We're now into part 3 of this series of articles, where I'm going to talk about list composition and the virtues of knowing your enemy.
List composition is perhaps THE deciding factor in the majority of number of games. If your list has parts that doesn't work, then you're doomed. Certainly your opponent may commit some horrible blunder and hand you the game, but generally if your list is terrible then things are going to go badly.
So what constitutes a good list? Well that's a complex question to answer, the simplest answer is a list that works. Quite simply you want to build a list that either supports your caster or one that your caster supports. Everything in your list should have a function or easily stated objective. The mistake that I often see in new players is that they take units that serve no purpose or are completely unsupported by the rest of the list. Now, nearly every unit and model in the game can be supported in some way, this is not to say that certain things do not suck. Don't think that just because you brought some sort of buff that a terrible unit will magically become better. It will become better but a really solid unit with the same buff will become an amazing unit instead of a merely 'Not Bad' one.
As part of list building, we return back to asking yourself how serious are you about the game? Are you a hardcore Steamroller tournament player? Do you just like to have the odd fun game once a month and don't care whether you win? Do you only play with models you like the look of?
Seeing as most people who are reading this article are more likely wanting to branch into Steamroller games or are already participating in them, they no doubt want to bring the most brutal list they can possibly envisage. Just remember, no one turns up to a tournament for the wooden spoon. So, looking at the SR2012 document I can see that most scenarios involve two zones at varying distances apart. This means you have to bring an army that can function in two parts to at least hold two zones. Look at your army and ask yourself 'how can I contest two zones with what I have here?' If you can't figure that out, it's time to go back to the drawing board.
Once you've figured out how you're going to control two zones, now you're going to need to bring something to deal with heavy armour since fighting against heavy armour with POW 10 weapons sucks goats. What models in your army do this well? For Hordes, it's warbeasts, for Warmachine it's weapon master infantry. Why not warjacks? There are numerous and lengthy debates on this but it boils down to fury being better than focus. I'm sure someone somewhere is spitting out their tea at such a comment but this isn't really the place for a continuation of the debate, feel free to reopen one of the bajillion threads about it on the Privateer Press forums instead. Regardless, the big question you should be asking yourself is whether you have brought enough to deal with all the enemy's high armour models.
There are certain lists that build themselves organically, mostly the horribly effective themed forces such as eKaya. Most factions have a couple of lists that just form around a caster naturally and so your list building is pretty much done for you. Other lists are discovered through blood, sweat, and tears. I didn't build my pDoomshaper list overnight. I've tweaked that list to its current state over two years of game play and it's still a work in progress.
To go back to an earlier statement on this post, every model/unit in your list should have a purpose. This is usually linked directly to the style of play the caster was designed for: assassination, attrition, or denial. For example, if your list is based around assassination, then you want models/units that facilitate your assassination run or at least set up other models/units for that run. There's no point bringing Man'o'War Shocktroopers in your Strakhov list when Uhlans are much more in line with his style of play.
All this writing about list building moves into the realm of 'net-decking', where someone merely lifts a list from a tournament write-up or find it on a forum somewhere. With the exception of those lists that build themselves, just don't go there. Let's use Jim's UK Masters 2010 eKrueger list as an example. Jim did horrible, horrible things with that list despite what the terrible Boosted Damage interview afterwards may make things look like. Armies were crushed by that list. After that UK Masters, a number of people tried out the list and discovered it did not work for them and then complained bitterly on the various forums about it. The list worked for Jim. Don't expect a list to achieve similar results in your hands as it did in the original author's hands.
So, having utilized Jim as another example, it's time to bring in Barry for comparison. Once again, I'm sorry Barry. Barry likes Errants and calls them his tarpit unit. He's not been getting great results with them as a tarpit unit though so he should be looking at them as something else: a ranged unit with hunter? Weapon master infantry? Whatever he thinks they should be doing, they aren't doing that at the moment. The same goes for his Bastions, they aren't achieving the results he's looking for. Are the results he's getting with these units a consequence of listening to other peoples' opinions or his own experiments?
I believe Barry is picking the wrong units for the playstyle he wants to achieve, so it's an issue right at the list building stage. This in turn amplifies any mistakes he makes during a game, costing him games that should have been a lot closer and making him look worse than he perhaps is.
Building on every model/unit in your list should have a purpose, all the objectives you set out for your models should suit your playstyle. Taking units that don't naturally perform for you will only lead to what appear to be embarrassingly awful decision making during a game. However, it's up to you to find what works for you.
Now, there's more to list building than that, but it's really for more advanced play and I'll cover common techniques at advanced play in another blog post at some point in the future. I was going to include 'Knowing Your Enemy' in this article, but this article just kept growing so I've decided to separate the two.