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A quick note: I continue to use a LOT of footnotes (seppos). If you are interested in reading them, it’s been suggested that the easiest way is to open a second tab of the article and scroll that tab down to the bottom of page. Then you can just alternate between them. Please do so, I’ve also been told how to do the technical linking between them, but I probably wont get around to it.9
Recently someone asked me how I felt about the game and whether I felt like I was getting the hang of it.
There was a small part of me that was offended, it wanted to say something along the lines of “Hey look, I’ve placed in tournaments8, I’m kind of a big deal you know. I write articles.”1&10
Thankfully the larger part of me tends to take peoples questions in a logical fashion2 so after I gave my actual response (along the lines of “I feel like I’m getting there, just need more games) I kept thinking on the question.
The truth is that I’ve started (in the last few months) to think of myself as relatively knowledgeable, I’ve developed an unhealthy sense of security that, when I started to seriously think about it, is not justified by my actual game time or my actual game results. So I figured it was time to bring myself down a peg. I figured the best way to do that was in a public article…. so please pay attention, there will be a quiz at the end.6
Considering the situation
So I sat down and started to look at how many games I’d actually played in my first 8 months playing and how many different casters I’d actually fielded, then I cut out all the games that I didn’t think really ‘counted’ (so all of the speedmachine/mangled metal games and such), then I removed all the non-50 point games…and I discovered two things:
Firstly, I havent played that many games compared to the numbers people throw around in statements like “be prepared to lose your first 20 games” and “You have to play 10 games with a list to even have a real idea about how it works”, by contrast, I think I’ve probably played about 50 games total in 8 months at 50 points in a ‘relatively competitive’ environment.
Secondly, I “feel” like I know a lot more about casters than my actual game-time suggests.
To come to these conclusions, since I had a bit11 of time at work and I’m that kind of person, I decided to throw together a spreadsheet looking at every circle caster and all their possible matchups (faction-wise) and tried to rank them against each matchup. Gratuitous? Yes, but it was interesting.3
For example, prior to doing this exercise, stupid as it sounds, I had happily commented on strategies and ideas for casters such as Cassius, Mohsar, pKaya, Grayle, eBaldur and Morvhana….when I had not put ANY of those on the table. Not once.26
As a result of that I have made two resolutions (since it’s the new year and all):
First, to play all of the damn casters – I started that straight away and now it’s just morvhana and cassius left to proxy in order to at least have played a couple of games with all of them.19
Second, I’m going to try and make clearer when my ideas are from theory and when from practice…and to tone down my certainty when posting.
Deeper, and somewhat gratuitous, thought
Yet aside from making me feel like a bit of a tool, the process also led me to several questions:
1. Am I a complete asshat, or are a lot of people in a similar situation, where their theoretical ‘knowledge’ is not backed up by anything but theorymachine?
2. What would actually constitute ‘sufficient knowledge or experience’ to backup an opinion on a caster?
3. Is it even realistic to aim to have that knowledge or any degree of authority on the topic of a list or matchup or is everything merely opinion?
My first impulse was to put this to the podcasts (MoM and RTW) as a question since I wondered where the genuinely experienced players went for advice/commentary on a list they were thinking about and what level of ‘experience’ they expected those who gave them advice to have. Obviously since I’ve only been playing for less than a year I’m miles behind those who’ve been playing for the better part of a decade and I’ve always assumed that the advice/opinion of those players came from hard-won experience putting casters and combos on the table against all the possible combinations their opponents could muster.
Then I realised that I hadn’t written an article in a while so I started writing this one instead of the question. Then writing this article got me started doing the maths…
When I put together my little spreadsheet I found that, in addition to knowing the strengths and weaknesses of each circle caster against each faction, there were a dozen different ‘specific matchups’ that I could think of (eHaley, eLylyth, Harby, Gallybart…etc etc) that I also wanted to know how well they matched up against.
I was disillusioned to find that, in all honesty I’ve really only played enough games with Kromac, eKaya, pBaldur and pKrueger to really consider that I’ve got a solid spread of games accross a wide array of different matchups. Even then some of those I’ve never played against certain factions and I certainly hadn’t played any of them against every matchup on my list.
In fact, I would need dozens more games just to get the casters I thought I knew best into a position where I’d played them against every faction more than once…without even considering different scenarios. Which made it instantly unachievable for me to even aim to play every Circle caster (or even many casters) against every matchup since I really only play 2-3 games a week if I’m lucky.
But consider this: If you wanted to play a specific list against every opposing caster, you’d need 130-odd games. If you wanted to play all of the major variants of each caster (In a lot of cases tier lists vs non-tier is the easy example), I’d guess (completely made up) that you’d have to go for closer to 150-250 games.
If you then wanted to factor in scenario (which is very important to winning/losing obviously) you’d need to play somewhere in the region of 1500 games (to cover the 130 casters and 8 or so scenarios in the 2013 packet).
If you then wanted to factor in playing first vs second, you’d be talking in the region of 3000 games.
And in those numbers we haven’t factored in terrain, list composition, play-style of opponent and probably a dozen other things that various people would consider important to ‘understanding how a list functions in different situations’.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that noone has achieved that specific goal with any one list. I guess it’s possible that the play-test crew at privateer press managed it in the early days (Particularly if they ever had only one or two scenarios and only 30-odd casters), but given that gargantuans is releasing 6 new warlocks, just to test each of them in every possible iteration, you’d need (conservatively, with a 1 hour game) about 18,000 man hours (or nine play testers playing 40 hour weeks for one full year)…..just to play each caster vs each caster in each scenario (not going first/second, no terrain variation etc etc)
Which, as an aside, indicates that it is reasonable to expect that there will be combinations that are unfair that turn up from time to time. It’s not reasonable to expect that “in playtesting” everything will be caught/balanced….there’s still hope for the mountain king.5
So then I started to wonder, is it realistic to consider yourself (or anyone) to have expertise with a specific caster? Is it even realistic to consider someone to have ‘expertise’ with a specific list? (a far narrower category than ‘caster’ since a lot of players have one specific list they play with a caster and find other lists with that caster very hard to conceive of as ‘good’)
I’d say the results in tournaments suggest that yes, it’s possible to consider someone to be an expert with a specific list.
If a player can come to tournaments regularly and do very well with their list against a random range of opponents on a random range of scenarios, then I’d say that suggests they have a very strong ability to adapt that caster/list to any given scenario/opponent. Which is what I’d propose as the ‘expertise’ definition in this case.
Further to that though, it appears that there is a level of game knowledge/ability that obviates (to some extent) the need for expertise with a specific list/caster.
The best players are (as the army swaps have indicated and the various faction shifts of the best players), quite simply, good at the game in general. Put them in command of any given list and their knowledge will enable them to find ways to win.
So, as a relative beginner in the game, with no hope of every playing 3000 games, let alone with one list…..what should I14 really be aiming to do to maximise my gain per game (gpg, it’s a new acronym, get on board)? Should I:
1. play every caster and every list combination in an effort to get a general grounding in all casters?
2. Try to play every faction?
3. Try to play only one specific faction, get very good with that one faction?
4. Be even more specific and play one or two specific lists, aim for expertise with those specific lists?
To some extent I feel like there is value in all of the above. There are specific instances of experience that are helpful in future games (like playing against a particularly common/powerful list/gimmick) and then there is generalized experiences you garner from every game in one way or another:
-knowing how to play your list ‘inside and out’
-learning a general order of activation such that you dont forget to activate something in the heat of the moment
-knowing general threat ranges and getting better at spotting them
-recognising more patterns in play
-knowing the scenarios and common ways to win and lose them24
Obviously though the soft answer of “all of them are good” isnt enough. As a true gamer, I want to maximise my gain for minimum input and I figure that, as a gamer, there must be someone out there that’s already crunched the numbers and worked out exactly what level of opponent I need to farm against for how long in order to level up. Hell, there’s probably a map showing the best farming routes. 28
Conclusions, and a quiz
So, here’s some homework for you, the community.7
Answer the following questions (I’ll start a forum post in the forlorn hope of getting actual feedback/answers):
1. How many casters do you think you individually have actually played enough times to justify ‘solid, tournament-based’ knowledge of?
(By this I dont mean necessarily that you’ve taken them specifically to a tournament (though I’d be interested in that also) but more that you feel you’ve played enough ‘real’ games with against opponents that were playing at least semi-competitive lists and were competent)
2. How many games do you feel you need (if any) to feel confident in your opinion of a caster and/or their playstyle/capabilities?
3. How many games do you feel someone should have with a caster/list/faction before they can ‘legitimately’ comment or express a firm opinion on that caster/list/faction?
4. Does ‘experience’ or knowledge of a caster decay over time? As the game moved from mark one to mark two there were large scale changes obviously, but even more than that, as colossals emerge and general new releases occur, does that invalidate previous experience to any meaningful extent?
5. Does ‘actual’ experience matter (in the sense of does it matter specifically what that actual experience was or does it just matter that you had a competitive game where you had to think through a solution)
6. Does the game, in your experience, reward having played a specific matchup before? What if the opponent plays very differently to your previous opponent?
7. How do you aim to get better at the game? Do you focus on one faction or set of lists, or try to get experience of all factions/casters?
For me this process was actually slightly disheartening, I’d had it in my head that if I just managed to get some game time with every caster, played all their matchups, played all the scenarios, I’d get to some magical point where I’d ‘seen it all before’ and could go into games feeling like I genuinely knew how it was going to play out. Now I’m of the opinion that all I can actually do is continue to play by the seat of my pants and hope that each game gives me slightly thicker pants.
However there was one thought that occurred to me and made me feel a lot better and I thought I’d pass it on:
When you next sit down at a tournament opposite someone playing a caster you’ve never played against with your list, on a scenario you’ve only played a couple of times with this list…..rest assured that statistically your opponent, whether they realise it or not and whether they’ve been playing their list for years or not…. has probably never played this matchup before under similar conditions either.23
So in my quest to work out exactly how many games I have played with each caster and what their relative strengths are against different matchups, I’ve come to an understanding that I suppose a lot of people came to a long time before me. It doesn’t actually matter that much and I’m over-thinking it.
But over-thinking is what I do best.22
1. This would possibly have been a more viable response had not the person asking the question been in the finals at warmachine weekend.
2. and tries to not come accross as a complete jerk….most of the time
3. to me….since the response on the forums to the early attempts boiled down to a collective “You’re overthinking it”4
4. So…I decided to think about it more and write a multi-page article…..hmmm.12
5. No, there isnt.15
6. There actually is. Sometimes I make even myself cringe.
7. Or at least the relatively small subset of the community that made it this far through what is, frankly a largely self-indulgent post.
8. ‘tournaments’ is up for debate on multiple levels here.
9. I’ve been told a lot of things that would probably have been useful and/or helpful and ignored them, I dont see why I should break the habit of a lifetime now.
10. ‘Articles’ is also up for debate, possibly “long meaningless and winding sprays of boredom induced over-thinking” is more accurate, but lets face it, that’s only going to make this whole damn thing longer and nobody wants that.
11. Roughly 39.5 hours per week, after completing my useful work. Not counting overtime of course.
12. Refer earlier statement on definition of article. Also, “boiled down to you’re overthinking it” could also be read as meaning a bunch of people said I was stupid, a bunch queried my data and a bunch said I was stupid, queried my data and declared that they didnt care anyway.21
13. They are, it has to be said, VERY well hidden. Some might suggest they are so well hidden as to not actually exist, though those people need to meet a conspiracy theorist. The less evidence there is, the more evident it is that it happened. I mean obviously, unless I was hiding the humour, I couldnt possibly write this much without accidentally being funny. 18
14. And by extension, you…unless you’re already one of the people on the list of “experts”. In which case please add your thoughts and thereby increase the legitimacy17 of this article
15. Although, a sudden increase in the use of 11″ by 17″ paper in professional environments might result in a spike in the requirements for larger, more varied paper-weights.
16.This is an easter-egg Seppo. Congratulations for finding it. It was cunningly hidden amongst all the other seppos. I figure my haphazard method of assiging numbers to different footnotes left me with a sterling oppurtunity to conceal nuggest of comedy gold. Let me know if you find any. I certainly didn’t.
17. And by extension my e-peen 20
18. While trying to work out whether 13 was ironic (which I think varies depending on whether you find any of the preceding and following material funny) I’m pretty sure I got caught in a linguistic-logical loop.
19.I find this reaction ironic in retrospect given the conclusions of this article…which you quite possibly havent read yet since this seppo occurs far before the actual conclusions. But I have and, I can tell you right now, they’re fantastic. Incidentally they are also opposed to the idea of … wait, if I tell you that now you wont have to read through the remaining fourteen pages and you wont be able to find the hidden 13 nuggets of golden comedy/wisdom.
20. Extension and e-peen in the same sentence. There’s the comedy gold.
21. Disappointingly noone compared me to Hitler or linked me to Kevin Bacon.
22. “Best” does not necessarily imply “well”
23. Of course they are probably still better than you and are about to kick your ass, but at least you’ll know it’s not because they’ve played that matchup before, it’s just because they are, in addition to being better at the game, also better at adapting, thinking on the fly and in general a better contributing member of society than you.
24. eg: Killbox.25
25. Apparently practice does pay off, I appear to only be getting better and better at killboxing myself the more games I play.
26. The table shown includes some games played after that point, since I’m still updating it as I go
27. Little known fact, after sour years playing minions, Hannibal switched to Skorne. His meta-changing understanding of the use of elephants garnered him an unbeaten record against all comers for several years. Eventually the best generals beat him using Legion
28. I’m pretty sure the following map will offend a large portion of the audience.24 For what it’s worth I have no idea where almost anyone lives in this country.
29. I’m also pretty sure that starting your farming route at number 8 was not a good call for self-confidence.