It’s Not Your List. It’s Not Your Faction. It’s You.

In the grim dark days of 40K, I played a ton of Space Marines. They were my first army when I was 15, and when I finally quit playing at 29, I was still championing a variant of them. Toward the end of that time, however, I started giving other factions a go. Codex: Space Marines was starting to get a bit old, and in Games Workshop terms, that generally means less competitive.  I didn’t want to simply switch to whatever was “the best” at the time though. I was looking for something that fit my play style, that built lists like I wanted and that I could win with.

I spent the last 18 months of my 40K career swapping armies on Bartertown. In that period I played–frequently and competitively–Space Marines, Tyranids, Blood Angels, Imperial Guard, Daemons, Grey Knights and Space Wolves. Somehow, this was simultaneously the time I did best competitively, but felt the worst about my losses. Space Marines didn’t have anything special, Tyranids died too quickly when I played with a bunch of Monstrous Creatures, Grey Knight Terminator spam was slow and so on.

I picked up the Khador starter box and Karchev in the middle of this (See, it is about Warmachine. You were worried, I know). I was dumbstruck by the clarity of the rules, the balance between the factions and the way the balance was maintained with new book releases. Both my love of 40K and my models were soon handed in for more Khador, but that feeling… trying to find something that fit my play style, that built lists like I wanted to, and that I could win with… never did.

When I picked my first faction, I had a hard time deciding between Cygnar (for Darius) and Khador (for Karchev), so a few months later when I felt like Khador wasn’t pulling it’s weight, I switched to Cygnar; then Legion, followed shortly by Trolls; I picked up some Circle to demo to new players, then I had a short stint with Damiano and Steelheads before going back to Cygnar again right before the release of the Stormwall, followed a couple of months later by Protectorate; I dabbled in Gators, ran Shae with the full pirate boat, got Bronzeback envy and played a few games with Skorne and picked up Cryx long enough to run Gaspy2 and Terminus at a tournament.

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Every time I switched factions, I had a reason. A lot of the time, these reasons showed up immediately after crushing defeats. As Sam became a better player and started beating me regularly, it was clearly a deficiency in Cygnar pre-Stormwall. When Tarc Maylor and bobliness crushed me back to back at Wargames Con, it was because Trolls weren’t as competitive at the time as Khador and Circle. The few times Kreoss2 failed me–against Walter at Warmachine Weekend and against Brent the first time we went up to Fayetteville–it was because his theme force has limited access to Pathfinder. Every time I’ve lost late in a tournament against Hance, it’s because Trolls don’t have enough of an answer for incorporeal and Cryx in general.

Throughout that period, I played top tier, ball busting casters and casters who were on the bottom rungs of their faction. I played jack walls and infantry spam. I played melee focused, ranged focused and combined arms lists. I played factions where order of activation and synergy are absolutely necessary, and factions where everything is all but autonomous. Hell, I played three huge bases in a single 50pt list for a while. And for each of those crushing, faction swapping defeats, I’ve had wins where I was on the opposite side. I’ve listened to my friends spout the same crap about their factions after losing to me. I’ve had more competitive success in the year I’ve been playing Warmachine competitively than the decade I played 40K.

I’ve come to realize for whatever faction I’m playing at the time, I am the biggest deficiency the faction has. It isn’t the number of magical weapons available to me, the number of units with Pathfinder or my maximum threat saturation. It isn’t my caster choice, my battlegroup or my support staff. It isn’t the number of shiny toys another faction got in the newest book. It’s just me.

What I find particularly entertaining about this is that it seems obvious when the same situation is proposed from another angle. When new players ask me what faction they should get into, I never steer them one way or another based on specific list builds or casters or some minuscule competitive advantage. When I watch the newer guys at our shop play between my games, I never look at the board and think–wow, he brought Unit X and his opponent brought Unit Y… this game is over already.

So, the next time you get crushed, here’s my advice: don’t immediately swap half of your list out, don’t immediately switch casters and don’t succumb to faction envy over some neat trick your opponent used in his march to victory. Don’t run out and grab the latest Masters winning list off of the internet. Don’t drop a ton of cash on new things for your faction. Don’t jump on any bandwagons.

Sit down and figure out how you lost. Spoiler alert, unless you dropped Doomshaper1’s Tier 4 against Butcher2’s Tier 4, you probably didn’t lose before the game started.

  1. Did you deploy as well as you could have? If you only have one unit with magic weapons, and your opponent is running Blackbanes, did you do your best to get them to their target? If you only have one way to kill your opponent’s colossal, did you put all of the pieces in the right place? Did you deploy in a way to deny your opponent their maximum threat saturation? Did you take all of the scenario elements into play, for either scoring or contesting?
  2. Did you consider all paths to victory? Did you pass up clearing a zone to setup for an unlikely assassination run? Could you have initiated a positive piece trade instead of sacrificing pieces for control points or a low chance assassination? Did you get greedy when up on tie breakers in a timed turns scenario? Did you forget to take the scoring rules into account and leave an appropriate piece on a flag/objective/zone?
  3. Did you choose your targets appropriately? Did you waste activations attacking something you were unlikely to hit/kill when there was something you could have easily removed? Did you initiate an unfavorable piece trade–either in points or in importance to your list? Did you choose charge targets in a way that reduces the total number of attacks you could have had?
  4. Did you gauge threat distances correctly? Did you place an important piece in range of your opponent? Did you sacrifice an important piece because of a failed charge?
  5. Did you forget your opponent’s rules and abilities? Did you forgo the chance to walk within 5″ of a Stealth unit because you forgot they had Stealth? Did you put 3 Focus on a jack and charge it after an Enlivened Reckoner or an Angelius with Admonition? Did you get counter charged/slammed unexpectedly? Did you lob AOEs at blast damage immune models?
  6. Did you forget your own rules and abilities? Did you forget to Vengeance? Did you forget bonuses like Set Defense or Battle Driven? Did you allocate a focus to a jack that could run/charge or whatever else you wanted for free? Hell, did you forget to allocate?

I have never completed a game of Warmachine, successful or not, without making mistakes. Sometimes these mistakes result in a less efficient turn, sometimes they result in punting an otherwise locked up game and sometimes they’re the linchpin in my opponent’s march to victory. But, after considering a loss from all sides–from deployment to the end–I’ve never played a game I couldn’t have won with the same faction, the same caster and the same list.

Unless you’re out there qualifying for every Masters you play in–and if you are, man you should not be taking advice from me–take a step back from the listing building process (If you’re using War Room, take a few steps back. Then use something else) and spend some time working on yourself as a player.

While you’re doing that, I’m going to decide which one of the three factions I still own I’m going to play now because I lost last night. Damnit.

Author: jbarket

Jonathan Barket is the exception to Hoarluk Doomshaper's quest to kill all humans. He started playing Warmachine in December of 2010, and has been punting games he thought he had in the bag ever since. If this article wasn't enough to put your to sleep, he also writes about Warmachine with his teammates at http://www.midsouthgaming.com.

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