External Synergy isn’t about making a more powerful list but about reducing the impact a bad match-up will have in a tournament setting.
Level 1: Who cares?
The first level of External Synergy is well populated because a lot of players don’t think it’s relevant. Well it’s relevant it’s just very hard but if you don’t consider what your opponents can bring to the table there’s no way to avoid rock-paper-scissors during tournaments..
We all know that rock-paper-scissors lists show up at tournaments and if you end up having only scissors against a guy that brought big ugly rocks then you’ll lose. The guy who brought rocks will then lose to the guy who brought paper and none of them will end up in the top unless they’re lucky enough to dodge every counter-list in the tournament (it happens).
Level 2: External Synergy
Most top end tournament players prepare for what they know is going to be their worst match-ups, and most players include upkeep removal, some way of ignoring Stealth, and some way of handling Incorporeal. This is all level two ES and enables you to reduce the average number of nearly impossible games.
If you’ve been following The Overseer for a while you’ll be familiar with the Terminus challenge (summary here) but in case your not I asked the members of my club to design lists specifically to take my Terminus list down. I did this to test the limits of my list but also to learn what other players considered hard counters to it because that knowledge is extremely valuable.
I’ve been taken down once so far (but a few other games have been very very close) and that was by Saeryn from Legion of Everblight. I already knew it would be an incredibly hard game since Saeryn can completely shut down my list for a turn, and in the end I lost after a failed assassination run.
I’m telling you this because Warwitch Deneghra with ranged support happens to be what I consider a hard counter to Saeryn (and Jake/Neutralyze has mentioned it as well so it’s safe to assume I’m not completely wrong), so I often pair up the two in an SR format tournament to avoid getting scissored and losing, but how do we actually match casters?
These are the categories I normally use to evaluate a list. Ranged/Melee should be obvious and although most armies have a little of both there’s usually a prevailing theme based on how the army works on the table. My Terminus list is melee and steamrolls forward at full speed, while my pDeneghra list is ranged and prefers to grind down the enemy before engaging.
Spell-casting/Physical is defined by the number of spells and magical attacks available. Again the Terminus list is obviously brute force but perhaps surprisingly the pDeneghra list only just manages to enter the spell-casting category. In these definitions a list only truly becomes a spell-casting list when basic infantry like Druids, Hex Hunters, or Battle mages are present in force, but the pDeneghra list comes close enough.
Buff/Debuff should be obvious as well, with the Terminus list being a very weak buff list, and finally there’s the Agile/Tank definition. Terminus is obviously a tank list which simply absorbs the enemy attacks and keeps on trucking, while pDeneghra is an Agile list relying on positioning and controlling the battlefield.
- Terminus: Melee, Physical, Buff, and Tank.
- Deneghra: Ranged, Spell-casting(ish), Debuff, and Agile.
It should be obvious why these two lists compliment each other because they’re almost completely opposites (and if Cryx had enough decent magic attacks to make up a true Magic list they would be completely opposite).
A player looking at these two lists in a Steamroller tournament has almost no chance of pulling out a list that will have a major advantage against both of them, while I can look at his lists and if he’s a level one ES player with two similar lists I can choose the lists that I think will bring him down hardest.
Assuming I’m facing another level two player it becomes a question of guessing which list he’ll use. This is a lot easier if you know the player and this leads me to level three and four External Synergy but sadly that’s theory for me since I’m stuck at level two.
Level 3: Advanced External Synergy
This is the ability to know every model intimately and evaluate a meta as a whole. I could probably manage level three if I had the time and motivation (it requires a great deal of studying) but since I have neither I’m stuck on level two.
Level three ES allows a player to assign worth to his models based on what he knows he’ll be facing in a tournament. Our fictive Cryx player “Bob” knows he’s going to a Masters tournament, he knows who will be attending, and he has solid knowledge about what they’ll be fielding (from guesswork, reading their Blogs, or simply because he’s faced them before).
Bob sees that there’s a lot of Legion players and he reduces the worth of his stealth models accordingly. Bob also knows that Legion have few answers to Incorporeal (even with new releases) so he increases the worth of his Incorporeal models a bit.
Bob knows that Character Restrictions are now in play so Aiyana & Holt could be unavailable for Warmachine players as well, and although Bob doesn’t count on it he nudges up the Incorporeal models a little more. This is what level three External Synergy is all about so let’s move on to level four.
Level 4: Extreme External Synergy
I’ve never met anyone who could do this but it deserves to be mentioned. Level four External Synergy is understanding how the other levels of ES affects players and adjusting for it.
“John” who plays Legion looks at the Masters tournament and sees that Bob will attend. John knows how Bob thinks and he understands that Bob will see the high amount of Legion players and bring Incorporeal models to counter. John knows this will happen and includes the Legion counters to Incorporeal models that would otherwise be considered overpriced, and now he has an edge on the other Legion players: if he faces Bob he has a better shot at winning than they do.
Level four External Synergy requires a person to evaluate every player that will attend a tournament, know what level of ES they understand, know how that affects them, and adjust accordingly… Personally I think it takes Kasparov level skills to pull this one off and I don’t ever think I’ll ever meet someone who can, but I’ve seen articles from some people who flirt with level four ES.
Adjusting your army composition based on what your opponents bring is almost required to consistently do well in tournaments. I’ve seen plenty of tournaments won by players that completely ignore External Synergy (some by choice), but the good players admit that they lucked out on match-ups all the way through when it happens.
You won’t automatically win because you know you’re way around External Synergy, but it will make it less likely that you go “Uh-oh” in a tournament and lose by default to someone who happened to bring a hard counter to both your lists, and that’s valuable in the long run.