I’ve been struggling with this article for a while now and I don’t think I can do it any better so here goes. The thing I like most about Warmachine is how incredibly complicated list construction really is. It’s easy to throw some random models on the table but the people I see doing that are usually wondering why they keep losing with lists full of supposedly awesome models.
This article will not be about the specifics of list construction (If you need specifics this is my favorite article on the subject and worth reading) but about how very small changes can cause ripple effects.
Whenever I’m constructing a list I prod and poke to see how changing a model or two affects everything as a whole (ripple effect). Changing even a single model could start a ripple of subtle changes that affect your entire list, and understanding how these ripples spread can be a real boon. The first step is to define and understand the levels of synergy.
The four levels of Internal Synergy
If you put together a list of models then each of them will have a worth based on their performance in a complete vacuum. This worth is very much debatable and forum wars have been fought over it.
Worth: The quality that renders something desirable, useful, or valuable.
Synergy is a word that describes how a models worth is changed by including or removing other elements in a list, and this article is about understanding how much of a difference that actually makes.
Synergy: The interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements.
The core of the issue is really simple. Synergy increases the worth of an army and allows a person to play a list that is worth more than his opponents. This is roughly comparable to bringing more actual points to the table and a streamlined/synergistic list will be capable of bringing down a tactically superior opponent.
1: I make a list with models in it.
I’ve borrowed these definitions from another article but I find them a bit lacking so I’ve decided to expand them a bit and create my own system. There are four levels of Internal Synergy and four levels of External Synergy so what defines the first level of IS?
This is where everyone begins. There may be zero additional synergy beyond buying a battle box and picking some stuff you thought looks cool. – Omnus.
This category also includes the (thankfully) few players that never learn. These players will throw whatever models they feel like in a list and roll some dice, but to be perfectly honest they’re rarely competent enough to merit any serious attention.
2: I understand Internal Synergy
Internal Synergy is usually obvious and we find it primarily in the choice of Warcaster/Warlock, Unit Attachments, and Solo Characters. In Cryx we have two very obvious examples of level two Internal Synergy.
- Bane Lord Tartarus, Bane Thralls, and Unit Attachment.
- General Gerlack Slaughterborn and Bloodgorgers.
These models obviously belong together. If you see Bane Thralls without Tartarus there’s trickery afoot or the player is a level one player that never actually considered the most basic of synergies.
This is the point where you start realizing that not all models are created equal. Certain models synergize better with particular casters/locks. And some models just suck no matter how cool they look.- Omnus.
This is also where you begin to consider which models/units do well with a caster, and while most people on level two are found at the bottom end of tournament rankings they occasionally manage to pull through. I’ve also met a single brilliant tactician with no clue about synergy that did well simply by being that much better than the rest of us.
3: I understand Advanced Internal Synergy
Advanced Internal Synergy is how a model in your list interacts with other models they were not clearly intended to support. We have a few excellent examples in Cryx as well.
- Malice & The Withershadow Combine.
- Dougal MacNaile & Gorman di Wulfe.
Malice and The Withershadow Combine are horrifying to face for most Warmachine opponents as it makes it almost impossible to use Warjacks to their full potential. The interaction between Possession and Dark Industries is a perfect example of Advanced Internal Synergy. The Dougal MacNaile and Gorman synergy is something that few people know about and it’s great test. If you can figure out why I’ve included that example here without searching for the answer you’re at least on level three.
At some point you really start maximizing your list. Every point is spent well and you have the right models with the right caster/lock. – Omnus
This is also the level where lists become truly dangerous. This is where most players reside and there are plenty of level three players at the top end of tournament rankings.
4: I understand Extreme Internal Synergy
Now this is really hard to explain so I’d like to ask you a question instead. The reason I’m doing this is because there’s no fixed answer to anything beyond this point and asking yourself these questions is the only way to achieve level four.
Would you rather have Saxon Orrik or a Skarlock Thrall in a mostly stealth Warwitch Deneghra list that includes a full unit of Bane Thralls with Unit Attachment and Tartarus?
A level two or three Synergy is including something to fix the Bane Thralls terrain issues in the first place, but I think this questions illustrates exactly why I call it Extreme Internal Synergy. In order to answer the question there’s a couple of things you should consider. This list is by no means complete but it’s a good start.
- How much better than Pathfinder is Ghostly really for an offensive list?
- How likely is a Skarlock to survive in a list of mostly stealth models?
- How useful is Saxon Orriks ranged and melee capacity?
- How useful is the Skarlocks ability to cycle upkeep spells?
- How will the Skarlock manage if he himself is stuck in terrain?
- How useful is the Skarlocks ability to spray with Venom?
- How useful is Saxons Advanced Deploy ability?
- How useful is Saxon if there’s no need for his Pathfinder ability?
- How much is Saxons armor worth against blast damage?
Think about it because it’s not an easy decision. Then when you’ve made your choice go read this discussion about just that dilemma. It’s an old discussion but it really illustrates the impact such a choice can have on a list and it goes on for a while.
The really interesting thing is when people begin bringing up Warwitch Sirens and Gorman di Wulfe because the knee-jerk reaction is: Irrelevant. Gorman does not grant pathfinder or Ghost Walk to a unit. This thing that truly defines Extreme Internal Synergy is the idea that perhaps something besides granting Pathfinder/Ghost Walk would add more worth to a list.
If we had an Skarre list we might be considering a Satyxis Raider Captain instead (Knockdown immunity could be worth more to a list than solving terrain issues), or perhaps a Coven list has enough Focus left over to simply supply Ghost Walk themselves which leads to another interesting question: how much is Focus worth in points cost? I began by talking about the ripple effect and this is where it takes place. Take a look at this imaginary Warwitch Deneghra list.
The Withershadow Combine
Gorman di Wulfe, Rogue Alchemist
This list has fourteen points to spend before hitting 35 points and I present you with the following options. These options are all considered very powerful choices so again there’s no right answer.
- Satyxis Raiders (maximum) + UA + Captain + Saxon/Skarlock
- Bane Thralls (minimum) + UA + Tartarus + Saxon/Skarlock
- Bane Knights (maximum) + Tartarus
The first option has models that can block LoS to the Skarlock and Pathfinder built. The second option does not block LoS to a Skarlock but anything that can ignore Saxons stealth will be blocked by Bane Thralls. The final option has built in Ghostly but has no stealth or incorporeal in a list where almost everything else does.
In the Satyxis Raiders setup I’d prefer the Skarlock.
Saxon Orrik is fairly useless as the main unit already has what he can offer and the remaining list has little use for him. The Skarlock on the other hand can provide free strike immunity or Ghost Walk an Arc Node instead, making him infinitely more useful.
In the Bane Thrall setup I’d prefer Saxon Orrik.
Deneghra can manage a Ghost Walk if I really need one. This means I lose out on the option of Ghost Walking an Arc Node in a pop’n’drop attempt but the Bane Thrall list is geared towards attrition anyway. It’s a close call but survivability in a mostly stealth list swings it to Saxon Orrik.
The third option is to bring built in Ghostly
I would pass on that one. First of all the Bane Knights would take heavy casualties since they’ll bear the brunt of your enemies shooting. The second thing is that you now have no Focus free option of circumventing terrain with models like The Withershadow Combine or Gorman if you really need it.
Now what happens if we look at the list and decide we’d like both Saxon Orrik and the Skarlock in the Bane Thrall setup? We need at least one Warwitch Siren because Warwitch Deneghras pop’n’drop requires a power booster to work (Scourge + Parasite) but here are the options.
- Remove a Warwitch Siren.
- Remove Gorman di Wulfe.
- Remove a Pistol Wraith.
In this case if I remove the Warwitch Siren BUT it actually costs me four points worth of list because I can’t allow the other Siren to die since I have no backup. That means I have to keep her back and safe instead of using all the excellent abilities.
If I remove Gorman di Wulfe I’ll reduce my anti-jack capacity, increase the vulnerability of my caster, and miss out on Blind Grenades that can turn an entire game around. If I remove the Pistol Wraith I open up a whole new set of problems. Pistol Wraiths don’t work well unless there’s two of them, so if I remove one I would do well to remove the other which leaves me with four points after buying the Skarlock and Saxon.
This then causes even further ripples because I could then also remove the Machine Wraith and five free points can change the entire setup of a list. I could increase the Bane Thralls to a full unit and buy a two point solo but which one should I choose, and the ripples continue like that every time anything is changed no matter how seemingly insignificant.
Dear god that was confusing!
Indeed and if you’re not confused you’re either a genius or didn’t understand any of it. It takes me about three months or so to finish streamlining a list and if there’s a new release, a rules update, or a simply something I didn’t notice before I can start over.
I’m currently doing it with Warwitch Deneghra because a discussion on the Privateer Press forums made me take another look at the Black Ogrun and now the list is full of ripples. It’s possible that there are more levels of Internal Synergy but in that case I’m not there yet.
Next time we move on to External Synergy instead. External Synergy isn’t about making a powerful list but about reducing the impact a bad match-up will have in a tournament setting, but it’s almost as important.