fredag 29. juli 2016

A Few Thoughts On Unconventional Casters

I don't remember if I have said it before or not on this blog, but I am a firm believer in unconventional approaches. The caveat is that they have to be solid. I like to think that I don't believe I am a little special unique snowflake when it comes to list building so it is not because of this that I believe in unconventional approaches. On the contrary I will happily copy-paste successful ideas if I believe in them.

So why do I still believe in these? It boils down to one main reasons: Playing something your opponents do not understand and learning how different dynamics affect the game. To understand this, consider a matchup and how different it is the first time you play it versus the 5th. We learn a lot and identify key mistakes, win conditions and gotchas in the matchups we play more than once. Considering the vast differences in lists, casters, metas, skill levels, scenarios and maps, it is practically impossible for anyone to know every matchup. Because of this, I believe the player with an unconventional approach holds an intrinsic advantage. In Mk. 2 I set out to try an experiment. Although the caster and the core elements were well known, the rest of the list combined to create something which people did not understand. While I believe this Haley2 shooting list was just broken, it was also clear to me that more or less every opponent I met failed to realize how they should have countered it. The list helped me get 4 tournament wins and 2 runner-ups out of 6 tournaments in total. For the especially curious readers, these games are all detailed in the battle reports section on this blog (check out reports #121 -> #134 in particular as these are from the same Con with a high average skill level).

Where am I going with this? While we cannot play every possible combination and thus have to rely on analysis to make choices, I think it is good to step outside once in a while to experience the breadth of our available options. This might sound funny coming from a guy having played 75 games in Mk. 3 yet only fielded 3 casters. The reason for that is quite simply that I believe that the most important thing to do if you want to play competitively is to learn how to walk before you learn how to run. What do I mean with this? I think we should all begin with what we believe is the strongest pairing and really play the shit out of that until we have learned it and feel that we master it. It is hard to pinpoint a number but suffice is to say that this requires a ton of games. After we have gotten to this point I think it is time to experiment. Those of you who have read this blog for a while might remember that I intended to play Kraye/Stryker 3 towards the end of Mk. 2. The only reason I ditched this was because Mk. 3 was announced and thus I saw little value in learning something that might change a lot (and indeed did with Kraye). I will admit that no small part of me wanted to cheese out with the Haley2 list while I still could as well.

While I am not at a point in Mk. 3 yet where I feel comfortable with a pair (or let alone having mastered both lists of said pair), I will get there sooner or later, at which point in time I will experiment. I love discussing ideas and having people to analyze and evaluate lists and games with and the closer our lists are the more we can get out of this in my experience. As such I made a bet with a friend. This guy loves to play unconventional things more or less all the time and I challenged him to sticking with Haley2 for the rest of the year. If he does that, I said, I will play a caster of his choosing (barring Blaize) and do my best to make said caster work in a pair, including taking it to tournaments I attend.

So John gave me a choice: Nemo1, Nemo2 and Sturgis. Truth be told I have looked closely at Sturgis in the past so I know what he does. The Nemos however have largely passed me by: I have glanced over their skillset and concluded that I don't believe they are top tier material. Now, before we go further I would like to stop for a second and make a point. Since Mk. 3 hit there has been a lot of talk about caster ratings. Isolated I find this meaningless to do. In a competitive environment it is all about a pair. I will dive into this topic more in-depth soon, but for now the idea behind a pair is that you should have an answer to other pairs. Preferably all possible pairs.

For Cygnar, I think Haley2 is just so much stronger than any other caster that she deserves one spot. She does not more or less autowin half the matchups in the game (as was the case in Mk. 2), but she still feels like she has an edge in a lot of matchups and a 50/50 shot ish in lots more. I have heard claims that she has 50/50 or more into virtually everything, and while I don't share that sentiment I still find her our easily best caster.

The good news for our pairing then is that we just need to cover her bad matchups. The bad news is that casters which struggle with the same matchups as Haley are more or less automatically left at home. Considering what I have faced thus far in Mk. 3 I have identified Skorne (Rasheth arm21 skew), Circle (Kromac1), Legion (Vayl2), Mercenaries (Thexus, MacBain) and Retribution (Ossyan) as hard matchups for Haley2. I am sure there are more but this is a start. Depending on where Vayl2 lands this might be better as well. Anyway. Back to John's selection then we are faced with the question of which of these 3 casters cover these the best.

I started looking at Nemo1. I didn't see much I liked because he feels like an inferior version of Nemo2. Not having Polarity Shield is huge, I feel. I spent some time dojoing with Nemo1 but given the list of adversaries above I failed to come up with a list where Nemo2 didn't feel flat out better. On top of lacking Polarity Shield I think Nemo1's feat is one of the worst in the game. While solos like Arlan, Lanyssa and Ragman allow an endless stream of focus I don't think it's enough. Nemo2 can basically achieve more or less the same with his feat and his spells are better. Focus Matrix also makes him able to get whatever he needs wherever he needs on feat turn. So following 30 minutes and 5-6 list variants I put Nemo1 away.

Sturgis is a caster I thought about in Mk 2. He is like Stryker1 in a way but with more shenanigans and less Invincibility. As I typically prefer the aggressive choice I probably would have gotten around to trying him but I gave up on upkeep intensive doublewalls in Mk. 2 because they had so many weaknesses. Fast forward to this challenge and the list basically writes itself: A wall on Sturgis, a wall on Junior, cycle Snipe and Arcane as needed, add Lances and some support. I think this list would be an interesting attempt to counter Haley2's problematic areas. I also looked into double Long Gunners as I feel it should be tested if you commit to Sturgis as cycling snipe looks pretty sexy. I put this away because I won't buy and paint Long Gunners, let alone two units, for an extreme list experiment when I see them having value basically nowhere else.

As far as Nemo2 is concerned I think he has to play multiple jacks and I think he wants them as cost effective as possible. He supplies what they need in terms of hitting power, focus and threat range. Being old man deluxe I fear for his survivability and having recently played Rahn with a Hyperion I respect Polarity Shield on a colossal a lot. To support this I needed some flexibility and the ensuing list ended up like this:
General Adept Nemo - WJ: +26
-    Ironclad - PC: 12
-    Ironclad - PC: 12
-    Ironclad - PC: 12
-    Stormwall - PC: 39 (Battlegroup Points Used: 26)
-    Lightning Pod
Stormsmith Stormcaller - 3 Stormsmiths: 5
Lanyssa Ryssyl, Nyss Sorceress - PC: 3
Ragman - PC: 4
Gobber Tinker - PC: 2
Storm Lances - Leader & 2 Grunts: 12
The other alternatives I could come up with all had various issues with multiple of the problematic lists above, be it dealing with sentry stones, not getting totally wrecked by Thexus' feat, have your caster unprotected etc. The list above and trying to come up with variants for Sturgis took me a couple of hours. While nothing is complete without playtesting my theoretical conclusion is that the best way for these casters to complement Haley2 is to arm-skew. I spent a little while debating with myself whether these casters could perhaps replace Haley2 so that e.g. Caine2 could take the rest. Then I came to my senses and discarded that idea. Haley2 is our strongest caster and in a 5-6 game tournament I expect her to play 4-5 games. Giving up on this makes no sense from a competitive point of view.

So I go back to John and I say: "Listen, I looked into those casters and all I could see solution-wise was a heavy arm skew. While I will stick to my challenge and play whatever you want me to I feel I should warn you that those games will likely be boring and the conclusion will be 'yeah it can work decently well with an extreme skew', which sort of defeats the purpose.". John agreed and after deliberating the remaining casters and excluding the obvious ones he landed on Stryker3.

It is kind of funny that I am back then to where I sort of started after I finally nailed my Haley2/Haley3 pairing in Mk. 2. Stryker3 has the unique ability of having the most damage output boost available for Cygnar in various shapes and sizes, while he does nothing defensively for his army or jacks. This is the very definition of a balls to the wall caster and I think this is the reason why so many love him.

I can't guarantee that Stryker3 won't end up with a vanilla or skew list kind of list but I see multiple options with this guy. He can make Trenchers devastating for example, PS14 autohitting with 4d6 damage rolls open up for different options. Looking at Murdoch we have interesting options in Nyss for example, or we can make Forgeguard downright ridiculous. While I am sure we will go back and forth on lists and possibly casters it is an interesting journey because I am looking at casters, options and matchups in a way I otherwise would not have.

Delaying this experiment until November is not arbitrary. Following the tournament success described above in Mk. 2 I got an invitation to the European Invitationals at ClogCon. I also have WTC in September and those 2 are my main goals this year. I want to maximize my chances there and besides I really want to find a strong tournament pair to form a comfort zone. However Norwegian Masters is in January so I will be taking a bit of an odd pairing to at least one significant tournament. I am fine with that though as this fact will make me work very hard. After all an experiment needs a serious test.

Just like Stryker3, it's about going balls to the wall.

2 kommentarer:

  1. So, if the Stryker3 experiment is delayed until january, what will your current pairing be? Haley2 + Sloan/eCaine?

    With a Haley2 + Sloan/eCaine pairing, how do you deal with armor skews like the following:

    Captain Bartolo Montador - WJ: +26
    - Sylys Wyshnalyrr, The Seeker - PC: 4
    - Galleon - PC: 39
    - Talon - PC: 7
    - Talon - PC: 7
    - Talon - PC: 7
    - Talon - PC: 7
    - Talon - PC: 7
    - Talon - PC: 7
    - Buccaneer - PC: 6
    - Buccaneer - PC: 6
    Ragman - PC: 4

    Especially on single zone scenarios where the Galleon is placed in the zone, I find it really hard to deal with for a single stormwall + Ironclad.

    1. I took Haley2 / Caine2 to the tournament this weekend. I have yet to settle on a stable pair. Haley1 and Haley3 are also being dojod and considered.

      The proposed list above is one I really don't think we'll see a lot. Skews that are as hard as the one you posted have serious weaknesses and rarely perform well in an event in my experience.

      That said, if I were to play against it I'd drop Haley2 I think. Can't comment on it outside of that without having tried to play against it.