at ourselves more than everyone else to see what we need. In other words, instead of looking too much at specific problematic casters, it's better to look at e.g. Haley2 in a pairing and ask "What does she do well? What does she struggle with?" on a general basis to form the pair. As the meta cools down we can analyze this further of course but for now it's too much chaos for this to be meaningful. I've resigned myself to the fact that for now, this is a viable approach that should at least give me a pairing situation where there is list chicken involved. In other words I hope my pairing avoids facing a caster which neither one of mine has game into. I will dive into pairings more closely at a later point in time.
There are lots and lots of interesting casters now that I believe are way more viable than they were in Mk. 2. Haley1, Haley3, Nemo3, Stryker1, Stryker2, Stryker3 and Kraye are all casters I would love to try out. The main reasons I have not done so yet is because even with the volume of games I've had lately I have to focus on a pairing to make progress. I've managed to land a list pair that I believe is strong and I don't think I could've done this had I gone about it another way, for example by playing all casters once or twice. The second reason is that it didn't take long for me to be assured that Haley2 is still our best caster. I truly believe a competitive pairing should revolve around her. A lot of the casters above I fear don't effectively cope with her weaknesses. I could be wrong of course and I do intend to try out a lot more casters over time. Now that I have a stable pairing for example I've gone back to trying to make Caine2 work again. Stryker2 received so many buffs in Mk. 2 implicitly and I can't wait to field him again, once Gibbs comes out that is.
It should also be said that I really, really struggle to write lists that I believe in for a lot of these casters. However with all the goodies we've got in Mk. 3 I am sure that others will find viable approaches for them and I'll just keep an eye out for how the lists evolve. That's the beauty of the internet after all and I see no shame in copying others' success. Likewise I hope that those of you reading this will not shy away from trying out my ideas, lists and concepts, or disagree with them as you please of course.
Maxwell Finn, the new Trenchers personified, the solo I hate to not love. I've gotten this far without touching on the Trenchers specifically yet but obviously we -have- to talk about them. First a couple of words on Finn: This guy is now a solo with near limitless potential. In addition to that he makes our Trenchers a much more respectable MAT7 RAT7 over MAT6 RAT6.
Why have I avoided talking about Trenchers thus far? I've played them, I've dojoed a lot with them, I acknowledge the fact that they have received huge buffs and are a lot more viable than before, yet the resulting lists I have now do not include Trenchers. I believe it largely boils down to the fact that Trenchers don't help me secure the alpha. For Haley2, Thorn arcing spells, big threat ranges and feat ensure the alpha. For Sloan, well she has Defenders shooting 18" if she wants so striking first isn't where she needs help. For Caine2 the problem is cracking armor. I'm sure Trenchers have their time and place, but I have been unable to write or play lists with them yet where they are the best way to spend my points. Again though I am confident that others will be playtesting them so I'll just await their results and experiences. With different list concepts and approaches I can definitely see them being strong picks, even in Haley2 for example.
To summarize this rather lengthy piece on my thoughts thus far on Cygnar, I have looked at the following:
- Haley2 is still king
- Cygnar wants to deliver the alpha
- Sloan is very strong and complements Haley2 well
- Storm Lances are amazing
- Stormwall is still strong and got a lot of implicit buffs despite its explicit nerfs
- Tons of interesting casters out there for the Swans
- The meta is still chaotic but I believe extreme skews will be rare
- My lists can't handle models dying and losing models is usually a bad sign
In the time to come I'll continue focusing on the why and the how of the lists and choices I make. Competitive Warmahordes really is about the pairing. Lots of choices are solid in a vacuum but it is getting the right tools for the right job that is the key to success.