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"Pink isn't a color. It's a lifestyle." - Chumbalaya
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"I buy models with my excess money" - Valkyrie whilst a waitress leans over him

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Re: BlackBlowFly, Tyranids, and Blood Angels

So this article got posted over on BoLS a few days ago. Being that the conversation was remaining relatively civil (but was quickly reaching the limits of DisCus), I thought I'd move things over here.

This isn't a place to bitch about BBF or what he writes. It's a critique of this particular article and the things in it. If you don't like him, fine, but don't bring that shit in here.

So let's look at what I see as the problems for each of these lists and then the battle report as a whole.

The Tyranids
Alright, we're gonna be... generous here. This list has problems. First and foremost, it is a reserve list that has no reserve bonuses. That... that is horrible. BBF says he has since corrected it, but having argued against the necessity of something so simple and obvious for a long time, it really does make me wonder. In any case, his future improvements have no effect on this battle, nor our assessment of how it played out.

The next thing that pops out is the absolute surfeit of Synapse creatures. Not only does he include a Tyranid Prime and a Zoey unit (both of which are understandable, as they stand on their own rights, even ignoring the presence of Synapse as an ability) but he also has a squad of Warriors and TWO Trygon Primes. Here he is very clearly not just bringing units which are useful and happen to have Synapse tacked on, but actively seeking out additional sources of Synapse, such as the Prime upgrades. What does he need all this Synapse for? Doom, one Termagant unit, one Hormagaunt unit. That's it. Considering the Doom's short lifespan and relative independence (natural Fearless, Ld10, low downside to failing) and the fact that his HQ can attach to the Hormie squad, this means he has nearly half a dozen Synapse Creatures supporting the needs of a single unit.

This isn't merely unneeded; it's excessive. There is such as thing as "too much" of something good, and this is a clear case of it- if we got Synapse for free it would be a different matter, but instead we must invest significant numbers of points into expensive models with the ability, points that could be better spent elsewhere.

Speaking of which, the list is drastically lacking in anti-tank. The batrep notwithstanding, this list has virtually no way to deal with a heavily mechanized army- the fact that he somehow managed to beat such an army shows the depth of his opponent's miscalculation. In terms of shooting, the Zoanthropes are the only real way to kill tanks; relying on the Trygon's S5 shots to do anything is little short of foolhardy, since you will average about one glance per tern against a Rhino. The Trygons' melee abilities are, of course, much more relevant, but in your most dangerous phase of the game (the turn your forces arrive from reserve) they will be of no help to you and, like any melee unit, can be mitigated in a variety of ways, not the least of which being moving a vehicle 7". Against a fast-moving vehicle, even a Trygon on the charge has only a mediocre chance of doing damage, much less destroying the tank reliably- and at such short distances you can be assured that Meltaguns, Plasmaguns, etc, will make short work of your beasties, not to mention enemy melee units (like the Terminators in this report.)

The Hormagaunts themselves are also... middling at best. With no way to reroll board edges and no Fleet on the Prime, 1/3 of the time they will be stuck on the wrong side of the board and even when they come in from the "right" side, they will be hard-pressed to engage anything that first turn. While such a unit can make a fine backfield objective-sitter in many Tyranid lists, in a list like this that aims to be pushing the enemy aggressively and deploying as many threats as can be managed, it comes off as a distinctly unthreatening inclusion- why not run a Tervigon instead, which can objective-sit better, is not unreasonably worse in melee, and much tougher overall?

I won't argue the relative merits of the Doom, since he's a very contentious choice. Suffice to say that I don't think this list needs him, as his ability to kill heavy infantry is simply not that big a deal when Warriors, a Prime, and Trygons (not to mention Devilgaunts, Zoanthropes, and Genestealers) are running about the field. It should be rare that he achieves S10 without a major mistake on the opponent's part or extremely good luck on the Tyranids', so he cannot be relied upon to kill tanks.

The large Genestealer unit is also out of sorts. Normally large units are taken to ensure that Catalyst or other buffs are spread over as many models as possible, but in this case there are no such buffs, so its inclusion is something of a mystery. Moreover, the Broodlord is included in the squad and Scything Talons taken as well, skyrocketing its cost but not so much its performance; several smaller squads would be more effective, all the more so because the Broodlord's abilities are all too often irrelevant or fail to work.

This, roughly speaking, is what the list "should" have been- I don't think that reserve lists are consistent enough to be a good tournament choice, but if you assume that isn't a factor, this is the best that I believe you can do.

2000pts Tyranids
1 Hive Tyrant (HC, HVC, Wings, Leech, Parox)
2 Zoanthropes (Spore)
2 Zoanthropes (Spore)
8 Ymgarl Genestealers
10 Genestealers (Toxin)
10 Genestealers (Toxin)
19 Termagants (Devourer; Spore)
1 Tervigon (Adrenal, Toxin, Catalyst, Regen, Cluster, Talons)
1 Trygon (Adrenal)
1 Trygon (Adrenal)

There are, admittedly, other ways you could go with this that might be better (Doom in place of Zoeys, T-Fexes in place of Trygons, Devgaunts in place of 'Stealers, Harpies, etc), but this serves as a pretty good model of what we "should" be doing with the list. This version has more monstrous creatures, more infantry models, more scoring units, more shooting, and similar melee capacity. We are, in short, gaining a lot and losing very little.

The Blood Angels
For what it is worth, the BA list is actually relatively solid, although it makes some odd choices. It is, at its most basic level, a simple Rock list, designed to smash the enemy in the face. In that regard it makes a pretty decent start with Assault Terminators and Death Company, but then makes a number of stumbles.

The first and foremost problem appears to be indecision. Unable to pick between Land Raiders and Stormravens as delivery platforms, it takes one of each, thus giving the enemy the best targets for all its guns- S10 and Melta will hit the LR, while S7-9 go after the SR. Easy choices- and you never, ever want to make your opponent's choices easy. Running two of one (or the other) would've made this list far more threatening and given it better tactical options, but in this particular scenario the difference ends up being largely academic, as the Tyranids don't really have the proper capacity to deal with either of them. Zoanthropes and charging Trygons are the only solutions and somewhat poor ones at that.

Compounding that problem somewhat is the lack of good support- that is to say, shooting support. Though it once again is moot in this matchup, the lack of good ways to disable enemy units at range is a glaring weakness in the list and the Flamerbacks should really have been LasPlas or similar to help bring down problematic enemy units (i.e. fast skimmers, things in ruins, etc.)

Unlike BBF, I don't consider the inclusion of the Death Company to be a problem- when mounted in a Stormraven alongside another hammer unit, Death Company can be quite devastating and serve as a way to eliminate some types of targets (especially hordes) more effectively.

Last, but not least, the lone squad of footbound ASM are a real odd man out in this list- with everything else mechanized, they are an obvious target for charges and shooting and seem to serve very little actual purpose. If they are an inclusion purely based on model availability this can be understandable, but that isn't the vibe I get from the rest of the list, so it really makes me question their use. Better to slot in 1-2 more Razorback units or to add additional support (Land Speeders, Devastators, etc.)

The Battle
This is where the real meat is. Let's hit off some of the big points here.

The Blood Angel player should've had an overwhelming advantage here- in a matchup between two melee armies, being the one to decide what charges occur, where, and when is a colossal advantage- it is, in fact, the crux of many, even most, battles between BA and Tyranids. Since BBF is largely forced to start in reserve (in practice if not literally), this gives the BA army an immediate edge- only the Ymgarl will be able to assault the turn they arrive, and since his army is largely mechanized it is a simple thing to negate the majority of their killing power by simply moving at cruising speed. With good deployment, the BA player can insure that not only does he get the first charges but is also poised to pounce on any isolated units if BBF rolls poorly on reserves and reposition himself as necessary with his highly-mobile force.

For some reason, however, he chooses not to do this. The thread and his limited responses in it are fairly unclear on this point, but apparently he wants to prevent the Tyranids from having any available targets when they arrive, which is faulty thinking- due to the mechanized nature of the list, the Tyranids already lack any really good choices, but in reserving his own forces he merely insures that he will not have superior strength available when and where he pleases, but rather must depend on the roll of the dice.

It is this initial failure of strategy that turns the entire match against him, a point which cannot be overemphasized- deployment is one of the most important aspects of the game and a poor deployment will have consequences that last. Understand how your list functions, how the enemy list functions, and how you can best defeat them and you will be a long ways towards making a good deployment. Here, the BA player has a clear advantage in mobility and concentration of force; deploying to take advantage of this- that is, deploying on the table- was obvious correct choice.

With regards to the mission, then, neither army has a clear advantage. The BA army has several relatively-weak units (the ASM and their transports), but the Tyranids do not have easy ways to get rid of the tanks and can't touch most of the infantry until they do so. The BA player should be aiming to minimize his casualties on that front, both to conserve KP (the primary mission) and to claim objectives later (the secondaries.) In this respect he makes no glaring errors that I can see, though allowing the Ymgarl to surround and destroy a transport is almost certainly poor play on his part- bubblewrap, other transports, etc should have been protecting it. Of course, he is also the victim of the dice somewhat in this regard- BBF getting the Immobilize in with his Trygon's shots was against the odds, if not terribly so.

It's worth noting that BBF either Deep Strikes very aggressively or gets extremely lucky with the dice, as his Doom and Trygon arrive near the board edge and in range of their enemies with no mishaps and the Doom not only arrives safely but in such a position that the enemy has no cover against hit, which is surprising since the enemy general "uses the two Razorbacks to shield his jumpers."

The BA player's next turn, when the LR and SR both arrive, is another major turning point. While the Dread's equip of Talons is probably a poor choice, he exacerbates it by sending it after the wrong target- the Terminators could easily have taken care of the Doom while the Dread killed the Termagants.

Without more extensive pictures it's hard to assess the rest of the battle, but it's pretty clear that these early turns have set the pace of the battle for the Tyranids- had those Razorbacks been alive they could've devastated the Ymgarl or other targets and helped contest Tyranid objectives. The ASM likewise would've allowed the BA player to win on objectives had they remained alive- letting them get surrounded was a fatal mistake, even if it was preceded by some good rolls. The series of compounding errors, however, all stems from the initial poor deployment and poor overall assessment of the enemy player.

The Conclusion
In some of his other articles BBF has (fairly openly) mocked both Kirby and myself for having not attended any "big" tournaments as he has- which is largely true, as I don't have the monetary resources to attend any of the East Coast U.S. tournies and Australia doesn't really have the player base to give Kirbs a chance to attend an event with 300+ gamers.

However, if this battle report is BBF's evidence of his play experience, I would have to consider it scanty at best (though I don't doubt he's played tougher matches than this.) I realize the local events I've gone to are hardly NOVA-quality, but neither is Wargamescon or the other events he cites particularly rife with competition- certainly, good generals and good list-writers do attend, but the format doesn't encourage them. If a stronger battle report were offered up I would certainly be willing to re-assess my judgements of his list (and even his opponent's), but I don't see this one as speaking loudly for his experience as a general.

(And, to be clear: there's nothing wrong with the batrep itself or his opponent; I don't hold them in contempt, nor do I consider them "a waste" or any of the other rather ugly things that have been said. It's simply that, speaking from a competitive standpoint, the batrep proves very little and has some pretty noticeable errors that are not discussed even in brief. There are, of course, many other valid standpoints to critique such a batrep from, but those aren't the points to which I speak here.)

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