Thursday, February 12, 2015

Talking Tactics - Cygnar in the 2015 Meta

'Sup guys!

I'm on a recovery regime from Templecon and just getting over the lack of sleep and Warmachine overdose. A big 'ol thank-you to everyone I met at the con for making it hella awesome and just being super sweet!

I had a couple discussions with several people about Cygnar in the 2015 meta is it's shaking up that were very enlightening; things have changed very drastically very rapidly for our boys in blue and I'd like to touch on that 'real quick. Caveat; I'm pretty sure I wrote a whole book and will be talking to a publisher soon, so be prepared for a bit of a long article. It's all super cereal so I put cute pictures in there to spice up the monotony. Before that, though, I want to reminisce about back in the day.

Back in mah day! *shakes cane*

When I started this game, ~3 years ago, I was certainly not at the peak of the competitive meta; hell, I barely even played at all (I had a Cryx battle box that I durdled around with for about a year before actually playing the game seriously). I did follow a couple of podcasts and did some reading online, so I had a reasonable grasp of what the meta looked like. When I went to my first couple tournaments, the same regurgitated forum nonsense was spouted over and over. At that time, the national game looked something like this:

Cygnar was at the bottom, chilling with Mercenaries and Circle (yep, fucking Circle). Those Factions "couldn't crack armor" ('mweh POW 10s'), which was all the rage despite the massive popularity of the Iron Flesh+whatever combo. This put Trolls and Skorne, the most pronounced ARM-stacking Factions solidly in the middle; sometimes they'd win stuff because not many people had answers to Doomy2 or Makeda2. Cryx sat on its purpetual throne at the top of the pile, where it lorded over almost all others with its straighforward playstyle and un-nerfed Asphyxious2, watching lazily as its Protectorate peer shot entire armies off the table wholesale. It was a strange time.

How times have changed, though! 2013-2014 Cygnar was lauded as one of; if not *the* most powerful Faction in the game. The release of the Stormwall, and concerted efforts of several very skilled players and a generally infantry-centric meta all contributed to this meteoric rise, but alas noble Cygnarans, it may be time for our star to fall again! A combination of events and new releases have lead to a very profound shift in the metagame is seeing a new national scene that's very different from last year's, which is not nearly as favorable to our Faction as last year's.

Over the course of the last couple of releases, more and more strong ARM skews have come to prominence as strong generalist lists and incredibly strong vs. Cygnar. Between Vyros2's release (although he was fortunately not particularly popular for a while) to Butcher3 (not necessarily an ARM skew, but a list archetype featuring a lot of high ARM infantry backed up by a strong 'caster), Warders (who lead to the popularity of the "Meat Mountain") and lastly Bradigus, these models have been tilting the meta ever-so-slightly towards high ARM and need to be dealt with.

Historically, Cygnar has been weak vs. high ARM (mweh POW 10s), but its not an insurmountable obstacle. The use of specific 'casters like Stryker2/3 or Nemo3 in conjunction with the judicious use of ARM fixing support models and weapon-masters usually gets the job done. Key word there is usually, because there are two different kinds of high-ARM lists that are popular right now, and the same answers don't necessarily apply to both. Let's talk about that 'real quick:

Two sides of the coin

The biggest difference about the two 'archetypes' of these high ARM lists that are swimming around like tadpoles right now is the number of "effective activations" that they contain; that is to say the non-support, worker models that will actually be killing enemies with giant swords or fists.

  1. The first category brings a low number of effective activations with a high quality of attacks; that is to say; lots of 'jacks or 'beasts that hit hard but are few in number. These are lists like Chain Gang, Runes of War, just about any Synergy-based list (Amon, Brad, Vyros2, Synth) and many lists that are focused around supporting 1-2 Colossals. Lists like this tend to fall down to strong control effects (like Haley2) and when they're hit hard, they fall down hard because every single model that goes down significantly drops the damage output of the list.
  2. The second group has a much higher number of effective activations with a lower quality of attacks; today they tend to consist of heavy infantry spam that can shake off shooting attacks, take the alpha strike and punch back with a disproportionate damage output. The biggest offenders of this category are the dreaded "Miserable Meat Mountain"-style Trollblood lists and Fist of Halaak, although I'm seeing more and more similar lists from Factions like Khador, who are bringing lots of IFP or MoW with Butcher or Irusk for the same reasons. Unlike the first category of lists; these wants *want* you to come in and hit them; it's very difficult to control them with standard control effects (Time Bomb, TK, Thunderbolt etc.) and while models individually go down relatively quickly, it's unlikely that you can kill enough of them before they get to swing back and take out whatever hit them. Lists like this tend not to enjoy control and damage-buff effects with a large area of effect (like Rebuke, Temporal Barrier, Death Field or Positive Charge), but don't necessarily fall down to the same tricks as a lower model-count ARM list would.

As I said before, Cygnar has received a lot of tools recently to deal with high ARM; from 'jacks like the Stormwall and Dynamo to Stryker3 and Ragman. Unfortunately, these aren't as catch-all as we'd like them to be; the two different types of lists flying around require different answers, and therein lies the issue.

Currently, my favorite pairing is Stryker2+Haley2. I feel that this pairing catches a lot of the current meta and has answers for a lot of different things; each list answers one of the above list archetypes very well. Haley2 (whether a single Stormwall, double 'wall or Stormclad build) has the necessary control effects to shut down any low model-count ARM skew and allow her army to get work done. Stryker brings the control to slow down portions of infantry-based forces, remove Shield wall and generate the number of attacks needed to chew through high ARM multiwound infantry. Unfortunately the two aren't interchangeable; dropping Stryker2 into Chain Gang will allow me a strong alpha-strike (assuming I'm not nerfed by Rasheth's Feat) but unless my opponent spaces very poorly, I'm going to get little mileage out of Rolling Thunder and Positive Charge, allowing Warbeasts to beatback chain through all my squishy infantry. On the other hand, Haley can get two solid turns out damage output vs. a Fist of Halaak, but once Temporal Shift is over there's little stopping Tiberion or a unit of Arcuarii from getting to my heavy hitters and dirting them.

Multiple threats
Obviously those anecdotes are a little simplified and good play can help a list out with any of its bad matchups, but hopefully you get the picture; the current high-ARM meta is so strong that it requires Cygnar to bring several lists to beat it, and the kicker is that's not what ultimately defeats Cygnar. I complain a lot about Cryx; like, a lot, to the point that it's just a little boy crying wolf in a retirement home full of wizened army veterans who just want their peace and quiet. My Epic version will be called "Trevy; the Squeekiest of Wheels." In some of my conversations with other players at Templecon, I came to realize that the issue wasn't that Cryx is super hyper powerful (even though they are, shut up; have you fucking seen Mechanithralls!?), it's that I was so busy answering these other massive skews that I didn't have time for infantry clearing. If any one of those three big list archetypes (infantry swarm, high model-count armor and low model-count armor) goes unanswered, you have a bad matchup that you simply need to play out of or lose. In a 5+ round Masters tournament, unfortunately there's a poor chance at doing that.
Because of this, what isn't killing my particular two-list pair isn't the Runes of War or Fists of Halaak of the meta (I 80-90% win rates in the last two years vs. Skorne and Trollbloods, traditionally two of Cygnar's worst matchups), it was simple infantry spam, historically Cygnar's wheelhouse. I'm not alone in this either; several of the players I spoke to also expressed similar feelings. The emergence of a high-ARM metagame isn't Cygnar's only weakness in the coming year, though; the new Steamroller packet did a lot to hurt Factions bringing slow, ranged-centric lists.
Steamrolled by Steamroller
SR2015 didn't change a lot about the current scenarios, but it did change the number of very live scenarios in play; scenarios like Balance of Power and Outflank, which were previously pretty dead until the very end of the game are gone while scenarios like Recon and the new 3-flag version of Incursion have appeared which reward fast, aggressive play... not great for the games premier gun-line Faction that boasts almost no line infantry faster than SPD 6. With the rise of super heavy ARM skews that tend to have astronomical scenario presence, this isn't the best place to be as a Faction that historically tends to hang back and whittle the opponent down.

The falling sky
I really hope my blog software will let me post this article in one chunk, becuase I feel like I basically just re-wrote War and Peace, so let's wrap this shit up. I've went on for a long time about how royally fucked Cygnar is in 2015, but I don't really mean it. Seriously; Cygnar is the most flexible Faction in the game; the royal treasury has enough money to solve just about every problem, it's just going to need a pretty radical paradigm shift in the way Cygnar lists are built. I'm certainly not going to give up the Faction any time soon and I'm looking forward to start making some awesome new and wacky lists to fight in the new and exciting 2015 meta!
Do you agree?  Disagree?  Hate me personally and with a fiery passion?  Let me know!  For those fellow swans out there; how are you planning on taking on the brave new world of 2015!?

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