Following the previous article, let’s assume you’ve picked your favourite sweeper caster and has built a list around that strength, you may feel like the task is half complete in building a list pair, and you would be wrong; you’re at most 30% there. This is like comparing finishing the storyline in Skyrim to unlocking all the achievements; the first is a clearly defined path and the second is a long checklist of grandiose and nebulous proportions. As elucidated to in the previous article, this is where you have to consider the demons of your meta, of every faction, and hedge your bet on dodging certain list or list/scenario combo.
Frequently, players build two sweeper lists, and they both appear strong, and you hear them boast of how one list trumps 50% of the meta and the other one trumps 45%, followed sheepishly by a, “Oh, that other thing is a hard dodge”. Well, that other thing is usually another sweeper that your 2 sweepers just can’t counter without losing even more coverage, and chances are it is one of the boogieman. For a while during 2017 that was Ghost fleet, overlapped with Nemo3 and other faction’s strongmen. Building a silver bullet for one of these is difficult enough on its own, and perhaps nigh impossible for your faction, not to mention what their paired list can do to you. 2017 WMW winner Brandon Andrew referred to this concept that Ghost fleet is the elephant in the room that twists you into a pretzel to deal with, and you are so focused on the poison apple they offered (and you have to, because most lists get absolutely stomped by fleet) that your silver bullet list then gets pummeled by his off list that you have no answer for.
Frankly, this topic on itself is vast enough to cover a book, and the goal post in the meta is constantly shifting, and even within a faction, there’s multiple pivot casters that each can be built in multiple (if not infinite) ways. What I’m trying to say is, I don’t want to write a book so let’s narrow it down to 3 pivot casters that I feel are the strongest in the faction; Ossrum, Damiano and Ashlynn, while we discuss the criteria of building your pivot list. Actually probably just two and a bit because I rarely build Damiano as a pivot caster, I’ll just go into a bit on his potential, with a fair bit of hand waving to cover for lack of actual experience, use your imagination and you’ll follow along just fine. The end goal of having a sweeper/pivot pair is so that your matchup chart looks like this (in an overly simplistic sense). Your sweeper list is one that crushes its favourable matchup and is in turn crushed by its counters, and your pivot is one that doesn’t necessarily crush hard but is resilient to other hard knockers. Vertical axis is your perceived chance into that type of matchups.
First, about pivot casters; they emphasize flexibility, and the foundation of that is mobility. Virtually all flex casters have one if not more speed buff, placement or out of activation movement effects, to allow your army to shift quickly and adapt to table positions. Having access to or granting a large amount of pathfinder, ghostly, acrobatics, flight, reposition all contribute to this. Many brick style lists have trouble contesting far zones and gets jammed out of scenario, particularly standoff and spread the net, as well as the upcoming mirage. Your pivot list almost ‘must’ have some reliable ways to contest a far zone for at least 2 rounds. Do a little mental test and imagine going 2nd against Maelok, or Gaspy3 with 9 slayers, or several other lists which dictates the engagement line is roughly at the edge of your center zone (18” from your table edge) or even closer to your table edge, do you have pieces that can ensure you don’t automatically lose on top of 4 because you can’t contest the far elements ? If you have access to ambushing solos, they may be the easiest answer (half of the reason I highly value Anastasia in Mercs, and I’m constantly surprised at Hordes player’s lack of gatorman husk, because I think it is such an amazing piece of far-contest models that will also likely net you some enemy models). Mobility is important both offensively and defensively; it lets you tackle slower brick-sweepers and capitalize on a weak flank, which wins you scenario, or pulls their formation apart, and against strong scenario casters let you defend or weather against their feat which is usually the main scoring thrust. Of the three casters I listed above, Ashlynn has Anastasia, army-wide pathfinder, quicken, and mass repo3 from Gibbs. Damiano has deathmarch, repo5 on halbs, warpath for his jacks, and a feat that prevents models from being moved out of zones. Ossrum has a speed feat, energizer, a durable battlegroup that is immune to push, and also Anastasia.
From there, consider your damage profile; does your army primarily deal melee damage, range damage or even magic damage ? At what range, volume, accuracy and damage output do they deliver these attacks and what is the breaking point where you can’t deal with anymore ? Do they overlap in some quality such as blast damage, elemental damage type, or can not boost attack or damage ? Because your pivot list needs to be able to drop into a variety of sweeper lists that skews in many which stats, you need to have a well rounded stable, or at a minimum, access to a few pieces, of each types. For the following sweepers, imagine if your sweeper can’t deal with them and have to drop your pivot list into it, could you handle the skew they represent; Madrak1 with high defense steady champions, Gaspy3 with 9 slayers with unyielding and carapace, dark host with double incorporeal battle engines, Irusk2 infantry swarm with access to cover and solid ground, Gunbjorn who can completely ignore a round of shooting, primal terror and Maelok with over 2 dozen tough and durable medium bases (different from Madrak in volume and ARM), and other meta-defining lists in your area. This is where some hard decision and sacrifices must be made because it is literally impossible for any particular caster or list to cover or support every damage profile available in the game. Many skews on ARM or boxes require you to have high power attacks or at least boostable guns, Maelok’s ARM22 feated gators is a classic example that can absorb many heavy warnouns for a turn and continue to jam. Magic weapon and RFP is frequently a key component against various cryx builds, but so is grievous wounds to prevent healing, and the magic weapon required to tackle a wraith engine is quite different from one to tackle a unit of incorporeal pirates. Can you RFP a large volume of high ARM infantry such as examplar or ARM22 immortals ? What about a heavy warbeast under Thag1 ? Just saying you have a particular tool doesn’t begin to describe the kind of problem it solves, and the list is long and nuanced. Merc as a faction is particularly blessed with flexible theme forces that is the envy of other factions and Llaelese and Irregular both gives tremendous flexibility in their own way.
For Ashlynn, the theme force allows a choice of two units from a faction and a decent selection of solos to let you shape the profile of your infantry, and it is frequently two units that their native faction can not take together in the same theme force, giving you a unique force composition not available anywhere else. Trenchers and stormblades for example, offer the protection and delivery of a skirmishing cloudwall to allow high power density stormblades reach their hard targets alive, all the while providing an accurate array of guns that can simultaneously deal with opposing skirmish lines and also reach deep into backline support pieces. Damiano, free from the incentive to take dwarves like Ossrum, can take literally anything in the mercenary roster for the task at hand; Aiyana and holt for magic weapon, forge guards for heavy hitters, idrian and croes for AD skirmishers, halberdiers for cheap line infantry, Lynus and Edrea for cloud wall tech, and all of that. The sheer number of possibilities is actually so daunting that I have not delved deep into this pool except as a one time ghost fleet counter. Ossrum wants to take all the dwarves, but is also at the same time quite capable of supporting a wide selection of models. Eliminators and Aiyana can easily be slotted in depending on the perceived needs.
Finding the right balance of tetris pieces is hard enough already, but your flex list must also have some way out of a problem you can’t face head on. There are primarily two modes pivot casters does this, and many of them does both, that is a non-linear assassination or scenario win. This lets you bypass an army that can be very difficult to kill, or bounce back after weathering a rough round of attrition. Attrition is generally what sweeper lists excel at and not what pivot lists should prioritize.* (But do I follow my own advice ? most certainly not. The difference here is that I am an attrition style player at heart, and I almost never take assassination outs even when it is favourable. Given a situation where I have a 70% assassination but overextends my army, even if my caster is secure I would not take it, as I generally aim to have even better odds at winning the attrition or scenario, and on this point I might aim to include models that are better at killing models than say, secure zones). On assassination side, Ashlynn has a fairly decent personal output and generally is required to be parking her shapely ass far up the table to capitalize on the feat. With parry and quicken and puppet string she can personally threat a good number of casters, and a desperate move could include full camp and running to engage the enemy caster; not recommended but could present the opponent with a dilemma that makes them fumble a bit. Damiano can support Eyriss or the skirmishing infantry with deadeye to reach deep into a high defense caster, a warpath nomad has a 9” threat to throw something to enable a caster knockdown (as well as possible slam angles). Ossrum has boostable gun bunnies, FFE mortar, slam bot basher and similar long range threats that bypass certain amount of the enemy army that forces many caster to play further back than they would like. On scenario, Ashlynn can take thorn gun mages which gives you a plethora of thunderbolt (see above on why I don’t follow my own advice) and Jeff Everitt has put that to good effect. The feat is also a time-walk that let you secure a zone and discourages enemy to even make attacks against you. Damiano, with death march, warpath and feat, gives you ways to contest and clear zones with infantry better than most infantry caster in game. Ossrum has a bulldozing battlegroup, slam bot, and the most simple of all, a durable jack wall that can literally prevent opponent models from coming into a zone (don’t actually do that, let them put 1 or 2 infantry in and not feel urged to take a 10% assassination against you… … hmm, this is a topic of its own right, maybe another time, I don’t want to open this can of worm at the moment)
Feel like that’s enough pieces to juggle around for now? I sure do, and that’s just scratching the surface of this massive mountain of a molehill. The bottom line here is that building a pivot list involves a lot more hard work and hard choices, and your pivot list will often go through more iterations than your sweeper list as you put them on the table. You may have noticed I did not mention many other casters under the pivot column, and that’s because 1) I don’t want to write a book, and 2) Most of them don’t have sufficient tools for all the weight you need to put on a pivot. Thexus is certainly a strong contender, but he personally hurts my brain when I put him on the table and I don’t find that playstyle as enjoyable outside of playing 3 units of overlords. MacBain and below bring tools that have more counters in the meta and don’t bring enough tools of their own to avoid many bad matchups of their own. While certainly playable competitively, leaves bigger gap in the overall pairing.
Final word to all the snowflakes, don’t let me stop you or even discourage you from taking the likes of Blaize or Magnus1 to an event; play what you think is fun, and a challenge can certainly be fun. (veiled jab at Brandon : go spread the word of Morrow!) Peace Oooot and don’t think I don’t give F’s!