Friday, January 21, 2011

Theory: Total Tech

Over on 3++, AbusePuppy posted an excellent article about why bad units are bad, and how no amount of logical fallacies will change that.

This made me hearken back to my MtG days and the concept of "tech."  The definition of "tech" has changed over the years in Magic, but when it originated, it meant you took a known netdeck, and put one or two unique, situational cards in to catch your opponents off guard.  From a game theory standpoint, you were trading away overall power and optimization for the factor of surprise.  This often times worked quite well.  Andrew Pacifico won the original Junior World Championships with a fairly stock Tradewind Rider deck with the difference being that he played with single copy of Disrupt.  Without getting too technical, Disrupt is a counter spell that counters other counter spells if your opponent is out of mana, and allows you to draw a card.  So it costs you no resources to use, and allowed him to force through key spells against the counterspell heavy decks of the day.

However, the spell is highly situational, and the trick will only work once.  Because of that, its a bad card.  Even worse, if everyone starts using the trick and it becomes standardized in the netdeck, people will stop falling for it even the one time.  So as you can see, it's not that great overall.  But since Andrew was the only one doing it, and he never played his same opponents a second time, as you would expect in a tournament, his tournament report is littered with examples of close games that were completely swung in his direction due to the single Disrupt and went from close games to dominating wins.

So how does this apply to Warhammer 40k and Fantasy?

It pays to be high tech
I do not want people to say, "well my Swooping Hawks are total tech, so they are good."  They aren't.  They do not have the ability to swing a game with that surprise factor.  Most 40k tournaments are open list, meaning your opponent can see exactly what units you have before the game starts.  That limits the surprise factor.  Thus, any techy units you bring have to actually be pretty good.  So in 40k, since there is no surprise factor, you need units that are underutilized by still good.

A perfect example of a tech unit is Wolf Scouts.  When the codex launched, nobody was using them.  They were written off as crap.  Then someone thought, "you know, a decent close combat unit with a meltagun walking behind the opponent's backline for low points is pretty good."  And they used them to devastating effect.  Before long, there was a lot of debate about whether they should replace Land Speeders in the "projecting melta downfield" role.  I think we can all agree, however, that after the initial shock of undervalued unit swinging tournament games became a "known" aspect, the unit has lost power.  The unit was unknown, and undervalued, came out and was exceptionally powerful because opponents undervalued it, and now it has respect.  And it's achieved a balance in what people expect it to do and what it can do.

Another good example was right before Razorback spam became popular.  The internet, and most players stuck in a 4th Edition mindset, had written off razorbacks as complete shit.  So when the first guy rolled up to a tournament with a list containing 6 razorbacks, I'm certain the list was given no respect and only after the opponents were smacked around by it did they realize what happened.  It took the internet a glacially long time to catch up.  As recently as October 2010, I tried (in vain) to convince the Warseer drones that Black Templar squads with Razorbacks were an optimal unit choice.  The fact that they didn't get it at all shows that the metagame evolves very slowly, or doesn't exist at all in some places.

With those historical examples out of the way, how can a player move forward and identify potential techy stuff to add to his list for a tournament, and take people by surprise?  There are a few common factors that most techy units will possess...
1.  Powerful weapon with a cheap delivery mechanism.  Check and double check, and triple check your codex for ways to deliver melta, plasma, or heavy weapons.  Generally a techy unit has to be cheap, because it by definition has to be a quirk in a list, not a key aspect of the list.  A 100 point unit with a meltagun.  Or a vehicle that can take a heavy or special weapon for cheap.  

2.  Non-traditional deployment.  Generally, but not always (like the Razorback), techy units will Infiltrate, Deep Strike, or Outflank.  I'm sure a great many opponents looked at that first list with Wolf Scouts and thought, "crap unit" and moved right on.  And never really remembered that they Outflank and what the implications might be to their army.

3.  Come from an underutilized area of the FoC.  Most lists need their heavy support maxed out, and often elites, too.  Not every list is maxing out its Fast Attack or Troops.  So quite often, you will find tech units there, so you won't have to sacrifice your money units to make room for them.
This was tech before electricity.

Before I wrap this up, I'd like to mention how this applies to Fantasy.  Fantasy tournaments are closed list generally, and with the plurality of magic items and banners, you can spring all kinds of surprises.  Bound Spells are one of the best ways to use them.  I got owned in a Fantasy game because I wasn't away my opponent had the magic item with Vaul's Unmaking (destroys an opponent's magic item) bound in it.  He quite cleverly didn't utilize it on the first turn when he could have, so I had no warning it was there.  He waited for a time well into the game and used it to kill the defensive equipment on my wizard and then kill her in the shooting phase.  That item was total tech, and I could see that scenario repeating several times in a tournament.and turning the tide of games completely.  So give those magic items you'd never consider using as "over priced" a look through and try to find ones that could take people completely off guard.