Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Better Playtesting: Updating the Gauntlet

When I first discussed the concept of running a playtesting gauntlet, I did it in the context of explaining how to playtest scientifically in order to prepare better for an upcoming event.  Within that article I briefly suggested 5 general list archetypes that you should playtest against.  At the time, the list seemed acceptable and accurate.  It's only been 6 months, but that gauntlet list appears hopelessly out of date.  I know many players hate using the term "meta-game" in regards to a 40k context, myself included, but I think when you step back and see how lists have changed over a 6 month period there are undeniable shifts and trends.  Some of it has to do with new releases, but some of it is also shifts based on what people are experiencing.

Let's create a new gauntlet that will last us for the next few months.  Barring some unforeseen new builds or FAQs, hopefully this will last until the fall Codex (Necrons, Tau, SoB?) release.

Your gauntlet should have a lot of variety, but with a minimum of shirtless men.

1.  Mech Marines. 

Last gauntlet I suggested testing against a Razorwolf list.  This time, I think we should be more general.  Vanilla Marines, Blood Angels, BT, and SW are all different in their own ways when you play them.  But the way you beat them is the same for each: destroy their threatening support elements, de-mech them, and then kill them.  I'm going to conclude that it doesn't really matter which flavor marine you test against, so long as it's a reasonably optimized mech list.  I think we can all agree you WILL face some kind of mech marine list at any tournament you attend, so it should occupy the most important place in your gauntlet.  If you have time, feel free to break it down into individual flavors, but if you can blow a well built Ultramarine list off the field without issue, you can blow away a SW list too.  After all, a Rhino is a Rhino regardless of who is in it.

2.  Mech IG

This one hasn't changed much.  Lot's of Chimera with special weapons vets.  CCS with Straken.  A couple of Vendettas.  Season with Russes, Manticores, or Hydras.  Most people agree that Hydras are the optimal choice, but we've been seeing lists with Demolishers and Manticores winning matches in tournaments enough to warrant them being a reasonable choice.  This is an important playtesting opponent, because while it is slightly less common than mech marines, it's still very prevalent.  It's fair to say, that if you want to win a tournament you should have experience playing against this type of list.

3.  Skimmer Armies

A new addition to the gauntlet.  Since nearly every competitive tournament has objective capturing in the mission, even if it's only a third tie-breaker, fast skimmer (Eldar and Dark Eldar) lists need to be considered.  You have to be ready to deal with a late turn objective grab.  Even when tournaments have "random game length" it's often an oxymoron due to time limits on each round.  These armies play similarly enough at the macro level that you can test against either to get an idea of how to beat a skimmer based list.  However, if your army is Tyranids, I would recommend playing against DE since they are a tougher match up due to poison and cheaper lance weapons.

4.  Drop Pod/Jumper/Daemons

This is broad brush and encapsulates multiple codices so it may not be easy to test for.  Essentially, there are armies that win by doing Drop Pod Assault or Daemonic Assault Alpha Strikes.  Jumper lists are slightly different in that they don't do a turn 1 alpha strike, but defending against them is similar.  Against all these lists you adopt special deployment strategies to minimize the alpha-strike, and it helps to playtest against a list like this so you know what your deployment strategy is going to be.  Round 3 of a Win/Lose tournament is not the time to be figuring out how to deploy against a drop pod list.

5.  Hordes

This can either be 180 Orks or Tervigon/Gaunt heavy Nids or foot IG.  Doesn't really matter, though each match up has its own particular nuance (Orks are CC heavy, Nids have monstrous creatures, and IG have lot's of heavy weapons) what you are testing for is the same: can your army kill 150+ models in 6 turns without being so battered that it struggles to claim objectives?  This is important to know.  Sure you can beat mech marines, but if your army can't kill 180 Orks too you can't call it balanced.  And as we all have had the bad luck of experiencing, you will inevitably run into the type of list that screws you over.  Don't take it any match up for granted.  180 is a 'bad list' yes, but you can lose to a bad list if you aren't prepared for it.

So that's the playtest gauntlet I propose now.  What didn't I include and why?  If you feel the need, or have the time, definitely rotate these into your gauntlet, but my perception is these aren't absolutely crucial.

1.  Grey Knights.  They are marines, but they aren't.  They are quirky and have weird powers.  But they fail 3+ saves the same way, and their Rhinos and Dreads still get killed by the same stuff.  If you are already testing against a credible mechmarine list, you don't need to go out of your way to include GK.  Now GK can BE your mech marine test list, and you can kill one and a half birds with one stone.  But don't feel obligated to test each separately unless you have a lot of time.

2.  All terminator lists.  Deathwing/Loganators/GKT lists.  They all have lot's of 2+ save bodies and relentless firepower and/or TH/SS.  These can be scary.  I almost included them in the gauntlet.  But despite their ultra-elite status, you kill them the same way you kill horde lists: weight of fire.  A terminator costs about 6x what an Ork Boy costs, and requires 6x the amount of wounds to kill.  If you can kill 6 boyz, you can kill 1 terminator.

3.  Tau.   
Yes, I agree a good Tau list is strong.  In the hands of an experienced player with a properly built Tau list, they can win tournaments.  But right now, the chances of running into one at a GT are very low.  I'm not sure how many Tau lists were at Adepticon, but I'm guessing you could count them on one hand.  And the quality of those lists were suspect at best from a competitive standpoint.  So yes, a good Tau list will rock your face.  But you could also get hit by lightning on the way to the tournament site.  You don't really need to spend serious amounts of time worrying about either happening.
So what did I get wrong?  Ideas?  Improvements?

1 comment:

  1. MC heavy list maybe? Mainly Nidzilla and Daemonzilla. Although, the way you broke this down, it will probably fall into the "Hordes" category(same at TEQ lists) since it will rely on weight of fire. Most of the pie plates of your army would be fairly useless though (since you will most likely hit just 1 MC) so it could be a bit more challenging than a horde army. At least for my IG. Marine lists with loads of hidden Pfists might have an easier time :)