By Chris Olsson (PG_deranith)
So you’ve gotten to the point you want to start building lists on your own, but not quite sure how to go about it. There’s tons of advice given by hundreds of experienced players all over the place in the form of podcasts, forums, and facebook groups, but while they tell you what to bring it’s hard to understand why to bring it. This model is good, or that model is bad. This caster wants that unit, but bringing the other one there doesn’t do much. It’s pretty confusing and there are as many philosophies about list building as there are players, the trick is finding one that works for you and making it your own. Here are some approaches that might help you understand how they got their lists and how you can build your own.
One of the easiest approaches to list building is to start at the top: the Warcaster/Warlock. In this method, you pick a caster you want to bring first, then add models that seem to compliment them. Let’s use Captain Kara Sloan for an example of this process. To determine what compliments a caster you need to examine their spell list, feat, and abilities. Kara Sloan has Field Marshal: True Sight which helps ranged models in her battlegroup, as well as Fire Group and Guided Fire in her spell list, to be topped off with an extra shot for battlegroup models in the form of her feat. With so many things stacked to give bonuses to ranged attacks and battlegroup models, it looks like a good bet would be to bring a number of warjacks with ranged attacks like Hunters, Defenders, or even Stormclads.
Not all casters are quite so easy to pin down, but the ones that are can be good starting places to learn list building since they have a focus that is reasonably easy to see which points you to certain other models that have clear synergies. The more difficult ones typically rely on specific synergies or combinations that may not be immediately obvious. For example, Mohsar has a spell called Curse of Shadows that lowers armor and allows friendly models to walk through the target without taking free strikes, that synergizes with the Razorwing Griffon as it eliminates the worry from the trample generating free strikes and enhances the effectiveness of the trample damage with armor reduction. Asking experienced players about these kinds of combinations can give you a lot of insight into things that might be worth bringing in a list for a given caster.
This list building style has the advantage of having a lot of synergy and tends to generate lists that have very active caster involvement which can make playing it much more interesting. The downside is sometimes having to choose between a lot of good options, and often focusing on those interactions between the caster and models in the list can lead to more skewed lists.
Some people like to look at inter-model synergies and design a list before deciding which caster would best be able to lead the force. To use Retribution as an example, one might decide that the Dawnguard Scyir’s ability to grant Tactician[Dawnguard] combines well with Invictors, Destors, and Sentinels, so with a unit of each supported by a couple jacks and Arcanists it becomes time to select a caster. Several casters in the faction have synergistic options for these models, Kaelyssa can deliver them, Issyria can make them hit harder and extend their threat range, and Vyros2 can give them extra accuracy and protection as they advance. Choosing the right caster is often a matter of taste, or it may be a function of the local scene. If you find yourself fighting certain types of lists you can bring a caster that has an advantage against them.
Inter-model synergies are another thing that are good to ask experienced players about as they will be more likely to know the options. Building a list without a caster can be very interesting as well since many of the caster-specific tricks may not be clear at first. One of the biggest advantages of this kind of process is that the lists themselves tend to be very synergistic and don’t tend to rely on the caster to get work done, they also tend to be much more balanced than top-down designed lists. This is balanced by the disadvantage, however, of not maximizing the potential of one of the most powerful pieces on the board: the caster.
Many players want to build lists that are thematic in some way. In the past (and soon there will be again), there were theme forces that could serve as a guide to list building and gave bonuses if you restricted your list building to certain models and meeting certain requirements. Many of these were not very optimized lists, but frequently the bonuses they gave were more than worthwhile. Even right now without the bonuses it can be fun to build a list based on a theme. Let’s take Grand Exemplar Kreoss as an example for this style. Kreoss is the leader of the Exemplars of the Protectorate of Menoth so it makes sense to bring a lot of them. Looking at models tagged as Exemplars you have Errants, Bastions, Cinerators, and Knights Exemplar for units as well as several Seneschal solos. Creating a force from those gives you more limited options, but at the same time a fully painted exemplar theme looks very cohesive on the table and there are often synergies built into the theme (Kreoss’ Tactician [Exemplar], Knight Errant Seneschal granting Unyielding, etc).
Themed lists tend to be very good for players who like story-driven games, who are looking for basic synergies, and for those who enjoy certain aesthetics or motifs from their faction. The downside to the lists is they tend to be less balanced and more skewed, and currently there are very few bonuses for restricting model selection though once theme forces are released that may change.
Players are often criticized for using lists that others post online as being uncreative or copycats trying to ride the coattails of successful players. While they may lack originality, they can still serve newer players as a guide. Looking up different lists can give you some ideas about what models go well together. For example, if you see a unit of Paingiver Beast Handlers in every Skorne list that has 3 or more beasts, it might be a good idea to include a unit in your own lists that are similar. Another use of netlists is wholesale usage, and tweaking. Let’s say someone wins a big Masters tournament with a Lylyth2 ranged-heavy list, but their area has a lot of fast cavalry models. That player might decide they like the list, but swap a ranged unit for a unit of Legionnaires to screen the ranged guys.
There may be a negative connotation for using them, but they’re a list building tool to be sure. Just be aware that even with a netlist of a champion player, the win isn’t guaranteed. Every player has a slightly different way they use things and netlists will work with widely varied levels of effectiveness.
This is a way to ensure a balanced list and the process is very simple. Just make a list of the kinds of things the list needs to be able to deal with and try to fit models into the list that can cover each of the listed items. An example checklist might include things like “high armor”, “high defense”, “stealthed infantry”, “critical solo removal”, among many other things. What you put on your checklist is up to you though it will likely be tailored to things armies you see most often. Once you have a checklist, find models that can tackle each thing. Let’s use that 4-piece checklist mentioned above for Durgen. A unit of Horgenhold Forgeguard can tackle armor, and perhaps 2-3 Ghordson Blasters would be good for high defense with their Powerful Shot sprays. Those also cover stealthed infantry, so we don’t need to add anything else specifically for that, but maybe we want Alten Ashley and Kell Bailoch’s high ranged accuracy for shooting solos off the table before they can become a threat.
This technique for list building has the advantage of being tailored to your area. You’ll come ready with answers to the things you’re most likely to face which improves your chances of winning. The downside is that nothing covers everything, and often times hard decisions will need to be made. The checklist is something that can also be applied to the other types of list building as well to make sure you have the tools you need.
In closing, all of these are good starting points for list building but it’s up to each player to figure out which methods work best for them. Combining techniques and altering processes will happen as you learn more about your faction and the rest of the game, so keep experimenting until you find what works best for you! Then keep experimenting because you may just come up with the next championship list.