Monday, 18 November 2013

The Art of Bad List Writing


It’s a skill really, something hard to teach and one that few can pull off with the true flair of the gifted.

The ingredients in this particular pie (for pie it is after all) have to be carefully sourced. And it is not enough to simply throw the aforementioned into the cauldron of tournament gaming. No, it has to be done with the correct mental framework. Mutterings about toil and trouble, or for that matter, any part of a newt, are entirely optional.

Christmas adverts are all over the place nowadays

As has been covered in many places before (the Bad Dice Daily would be a good place to start, over ---> somewhere) there is an inherent recipe (to continue the overworked cooking metaphor) to correct ‘proper’ writing. By and large this involves a mixture of maximising on your strengths, limiting your weaknesses, and making sure you have the tools to deal with the things that you would expect to face at an upcoming event. Whilst it is a recipe, there is an undoubted skill in effective list-writing – it’s why the star chefs make the big bucks after all. Constructing a list that can deal with the ‘meta’ but is not overly invested in it is key. Over-baking your counter-meta is a dangerous gamble, one that I have suffered from on occasion (at the height of the Ogre menace I designed a VC list that was purely designed to fight them. Cue a 6 game event where I faced not a single one (or for that matter, any lists that my counter-Ogre strategies would work on)). Like the gentle rising of a soufflé (none of that twice baked nonsense) it is a delicate exercise that rewards balance.

Right, I said I would stop with this silly cooking nonsense. Not sure what has gotten into me there.

The upcoming circa 100 player event, Bjorn Supremacy 3, is using the famous/infamous/headache-inducing/broken (delete as appropriate) Swedish comp system. Regular collaborator, occasional author and all round Warhammer brain Jake wrote a very educational blog post on things to bear in mind when designing a list under this comp system. It’s very good and can of course be found over ---> somewhere.

Jake and I spend literally months (and I mean literally, not a football pundit version of ‘literally’ – though I hear dark whispers that the OED has now redefined the term, but I refuse to believe this, and worry about humanity if it is so) crafting and then fine-tuning a couple of Lizardmen lists that if not perfect (after all, is there such a thing?) then something very close to it. Jake ended up submitting the cooler of the two. I won’t go into that now for two reasons – firstly it’s an incredibly good list, and this article is not about good lists, and secondly, this is a closed list event. I’m sure I will write about it post event.

I was all set to also take one of the lists – potentially even the same one, but more likely the more traditional one. But then I didn’t.


Well, primarily burn-out.

The list submission deadline was not long after the Tribute event. This was an incredibly good event (I believe I did a brief recap of it in a previous post, as ever over ---> somewhere) and has a famously good social aspect to it too. Alas, though the evenings were good (though the Friday was cut a tad short by my host and Cardiff-famous ETC Wales Captain Craig getting kicked out for some very eloquent arguments posed to the door persons at the local Walkabout drinking establishment) the amount that I could truly relax during the event itself was very limited by the army I was taking.

Don’t get me wrong – I love Lizardmen. I think they are the most rewarding army to play with I have ever used. Alas, when playing a succession of bad matchups and marshalling a cloud of skinks around you really have to be with it. Other builds obviously work, a Saurus Cav bus list (plus Tetto’eko of course) recently won the 50 player Warfare event (check out the winner’s Youtube battle reports for more information – search for “JustmeDaly”), but am not sure they are ‘optimal’. After that weekend I was utterly drained.

This being the case, and harking back to the first two and a half years of my tournament participation when I got utterly fed up of VC, essentially due to over-play, I decided that what I needed was a relaxing weekend of pushing stuff around and perhaps drinking slightly more than is all that good for me. Thus I made an utterly insane decision to go epically off-piste.

The thing with Swedish Comp is that due to its complexities it is hard to work out what other armies can take with a brief read through. I knew that Daemons would be powerful, and that I had written some good High Elf lists under it, but other than that market knowledge, for want of a better terms, was down to comments on twitter (turns out both Brettonians and Dwarfs are effectively uncomped under the system, for example). By and large the only external factor I took into account was vague perceptions from last year’s event, where apparently the field was pretty wide spread comp-points wise.

With that in mind I dusted off the Vampire Counts file in Quartermaster, opened the 6 pages of Vampire Counts-related Swedish comp and worked on a list that included stuff that I frankly never take and I consider “cool”. With stern words from Jake that getting a score of 14 for the sake of a 14 was a Bad Thing ringing in my ear, I relaxed further and threw nonsense at the page.

I ended up with:

Vlad Von Carstein (general) 

Level 1 Necromancer (Lore of Vampires) – Cursed Book
Wight King, Shield
Wight King, Great Weapon

31 Skeletons, Full Command – Screaming Banner
28 Skeletons, Full Command
34 Zombies, Standard, Musician
33 Zombies, Standard, Musician

5 Hexwraiths
5 Hexwraiths
5 Hexwraiths 


 Ethereal Comp (-13) 

Total Army = 2400ptsComp Score = 12

In case it was not overly clear why this is a terrible list (and it really should be) let’s have a quick rundown of the highlights – there are plenty more I haven’t covered.

A list needs to either be able to fight, avoid fighting, or bog down the opponent from here to till the end of eternity.
This list categorically cannot do that. The real combat punch in a Vampire Counts army normally comes from the Lord. As undoubtedly ‘cool’ as Vlad Von Carstein is, he is not a great fighter in the great scheme of things. Vargulfs are cool, but can only really beat up on low toughness infantry – and who sees any of that these days? As for avoiding combat… not so much.

A list needs to be able to cause damage at range to force the opponent to react to you.
This list, yet again, fails in this department. A short ranged scream (in the unlikely event that the Terrorgheist does not die before the singing starts) is not enough as you have to be amongst your opponents to scream anyway. In a traditional Vampire Counts list this is the job of the ever-so-loved Death Magic. Alas none of that here. Hexwraiths technically don’t have to engage to get points, but 5 is not enough to decimate units, and you have to expose them to make them work.

A list needs to be able to push the game to get the big wins/reverse an early loss.
You guessed it – this list can’t do that either. It lacks a hammer of any real potency and there isn’t an army I can think of that would not be able to kill these units in combat. Against a fictional weak gunline, perhaps, otherwise… not so much

A list needs to not lose too many easy points.
Ah. Yeah. This list is the Cash-and-Carry of “easy points”. 5 strong Hexwraith units are asking for death against any magic missile casting, magic weapon wielding, daemon-totting every man out there. Oh, and they don’t like simple ranked units either. The rare selection is all vintage cannon/magic missile or combat bait too.

A list needs to take into account the meta.
This, dear friends, is where is all goes wrong (in case you somehow thought the above points were not good enough to begin with). I mentioned previously we knew Daemons were going to be strong at this event. Turns out everyone else worked this out too. There is a Dropbox folder than some of us are using to share closed lists (what people come up with under Swedish is always interesting). Of the lists I have seen, circa 25% are Daemons of Chaos. Rumours abound that that percentage is roughly consistent in the lists we have not seen. And they are, by and large, all getting away with stupendously light comp scores. Failing to even consider the meta and its ever-present Daemonic threat (they truly are the scourge of Warhammer these days, far, far worse than Ogres of Warriors before them). Having an army that can’t fight daemons, and can easily be killed by them, is a Bad Thing. Apparently.

Bloody Christmas everywhere these days

Why, then, take this stupid list?
Sure, everyone can make mistakes and miscalculate whether a list is going to be good or not, but to take a list that is simply on paper not good is silly. This is a grown up event – Hristo’s Dwarf list will make grown men cry, and there is plenty of filth to go round for everybody.

Well…. I wanted to take stuff I never take. So there. This is normally THE sign a list is bad. Would I rather it was at a low-key local event than one on the other side of the country? Sure, but I live in London, so that was never going to happen.

Vlad. I mean come on! Its blooming Vlad himself! Alas, points prevented me from bringing his wife along. The granddaddy of all the vampires. Sure he doesn’t fight all that well, or for that matter cast all that well either, but he is cool. And coming back to life is, it has to be admitted, a neat trick. Oh, and he costs far fewer comp points than any vampire I would actually take.

Cursed Book. I absolutely love this item. A ‘free’ spell is a great way to hopefully clear up some dispel dice in the absence of offensive magic to force people to do so. It’s even better when you factor in that 3/6 spells it casts are remains in play. Why do I rarely take it? Simply the classic 8th ed curse of limited arcane slots. This seemed as good a time as any. Wonder if you can buy a die that always rolls a 5….

Hexwraiths. These where an impulse buy when I noticed that the third unit did not incur any additional penalties… Like any flashing “sale” sign the bargain is less good than one would thing… Sure, against the right armies, decent. Against the wrong ones… well, its nice to give your opponent a 450 point gift every now and then.

Vargulfs. Well, the swedes would not let me bring double Terrorgheist. I have never used these enough – S5 is really not all that these days. But they can march and run around a bit. Like a budget Wayne Rooney really.

Overall – I decided to go for speed. Sure, some of it if only actually fast when the Lord is around, but still. 3 units that could conceivably move 28” first turn, 2 that can march 16” every turn and a flyer (all before any Vanhels-in that occurs) could be fun to push at people. The fact that they will very much be taken off as soon as any such move occurs just adds to the fun. And most of all, I won’t be worrying about double flees and leadership bubbles!

So, in short, this list is actually a noble sacrifice of competitiveness for the sake of the Lizardmen cause, only thus can continued Lizard love be guaranteed! (wait……..)

Will do a write up on the event, and see if I can meet my stretch goal of 2 wins and a draw post event, as well as potentially a look at some of my favourite lists.

This is Odin.
If she got me an alarm clock to wake me up early on Christmas morning the day's menu may change...
(that probably only makes any sense to those seeing UK Christmas adverts)

Until next time



  1. Great article about list writing Raf, I like it! :) I have some questions about my lizardmen lists, and I hope you can help me. Can I send you a list throught e-mail (and discuss the reamaining stuff there)?

    1. Of course - happy to.
      Send me an email to anytime.

  2. I have sent an e-mail last week! Did you receive it?