Friday, November 25, 2016

The Myth of Bad Armies

The Myth of Bad Armies

I think a lot of people were expecting this after my last post.

Reactions to my last post were mixed.

I was surprised to see so many people actually upset that I was claiming Orks aren’t as bad as everyone has said. But before I go on with the meat of this post I want to step down from my soapbox for a second. I know I speak from a pedestal when I write this blog, partly because that’s how these kind of blogs work, but also because I like to think my tournament results have given me a bit of a position of authority. But I’m someone who enjoys the game, just like everyone else, and some of the more spiteful comments I received in the last week or were pretty hurtful not just to me but also to the people I play with. I don’t understand why some people took my post as some kind of personal attack, but I certainly received a lot of personal attacks back, questioning my integrity as a player, saying I cheated, or claiming I only beat bad players. Rather than respond to all of those individually, I want to remind everyone that insisting your own army is bad competitively, and insulting someone who put up good results with it serves absolutely no purpose. It doesn’t make you a better player, it doesn’t make anyone else care that you think your army is bad, it won’t make GW update them, and it ends up just making me and maybe some other people reading it feel bad. If my post was that big a blow to your pride that you felt the need to personally attack me and others, you might need to re-examine what you take pride in.

Alright. Back up to the soapbox. In a more constructive manner, let’s discuss WHY so many people think Orks and other armies are bad, and how we as players can look at them. This will be strictly in a competitive sense, but I’m going to address casual play at the end.

Out With the Old
I’d bet the most common problem for people who claim that armies like Orks or Dark Eldar are bad is that they’re upset the old staple units have fallen out of favor. Trukks, Boyz, Nob Bikers, Raiders and Venoms are all formerly powerful units that just don’t work well competitively anymore. The thing is, this happens to every army. While it’s more obvious when these units are advertised as the core units of the army, like in the above examples, it’s not restricted to them. Almost every week on reddit I see people asking “Why are terminators bad?” “What happened to terminators?” “How do we fix terminators?” Terminators are a unit in several competitive codices that have fallen by the wayside thanks to meta shifts, just like those units in “bad” codices. Orks have plenty of good units right out of their codex like Lootas, Warbosses, Deffkoptas, Warbikes, and even Grotz for troops, these just aren’t the units that have traditionally been their strong point.

Best Buds

Another problem of people clinging to old styles of play is those who refuse to use allies. There is no reason to shoot yourself in the foot like this when making a competitive army. CSM and Dark Eldar are armies who both have very good battle brothers who they can bring plenty to the table for. If you want to continue playing your old favorite army in today’s competitive environment, sometimes the best way to do that is to just bring some friends. I’ll also quickly address people who say using FW or supplements is somehow wrong in tournament play: This is an old mindset that has no place in the current state of competitive play.

The Bandwagon
One last problem I notice is the often perpetuating cycle of “bad armies.” People say the army is bad, so no one brings them to tournaments. Then people point to the fact they aren’t popular in tournaments as a reason that they’re bad/not popular. 40k already has a massive copy-cat problem where people try to pick up the S-tier armies because they believe it’s the only way to win, and discouraging innovation by believing only the popular armies are good ones perpetuates this problem.

You can take any army to a tournament and do well, as long as you’re willing to make concessions to change up your old style of play, maybe by adding allies or getting rid of your favorite units that aren’t as good as they used to, but don’t let the myth that your army is bad discourage you.

So what about casual play? This is going to be the hardest for a lot of people to grasp I think, but casual play is casual. If you’re having trouble winning with your army in casual games, no matter what army it is, one of two things is happening. Either your opponent is not bringing an appropriate list to play with you, or you are a poor player or have a poor attitude. Casual games are about both players having fun, and if one of you isn’t, both of you have failed. Standing there complaining about your codex will not change that situation, because if your codex gets buffed the next day and you start sweeping all of your casual games, then your opponent won’t be having fun. Most people already ask their opponent if it’s ok to bring someone like a Superheavy to a casual game, or to play a unique mission. There should be no problem saying “hey, I want to bring a big horde of Ork boyz, please bring an army or pick a mission that will be fun for both of us.” It’s on the two of you to create a situation where both of you have fun no matter what armies you want to play, and if your opponents are otherwise good players, maybe it’s time to look at yourself and ask if it’s your own attitude that’s stopping you from having fun, not your codex.

Alright, that got pretty heavy. Back to business as usual next week. Don’t forget to send me those entries for the Dark Angels painting competition! It ends December 6th!

Monday, November 21, 2016

November 19th, Elliscon Tournament. First Place!

Format: ITC
Number of Players: 18
Rounds 3
Placing: 1st

This was the first solo tournament I've ever won, and I couldn't be happier with my results. The list performed well, and I beat a lot of good opponents (everyone I beat went 2-1). According to one of my teammates there were people walking around asking how the Orks were winning any games, and one person thought I was kidding when I said I won the whole thing. Matchups are below, along with some ideas for you guys if you're going to a tournament.

Orks Combined Arms Detachment
Zhadsnark (Warlord)
Painboy, Bike
5 Warbikers, Nob, Power Klaw
4 Warbikers, Nob, Power Klaw
Deffkopta, Rokkits
Deffkopta, Rokkits
Deffkopta, Rokkits
5 Lootas
5 Lootas
Buzzgob's Big Mek Stompa, Klaw, Kannon

Orks Combined Arms Detachment
Warboss, Bike, Klaw, Lucky Stikk
Warboss, Bike, Headwoppa's Killchoppa
11 Grotz
10 Grotz
10 Grotz
Deffkopta, Rokkits
Deffkopta, Rokkits
Deffkopta, Rokkits
5 Tankbustas
Void Shield Generator, 2 Extra Shields

Game 1: Eldar

He was running all of the wraith formations and had a bunch of wraithguard, wraithblades, a wraithknight, two wraithlords, and a wraithseer and spiritseer. I let him go first and waste a turn coming towards me thanks to his short ranges, then counter-charged him. The wraithknight died to the stompa in CC, but by the bottom of 3 all he had left was the knight and a unit of wraithguard anyways.

11-0 Win

Game 2: White Scars Battle Company

This was a tough game against a very good player. I benefited a lot from the mission being The Relic, and the Stompa was able to control the center-field. He couldn't touch it so he was forced to try to get around me. We ended up trading deployment zones and I was able to snag the relic at the end and leapfrog him in maelstroms by killing all of his guys in the back.

10-1 Win

Game 3: 5 Riptides, 2 Knights

The mission was kill points, which meant I pretty much auto-won the Maelstrom, but had to table him to win the Eternal War. And that I did. I locked the riptides down with bikes, shot the knights to death, then swept in with the stompa to finish off the riptides.

10-2 Win

I couldn't be happier to win my first tournament with my Orks. I played against very good players and threw a lot of people for a loop. Also, I went with two members of my club and a member of another Boston club who played for us at this tournament. We set ourselves some team goals (8 wins, 90 battle points) which ended up being a great idea and added an extra layer to the competition. We met all of our goals and our honorary member finished 2nd with his Daemons and one of my other teammates finished 3rd with his Tau. Anyone going to a tournament with some friends, I recommend you try setting these kind of team goals for yourselves to add some extra fun and stat-keeping to the tournament. I don't talk about my club much but it gave me a reason to be proud of the group I play with, so congrats to Korey, Dylan and Dave as well.

Later this week I think I'm going to discuss the common misconceptions of "bad armies" and talk about how we can all be more productive in that regard. As always, feel free to ask me questions about the list or anything else.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Casual vs. Competitive Play and Player Attitudes and Expectations

Casual vs. Competitive Play and Player Attitudes and Expectations

In addition to being an avid tournament player, I also help run my local club and often have to help new players learn the game. I wanted to use that experience to talk about competitive vs. casual play.

To start with, let’s define competitive and casual play. For this article, “competitive” play is going to be tournaments, competitive events, and games specifically agreed on to be practice for those. Everything else will be “casual” play. Those are pretty broad but that’s often how I see them loosely defined elsewhere. Both of these types of games and the difference between a good and bad experience in either of them depend on managing the expectations and attitudes of both (or more) players involved.

For competitive play, expectations are very easy to define. Both players are trying to win, and you shouldn’t go to a tournament without the understanding you might get a bad matchup or play against a very good player who kicks your ass six ways to sunday. I don’t like the kind of shaming I sometimes see towards competitive players for taking a list that’s “too cheesy” or “uses unfluffy units” for a tournament. The goal is to win, and it’s fair for anyone going to an event to bring the best they can.

Player attitudes are the tougher part to manage in competitive, because you may get an opponent who’s rude, tries to cheat, plays horribly slowly, or throws a temper tantrum. Luckily, this is what TO’s are for and the best way to mitigate how bad an experience a crappy opponent can give you is to call a TO over and let them know what’s going on. For the most part, your experience at a tournament is going to be governed by your own attitude and the luck of the draw on which opponents you get.

Defining expectations for casual games is where I think a lot of players fail and end up with a bad experience. Some people like to just play with whatever models are on their shelf, or even only what’s painted. They throw together a list and use it. Other players, like myself, can’t help but make sure their list is a “good” list. I often use bad units (I LOVE Vanguard Veterans) but will equip them and support them within the list to make sure they have a job to do and can hopefully do it. This is a difficult expectation to manage because both players are building what is, in their opinion, a “casual” list. The only real way to manage this is to ask the second group of players to tone down their lists, or maybe help their opponent write a list if their opponent wants to bring a better army. Also, try a scenario that puts that person at a disadvantage (with their consent of course) to make both the game and matchup more interesting.

Attitudes are easy to manage in casual games. If a player is consistently difficult to play with for any reason, just don’t play with them. The benefit of casual games (and tabletop games in general, usually) is that you always have a choice about who to play with and when. If you feel like you need to play with someone with a bad attitude, talk to them. I’ve had plenty of bad games with otherwise good guys because they were having a bad day.

So what happens when these two cross over? Usually nothing special actually. A lot of competitive players will fall into that second category of casual play, and may need to be given a disadvantage to ensure a fun game. Trying out a new army or radically different list is a great handicap. Also, as a casual player playing with your more competitively-minded friends, don’t immediately point to their attitude and list as a reason for a tough game. I see a lot of people with the belief that tournament players all have a “Win at All Costs” mentality that means they’ll always stomp you in an unfun way. I think this often comes from those competitive players just being better players, and the casual player looking for an excuse. If you felt the game wasn't fun, talk to them. Maybe they can tone down their list, or point out a few places where you could've just played better to make the game closer.

Finally, let me quickly address “That Guy”. I think when most people talk about having a bad experience with a competitive player, they played against those people who bring an overly competitive list and/or attitude to a casual game. Even when you were clear the game was casual, they brought a top-placing tournament list they pulled off the internet, and act like a jerk or talk down to you all game. For the most part, there is nothing you can do about this kind of person except not play with them. In my experience, these are often middle/lower-tier tournament players who need an ego boost by smacking around people’s fluffy armies. The very good tournament players who I’ve encountered have all been friendly and enjoyable people to play with, and are usually just as capable of fun casual play as competitive play. If you have “That Guy” in your group, refuse to play with them until they tone it down. There doesn’t have to be a line between competitive and casual players.

Sorry that ended up being a bit long. Hope you guys liked this departure from tactics/list analysis. Let me know if there’s a topic you’d like to see me cover next.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Most Important Part of List Building: Win Conditions

The Most Important Part of List Building: Win Conditions

Win conditions are something I see very few players consider when list-building. I thought I’d write some guidelines to developing these.

Win conditions are a fairly abstract but incredibly important part of list building. They are the reason a list can’t be properly critiqued without knowing what kind of missions it will be used in, and far too many players completely ignore them. Defining them can be tricky, but for the purpose of this article I’m going to define them simply as “the things you need to do to win”. For the most part this means “how you are going to score points and stop your opponent from doing so”.

Your win conditions should be flexible, but when building a list you usually won’t know your opponents and it's fine to have general win conditions. The best thing you can do is think about what your units force your opponent’s units to do. I see far too many people play out games in their head where they just say “my units kill his units”. The game rarely works that way, and good opponents will never leave their valuable units where they can get killed easily. Instead, think about how your opponent will react to your units. If you have a wraithknight, your opponent will either have to avoid the area of the board it’s in, or dedicate a lot of firepower to killing it. That means your wraithknight establishes board control for you. If you have a drop pod alpha strike, your opponent will probably hold some units in reserve or change his deployment to protect valuable units, giving your other units space and time to move.

For some concrete examples:
My Ravenwing NOVA list revolved around establishing board control with my large squad of black knights, while having durable, utilitarian units that could threaten any unit and be anywhere on the board I needed them to. In pretty much every game, my win conditions revolved around cleaving through my opponent’s scoring units while avoiding or quickly killing deathstars/superheavies. This worked because NOVA’s allowed me to choose to score at the end, and my units were fast enough that they didn’t need to worrying about scoring until the last couple turns.

My Ork ITC list combines a bunch of threatening individual units with a “centerpiece” unit and a few throwaway units. The stompa gives me a huge swathe of board control, while the bikes can threaten most tougher units. The deffkoptas, grotz, and lootas can be placed just about anywhere, to score objectives, screen for other units, or tie up enemies. This list works because it has three distinct types of units my opponent has to try to deal with, and each of them support each other. The stompa is difficult to kill, and my bikes are capable of killing most things that actually threaten it. Meanwhile, my opponent has a lot of smaller units they have to deal with if they choose to ignore/avoid the stompa.

Understanding your win conditions is important because they’re how you win bad matchups, or ensure you can win 50-50 ones. Most games it won’t matter how much stuff you kill if your opponent scores more points than you at the end of the game. It also allows you to take on armies you haven't encountered before. You may not know what everything in their army does, but if you keep in mind your general win conditions, you’ll be able to play the mission your way and work around the enemy units you’re not familiar with. When making your list, don’t worry about which of your units kill what type of enemy units, but what they do to help you win the game (which very well could be killing enemies that threaten your important units).

The hardest part of considering your win conditions is often being honest with yourself. Two squads of space marine scouts are never going to hold objectives if your opponent wants to kill them, and a squad of deathwatch marines aren't going to kill all of your opponent's vital units. Always treat your opponent like he's going to play smart, and think about what you need to do to win the mission, or stop him from doing so.

Sorry if that was a bit abstract, if you have questions or even want to show me your army list for feedback, please feel free to do so. Have a great week guys.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

List Building Example: Analyzing a List (Part 2)

List Building Example: Analyzing a List (Part 2)

It’s been a hectic week and I didn’t get the chance to sit down and write the article I was planning. Instead, I’m going to do a list analysis on my friend Kyle’s Eldar/Corsairs list.

Corsairs Raiding Fleet:
Sky Burners:

Hornet, Pulse Lasers, Shroud
Lynx, Shroud
Void Dreamer, ML3, Jetpack
Jetbikes, Shuriken Catapults

Command Crew:
Prince, Bike, Shadow Field, Mask of Secrets, Master Crafted Void Saber

Eldar Combined Arms Detachment:

5 wraithguard, D-Scythes
3 Scatterbikes+Warlock
3 Scatterbikes+Warlock
Skathach Wraithknight, 2x Hellstorm, 1 Scatter Laser

Dark Eldar Allied Detachment:

Archon, Webway Portal
Kabalite Warriors

This list uses a mix of generalist, gimmicky, and niche units to make an all-comers list that can take on a lot of different threats. The biggest issue this list faces is that it can be difficult to pilot, knowing when to hold things in reserve and when to start them on the board. It also has a low model count, meaning every unit lost is a big blow, especially when not every unit can take on any threat.

Let’s start with the obvious generalist units. Scatterbikes are one of the best units in the game. They fill a troops tax, are incredibly fast, relatively tough, and can threaten a wide variety of targets. There’s not much more that I can say about them or Jetseers other than that they are powerful and versatile units.

This list was made for ITC format games, so the Skathach Wraithknight leapfrogs the regular one in power in my opinion. The choice for the hellstorm templates over the melta was made because the lynx and hornet bring plenty of quality shooting that the melta cannons normally would, and the army otherwise lacks ignores cover except from psychic powers.

The Archon and Wraithguard are an interesting gimmick unit. If you don’t know how this unit works, the Archon allows his unit to deep strike without scatter. That means he’s going to reliably get 3 or more templates from his wraithguard on any unit that requires removal, which will kill just about anything. The gimmick, of course, requires relying on a reserve roll which is unreliable, but even including the cost of the Kabalite warriors, this unit isn’t too expensive and can help play mind-games with his opponent.

The hornet is a nice niche unit that adds a few more high-strength shots to the army while being able to deep strike pretty reliably and getting a rerollable invulnerable save on the turn it does. It’s cheap, so not much more to say about it.

The Lynx is a powerful generalist unit capable of laying down A LOT of D, either 3 twin-linked shots or one large blast. The option to use the blast is huge in ITC where invisibility only reduces it’s BS. Additionally, it’s pretty vulnerable, being a vehicle and not a superheavy, but being in the sky burners detachment lets it deep strike (with rerollable reserve and reduced scatter) which gives it a way to protect it without losing too much firepower.

The Void Dreamer, Prince, and Shuriken Bikes are all gimmick units that don’t really need separate explanations. The Shuriken bikes are cheap and can be a major annoyance thanks to their ability to move after shooting and then again in the assault phase. The prince can tank a unit’s leadership, threaten weak backline units with his power weapon, and tie up units with his 2+ invulnerable save (potentially rerollable with fortune). Ultimately, the prince won’t stand up to real melee units or focused firepower thanks to his low toughness, but he’s a decent bully unit. The Void Dreamer is adaptable, but slow and squishy, making him sometimes useless when he can’t get to where he needs to be to use his power.

Next week we’ll be back on schedule with a post about win conditions. If you have questions about the list analysis I’ll be happy to answer those as well.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Dark Angels Painting Contest Update

Dark Angels Painting Contest Update

Deathwing's release date has been pushed back, so I'm going to give you guys some extra time on this.

Hey guys! Now that Space Hulk: Deathwing has a solid release date on December 9th, I've decided to push the end-date for the Dark Angels painting competition/giveaway back as well. The final date for entries is now Tuesday, December 6th. That means all entries must be in by midnight, EST on that day. If we get a dozen entries, the winner will receive a copy of Space Hulk: Deathwing!

To reiterate the rules:

  • 3-6 models painted in Dark Angels or Successor Chapter colors. Alternatively, a single large model such as a Land Raider is acceptable
  • Any 40k models are fine (Forgeworld is ok, but not models specific to 30k), Characters, Vehicles, etc. but must be at least minimum-sized units (3 bikers, 5 tactical marines)
  • Must include before, process, and after pictures (3-4 pictures total is plenty)
  • All submissions must include a few lines (2 sentences to 2 paragraphs or so) explaining who these guys are and what makes them cool
  • Display boards/scenes are not necessary but may be worth bonus/tiebreaker points
  • All submissions must be in by Midnight EST Tuesday, December 6th. I will announce the winner December 7th and post the winner along with runner-ups on the blog
  • The winner will receive a copy of Space Hulk: Deathwing for PC if we meet the criteria!
  • Feel free to contact me if you have questions
Good luck everyone!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Value of Community Discussion

The Value of Community Discussion

Thousands of years ago, when the Emperor still walked, Horus was loyal, and Ferrus Manus was a head taller, I started this blog with the intention of de-mystifying the competitive Warhammer 40k scene and letting more people have access to army lists and discussion of matches. Today I want to directly discuss that original goal.

Over the past few months I’ve gotten the chance to watch my readership and support for this blog grow, and it’s been awesome. As much as I love watching the numbers go up, and knowing you guys are reading, the best part to me is when people take the time to speak to me, tell me how much they like the blog and how it’s helped them. But I’m only one person, and as much as I love talking about the game I have my own biases and faults and no one can get the whole perspective from only me. I certainly wouldn’t be where I am if not for the help of at least a half dozen other people sticking their hands in my lists or helping me practice. The point of this long-winded intro is that today I want to talk about how everyone can join in discussions and add their points constructively.

There is No “Best List”

Yesterday a member of one of my groups was talking about building an Iron Hands death star. I spent a good ten minutes explaining its weaknesses, what lists beat the tar out of it, and what missions are practically auto-lose for death stars. I concluded with saying “but it’s a good list. A guy running it beat me and placed top 24 at NOVA.” There are a lot of good army lists out there right now but understanding your weaknesses is just as important as understanding your strengths.

You Don’t Have to be a Good Player to Share
I know places like reddit have a lot of “lurkers” who are happy to just read and never contribute. That’s perfectly fine, but remember you may have never played in a tournament and your life and still have good ideas. Don’t be afraid to share ideas for lists, units, or combos that you think are innovative, even if they don’t work for you. Some lists have a higher skill cap than others, and what an inexperienced player loses with, an experienced player may be able to do great things with.

The Meta is Not Static
More so than ever, the Warhammer 40k competitive meta is very fluid. New strategies and armies rise to popularity because they can beat other popular lists and new supplements allow new ways to play old armies. A player who understands what’s currently strong and the weaknesses of those strong armies is capable of coming up with something that can shift the meta a bit. Like the above point, good analysis can come from anyone, not just a top player bringing an offbeat list.

Criticism Requires Explanation
There is nothing more harmful to discussion than blindly repeating things you’ve seen elsewhere. I see it less in the warhammer community than elsewhere, but there’s still an unfortunately large number of people happy to swing into discussions and say “X is bad” or “never play Eldar without scatterbikes”. These kinds of comments are incredibly damaging because they do nothing to help the person posting understand WHY it’s bad, while also propagating themselves. That person is now encouraged to repeat the same, because they’ve been told something is bad without understanding why either. If you don’t understand WHY something isn’t good or popular, take the time to think about it before telling other people.

These points were a little abstract, and I’m not sure I got all of my information across, but I hope to see more people partaking in better discussions. Also, if you ever need help with a list or just to discuss the game, feel free to contact me.