It’s a pretty drastic change from Season 1, and we’re going to through the details and discuss possible implications of the format, you can find the exact rules here!.
The biggest change of course is that you’re back to playing only one Faction once again, a change I think most people applaud.
First thing is first, you earn points by placing in Iron Guantlet events. Ten points for first place, seven for second and four for 3rd & 4th place. There is a new rules this season which effectively cuts the top 4 off, so once in the top 4 you can never be dropped below 4 points due to SoS, etc.
Not to worry Chum! You only have to deal with SoS if you are one of the 60 players who doesn’t make the cut. Good thing you’re a big deal in your meta.
For 5th to 12th place you earn two points and one point for each of the remaining top 16. Note that winning events does not qualify you automatically, like the Warmachine Weekend set-up and so on. Instead we’re split into four regions, North America East, North America West, Europe & Africa, and Asia & Australia. The two players with the highest points in their region qualify automatically for the sixteen-player finals. The remaining eight players are chosen from those with the highest points overall, and a further eight players are selected as alternates. And with the relatively high chances that at least one or two players might drop, it’s really worthwhile to keep pushing for points. This is all the same as last year, but bears repeating as it’s the goal!
The first few rounds of the tournament are 3 list, 50 pts, Deathclock, fully painted, play each list once. What’s important is that this format only lasts until there are four (or fewer with odd numbers) undefeated players. Then the tournament cuts to top 4 and the format changes entirely. The first few rounds are called ‘Preliminary Rounds’, and after the cut you enter the ‘Gauntlet Rounds’.
One thing to note about the preliminary rounds, and my first strong opinion on the format is that play each list once is really clunky. It’s important because of the way the Guantlet rounds work, wherein you cannibalise your original three lists, and you don’t want players bringing a ridiculous unplayable list full of models to be drawn from later. However, if the Iron Gauntlet events with only 32 players only have 3 rounds before the cut, meaning each round is just one list, and you may just be screwed if you have to play a similar skew twice. Just have two Cryx lists that can also play well into everything else is not an option for some Factions.
I can drink a Bane under the table, we got this matchup Bro!
Obviously this is intended to be a large event format, it needs 33+ players to allow wiggle room in lists, and really seems like it’s designed for the 65-128 player bracket, and really big conventions. At that stage you have 5 rounds before the cut and a lot of flexibility to not get locked into bad matchups. This will make it a bit wonky outside of the biggest American conventions, and even there if it competes with Masters it’ll be hard-pressed to always be over the mid-30s in players, let alone into the mid-60s. Maybe interest will increase hugely with the new format, however, so it remains to be seen if this will be a problem.
One last comment is that if it is 128 players, everyone plays 4 rounds day one, one more in the morning and then 124 players are left with little to do. So perhaps at the end of the day 64 players is the ideal number, and people just have to suck up the occasional bad run of pairings, it isn’t much rougher than any other tournament at that stage.
GAUNTLET ROUND! FIGHT!
This is where things get serious! Once the top 4 been left undefeated (or 3 undefeated and the next highest player), they change format. You are no longer affected by previous list selections, and in fact, your lists will change enormously.
Every round, you are paired up with someone else. This is totally random and not affected by previous games played, so you may occasionally have a re-match, though it’s fairly unlikely. You play Semi-Finals, then Finals. These are single elimination, 3rd and 4th place are decided by tie-breakers.
What’s really unique and interesting is that after pairings and scenario have been announced both players pick one of their casters. Note, you don’t pick a list, just a caster. Once both players reveal the caster they have chosen, they both must go and construct a 75 point list each in 20 minutes to play in the actual round. (Deathclock time is increased for the actual game, thankfully).
Activate Pagani Mode!
A further twist is that you may only construct these lists using models from your three 50 points lists. Moreover, you can only use a model as many times as it individually appears in your original lists. If only one list had only one Juggernaught you can’t have two or three Juggernaughts in the 75 point list. These list-based FA means that not only must you consider your lists as 50 point lists, you must construct lists that can morph into larger lists and give you a lot of variety and flexibility. It’s a really interesting list building puzzle, and by far the most compelling thing about the format for me.
A note on 75 points play, if you haven’t experienced it however. Building lists at 75 points is great, you can get so much in, and a lot of hard decisions of this model or that model are removed as you get everything you want and more. And you get to do some exciting things with the actual armies and synergies, etc. However, the gameplay is more laborious than you would think. It effectively plays out in much the same way as 50 point games but longer, it’s usually a round or two more before people score because there is so much stuff, direct grindy conflict is rewarded as its harder to envelop a force, or dance around in a largely empty section of the board. Now it can be fun, and it is only two rounds, presumably played by the best players, but actually playing with more points has always proven to be less fun than it seems on paper to me.
The scenarios for the format are the following: Destruction, Balance of Power, Close Quarters, Incursion, Outflank, and Fire Support.
Destruction and Close Quarters are nice central, grindy scenarios, Out Flank is a really solid scenario at 75 points, while Fire Support and Incursion are very live. I like the scenario packet a lot, for the most part. However Incursion still has the gamble for one side flag, dominate and win strategy that I’ve heard very good players complain about, and Balance of Power isn’t quite right.
At the beginning of 2014 I really like the change of pace to having scenarios that were both fast and slow, but Balance of Power is way too slow to win. Effectively not being able to play scenario means it can really exasperate bad matchups. In the Gauntlet Rounds that shouldn’t be too bad, as it’s hard to have bad matchups in that format, certainly in extremes. However, in Gauntlet rounds which will already be long, slow affairs, Balance of Power means games go on and on for a very long time. Largely though, I really like the packet.
More like Balance of… Flour… Because I know a Swedish guy who hates- The dudes not even a baker…
Seen Above: Rickard Nilsson approves of new format.
Everything else in the format stays much the same as other Steamroller events, so we won’t go into it at any length.
This is the really novel aspect of the format, and something I’m very excited about. I can’t wait to see how top players design lists at this stage, and if we see any really interesting decisions. I especially can’t wait to see the best of the best list design live at the live streamed finals next year.
The truth is though, that I expect to see a little less creativity and variety in lists. You want your Xerxis list to gain Cataphract, or Runes of War to pick up another few Runeshapers, so you need to have lists with more models in common, as adding an extra heavy, or unit, often of the same type if it’s not UA dependant is the most easy way to scale up some lists. This is not always true, but something I expect to see a lot. However, it could mean we see interesting alterations to the 3-list construction, people playing more Runeshapers outside of Doomy1 lists, etc.
Moar banez!? I guess I’ll try to make it work.
The next question, and it’s a big one, is this list design format balanced for every Faction. Warmachine Factions tend to have access to far more matchup fixing solos, Gorman Di Wulfe, Orin Midwinter, Eiryss, etc. This means that in this format you can easily tailor your lists to face certain casters and Factions, while arguably Hordes players cannot add the same level of customisation, as a lot of their unique counters are animi on warbeasts. Of course you can always spread your lights out to different lists and leave yourself the option of a Cyclops Shaman or a Woldwatcher, etc. I don’t think it’s a big problem, but its certainly a plug and play advantage for Warmachine.
Another concern is that the lists will become much more homogenous, Covenant and Gorman in every list, etc. I personally don’t have a problem with this, I think people should play what they think is best and play the best possible games they can. If a truly innovative Darius list is actually good and competitive it’ll get played, if it wins because it’s a skew and the player is better than his opponents, we’re going to see Haley2 in the finals. And I kind of think this will happen, but that is interesting in it’s own right. I think PP have been working very hard to give options to lesser played casters, more and more, so I’m excited to see what happens either way.
I’m probably going to play this this year, likely at SmogCon, and I’ll be doing some practice list designs as I go. I think it’s an interesting format for sure, and far more compelling than Season 1. Here’s hoping we get to see the best games in the world on the road to be PP’s official best player!