Heya all and welcome back to the webway!
Today I want to talk about a little thing that can be the most enjoyable, yet the most frustrating and also tiring aspect of the hobby; listbuilding. Now some of you would say otherwise, and I would agree as well but then the majority of players buy the models to try and see how they could use their favourite models on the table to the point of being pig-headed. I am indeed guilty of this, for if I am fond of a certain model, I am hellbent on using it whenever possible. Everyone must have dreamed a thousand dreams to make a list that is both admired for its raw power and also its flexibility. Better yet, if you could make the list that becomes the next meta list you would be giddy from within. But in order to do so, you would have to understand the core of the game and also almost every current codex in existence to get that idea if not the most commonly faced codices in the game. This extends to one's own codex and understanding the interactions from the inside out.
Why did I put in in such a manner? The reason is elementary; to make a good list, you must understand yourself and also others. You can always get some guidance from the internet for sure, and indeed there are quite a number of splendid tacticas out there for the initiatied or those willing to learn their matchups. Or you can read your book in every conceivable way to understand your army inside out on your own. Nonetheless in the end, you yourself that needs to pull all the things you have learned to make a list that you believe would work.
OF course I will be honest and say that with every list, you will have to put it through the crucibles of battle to see its viability. There are many ways to do this.
The first one is the trial and error method;. To see if it will survive, you will put it though many conditions against different opponents, and after around 10 or so games you might be able to understand its strengths and weaknesses and truly see if it is viable. Only then will you make alterations to the list to streamlined it. This is often the most common method that people tend to go about listbuilding.
There is also another method to testing out a list, and this one is a path least taken and perhaps my most favourite way of listbuilding; I try to list out all possible interactions that I could get from one unit including the ones that it was not designed for. Tedious? Perhaps, perhaps. But it also allows you to think outside the box, and use the unit in unorthodox ways. For example, quite a number of new players do not think of transports as another means of providing a leapfrogging terrain that is under your control, and only think of it as a way to get from point A to point B. Of course, this was not the intended design, but it is definitely a practical role that it could play on the table.
This serves three purposes;
1) It puts your in the right frame of thought to cause the most effects from an unit
2) It will surprise your opponents
3) It gives you options for that particular unit
These purposes would also be served by understand what your opponent can do, and what other uses that he could pull out from the unit. If you know the potential that could be pulled out from the units you would be able to anticipate what is coming your way and how you could counter that on many different levels. Indeed if you know the unit well enough, you can use that unit to your advantage as well despite it not being under your control.
For example, if I know that a Land Raider Crusader's role is to;
1) Carry some unit within
2) Provide anti-infantry firepower with a surprise multi-melta shot
3) Become a wall/fire magnet for other elements
, I would be thinking to myself what else would interact with the Land Raider to allow it to play its role. Here's are some things I think about when I see a Land Raider Crusader entry;
1) Carry units within: Would it be a bigger threat if have some nasty units inside? Would its role change if its passengers were different? Would it be the core of your strategy? Or would it be something to complement the other transports in your list? Is there a need to move forward at times? What happens if it is immobilized or destroyed?
2) Provide anti-infantry firepower with a surprise multi-melta shot - Can I use its weapons other than its intended use? How does its firepower help complemment the other elements of your lists, such as Land Speeders, Thunderfire Cannons, Predators, and Razorbacks? Is there a way that I could use the weapons more effectively?
3) Become a wall/fire magnet: Would it be better alone in the list? If it becomes a distraction, does it need to be that big of a target? Could you take something else to complement its fire magnet role? How many units do you want to protect with the Land Raider Crusader? What units do you want to protect? What happens if they do not pay attention to the unit?
There are of course a lot of questions you could ask yourself, but this provides an idea of how this thought of understanding the interaction that one unit could do in the context of the list. Some people would have similar lists as well, but play those lists very differently from one another despite having the same core principles of operating the list. Likewise, a list could play similarly despite looking very different from one another.
Take for example two friend of mine and myself and the army that we share; Dark Eldar. My first friend's, Nik's 1750 pts list consist of;
2 squads of 4 Trueborn with blasters in Venoms with second splinter cannon
1 squad of 3 Trueborn with blasters in Venoms with second splinter cannon
4 Raiders with 10 warriors in Raiders with Splinter racks
1 Raider with 9 warriors in Raiders with Splinter racks
My second friend, Shawn's Dark Eldar list consist of;
2 Archon with blaster
3 squads of 4 Trueborn with blasters in Venoms with second splinter cannon
6 squads of Kabalite Warriors with a blaster in Venoms with second splinter cannon
And now let's take my default Dark Eldar list;
1 Archon with venom blade, combat drugs, phantasm grenade launcher, shadowfield
1 Haemonculus with liquifier gun
5 incubi in a raider with nightshield
2 squads of 3 Blasterborns in a Venom with second splinter cannon
3 squads of 5 Warriors with a blaster in a Venom with second splinter cannon and nightshields
2 squads of 5 Warriors with a blaster in a Raider with nightshields
2 Ravagers with 3 Lances and nightshields
1 Voidraven with Flickerfield and 2 shatterfield missiles
Now as you could see on the first glance, our lists are quite different from each other.
Nik's list is very warrior heavy, and he also has a lot of raiders running around. All of his blasters are concentrated on his Trueborns while Shawn's list is almost a perfect clone of a Venomspam barring the Beastmaster elements and Baron. Nik's and Shawn's armies have a greater amount of ranged anti-infantry power than those of my own, in the short-ranged and long-ranged department respectfully. However, my list has a dedicated close combat element, and I also incorporate flyers along with template with my army.
However the core of our list are the same indeed; we want to decimate. We both have a lot of anti-infantry power to wipe most infantry out, and also we have a lot of lances to play around with. We all like to play within the enemy's area of operations, and take a spirit of calculated recklessness in our gameplay. We are all fulfilling the same core mechanic and interactions between the Dark Eldar units are similar, but they are done differently from one another.
This highlights an important point; listbuilding allow you to understand interactions between elements of your army better than before, even if you have decided not to play the list that you have build. By understanding the interactions and its conditions to happen, you can always look out for things that stood out in fulfilling the army's core philosophy even if you are just starting them out for the first time.
This also comes with experience (both from playing that army for an extended period of time, or playing multiple armies), but everyone has that gut feeling within them to understand how these interactions work. It also allow you to think outside the box and create lists that will work without adhering to the 'voices' of people proposing that only a single unit/list/spam is viable to the exclusion to every other unit.
P.S: I must put a disclaimer here, as sometimes some units are just bizarre to use and/or does not help the army in any way. Mandrakes and The Decapitator are prime examples of this in the Dark Eldar codex, as their synergy with everything else is rather odd.