Warmachine University Tactica: Mercenary List Pairings with Charles Soong!

Of the extended list of factors that I love about warmachine, and the list is indeed long, I would like to focus on one that has brought me as much consternation and joy outside of the table as playing the game itself. Today I would like to talk about list pairing, and how construction of one impacts selection in and of the other. It is a topic of endless argument and discussion over dinner, beer, chest pounding and gay chicken (every warmachine hobbiest’s favourite side hobby).


A recent episode of Fully Boosted podcast (ep.82) brought to me terminologies from another dimension; in which my good friend, the always savagely polite, Tim Banky splurged on the specific use of the word sweeper and pivot, which he was exposed of from other degenerate human beings. It is a good podcast that I usually enjoy on my commute and I would 99%-heartedly recommend you give it a listen. (The remaining percentage I reserve out of jealousy and spite, for I am a petty man.)

Transposed onto warmachine terms, a sweeper list is one that asks a hard question, be it ARM skew, box spam, infantry horde or mass stealth, it focuses mainly on one strength or strategy and leverages it to the max, and is a type of list that often have polarizing matchups. Majority of the brick-style lists fall into this category.  A sweeper list poses the puzzle, and when matched into another list that is ill-equipped to solve it, will plow forward with gumption and gusto and achieve its goal. A few example of this type are Karchev with mass heavy jacks, armour korp, a swarm weapon masters, and lighting generators across the board. You’ll notice Khador showed up twice on that short list, because one of their faction’s strength is to exemplify one aspect of the game and crank it to the max, and you can see that in their theme force design. (I could’ve easily used Maelok as an example, but Khador makes easy picking for making this point) Where the sweeper excels is also its weakness, should the opponent have the rock for your scissor, so to speak. A Karchev jack spam matched against a sea of bane warriors typically does not end well for Khador, and Nemo3 certainly don’t want to see Krueger2 across the board.

On the other hand, a pivot list is one that tries to be flexible to be able to deal with a variety of situations and enemy lists but may not be particularly good at posing a hard question; its strength lies in being able to solve many puzzles posed by the enemy, and being able to shift playstyle to adapt to the match.  These lists typically have a strong, non-linear assassination vector, ways to move opponent’s models instead of killing them, high mobility, and control feats and effects. Examples of this category are Haley2, Krueger2, Rahn (see a pattern there ?), Arkadius, Kolgrima, Strakhov1, and so on. Really, just go listen to the podcast if you want more elaboration on this concept.

I’ll summarize it in two phrases here. First, if you have 2 sweeper lists or 2 pivot lists, there will often time be matchups where you are not sure which list to drop, and perhaps in a situation where both lists are poor choices. Second, having a sweeper/pivot pair gives you a mental check where if they have answer to your sweeper, you drop the pivot and adapt to the list/table/scenario and you will almost always have some game or way out, even if it’s a long shot assassination.

A majority of competitive warmachine players already understand this concept, even if not used in these same terms. We call them gear check, hard counter, silver bullet, and a plethora of other names, but I find this categorization specifically convenient, so I will try to classify a few merc lists and pairings from this perspective, because explained in these terms it also makes list choice much easier at the tableside.

Let’s start with a small table to go with the.. other small table


Damiano Kingmaker
Magnus2 halb spam
Magnus2 jack spam
Gorten halb spam
Ossrum Hammerstrike
Bart jack spam


Ossrum Irregular
Damiano Irregular
Ashlyn Llaelese


That’s where I think the casters lie in roughly descending order of power level, notwithstanding the fact that there are a million ways to build each list. YMMV. The step between each entry is not consistent either.

Looking at the left side, these tend to be caster/lists that ‘build themselves’, as we call it. You are building to a specific strength and will generally cram in as much of that list defining feature as you could fit. The right side are ones that tend to have no specific goals and can be built in many directions with a multitude of choices you have to make. The ambiguity in list building for these is such that players frequently try to build them like sweeper lists, while pairing it with another sweeper list, resulting in a pair of strong casters that sometimes share common weaknesses. [pic]

To be a sweeper, a caster need to have an aspect or two that you can buff stack to the level that creates a major problem for other player. Here I’ll briefly explain the strength of each sweeper caster, even if they should seem obvious.

Damiano in Kingmaker has the best skirmishing infantry line in surefooted trenchers, complimented by a unit of long gunners, you can lay down volume of accurate fire that can blast through even dedicated infantry spam, with accuracy that can reach backfield support models to pick enemy list apart. Long gunner’s reroll damage and volume of shots let you even deal with multiwound infantry, albeit at a reduced efficiency. It wants to avoid autohitting effects that can wipe infantry from the board such as Nemo3.

Magnus2 jack or halb spam both present a fast moving swarm of models that can lock down the opponent’s front line, either through melee-durable heavies or the strength of number in halberdiers and recurred risens. Couple that with the feat to prevent opponent from contesting your side of the zones, it aims to dominate scenario. Both are vulnerable to gunlines, although specific to different types of gunlines.

Gorten halb spam is similar, and trades the fast moving portion with increased resilience on the approach and a feat that similarly vacates opponent from zones and keep them out while keeping the opponent caster in fear of a random assassination. Being a more reactive version that crutch on steady/tough/recursion, things that disrupt that chain will collapse this list.

Ossrum hammerstrike leverages the power of the crawler and recurring forge guards, and in theory can be very similar to Ossrum in irregulars, but the restriction of supporting solos and the incentive to lean heavily into the crawler/forge guard combo means this list tend to be built with less variety and has less flexibility to deal with different opponents. Damage output profile is simplistic, lacks magic or tricks.

Bart jack spam is a time honoured tradition leveraging batten down the hatch, and irregular enables that beautifully; but he doesn’t reach out to the other side besides the hot shotted Galleon, and really just want to grind the opponent down in the face of perpetual ARM22 heavies or 21 talons. Vulnerable to blessed and control effects.

Cyphon is a jack caster with monstrosities that operates in a theme that want you to take infantry, but his primary win condition is still to deliver a group of SPD8 feat-buffed heavies and win scenario or attrition from there. The conflict between battlegroup and infantry means it’s hard to optimize his strength, which is on the back of slow heavy monstrosities with terrible base stats.

Caine3 does not have the support to play scenario, and really wants to use his feat to enable an assassination, or as a backup plan, attrition. There are many casters in the game that does this better, especially considering Caine’s merc jack choices. There are many casters who project a better ranged threat, so people’s protection against those makes Caine3 in mercs a sad alcoholic.

Blaize.. poor girl, has some modicum of support for her infantry and theoretically can deliver a swarm of low-ARM infantry at the cost of a feat and a unit. Unfortunately a large number of things can steal souls from her or RFP her infantry, and either way deny her feat and eat her army. She needs a training montage in a mountain monastery.

Building a sweeper list is the easy part because you have a clear goal; to maximize the strength of this particular caster, and to win through usually 2 out of 3 win conditions of scenario, attrition or assassination. (don’t ever rely on your opponent clocking) After you’re finished with your sweeper, now comes the harder part; pairing it. First, you start with an analysis of the meta boogieman, or whatever you’re expecting to see in your next event, weighted by the skill of each player piloting that, and which one can trivially answer your hard question. Then you choose a pivot list and attempt to cover as much of those counters as you expect; this is hard because there will usually be holes you can not cover because your faction is traditionally weak against certain demons, or that covering those opens up more kinks in the armour. This is the part that has numerous qualities that is hard to pin down and I will maybe try to expand on that on another article.

Using the example of a recent Gorten/Ossrum pairing I took to the Australian OTC, Gorten spam is my sweeper and Ossrum irregular is my pivot. Hard counter to Gorten includes anything that can dish out large volume of attacks, ignoring tough and RFPing to deny/steal corpse for my Alexia, and things that can be immune to Gorten’s feat (ironically, other Ossrums). So that gives us half of Skorne (MoW), most of troll (Band of Heroes), most Grymkin (S&M, rattler), half of CoC (double TEP), Maelok, Ossrum, and probably Nemo3 and Haley3.

My opponents had the following, can you tell which rounds I dropped which casters ?

Round1: (Gatt Hasting) CoC, Axis double TEP / Orion

Round2: (Ben Swallow) Grymkin, Child 2 rattler 3 S&M / Wanderer 4 S&M

Round3: (Nathan Frawley) Troll, Gunbjorn PoD / Madrak2 BoH

Round4: (Colin Hill) Minion, Rask / Arkadius

Round5: (Lance Holt) Skorne, Jalaam  / Hexeris1 MoW

Round6: (Matt Edwards) Cygnar, Siege2 grave diggers / Siege1 sons of tempest

Round7: (David Potts) Minion, Rask / Maelok