Friday, 27 September 2013

RaffazzaTime Presents: Jake's "A beginner’s guide to writing armylists for Swedish Comp"

Ok people, quite the treat for you today, fresh from his razor sharp insight into special characters, my Lizardmen Sensei, the warhammer brain in the box, Jake (@JSCorteen on twitter) himself is here to talk Swedish Comp.


A beginner’s guide to writing armylists for Swedish Comp

This article comes to you sponsored by just how often I hear on twitter or on a forum “my list is a 10, is that about normal for Swedish? What do people normally take?”

Swedish comp throws people. They aren’t used to it (on the UK scene for the most part, anyway) and it isn’t like any other style of comp many are likely to have used before. Further than that – whenever a new comp comes out, be it the latest SCGT or ETC or whatever, people still have a rough idea what is *good*. Even if they have to take a few toys out of a list, they know what a good Warriors or Daemon or whatever army looks like, and have a decent idea of if they can take enough of the toys to make it work.

Swedish, though, is more complex. There isn’t a prewritten mould to work from, there isn’t a frame of reference most people can use to compare their armies against. Hence the confusion – people aren’t quite sure where the baseline is, where to start to work from, what other people are going to do.

This guide, I hope, is here to help. Maybe I can’t establish that baseline fully, but I can at least give you an idea of where to begin when writing a list, and where to aim for, and what pitfalls to avoid.

Some Disclaimers

1.       I’m not Swedish

I’m English, in fact. That said, my surname if you trace it back comes probably from the Isle of Man and hence before that Scandinavia somewhere. Also I do have a large beard and I do own my own chainmail, so maybe I count as an honourary Swede?

Anyway, that means I’ve only played under Swedish Comp a bit. One tournament in fact, the last Bjorn, though I did pretty well. If any real Swedes want to chip in with greater experience, feel free.

What this also means is that this is written to typical UK interpretations of Swedish Comp. In particular I am tailoring this guide to the popular Bjorn Supremacy tournaments, of which one is upcoming. That event runs comp scores in an 8-14 range, rounding to the nearest integer with .5s rounding up. Each comp point difference compared to your opponent alters the score by 100vp. So if I say “write a 10-12”, as a wild example, I mean it in that context.

2.       I don’t win all that many tournaments

I talk on the internet a lot, but in terms of actual tournament wins, I’m not your hottest man. I’ve been doing well lately – I’m 17th ranked in the UK at time of writing (probably above this blog’s erstwhile host [Editor – ouch! J ]), have a few decent near-the-top finishes and generally know what I’m doing. But I’m not the Top Expert or anything, and there are quite a few people with better ideas than me. If you’re one of those people, this article might be less useful for you.

3.       This article is going to contain a lot of threes.

I hear politicians like to talk in threes – apparently people get threes, they find lists of three points easy to remember. Anyway, it sounded like it might work, so I tried it. If you get bored of threes, I direct you to go read something else.

Pitfalls to avoid

1.       Writing your normal list, then scoring it under Swedish Comp.

This is such a common error. “I put my fluffy army into the comp and it came out a 5!”, “I scored my army from tournament x that was quite soft and it’s an 8, should I aim softer?” and so on. Swedish Comp is not designed to score any army against any other – that would be way, way too hard to do. What you need to do is write to the comp. There are funny cutoffs in the points scoring – if 24 saurus cost you 13 but 23 saurus cost you 9, and you normally run a unit of 24, try running 23 – it’ll save you almost half a comp point in the end. If a model you normally like is really costly, try an alternative that isn’t quite as good but costs less under comp – if your 2nd unit of terradons costs you -11, try a -5 unit of ripperdactyl instead. You have to play to the system – the idea is that if everyone does that, armies will end up roughly balanced against each other if they’re at a similar comp score. Not all 12s are equal – the idea is to write the best 12 you can.

2.       Scoring your list wrong.

I see this one a lot on forums in particular. “Argh why is this army a -5”, when you’ve included 3 units of 40 halberdiers, and read the “each halberdier past 40 is -1” line and assumed it applies to the whole army. It doesn’t – those lines, unless they specifically say otherwise, tend to mean per unit. They’re there to discourage mahoosive blocks, not to stop you taking several decent-size chunks of troops. If you’re not sure, ask someone more experienced with the comp to double-check your list for you.

3.       Writing a list you don’t know how to play.

You still have to actually play the army. It’s all well and good going nuts with the fact that Swedish armies have to look a little different, and take something totally off the wall, but you need to be confident you know how to play it if you want to do well. Experience counts for a lot – even if you can’t do exactly the same thing, stick to a core principle that you know, and have a feel for how to use on the table, what its matchups are, how to deploy it and so on.

Where should I aim my list?

1.       Write to 10-12 unless you have a good reason otherwise.

If you are anything other than very confident in your list writing, I’d advise pitching your army right down the middle. My observation of Swedish so far is that lists at all ends of the comp spectrum can win, and place equally well, but in general for the less experienced player I’d aim for this middle ground.

If you’re running an 8-9, you’re going to be down quite a lot of VP each game, and if you run up against a higher-scored army, you need to be confident enough of your army and play skill to actually turn your list advantage into a big win. Otherwise, you’ll run into someone with a softer list who is used to running softer lists and still doing well with them – I’m looking at the likes of Andy Potter and pretty much the whole Tough and Fluffy team here – with a 14, who you can’t smash and who beats you soundly on bonus VP. Disclaimer: I’m probably taking a 13-14 list to Bjorn, and I think it can do nasty things to lower scored armies.

If you’re running 13-14, and you aren’t very confident of your listwriting and play skill, you may find you just don’t have the tools to take on nastier threats. Someone will show up with just more toys than you, an army that works rather better, and smash you off the table. It takes a lot of skill and a good list to make a 14 able to stop this.

Down the middle hedges your bets. You’re never up or down by much to begin, and you can still write an army that can compete with harder foes, and smash up higher ones. You really do get a lot more toys in going middle of the road than at the top, while not being down so many starting VP as to influence the game psychologically.

That’s a concept I should expand – psychologically, starting up or down VP can make a big difference to how a game plays. Most people are used to beginning level. People play differently if they’re down, it changes risk analysis, and so eg if you start down 500vp it can feel like it is no longer viable to sit off and play the long game.

It is worth here introducing what 40k players apparently call the ‘tabling strategy’ – this is one for the slightly more confident or manhammer-prone among you. Take the hardest 10-12 you can, and aim to smash people less experienced than you, then not be down too much once you run into tougher opposition.

2.     Why to write an 8-9

This is sort of an extension of the tabling strategy really, and for the very confident. Take as hard an army as you can, smash it at people, and have confidence you can capitalise on the advantage to get big wins. This seemed to work for our antipodean podcasting colleagues – take a Daemon Prince, use it to win the tournament. The issue is you really do need to be clear that you think you can turn that into big enough wins against people running softer armies. Don’t take an 8 unless you are sure you can do that. This approach favours an aggressive, consistent smash-face player – the Veal role, to use the ETC vernacular. See also ‘write to your army style’ below.

3.     Why to write a 13-14

There are a few reasons here. One is ‘because I wanted to take something totally different, and Swedish gives me a chance’, and I don’t for a moment want to deprecate that – this is a hobby about fun, after all. Nonetheless, this is to an extent a competitive guide, so I’m going to focus on why one might take a 14 with the aim of placing highly in the tournament based on that choice. Again, this one is for the confident players and list-writers. You need to be sure that the 14 you have written can hold the fort against an aggressive 8, and still do enough against a competently wielded 11 to pull out the win. Lists in this category often will be built to give up few points, while having built-in points scoring mechanisms themselves – you won’t see many smash-face armies in this category, but 300vp vs an 11 is only a 12-8, and so you want the ability to consistently turn that into at least a 15. Basically, this approach favours a safe, surgical and careful style of play, and of army. Once again, see ‘write to your army style’ below.

How should I start writing?

1.            Write to your army style

By this, I mean – work out what your choice of army needs to do to win games. This ties into the ‘where should I aim my list’ segment above, and is quite a key concept – and I’ll explain it with the help of my trusty Lizardmen.

Basically, Lizards tend to play a style of game that is all about small risks with big payoffs. You take lots of plays that if they go off win you the game, and if not don’t lose you it – a lot of these rely on your opponent coming out to play, and on creating the psychological impression that you’re going to win unless they come and get some points off you. This means that Lizards can’t afford to be down loads of VP at the start. If your 8 Lizardmen plays a 13 High Elf army, the High Elves are going to sit in a corner, shoot and magic off some cheap points and not even try to engage you, denying you an easy chance to score points and suddenly you find yourself down 500vp and scrambling to push into their firebase to prevent an embarrassing loss.

On the other hand, if you play Ogres, you probably aren’t able to score many points from that hold-off strategy, and your Leadership and army style aren’t suited to tight conservative play. Taking a 14 Ogre army therefore may leave you in trouble – say you run into an 8-comp Warriors army, and it rushes hard combat at you. You just won’t have the tools in a 14 Ogre army to answer it, and starting 14-6 up won’t help you when your entire army is off the table.

That’s still all on where to pitch your army, though, really. What I actually want to say is that you need to decide how you want to play. Do you want to play aggressive? Defensive? Do you want to build around a particular unit or combo? Does your army and style of play suit a particular approach? Have that clearly in mind when you go into writing – there’s no point just taking a mash of cheap choices and then a couple of toys you happen to like, you’re writing an army.

For those among you who play Magic, and have ever played Draft at any kind of decent level (I was always a solid Limited player, much more so than Constructed) – it’s a bit like how you aim to build a deck, not a collection of good cards. Sometimes, you need to pass that near-bomb because you already have better cards in that slot and the solid but unexceptional 2-drop will keep the pressure on to let you get the bombs you already have out. The army has to work together, much like a draft deck – it has to have a theme, an objective, you have to know how it plays on the table.

2.       Writing from the soft end first

This is one style of list building, and it is the one I significantly prefer, though I acknowledge that both this and the following approach work for different people.

Once you have an idea roughly what you want your draft army to do, go through your army book looking for units that fit the theme. Work out which ones are cheap under the comp (note: cheap is relative. Don’t compare comp per unit – compare comp per point spent. A 200pts unit at -10 is a lot cheaper than a 50pts unit at -7).

Let’s consider Lizards as an example – imagine I’ve decided I want a 12+ (I’d advise this with Lizards) army that will play avoidance and score its points mostly at range, while not giving up too many. Take a look through the comp – what fits that objective but doesn’t cost much comp, even if it wouldn’t be the optimal unit under ‘normal’ comp? In this case I quickly identify that the first unit each of 3 terradons and ripperdactyl are -5 and -6 respectively, with the first terradon chief also only -6. The first two units of up to 18 cohort skinks are -2, and the next ones are still only -5. The first three units of skirmishers are -3, -4 and -6. That gives me an idea that a core of those units is very viable, and I’ll be able to fit some toys in around them – consider a core of 4*18 skinks with champion and musician (440), 3*10 skirmishers (210) – a clear 650, more than minimum core, in very solid shooting units, and costs you only 27 comp out of your available 185 for writing a 12. Add in one unit each of rippers and terradons, and a terradon chief, and you’ve spent another 350 for -17, leaving you with 1400pts left and 141 comp to spend – at this point you can start putting in the toys, though you’ll probably want a few more ‘concessions’ to even it out. An quick eye over the book says your Slann is going to cost you 60-70, and you do need one to make the army work, after all. How about a unit of Saurus to balance that out and provide a bunker and backstop? -9 for 23 of them, or -18 for a very hard to shift brick of 34, are both solid choices.

Don’t get suckered into units that don’t actually fit what your army does. Sure, a Troglodon is only -3 for a 200pts model. But will it actually do anything for you? If it just dies to a cannon or spirit leech every game and gives up 200vp, then you didn’t gain anything. If it doesn’t help you win the game – or even not lose it – why is it there?

3.       Writing from the hard end first

I don’t like this approach as much, but it can be very viable, and I have used it. Pick a style of army – I dunno, smashy Ogres aiming at a 10ish. At this stage, you then say “right, I can’t play smashy ogres without at least one mournfang unit, and I probably want some kind of hard character star too”. Put those in, score them. At that point, you’ll have a quite small core of comp points remaining. Try to spend them on units that fit your strategy but aren’t expensive comp wise – a unit of 3 ogres with additional hand weapons is only -4 and about 100pts, and can cover board space, threaten light units and generally fits with your overall army plan. A Gorger for -4 for the first is much the same. On the other hand, a Scraplauncher at -6 or 40 Gnoblars at -2 probably won’t do anything for you at all.

This is a very important point, I feel – don’t fill up entirely on toys then put any old ultra-cheap thing in to finish your points off. Raff keeps talking about Oxyotl – I think he’s nuts [Editor – A very fair comment J. Don’t write from the hard end first kids – you end up with what I took to the Masters last year… 2 Slann and a bunch of rubbish…]. Your cheap choices still have to fit what your army does, and perform for you, even if that means very slightly less toys.

Questions I should ask myself

Once you’ve written your army, ask yourself these questions:

1.       What if my opponent brought a Daemon Prince?

Someone is going to. I don’t just mean Daemon Princes – I mean all those usual bugbear units that armies tend to need to bring specific counters to in ‘normal’ comp. I mean cannons, or Demigryph, or a Kdaii Destroyer, or Beasts of Nurgle, or whatever. You can get a surprising amount in a well-crafted Swedish list; your odds of running up against these nasty units are decent, so you still need answers. Don’t forget to bring your dragonbane gem goblin wolf big boss, or that can-opening scarvet.

2.       What if my opponent doesn’t decide to play my game?

Have you got the tools to go out there and win if your opponent decides to corner it, or sit at the back and shoot you? Do you know what to do in a comp mismatch? Make sure you have those tools – not everyone will behave as you expect.

3.       Have I considered that Swedish is out of the book hammer?

That means if you have 5 characters in your Empire Knight unit, have you remembered that uncomped Dwellers is out there? It is costly, but someone probably brought it. You need to kill of units entirely to get their VP too – no half measures. Be aware of those differences – is your army vulnerable to them?

Learning by example

Having done all that, I’m going to finish this piece with an example of an armylist I’ve built. I consider this army to be very strong – indeed if I can’t sort the models in time for the Lizards army I want to bring, I may well take this myself. I’d ask you not to copy it outright, please – try to design your own take on it. I’m not saying don’t take this exact list – just if you do, sit down and try to design your own take on it first, using these principles. If you can’t write anything better, or more suited to you, fair enough, take this – but do please make that effort.

My thoughts began with an approach to the game – I wanted to write a Daemon list designed for the tabling strategy. I’m aiming for the 10-12 region, and aiming to take advantage of the strong flying and pressure units in the book – the idea is to put loads of pressure on weaker armies and less experienced players and win big, then ride the hopeful 20s and still significant power of the list to do ok once I hit the top, without a significant VP deficit.

Despite my expressed preference above, I actually began this looking at the toys. Specifically, Plague Drones. It turns out a unit of 4 is -22, and the second unit of 4 is -26. That’s a decent bit, but not *that* much for such excellent units, and they fit the smash strategy to a T. They’re in.

Next stop was the characters. In this style of list I think a Greater Daemon is very strong – but can I afford any of them, and are any of them notably cheap? A quick scan shows that the default, the Great Unclean One, gets quite expensive when you stick magic on him. On the other hand, a Lord of Change – still very powerful, and fitting the theme of hard flying threats to smash people with – is -39 with an exalted and a lesser gift, and Level 3. Level 4 just doesn’t seem worth it for the extra 15 it costs.

That then gives us a solid core of toys to go on with – so let’s fill up Core next. It turns out that 2*10 horrors are only -6 each, so those go in to give us a bit of magic. 28 Plaguebearers is -19 and a very solid unit, so that goes in too – the cutoff for costing more is 29, I usually run a Horde, and 28 is close enough.

At this point we’ve got:

Lord of Change, Exalted, Lesser, Lv3, 535, -39

28 Plaguebearers, FC, Swiftness, 409, -19
10 Horrors, 130, -6
10 Horrors, 130, -6

4 Drones, Standard, Musician, Poison, Gleaming Pennant, 265, -22
4 Drones, Standard, 230, -26

That comes to 1699pts, and 118 comp spent. We’ve got 700pts to go, and to get to a minimum 10, 82 comp left to go (recalling the 5 for Reign of Chaos). Not too bad, actually! The core helped a lot.

What else fits our list aim, then? Well, we’d like some more fliers, both as redirectors and as threats. How about 2*5 Furies (Tzeentch, obviously) at -6 and -10, and 3 Screamers at -5? That’s 260pts spent and -21 comp. Still a decent bit to spend – 440pts and 61 comp.

Actually, we’ve enough comp left that those things can be toys. So let’s play with toys. The final elements of the list are a Nurgle BSB Herald with the Razor Standard and the Greater Locus and 4 Beasts of Nurgle, at -23 and -26 respectively.

You’ll notice we don’t have a Skull Cannon – it is very good, but doesn’t quite fit what we’re trying to do with the list, and the colossal comp cost of -32 for a 135pts model just isn’t worth it.

The final list ends up:

Reign of Chaos, -5
Lord of Change, Exalted, Lesser, Lv3, 535, -39
Herald of Nurgle, BSB, Lesser Locus, Razor Standard, 205, -23

28 Plaguebearers, FC, Swiftness, 409, -19
10 Horrors, 130, -6
10 Horrors, 130, -6

4 Beasts of Nurgle, 240, -26
5 Furies of Tzeentch, 60, -6
5 Furies of Tzeentch, 60, -10
3 Screamers, 120, -5

4 Drones, Standard, Poison, Gleaming Pennant, 255, -22
4 Drones, Standard, 230, -26

TOTAL 2394, -193, which is an 11!

Hard for an 11 and ready to smash face, would you not agree?

To answer our questions  - yes, we have tools to answer a kdaii, demigryph, are not utterly lost vs artillery, we can even take a Daemon Prince. We can definitely push if the opponent decides not to play, and Dwellers doesn’t really bother us *that* much. Result.

(A note for the watchers at home – I wrote this *before* Russ started making waves with a similar army at SCGT events...)

And with that, we put the warhammer brain back in its box… Thoughts and comments welcomed as ever!

Swedish Comp really has a lot going for it.... OK, OK - not the most intellectual input into this article, but still...

Until next time


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