Kirb your enthusiasm!


"Pink isn't a color. It's a lifestyle." - Chumbalaya
"...generalship should be informing list building." - Sir Biscuit
"I buy models with my excess money" - Valkyrie whilst a waitress leans over him

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Winning Armies

I've had a while now to think on the Feast of Blades, and I think I'm ready to start writing about it. My body has recovered, the feedback is in, and I've reflected with others. What did work, what didn't and what can be done to make it even bigger and better for our second year. I'll be posting a lot of convention and tournament thoughts, more theory than tabletop practice. As always, I value your comments and opinions.

There was an almost terrifying moment for me this year, as we approached the end of our series. In the semifinal game, Daemons and Tau were both winning on tables 1 and 2 respectively. It really looked like our final was going to be Daemons vs Tau. Luckily, Darkwynn, the eventual tournament champ, managed to scrape out a win against the Tau and advance. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Why? Because I simply can't think of a faster way for our event to lose all credibility than to have two weak armies as our final round. I knew that months of testing and balancing missions, a strict adherence to a win/loss format... none of it would matter if those two armies duke it out for the championship. The event itself would instantly be labeled as “uncompetitive”, with no chance of recovery. After all, if the field of competition were really fierce, how could those armies actually get to the top?

This has always seemed such an unfair idea to me. It's a huge jump in logic to assume that those armies got there because they faced weak opposition. An opinion, in fact, that can only exist because we are ignorant of all the facts. We do not know the matchups; we do not know the events of the preceding games. At least, the people on the 'net don't. Most of the people there, even, don't. But I do, because my job was to walkabout and make sure the games ran smoothly.

Even so, my assertion that they deserve to be there doesn't matter, does it? My authority against the prevailing belief, what good is that?

It is a simple fact that some armies are stronger than others. Some units better than others. Hell, that's pretty much the focus of this blog: to make maximized lists, to help people build the good units. And that's not “good” units, but good units, ones that really do work. A lot of good lists come out of this site, and I do believe we do good work here.

But something that has bothered me for a long time, and will continue to bother me, is that these lists aren't winning.

I can't name a tournament that razorspam has won. 'Ard Boyz hasn't been conquered with a netlist. (Though lists that have won 'Ard Boyz have become netlists...) Why not? How come the winners list always looks much different than any of us sages predict? In fact, if you look at the lists in the top 8 of many major tournaments, you'll find builds that look insane or outright bad. What's even more insane is the insistence that these lists are bad, they just got lucky.

How often does Tony Kopach have to win with his list before people recognize that it is good? Hell, people STILL call it bad, after back-to-back wins at NOVA, Adepticon, and the ETC. Saying Tony's list is bad is simply stupid. It performs. It wins. So it is good.

These lists don't win because they “take people by surprise”, as I often hear. What it means, I think, is that different units have a different functional value for different people. You will have to bear with me, because this is a difficult concept to understand, at least if you're like me.

The premise itself sounds almost absurd to me, even now. How can, for example, a Vindicator be better in the hands of one player over another, if they're the same skill level? If they play the same army, even?

The truth is, being good at 40k is MORE than a simple general “skill level”. You can not only be better with one army over another, you can be skilled with individual units. That Vindicator works better for me than you, because I have used it more. My skill is higher. Part of it may even be that the unit simply clicks better with some than others; it fits a natural play style and the person's individual talents bring out its potential.

A lot of this probably sounds like hippy crap to you guys, and I can see that. I'm not making a claim that any unit can be made good by some mystical "internal power", or that talent makes or breaks units. What I'm talking about is minor differences in play, that can make a unit better or worse.

Back to vindicators for a moment. I find it extremely easy to get my Vindicators 3+ cover, and to advance them up the field. Some people just can't seem to do this. It's not a simple matter of using the vindicator either, you see? It's an interaction with the army list that makes it good. Because of they way I think, my list, my machine, functions in a slightly different way. Anyone can create cover with vehicles, but everyone seems to have a slightly different way of doing it. It can benefit some more than others.

Armies are more than the sum of their parts. It's a huge mistake to think that each unit is an individual piece, and that they will point-and-click in their role and everything will work out. Generalship matters much more than list building, though list building is important.

And there's the trick, isn't there? The whole point of this. Too often people let list building inform generalship, where really generalship should be informing list building. No one has EVER won a tournament because they were given a strong list and simply played it according to it's theory. People win tournaments by building a list that amplifies their personal strengths. The best lists are not built in theory, but in practice. So take the good units, take the good lists you find online, and play them. If a unit isn't working for you, drop it, no matter how much people insist it's good. Play and refine until you find that brutal mesh between personality and function.

After all, practice beats theory 100% of the time. Take your cues from what works, not from what people tell you.

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