(Still needs witty picture)
Following the personal gaming success that was ClogCon (first win with Harkevich, first scenario victories since 2012, to be precise), I spent a lot of time (for me, at least) a) playing the Harkevich list I took to the ClogCon Masters, b) reading a lot of Sticks and Dice and the relevant PP Forum Thread.
It basically boils down to this: How sensible is the armour skew in a list line-up? But that's not the point of today's article (WHOAA?). Instead, I feel more tempted to write about the list-chicken part of the game. When I was first confronted with it, it completely blew me out of the water, and I more or less picked lists at random.
Now, I'm looking at the list chicken situation as a puzzle to be solved, and I want this article to help others with solving the puzzle. I am certainly neither the first nor the best to write about this topic, but I gave it a lot of thought, and those thoughts I deem worth sharing. Ready?
A word of caution: I think that the Faction matchup becomes less and less significant with the variety of lists that can be built and successfully fielded by each faction. So there won't be a real Faction-on-Faction focus, but more a list-type on tist-type focus.
1. What exactly is "list chicken"?
Anytime I (and probably all WM/H Hordes gamers alike) use the term "list chicken", I'm referring to that stage of a game (mostly a tournament game) when you hand your lists to your opponent and receive his, look at them, and then choose the list you're going to play in that game. Since there are theme force tier benefits that affect the starting roll, this step absolutely, positively, has to come first.
2. Any general advice?
No. I feel it always ends up a very specific thing. Oh, one thing, maybe: I keep a copy of my lists for myself to have them on hand if needed during this step. There's nothing more of a giveaway than having to ask your opponent whether you could have your lists back for a moment. And one other thing: never start a game on a full bladder. Trust me.
3. What are the factors to be considered?
The tournament format (Is it Divide and Conquer? How many lists? How many rounds total? What round is it?), you (your experience, how well your opponent knows you), your lists (reknown lists, "typical" lists, skew lists and/or oddball lists), your opponent (his* experience, how well you know him), your opponent's lists (see above), the current scenario.
This is not really in order of importance. I feel that the D&C question has the most impact, as it lowers the significance of the players' lists and raises the importance of the tournament format itself. Let's try and do this one by one, and always remember - the other aspect may all factor in.
3.1. The tournament
3.1.1. Divide & Conquer Y/N?
To me, this is probably the single most important question, both to your choice each round, and to list choice as a whole. In general, D&C says that each list must be played at least once, so there is a chance of people getting "locked into" specific lists - which means they don't have a choice anymore. If this happens to one player, the other is free to choose the list best suited to the task. If it happens to both, that may result in some strange match-ups, probably some you wouldn't usually see.
3.1.2. How many lists has each player?
The baseline list rule is that one list is mandatory, another one is optional. If a tournament has D&C, there will be a minimum of two mandatory lists. If it's a Masters event, it'll be three lists. I never heard of any tournament being run with more than two lists but without D&C. I have also not yet heard of a tournament requiring more than three lists for their whole length. (One UK Masters afairc was three 35pt lists day one, and three 50pt lists day two)
The number of lists directly affects what we'll elaborate on in 3.3. and 3.5. - less lists mean more difficult choices in D&C. You and your opponent may be hard-pressed to get the second list "out of the way". There is the tendency to built one main list and one back-up list for the bad match-ups. With three lists, there is a tendency to take a two-list pairing, and round it out with either a fixer for a special matchup, or with an oddball list that is mainly there to mess with your opponent's head.
Also, since it's noted down which lists a player played each round, they'll always perfectly know with which lists the other player has won. This may result in a higher likeliness of that list being picked if the lists are really evenly matched.
3.1.3. How many Rounds are being played and what round is it?
This question is not really relevant if it's not a D&C tournament. In that case, a player may, though, either be explicit about being a) bored out of a 'Caster or b) unsuccessful with his main list, which obviously influences his choice. (see also current standings below)
If it's a D&C tournament, though, it becomes highly relevant, because each round equals one list being played, so the later the round, the narrower the choice of lists is. Of course, your standing really plays into this one, again. Assuming a Masters event, I figure the most difficult rounds to solve are Round 1, where both players have all lists available, and Round 4, where both might have both lists freely (i.e. w/o risk of locking them in) available again. Rounds two, and three especially, are easier to solve assuming your opponent will do his best not to lock himself in. I have no experience with tournaments playing for more than four rounds - but I expect that the actual round players are in really drops in significance once all their lists have been played, so anything past round three can be considered round four for list chicken purposes.
3.1.4. What's your current standing? This one bears more significance than you might think. It's probably easier when you're constantly in the winners bracket, but I don't have any real experience with that. ;-) I can merely assume that players will pick the lists best suited for the task at hand to bring them victory. When you're not in the winner's bracket, additional thoughts come in.
Knowing how SoS works when determined by the regular swiss system, a person that goes 3-1 is still in the running for third or even second place (if he played the right players). Which, for the second game, IMO means: A person that's seriously dedicated to placing (and if you play in Masters, you should do that - Page 5, remember?) might choose the "worse" list of the two unplayed, in order to a) not lock him in and b) leave his stronger list open for next round, when he's on the winner's route again. So there's that.
In round 3, if you're 0-2 currently, there's hardly anything to regain but personal pride, so players are IMO equally likely to play their best list and get locked in (if that'd be the case), or just keep trucking and play anything (locking them in possibly), or just play the third list to keep them open for the last round. If you're 1-1, as touched on above, people may opt out of playing the third list just to ensure victory this round as much as they can and risk a bad matchup for the last round, but this really depends on what their "last" list is.
In round 4, the only ones taking it easy are those at 0-3. The 3-0s are fighting for the top, the 2-1s are fighting for second place, and the 1-2s are fighting to reach parity, so those games are on. With three lists, round 4 is the first one where players can have played all three lists and be free in their choice again.
3.1.5. What's the scenario for this round?
This is obviously directly connected to the lists you and your opponent still have available - some scenarios prefer certain types of armies. Destruction, Supply & Demand, Balance of Power, and Into The Breach all have a single big zone to pour models into, which for example gives a nod to Bricks and Colossals. Fire Support and Incoming have objectives that give bonuses to Light Artillery (and there certainly are lists that'd like to exploit that). Melee / Jam armies like Close Quarters. The list goes on. If you are very aware of these factors (and your opponent is, too), this may be a good indicator for what'll hit the table, but it's generally a less significant one.
3.2.1. How experienced are you?
This mainly boils down to this: How many tournaments have you played? If the number is low, you may still be dazzled by the list chicken situation, while you may approach it calmly if you've played a lot (or read this article, in the best case. ;)). The best advice for people not familiar with list chicken is: Try not to relay to much information about it. You may be picking lists randomly, but if your opponent doesn't know that, he'll make his decision on a different basis, and may end up making the wrong choice (or the right one for the wrong reasons...). It's generally better to built lists with list chicken in mind, and prepare for it, though.
3.2.2. How well does your opponent know you?
This is mainly true for smaller, more tightly knit groups or communities. Maybe you have a tendency to favour specific lists/'Casters for specific match-ups, or in general. This isn't bad unless your opponent is aware of that, and you're not aware of him being aware. It's likely that he'll have a list ready not to deal with your faction, but you in particular. I you are aware of him being aware (and especially if he's aware of you being aware of him being aware), this tends to less of a factor, since your opponent knows he can't rely on you making your choice by habit alone. If your opponent is unaware of your preference, you may roll with it - but doublecheck the other factors if it's actually a good choice.
I, personally, am constantly told by my brain that Harkevich + Jacks is a good thing against Circle because of all the forests and Field Marshal: Pathfinder, and am more likely to drop him in that matchup (even though Circle hardly does forests...) unless my opponent has Baldur1. There's no way I'm playing that matchup ever again!! (And this is all fine if my Circle opponents aren't aware of all that...)
3.3. Your lists
3.3.1. Which lists have you already played? (D&C only)
I know, this was touched on earlier - but I think it bears repeating. In Divide and Conquer, you have to play each list at least once (TO's may set this higher in longer events, but figure that is a rare thing). So in order to have the best chances at list chicken (or at least, to avoid very bad matchups), you'll want to have all your lists played ASAP. This is most significant in rounds two and three, where your choice is "limited". Since your opponent can see which lists you already played, this'll influence his decision. In that regard, it helps to keep your strongest option open as long as possible - but sometimes, you can't afford it. Also, if the list left open is particularly unsuited for the match-up in general, your opponent may assume you'll bite the bullet and pick a list already played. If you end up in an equilibrial rock-paper-scissor situation, he might look more closely at those lists you won with.
3.3.2. Do you have any hard skews?
You know - sth like Haley2 with double stormwall. Butcher2 theme force with ALL TEH REAVEZRS! That kind of skew. Skews come with a bigger number of bad matchups, so you'll likely seek to get that list out of the way ASAP, while retaining its threat for later rounds (either when you've played all lists once or that lists favoured prey happens to stumble out onto the street before your list-car). Your opponent likely recognises this list and can evaluate the likelihood of dropping it - which tends to hinge on the actual faction matchup, and the question whether he has answers, and whether those are freely available.
3.3.3. Do you have any lists that have an obvious match-up, and is your opponent that matchup?
Nobody leaves home without a good anti-Cryx list. And Cryx players (especially the better ones) are keenly aware of that. This is clearly the most obvious (and dreaded) matchup-issue, and you may build list either against a faction's most typical lists (even though that won't really work anymore, as I said in the very beginning), or against special models (Colossals, mainly). So, if you have a list like that, you might want to drop it if your opponent matches its preferred target - after all, that's what you built it for.
3.3.4. Do you have any oddball lists / lists with "hidden" tech?
Such lists tend to be a little more generalist (I feel), so they're not a bad choice in any case, and have a good trick going for them as well. A lot said about Skew lists also relates to oddball lists, and people don't really bring both of those, since it puts a lot of pressure on the last list if you have two lists you don't want to have to play again if possible. This kind of list may be a very good choice for Round three when two lists are already "out" (as far as they are...), and a good ace in your sleeve may carry you successfully to round four.
My personal preference for this is Zerkova, because people that hardly ever play against her won't get what she's about by looking at the card (the reason being that it's not about her own strengths, but about denial of your opponent's strengths).
3.4. Your Opponent
3.4.1. How well do you know your opponent?
As said above in 3.2.1., just the other way round this time, you may be aware of what your opponent prefers to drop (against you, maybe), or which matchup he really dislikes. This won't really be a thing if you travel to other communities, in all likelihood.
3.4.2. How experienced seems your opponent?
This is a more relevant question if you don't know your opponent. If he is experienced, he may just be trying to solve the puzzle as are you, and so you might be able to out-think him. If he's clearly inexperienced, he may be picking at random - that could go badly for you, since you can't randomly counter-pick. This is less likely to happen in rounds two and three, but is kinda bad news in rounds one and four. The inherent danger depends on the player's lists - if you happen to end up in a real stone-paper-scissors situation, where each of your lists beats one of his but loses to another (as far as such a generalist statement can be made), and all lists are available, you have to look for other indicators (such as the lists he has won with, or whether there is a uniting element between your lists that could indicate a certain choice).
3.5. Your Opponent's lists
3.5.1. Which lists has he played?
Of course, all that was written in 3.3. (and is written here) also applies when you switch around the place of you and your opponent. But, as indicated through all of the above, if it's a D&C tournament, your opponent will likely choose one his unplayed lists (in rounds two and three, of course), unless both of those are really unsuited to the task at hand (you might have a really skewed list open that he can't properly deal with with what he's got left - Mad Dogs of War comes to mind). If all lists are available (and it's not round 1), he may be drawn to pick a list he has already won with (after all, it worked once, right?), unless there's a clear case, see below.
3.5.2. Does he have any skews?
As said, a player generally wants his skew lists played as soon as possible to stay flexible in his choices. Check whether that skew works against you. If you have a list to counter it, he might not drop it. If you don't, he's rather likely to, especially if this ain't round one.
3.5.3. Does he have any lists with an obvious match-up and are YOU that match-up?
You're playing Cryx, and spot a Haley1 list among your opponent's choices? It's safe to assume you're going to have a bad day, unless you brought a list built to deal with it, and then it's up to your opponent's experience whether he realizes this soon enough - and then he get worried that his other two lists aren't really suited for that job, and you've just turned an originally bad matchup into an at least even one.
3.5.4. Does he have any oddballs lists / lists with "hidden" tech?
If he has - and that's most easily told by an "unknown" 'Caster leading the list (or a known 'Caster leading an apparently unintuitive list) - expect this to get thrown at you either in round one, when all bets are off, or round three, when there's nowhere better to go. These lists likely provide challenging games because you don't really know what the trick is until it hits you - and then, you might just have lost.
3.6. Are there any other determining factors (mostly weird ones)?
You probably know what I'll talk about here - those really strange happenings in list chicken. Like those two players that sport 'Casters which have a "Grudge" against each other (because one, for example, died to a 6, 6, 6 damage roll last minute assassination). Or two players that openly talk about the match-ups they (don't) want, and come to an agreement. Or it may be that there are some weird, unforeseen tournament details (like Lovemachine, or sth alike).
Boy, what a wall of text. This would best be followed by a set of examples - but that'd be another wall o'text. I did, however, write about my list-chicken reasoning and choices (and what I was faced with) in an earlier Khador 2014 article. I will also keep you updated on the list chicken situations I encounter in tournaments as the year goes on.
But until then, thanks for reading, and farewell!
*I'm using the masculine forms in a kind, all-embracing way. Whatever is written here may, and probably will, also be relevant for (and against) female players. :-)